Today I’m fortunate to have an excerpt from We Own the Sky by Luke Allnut. We Own the Sky is a story of love, loss, and life-affirming redemption. It is available for pre-order now and goes on sale Tuesday, April 3. scroll to the bottom to find purchase links.
There was a strange musty smell in Anna’s parents’ house: it reminded me of Werther’s Butterscotch or the jasmine-scented handkerchiefs old people put in their drawers.
We sat and ate in near silence, just the doom-laden tick of the clock, the scratch of cutlery on bone china. The food was a turgid affair of frozen turkey, mushy, overcooked vegetables, and a glass of sherry, which Anna said had been brought out in my honor.
“And how is your father, Robert?” Anna’s father said, putting down his fork. He was wearing a suit, a gray three-piece that was worn and tattered around the edges.
“He’s fine, thanks. Yeah, still driving his cab. Although his health isn’t so good at the moment. Problems with his diabetes.”
Anna’s father didn’t say anything and looked down at his plate.
For the last three Christmases we had been to my Dad’s. For proximity, we told Anna’s parents. Romford was much closer and Dad was all on his own. But this year, out of Anna’s sense of duty more than anything else, we decided to stay with them in their little village on the Suffolk coast.
“And will he be spending Christmas alone?”
“Nah, he’s going round his best mate’s…best friend Steven’s for dinner.”
“Is that Little Steve?” Anna said with a slight smirk. It amused her, she said, how I tried to sound refined around her parents.
“Yep, Little Steve. He’ll be fine though. He treated himself to a big flat-screen TV, and we got him a new Sky Sports subscription so, yeah, he’s like a pig in…” I nearly choked on my sprout. “So yeah, he’s really happy…”
At the other end of the table, Anna stifled a laugh and took a dainty sip of sherry.
“They’re expensive, aren’t they, those new televisions,” Anna’s mother said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. As always, she was dressed in her plaid two-piece, like a stern, passed-over governess. For some reason, she had served the food wearing rubber gloves and her hands underneath were a pale white, as if they had been scrubbed clean with a Brillo pad.
“Oh, he’s paying in installments,” I said. “He got one of those zero percent interest deals for Christmas.”
Silence. We all listened to the ticking clock, the wind and rain hammering on the windowpanes.
“We’ve never been in debt, Janet, have we? Never had a mortgage or bought anything on credit. Africans can teach you a lot, in that regard.”
I smiled politely. Well, I wanted to say, that’s because the church gave you the house and because you haven’t bought as much as a new shirt in thirty years.
He had been brilliant once, Anna said. Mercurial. Daktari they called him in Swahili, the doctor. In the village, he was a priest first and a doctor second, but also an engineer, a judge, a mediator of disputes. In all of the villages they lived in across Kenya, he was treated like nobility.
There had been troubles, though, Anna said. That was the word she used. Troubles. Affairs with the locals, the daughters of God. In the end, the church couldn’t turn a blind eye anymore and, very quietly, they asked the family to come home.
“Well, he’s enjoying watching his football on it and all the movies” I said, and Anna’s mother mumbled “that’s nice” and something else I couldn’t hear.
I kept thinking about what Dad would be doing now. Sitting down to dinner with Little Steve and his wife. The queen’s speech and a game of party bingo.
“And how about you, Robert?” Anna’s father said, finally breaking the silence. “Are you working much at the moment?”
I wasn’t really, but I couldn’t tell him that. When I sold the software and was taken on by the company, I had imagined it differently. I thought I would be living off the interest, coming in to a board meeting every now and again, riding around on a little scooter and playing pool with some of the programmers on a break.
It wasn’t anything like that. Simtech didn’t have an office anymore. There was no need, Scott, the investor, said. We could just outsource most of the programming to a company in Belgium. So two or three times a week, I sat in a conference call with Marc in Brussels. For everything else, we used email and Google Chat. I never really had enough to do. I spent most of my day writing comments on programmers’ forums and playing fantasy football.
“Oh, you know, bits and pieces, stuff with the company.”
I expected Anna’s father to say something, but he just nodded, staring past me at something on the wall. He didn’t approve of my career, thought I had got lucky, as if making money was a magician’s trick.
It annoyed me that he thought we were extravagant. We put the money mostly into the house, a tall Georgian town house right at the top of Parliament Hill. There were new clothes, a car, but we weren’t jetting off to the Bahamas every week.
“Well, jobs aren’t easy to find these days, that’s for sure,” he said, as if I was unemployed, as if I was incapable of bringing any money home.
“And how about you Anna? Your work, I mean,” he said stiffly, and it was unfathomable to me that they were father and daughter.
“Fine, yes,” Anna said, and I expected her to go on, to expand, but she didn’t. She was silent and stared at an African wood carving on the sideboard.
Before I met them, Anna had warned me about her parents. She said they were cold, strange and they had never been very close. The problem, she said, was that they loved Africa and their missionary work more than they did her. When times were good, they were like honeymooning lovers, and Anna felt like an appendage, a third wheel. When things were bad, when her father was away on one of his “trips,” her mother resented her, as if his insatiable lust for village girls was somehow Anna’s fault.
There was a story she told about Nairobi, which, no matter how she spun it, I could never understand. Her parents would sometimes take in girls from the parish, the destitute or the troubled. Anna was expected to wait on them, not just make them welcome—she was more than happy to do that—but serve them tea, turn down their beds, bring them a towel after they bathed. She understood, she said, the need to help the less fortunate. That had been drummed into her since she had been a child. But sometimes it was as if they were the daughters, she said, and not her.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing Novel Mom with an except from Allnut’s book, We Own the Sky.
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