More smoke. Not over familiar, remembered hills, and even on the far side of the world. Though Jacks first thoughtor perhaps his secondhad been the somehow entirely necessary and appropriate one: Well, we should be all right here. Here at the bottom of the Isle of Wight. And while the TV had seemed to struggle with its own confusion and repeated again and again, as if they might not be true, the same astonishing sequences, hed stepped outside to look down at the site, as if half expecting everything to have vanished.
Thirty-two white units. All still there. And among them, on the grass, a few idle and perhaps still-ignorant human sprinkles. But inside each caravan was a television, and some of them must be switched on. The word must be spreading. In the Ship, in the Sands Café, it must be spreading. It was early Septemberlate seasonbut the middle of a beautiful, clear, Indian-summer day, the sea a smooth, smiling blue. Until now at least, they would all have been congratulating themselves on having picked a perfect week.
Hed felt a surge of helpless responsibility, of protectiveness. He was in charge. What should he dogo down and calm them? In case they were panicking. Tell them it was all right? Tell them it was all right just to carry on their holidays, that was what theyd come for and had paid for and they shouldnt let this spoil things, they should carry on enjoying themselves.
But his next thoughtthough perhaps it had really been his first and hed pushed it aside, and it was less a thought maybe than a cold, clammy premonitionwas: what might this mean for Tom?
He looks now at that same view from the bedroom window of Lookout Cottage, though the weathers neither sunny nor calm. Clouds are charging over Holn Head. A November gale is careering up the Channel. The sea, white flecks in its greyness, seems to be travelling in a body from right to left, west to east, as if some retreat is going on. Rain stings the glass in front of him.
Ellie has been gone for over an hourthis weather yet to unleash itself when she left. She could be sitting out the storm somewhere, pulled up in the wind-rocked Cherokee. Reconsidering her options, perhaps. Or she could have done already exactly what she said shed do, and be returning, having to take it slowly, headlights on in the blinding rain. Or returningwho knows?behind a police car, with not just its headlights on, but its blue light flashing.
Reconsidering her options? But she made the move and said the words. The situation is plain to him now, and despite the blurring wind and rain, Jacks mind is really quite clear. She had her own set of keys, of course. All she had to do was grab her handbag and walk out the door, but she might have remembered another set of keys that Jack certainly hasnt forgotten. Has it occurred to her, even now? Ellie who was usually the one who thought things through, and him the slow coach.
Ellie, Jack thinks. My Ellie.
Hes already taken the shotgun from the cabinet downstairsthe keys are in the lockand brought it up here. Its lying, loaded, on the bed behind him, on the white duvet. For good measure he has a box of twenty-five cartridges (some already in his pocket), in case of police cars, in case of mishaps. Its the first time, Jack thinks, that hes ever put a gun on a bed, let alone theirs, and that, by itself, has to mean something. As he peers through the window he can feel the weight of the gun behind him, making a dent in the duvet as if it might be some small, sleeping body.
Well, one way or another, theyd never gone down the road of children. There isnt, now, that complication. Hes definitely the last of the Luxtons. Theres only one final complicationit involves Ellieand hes thought that through too, seriously and carefully.
Excerpted from Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift. Copyright © 2012 by Graham Swift. 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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