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Speaking with the Angel
     

Speaking with the Angel

4.7 6
by Nick Hornby (Editor)
 

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Nick Hornby…Giles Smith…Helen Fielding…Roddy Doyle…Irvine Welsh…Zadie Smith…Dave Eggers…Robert Harris…Melissa Bank…Patrick Marber…Colin Firth…John O’Farrell

Compiled by bestselling author Nick Hornby and featuring brand new stories from the hottest writers on both sides of the

Overview

Nick Hornby…Giles Smith…Helen Fielding…Roddy Doyle…Irvine Welsh…Zadie Smith…Dave Eggers…Robert Harris…Melissa Bank…Patrick Marber…Colin Firth…John O’Farrell

Compiled by bestselling author Nick Hornby and featuring brand new stories from the hottest writers on both sides of the Atlantic, Speaking with the Angel is a fresh and funny collection that is sure to be the literary anthology of the year.

Here is a book that was inspired by a very special boy and a very special school. Some money from each copy of Speaking with the Angel sold will benefit autism education charities around the world, including The Treehouse School in London, where Nick’s son Danny is a student, and the New York Child Learning Institute here in the States. This project is truly a labor of love for Hornby and the other writers involved, many of whom are Nick’s friends.

These original first-person narratives come from the most exciting voices in fiction. Melissa Bank gives readers a glimpse into the mind of a modern New Yorker whose still-new relationship is a constant source of surprise in “The Wonder Spot.” In Zadie Smith’s “I’m the Only One,” a young man recalls his strained relationship with his diva-esque sister. Dave Egger’s “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned,” is told from the viewpoint of an unfortunate pit bull. Helen Fielding offers up a new twist on I’ve fallen and I can’t get up in “Luckybitch.” And in Nick Hornby’s “NippleJesus,” a bruiser finds out that guarding modern art is far more hazardous than controlling the velvet ropes at a nightclub. Speaking with the Angel also includes stories from Roddy Doyle, Irvine Welsh, Colin Firth, John O’Farrell, Robert Harris, Patrick Marber, and Giles Smith.

Twelve completely new stories, written by twelve undeniably imaginative voices. Speaking with the Angel is at turns clever, outrageous, witty, edgy, tender, and wicked. This is what they meant by original.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Edited by Nick Hornby, Speaking with the Angel brings 12 of today's most original voices -- including Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, Irvine Welsh, and Helen Fielding -- together for an often skewed, always hilarious perspective on human behavior at the dawn of a new millennium. Proceeds from the collection will benefit autism charities around the world, including The Treehouse School in London, where Nick's son Danny is a student, and the New York Child Learning Institute in New York.
Mary Elizabeth Williams
The only thing linking the 12 stories here is that each of them is told in the first person, and each is quirky, colorful and alive....Charity project or not, Speaking with the Angel is an exemplary gathering of bright literary lights from both sides of the Atlantic, doing exactly what they do best.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A virtual who's who of the latest literary guard, this anthology bristles with the crackly talent and confidence of both the newly and the already fabulous. Included are Hornby himself, Melissa Bank, Dave Eggers, Helen Fielding and Zadie Smith, as well as veteran favorites Roddy Doyle and Irvine Welsh. Every story is told in the first person, and the voices are consistent, fresh, particular. Though some tales veer toward the trendy side of topical, each one surprises and entertains. Eggers's "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned" is told by a pit bull whose anthropomorphized sensibilities and phraseology are quite lovely. Patrick Marber treads on familiar turf in "Peter Shelley," a defloration/coming-of-age story told in a blend of irreverence and awe that seems new. In "Last Requests," Giles Smith imagines some moments in the career of a Death Row chef who does her best to satisfy the inmates' final culinary wants. And Roddy Doyle further ennobles his reputation with "The Slave," in which an anxious, literate, working-class father suffers a mid-life reckoning with a large dead rat in his kitchen. None of these 12 stories disappoints. (Feb. 6) Forecast: An imaginative cover-featuring painted doll-like ceramic busts of the icontributors-will catch browsers' eyes, as will Hornby's name at the top of the jacket. The should sell snappily if prominently displayed, and perhaps more so if it becomes known that some portion of the profits will go to TreeHouse, a British school for autistic children's. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Hornby (High Fidelity; About a Boy) asked colleagues to contribute to this collection, the proceeds of which are to benefit the TreeHouse School, an institution for children with autism. Even without the noble cause, the book is worth purchasing, with new stories from the likes of Melissa Bank, Dave Eggers, Helen Fielding, and Zadie Smith. Robert Harris's "PMQ" is a hilarious send-up of a politician's peccadilloes. Other standouts include Hornby's own "NippleJesus," about a controversial artwork, told from the perspective of a museum security guard, and Roddy Doyle's "The Slave," a stream-of-consciousness tour de force in which a rat in the house is the progenitor of a man's midlife crisis. Highly recommended for public libraries; patrons may be inspired to send Hornby the money the TreeHouse School would have received if they had bought the book.-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Michiko Kakutani
Though the stories vary enormously in quality, they provide the reader unfamiliar with these writers with a tasting menu of their work, and longtime fans with some new morsels of fiction to debate. Dave Eggers's entry, "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned," which recounts the short, happy life of a pit bull, is a small tour de force that ratifies his ability to write about anything with style and vigor and genuine emotion.... Zadie Smith's contribution, "I'm the Only One," similarly showcases her gift for creating funny, engaging characters...
New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781573228589
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/2001
Edition description:
1ST RIVERH
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
532,850
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Wonder Spot by Melissa BankSeth talks me into going to a party in Brooklyn. He says that we can just drop by. I tell him that a party in Brooklyn is a commitment. It takes effort. It's like a wedding. You can't just drop by. "We can just drop by," he says again, in a tone that says, We can do anything we want. This will be our first party as a couple. He says, "It will be fun." My boyfriend is a decade younger than I am; he is full of hope. We drive to Brooklyn in his old Mustang convertible, with the top down. Because of the wind and because I'm on the side of Seth's bad ear, we can't really talk-or I can't. But he tells me that we're going to Williamsburg, the section of Brooklyn that's been called the New Downtown. After the party we can walk around and have dinner at a restaurant his friend Bob is about to open there. Bob had offered to let us try everything on the menu-to-be if we'll help him name the restaurant; the finalists are The Shiny Diner, Bob's and The Wonder Spot. "Start thinking," Seth says, and I do. Across the bridge and into the land of Brooklyn, we go under overpasses and down streets so dark and deserted you know they're only used to get lost on. I get this pang for Manhattan, where I am never farther than a block from a bodega, never more than a raised arm from a cab. But then we turn a corner and-lights! People! Action!-we park. Walking to the party, I tell Seth about the Williamsburg I've already been to, the one in Virginia. I expect him to have heard of it-he's from Canada and knows more about the U.S. than I do-but he hasn't. I tell him that I was five or six at the time, and I didn't understand the concept of historical reenactment. I thought that we'd just found a place where women in bonnets churned butter and men in breeches shoed horses. I tell him the real drama of the trip: I lost the dollar my father had given me for the gift shop. "What period do they reenact?" Seth says, teasing. "You know," I say, "colonial times." "When was that exactly?" "Sometime before 1910," I say. I'm having such a good time that I forget about the party until we're on the elevator up. I say, "Maybe we should have a code for 'I want to go'." He starts to make a joke but sees that I'm serious and squeezes my hand three times. I okay the code. The elevator door opens right into the loft. I was counting on those extra few seconds of hallway before facing the party, the party we are now part of and in, a party with people talking and laughing and having a good time. I think, I am a solid, trying to do a liquid's job. I am only a third-joking when I squeeze Seth's hand three times. He squeezes back four, and before I can ask what four means, our hostess is upon us. She is tall and skinny, with ultra-short hair and a gold dot in one of her perfect nostrils; I feel every pound of my weight, every year of my age, until Seth tells her, "This is my girlfriend, Meg." I'm not sure I've ever had a boyfriend who introduced me as his girlfriend. I smile up at this ghosty-pale sweetie-pie man o'mine. As soon as our hostess slinks off to greet her next arrivals, I say, "What does four mean?" "It means, 'I love you, too'," he says. I want to be happy to hear these words-it's the first time we've squeezed them-but I feel so close to him at this moment, I say the truth, which is, "I feel old." He puts his coat around my shoulders and says, "Is that better?" and I realize that I've spoken into his bad ear. I nod and we move deeper into the party. He introduces me as his girlfriend to each of the friends we pass, all of who seem happy to meet me, and I think, I am his girlfriend, Meg; I am girlfriend; I am Meg, girlfriend of Seth. I'm fine, even super-fine, until he goes to get a glass of wine for me. Now I look around, trying to pretend, as I always do at parties, that I could be talking to a fellow party-goer if I wanted to, but at the moment I am just to captivated by my own fascinating observations of the crowd. The women are young, young, young, liquidy and sweet-looking; they are batter, and I am the sponge cake they don't know they'll become. I stand here, a lone loaf, stuck to the pan. It is at this very moment that I see Vincent-only from behind, but I know it's him. Vincent is my ex-boyfriend, or X7, if you count all the times we broke up and got back together. I've told Seth almost nothing about my ex-boyfriends. Now he'll meet the one who told me my head was too big for my body. When Seth returns with my wine, he says, "Still cold?" and he rubs my shoulders and arms and back warm. "Better?" he says. I do feel better, and I say so. A small crowd gathers around us-the drummer in Seth's band, and his entourage-girlfriend, brother, and girlfriend of brother. They try o talk to me, and I try to talk back. One of the girlfriends, I'm not sure whose, works in public radio. Since I'm a public-radio lover, I can keep this conversation going, program to program, until she asks me what I do. I say, "I'm a weaver," and both girlfriends look at me like they're not sure they've heard correctly. "I weave," I say, and this leads to an almost post-nuclear silence, the usual effect. But the one who works in public radio says, "Do you like weaving?" "Except for the stress," I say. She laughs, and we are insta-friends. Then we girlfriends return to them boyfriends. I plant myself beside Seth like a fire hydrant, my back to where I imagine Vincent to be. But he's not; he's right across the room, his arm slung like a belt around the hips of a girl who I can tell right away is a model. She has the long, straight hair I used to wish for and sky-high thighs you can see through her mesh stockings. Just like the bad old days, Vincent doesn't seem to recognize me. Then he gives me a look of mock shock. I inadvertently squeeze Seth's hand, and he smiles without looking at me, like we have a secret language, and I wish we did. I watch Vincent steer his girlfriend toward us. He's grown his hair long now and sports a weird beard and mustache, Lucifer-style. Plus, he's wearing a shirt with huge pointy collars jutting be out like fangs over his jacket. When he reaches us, I say, "Happy Halloween." "Hello Meg," he says, Dr. Droll. I say, "Seth, this is-" Vincent interrupts and introduced himself as "Enzo." "Enzo?" I say. He doesn't answer, and I remember his New Jersey friends calling him Vinnie, and his firm correction: "Vincent." He pulls his model front and center and says, "This is Amanda." "I'm Meg," I say to her. Then I get to say, "This is my boyfriend, Seth." "Hi." She is both chirpy and cool, an ice chick. "We know each other," she says about the man I've just introduced as my boyfriend, and she kisses him-just the cheek, but so far back that her pouty mouth appears to be traveling neck- or ear-ward. I stare at her, even while I am telling myself not to. I fall under the spell not of her eyes but of her eyebrows, which are perfectly arched and skinny and make me aware of my own thick and feral pair; mine are a forest and hers are a trail. When I blink myself our of my trance, Vincent is saying, "Whenever anyone would say, "Small world," Meg used to say, 'Actually, it's medium-sized,'". I say, "I was about 11 when I knew Vincent." Then, like the hostess my mother taught me to be, I say, "Vincent is a musician, too." "I used to be," he says and names the best-known of the bands he played in, though I happen to know it was only for about 15 minutes. Then he asks Seth, "Who do you play with?" I can tell Vincent's impressed by Seth's band and doesn't want to be; he fast talks about starting up at start up-an on-line recording studio, a real-time distribution outlet, a virtual record label-he goes on and on, Vincent style, grandiose and impossible to understand. I say, "Basically, you do everything but teach kindergarten?" Vincent says, "There is an educational component." Seth comes off as gentle, even meek, but I know he is intolerant of talk like this. He squeezes my hand three times. "Oh, shoot," I say, looking at my wrist for a watch I'm not wearing, "we have to go," and I love the sound of we, and I love that it's Seth who wants to go and I love that we are going. Vincent says they're headed to another party themselves. He kisses both my cheeks-what now must be the signature Enzo kiss-and he looks at me as though he cares deeply for me, a look I never got when we were together, a look that Seth notices, and I think Phew: Seth will think another man loved me; he will think I am the lovable kind of woman, the kind a man better love right or somebody else will. Vincent says, "You look great, Meg," and I think of saying, Whereas you look a little strange, but I just say, "See you, Vinnie." A few more pleasantries and we're in the elevator. As soon as the elevator doors close, I say, "Good thing she was just a model," I am giddy just to be out. "I think that would've been really hard if she were a supermodel." He looks at me, not sure what I mean. Out on the street, I say, "How do you know her, by the way?" and instantly regret how deliberately off-handed I sound. "I don't really know her," he says. "She came up to me after a show a few weeks ago." I think, Came up to you or on to you? But I give myself the open, amused look of a bystander eager to hear more about one of life's funny little coincidences. "She asked me if I would help her celebrate her half-birthday," he says, and his tone tells me I would be crazy to think he'd every be attracted to her. Unfortunately, now I am crazy, and I have to stop myself from saying a tone-deaf and tone-dumb, So you're saying you didn't eat her half-birthday cake? Suddenly I feel like I'm Mary Poppins floating with an umbrella and a spoonful of sugar into the city of sexual menace, population a million Amandas with ultra-short and long straight hair and pouty mouths and thighs you can see through mesh stockings. From there I go straight to This will never work. He has models coming on to him after his show. He'll be 49 when you're turning 60. He is young and hip and you don't even know the hip word for hip anymore. You belong at home in bed with a book. I remind myself that this is what I always say and what I always do. As soon as I'm in a relationship, I promote fear from clerk to president, even though all it can do is sweep up, turn off the lights and lock the door. I am so deep in my own argument that I almost don't hear Seth say, "Meg." He stops me on the pavement, and turns me toward him. His face practically glows white; he is a ghost of the ghost he usually looks like. He says, "When did you go out with him?" "So long ago," I say, "he had a different name." "Beelzebub?" he says. Then: "Sorry." I tell him that I hadn't seen Vincent for ten-plus years-he was still in purgatory when I knew him. "But it was hard for you to see him with somebody else, tonight?" "No," I say, a little surprised. He nods, not quite believing. "But the thing you said about her being a model?" "Models are always hard," I say. "And it was hard to see her necking with your cheek." After I've said this, I want to say that I don't usually use the word "neck" as a verb, it's a fifties word, my mother's word, but he is shaking his head and I can see he is not thinking about how old I sound or look or am. "Obviously he still has a thing for you," Seth says, and shakes his head and swallows a couple of times, like he's trying to get rid of a bad taste in his mouth. "The way he looked at you." My phew gives me an Indian burn of shame. "That look was for Amanda's benefit," I say, and I know it's true. For a second, I am an older sister to my younger self. "And if she's brings it up later," I say, "he'll tell her she's crazy." "Very nice," Seth says, and his voice tells me that he doesn't want to hear any more about Vincent and Amanda, he doesn't care about them, and that he'd wishing he didn't care so much about me. It scares me. But then I get this big feeling, simple but exalted: He's like me, just with different details. His eyes are closed, and I think maybe he's picturing me with Vincent or other men he assumes I've slept with or loved. Maybe he's telling himself that he's too tall or doesn't hear well enough. Usually, he pulls me in for the hug, but now I do it. I pull him in and we stay like this, his chin resting on my head, my face on his chest. I find myself thinking of Amanda at another party with Vincent, and feeling sorry for her. It occurs to me that if I were as beautiful as she if, every passing half-birthday would be harder to celebrate. But mostly I am glad I am not her and glad we are not them, and glad just to be out here on the curb, breathing the sweet air of Williamsburg and post-colonial freedom. We are quiet for a while, walking. I Begin to see where we are now. We pass the Miss Williamsburg Diner. Little bookstores I could spend my life in. We pass a gallery with black-light art hung above a reflecting pool Then we're standing in a parking lot, outside of what Seth tells me is Bob's restaurant. I'm saying that living in Manhattan gives you a real appreciation of parking lots, when Seth takes something out of his pocket and puts it in my hand. It's a dollar. "For the gift shop," he says. "Don't lose it now." With my dollar hand, I squeeze Seth's hand about 37 times, telling him everything I feel. He says, "What does that mean?" I say, "I'm hungry." What I feel is, Right now I am having the life I want, here outside the Shiny Diner, Bob's or the Wonder Spot, with my dollar to spend and dinner to come. We will try everything on the menu. Then we will drive through Brooklyn and cross the bridge with the Manhattan skyline in front of us, which looks new to me every time I see it, and we will drive right into it. We'll find a parking space a few blocks from my apartment on Tenth Street, and we'll pick up milk and tomorrow's paper. We will undress and get into bed. I'm The Only One by Zadie Smith Jono: "She was my sister and she was sleeping late. She's a lot older than me and at the time she was about to break into films, directing them, so everybody was indulging her. She was the only girl, too. If something didn't work out in her life and she had to come home for a while, it was a big deal. It mattered more than if I fucked up in one way or another. When Kelly was at home you had to creep around the house and keep your voice down even if it was the middle of the afternoon. Our mother's Canadian - I don't know why I say that, except maybe it helps explain her opinion about Kel: Smarts Needs Special. It was this little crappy phrase she had made up and it meant that clever people, people with special talents, need special treatment. Like they have a disease. You have to meet the Canadian side of our family to understand how cute she thinks that phrase is. I remember thinking that it was bullshit when I was fourteen and it still smells bad now. But to my mother, Kelly was this asteroid that had landed in our lives and no-one knew how she got there or what size hole she was going to leave. I've never been very good at school, and Pete, our older brother, is the same. Then along comes Kelly. So my mother had us all pussy-footing around like a family mime troupe waving our hands, taking our shoes off. I'm thinking of a particular morning. I was creeping around trying to make a silent breakfast, opening cupboards quietly, acting like I didn't exist. I'd been doing it for a couple of weeks since Kelly got back. It felt like I'd been doing it my whole life. The situation came about because earlier in the year Kelly had moved in with this guy called Aidan. They bought furniture, the whole works. Then she cheated on him and he left her. Apart from Kelly being back in our house, it was also a shame because Aidan was the only man she ever went out with, before or since, whom I've had any time for whatsoever. Aidan was a top man, a good guy. The thing I liked about him was that he was smart, but he didn't need so much of this special treatment. He was Irish, from Dublin, and he could be funny, he could talk football and he liked to see other people's mouths open and close besides his own. It was good knowing someone like him. I needed it; what with dad not being around, Pete married and gone; and me in a house full of women. That was the year I was praying for a few more inches on my height and shaving the bare space under my nose hoping that something might turn up. So it was good to know Aidan, six foot three and hairy as a bear. He was hairy back and front and Kelly would tease him about it, and he would laugh her off and tell her she could do with losing a few pounds which, between you and me, was nothing but the truth. She was a fat little thing back then. And he went and told her, straight-up; didn't care that she was almost, sort of, famous. He told it how it was. That was the way he loved her. She never appreciated it, though, and then she had this fling with some useless actor. But you could see she realised what she'd lost when he left her because she slunk back home and holed herself up in Pete's old room that I'd been using for weights. She took it over and lay in there all day in the dark curled up in a stinking duvet watching old black-and-white films. I remember asking her, "Why can't you use your own bedroom?" She had a small bedroom upstairs that used to be covered wall to wall in her school friends' graffiti until she went off to university and Mum white-washed the whole thing. I asked her again, "Why can't you use your own bedroom, that's what it's there for." She said. "I can't sleep and work in the same room. I need a study." She said it as if a study is one of those things you can't do without like clean water. I said. "But I need to exercise." She said, "You're fourteen. Your body isn't even developed. The only thing you need to do is stop beating the bishop before you go blind." This was classic Kelly. She always knew how to make you feel four inches long in every direction. So she came back, and I had to move out all my weights and spread them around the house wherever there was space. I put the bench press in my room along with the free weights. I put the Abdominizer in the lounge. I stuck the chin-up bar at the top of the stairs which lead down to the front door. And even though I was pissed off with Kelly for taking the spare room, having the weights all over the place did make it more like circuit training and doing circuits made me feel like I was Rocky. It's what they do in the middle of Rocky movies; a two minute sequence to show that over a number of months he got fit and pumped up. You pray for that kind of speedy, magic-time when you're working out, the same way you wish your adolescence would pass like it does on TV serial: a school scene, a sex scene and a graduation. It's slower and faster than that. And some events become still and solid, and turn into a thing in your life, an object like a lampshade or an ironing board. They hang around; you could reach out and touch them. This day I'm trying to tell you about is like that. So: my exercise. I'd start in my room, and do about four sets of twenty. Then I'd run downstairs and start on the Abdominizer. If you've ever seen one, they're like half of something fun, half a bike or half a swing. What I'm trying to say is that they look like they've been made out of the remnants of some other fun thing. You lie down in them and you do sit-ups. You spend good money trying to make sit ups something else. In the end, a sit-up is a sit-up. But I'm as big a mug as anyone and I'd try and do two hundred sit-ups on that thing in sets of fifty. The pain was very bad. So I'd think of something that pissed me off, usually Kelly, and the anger would help me push out the last fifty. I wanted to show her that I could develop if I wanted to. Because there was always this thing between her and me that we were both kind of overweight, and always telling the other one that they were obsessed with it. So if Kelly didn't eat lunch, I'd be like "For fuckssake, you're not dieting are you? You're not even fat." Trying to make her feel pathetic. And if she caught me with the Abdominizer (it was hers, she never used it), she'd say something like, "Jono, you're not even developed yet. It's just puppy fat, for fuckssake, give it a chance." We used to swear like troopers. And we liked to make each other feel bad about things. Around that time she was also giving me a lot of shit about girls. All about how she didn't want me to sleep with girls because I was too young and under-developed. She was more a mother in that way. And the fact that I started exercising, working-out - that really irritated her. She'd find me with a weight in my hand and start shouting. She'd say I was a boy trying to be a man too soon. I know I'm meant to be the stupid one, but I could work out for myself that it was all about Aidan, not me. Most days, I just did my best to avoid her. When I finished the sit-ups, I'd normally do about twenty-five press-ups before going to the top of the stairs and doing my chin-ups. The way the bar was positioned meant I could see people passing on the street. That was deliberate. To be honest, I've never been a natural exercise freak and you need something to distract you, take you away from the reality of it, otherwise you go mad. So I'd watch people without them knowing and then occasionally someone would spot me through the glass pane in the door, spot my head going up and down, and you could see them double-take, trying to work out what was going on. From out there it looked like magic. Levitation. A nice way to end a heavy-going routing. But on this morning that I'm talking about, I really wanted to see the street and pull my own weight - I didn't care about the rest. I skipped the press-ups, went straight to the bar and hooked my hands round it. I don't know how much you know about it, when you do a chin-up you meet your own fingers in a position you don't usually come across. With the nails facing you, like somebody's else's hands are reaching out to touch your face. I remember looking at my fingers, all white, all the blood gone traveling elsewhere, and thinking that this was OK, doing this with your fingers. Do you know what I mean? It wasn't holding a camera or writing a concerto, but it was OK. It made them tingle. It got the blood going, and that's the whole point, isn't it? Whatever gets the blood pumping. Whatever makes you feel high; unreal. And then I saw Cole coming down the street, heading for our front gate. You couldn't miss Cole because he was black, six foot nine-and-a-half inches and fourteen years old. I had only met Cole a month earlier after I joined this new school for my re-takes. I failed practically everything the summer before and it was one of those schools where they cram a lot of stuff into a little time to get you ready to re-take your exams in December. Cole was re-taking practically everything too. But weirdly, between the two of us, we'd managed to fail a lit of totally different subjects. I remember thinking that was hilarious, at the time. Two people being stupid, but with no overlap. Stupid in two completely different ways. So Cole and I were only in one class together, Performing Arts, a course that had a lot less performing in it then we'd hoped. We'd both taken it because we thought it's be an easy option. In fact, it was mostly reading about the history of the cinema and the theatre. Really dry stuff. I was bored out of my mind until Cole turned up, late and slow as usual, two weeks into the course. Six foot nine-and-a-half. I remember when I first saw him I couldn't believe it. I asked him all the usual questions. I said, is it weird being that tall? Do you have to buy different clothes? Are all your family like that? And Cole said, "No, mate, I'm the only one." You could tell how often he got asked the same lame stuff I'd just asked him. I didn't want to bore him, but it's a hard thing to get used to. Harder than you'd imagine. It still hadn't worn off when I saw him loping up the path, a magic giant, while I levitated, a genie. He spotted me, and looked surprised, and I laughed and dropped down from the bar. For some reason I always felt so happy to see Cole. So happy! And this was the first he'd come round to my house so it was like a stamp on our new friendship. It was a green light. I didn't want to be a big girl about it, but to be honest with you, I kind of skipped down the steps. "Whatssup Cole?," I said, opening the door. I greeted him how we always greeted each other. In ways I can't really describe; low handshakes and a kind of slouchy walk we picked up off MTV, the videos, the rap shows. We liked to be American about it. But it was still very personal to us. We added something to it, is what I'm trying to say. Cole grinned like a madman. "Hey, brother, you were floating! Where's your magic carpet?" I pointed to the chin-up bar. "Oh, I see. Getting fit for the ladies," he said, even though I had no success with the ladies and he knew it, "Can I come in?' I said, "Yeah, but be quiet on the stairs. My sister's asleep. And be careful, bro. You know these ceilings are low! Good to see you, man." We went up to the lounge and talked about some stuff, stuff that was happening in school. Cole was one of those people who's always trying to put the best spin on things. All you got from him was, "Of course she likes you," and "Don't worry about that, he won't give you any trouble," so by the end of a conversation with Cole you sort of felt you were the king of the world, even though he was the one with his head in the heavens. I remember he was talking, flattering me and everything, and I kept looking at him and feeling this strange pride, as if the fact that he was so tall was something to do with me. Then I got this burning urge to show him Kelly. "Wait here," I said, "I want to get somebody. Just a minute. Just stay here." I knocked on Kelly's door a few times but of course she didn't answer so I pushed it open a crack. It smelt like shit in there. I don't think the sheets had been changed since she moved back. She was asleep but she had an old black and white film that she'd been watching. The Philadelphia Story, playing on the video. Sometimes she'd watch this film three times in a day. If I walked in she'd always say something like, "Now, you see Jimmy Stewart? There was a man. There was a tall, handsome man." Or if the other guy was on screen, she'd be like, "That's how a man should wear a suit. Can you see the cut of that suit?" I didn't give a shit about the film or anybody in it. Kelly was always telling me about stuff I didn't give a shit about. But for some reason, I wanted her to see Cole. I didn't know if it was me or her who would get a buzz out of it. Maybe neither of us. But I wanted it. I was persistent. I said, "Kelly! Kelly, I want to show you something." She didn't move. But I kept on. I wanted her to see Cole so much it surprised me. She was asking me, "What is it? Just tell me what it is. What is it?" But I wanted her to see Cole without warning, the way I first saw him, coming into a room like a moving statue - something great and still that had been given life. Finally, Kelly moved her great big fat butt out of that duvet, but she was only wearing a pair of knickers. "Ok," she said, "Ok, I'm up. This better be good." You're fourteen. You don't want to see your sister naked. Not under any circumstances. I told her that. I said, "Kel, you've got to put something on." She cut her eyes at me and moaned a bit more, but in the end she put a dressing gown on and followed me into the lounge. She kept on muttering, "This better be good," and I kept on telling her to shut up and see. I know people say I won't ever forget your face when such and such happened... and half the time they don't mean it, but I mean it. I can see her face now if I close my eyes. It was fantastic! I saw this amazing curve, like a piece of fruit, right across her face. She smiled like I hadn't seen her do since she moved back, like I'd never seen her do before. I don't want to say I won't see it again. That would be a jinx. There's a line from that film she was always watching; The time to make your mind up about people is...never. Generally, I don't enjoy films like that - nothing happening, everything slowed down - but I always thought she had a point, the thin-lipped woman who says that. And it's not my business to say it won't ever happen again - what do I know? - but it felt like a one-off. It wasn't only the smile, it was her eyes as well, which were watery like she wanted to cry. A week earlier I'd read about the Lumiere brothers - so was this what they looked like, the people who saw those first films, in Paris or wherever? In the dark - watching the flat people walk, watching the flat trains move and the fake steam - were they smiling? Kelly's face. I said I'll never forget it and I won't. Then it changed. As if she'd remembered something she'd forgotten; leaving the lights on or the key in the door; and then this look I'm talking about was gone. There was a silence for a while and then in the gap I said, "Look how tall my friend Cole is!" Cole said, "Hello." I could tell he was embarrassed, Kelly in her dressing gown and everything with these fat calves on display. He just looked at the floor. She said, "Fucking hell, you're tall." Cole laughed. "How tall are you? Six seven?" "Six nine-and-a-half" said Cole, and he shrugged as if he wished that just at this moment it wasn't true. I wondered whether he's felt that before. Kelly shook her head and whistled, "And how old are you?" "Fourteen." Kelly whistled again. "That's unbelievable. Are the rest of your family like that?" "No, I'm the only one. My Mum's only five seven." "Well, you're a very big fellow, Cole." "Yep." "Do they make you play basketball at school?" asked Kelly, which was the stupidest question ever and kind of racist and I was worried Cole would be upset. But instead he grinned. "They try but I'm no good, mate. I'm terrible." "Six foot nine-and-a-half. Fucking hell." She reached over to touch his elbow and then moved back. It was a weird thing to do. Her eyes were full of water. "Fourteen years old. I didn't think they made them like you anymore. You're a very big fellow, Cole" she said again like a broken record. Cole looked at the floor, getting more awkward and I wished to God I never brought her in the room in the first place. "Yes I am. I'm big. I don't know how it happened, it just happened." Then out of the blue Kelly said, "You know, I make films." I see now that she had to get the conversation back over to her side of the fence, to where she knew what everything looked like, how everything felt and what everything meant. I do it a lot myself these days. But at the time, I hated her for it. She couldn't let him just be. Cole raised his eyebrows. "Really?" "Yeah, really. I'm about to make my first feature film, would you believe." Cole said, "Cool, cool, I believe it," but he looked like he didn't. Then she said, "Well, a man your height, I'll have to find a place for you in my next film, won't I?" Cole shrugged again, like it would be nice if she did, but then again it would be just fine if she didn't. Such a big man, Cole, but fluid as water. To look at him you'd think he couldn't fit anywhere - actually he fitted everywhere. That's how I remember him. "I can think of a hundred roles," she said, "I can think of a hundred things you could be." She said that, and then she pulled her dressing gown round her and sort of nodded to herself and left, and in a few minutes I could hear the film starting up again, from the beginning with the opening title music. —Reprinted from Speaking with the Angel edited by Nick Nornby by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 by Nick Hornby. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Meet the Author

Nick Hornby is the author of the novels How to Be Good, High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down, as well as the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the editor of the short story collection Speaking with the Angel. The recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award for 1999 as well as the 2003 Orange Word International Writers’ London Award, he lives in North London.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 17, 1957
Place of Birth:
Redhill, Surrey, England
Education:
Jesus College, Cambridge University

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Speaking with the Angel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. My favorite had to be Colin Firth's bit....and I had no idea this guy had ever written anything....am now on the lookout for more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so great. The mix of authors is of a wide range and each story fresh and smart and fun to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hesitate to say too much about the stories in this volume for fear of 'ruining' them for future readers; so many of them contain such delightful surprises. It suffices to say that I only found two of the twelve stories to be lacking in any way; the remaining ten are consistently brilliant exercises in short fiction. Favorites are Helen Fielding's 'Luckyb****,' Nick Hornby's 'NippleJesus,' Giles Smith's 'Last Requests,' and actor Colin Firth's 'The Department of Nothing.' All of the stories are written in the first-person, and the voices are so real and recognizable that I found myself laughing out loud in several places. The fact that the book raises money for a very good cause should be a small inticement to purchase this book; the stories within are the real prize.