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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Those teeth                               

those teeth that gleam in sunlight hazed through windowed walls that narrow to a windowed point. “You’re not,” she says, coming down the low steps into the open room, hat in hand. “I was here,” she says. “I’ve already been here.”

“You came back,” he says, the words slipped carefully through such long teeth. “Remember?”

“I wrapped his body,” she says. “I went to get the tarp, I brought it here so I could drag him down the,” looking back, over her shoulder, “hall, why did I come back?” Brushing her cheek a flower, delicately pink there at the end of a green stem sparsely leafed, long enough to coil once about her shoulders, rooted in a pucker on the slope of her breast. “Who knows?” he says, climbing down off the high-backed black office chair. “One last look about the place. You’re going back!” He sets the wide-bladed cleaver down on the box before him, by a small glittering bit of bone. “We’re going back,” he says, pushing back his tattered cuff to check his watch. “That’s what matters.”

“You’re dead,” she says.

“You keep saying that,” he says. “What I have to keep asking myself is how I can hear you, if it’s true.” His beige pullover rent to shreds, he’s leaning on a makeshift crutch.

“Whatever it is you do, it doesn’t,” she says, “it’s not, gonna work, and I come back here, why do I keep coming back?” Looking about the sunlit room, the boxes stacked about. “The last time, the last time I come back here, you’re in my chair,” she points, “and I wrap you in this plastic tarp from downstairs, and, but then, I came back in here, and there was, there’s gonna be, this tiny guy in my, chair,” and as she falters, he smiles, much too widely about those teeth. “Don’t,” she says. “Stop doing that.” And then, “I know you,” she says.

“Eleleu, ie,” he says, quietly. “Jo. Jo.” Snapping his fingers. “Of course you do. Don’t get lost now.”

“Shut up, David,” she says. “I’m talking about him. You’re both here. Sort of. You will be.”

“But I’m dead,” he says. “And you haven’t even asked about my foot.”

“What is this,” she says. “Why am I here. What did you,” she’s stepping in among the boxes, and he hops back a step. “Figure out,” she says, looking down at the lid of the box between them, the cleaver on it, and the bit of bone, all spangled with blue glitter. “Is it the photos? Is it, that’s, why would somebody go to all the trouble. Pictures, of Portland, how we, know it, remember it, so that, what, makes a difference. Right?”

“You haven’t heard a goddamn thing I’ve said.” Thump of his cane, hop-step toward the windows, “Every moment already holds within it whatever might’ve come before. All of this,” leaning lurch as he waves that crutch spinning about to thump catch himself, “already here,” he says, “there’s no difference.” Thump, hop. “But you’re close.”

“What have you done,” she says, lifting the lid of that box with a slither of blue glitter, tink of bone against blade, he slaps it shut, knocking the lid from her hands. “It’s not the photos,” he says. “It’s the box. Think!” Waving his free hand gleam of the gold watch over those boxes. “Who went to all this trouble? Who brought them all upstairs, and saved them from the flood? Who cleaned them and sorted and filed them away?” He’s standing on the sofa behind him, among the boxes there, an elaborate shrug of don’t ask me, his smile somehow hapless despite his teeth. “Who stayed behind to do all that?”

“What did you do,” she says, red shoes spangled with blue, that flower pink beside her chin.

“What I had to,” he says, resting his free hand on the lid of that box, his weight on his hand. “Took forever. I had to be so, inhumanly patient. But I did it.” Looking up, lifting that knobbled knurl of bone, spangled with silver, dusting his fingertips with glittering flakes of blue. “I caught him. And he told me where he slept.”

“Slept,” she says, flatly.

“Don’t you get it? They never slept, before they came here. Now, some of them, all they do is sleep. And they have to sleep somewhere. Boxes!” Setting the bone back down. “Cabinets. Cupboards, drawers. Footlockers,” looking about, “closets, hell, there are so many of them. And they all need someplace to call their own, where they can go, to dream – don’t you get it? It’s too small!” Thumping the lid of the box for emphasis, the shreds of what’s left of his pullover a-flap with the force of it. “He couldn’t possibly fit in this. But he did. It’s a bubble, of somewhere else – of space! Not time, not time at all. And if we can get in there?” He’s peering out from behind him, crouched on the arm of the sofa now, twirling a finger by his temple. “We can go anywhere. Jo. Anywhere. We can go back.”

“What was his name,” she says.

“All we have to do,” he says, but “His name,” she growls, and “I,” he says, looking down at the bone, the cleaver, the box. “I don’t see what,” and then, his shoulders slumping, “Inchwick,” he says, looking up, but she’s closed her eyes. “David,” she says. “I’m not going back.” A deep breath, and she opens them. He’s slumped in the high-backed black desk chair, lost in the sunlight hazed through windowed walls, hands not quite folded together atop the photos spread over his lap. “David?” she says, sweeping off her hat, and he takes it from her and lays it on the sofa, then takes her hand in his, much smaller, and roughly red about the knuckles. “Then what happened,” he says, carefully, through those teeth.

“I’m gonna go to the top of Big Pink,” she says, still looking at the body in the chair. The flower’s as high as her eye, and the stem of it long enough to drape, once, about her shoulders. “She’s up there, I know she’s up there. Should’ve known that as soon as I saw it.”

“So you’ve spoken with the King.”

“I, guess? That would make sense, but – no, wait. He’s not, up there? With her?”

“There are rules.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Right. Rules. So he’s the one who tells, who. Will have told me. What to do.”

“You’ll come back.”

“I came back.”

“Here you are.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I was gonna, I’m, I need,” she swallows, looks down at him. “The watch,” she says.

“By all means, take the watch.”

“I should,” she says, looking up, “do something for him,” but she falters, blinking. The chair is empty.

“You wrapped him in the tarp already,” he says. “That you went downstairs to get?” She’s shaking her head, but he’s rattling on, “You’ve already hauled him away outside, you’re almost good to go, the only way out is up and we’re all onboard with that, but you came back in here for one last thing.”

She says, “What.”

“Lean down, if you would?” he says. “I can’t quite reach,” and when she does so, hesitantly, bent forward at the waist, he gently takes the stem of that flower between thumb and forefinger. “Actually,” she says, “that’s,” but as she tries to straighten he tightens his grip, hand a fist about the stem now, “Hey!” she slaps his shoulder, pushes him away, but he’s opening his mouth.

Lobed petals delicately pink unfurl in curling layers from a tight-packed central bud within to open and open up and out until the outermost ring’s laid almost flat atop five green long-pointed septal leaves, and she spreads her fingers to push it, gently, away, out of her face, “I’m sorry?” she says, looking up, then shaking her head, irritated. The flower’s bobbing back against her cheek.

“Proof of residence,” says the woman, peering down from up behind the podium, a slab of pink-tinged granite trimmed with greening copper.

“I haven’t,” she says, looking down at herself, that sparsely leafed stem awkwardly swallowed by her half-zipped hoodie, stiff with dried mud, her bare mud-spattered legs, her ragged red shoes. “It’s been a while since I got a gas bill,” she says, “and unless you’ve got a working DMV somewhere up in here?”

“Your claim to passage,” the woman up behind the podium with a white-gloved hand lifts a piece of paper to read from it, “is that you are within her heart.” Lays it aside. “You must provide proof of residence to redeem your claim.”

“I, did I,” frowning, a shake of her head, “did I say that? That doesn’t, I don’t – ”

“You would establish another claim to passage?” She sits up, leaning over the edge of the podium, her jacket a silvery pink, trimmed and epauleted with white cord, the breast of it festooned with ribbons and medallions, and the orange beret pinned at a distracting angle to her whitely silver hair.

“I don’t,” she says, looking past the podium to the dark hall beyond, the bank of elevators. “Is she, can you at least tell me if she’s even up there? Can I get a, message to her? Or something?”

“To whom,” says the woman, still leaning over the edge of the podium.

“Ysabel. Perry. Ysabel Perry. Is she – ”

“Queen of All? Mountain-shod, Sun-clad, the Star-crowned Lady, who is never but Maid and Mother and Loathly Crone? The Acme, the Zenith, the One True Only and Ever for Always?”

“I,” she says, “well, I was the Gallowglas? I hunted for the King. I was the,” pushing that flower away again, “I was the Duchess of Southeast. The, the Widow, of the Hawk.”

“None of which,” says the woman, sitting back, “is sufficient to redeem your claim to passage.”

She turns away abruptly, flower swaying. The light about is thin, shining up from water unseen below to slip uncertain through walls of coppery glass. “If I could just,” she says. One whole pane there’s been knocked out, a makeshift balcony of planks and bungee cord lashed to the frame. “I haven’t seen her in,” she says, “ah, shit,” and breaks into a run thump of her shoes on filthy carpet driving around and past that podium toward the elevators head down grunt arms flung up stumbling headlong sprawling falling to tumble roll fetch up against the wall as the woman drops down from behind the podium, bustling quickly over crook of the cane in her white-gloved hand shoving her sitting up back and down against the carpet, holding her there, “You may. Not. Pass!” she cries, but there’s a sharp “Hey!” from someone else, and she lifts the cane, straightening, reaching up to make sure of her orange beret. “Majesty,” she says.

He’s not too terribly tall, draped in a kaftan of leafy greens shot through with golden thread, and his hair’s a mop of artful tangles blackly drooped about his shoulders. “Just, show her the phone,” he says, not unkindly. “The lock screen? That photo of you and Ys, that’s enough, that’s all she, Jo?” Her head back against the wall eyes closed she draws a breath that shakes with the sob that screws up her face, that coughs out of her, that leaves her gasping. “Oh, Jo,” he says, kneeling before her, and then, “Leave us,” he says, and there’s steel in his voice.

“Majesty, I could not possibly – ”

“Take a fucking break, Mousely. They’re not exactly beating down our doors anymore. Go for a swim or something.” Half-turning, to face her. “Give us the room.”

“Majesty,” she says, and a curt little nod.

“Jo,” he says, taking her hand in both of his. “There are rules. Rules not even a king might break.” He smiles, but it does little to light his face. “The flower’s spectacular. You certainly took your sweet time getting here.”

“I didn’t,” she says. “I didn’t know. It, it didn’t, I,” but “It’s all right,” he’s saying, squeezing her hand. “It’s all right. Is it lost? Gone for good? Can you get it back?”

“You’re not,” she says, then, and then, “you, you’re Lymond. You’re Lymond.”

“Well,” he says. “When I’m at home.” That smile again. One of his eyes might be blue, and the other more a brown, but it’s hard to say, given the uncertainty of


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