We Own the Sky(9)

We hadn’t noticed before, but a group of animals—adults in furry suits—had joined the children on the field. A lion, a tiger, a panda, they looked like the grubby leftovers from a Disney parade. There was some kind of awards ceremony, and the children were waiting in line for their prizes.

“What are they doing?” Anna asked.

“Getting medals, I think.”

“Right, I get that, but why the animals?”

I shrugged and Anna squinted, trying to get a better view.

“I don’t like the look of them,” Anna said.

“The animals or the children?”

“The animals.”

I looked over at them. In a certain light, they did look quite sinister, their furry mouths locked into perma-smiles.

“There’s a lot of them,” I said.

“Indeed,” Anna said warily.

“Shall we risk it then?” I said, getting up off the wall.

“No,” Anna said indignantly. “We can’t just run across the field, Rob. It’s some kind of school function.”

“We’re not going to get arrested.”

“We might,” she said.

“Well, I’m going,” I said, looking back, expecting her to follow. “It’s better than sitting here and dying in the sun.” I started running across the pitch, but Anna stayed on the touchline, looking sheepish, as if she was gathering the courage to jump into a swimming pool.

Now safely in the shade on the other side, I waved at her to come across and she cautiously started to move. In an attempt to appear less conspicuous, she decided to walk, but there was something about her nervousness that made her stand out. The master of ceremonies on the microphone stopped talking, and the heads of the children, the parents and the animals all turned to stare at Anna.

She smiled politely, aware that all eyes were on her, and then broke into a hurried little trot. In her gym shorts and blouse, she could have passed for a teenager, which was probably why a large orange tiger intercepted her in the center circle, linked arms and then dragged her into the line of children. I started to laugh, thinking she would make a break for it, but Anna—polite, diligent Anna—stayed in line, waiting for her prize.

After receiving her medal, Anna had to walk down a greeting line of animals.

Even from here, I could see the flicker of fear on her face. With her medal round her neck, she moved down the line, being embraced by each animal one by one.

Despite the animals’ advances, Anna didn’t hug back. She even pulled away when a bear tried to rest its head on her neck.

When it was all over, when the children had gone to greet their proud parents, Anna walked sheepishly back to where I was standing in the shade, her cheeks bright red, little bits of animal fur stuck to her blouse.

“Oh my God,” I said, still laughing. “What were you doing?”

Anna started to giggle and wiped the sweat off her brow. “I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. The tiger cornered me.”

“Why didn’t you just leave?” I said, handing her the thermos of water.

“I don’t know. I was in the line and then...it was too late... Stop laughing,” she said, frowning at me. “It’s not funny.”

“It is.”

“Well, maybe a bit. And anyway, it’s your fault.”


“For making me cross that pitch. You’re an absolute idiot,” she said, sipping the water. “It’s literally my worst nightmare. Being hugged in public.”

“And by animals.”

“Well, quite.”

We sat for a moment, cooling off in the shade, and I knew then that I couldn’t possibly love her any more.


We were sitting by the River Cam, with a bottle of wine and some sandwiches. It was another sweltering day. Heat haze hugged the banks of the river like a dogged morning mist, and tinkles of jazz piano floated across the water from a café on the shore.

“Are you ever going to put that away?” Anna said.

I had spent the rest of my student loan on a digital camera and some extra lenses. “Yeah, yeah,” I said, fiddling with the settings, trying to work out how to change the shutter speed.

“Seriously, stop pointing it at me. I feel like a model or something.”

“You look like a model,” I said, and took a photo of her. She stuck out her tongue and turned toward the water, stretching her legs out on the riverbank.

“So any progress?” Anna said casually.

“On what?”

“The job hunt, I mean.”

“Oh, that,” I said. “I sent off a few CVs but I haven’t heard anything back yet.

Do you want more wine?”

Anna put her hand over her plastic cup and shook her head, and I poured myself some more.

“You seem pretty relaxed about it all.”

I shrugged. “I’m not going to worry.”

Anna puckered her lips, something she did when she didn’t agree. “Well,

you’ve only sent off a few CVs. I sent off about fifteen applications and only got five job offers.”

“What happened with the other ten?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said, looking a little forlorn, not realizing I was making a joke. “It’s annoying that they haven’t responded. I don’t understand why.”

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