Wait! he exclaims, jumping up and waving his hands at Zhang. Wait! Zhang Xielin looks at him, panting, Skippy lolling over his forearms like a sack of wheat. He hasnt eaten anything, Ruprecht says. He isnt choking. A rustle of intrigue passes through the body of spectators. Zhang Xielin glowers mistrustfully, but allows Ruprecht to extricate Skippy, who is surprisingly heavy, from his arms and lay him back down on the ground.
This entire sequence of events, from Skippys initial fall to the present moment, has taken perhaps three minutes, during which time his purple colour has faded to an eerily delicate eggshell blue, and his wheezing breath receded to a whisper; his contortions too have ebbed towards stillness, and his eyes, though open, have taken on an oddly vacant air, so that even looking right at him Ruprechts not a hundred per cent sure hes even actually conscious, and it seems all of a sudden as if around his own lungs Ruprecht can feel a pair of cold hands clutching as he realizes whats about to happen, though at the same time he cant quite believe it could something like that really happen? Could it really happen here, in Eds Doughnut House? Eds, with its authentic jukebox and its fake leather and its black-and-white photographs of America; Eds, with its fluorescent lights and its tiny plastic forks and its weird sterile air that should smell of doughnuts but doesnt; Eds, where they come every day, where nothing ever happens, where nothing is supposed to happen, thats the whole point of it
One of the girls in crinkly pants lets out a shriek. Look! Jigging up and down on her tiptoes, she stabs at the air with her finger, and Ruprecht snaps out of the stupor hes fallen into and follows the line downwards to see that Skippy has raised his left hand. Relief courses through his body.
Thats it! he cries.
The hand flexes, as if it has just woken from a deep sleep, and Skippy simultaneously expresses a long, rasping sigh. Thats it! Ruprecht says again, without knowing quite what he means. You can do it!
Skippy makes a gurgling noise and blinks deliberately up at Ruprecht.
The ambulance is going to be here in a second, Ruprecht tells him. Everythings going to be fine.
Gurgle, gurgle, goes Skippy.
Just relax, Ruprecht says.
But Skippy doesnt. Instead he keeps gurgling, like hes trying to tell Ruprecht something. He rolls his eyes feverishly, he stares up at the ceiling; then, as if inspired, his hand shoots out to search the tiled floor. It pads blindly amid the spilled Coke and melting ice cubes until it finds one of the fallen doughnuts; this it seizes on, like a clumsy spider grappling with its prey, crushing it between its fingers tighter and tighter.
Just take it easy, Ruprecht repeats, glancing over his shoulder at the window for a sign of the ambulance. But Skippy keeps squeezing the doughnut till it has oozed raspberry syrup all over his hand; then, lowering a glistening red fingertip to the floor, he makes a line, and then another, perpendicular to the first.
Hes writing, someone whispers.
Hes writing. Painfully slowly sweat dripping down his forehead, breath rattling like a trapped marble in his chest Skippy traces out syrupy lines one by one onto the chequered floor. E, L the lips of the onlookers move soundlessly as each character is completed; and while the traffic continues to roar by outside, a strange kind of silence, almost a serenity, falls over the Doughnut House, as if in here time had temporarily, so to speak, stopped moving forward; the moment, rather than ceding to the next, becoming elastic, attenuated, expanding to contain them, to give them a chance to prepare for whats coming
Excerpted from Skipp Dies: A Novel by Paul Murray, published August 2010 by Faber and Faber, Inc., and affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Murray. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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