Excerpts for Ocean at the End of the Lane


The Ocean at the End of the Lane


By Neil Gaiman

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-225565-5


[
I.
Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.
There was a table laid with jellies and trifles, with a party hat
beside each place, and a birthday cake with seven candles on it in the
center of the table. The cake had a book drawn on it, in icing. My
mother, who had organized the party, told me that the lady at the
bakery said that they had never put a book on a birthday cake before,
and that mostly for boys it was footballs or spaceships. I was their
first book.
When it became obvious that nobody was coming, my mother
lit the seven candles on the cake, and I blew them out. I ate a slice of
the cake, as did my little sister and one of her friends (both of them
attending the party as observers, not participants) before they fled,
giggling, to the garden.
Party games had been prepared by my mother but, because
nobody was there, not even my sister, none of the party games were
played, and I unwrapped the newspaper around the pass-the-parcel
gift myself, revealing a blue plastic Batman figure. I was sad that
nobody had come to my party, but happy that I had a Batman figure,
and there was a birthday present waiting to be read, a boxed set of
the Narnia books, which I took upstairs. I lay on the bed and lost
myself in the stories.
I liked that. Books were safer than other people anyway.

10 Neil Gaiman
My parents had also given me a Best of Gilbert and Sullivan LP, to
add to the two that I already had. I had loved Gilbert and Sullivan
since I was three, when my father's youngest sister, my aunt, took me
to see Iolanthe, a play filled with lords and fairies. I found the existence
and nature of the fairies easier to understand than that of the lords.
My aunt had died soon after, of pneumonia, in the hospital.
That evening my father arrived home from work and he brought
a cardboard box with him. In the cardboard box was a soft-haired
black kitten of uncertain gender, whom I immediately named Fluffy,
and which I loved utterly and wholeheartedly.
Fluffy slept on my bed at night. I talked to it, sometimes, when
my little sister was not around, half-expecting it to answer in a
human tongue. It never did. I did not mind. The kitten was affec-
tionate and interested and a good companion for someone whose
seventh birthday party had consisted of a table with iced biscuits and
a blancmange and cake and fifteen empty folding chairs.
I do not remember ever asking any of the other children in my
class at school why they had not come to my party. I did not need
to ask them. They were not my friends, after all. They were just the
people I went to school with.
I made friends slowly, when I made them.
I had books, and now I had my kitten. We would be like Dick
Whittington and his cat, I knew, or, if Fluffy proved particularly in-
telligent, we would be the miller's son and Puss-in-Boots. The kitten
slept on my pillow, and it even waited for me to come home from
school, sitting on the driveway in front of my house, by the fence,
until, a month later, it was run over by the taxi that brought the opal
miner to stay at my house.
I was not there when it happened.
I got home from school that day, and my kitten was not waiting

The Ocean at the End of the Lane 11
to meet me. In the kitchen was a tall, rangy man with tanned skin
and a checked shirt. He was drinking coffee at the kitchen table, I
could smell it. In those days all coffee was instant coffee, a bitter
dark brown powder that came out of a jar.
"I'm afraid I had a little accident arriving here," he told me,
cheerfully. "But not to worry." His accent was clipped, unfamiliar: it
was the first South African accent I had heard.
He, too, had a cardboard box on the table in front of him.
"The black kitten, was he yours?" he asked.
"It's called Fluffy," I said.
"Yeah. Like I said. Accident coming here. Not to worry. Dis-
posed of the corpse. Don't have to trouble yourself. Dealt with the
matter. Open the box."
"What?"
He pointed to the box. "Open it," he said.
The opal miner was a tall man. He wore jeans and checked shirts
every time I saw him, except the last. He had a thick chain of pale
gold around his neck. That was gone the last time I saw him, too.
I did not want to open his box. I wanted to go off on my own.
I wanted to cry for my kitten, but I could not do that if anyone else
was there and watching me. I wanted to mourn. I wanted to bury my
friend at the bottom of the garden, past the green-grass fairy ring,
into the rhododendron bush cave, back past the heap of grass cut-
tings, where nobody ever went but me.
The box moved.
"Bought it for you," said the man. "Always pay my debts."
I reached out, lifted the top flap of the box, wondering if this
was a joke, if my kitten would be in there. Instead a ginger face stared
up at me truculently.
The opal miner took the cat out of the box.

12 Neil Gaiman
He was a huge, ginger-striped tomcat, missing half an ear. He
glared at me angrily. This cat had not liked being put in a box. He
was not used to boxes. I reached out to stroke his head, feeling un-
faithful to the memory of my kitten, but he pulled back so I could
not touch him, and he hissed at me, then stalked off to a

(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Copyright © 2013 Neil Gaiman. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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