Oh my God, darling, you laughed!
She dropped to her knees, picked Sophie up, and hugged her. Sophie grinneda gummy, prototype grin that faltered and twitched lopsidedly and then shone again. She gurgled noisily, delighted with herself.
Oh, you clever little thing!
Wait till I tell Jack, she thought, and the thought was so light and so simple that she suddenly knew everything would be okay. What did it matter if Zoe won gold today or if Jack won gold tomorrow? Kneeling here in the untidy living room, holding her baby close and breathing the warm curdled scent of her, it was impossible to believe that anything mattered more than this. Who even cared that she had until recently been able to bring a bicycle up to forty miles per hour in the velodrome? It seemed absurd, now that real life had begun for herwith its real progression through these lovely milestones of motherhoodthat anyone even bothered to ride bicycles around endless oval tracks, or that anyone had had the odd idea of giving out gold to the one who could do it quickest. What good did it ever do anyone to ride themselves back to their point of origin?
God, she thought. I mean, where does that even get you?
After a minute, during which her heart beat forty-nine times, she smiled wearily.
Oh, who am I kidding? she said out loud, and Sophie looked up at the sound of her voice and produced an experimental expression, unique to her and perfectly equidistant between a laugh and a lament.
Eight years later, Monday, April 2, 2012
Detention deck 9 of the Imperial battle station colloquially known as the Death Star
The Rebelthe kidresisted, so they locked her in a dark metal holding cell that smelled of machine oil. It was too much for her and she grinned and wriggled with excitement. She clung to her father. He held the kids skinny neck in the crook of one arm and squeezed with just enough pressure to restrain her or to convey silent affection, the way fathers will apply forces. The child squirmed to escape, giving the hug an aspect of violence: parenting didnt seem to change much, wherever you went in the universe.
Two Imperial Stormtroopers stood guard over the pair. They exchanged a look, decided that the detainees were secure for now, and nodded. Leaving the detention block of the Death Star, they slipped discreetly out of a side door and emerged into the bright April light of the car park. They took off their helmets, shook out their hair, and bought two takeaway teas from a catering van. They were both thirty-two. They were athletes in real life. They had sponsorship deals and privacy issues with the press and body fat below four percent. In the world rankings for sprint cycling on the track, they were numbers one and two.
The things I do for you, Zoe said. Its far too hot in these.
Strands of black hair were stuck to her forehead with sweat.
I could do with a wee, said Kate. How are you meant to go in these costumes?
They werent designed by a woman.
The Death Star wasnt designed by a woman. Thered be curtains. Thered be a crèche.
Zoe shook her fists at imaginary higher-ups. Yeah! Cant you brass hats figure out some way of balancing motherhood with suppressing this damned Rebel Alliance?
Kate shook her head sadly. With insubordination like that, youll always be a Stormtrooper.
Youre wrong, Zoe said. Theyll recognize my zeal and my passion. Theyll promote me to the command of their battle station.
Dont flatter yourself. Theyll take one look at your personality profile and make you a droid. Highly specialized but basically single.
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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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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