The floor abovethe living area, where Joe has a bed and some old wooden wardrobes big enough to conceal a battleshipis a beautiful space. It has broad, arched windows and mellowed red-brick walls which look out onto the river on one side, and on the other an urban landscape of stores and markets, depots and back offices, lock-ups, car dealerships, Customs pounds, and one vile square of green-grey grass which is protected by some indelible ordinance and thus must be allowed to fester where it lies.
All very fine, but the warehouse has recently acquired one serious irritant: a cat. At some time, one mooring two hundred yards up was allowed to go to a houseboat, on which lives a very sweet, very poor family called Watson. Griff and Abbie are a brace of mildly paranoid anarchists, deeply allergic to paperwork and employment on conscientious grounds. Theres a curious courage to them both: they believe in a political reality which is utterly terrifying, and theyre fighting it. Joe is never sure whether theyre mad or just alarmingly and uncompromisingly incapable of self-delusion.
In any case, he gives any spare clockwork toys he has to the Watsons, and eats dinner with them once in a while to make sure theyre still alive. They in their turn share with him vegetables from their allotment and keep an eye on the warehouse if he goes away for the weekend. The cat (Joe thinks of it as the Parasite) adopted them some months ago and now rules the houseboat by a combination of adept political and emotional pressure brought to bear through the delighted Watson children and a psychotic approach to the rodent population, which earns the approval of Mr. and Mrs. W. Sadly, the Parasite has identified the warehouse as its next home, if once it can destroy or evict the present owner, of whom it does not approve.
Joe peers into the piece of burnished brass he uses as a shaving mirror. He found it here when he took possession, a riveted panel from something bigger, and he likes the warmth of it. Glass mirrors are green, and make your image look sick and sad. He doesnt want to be the person he sees reflected in a glass mirror. Instead, heres this warm, genial bloke, a little unkempt, butif not wealthyat least healthy and fairly wise.
Joe is a big man, with wide shoulders and hips. His bones are heavy. He has a strong face, and his skull is proud beneath the skin. Passably handsome, perhaps, but not delicate. Unlike Papa Spork, who had his fathers genes, and looked like a flamenco dancer, Joe is most unfairly designed by nature to resemble a guy who works the door at the rougher kind of bar. He gets it from his mothers side: Harriet Spork is a narrow creature, but that owes more to religion and meals high in fibre than it does to genetics. Her bones are the bones of a Cumbrian meat-packer and his Dorset yeoman wife. Nature intended in her design a hearty life of toil, open fires and plump old age attended by a brood of sun-touched brats. That she chose instead to be a singer and more latterly a nun is evidence of a certain submerged cussedness, or possibly a consequence of the strange upheavals of the twentieth century, which made rural motherhood look, at least for a while, like an admission of defeat.
From somewhere in the warehouse, theres a curiously suffused silence. A hunting silence: the Parasite, having declared war almost immediately upon making his acquaintance, enters each morning via the window that Joe props open to stop the place getting stuffy when the central heating comes on, and ascends to balance on the white, moulded frame around the kitchen door. When he passes underneath, it drops onto his shoulders, extends its claws, and slides down his back in an attempt to peel him like an apple. The leather jacket and, alas, the skin beneathbecause the first time this happened he was wearing only a pajama shirtcarry the scars.
Excerpted from Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Copyright © 2012 by Nick Harkaway. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. 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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