And she'd stormed off to her own house, where the slamming was easier.
"That's a wet one."
Someone had just spoken to Mary. But she couldn't see anyone. She was alone on the street, just outside her house. Then she saw the woman.
She must have been behind one of the trees, Mary thought.
The woman was old. But, actually, she wasn't. Mary knew what it was, why the woman seemed old. She was oldfashioned. She was wearing a dress that looked like it came from an old film, one of those films her mother always cried at. She looked like a woman who milked cows and threw hay with a pitchfork. She was even wearing big boots with fat laces.
A bird above them must have flown away quickly, because the leaves shook and dropped loads of water on to their heads. Mary laughed - she felt the raindrops this time - but the woman didn't seem to notice. Nothing about her was wet. But -
"It's a wet one, all right," she said. "Did you get loads of homework, did you?"
"The usual," said Mary.
"What's the usual when it's at home?"
Mary laughed again. The woman sounded like her grandmother. But, then, that made her sad, and angry again. She was going to cry - she thought she was.
"What's wrong with you?" said the woman.
"My granny's not well," said Mary.
"Sure, I know," said the woman.
"Well, why did you ask, then?" said Mary.
"God, you're a rip, all right."
"What does that mean?"
"You're a cheeky young lady," said the woman.
"Everyone says that," said Mary. "That I'm cheeky. But I'm not. I'm just honest."
"Good girl yourself."
Mary looked at the woman again. She wasn't old at all. She looked younger than Mary's mother, although it was hard to tell with adults what age they were. Mary was sure she'd never seen this woman before.
Never talk to strangers, she'd always been told.
"But that's stupid," she'd said, a few years ago. "Why is it stupid?" her mother asked.
"Did you know Dad when you met him?" said Mary.
"So he was a stranger."
"But - "
"And you spoke to him," said Mary. "So if, like, nobody spoke to strangers, nobody would meet and get married and the human race would, like, cease to exist."
"But your dad wasn't a stranger."
"Yes, he was. He must have been."
"He wasn't strange," said her mother. "He was nice."
"Nice?" said Mary. "The nice fellas are the ones you should be worried about."
Her mother laughed.
"What's so funny?" said Mary.
"Who told you that?"
"I should have known," said her mother. "Well, never mind your granny."
"Don't talk to strangers, never mind your granny," said Mary. "I'll have no one left to talk to."
"But you know what I mean," said her mother.
"Don't worry," said Mary. "I won't talk to any."
But she did - now.
"How do you know about my granny?" she asked the woman.
"Ah, sure, I just do," said the woman. She stood back, and shimmered - kind of - as if she were stepping behind a sheet of clear plastic.
"It's life," she said - and she was solid again, and smiling.
But Mary was a bit scared, and cold.
"I have to go," she said.
"Right, so," said the woman.
She didn't step out of the way. She didn't seem to move at all. But, even so, she must have, because she wasn't in front of Mary anymore.
Mary walked quickly to her gate. She heard the woman behind her.
"Do one small thing for me, Mary."
"Tell your granny it'll all be grand," said the woman - she was still smiling.
Excerpted from A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle. Copyright © 2012 by Roddy Doyle. Excerpted by permission of Harry N. Abrams 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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