Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

Table of Contents

Trinkets & Fallalery – the Work resumed – Looping the Pin – where It’s going –

Trinkets and fallalery, bangles and geegaws, furbelows, the occasional bagatelle all racked and scattered, sorted, spread over shelves in the glass case before her, sunglasses in silver, or tortoiseshells of blue, amber, green, or plainly classic black, candy-colored charm bracelets, a bowl of tarnished cufflinks, copper mule mugs and glittering shot glasses set before a couple of silvery cocktail shakers. She looks up, about the store, windowed walls that narrow to a point where glass doors propped open on a not especially sunny day. Deco to Disco, says the sandwich board on the sidewalk, 1960, the numerals painted in reverse on the clear glass lintel. Over in an odd back corner behind another glass case a clerk sits on a stool, reading a paperback. Poor People, says the cover. She coughs demurely. He doesn’t look up.

Past a couple-three mannequins draped and posed in polyester finery to a small high table clouded over with filmy scarves printed with maps, cartoons, faux-embroidery and trompe-l’œil batik, twisted in infinite loops. She selects one spangled with toy rockets and flying saucers, slips it over her head, lifting out of the way her wild hair the color of clotted cream. She winds it twice about her throat, smooths it over the nubbled collar of her sheepskin coat, issues another, louder cough. The clerk turns a page, shoulder shifting in his pinstripe vest. His beard thinly patched.

Back to the glass case filled with baubles. Cocking her head to one side, the other, shaking out her hands, she plants her feet. Holds her right arm out, fingers wiggling. Something slips from the sleeve of her coat, a length of wood, finely turned and polished, improbably lengthening until those fingers close about the tapered handle of it, a baseball bat she twirls once and lifts above her head. One last glance for the clerk, who turns another page.

Splash of glass she drives the bat through the case, shatter and crash she twists it about, knocking loose the jagged shards so she might reach in to pluck a pair of sunglasses, thin wire frames, aviator gold.

“Hey!” the clerk’s shouting, “Whoa! Hey!” Flinching as she rounds on him, sunglasses on her face, scarf about her throat, bat choked high. “The Shrieve,” she snarls.

“Take,” he says, “whatever, money,” lifting to drop a cashbox on the glass, “there’s, we’re mostly cards, you know, debit, and – ”

“Shut up,” and a shake of her bat. “Howling saayungkas, you aren’t even in it.”

“Take the money,” he says, half-lilted to a question.

“Call your boss,” she says. “Have your boss call their boss. Sooner or later you’ll find someone who knows the Shrieve. Say the name.”

“Sharif?” he says, blinking.

“Tell them Marfisa waits upstairs. Say that name.”

“Mar,” he says, “Marfissa.”

“Tell them,” she says, headed off toward the back of the shop. “But,” says the clerk.

Kicks open a door at the back, rattle and skew a sign that says Employees Only. Hallway narrowed by boxes along one wall, a wooden crate at the end, an ottoman tilted on a broken leg. The lobby beyond, handful of steps to the landing of a steep staircase she quickly climbs, up and up to the very top, a single brown door, the numerals three and two and one hung above the peephole of it. Tap-tap she knocks, and listens. Bat swung restlessly down a chop at the air, back up and ready. She tries the knob.

Within an airy kitchen, cabinets white and blue left open on bare shelves, a countertop scrubbed clean. Past that three low steps down to an open room, windowed walls that narrow to a windowed point. The daylight seeping through’s uncertain enough it’s difficult to say how high the sun might be. And boxes everywhere, banker’s boxes white and brown that cover the floor, the sofa, that barricade the great maroon chair in the narrowed point, and man sat tailor-fashion on the one cleared bit of floor before the coffee table. In one long slender-fingered hand a delicate pair of tweezers pinch a yellowed scrap of paper. The other readies a brown glass bottle of mucilage.

“What are you,” Marfisa starts to say, when he blurts, “This one but does the bidding of her grace!”

“Her grace.”

“Even so! The morgue was to be moved upstairs, her grace did say. In the event of rain.”

“Rain.”

“It’s as her grace has said. And now,” looking to tweezers, brush, the photo overturned before him, “the work resumes.” Daubing the bottom of it with the bottle’s rubber stopper, fitting the tweezed scrap of paper to the corner, setting bottle aside to take up a brush, carefully smoothing the typewritten scrap into place.

“When was her grace last here?” she says.

“Oh,” leaning down to blow, gently, on the caption, June 7 1967, it says. MAC L-242 R. Perry, A. Gerton. “Not for days and days.” Thump and bustle without, below. Marfisa turns back to the door half-open, footsteps pounding their way on up. She takes off the sunglasses.

The Harper Chillicoathe bursts through the doorway, bulky sweater and narrowed eyes, big yellow beard a-snarl with an ugly grin, “Oh, Outlaw,” he says. “How kind of you, to bring me back my coat.” He pulls from a flare of light a short but serviceable blade. She shrugs. The man in the room below gathers with alacrity and care his tools, the photos, packing them away.

The first few savage chops aimed at her head, her arms, easily knocked aside by twitches of her upraised bat. Howling he jerks back, shoulders slung, both hands about the hilt above the heavy golden pommel as sidelong, shuffle-stomp, she flicks her bat at him. His hasty parry cracks her askew. She laughs.

He thrusts, she sideswipes, shifts back and back toward the three steps, one foot unsteady on the very edge. Shouting she swings a slap at his face he one arm cycling sideways ducks, feet slipping back into the kitchen. She follows with relentless jabs. He manages to snag the jamb before the hall to right himself, tensing pushing a leap of a lunge blade over her extended bat to punch a fold of her coat and lodge itself deep in her chest. She gasps. He braces to yank but she twists away, ripping the hilt from his hands to quiver there before her. Two heavy limping steps away. She leans a hand on the counter.

“Marfisa,” he says, sternly edged.

Clatter the bat to the floor. Grips with both hands the hilt below that hammered golden pommel. Grimacing she pulls the slowly steely length from out her body with another hissing gasp. Sits back against the counter planted feet to lower the sword an ooze of something thickly white the length of it to dangle a moment from the tip.

“You are a thief,” he says, “an accoster, and a budge, and I have proved it – ”

“You wrecked my coat, is what you’ve done,” she snaps, pulling away the lapel of it, eyeing the matted wool about the hole that glistens wetly.

“Outlaw,” he says, but “Harper,” she says, flatly. Pointing the sword at him with a bitter smile. “The coat,” she says, “is mine. This sword, is mine. These rooms?” Lifting the tip of it to point, the one way, the other, “Mine,” she says. Unwinding the scarf from about her throat. “Go and tell the Shrieve,” she says, and wipes down the blade. Peers the length of it in this light. A sudden lurch at Chilli both hands on the hilt she jerks it up over her head a chop on the trembling verge of coming down, “Go!” she roars, and he’s two steps back out of the apartment on the landing, hastening, footsteps receding away down the stairs.

She drops the sword to clang with a wince by the sink. Works her way out of the sheepskin coat to let it fall to the floor. Looks over the counter to the room below, the man still crouched behind a stack of boxes. “You,” she says. “You may stay. A while, at least. You seem quiet enough.”

Hand to her side, then, out of the kitchen, into the dim hall, away toward the doors at the end of it.

“If I am being honest?” says the gleaming amber phone, there on the unfolded writing surface of the escritoire. “I would have to say I do not know.” Clear, loud, only a hint of crackle. “What you’re saying is, she’s back.”

“She’s been back,” says Petra B, a hand on the back of the nubbled green armchair. “Ah, this is Petra. Anyway, she’s been back about a month now.”

“No,” says the phone. “Well, yes. She is here. There. She is there, she has been there, we can set aside for the moment how honest you should have been with me, with us all, on this point.”

“We haven’t been dishonest,” says Anna, white blouse crisp, sat to one side of the escritoire.

“She didn’t,” says Melissa, perched on the cushion of the armchair, “sorry, this is Melissa, she didn’t, you know, have anywhere else to go.”

“We shall set it aside,” says the phone. “Put a pin in it. We’ll loop back to it, but. The point I wish to make. That I wish to have made. What I mean, when I say, she is back.” Rustle of paper. “You called it a spell.”

“Yeah,” says Melissa.

“It might be called that,” says Anna.

“A spell, you’ve said, she cast,” says the phone.

“Yeah,” says Melissa, motorcycle jacket a-clink over a lacy shift.

“The question,” says Anna, pushing her narrow glasses back up her nose.

“It’s why we started meeting, in the first place. This is Petra.”

“Sorry, this is, I’m Melissa,” says Melissa.

“This spell was broken,” says the phone. “When she came back. When she, returned, to your group. She no longer had this, power.”

Petra looks across the small close office to Anna. “Yeah,” says Melissa. “I guess. Yeah.”

“I want to make certain I have your frame of reference.”

“It will do,” says Anna.

“But now,” says the phone. “What I am given to understand. What I’m hearing you tell me, is that. And this is the point I wish to impress. What you have said is that you believe, as of, a few days ago. What you have said to me is this power has been restored. And thus, that she, is back.”

“Yeah,” says Petra, and “Yes,” says Anna, and Melissa perks up, “Oh,” she says. “I get it. Uh, this is Melissa, sorry.”

“And yet,” says the phone. “It doesn’t concern you. None of you is, concerned. That, having returned, being back, she might now, once more, put. One of you. Any of you. All of you, under that,” again, paper rustles, “spell.”

Anna looks to Petra B, who shrugs, “Not at the moment?” she says.

“She wouldn’t,” says Melissa.

“But what,” says the phone, “is the basis, for this assertion?”

“Sorry, this is Melissa?”

“She’s focused on,” says Petra, “ah, other. People.”

“There’s been a shift in the dynamic,” says Anna.

“What I’m hearing,” says the phone. “What you’re saying. You have put your, trust. In this woman, who has, who had been, the author. Of every, heartache, of every,” a sigh palpably blown from the phone. “Trauma, is not too heavy a word. In this context. That you, as a group, have aired, to me. To each other, these past few weeks. Forgive me. Is, have we heard from. Is, Gloria, on the call?”

Chime and clink Melissa tips back her head, rolling her eyes. Petra lifts her hand from the chair to adjust her thickly black-rimmed glasses. “No,” says Anna.

“You must,” says the phone, “understand. If I am being honest, I would have to say. This, is not, an appropriate, therapeutic. Posture.” A deep breath in through the speaker. “Over a phone. But. Setting this, reluctance. Aside. As regards a decision, we can’t. You can’t. I, can’t. Ask, the others,” Anna leans over the side of the escritoire, “to, bring themselves. Into a situation such as you have outlined. With her,” rustle. “Back.”

“We appreciate your time, Addison,” says Anna, to the phone. “Send your invoice. It will be paid.” Taps the screen of it, cutting it off in the middle of “As you – ”

“The hell,” says Melissa, elbows on her knees. “We didn’t even get to talk about the whole Hunter bullshit.”

“Huntsman,” says Anna distractedly, tucking the phone away.

“Hunter,” says Melissa. “Huntswoman. Whatever,” getting to her feet, “I’m not a guy. That is literally the whole fucking point.”

“She’s not wrong,” says Petra. “Speakerphone’s a terrible way to do group.”

“It was a mistake to go ahead without Gloria,” says Anna.

“Where is she, anyway?” says Melissa, reaching for the greatsword leaned up behind the armchair. “I mean, this whole deal is, like, her thing, right? It’s why we’re here? Why we started coming here, anyway. Is she just, blowing us off, now? Now she’s shacked up with Daddy Jim?” Looking back and forth, from Petra to Anna. “What, am I speaking too bluntly?”

“It wasn’t an I-statement,” says Petra.

Anna opens her mouth to say something, but “Yeah, well,” says Melissa, sweeping past them both, “I, have nothing to do, since her highness is off on some errand, so I am gonna find where she’s stashed the liquor, because I say it’s never too early to start day-drinking around here.” Turning as she opens the door, scabbard awkward in her arms, walkway behind her, dim daylight softly through high and narrow windows. “You’re welcome to join me,” she says, stepping out, “but I don’t think that’s an I-statement, now, is it,” and shuts the door behind her.

“Okay,” says Petra B.

“The stress of what she’s been through, lately, has doubtless – ”

“Oh, stop. You really don’t have to try so hard, you know? To find something nice to say. Not with me.”

“Her position’s rather unique, within our group.”

“The whole quote-unquote Hunter bullshit?”

“The stress imposed must be relieved. Profanity can – ”

“I swear,” say Petra, “I don’t know if it’s because you’re a lawyer, or because you’re,” a gesture, “you’re, you know, but,” that hand brushed back through her black, black hair, “the whole diplomatic thing, it’s totally unnecessary. You don’t have to go to the effort when I’m just, bitching about something.”

“Someone,” says Anna.

“Oh for God’s sake.”

“And,” says Anna, turning back to the escritoire, “I’m not a lawyer.” Taking up a small stack of mail, each envelope already neatly slit. Petra tips back her head, a bit of black lace at her throat. “See?” she says. “Diplomatic. Even when you’re telling me to go fuck myself.”

“That was certainly never my intention,” says Anna, unfolding something on official-looking letterhead.

“And yet.”

Anna tucks the letter away in one of the escritoire’s pigeonholes. “What troubles you?” she says.

“Where is this going?” Unakimboing, Petra leans a hand on the back of the nubbled armchair. “I moved in here, what, a month? Six weeks ago? Whenever. And, I don’t pay any rent, which is great. Electric, cable, water, sewage, none of that crap I have to worry about, and that’s great. Some of the stuff they have me shoot is, okay, is not, you know, ideal, but it keeps her happy, so that’s a wash. And it’s all I have to do. No hustling for waitstaff or bartending or barista gigs, no running PA errands for whatever basic cable producer just hit town, and whatever gear I want? I can just, order it? That, I mean, that’s spectacular. I have time, Anna. I can do what I want with it. And that,” a sigh, “that is, great.”

“It doesn’t sound as if it’s going anywhere,” says Anna. “It sounds as if it’s where it needs to be.”

“But for how long?” says Petra, stepping toward her. “How long can this keep going? How can it possibly keep going? I swear, Anna, I wake up in the morning, I just, know, like an ache, in my chest, I’m gonna open the door and everybody will be, gone. I’ll come downstairs and it’ll all be empty, the art all gone, the bazaar cleared out, that, stew that’s been simmering for weeks, no more coffee, or donuts, the gold, Gloria, you, and, and then, then, what will I do, Anna? What could I possibly do?”

Anna gets to her feet, takes one of Petra’s hands in hers. “That will never,” she says, “would never, could never happen. A court such as ours can’t pack itself up and steal away in the night. What has been built, here? Already? For ourselves, and her majesty, one day it might must come to an end, yes. But it will have lasted. It already has.” Lifting Petra’s hand. “And if it does? Come to that end?” Clasping it to her breast, blinking behind her narrow lenses. “It will only be because we’ll already have gone on, to whatever it is that’s next.”

“Do I,” says Petra, “get to go, to wherever that is?”

“If you come,” says Anna, “you’ll be there.”

Petra closes up her eyes behind her glasses. Tugs her hand free of Anna’s. “Fucking diplomat,” she says.


Table of Contents


Poor People, written by William T. Vollman, ©2007. Skeen’s Leap, written by Jo Clayton, ©1986.