It was a hot evening in July, and I was sitting on the porch in a chair made from an old car seat. I had a six-string acoustic on my lap and was running my fingers up and down the fret board, gazing into the distance. There was a can of beer open on the deck. We didn't count alcohol as a drug and American lager almost wasn't beer. Lowri was inside the farmhouse, and through the closed insect door I could hear her singing. Janis and Grace, the dogs, were rooting around in the yard.
Times like this, I often used to just sit there and stare out towards the woods. And I liked the idea that Lowri would soon be cooking, and that Becky and Suzanne, the stray hitchhikers, would be there too when it got dark.
There was the sound of a car coming up from the village. You could pick it out by the tower of dust as it snaked along the road, vanishing outside the clapboard post office with its tattered flag on a pole, coming into view again on the low-hedged straight beside the apple barns. It was an old Chevy pickup, painted green with a flower stenciled on the door, so I knew who it was before he even pulled over in front of the house: Rick Kohler with his kilo bag of white powder and the body panels of his truck stuffed with grass.
"Hi there, my man." Rick was a scrawny guy with glasses. His hair always needed washing and the trousers hung off his nonexistent backside. He looked like the chemistry swot from school. He certainly knew a lot about drugs.
I offered him beer, but he waved me away. "I got something special for you, man," he said.
"Christ, what next?"
Rick looked towards the Chevy. "Come on out, honey!"
The passenger door on the far side opened, and I saw a female head. Round the front of the pickup came a skinny girl about twenty-two years old. She had a floral cotton skirt, sandals and a white peasant blouse. Her dark straight hair was half tied back, secured by shades she'd pushed back on top of her head. She had suspicious brown eyes and she carried a guitar by the neck. Her high cheekbones made me think of a Cheyenne. She paused, unsure, and at that moment the sinking sun came through her hair from behind, through the short sleeves of her blouse, lighting her up. This was my first sight of Anya King.
She climbed the steps to the porch and awkwardly shook hands. Normally at a moment like this, Rick would be talking, rattling on like a typewriter. This time, though, he was as close to quiet as he could be.
Lowri came outside and Rick introduced her to Anya, who stayed kind of reserved.
"I hope you don't mind," said Rick. "I asked a few other people to come up later on as well."
"From the city?" I said.
"Sure thing," said Lowri. I knew she did mind, a little, but would think it wrong to say so.
"Guess they'll be here about nine," said Rick.
I suggested we go to Maria's place to swim first, and Rick said that was cool. With the money from two platinum albums, Maria had bought the biggest house in the neighborhood. A refugee from LA, she spent summers upstate with her husband, John Vintello, who was a lawyer with MPR Records in New York, kind of a straight arrow, not a shyster.
The pool was in the yard with apple trees round it. Maria put a Dave Brubeck record on the outdoor system. Rick came out through the French doors, naked, walked through the hissing sprinklers on the lawn and jumped in the water. Maria came out from the summerhouse at the far end of the pool, also naked, the skin of her breasts shining with suntan oil. I never much liked this communal naked thing, but it was okay once you were in. I looked back to the house, where Anya was sitting on a lounger, sipping a drink. She'd put on a straw hat and looked like she wanted to stay in the shade.
Rick leaned against the side of the pool, threw his arms back over the edge, and talked to Maria. His hair hung over his shoulders and drops of water fell from his mustache. He was getting up to full speed now, yattering away, and I wondered if he'd had a quick snort indoors.
Copyright © 2012 by Sebastian Faulks
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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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