"Billie," asked Carlos, squinting against the light, "why is the sun shining?" He sounded listless and no longer glared at you furiously with that helpless urge to understand the world. His big blue eyes were still in the same place, as were his mouth and his nose, and even the little dimple in his chin was still there, unscarred, but he didn't look like Carlos anymore. He looked like Clint Eastwood, the way Clint Eastwood might have looked if he had spent the whole winter at the North Pole with all the cows from Rawhide, clubbing baby seals to death to survive. Oil and blubber, that's what you needed against the cold.
"The sun is shining so it can show you its happy face," chanted Billie, "so that little boys-"
"Wrong, you idiot," I yelled, incensed. "The sun shines because the earth turns, because everything turns, all the planets, and the stars too, and the moon, and the Milky Way, and God!" Suddenly I saw it all before me, plain as daylight: all that spinning and careering up there in outer space - it was a wild scene, that was why every once in a while something or other was bound to topple over and crash. They might swear to you that your brother was still alive, but you could see perfectly well with your very own eyes that the old Carlos was dead.
"Ellen," said my mother, "try not to spoil the atmosphere, will you?"
I was speechless with fury. It was that mongrel Ida that had brought this disaster on Carlos, not me. In ancient Greece, families were permitted by law to leave their unwanted offspring on the garbage heap. In Sparta, babies that did not pass muster were sometimes flung off cliffs or carried up to Mount Taygetus. That's what it said in the dog-eared ancient-history tome that my father and I had picked up at the secondhand book sale held in my prospective school's auditorium. We'd felt so out of place there that we'd both been sweating like pigs. I had clung to his hand as tightly as I could.
"Would you like a yummy éclair, Michael?" asked my mother.
"Carlos," I said loudly. "His name is Carlos."
"Ellen!" my father warned.
I was so enraged by now that my head was throbbing. The idiots should never have named my brother Michael Adrian. If your name didn't fit you, you didn't stand a chance. Fate wouldn't know where to find you if you needed protection: it was like being on the wrong list; it led to the most dreadful accidents.
That was when Carlos looked up at me. I got goosebumps all over as we gazed at each other for the first time. I wanted to say, Carlos, you're fine just the way you are, I mean it, really. But that would have been a lie. So I turned and wretchedly started passing around the éclairs.
Reprinted from A Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrestein by Permission of Viking Books, A Member Of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Renate Dorrestein. 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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