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Where Bones Dance

An English Girlhood, An African War

Nina Newington

Publication Year: 2007

     In this stunning debut novel, a child dissects the darkness at the heart of her British diplomatic family. Living in Nigeria on the brink of civil war, Anna—also known as Jake—becomes blood brothers with Dave, the Korean American daughter of a C.I.A. operative. They do push-ups, collect pornography, and plot lives of unmarried freedom while around them a country disintegrates. Luscious, terrifying, and raw, Nigeria itself becomes a lesson in endurance, suffering, love. 
     Stories are layered upon stories: Anna's grandmother tells stories about life as a white woman on the Gold Coast; the clairvoyant and closeted "Aunt" Elsie gives Anna a story of transformation to hold onto in the coming tumult of adolescence. Yet Where Bones Dance also spirals down to the stories that are not told—sexual abuse, the myth of benign colonialism, the chaos of postcolonial Africa. Sensual and fantastical by turns, this moving, funny, immensely readable book delivers an understanding of the interplay of sexuality, gender, race, and war that is sophisticated beyond the years of its intrepid narrator.
 
Winner, Georges Bugnet Award for Novel, Alberta Literary Awards, Writers Guild of Alberta

Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians and the Public Library Association

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Contents

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pp. ix-xi

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xiv

I lived in Nigeria from when I was seven until I was ten but, before writing this book, I had almost no conscious memory of that time, or indeed of the first twelve years of my life. There were things I knew had happened because they were a part of the family stories my mother told, but these were far from being direct ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

Thanks to Gloria Anzald

Cycle I: Good Snake

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Lagos

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pp. 3-

The door swings open. The breath of the jungle scorches my skin. Sweat and shit and tar and green, metallic as blood, the smell floods the plane, drowning the staleness of chicken and gin. The jungle pours into my lungs. I am breathing heat. The runway is far below, shimmering like it’s ...

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Lines

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pp. 4-5

... hands circle Christine’s arm, thumbs touching where the skin is soft. My fingers won’t reach around her biceps. I trace the ridges on her forearms, too straight for accident, too regular. They are like mountain ranges seen from the air. I want to touch the lines on her face, her Ibo lines. She tells how the women cut the child’s skin with a knife. They mix mud ...

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Beach

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pp. 6-9

My father pulls the engine cord. He is six foot four. He bends his knees and pulls. The whole boat rocks and the brown water goes out in ripples. Everything smells of petrol. There is a skin on the water, shining blue and pink like the bubbles he taught us to blow in the bath. He squatted down by the side, rubbed soap in my hand, made me clench it ...

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School

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pp. 10-12

I’m sitting at one end of the bench. The slats are cutting into my thighs. The Nigerian children are on the next bench which is a long way away. They are eating out of Disney lunchboxes too but I know what they are eating is funny. They eat their food with their hands and it smells of pepper but then I see ...

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Christine

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pp. 13-

The thorns tear my legs. I crawl under the bougainvillea whose flowers are a flight of crimson butterflies. I crawl into the shade. My eyes pick out brown, yellow, khaki, pools of color running into each other, a coil thickening, thicker than my arm, coils inward: snake. ...

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Dave

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pp. 14-

Up in Helen’s room I walk around. There isn’t anything to look at. Everything is square and white and clean. She says, “Do you know Judo?” “No,” I say. I will never catch up. Out of her closet Helen takes baggy white trousers and a jacket. I feel them and they are thick and soft. ...

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Red

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pp. 15-18

You only like your family, don’t you? Just like your old Mum. All the rest are mean and nasty, aren’t they?” Red wags his tail. “Bite ’em?” Red wags his tail some more. At the same time he sits down. It looks like he will fall over. Instead he puts his left paw on my mother’s knee. ...

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Daniel

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pp. 19-20

Daniel has a photographic memory,” says my mother. “I can show him a recipe once and he can repeat it to me word for word. He reads French too.” “What a find.” “You should taste his meringues. He was trained by the French ambassador’s wife.” “You lucky dog,” says Peg, giggling, “I bet the Frogs are fuming.” ...

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Relations

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pp. 21-24

They are pink and wrinkly and something smells too sweet. He is moving his head back and forth and around without the rest of his body and he keeps laughing. She is bending down toward me with her arms stretched out. Her arms are loose and white. I am walking towards her. I don’t want ...

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Moonflower

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pp. 25-29

Tonight the moonflower will open. The power is out. I don’t know what to expect, only it is something big because Bill and I are allowed to stay up late. We sit on the veranda and wait. The smell of the leopard coil and the hurricane lamp, my father’s cigarette and whisky, my mother’s brandy, wrap ...

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Mrs. Welt

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pp. 30-31

Mrs. Welt is talking about Gandhi. She is talking about America. What’s happening now is history in the making. Civil Rights. Civil Disobedience. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her hair stands up in perfect yellow circles except in front where it is dark and sticks to her forehead. The ...

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Sister Alice

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pp. 32-34

Sister Alice played piano at ballet at St. Corona’s school where I was before this. I can see her in my head like I’m looking through a window into the room where it happened. Her mouth looks like she is holding pins. Her whole face reminds me of a pine tree. The one fan that stirs the air is down the other end ...

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Akueke

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pp. 35-38

Christine walks by, her arms piled high with dirty clothes. Her body pushes at the seams of her crisp white dress and between her shoulders spreads a dark slick of sweat. Her broad cracked feet grip the tiled floor as she walks. She walks down the hall proud as a ship in sail. We play grandmother’s footsteps until we are close ...

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Blood Brothers

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pp. 39-40

Dave is home from America. She gives me a special tie from Arizona. It is a leather lace with silver tips and a blue stone which is Lapis Lazuli. “You wanna be blood brothers?” We are sitting on her bed after lunch. “Sure,” she says, “What do you have to do?” “You cut your finger and I cut mine, then we swear an oath ...

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Bone

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pp. 41-43

I lie in the grass with the crabs. It hasn’t gone away. The party is almost over. Gabriel collects glasses. My shoulder hurts. When I think about it I don’t know if it hurts. But just now I knew. I lean on it and the hurt burns down to my belly. I’m not making it up. I have to tell. Something gathers tight inside. ...

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City of Blood

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pp. 44-

Benin? They called it the City of Blood you know,” says Peg. “It’s the back of bloody beyond anyway. I can’t say I envy you. What about the children?” “It’s only for three months. I’ll come back to Lagos with them when school starts. Jack will finish up the last couple of weeks by ...

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Leper

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pp. 45-49

Something is on my bed. It isn’t big but it is there. I slide my arm out from under the sheet and turn on the light. It is shiny black and armor plated. Its legs are square. It keeps on climbing over me. It has a horn. The horn curves upward to a point. When it reaches the edge it walks down the ...

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Ibeji

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pp. 50-52

My mother is drinking gin with Peg.Dad is still in Benin. Tomorrow he has to go to the north to watch what is happening. I am a spy hanging on the rope ladder over the balcony. I have to watch my mother to make sure everything is all right. I have to keep an eye on things. My arms are aching ...

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Nigger

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pp. 53-55

Christopher giggles. “Both of you, go to the headmaster’s office right now. I will not have that word used in my classroom.” Her long Texas accent spins through the air like a lasso, her dress a perfect turquoise sky. The words hang for a moment over Christopher and me and then pull tight around us. “When you come ...

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Trips

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pp. 56-58

We were starving. Bill was whining because he ran out of ketchup, when out of nowhere came this man in a loincloth carrying a bow and arrow. He was walking along the side of the road. When he saw us he went away. When he came back we were still there. We were lost. He brought a basket ...

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Killings

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pp. 59-61

Make that two gin and limes and a lime juice, Gabriel, please.” I sound like my mother. My father sets his briefcase down beside the long blue chair. He pulls up the back so it is upright. He sits down and stretches out his legs. His feet stick out over the end. ...

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Mamba

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pp. 62-63

I am wearing my red string T-shirt and my jeans. I look at where the band at the end of the sleeve circles my biceps. The shadows of the bamboo make lines across my forearm like Christine’s lines. I bend my elbow and clench my fist and watch the muscle bulge. My muscle moves sideways like a hermit ...

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Woman

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pp. 64-67

Dave never tells me stories, she makes cartoons instead. All the people have square jaws. The boys have slicked back hair and the girls have ponytails. She gave me a cartoon of my father. I keep it in my marine chest. First he is holding a golf club, ready to swing. He is looking straight ahead. ...

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War

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pp. 68-

Well, they’ve done it,” my father says.He folds the paper and puts it down on the table. “More tea, darling? Done what?” “Seceded. As of today the Eastern Region wishes to be known as the Republic of Biafra.” He pinches the skin in between his eyebrows. My mother is ...

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Soldiers

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pp. 69-70

It’s bedtime. Christine is by the window. She’s reaching to draw the curtains when the lights go out. In the silence after the air conditioner stops whirring we hear shouting from the barracks on the other side of the cemetery. The shouting gets louder. Soldiers are coming down the road. They are chanting ...

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Brownies

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pp. 71-73

It is ninety-five degrees and the humidity is ninety-eight percent. We are tying half-hitches and bowlines and reef knots in Mrs. Samuels’s clothesline. I am a Brownie. At night I read the book. There are drawings of girls in mountains and of pieces of celery and carrots. Celery and carrots are perfect for a ...

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Fever

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pp. 74-75

Malaria, I’m afraid,” says the doctor. I am cold. Blankets score my skin. I am hot. I shiver. The rain clatters in my skull. It draws a curtain of beads across the window. The curtain is moving. My skin is grey with ice. The curtain of water is green as a mamba, its black-bead eye holding mine. ...

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Twin

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pp. 76-77

Dave and I are sitting in the pawpaw tree in her backyard. I can reach out and touch an almost ripe pawpaw. Its skin is green but it is soft. “Papaya,” says Dave, “not pawpaw.” I say, “I’m going to tell you something that happened and it’s a secret. “ She just sits there in her jeans and her white T-shirt with ...

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Island

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pp. 78-79

With my knife I carve pegs and at low tide I drive them deep in the sand, anchoring the low wall I have woven from palm fronds. I watch the moon. When the tide has gone out again I gather the fish from my trap. Their night bodies are silver and green. Some I lay on racks over a ...

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Return

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pp. 80-82

Christine arrives at our back door the same day the rains end. She is thin, her clothes muddy and torn. I wouldn’t have recognized her. She says, “You’ve grown,” and smiles. But her eyes are tired and like she doesn’t look into the secret place anymore. She goes to wash and sleep. The next day she ...

Cycle II: The English Ibeji

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Christmas

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pp. 83-85

I leave my parents sleeping to run across the sand, my toes curled against the heat. I squat within reach of the longest waves, the hiss of water reaching up between my legs, drawing back, leaving a damp pad of sand in my bikini bottoms. Sometimes a wave reaches up to my belly, swirls around me, sucking ...

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Trader

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pp. 86-88

Gabriel says, “Madam, the trader is here.” He says that every Friday. My mother goes outside. The trader is a thin man in khaki shorts with a white rag wound around his head. His eyes are long and thin too. With a flick of his toes he pulls out the kickstand of his bicycle. He carries the burlap sack from the bicycle to the shade of the front ...

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Ma

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pp. 89-90

The pink and wrinklies are taking us out for dinner. My grandmother is putting her face on. She does it every morning but today she’s doing it twice. First she shows me her feet. The toes are crooked and grey and they all grow together to a point. “Look at this, young Anna,” she says. “When I was a girl I wore winkle pickers and all I thought about was boys.” ...

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Drunk

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pp. 91-93

Wasipichu masipichu mau mau niggers rose up killed the whites rose in the dark and by treachery killed them they rose in the dark killed women and children they rose they rose black rose in the dark gotta keep an eye on the natives smile and smile and be smile in your face whass ...

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Dream

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pp. 94-

We are in the speedboat, my mother and father and brother and me. We are standing up and smiling. We are all wearing bright new toweling shirts. The water is shining. I am standing on the jetty. Something is moving under the water. I want to scream but the sound won’t come. I ...

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Bats

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pp. 95-96

I am lying awake listening to the air conditioning buzz and chug. I think of fruit bats swinging in wide arcs through the garden. Jeremiah wrapped the bananas already. They’re called Egyptian fruit bats. Black shadows crossing the desert, the whole Sahara, they are flying south to King Edward’s ...

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Marine

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pp. 97-98

A typewriter,” I say, “a petite typewriter.” My throat hurts like I swallowed something too big. On the wall over Dave’s shoulders are hand marks where we do push offs. “So I can wear stupid shoes and have long fingernails and be a secretary before I get married. Which I’m not going to.” ...

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Benin

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pp. 99-102

In front of me are a bell and a light. The light makes shadows all around. I step from rock to rock. I’m in a shadow canoe. The bell is a buoy warning the sea. The sea is a sea of snakes. Behind me I hear Red’s collar clinking. “Night adders,” says my father. “Puff vipers.” We have reached the veranda. His shadow dances with the ...

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Killings

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pp. 103-104

My father walks into the room with the radio, turning the antenna this way and that. He’s been listening for days, bent over, smoking cigarettes, twisting the tuning knob. “Ssh,” he says. I hear the tune for the World Service, thin and cheerful in the paraffin heavy air. “Ssh.” ...

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Christine

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pp. 105-109

I stand outside the servants’ quarters with my catapult, looking at the lizards. They have orange heads and blue bodies. Jeremiah says there is poison in their heads. I stand on the hot gravel and watch them until the wall is a pattern, blue and grey and orange moving in and out and the lines are a whirlpool sucking me in. I dig my heels in the gravel and make it like my ...

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News

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pp. 110-

The sixth of July, 1967, sixteen hours Greenwich Mean Time. In Nigeria today, the first shots were fired in what the Federal Military Government is calling a “police action” against the breakaway Republic of Biafra. ...

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Help

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pp. 111-112

The water is brown and warm around my shins. Crabs shift under my feet. My sneakers are heavy, they slip off my heels at each step. I hear the crack of a whip. They can’t see me. They’re in front of the house. They laugh. The water is warm as the air. The air is brown. There are no lights anywhere. My breathing is loud, like water running over rocks. ...

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Trousers

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pp. 113-114

I hear footsteps in the hall. I lie with my arms by my side and my eyelids don’t move. I am asleep. Bill went to sleep a long time ago. The door opens. She turns on the light. “Goodnight,” she says. Her voice is thin. I won’t look. She walks to the chair. My father is away. He’s away. He isn’t here. He went away. He went away to look at war. ...

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Mask

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pp. 115-116

My father is reading the Times, Prince Richard is wearing the crocodile mask. It has a long red and yellow checkered snout and black teeth. He brought it from the war as a present. After he takes it off he says to my mother, “She has your eyes, my dear. She’ll be quite a beauty ...

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House

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pp. 117-118

I am in the hedge building a house the first day Michael comes. Jeremiah went away like Christine did. He was an Ibo too. Michael is a Yoruba. His eyes are bright like the sun on the lagoon and his hands are wide. I can see how his muscles are strung to his bones. He smiles but I don’t look at him. All I want ...

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Microscope

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pp. 119-122

Bill has a sick bat. He keeps it in a cage. It has big grey ears. He keeps it in the cage the love birds used to live in. They were called Jack and Jill. Whenever they escaped they flew into the mango tree outside our bedroom window. The tree is full of ticks so we aren’t allowed to climb it. Jeremiah ...

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High

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pp. 123-126

We are in the casuarina tree, smoking its needles through a straw. “Christopher said banana peels work too, if you dry them well enough.” A coconut is bobbing on the oily surface of the lagoon. Dave sucks hard at the straw then coughs. “Well this isn’t working.” “How do you know?” ...

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Map

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pp. 127-

Get out get out get out of my blood get out get out my feet follow the words get step out step get step out step and then I’m running in a circle out and out get out is a drum and I’m running in a circle away from the middle I’m running dancing out get out if I could hold the insides pull them pull ...

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Beach

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pp. 128-132

It is night. I watch Dad’s elbow come up through the air and then his hand, shining blue-white as it shoots forward and down again into the darkness. His hair sheds feathers of light each time he turns his head to the right and I know how his mouth twists up to make an o for breathing, every other stroke. ...

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Wake

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pp. 133-135

She looked exhausted. It goes on for days and days. I’d never have guessed she would go back to the old ways. She looked like any other Yoruba village mammy. Carol said the same thing. She said it’s especially hard for them not having found the body because the Yoruba believe the spirit can’t rest till the body is properly buried. But really it was so odd to come ...

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Baby

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pp. 136-

At the bottom of the ocean there’s a baby. It begins like this. The baby is dead in the ocean. In the ocean the baby is dead. The baby has no bones. It is little and wrinkled and it smells. The bones are away by themselves. They dance. When there is drumming baby bones dance through the dark and ...

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Dark

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pp. 137-139

I listen to the tablet drift down through the water and then clunk, hit the bottom. I listen to the fizz. It’s a white sound. The bottle of Alka Seltzer sits on the sideboard with the malaria pills, under the Ibejis. After she has drunk the Alka Seltzer Mum takes two codeine. Dad eats a piece of toast. ...

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Blow Job

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pp. 140-141

I want to say, how do you know? I want to say, no, she’s Korean. I want to fight. “I don’t like this one,” I say. “I don’t want to keep it.” I can’t stand how her eyes are closed and how his hair is curly down there and pushes against her face. She is wearing lipstick. It looks like someone has drawn it on with a crayon. ...

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Soap

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pp. 142-144

I am trying to hold my teeth away from the soap. It is smeared on my tongue. The floor is white and echoing. Mrs. Welt takes the soap from out my mouth. I make her disappear. I look at the long white line of basins. They lead as far as I can see into the faraway and in that place I’m looking back at me. I ...

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House

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pp. 145-

I go to my house. I crawl inside, pulling the towel back down over the doorway it is dark and hot like being inside the ground the air touches me everywhere it touches in between my thighs it touches my shoulders and my eyes it’s like another skin the earth’s like a huge body breathing I can feel it ...

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Drowning

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pp. 146-149

Dave shows me how to strangle someone. She puts her fingers around my neck, the thumbs pressing into the soft triangle where my collarbones meet. Then I do it to her. “No,” she says, “Stand closer so you can really push down with your thumbs.” The front door opens and closes. It is her father going back ...

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Christine

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pp. 150-152

She looks at her hands. They seem even bigger now they are just bones and skin. She looks at her fingers as if she is counting them. She says, “Government words can’t bring back what is gone.” “Perhaps they’re not really gone, perhaps they are hiding in the bush like Akueke did.” I say it fast. “When a hope so slim you can’t see him sideways, no good in ...

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Mirrors

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pp. 153-154

We aren’t sailors. We aren’t even boys. I am afraid to say anything because I can’t remember anything I said before. I make words like spit, so easy. I’m drowning in my own spit. I don’t remember how to swim. I don’t know where I am. It’s like a wave is coming up behind me, right behind ...

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Sailor

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pp. 155-156

Hey sailor. Boys don’t cry,” I say. I am Jake and she is Dave. She doesn’t ever have to know. I do what Jake would do. I grab her arms and we wrestle. We roll over and over but I let her pin me. She is still crying, sitting on top of me. “I don’t want you to go.” Something aches in my belly. Maybe she knows and she ...

Cycle III: The Mosquito King

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Mother

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pp. 159-161

When I come back she is asleep. She lies on her back with no bikini top, one hand on each breast, sleeping. I stand on her left where my shadow will not cross her. I can see her nipples. They have little bumps and in the middle the little bumps make a cluster. Instead of sticking out the ...

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Eye

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pp. 162-

Christine. There is a bird with one red eye. When the drums play the bird flies in the air between the casuarina tree and the mango tree.” “Silly child, it is a bat after the bananas.” “Does a bat have one red eye and can he see through walls?” “Come, where did you see this bird, in a story book ...

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Beggar

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pp. 163-166

Black bottoms,” says my mother, washing her hands, “that’s what you like. You’re a dreadful racialist.” Red wags his tail.His lip is hooked up over one tooth.His gum is black and pink. He is grinning. She puts away the Dettol and the gauze. We put towels on the car seats. Where I touch the plastic it ...

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Facts

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pp. 167-169

I think about the blood on her underwear. I can see it, there when I opened the laundry basket, coffee-colored cotton with a great blot of blood in the crotch staring up at me like it was waiting for me to open the lid, like a spider wrapping its legs around my brain. I can’t make it go away. It’s a secret. It ...

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Ile Ibenu

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pp. 170-171

In Old Benin the altars were caked with blood, and naked boys held up the arms of the king. He wore so many bracelets of coral and brass he couldn’t lift his own arms. The walls were studded with human skulls and everywhere there were slaves crucified on trees. The soldiers that came and burned the city ...

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Underwater

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pp. 172-174

Some days I want to build a castle, tall and strong, around my brother, set it with bones and teeth. He is standing at the end of a dead tree looking down into the pool. The tree leans out over the water. The water is dark green and shiny. His eyes are screwed up as if he is trying to see down into the underneath ...

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Bath

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pp. 175-178

This is as bad as when you worked in bloody Birmingham all week.” Dad’s face is plain. Nothing is written on it. That’s how he looks mostly. I like it. It’s like a wind that always blows from the same direction. I can hear the jeep in the driveway. The ...

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Mosquito

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pp. 179-181

At one time the mosquito was living with the spirits. He was employed as a domestic. Often he was sent on long journeys to far away places. The Queen of Spirits liked him well, she even gave him a horse. Now she had been pregnant a long time. When it was known her labor was about to begin, she ...

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Bill

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pp. 182-185

Bill sits on the floor with his legs around piles of coins. He wears blue shorts with an anchor embroidered on the left leg. “One pound three and six, one pound three and seven, one pound three and eight.” His face is smooth. Only his left hand moves. He takes pennies, one at a time, from the green shoebox and adds them to his ...

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Secret

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pp. 186-188

I am waiting for Dave and Dave’s mom. Caroline and I are sitting beside each other on the bench. All day the secret I learned has been buzzing in my head. Caroline swings her feet and hums. She is humming the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Sometimes she sings a little bit. She sings “Mine eyes have seen the glory,” and then she goes back to humming. She is in the ...

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Belching

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pp. 189-191

We are sitting on the veranda having tea. The Harmattan wind is blowing. I am drawing spirals in the film of sand on the glass tabletop. The sand has blown all the way from the Sahara. “I can do it whenever I want.” She pauses then does three fat gurgling ones in a row. Bill giggles so hard he spills his tea on his leg. His whole body giggles. It keeps going even when his face is ...

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Isle of Man

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pp. 192-194

The smell is cream and brown and soft, is things which push up out of the ground at night and grow without leaves, which smell the opposite of green, the underneath of green. Granny looks in my basket. She touches each smooth cap with her long white finger. She knows which are poisonous, which are ...

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White Man’s Grave

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pp. 195-197

My father says, “You make the best kippers I have ever tasted.” The whole house smells of buttery smoky fish. I say, “What’s the Bight of Benin?” “The sea along the coast of Nigeria,” says my father, “but it means the land too.” “When I went to the Gold Coast,” Granny says, “people called ...

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God

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pp. 198-201

Granny believes in God. He is white and has a beard. She says that isn’t true. She says, “God looks like every single person on earth.” “And animal?” “Animals don’t have souls.” She looks at me. “At least, they say they don’t. But maybe you’re right.” I smile thinly. I’ve been learning how to smile like that from ...

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Home

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pp. 202-204

I am sitting on the trunk under the stairs. The kitchen door is open and I can see through the crack where the hinges are. I can only see a long thin piece of Granny but I saw my mother’s lips kiss her cheek. Granny’s arm goes up and down. She is making sponge cake. I can smell pears stewing. The smell lies on top ...

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Magnifying Glass

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pp. 205-207

I take my magnifying glass up the mountain. The train is small and full of women in pale dresses with huge arms and legs, and men with great round bellies and veiny noses, and children with skinny white legs. At the top, which isn’t really the top, we walk until we can’t see many people but we don’t walk very far ...

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Aunt Elsie

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pp. 208-212

I have to see Aunt Elsie again. I fetch my bucket and spade. “Mum,” I say, “I want to go and dig bait on the beach.” “Wait until we’ve finished breakfast and we’ll go with you.” “But they’re better early in the morning. I’ll be careful crossing the road. Dad promised I could go fishing this evening.” ...

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Fishing

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pp. 213-215

The sea is a long way down and moving. Bill sits, huddled over his rod, his legs sticking through the railings. He looks old. I wonder if he is sleeping. All the light in the sky is lavender grey. The clouds are like a thin quilt. At the edge they are pulling away in little pieces in the same direction the sea is ...

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Airplane

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pp. 216-220

Everybody except two nuns is carrying red, white and blue shopping bags. The bags are heavy, they strain at the little plastic handles. On the sides I read Heathrow International Airport Duty-Free Lounge. “What did you get?” Bill stands up and looks in the bags. “Gin or vodka. Mmm, I bet it’s Beefeater gin. One of brandy, one of ...

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Jigsaw

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pp. 221-224

My eyes are thick and my throat is dry. I’m awake. I know where I am. My mother’s seat is leaned back as far as it will go, and her head is leaned back too. Her mouth is open. I can see lipstick on her teeth. She is snoring. I look out of the window: the same white clouds. Perhaps we ...

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Recipe

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pp. 225-226

Brian reaches for the jug on the table. They are drinking Pimms Number One. “Top-up, anyone? The rebel forces came within a hundred miles of Lagos while you were away, you know. It wasn’t the noble Nigerian army that drove them back either, it was their own commanding officer. The brave Brigadier ...

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Lines

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pp. 227-228

The lines on her face are roads to the war. They cut the skin and put mud, they put the ground in her blood. Now it’s like looking from the air, like the roads cut in the jungle I saw from the plane. She’s going back. She has to. I look at the scars. I keep looking at them. She’s going to the war. I look at ...

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Twin

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pp. 229-231

A plant with spiky pods grows under the kitchen window. I kneel there. Inside Daniel is reading a recipe in French. My father is coming. He is coming home today. There are holes nothing fits into. I watch ants go in and out of a pineapple. They have made a tiny round entrance. When they come ...

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Prince

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pp. 232-235

Richard smiles. He taps the side of his leg with his hand over and over. It is like he is reminding himself of something, but maybe he doesn’t even know he is doing it. He is a prince. Not the kind that gets to be king, unless twenty people die off in the right order. There is something different about my mother’s smile, it ...

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Story

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pp. 236-237

I am in the growing house with my twin. Dark is pouring through the door. He is asleep. Perhaps he is dead. “I’ll tell you a story,” I say, “about a little girl, a little little girl who was wearing a red party dress, it was made of velvet and on her legs were thick white tights. She was outside. Inside there were her ...

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Observer

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pp. 238-

I look at her. I wish I never told her about her father. I think now when she looks at him she’s always wondering if he lied. I want to ask her if that’s true. She’s staring at her toes, at two half moons of unstained rubber. “He’s an observer,” I say. “It’s different.” ...

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Hole

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pp. 239-243

He almost starved to death, poor little chap. They wouldn’t let me breastfeed him. In those days they thought it was healthier to bottle feed but Bill didn’t think so, did you? You didn’t want that crummy bottled milk. You lost so much weight they put you in the incubator. If Dr. Braun hadn’t ...

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Leaving

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pp. 244-246

There isn’t anything to say. There aren’t any words in my head. I’m not glad anymore. Nothing hurts. It’s like watching the dentist drill my mouth after I’m already frozen. It’s the same too because a part of me is waiting for the hurt to start. I think that. I think how it is harder not to know ...

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Ship

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pp. 247-250

At dinner I start to laugh. I am eating spaghetti with the other children. The sweet red sauce makes my throat hurt. They are looking at me. I don’t know their names. Their faces look like mushrooms. The laughter pushes through my belly, huge hoops of it squeeze through. It is too big for me but it ...

Cycle IV: Harvest of Ghosts

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Beach

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pp. 253-255

On the beach she lies with her mouth open. Her lips are wet, as if she has been licking them in her sleep. Bill and Dad are far down the beach. I can see the kite, a red diamond in the blue sky with a yellow tail. I know the string I can’t see leads down into their hands. I can’t see them either. My ...

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Harbor

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pp. 256-257

The motor turns and dies, turns and dies. He pulls the cord until it catches. He stands up, smiling. The harbor is blazing behind him. He’s cut out of the red sea like a huge dark statue. We’re sitting in the boat at his feet, looking up at him. He doesn’t have a face. Father, I think. He’s my father, making the word like a hand reach up to his head, touch the skin ...

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Pole

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pp. 258-262

Christine comes in with a basket of T-shirts and socks. She opens the drawers and begins to sort out Bill’s from mine. Under the armpits of her dress there are dark circles. I put down my pen. I turn around in the chair so my legs are on either side of the back, and rest my chin on it. ...

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Death

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pp. 263-266

The line is stretching longer and longer, the people like ants crawling down the country, a dark line like blood flowing down. It won’t stop. Something’s going to happen and everybody’s waiting but then it’s happened and I didn’t see when. It’s like the moonflower the first time I watched it. I never saw it move ...

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Malaria

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pp. 267-268

The fever is gone. My bones are thin. Where is Christine? There are footsteps in the hall. Christine. Christine. She is holding me in her arms, my cheek against her warm breast, soft, pressed up against my cheek, warm in my belly. She is holding me. I close my eyes, red like a plum and warm, redder and redder, the smell of her, her white dress pepper smell, ...

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Man

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pp. 269-

I am grown, a tall and handsome man. Muscles stretch across the bony plate of my chest. My arms fill the sleeves of the jacket I wear. My shoulders are thick with muscle. At any step my toes can push me from the ground. In one enormous stride I might be anywhere. A leopard looks at me. His spots ...

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Spy

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pp. 270-274

Spies learn to be invisible. They have to. It’s a lonely job. Everybody wants to get a spy. So how do you become invisible? It’s more than clothes and haircut and accent, though of course you must speak the people’s language perfectly.” I linger on “of course.” My voice deepens. “It’s a way of life, not ...

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Doll

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pp. 275-277

In the middle of the night the lights are on. Bill is pretending to sleep. I know when he is pretending because his face gets smooth and quiet. When he is really asleep he has two wrinkles between his eyebrows like he is thinking hard. He woke up screaming. My mother came in. She bent over him. She said ...

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Oil

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pp. 278-280

Matthew goes to the front. He will look the same when he is forty, like a mushroom with tiny brown freckles. He’s gotten taller since third grade but he hasn’t changed. It’s like there’s a big quiet field inside him and black and white cows are grazing there and they always have and they always will and his eyes are brown like ...

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Under

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pp. 281-282

The war is happening all day long all the time. My finger moves in the warm sand, around and around, the grains parting, spreading out behind my finger like the wake from a boat. All day long it is happening. I can’t see it. It’s a long way away but it is happening. Christine knows. She knows it all ...

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Fancy Dress

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pp. 283-286

The Yellow Rose is in the garden, laughter comes up from below. They’re playing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” The Yellow Rose is wearing cardboard petals which stand out from his waist like a skirt blown up in the wind, and on his head he has stamens which nod as the Bumble Bee ...

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Eye

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pp. 287-288

Fuck them. I am curled around the eye, the red eye. Fuck them. Fuck them. My blood is beating out the words. My blood is crimson, it branches through my body like the bones in a bat’s wing. It is beautiful. It is the color of pansies. Fuck. Them. Fuck. Them. I am inside. Inside the eye which is ...

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Green

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pp. 289-290

It was great fun. We were terribly poor, you know. Anna ate spinach for a year. It was all we could grow but I painted the flat wonderful, zany colors. I painted the bathroom dark green from floor to ceiling. It was like being in the jungle. Little did we know! Jack had left the Foreign Office and was ...

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Free

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pp. 291-292

I look at him. My head is full of singing. He is crouched down. I have never looked in his eyes before. They are grey with dark rims and pale blue rays. The voices stop. In the silence after the echoes have died away, a voice says, “He is afraid of you.” I keep on looking at him. He is afraid. He is afraid of me. I smell his ...

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Nothing

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pp. 293-295

Christine is sitting in the green armchair, waiting. The skirt around the bottom of the chair still has stains from when I flooded the house. Christine’s arms lie flat along the arms of the chair, her hands hang off the ends. I never saw her sit in an armchair. Her hands just hang there. She isn’t ...

The Sea, The Sea

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pp. 296-301


E-ISBN-13: 9780299222635
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299222604

Publication Year: 2007