Excerpt from Heliopolis by James Scudamore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by James Scudamore

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    Oct 2010, 304 pages

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Elena Spagnolie

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Print Excerpt


‘When did Ernesto ever fly? Don’t move.’ Her hand strays into my hair, placating me as gently as possible so she doesn’t have to wake up.

She’s right about the helicopter. The sound of blades beating overhead soon recedes. I lie still for a further halfhour, pretending that more sleep might be within reach, before accepting the inevitable.

‘I’ll squeeze some juice,’ I say, sitting up. The sticky noise of her body separating itself from mine banishes the night with all the finality of a plunge into cold water. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid: for better or worse, the wound is exposed. Once again, we face the facts.

In the hallway, the naked form creeping across the mirror startles me, and for an instant I am Ernesto, stumbling on this burglar in his bed. I stand up straight, to assess what he would face if he walked in now.

I’m a shade or two lighter than my mother, which implies that my biological father was lighter still. Because I’m cashew to her caramel, it’s likely his skin was even less toasted: milk and honey, almond cream. Where that leaves me, I don’t know: probably, to employ an expression still in common usage in spite of the racial democracy we are said to enjoy, with ‘one foot in the kitchen’. That said, my prosperity of recent years helps: ‘money makes you whiter’, as they say. Colour isn’t immutable: it’s just a matter of context.

Either way, things don’t look as good as they once did. Baldness is carving twin channels towards the back of my head, like a boat’s wake. My skin is pitted and flawed like tired fruit, and my cheekbones look swollen, almost bruised. Otherwise, I’m like a sylph: I might not be here at all. If you took a swing at the place where you thought my belly was, you’d probably miss it. My metabolism is a super-tuned engine, always processing, churning with hot acid. It’s why, in spite of my appetite, I am always underweight. It’s why my clothes hang well. It’s why I can’t sit still. It’s why people always think I’m nervous, and why nobody ever properly relaxes in my presence.

The sylph in the mirror sighs. Ernesto. She married Ernesto the gentle giant – five years on, I can still hardly believe it. I wonder if there’s something about his bulk she finds reassuring. His weight, pinning her down. Perhaps it reminds her of being kidnapped, provides an element of Stockholm Syndrome that splashes Tabasco on all that marital meat and potatoes.

How did I become this interloper, this bed-hopping marriage wrecker? I smile like a villain to make myself feel better, and say, ‘Ludo dos Santos, pleased to meet you.’

I halve oranges at the granite island in the middle of the kitchen and squeeze them as quickly as I can, adding an extra spoonful of pulp from the juicer to my glass to bulk it out. I’m padding back across the polished penthouse floor with two tumblers of frothy yellow when I feel the throb of another approaching helicopter. I see the flickering bug as it picks out this building and rears up over it. And now it is time to panic, because no matter how unlikely it is that he’ll come down to the apartment, this one is carrying Melissa’s father.

Who is also, of course, my father.

My full name is Ludwig Aparecido dos Santos. People assume my mother was a music lover, but I’m told that ‘Ludwig’ was a bar in the city years ago, whose name was written above the door in a curly silver script that pleased her. As for the rest, the name ‘Aparecido’ refers to my mother’s sometime contention that instead of having a real father I ‘slipped down a rainbow’, while ‘dos Santos’ was the name given to orphans during the infancy of the country, because they were deemed to be in the care of the saints.

Excerpted from Heliopolis by James Scudamore. Copyright © 2010 by James Scudamore. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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