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First Prize

A short story by Anne Landsman

Anne Landsman  |  Spring 2008  -  Number 209


Her face, arms and throat are covered with tiny brown freckles. She wears her reddish-brown hair twisted up and there’s always a halo of cigarette smoke above her head because she smokes like a chimney. How far down do the freckles go? You whisper to Maxie in the medical school dining-room, as the fat lady behind the counter pours gravy on your chop. One day you’ll be my father but right now you’re twenty-five years old, unmarried and interested.

Maxie shrugs, makes a quick calculation, as you both watch Stella Sacks sit down with her tray, rummage in her handbag for her cigarettes. Oops! She dropped something. She looks at the chap who’s with her and now he’s bent under the table looking for her matches. She has them all over, Maxie breathes. I’m not so sure, you tell him.  But I’m going to find out.

You make a bet. If there are freckles inside her brassiere, or folded between her thighs, you owe Maxie a tickey a freckle. If she’s lily-white, he owes you. C’mon, old man, you say, how do you expect me to count them all? O.K. He says. A tickey for the first five. You can keep counting if you like, he grins, his mouth as damp as a puppy’s.

Stella’s laughing now. Maxie’s craning his neck, telling you that the chap next to her just said, Can I eat while you smoke? He’s one of the senior men, going into pathology. She’s still laughing, her mouth wide, her head thrown back, a big, braying sound that gets you right in the solar plexus.

She’s a radiography student, learning how to tell patients to lie absolutely still, and hold their breath, until she takes a shadowy picture of the oceans and continents inside their bodies. Suddenly she catches your eye, and you swear she has X-ray vision because she can see inside your cowering heart, to that silly bet you made with Maxie. You want to back out now, forget the whole damn thing but it’s too late, old chap. A deal is a deal. She seals it with a look into her powder compact, a dash of scarlet onto her lips, and click, the mirror snaps shut and lunch is over. The serviette on her chair has the red trace of her lips on it.

Look down when she passes your table, pretend you’re talking about the war. Maxie’s checking his teeth in the butter-knife. Watch out in case she sprinkles you with her cinnamon dust, her brown paper freckles. Her legs are pencil-thin, and her brown shoes have straps around her narrow ankles. She’s nervy, and slim, with buttons marching all over her breasts, wearing a tight-topped dress that’s closed up like a soldier’s uniform. Maxie looks up, as she stops a few feet away from you, and the senior chap lights her cigarette. Du Mauriers, Maxie murmurs. The girl has a taste for luxury. Her eyes flicker over the two of you as if she knows you. You both practise darkly winning smiles, and she shows her teeth all over again. I’m the twinkling baby girl flashing at you from the recesses of her iris but you can’t see or hear me as Stella breathes your name, ‘Harry Klein!’ lilting, laughing, flowers held in her voice. And then she’s gone, freckles and all.

It’s only two days later, a slow Saturday afternoon slipping into dusk. You’re carefully parking Charlotte, your late father’s prized 1938 Chrysler Imperial, into a spot in front of Stella’s glowering two storied house on the dark side of Table Mountain. You’ve come to take Her Freckleness for an exploratory drive.

You can’t take your eyes off Stella as she climbs into the front seat of Charlotte, avidly noticing the tiny brown spots all over her feet and her calves, marching into the car with her like army of ants. Leaving her parents’ house, she was all flurry and promise, a scarf fluttering between her hands, dropping her du Mauriers in her handbag, kissing her ma goodbye, a mother bun sort of mother, solid and greying, floating a wan smile in your direction. There were boys all over the place, taller than you, one young and soft, one on leave, the infantry man, and another freckled one, the oldest, studying to be surgeon. The father, you were told, was in shul, a macher, a Zionist, a religious man from a religious place, practising his religion religiously. He stared at you from his wedding picture, next to his much younger bride, new missus Bun before all the boy babies got to her. Stella is the rose among the thorns, the one and only kitty cat, the prize girl.

You leave the double-storied house with its pile of rooms and Persian carpets, the aura of something immoveable your house never had, the commercial travellers coming in and out, and ma’s flying bells and bad moods. Stella’s lighting a cigarette again and you lean towards her, mock-whispering the advertisement, Didn’t you give me my first du Maurier? I shall always think of you, who-who-who, you hoo-hoo-hoo. She’s not quite Jeanette MacDonald and you’re not Nelson Eddy, but wait, she’s calling you, who, who, who, that Indian love-call across the Canadian gorge. You shade her with your mounty hat, then you slip the clutch and Charlotte lurches towards Paarl and beyond.

This isn’t what she was expecting, she tells you, a bit cross. It’s not the Bohemian Club in the misty dark, an omelette or a sandwich before midnight, giggling with the other powder puff girls in the cloakroom, a long dance in the arms of a new stranger. You can’t really tell her about the freckle-hunt, how you need light to see, and a reason to go swimming. I hope you brought your bathing costume, you tell her, as smoke streams out of her nose. What? She’s not really laughing now, a mock sneer curling her upper lip, a funny spoiled girl. You brought Maisie’s bathing-costume just in case, you tell her. Maisie who? My sister, you tell her. My sister.

The road winds through vineyards, the Hottentots Holland mountains retreating into the far distance, Du Toit’s Kloof up ahead, where the Italian prisoners-of-war are helping to blast a road through the mountain, which will replace the old Bain’s Kloof road. They’re the chaps captured in North Africa, you tell Stella. I saw one once in casualty. She’s interested, suddenly, and her half-sneer drops into a half-smile, not the full-blown rose you saw in the cafeteria, but a smaller bloom, a morning flower.

You’re driving towards your story, the place where your Italian prisoner-of-war, Enrico Carretoni, helped four of his friends carry a painted wooden cross to the top of Huguenot Kop, a mountain near the farm where they are stationed. If you squint on a clear blue day, you can see the cross glinting white at the top of the mountain, small as your thumb-nail, the Holy Ghost sitting up there all by himself. Of course you don’t believe in the Man, the Ghost or the Cross but there it is, and those chaps carried it all the way up to the top of the mountain. A couple of the farm boys went with them, chaps they’ve befriended since they’ve been living in the barracks near Keerweder. The Afrikaans boys bring them fruit and fresh eggs and the Italians teach them to swear. Eat my fig. Your mother’s pancake. Stuff ten birds with your goat.

She’s laughing now, and you could almost do it, one fell swoop, off with the white shirt she’s buttoned up to her nose but Charlotte would mind, and drive herself off the side of the road. Instead, you tell her that one of the farm-boys, Hendrik, brought Enrico into casualty the day it happened. What happened? You tell her about the baboon that climbed up Huguenot Kop behind the Italians and the two Afrikaans boys, the baboon that grabbed their sandwiches, stole their cigarettes and gave Enrico a swipe on the arm that peeled the skin and muscle off the bone like someone rolling back the lid of a can of sardines.

You slowly park Charlotte at the side of the road. He wasn’t the usual Friday night pile of stab wounds, the chronic ones with TB, syphilis, kwashiorkor, Beriberi. (She smiles when you say Beriberi.) Roma, he said, when you asked where he was from, and his black eyes flashed with pride. It took you hours to stitch and clean up his arm, and you worked slowly, and carefully, the saliva pooling in your mouth. She’s smoking again, and you climb out of the car, looking up at  Du Toit’s Kloof. See what those chaps built, you tell her. Look at the new road! I want to know about his arm, she says, and you’re the baboon now, chasing her and holding her thin upper arm between your teeth. She’s screaming and laughing, a last hint of smoke escaping from her mouth.

You see freckles on top of her shoulder, a line of them on her acromion, two or four or forty nestled in her scapular notch, and at least a dozen lurking in her supraspinous fossa. The sleeve of her dress balloons up above your hands, and you can see right in. You could almost swear the gentle slopes above her breasts are dead white but she jerks her arm back and away, with a sharp snapping motion. I have three brothers, she says, with that snarling smile she has, spoiled silly with boys.   

You point up to the cross, white as your nail. You move towards her, and she steps away, almost falling off those strap-happy shoes. Let’s climb to the top, Stella Bella. The wind has started sighing and whistling through the protea bushes, silver trees and pincushions, above the jagged line of the new road. There are fir trees below the line, a wind-shield for the farmers protecting the vineyards in the valley. You tell her what Hendrik the farm-boy told you, his flat blue eyes watching you as you sewed up his friend’s arm. When you stand and look out across the valley, the mountains make the shape of a man’s face. You see small buck hopping over the bushes, and beautiful flowers you’ve never seen before.

I was stuck on a mountain once, she says. And I couldn’t go up or down. I was frozen. They had to carry me. She can barely light her next cigarette the wind is so strong. There’s a big grey cloud covering the cross. She can’t believe how little she knows about George, the town where you were born so you tell her how much you miss the Outeniqua Mountains, the waves at Victoria Bay, all the orange fan shells you’ve collected at Lentjies Klip and how you know the difference between spring tide and neap tide, and which moon is which. Let’s go to Ebb ‘n Flow, you tell her. I’ll take you up to the source of the Touw River. She pretends to know what you’re talking about, the way girls do sometimes, when they like you.

You haven’t seen her most private freckles, although you’ve counted up to seventy-three dots in broad daylight. For every brown fleck on her nose, her hands, her arms, you’ve told her about a person, a house or a car, something real from the place you’ve known all your life. You even told her about the story of your father chasing the train, how he got the engine-driver to stop at the crossing, so he could put your sister Maisie on board, bound for a holiday in Oudtshoorn, with a rich feather farmer’s daughter.There’s a jerk in your voice because of the last train, the one from Johannesburg that gave him the fever and the terrible sickness, his temperature flopping from high to low, his life suddenly snipped short, a gardening accident of the highest order. The Germans invaded Poland and my father died, and we almost died too, you know, of confusion and grief and being so poor, so suddenly. Faster than cats, quicker than scorpions.  ( We have a lot of those, climbing out of the bath at night.)

She’s living your life, cigarette after cigarette, a giggle for the river, and a big laugh for the sea. All she knows is the city, her brothers in every room of the house, and the garlic her mother puts in her coat-pockets to keep away evil spirits. The two of you are sitting on a pile of rocks near the side of the national road. Charlotte is watching, and you swear her white coat is turning a faint green with jealousy. You’re not going up or down. You’re just talking, in case Stella gets frozen again, and you can’t carry her down. And anyway, the cross is all bandaged up with clouds.

The Hottentot’s Holland mountains are a purple ripple in the distance. The sun is falling quietly tonight, no sweep of orange and pink, just a slow, sullen bruising spreading across the sky. Charlotte coughs when you try to start her. Do you want to spend the night on the mountain, sulking? She sputters nnnn…oooo. Rrrrrh! With a few tries, you manage to get her going. Stella gets back into the front seat, checking her nose in her powder compact, as if it was missing and just came back.

We shouldn’t be driving, Stella says. We’re not supposed to use motor cars for pleasure purposes. Or buy new clothes, you answer, rubbing the brown of her skirt. She triple-sneers at you, but you lean towards her anyway. This time she stays still, and you can almost see where her heart is beating and yes, it’s pure as the driven snow!

The minute I qualify, I’m going to enlist, you tell her. Those bastards had better wait for me. The war is between you now, the air filled with how guilty you are because you’re not dying somewhere in Europe, burst into pieces by a bomb or a land-mine or a rattle of machine gun fire. Stella’s just as bad, eating hot lunches in the Medical School dining-room and wearing soft clothes from her father’s shop. When you tilt the world, so that it’s Europe on top, not the southernmost tip of Africa, Jewish girls  are standing naked, their clothes in toppling piles, their shoes becoming history.

There are very few other cars on the road, black ghost ships with masked headlights because of war-time regulations. Charlotte’s lights are taped too, with just a crack of light in the center to poke through the darkness, through the valley of the shadow of your fears, and Stella’s. You’ve driven through the countryside, past sleeping vineyards, and livestock tucked in for the night, and now you take her through Athlone, and Elsie’s River, Grassy Park and District Six.

You show her the places where so many of your patients come from, the tumbled down houses and shacks and pondokkies where you can pick TB, dysentery and syphilis in every garden, where stab-wounds proliferate like stars poking through the sky’s night-blanket. She’s staring out of the car window, at the skollies and the night-walkers, the gamblers and street-fighters and she tells you to slow down. I get car-sick, she says, Stop! You park next to an empty lot full of whispers and menace, two men watching your car with hooded eyes. The women and children are upstairs or downstairs, sleeping in boxes, on floors, ten in a bed, two at the window. You pull on your white coat, as she bends down next to the car, and vomits. At first, you try not to look and then you see she’s reeling a little. You hold her shoulders, trying not to get splashed. The two men walk past you, and they tip their hats. Dokter, they say, in the dark. ‘Naand.

When she’s finished, there’s a tear glinting in her eye, a reproachful diamond. You help her into the car, and she tells you she’s seen her fair share of brokens too, in the radiography department, under the giant X-ray machines. She sniffs, and then she lights another cigarette, her own private smoke signal. You almost forgot the freckle-hunt. The car smells of her shame, her curried lunch, your shame and all the sprats you never ate. It’s salt air and leather, cigarettes and bile. She’s steaming with tears at what you didn’t give her, the tea-room that wasn’t there, the nice place to stop for scones and cream and jam and a pot of tea. She didn’t mind District Six. She just wanted something hot to drink at four o’clock.

You drive her back in silence. Nobody says sorry. Other cars lurch towards Charlotte in the dark, rolling forward like blind tanks. Out of the blue, Stella announces, I want you to come for Friday night supper.

A houseboy answers the telephone when you call from the public telephone at Men’s Residence. Maxie’s right next to you, his boy’s breath on your face. He wants you to make sure this time, if you want his ten shillings. Stella gets on the line and her galloping laugh is in your ear. What did you say that was funny? It isn’t you, she screams, it’s my little brother, tickling me to death. Little brother, my foot. You know he’s a head and a half taller than you. Shush! She giggles and she tells you which Friday to come, and how strict her father is. You might as well walk because he hates Jews who drive on the Sabbath.

And then you’re scraping your feet on the mat outside the house, when the voice-on-the-telephone houseboy opens the door. You almost fall into his arms, before he disappears like a coffee-coloured shadow into the entrails of the house. The wall next to the door is cold, and the glinting floor gives you the evil eye. There’s a giant grandfather clock facing you at the foot of the spiny stairs, chiming loudly in your ear. You’re the mouse running up the clock, a tailor house mouse who can sew very tiny buttonholes, thank you very much. Hello Stella, you greet the Queen of Smoke, a white ribbon trailing after her as she comes down the stairs. I can do ruffles and lappets. And then, squeezing your eyes together and tipping your fingertips, My stitches are very, very small. She smudges her red lips against your forehead, a quick blur on your cockle shell.

My father won’t like your muddles, she says. He comes from a long line of Talmud scholars, all logical thinkers, learned men. She pulls a terribly serious face. Now you’re in the dining-room, a chamber of men, except for Stella, her mother and the tawny manx cat twitching her orange and black coat behind your knees. Shabbat candles twinkle on the table, Mother Bun fusses with the houseboy and a row of dishes steam on the sideboard.You plant your coccyx in the chair closest to Stella. The brothers fan out on both sides of the long table like beanstalks. You’re not quite sure if there are four or five or only three. They’re all twice your size, oddly patrician for yeshiva bochers, talking about the cricket scores and the Old Man, how the Allies are closing the Bulge, and what perfume does Stella have on tonight. Cat’s water? Dog’s whistle or is it bred in the bone, something a little closer to home? The Old Man enters, in the middle of Stella’s squealing and sticking out her tongue at the  boy-boys. He’s tight and fat in his suit, his chest and abdomen puffed like a pigeon’s, every part of him swelling with pride. You’re shocked that he’s as short as you are, but so full of his own gifts. You can’t help kicking your poor dead father under the table for all the things he gave away - the brooms and tins and old postcards and nails and bags of flour as well as his life’s blood. There’s a tear prickling in your throat as the Old Man winds up for the kiddush and raises his cup, twin billows of self-congratulation holding up his right arm, and his pudgy right hand. Even his lips are full, two plump fish moving ever so slightly with each loose, warm breath he takes.

His eyes are a mix of soft and sharp, the same piercing cocktail Stella has, the eyes of a judge, a noticer of defects, flaws, inconsistencies. Now they’re resting on you, son of poor dead Joseph and East End Yetta, the shop that stopped with barely a penny to its name. What do you have to say for yourself? What do you have to offer?

God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. The Old Man blesses the Sabbath wine, the covered bread, this holy penetrating moment as his eyes flick from the dancing Hebrew letters on the page to the quivering half-smile on your face watching Stella and her pouts and all the nonsense going on with her brothers and the sister-in-law who is missing, mind you, the oldest tallest brother’s wife pregnant and upstairs, lying in. There’s a lot of muttering and chair-scraping and sardonic eyebrow-raising, the cat’s back arching, as she sidles behind everyone, counting feet and faces and who’s going to pay her with a nice long stroke.

Ahh. Friday night was never this iffy in George, with the commercial travellers putting their hats on the table and the music lifting the edges of the carpet, a night to plan picnics, and find the right high tide, to remember the old roads and when Joseph stopped the train and the Model T Ford got stuck halfway up the Montagu Pass. At least that’s what you remember tonight, on this night of judgment, the Old Man’s gaze scraping you like sandpaper. Are you good enough? Are you big enough? Your name and college, sir. This warden of all wardens has cracked the shell of this year’s confidence, shaking the fragile mannikin of selfhood that you’ve patched together on the eve of becoming a doctor.

You’ve forgotten all the knife wounds you’ve stitched and cleaned, the broken bones you’ve set and the babies you’ve held, fresh to the world. He doesn’t think much of you, this roly poly ball of a man, Stella’s father. There’s a quick prayer for the rear-gunner, the middle brother up in the air over Europe. The war suddenly swoops into the room and the rear-gunner might as well be there, in his bloody uniform, stretching his hands inside his Air Force gloves, stamping his cold feet. It doesn’t matter that you want to be in the air too, or fighting on the ground, from a ship, in a tent, cracking codes behind enemy-lines, using every ounce of what you’ve learned as a doctor, as a man, as someone with a heart. None of that matters, because you’re here and you’re poor and you have to wait until Uncle Oscar says you can go.

There’s a blast of fury in your chest that withers the fat Old Man and the sneering brothers and supercilious Stella. These buggers have never even been up the Swartberg Pass. All they know is here, the rude cat and the long table, Friday after Friday. They’ve never seen what happens when they take the furniture away, when everything you can see and touch and sleep on gets sold for a song.

There are giblets in your soup and you scoop a tiny chicken heart into your spoon, the dark-grey blood vessels a tangle of words you can still count off on both fingers. Vena cava. Left innominate vein. Innominate artery. Left carotid. Left subclavian. Vena azygos major. Poof! The heart falls into the bowl. Dead again. Mother Bun is at your side in an instant, pouring another bucket of chicken soup into your plate. Stella said you were too thin. Ma! Stella growls at her, I never said that. Yes, you did. No, I didn’t.

Buff! The forks jump and so does the moon and your spoon. The Old Man has his fist on the table. Don’t argue with your mother. He’s shouting at Stella but his eyes are on you and he knows that you hate potatoes, that you shun carrots, that you despise anything cooked and soft and formless. You can’t finish what you haven’t even begun. 

Stella’s Old Man bulges as he finishes eating. You can’t help think about his innards and the layer of orange fat filling him up like a cream-puff. He says he visited Prague and Vienna and London before the war, buying lace and fur-trimmed jackets and slippery negligees for his salon, where the Prime Minister’s wife buys her suits. His shop is better than your shop ever was. Your father never sold anything that was slippery, not like the Old Man’s sliding gowns and silk blouses, satin skirts and soft pants.

Stella’s smoking like the devil and the Old Man is provoking her. They’re arguing about what hat a Jewish woman should wear, and how many times Stella didn’t go to shul with her mother, and who she didn’t talk to, and what sort of life she won’t even think about living. She won’t bother learning how to bleed a piece of meat, how to brine a chicken but she will make pickled herring, when she’s in the mood. What sort of a daughter is this, Mr. Klein? Who smokes when she’s not sulking, and sulks when she’s not smoking? And sneering! Why, she sneers from morning till midnight.

Then he chuckles through the fog of her smoke, and his cigar, floating, mingling, above their heads. But she likes my clothes, Harry. Ask her to show you her buttoned kid-gloves, her embroidered Hungarian blouses, her cut-velvet evening dresses. There’s no joy like the joy of dressing your own daughter.

You can’t help thinking of the Old Man’s fat hands pulling Stella’s panties over her navel and hooking her brassiere, stretching silk stockings over her thin legs and lacing up her shoes. He must know her most hidden freckles. You almost ask him but there’s something in Stella’s eye that catches you, the ghost of my ghost, another kind of prize. Instead you tell him, I love a good frill, especially when it’s in the right place. My father sold combinations and one day I didn’t get them off fast enough. Ha. Ha. I was only joking. I’m not the little boy you think I am. You know I can sew ruffles and lappets, hemstitches and ha-stitches, cross stitches and bobbinets. I can turn lace into skin and skin into lace, and back to skin again.

The Old Man loads his cannon with his eldest son, Ezekial, sometimes Zeke but mostly Zacky. He’s so brrrrilliant that even the professor of his professor’s professor wasn’t clever enough for him. Do you know how brilliant that is? Here, Zacky, ask this boytjie a few questions. Check if his anatomy is still gray or if he’s forgotten everything he learned.

Zacky is tall and speckled, variegated like Stella but not so pronounced. He’s got a quirk or two up his sleeve and of course his first question is female. Where is the canal of Nuck? Lucky you remember that it’s a lost canal, a tiny copy of the peritoneum which, in the foetus, turns into a little tube, an infinitesmal horn that protrudes into the inguinal canal.

This is when all the sons and their father turn into one big dragon, each head a different spiny plate, the youngest, Max, holding up their spiked family tail. That’s our Prize Female, the only one who can carry a foetus with its very own Nuck. You have to do quite a bit of swimming for her, not to mention studying. The Old Man is slowly crawling towards you, a fish with legs. This I can manage, you’re thinking, your brain talking back to you like someone on the other side of a telephone. One fish is better than the whole family dragon.

The Old Man pulls out a pack of cards. Do you play klawerjas? It’s not played with a full deck, you say, winking at him. This much I know. You can’t tell him that you never felt comfortable in the common room with the big boys, up till the wee hours in tight groups of four, whistling and screaming as the cards flew faster and faster.

You don’t know any card game, not even rummy? asks the Old Man. No, you answer. But I like all the fish in the sea, salt water up my long nose, and tap dancing so hard that my knees knock and the lights go out. He’s looking at you over the end of his broad nose, as if he knows what you’ve been up to all along, as if he’s counted every freckle himself. He half-pushes you into the next room, a stubby short man knocking into you like a skittle.

You’re in the lounge now with the tinkling, winking light of the glorious crystal chandelier directly above your head, another legion of stars. Around you, the brothers swirl, Max and Zacky playing mock rugby inches away from the table with the honeyed doughnut-shaped taiglach, and crystallized fruit in cut glass bowls. The taigel sticks to your teeth and your hands and you’re sorry you touched the damn thing. Where’s the bloody tablecloth when you need it?

The Old Man rocks back, a glass of brandy in his hand, his eyes washing over you like the tide tumbling a small stone.  You shrug and look up and he follows your gaze to a prominent screw right at the bottom of the dangling, maddening chandelier. He climbs onto a puffy step-stool and reaches for it, his arm longer than you ever imagined, with an opposable thumb a monkey’s monkey would be proud of. I wonder what that is, he says, twisting the screw. There’s a cracking sound, and a stupendous crash as the crystals fall, an avalanche of glass which misses the Old Man’s cranium by a sip of brandy, the whisker of a mantis. 

His sons are all strangling their laughs, lifting their faces to the giant hole in the ceiling. A stream of smoke pours through Stella’s nose. She tilts her head, trying to untwist the smile in her lips. You’re counting the seconds before the Old Man says GO! And then, GET OUT!  But he’s dead quiet, as the houseboy comes in with a broom and a dustpan to clean up the ruins.

The smell of a bad joke is in the air, all that broken glass clinking and clattering as Sam, the houseboy, sweeps and sweeps. The crystals that fell didn’t fall on us, thank God. Mother Bun is dusting the Old Man’s shoulders looking for slivers of glass, specks of glass, tiny crumbs that can cut you to pieces. She’s chattering and so is Stella, lucky birds as they circle the Old Man, who still isn’t talking. The rest of the family dragon is lying on a couch, six long legs in a row, or is it four? There’s hissing about you and Stella and how you stepped on the chandelier instead of the wedding glass, putting the cart before horse, Charlotte before Stella, tap dancing before cricket. Did anyone say cricket? Because there’s one chirping behind the curtain and crunch, the orange and black cat just ate it, cricket legs cracking in its mouth, folded cricket wings snapping like mangled umbrellas.    

You look at Stella laughing into the hole above your heads. I’m glad it fell down, she says. I never liked it anyway. Your heart is a bubble rising, a balloon on a string in her hands. You lead and I’ll follow. She takes your hand and you twirl like a girl. You lead and I’ll follow.

Anne Landsman is a writer. Her most recent novel, The Rowing Lesson, was published in paperback this year by Granta.

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