No, Sophies tattoo was pushing heavy metal, like an AC/DC album cover.
Theyd been sitting at a barbecue, and Sandys eyes had wandered over to her daughters shoulders just as Sophie had leaned forward to pick up her drink. It was a hot day and shed uncharacteristically taken off her black hoodie, leaving her bare pale neck and shoulders exposed. Sandys heart jumped into her throat and hammered there a few times. Oh Jesus, it couldnt be permanent, could it? It was illegal to tattoo a minor, she was sure of it. Wasnt it?
Oh my God, whats that? Sophie?
Whats what? Sophie turned around, her jet-black hair scraping against her singlet. What did she put in it, glue?
You know perfectly well. That thing on your back.
Her daughter took a swallow of Diet Coke before answering, and Sandy watched her eyes flutter closed, as she gulped, through the thick sweep of black eyeliner.
Its only a temporary tat, shed said wearily.
Thank God for that. I thought for a minute ... Sweetheart, what induced you to stick that on there? And what on earth is it? A bat?
Sophie pulled the singlet down with her black-painted fingernails. Im trying out what Im going to get when I turn eighteen, OK? So calm down. Its just a bird.
Spread wingtip to wingtip between her shoulder blades. That pale delicate flesh that she remembered pressing her face to countless times when Sophie was a baby, inhaling that scent of innocence and ayurvedic soap, that skin shed kept so carefully from sunburn and injury. Now her daughter was planning to scar it indelibly with a ... black carrion bird.
Youve got to be kidding. A crow? Right across your back like that, as if youre some kind of ... bikies moll?
That slow-motion, long-suffering blink again. Where did she get that sneering contempt?
Take a chill pill, will you? I told you I wouldnt do it permanently till I was eighteen.
As if those studs through your eyebrow arent enough.
A snort of laughter. Jesus, Mum, you sound like Grandma.
That shut her up. Made her stand, suddenly, and go over to refill her wineglass at the trestle table, then wander shakily to another seat under a tree where friends were having a long and circuitous conversation about the local council. She did sound like her mother, awful to admit. More and more, when she forgot herself, that voice came rising out of her own throat, Janet even down to the querulous inflections. Please God, not that noble self-martyrdom next. Anything but that.
My Crap Life. Honestly, when had Sophie ever wanted for a single thing in her whole life? You did your best, you were everything to your kids your own parents werent, you put them first in everything, and they still thought their lives were crap. Their lives were paradise, she thought bitterly, picking at the red wax.
Her mothers voice burbled faintly but persistently out of the ether telling her to warm up the iron and find some absorbent paper and do the job properly, and Sandy tuned her out before she could go on to add that there was still a load of wet clothes in that machine that would soon be starting to mildew and a vinegar rinse would get that smell out but why let it happen in the first place?
When are you going to shut up, Sandy whispered savagely to the hovering apparition of her mother standing in the doorway delivering this litany, and just leave me alone? The apparition turned stiffly on its orthopedic heel with the outraged offence that would take months to repair, if this was real life.
Excerpted from The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy. Copyright © 2011 by Cate Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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