There was a commotion by her feet, and an excited squeal. She reached down to lift a small electric fan from the floor to the coffee table, out of the way of Sophies exploring fingers. Its breeze was a relief. On the TV, the starters countdown reached three. Kate watched Zoe lick her lips nervously. Two, said the starter. One. Sweat was beading on Kates forehead. She reached out and turned up the speed on the fan.
The picture contracted to a bright white dot in the center of the TV screen, then sparked out entirely. From next door the whine of the neighbors Hoover descended in pitch and faded through a long, diminishing sigh into silence. Through the wall she heard the neighbor say, Shit. Kate watched the blades of the fan relinquish their invisibility as they slowed to a stop. She looked at the fan dumbly, feeling the breeze on her face fade into stillness, wondering why a breeze would do such a thing at the exact same second the TV went on the blink. After a moment she understood that something had blown in the fuse box. As usual, it had taken half the streets electricity down with it.
She felt a rare pulse of self-pity. Only these little things set her off. Missing the Olympics was too big and blunt to wound in anything but a dull and heavy sense. It was like being etherized and then smothered. But Jacks plane tickets when they arrived had been sharp enough to cut. The packing of his send-ahead bag had left an ache, and a specific emptiness in the wardrobe that they shared. Now the electricity burning out had left her burned out too.
A second later she laughed at herself. After all, everything could be fixed. She looked in the kitchen drawer until she found fuse wire, then took a torch into the understairs toilet, where the fuse box was. Sophie screamed when she left the room, so she picked her up and held her under one arm while she juggled the torch and the fuse wire in her other hand, standing on the toilet seat to reach the fuse box. Sophie wriggled and squawked and kept trying to grab the wires. After a minute of trying, Kate decided she cared about not electrocuting her daughter more than she cared about watching Zoe race.
She put Sophie back down on the living room floor. Immediately the baby brightened up and resumed her endless quest for dangerous objects to put in her mouth. Fifteen hundred miles away the first of the best-of-three sprint rounds was over by now, and Zoe had either won or lost. It felt weird not to know. Kate clicked the TV on and off, as if some restorative element in the wiring of the housesome electronic white blood cellmight have healed the damage. No picture came. Instead she watched herself, ten pounds heavier than her racing weight, still in her nightie at three in the afternoon, leaning out of the reflection in the blank black TV screen.
She sighed. She could fix the problems with her reflection. Some hard miles of training would put the leanness back into her face, and her blond hair wouldnt always be scraped back into a tight bunch to keep it clear of Sophies sticky grip, and her blue eyes were only hidden behind her ugly glasses because she just hadnt found the strength to get dressed and go to the shops for the cleaning fluid for her contacts. All this could be sorted.
Even so, as she watched herself on TV, she panicked that Jack couldnt possibly still find her attractive. It didnt do to dwell on thoughts like that, so she slumped back down on the sofa and phoned him. Behind his voice when he picked up was the roar of five thousand people.
Did you see that? he shouted. She killed it! She won like she wasnt even trying!
Yeah! This place is unbelievable. Dont tell me you werent watching?
Excerpted from Gold by Chris Cleave. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Cleave. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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