He swats a bead of moisture from his upper lip and switches his briefcase to the opposite hand. At the end of his street, there is a queue at the standpipe. Several of his neighbors, a lady from down the road and a few others he doesn't recognize, straggle across the pavement and onto the road, empty drums at their feet. Some of them chat to each other, one or two wave or nod to him as he passes. The thought that he ought to offer to help the lady passes through his mind; he ought to stop, fill her drum for her, carry it back to her house. It would be the right thing to do. She is his mother's age, perhaps older. He should stop, offer help. How will she manage otherwise? But his feet don't hesitate in their movement. He has to get home, he can't brook any further delay.
He unlatches his gate and swings it open, feeling as though it has been weeks since he last saw his home, feeling joy surge through him at the thought that he doesn't have to leave it for six weeks. He loves this place, this house. He loves the black-and-white-tiled front path, the orange-painted front door, with the lion-faced knocker and the blue glass insets. If he could, he would stretch himself skywards until he was big enough to embrace its red-gray bricks. The fact that he has bought it with his own moneyor some of his own money, along with a large mortgagenever ceases to amaze him. That, and the fact it contains at this very moment the three people most precious to him in the world.
He unlocks the door, steps onto the mat, flings his bag to the floor and shouts, "Hello! I'm home!"
He is, for a moment, exactly the person he is meant to be: a man, returning from work, on the threshold of his home, about to greet his family. There is no difference, no schism, between the way the world might see him and the person he privately knows himself to be.
"Hello?" he calls again.
The house makes no answer. He shuts the door behind him and picks his way through the flotsam of bricks, dolls' clothes and plastic teacups on the hall floor.
Excerpted from Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2013 by Maggie O'Farrell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. 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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