"Okay, okay, I'll take care of it. But if you get out of your meetings early, can you come home?"
"Sure thing." Art gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Hey, thanks. I wouldn't have asked if I weren't completely swamped." He kissed her again. "Love you."
She didn't answer, and after he left, she grabbed her coat and keys, then saw the girls standing at the end of the hallway, staring critically at her. She wiggled her big toe. Twelve, hot water.
Ruth started the car and pumped the brakes to make sure they worked. As she drove Fia and Dory to the skating rink, she was still mulling over what Nine might be. She ran through the alphabet, in case any of those letters might trigger a memory. Nothing. What had she dreamed the night before, when she finally fell asleep? A bedroom window, a dark shape in the bay. The curtains, she now recalled, had turned out to be sheer and she was naked. She had looked up and saw the neighbors in nearby apartments grinning. They had been watching her most private moments, her most private parts. Then a radio began to blare. Whonk! Whonk! Whonk! "This has been a test of the American Broadcasting System's early-warning signal for disaster preparedness." And another voice came on, her mother's: "No, no, this is not test! This real!" And the dark shape in the bay rose and became a tidal wave.
Maybe number Nine was related to the plumber after all: tidal wave, broken water heater. The puzzle was solved. But what about the sheer curtains? What did that mean? The worry billowed up again.
"You know that new girl Darien likes?" she heard Fia say to her sister. "She has the best hair. I could just kill her."
"Don't say 'kill'!" Dory intoned. "Remember what they told us in assembly last year? Use that word, go to jail."
Both girls were in the backseat. Ruth had suggested that one of them sit up front with her, so she wouldn't feel like a chauffeur. But Dory had replied, "It's easier to open just one door." Ruth had said nothing in response. She often suspected the girls were testing her, to see if they could get a rise out of her. When they were younger, they had loved her, Ruth was sure of it. She had felt that with a ticklish pleasure in her heart. They used to argue over who could hold her hand or sit next to her. They had cuddled against her when scared, as they had often pretended to be, squeaking like helpless kittens. Now they seemed to be in a contest over who could irritate her more, and she sometimes had to remind herself that teenagers had souls.
Dory was thirteen and chunky, larger than her fifteen-year-old sister. They wore their long chestnut hair alike, pulled into ponytails high on their heads so that they cascaded like fountain spray. All their friends wore their hair in an identical style, Ruth had noticed. When she was their age, she had wanted to grow her hair long the way the other girls did, but her mother made her cut it short. "Long hair look like suicide maiden," LuLing had said. And Ruth knew she was referring to the nursemaid who had killed herself when her mother was a girl. Ruth had had nightmares about that, the ghost with long hair, dripping blood, crying for revenge.
Ruth pulled up to the unloading zone at the rink. The girls scrambled out of the car and swung their satchels onto their backs. "See ya!" they shouted.
Suddenly Ruth noticed what Fia was wearing-low-slung jeans and a cropped shirt that bared a good six inches of belly. She must have had her jacket zipped up when they had left home. Ruth lowered the car window and called out: "Fia, sweetie, come here a second.... Am I wrong, or did your shirt shrink drastically in the last ten minutes?"
Fia turned around slowly and rolled her eyes upward.
Dory grinned. "I told you she would."
Ruth stared at Fia's navel. "Does your mother know you're wearing that?"
Reprinted from The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 by Amy Tan. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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