Excerpt from Milkman by Anna Burns, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Anna Burns

Milkman by Anna Burns X
Milkman by Anna Burns
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    Dec 2018, 360 pages


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Michael Kaler
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The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man. Others did care though, and some were those who, in the parlance, 'knew me to see but not to speak to' and I was being talked about because there was a rumour started by them, or more likely by first brother-in- law, that I had been having an affair with this milkman and that I was eighteen and he was forty-one. I knew his age, not because he got shot and it was given by the media, but because there had been talk before this, for months before the shooting, by these people of the rumour, that forty-one and eighteen was disgusting, that twenty-three years' difference was disgusting, that he was married and not to be fooled by me for there were plenty of quiet, unnoticeable people who took a bit of watching. It had been my fault too, it seemed, this affair with the milkman. But I had not been having an affair with the milkman. I did not like the milkman and had been frightened and confused by his pursuing and attempting an affair with me. I did not like first brother-in-law either. In his compulsions he made things up about other people's sexlives. About my sexlife. When I was younger, when I was twelve, when he appeared on my eldest sister's rebound after her long-term boyfriend got dumped for cheating on her, this new man got her pregnant and they got married right away. He made lewd remarks about me to me from the first moment he met me – about my quainte, my tail, my contry, my box, my jar, my contrariness, my monosyllable – and he used words, words sexual, I did not understand. He knew I didn't understand them but that I knew enough to grasp they were sexual. That was what gave him pleasure. He was thirty-five. Twelve and thirty-five. That was a twenty-three years' difference too.

So he made his remarks and felt entitled to make his remarks and I did not speak because I did not know how to respond to this person. He never made his comments when my sister was in the room. Always, whenever she'd leave the room, it was a switch turned on inside him. On the plus side, I wasn't physically frightened of him. In those days, in that place, violence was everybody's main gauge for judging those around them and I could see at once he didn't have it, that he didn't come from that perspective. All the same, his predatory nature pushed me into frozenness every time. So he was a piece of dirt and she was in a bad way with being pregnant, with still loving her long-term man and not believing what he'd done to her, disbelieving he wasn't missing her, for he wasn't. He was off now with somebody else. She didn't really see this man here, this older man she'd married but had been too young herself, and too unhappy, and too in love – just not with him – to have taken up with him. I stopped visiting even though she was sad because I could no longer take his words and facial expressions. Six years on, as he tried to work his way through me and my remaining elder sisters, with the three of us – directly, indirectly, politely, fuck off-ly – rejecting him, the milkman, also uninvited but much more frightening, much more dangerous, stepped from out of nowhere onto the scene.

I didn't know whose milkman he was. He wasn't our milkman. I don't think he was anybody's. He didn't take milk orders. There was no milk about him. He didn't ever deliver milk. Also, he didn't drive a milk lorry. Instead he drove cars, different cars, often ash cars, though he himself was not ashy. For all this though, I only noticed him and his cars when he started putting himself in them in front of me. Then there was that van – small, white, nondescript, shapeshifting. From time to time he was seen at the wheel of that van too.

Excerpted from Milkman. Copyright © 2018 by Anna Burns. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

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