When the phone sings I want trumpets and violins to play over thumping drums and piano and chugging guitar the rumpled blankets jerk and twist and spit out a hand. It fumbles about and finds the phone, cutting it off mid-revolvers and adrenaline. A head drifts up, sleep-matted hair wine-red, cut short. Jo opens her eyes.
Starkly white, walls, ceiling, wider at the one end than the other, windows blotched with old paint about the mullions, two or three storeys up. Over across a narrow street an unfinished apartment complex, welter of scaffolding, plywood draped in green paper printed over and over with logos that say Regen Homewrap. Under the windows three or four blond wood crates filled with clothing neatly folded. She swings her feet off the futon and standing almost trips over discarded black jeans, black boots flopped emptily beside them, a brown glass growler wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. On the wall by the door a sword’s slung from a leather strap, the scabbard of it plain and black, the simple hilt swaddled in a basket of wiry strands. Above it from the same nail a painted skull-mask, teeth crudely chiseled, black mane falling, motionless, long enough almost to brush the floor.
A bathroom, white tile, windows of frosted glass, the tub an enameled slipper up on clawed feet. Against the wall by the tub a lidded white bucket, a stainless steel tureen covered with foil, a plastic milk jug, a blue bottle sealed with pink wax. Jo skins off her tank top, leaves it puddled blackly on white tile. Over the sink the mirror’s an artfully jagged oblong set in the wall, and caught there muddy eyes to either side of the nose, that nose, the mouth, thinly pale-lipped. Red line of an old and faded wound across her brow. Her hand to her breast, fingertips pressed against, dimpling the skin, whitening, trembling. A hiss of breath, her eyes squeezed shut, her hand yanked away.
The kitchen’s airy, white and blue and stainless steel, thin grey morning light. Wrapped in a robe of buffalo plaid, feet bare, hair wet, Jo picks a glass up out of the sink and eyes the bit of milk ringing the bottom before rinsing it out. Opening cabinets she finds a shelf of mugs, pulls one down. Over on a counter between the kitchen and the open room beyond a stainless steel carafe, there by a bouquet, a profusion of orange and gold sunflowers overtopping a slender glass vase. She thumbs back the lid of the carafe, sniffs, pours herself a cup of coffee. On the other side of the carafe a neat stack of paper, maybe an inch high, held at one corner by a fat black binder clip.
Down three low steps into the open room beyond, windows to the left and right in walls that narrow to a point, where Jo sits herself in a great maroon chair. Sipping her coffee she flips through the pages littered with little plastic flags brightly yellow and red marking this line, that box, and she sets to signing here, initialing there, JKM, JKM, Joliet Maguire, JKM. The window behind her looks out over a hatching of bare branches, a wedge of sidewalk below shimmed between two angled streets, a theater marquee across the intersection that says Brazil 700, Long Kiss Goodnight 945. Back along the length of the apartment past the kitchen down the hall beyond a door opens, quietly. Jo looks up. A silhouette down there, carrying something, a mass of tangled curls that lighten paling as she steps into the kitchen, a cloud the color of clotted cream. “Marfisa,” says Jo.
Marfisa starts, looks down into the open room. Sets her knapsack down, and the wooden baseball bat, leaning it against the door to the apartment. Shakes out her sheepskin coat. “Congratulations,” she says, slipping it on.
Jo sets down the pen. “For what?” she says. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”
“She loves you, Gallowglas,” says Marfisa, taking up the bat again, the knapsack. Jo stands, pages falling a rustling thump to the floor, “Look,” she says, stalking over to the steps up into the kitchen, “You do what you’re gonna do, don’t do it, I don’t care, but if you hurt her, again – ”
“I never,” says Marfisa, but Jo’s up the steps, “If,” she’s saying, hand raised, and then “don’t,” she says, “don’t hurt her. Or I’ll hurt you.”
“As I said,” says Marfisa, opening the door to the apartment.
The door, closing behind her. The papers splayed on the floor below, in the sunlight. The dark hall ahead.
In the white room kicking the black jeans out of the way Jo kneels by the growler, yanking the plastic garbage bag down and off. Inside the bottom of it slicked with something viscous, white, frothed with a sheen of bubbles, a hint of warm yellow gold. Both arms about it hefting the weight of it wadding out into the hall, the bathroom at the end. Careful of the slippery floor, lowering with her knees, she sets the growler by the bucket and the tureen. Re-belts her robe before heading back out into the hall, where the door to the left is open now, on a room painted yellow and white, and Ysabel, leaning in the doorway, arms folded in a bulky fisherman’s sweater, a cigarette smoldering in her hand. Her hair’s been cut quite short, little more than sleek black fuzz. She opens her reddened eyes. “So,” she says, and she lifts the cigarette to her lips. “Shall we do this?”
“Sure,” says Jo. “What the hell.”
Night, and the sky above an overcast rusted with city light, blotted at the end of a long busy street by the black hulk of a hill. In the lap of it there the street ends at the colonnaded porch of a big yellow house awash in pinkish orange light, and climbing up behind it isolated blooms of streetlight scratched by bare branches, the startled green of conifers, and there, and there above, the light’s pooled about fences, low stone buildings, and zigging and zagging up that hill, winding from there to there a line of embers, sparks just bright enough, flickering, to hollow out the shadows about them, marking a slow and stately passage back and forth and up, and always up, and in the lulls of the traffic’s rush, when engines idle and tires roll to a stop, when the door swings shut on the noise of the bar, when the busker at the corner strikes the last chord from her guitar and stills the strings with a hand, looking up, cocking her ear, just faintly, floating down from that hill, what might be a hundred voices or more that lift, lilting something like a song.
“Tumpets and violins,” written by Peter Gunnarsson and Johan Hedberg, ©2004 CHRYSALIS MUSIC GROUP.
Water, crashing into the tub. Jo tests it with a hand, adjusts a knob, fetches the stopper from a chrome rack over the nozzle and leans in to sink it home. She’s headed for the bucket, the tureen, when Ysabel says, “First things first.”
“Oh,” says Jo. She undoes the belt of her robe, but turns her back before opening it, shrugging it off to hang it from a hook there by the tub.
“I would not have expected modesty,” says Ysabel. She’s sitting on the closed toilet seat, smoking the end of her cigarette. Jo turns, head cocked, hands spread, a gesture of display, before stooping by the bucket. “Any time you’re ready,” she says.
Cigarette in her mouth Ysabel works the sweater up over her head, down her arms, to drop to the floor. She lifts her foot to work a gold ring from her little toe. “Your tattoo’s gone,” she says. Setting the ring on the windowsill. Jo’s working to pop the seals that hold the lid of the bucket in place, but one hand strays to her belly. “I guess,” she says, “it, he, couldn’t put it back. Or didn’t bother.”
“It never suited you,” says Ysabel, stubbing out the cigarette.
“It was a warning,” says Jo, but Ysabel’s hand is on her back, sliding up to her shoulder as she jerks upright, turning to find herself in an embrace, Ysabel pulling her close, shorn fuzz against wine-colored locks.
“This is weird,” says Jo.
“Of course it is,” says Ysabel. Letting go, stepping back. “We’ve never done it before.” Hoisting a leg into the tub, pulling herself in after. “Properly,” she says, and sighs as she settles in the steaming water. “Wait,” she says, when Jo turns back to the bucket. “Wait.”
Jo sits on the edge of the tub, and takes Ysabel’s dripping hand in her own, and Ysabel pulls it close to press a kiss to the palm of it. Jo closes her eyes. “Let it fill a bit more,” says Ysabel.
Abruptly up, mouth open, a word unsaid, beige blankets, white sheet wound about her legs. Grey daylight leaking past the edges of a heavy curtain drawn, incandescent light seeping under a closed door, and the howl of a hair dryer, and she draws herself up, elbow on knees, hand to her forehead, the neat white bit of gauze taped there, under her rumpled wine-red hair. A second bed beside her, comforter turned back, pillows in disarray. Grey suit laid out neatly at the foot of it, and a yellow camisole. “Ysabel?” says Jo, but softly. Clink of glass as she sets her feet to the floor, an empty bottle or two. Black tank top, black briefs, she makes her gingerly way past the low dresser laden with ravaged take-out boxes, an empty bottle of wine, white shopping bags that say Meier and Frank in red letters. A sword, blade bare, the hilt of it guarded about by a net of wiry strands. She lifts an edge of the heavy curtain and squints out, washed over in thin grey light. The wall over across the street paneled in squares of colors from old photographs, dull orange, pale grey, dull greenish grey, the brick building beside it painted over in a mural, a camel, an oasis, M.E. Dinihanian and Sons, it says. Rug Cleaning. Rug Repairing. The hair dryer stops.
The bathroom door opens. There’s Ysabel, smoothing the artful tangles of her long black hair, shot through with occasional curling threads of white. “Did I wake you?” she says.
“Time’s it,” says Jo.
“After nine,” says Ysabel. “In the morning.” She picks up the yellow camisole. “Wednesday morning,” she says, slipping it on.
“I know what,” says Jo, and then, catching herself, “it’s tomorrow.”
“The Apportionment, yes,” says Ysabel, fingers busy with buttons. “Tomorrow evening. So plenty of time, oceans of time, to gather the medhu, turn the owr, see to my mother, reassure the gentry,” reaching for grey trousers, smokey stockings.
“Is there, anything you need?” says Jo. “I can do, to help?”
Ysabel looks up. Lays the trousers back over the foot of the bed. “Don’t go,” she says. “Don’t do this to yourself.” Taking Jo’s hand from the curtain, letting darkness fall again. Jo pulls her close, a sudden embrace. “You don’t have to go,” says Ysabel, her chin on Jo’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I do,” says Jo, leaning back from all that hair.
“Then I will go with you,” says Ysabel, kissing her, softly.
“Everything you got going on?” says Jo. “And you didn’t know him. Really, you don’t have to,” and another kiss. “Yes,” says Ysabel. “I do.”
Letting go. Ysabel dressing, crisply, quietly, stockings and trousers, jacket. Jo lays a hand on the curtain again but doesn’t lift it. “Is there time for breakfast?” says Jo. “I could maybe make myself presentable, you give me a minute.”
“I must go now to secure a tub,” says Ysabel, slipping on a lemon and grey spectator pump. “For the turning. You get back in bed. We’ll try for lunch.”
“Okay,” says Jo. “Lunch. Where.”
“I’ll let you know,” says Ysabel, putting on her long white topcoat. “A surprise. My treat.” A white slouch hat on her head. “All right?”
Jo nods. When the door closes, when she’s alone, she looks down, picks up a bottle that isn’t yet empty. Jim Beam Honey, the label says.
Wandering through a grocery store a featureless silhouette, down a city street. He isn’t watching. He isn’t looking at the other monitor either, the one filled with columned numbers, rows highlighted in yellow and green. Something burbles, chimes, a notice appears, floating over the numbers, Andy Hornbeck’s office calling, Answer, Answer with video, Decline. He looks up, runs a hand through what’s left of his hair, fits a tiny black headset to his ear and taps it. “Mendlesohn Associates,” he says. Past the monitors a glass-walled office, inside a man looking out at the cityscape, dark hills, soft grey rain. “Mr. Mendlesohn’s in conference,” says Becker. “I can take a message, or he can – that’s – yes. He can. Any time before two? Yes, I’ll, I’ll let him know. Thank you.” Tapping the space bar, setting the tiny headset by the keyboard, a sleek aluminum thing with spotless white keys, unburdened by any cords.
A woman comes around a corner of those glass walls, studiedly graceful in nosebleed heels, a slender pinstripe skirt. “Arnold,” she says.
“Becker, actually,” he says, adjusting the knot of his tie, a burnished brown with muted polka dots. “Everybody, ah, calls me, just, Becker.”
She nods once, and says, “Is there any way to possibly, rearrange the entries, in the Pink Cloud and White Cloud reports, by admittance date? And print them?” Her makeup precisely invisible, blond hair swept back, pinned up. “Sure,” says Becker. “If you click the column,” pointing to the spreadsheet, “then use the sort icon, you can – ”
“Excellent,” she says. “And printouts. Of each. Thanks.”
Becker says, “Sure.”
She heads off into the glass-walled office, and he presses a key. Watches the rows and columns shift and rearrange. Stands when the printer over on the credenza whirs to life. Pages in hand, he knocks once on the glass door, then steps in, “of the under-thirties,” the man’s saying, “lock, stock, and barrel the crosstabs,” and then he looks away from the rain to see Becker, there, in the doorway. “Here,” says Becker, holding out the pages to the woman perched on a corner of the glass-topped desk.
“Both reports, Arnold,” she says.
“It is,” he says. “It’s both.”
“Five copies?” she says. “I need five copies. Of each.”
And Becker says, “Sure.”
In the bathroom he bangs open a stall door, leans against one red-painted wall. Loosens his tie, undoes the top button of his shirt. Swipes and thumbs the screen of his phone, holds it up to his ear. “We have got to talk about this situation,” he says.
“I have been here three days,” he says, “and I don’t know what I’m doing or what they think they’re doing but I don’t think they know either –
“What? David, I’m not talking about lunch! We have to –
“I – I don’t, I didn’t – ” He sighs. “Red Star. Six o’clock. Drinks, whatever.” Leaning his head back, closing his eyes. “Sure,” says Becker.
At the top of those wide white steps the Coke machine hums to itself, bright red, and on the front of it a photo of a bottle of soda, a thickly blackish brown that’s hoared with ice. In the ruddied shadows beside it a nondescript white door, the knob of it faceted glass. Up from the lobby below comes Jo’s voice echoing, rising, “my stuff! Every goddamn thing I had left in this world!”
“But there’s nothing there, milady,” says the man in the brown tweed vest.
“Bullshit,” says Jo all in black, black jeans, black boots, the hood of her jacket back over her shoulders like a crumpled scarf. The neat white dressing at her brow. She moves to step past him, and he scrambles into her path. “Lady, please.”
“The hell with this lady shit,” she says.
“I merely wish,” says the man in the vest, and “Stirrup!” says a deep voice, over there. “Gallowglas.” Jo whips around, catching herself. A man there in the doorway, under a hanging bouquet of tie-dyed T-shirts, his shoulders broad in yellow chamois, his hair a neat black cap. “What seems to be the matter in dispute,” he says.
“I just,” says Jo, “want to go upstairs, and get my stuff?”
“There’s nothing up there anymore,” says the man in the doorway, and he holds up a hand as Jo snaps, “Luys!” and he says, “so there’s no harm, in letting you see that for yourself.” A bit of leather thong tied loosely about his wrist. “Mason!” cries the Stirrup, but Luys turns his hand from forestalling to an offering with a gentle smile. Jo doesn’t take it.
“We weren’t told to expect you,” says the Stirrup, stepping aside with a scowl.
“I can’t just,” says Jo, headed for the wide white steps, “sit, all the damn day in that hotel, while she’s off, doing, God knows what.” On the landing she pauses, her hand against the wall, and Luys hurries up after, taking her arm. “My lady,” he says, quietly. “You’re drunk.”
“The hell I am,” she says.
“You’ve been drinking,” he says.
“Call me lady again,” she says, yanking herself free, marching on, up the steps. “I’ll deck you.”
The buzzing Coke machine. The white door beside it. Jo rips and resettles the velcro closures on her cycling gloves, black and grey. “The password,” she says.
“There’s no one inside to give it,” says Luys. “Go on.”
Jo closes her eyes, her hand on the knob. “Farquahr will be two,” she murmurs, and she opens the door.
The room beyond is little more than a closet. To one side a mop bucket. “Wait,” says Jo. A rack of cubbies stuffed with spray bottles and cartons of light bulbs. “I’ve seen this before.” Wrapped bundles of paper towels and looped hanks of extension cords. She closes the door. “If I just.” Opens it again.
“It’s gone,” says Luys, as she’s saying, “The rooms, all the rooms, his, my things, they were,” and he says, “You didn’t come for your things, Gallowglas.” Her eyes closing, lips clenching. “You came alone,” says Luys, quietly, “on the bus, didn’t you? With liquor on your breath, and only half the morning gone.” He takes her hand in both of his. “You loved him, didn’t you.” Her eyes open abruptly. “Or you might have,” he says. “Come to. But he’s gone. Jo. He’s gone.”
“Did you?” says Jo. “Love him?”
He looks away. Lets go her hand. Reaches past her to close the door. “Come along with me,” he says, and he heads back past the Coke machine to the steps.
“Where,” says Jo. “Where’re you going?” Stepping after him. “Where are we going?”
“To get the car,” says Luys. “To take you to your things.”
Under the trees in a ragged file they move, having left streetlights behind, a hundred of them, and another, and more, and each of them holding up a shining hand, and gleaming tendrils of a summery haze drift like smoke down and down in their wake, and fall about the brims of their hats, the crowns of their hoods, the shoulders of their heavy coats and leather jackets, nylon rainshells and fleecey pullovers, and their mouths open, singing, a nameless vowel to eddy that sluggish fog of light, and the sound of it rising slowly until it slips all at once in a dizzying ululation that winds about the trees around them. Light falls more thickly now, on roots and gravel, mud and the thin grass, pine needles and mushrooms, and the boots and shoes and muddy feet of those that come after disturb the fallen light as they pass, kick it up like dust as they move on, singing, and yet more light falling, from all those upraised hands.
Jim Beam Honey® is a registered trademark of the Jim Beam Brands Co. “Someone Great,” written by James Murphy, copyright holder unknown.
The stuff in the bucket’s thick, frothed with iridescent bubbles around the edge of it, creamily flat in the center, and all a milky white that’s warmed with hints of gold. “I just,” says Jo, “pour it in?”
In the tub Ysabel nods, steaming water up to her chin, droplets shining silvery in the darkness of her short short hair. “All at once?” says Jo. “Or slow and steady, maybe drizzle it around?”
“It’ll be slow,” says Ysabel. She opens her eyes. “Which do you have?”
“Uh,” says Jo, her hand on the bucket, “this is North’s. The, I guess the Hare, now?”
“Pour yours first,” says Ysabel.
“Yes,” says Ysabel, closing her eyes. “Yours.”
“Okay,” says Jo. “Okay.” Shifting the bucket to one side she reaches for the growler, unscrews the cap of it with a fluted pop. Heaving the weight of it up in her arms she sidesteps back to the tub and a boom as she sets it on the edge, balanced at an angle in her hands. “Okay,” she says. “Here we go.” Tipping the growler, leaning it scraping the edge of the tub, “whoops,” and a sucking oozing glug of a sound, a drop, gathering itself in the mouth of the jug, swelling and sagging, distending, slipping the lip of it falling reluctant paloop to the water where it unfolds, clouds of white, billowing open, shreds and tatters spreading, over Ysabel.
“Gallowglas?” says Luys, a down vest over his yellow chamois shirt.
Above him Jo’s stopped on the landing, a hand on the railing of the next flight up. “There’s only two storeys,” she says. “This building only had two storeys, outside.”
“Three one two,” says Luys.
“I don’t think,” says Jo, scowling past him to the ground floor below, “this is a storage unit.”
“No,” says Luys. “It isn’t.”
That next flight ends in a narrow landing, just large enough for them both to stand before a plain brown door. Black numerals, a three, a one, a two, hung above a peephole, the rim of it pitted with rust. Jo lifts a hand knuckled to knock, lowers it, looking over at Luys. He shrugs. She lifts it again when someone inside, Ysabel, calls out, “It’s open!”
Jo opens the door.
The room beyond an airy kitchen, white and blue and stainless steel, and on the counter there a mound of roses, yellow, white, pink and orange, mottled red and white, striated, a deep rich red that’s almost black among the dark green leaves. “Ysabel?” says Jo, stepping in, followed by Luys. Past that counter down three low steps an open room, windows to the left and right in walls that narrow to a point and there stands Ysabel in her grey suit, smiling. On a sofa to one side a man in a brown suit coat, and on the cushions beside him a briefcase veneered in some lightly colored wood. He gruffly pushes himself to his feet as Luys inclines his head, a bow, “Majesty,” he says.
“You’ve gone and spoiled the surprise, Mason,” says Ysabel.
“The hell,” says Jo, as Luys says, “She came to us, quite upset, ma’am. It seemed best.”
“Very well,” says Ysabel, her gesture offering up the room about her, the roses, the kitchen and past it, behind them, the hallway strung with yellow lights, the open doors there, and there. “Welcome home,” she says, and Jo turns about there by the door to the apartment, taking it all in, “What,” she’s saying, “you said,” and then, “I’m sorry,” to the man in the brown suit coat, “you’re, who are you? Who is this?”
“You hadn’t met the Shrieve?” says Ysabel.
“I don’t, I’m sorry, I don’t know the Shrieve,” says Jo.
“Bruno, lady,” he says, with a nod, quite short, standing next to Ysabel. He wears no collar or tie, and his pants are rumpled corduroy.
“What do you think?” says Ysabel, and then, bounding forward, up the steps, “come on,” into the kitchen, taking Jo’s hand, dragging her along, “come and see.” Down the hall, under the lights, two doors left, and right, “I thought you were,” Jo’s saying, as Ysabel says “Separate rooms, see? Like we said,” and through the one doorway yellow and white, and white on white through the other, and “you were getting a tub,” says Jo. Under the window in there a row of crates made from polished blond wood, a steamer trunk, “Wait,” says Jo, “is that,” but “Oh,” says Ysabel, pulling Jo down to the end of the hall, the door there open on gleaming white tile and frosted glass and “the tub,” says Ysabel, the great enameled slipper of it. “It’s not a jacuzzi,” she says, taking both Jo’s hands in her own, “but,” letting go to open the last of the doors, ducking under a dangle of yellow lights, pulling Jo in after. In the kitchen Luys looks after them, looks back into the open front room, tucks his hands away in his pockets. Bruno with a shrug sits himself back on the sofa, there by his briefcase.
Through a narrow dark room, the blank glass portholes of clothes dryer and washing machine, “Out here,” says Ysabel, opening the door at the other end on a trickle and seep of rain, stepping out under a low canopy, a little wooden porch, a single step down to a pocket of yellow grass and low green scrub out to the low parapets to either side, and here and there islands of the building’s infrastructure, a ventilator hood, chimney pots, the boxy bulk of a fan. Wooden tubs there and there that hold small leafless trees, a raised bed filled with bare earth waiting, a couple of unpainted Adirondack chairs before a patterned bronze chiminea on spindly legs, and everywhere strung from branches to poles more strands of little yellow lights. “We have a garden,” says Ysabel.
“You,” says Jo, turning about, a shadow in the dim light, “you moved,” fingers flashing as she waves back into the apartment, “my stuff.”
“You were supposed to sleep in,” says Ysabel.
“I got,” says Jo, “antsy. I wanted to do something.” And then, “You didn’t tell me!” and Ysabel steps back, blinking. “I wanted it to be a surprise,” she says.
“Well.” Jo looks away, looks about. Wiping her eyes. “Hey. That worked.”
“Tonight, after you, said goodbye,” says Ysabel, stepping close again, “I would have brought you here. Home. To this.” Jo ducks her head, shoulders settling her arms about Ysabel, and Ysabel’s about her. “And tomorrow, together, we turn the owr, and tomorrow night we give it out again. To everyone.” Pulling them together, tightly. “We’ve made it, Jo. We did it.”
Jo nods. She leans back, in Ysabel’s arms, “So what are we,” she says, and a sniff, “what are we talking about here, this apartment. It’s ours? Or just the tub.”
“Oh,” says Ysabel, a chuckle, “it’s more than that.”
Thumbing open the locks of the briefcase in his lap, lifting the lid, a manila folder, a calculator, a scatter of pens, a foolscap pad, he takes out the folder, careful of a couple of not quite empty glassine envelopes that he tips back into the case. Closing the lid he rifles through a number of stapled documents, “I’ve had to take some decisions,” he says, “given mandated outlays, dispensations, remittances, the portfolio could not I’m afraid remain, ah, intact. But.” His smile’s a flash, there and gone again. “There are options.”
“For, what?” says Jo, on the sofa beside him, a panini in her hand, greens, tomatoes, soft white cheese. “What is all this?”
“Your fortune,” says Bruno, laying out the documents he’s selected.
“My,” says Jo, “what?” Plucking up a page. “That’s a quarterly projection,” he says. “I cast a number of them, under differing,” that smile again, on-off, “assumptions?”
“Quarterly,” she says, the sandwich drifting toward her mouth. She doesn’t take a bite. “This is what comes in every, every three months.”
His brow pinches, a frown that doesn’t flit away. “There are,” he says, “more aggressively liquid postures to be taken,” shuffling through the pages in his hands.
“I don’t,” says Jo, looking up, to Ysabel there in the kitchen, “understand. What is all this?”
“Let the Shrieve explain,” says Ysabel, white coat in her hands. “He’s very good with all these rituals and incantations, and, unlike some,” slipping her arms in the sleeves, “eminently trustworthy.”
“Your majesty is too kind,” says Bruno, and then he lunges after the pages slipping to the floor as Jo beside him leaps to her feet, hand to her chest, “You’re leaving?” she cries.
“I must,” says Ysabel, sweeping her hair back, settling her white hat on her head, “now see to my mother. Another appointment. I should be back in plenty of time.”
“This, is,” says Jo, headed across the room, “you can’t just,” up the steps to the kitchen, and “You’ll be fine,” says Ysabel. “Ask your questions of the Shrieve, heed his advice.” She catches Jo’s free hand in hers. “Nothing needs to be done right away. We’ll talk, about it all, tonight, tomorrow – ”
“If I might, ma’am,” says Bruno, gathering pages, “some signatures are required, resolutions, power of attorney,” but Ysabel says, “Which might wait, until tomorrow, or the day after,” and Bruno, looking up, nodding, says, “Of course.” Stacking pages together. “Yes, ma’am.” Binding them with a clip.
“Do you need me with you?” says Jo.
“It’s my mother, Jo,” says Ysabel. “If I end up running late,” and she opens the door to the apartment. A woman’s waiting on the landing, powerfully built, thick arms folded in a yellow track suit with white piping. “Majesty,” she says with a nod, unfolding her arms, “your grace.” Her close-cropped hair’s been dyed a virulent chartreuse.
“Ysabel?” says Jo.
“If I’m running late,” says Ysabel in the doorway, “I’ll meet you there. Mason? Can you be at the Huntsman’s disposal, should she require a driver?”
“Of course, ma’am,” says Luys, sitting at the counter by the mound of roses.
“There,” says Ysabel, stepping out onto the landing. The woman in the track suit leans in to pull the door shut.
“There,” says Jo, as footsteps descend the stairs outside. “Okay,” she says. Turning, to look at Luys, at the counter, at Bruno, down there on the sofa. The pages on the briefcase in his lap. “Okay,” she says, again. “This, this fortune. Those numbers. Ten words or less. Where’s it come from.”
“It,” says Bruno, hesitantly, feeling his way, “has, always been, Southeast’s, milady.”
“But what is it,” says Jo, setting her sandwich on the counter, stepping down into the open room. “Where does it all,” and then, frowning, she turns, looks back at the door to the apartment. “Rents, mortgages,” Bruno’s saying, “real, fixed properties and their associated monies,” but “Lady,” Jo’s saying to herself, “grace,” turning about again, there in that room, “Southeast,” she says, looking up at Luys, who’s looking down at his hands.
“Holy shit,” says Jo Maguire.
“A pretty speech;” he says, circumspectly, “airy words on the honesty of labor, the filthiness of lucre. I believed he meant them, at the time.” His sun-browned head’s quite bald, his cheeks grizzled with a dusting of white beard. “Then that son of a bitch walked away and left me holding the paper.” The lips of the man beside him pinch at that, and he smiles, pointing with his glass for emphasis, “Such delicacy, Pinabel,” he says. “I use the term advisedly – she whelped him, did she not? Or must I now take care, in how I speak of Gammers?”
The man beside him shakes his head, white dreadlocks brushing the shoulders of his pale blue suit. “Only when our host’s so free with wine,” he says, looking over the long and heavy table that dominates the room, and the city laid out atop it, blank white towers cut and shaped from foam core lining a broad blue curl of river crossed, here and there, by the delicate spans of bridges. “Also, you’re left a house,” he says.
“A wreck,” says the bald man, “a ruin. A slap, to my face.” His suit like most of the others in the room is dark, a navy subtly flecked with grey and back. “As if he’ll accomplish anything without my bank.”
“Then he’ll be back, when he’s something to accomplish,” says Agravante. “And he may well slap you again, Welund. Kings never love their creditors.”
“Gentlemen,” says a man at the front of the room, and conversations still, attentions turn. He’s short, thickset, the scruff of beard about his chin too neat to be an afterthought. “No need for introductions,” he says. A baggy tweed jacket over a bottle green sweatshirt blazoned with a brightly yellow O. “We all, each share a, concern, for how this city,” waving his hand, a distracted benison over the towers, “is grown?” He turns to the man beside him, tall, sharp-chinned, sharp-nosed, narrow black glasses like a constant squint. “Mr. Killian here,” says the man in the sweatshirt. That sharp-featured man’s leaning over to hear what’s murmured to him by a man who’s pointing to the heavy gold watch on his wrist. The sharp-featured man nods. “I wanted you,” says the man in the sweatshirt, turning back to all those dark-suited men, standing about the city, “to hear what he has to say.”
“Thank you, Rudy,” says the sharp-featured man, stepping up to the head of the table, adjusting his glasses. His high-buttoned suit’s a lighter grey than most of the rest in the room. “I’d like to think,” he says, “most of you already know of me; certainly, I know of all of you. But it’s the first time many of us have met. My name is George Killian; I will be the next mayor of Portland. I’d like to tell you what that means, for you.”
A meander of paving stones across a scrap of yard, dead leaves, dying grass, black boots clomping, brown work boots following, hurrying, “Milady,” he says, and she stops so abruptly he almost runs into her, “Do not,” she says, “call me that.”
He nods, he swallows, big hands open to either side of her. “Jo,” he says. “Are you certain,” but she’s up the front steps, she’s pounding the yellow front door, “Ray!” she yells. “Lymond!” Rattling the knob, it clacks, the door pops open. “Lady,” says Luys, wincing, and then “Jo, wait – ” but she’s already off inside.
Inside, a long hall, the chugging whir of an air compressor, the chunk chunk, chunk of a nail gun. Jo in her black jacket bursts out into a high wide room, one great curving wall of glass and black trees falling away outside, into a formless chasm of cloud. The air compressor whines away down to silence, and the flap and snap of translucent plastic sheets draping a frame of two-by-fours built around a great square hole that’s been cut in the floor to one side. A man in buff coveralls studiedly checks a level. Jo calls, “Lymond!” again. To the other side an armchair under a blue plastic tarp, a low table beside it, the only furniture other than the table saw, the compressor, the stack of lumber. A second man steps around a corner of the frame, his hair a pinkish orange, his sweater soused in sawdust. “Huntsman,” he says. “Mason. A pleasant surprise. And as good a time as any, for a break?” The man in the coveralls sets his level down, dusts off his hands as Luys ducks his head, “Majesty,” he says, and “Goddammit, Lymond,” says Jo. Lymond pinches off a smile. “Jo, come,” he says. “Walk with me. Mason, if you’d let Scuppernong show you to the kitchen?” He lifts a corner of plastic to reveal the top of an aluminum ladder, leaned against an edge of that great square hole. “After you?” he says, a fillip of his hand in a bulky work glove.
Down through the floor, under the house, the ground falling steeply here, sturdy squared stilts rising up from concrete pilings to meet rough-edged joists and beams, criss-crossed bracings, all of wood the color of old coffee. The ladder rests on a platform built of new yellow lumber, cantilevered out over the vertiginous drop, the house above, the clouds below, the wet roofs of the other houses, black trees all about and the drip of fallen rain. “Tell me you’re not this stupid,” says Jo, as Lymond steps off the ladder. “I wanted a deck,” he says, moving past her carefully to the edge of it all. “I didn’t want to spoil the view.”
“Southeast,” she says.
“Yes,” he says, his back to her, straightening, sighing. “You are to be created a Duchess.”
“Just like that.”
“There’ll be a ceremony, tomorrow, at the Apportionment – yourself, Linesse, Twice Thomas.” He’s looking down. He’s smiling, to himself. “Ours is a terribly new court. But yes,” he says. “Just like that.”
“And you, you’re, you were maybe gonna ask me?” and “Jo,” he says, sharply. She recoils. “What say you, to money?” he says. “Power?” Looking over his shoulder, turning to face her. “Never a need to worry again about the roof, over your head? Your next meal?”
“That’s not, what I – ”
“You saved the Queen, Gallowglas. You saved the city. We’re not ungrateful.”
“That’s not!” she cries. “That isn’t why I did it.”
He cocks his brow over those bulging eyes, one brown, one blue. “Then tell me why,” he says.
“I,” says Jo, and a sudden shivering shake of her head, she looks away, “it was,” she says, “the right thing to do. She needed – someone, had to do it.”
“And she needs you yet,” says Lymond. “We’re all a long way off, from happily every after.”
“Me,” says Jo.
“Southeast,” says Lymond, looking back out over the drop, the trees, the rain, “the largest, richest fief in the city; without a clear and certain succession it will fall, to infighting, and take the city with it.” His hands in those bulky gloves clasped behind him. “But a hero? Loved by the city? Closely tied to the King, and his Queen?”
“Me,” she says, a squeak, a gasp of a laugh.
“The Hawk was your liege, Gallowglas. You fought for him and when he was cut down, you took a vengeance swift, and terrible. No one will,” and she punches him, a stiff-armed blow to his shoulder, “Is this how it works,” she cries, and he rolls with it, and pulling up from the follow-through she grabs at him, clinging to his dusty sweater, “is this how things get done?” She pushes away from him, “I can’t,” she says. Unsteady, the both of them, there at the edge. “Do this. I can’t.”
He grabs a stilt, grabs her jacket, “You can,” he says, easing her back, letting go. “You will. You’re not alone, Jo.”
She snorts. “Alone,” she says, “the hell I’m not alone,” but he’s stripping a glove from his hand, “what are you,” she says. He tosses the glove to the platform between them. “Whoa,” she says, “hey, I didn’t,” and then he thrusts his bare hand at the stilt, the splintery edge of it, hissing when he hits it. “We’re in this together,” he says, holding up his hand, and the gash torn in the heel of it an ugly color, red, dark red, blood, red blood oozing over his palm, down his wrist.
Climbing the hillside, under the trees, crossing and crossing again a neat little roadway doubling back, looping the shoulder of a rise, they come out under an open sky starless, moonless above, a small empty parking lot before them, and the orange haze of streetlight shifts, yellows, warming in fitful flickers from the light they carry in their hands, swelling as their voices swell in a ringing, chorused shout. At the one end of the lot a railing, and a ramp that leads down the side of it to a round of greensward, a slope to a low stone-fronted stage, a stretch of black gravel before it, and all about rise crumbling cliffs of black rock clutched in knuckled tree-roots. They come down that ramp, silently now but for the rustle of their coats, the patter and tramp of their feet. More of them spill over the red clay basketball court at the end there, pushing back shadows with their light, merging and mingling into a crowd that stands, waiting, looking toward the bare stage under the blank sky far above.
“I will,” says Ysabel, sitting back, water sloshing milkily about her, “in a minute, I’m going to.” She sighs. “Go. Under. Until it’s done. The owr.” Reaching up out of the water she takes Jo’s hand in her own, slickly shining. “It might take some little while.”
“Define while,” says Jo.
“Minutes?” says Ysabel. “A few minutes. Nothing more. You mustn’t worry.”
“Underwater,” says Jo.
“Just don’t let go,” says Ysabel. The water trembles about her, the surface of it wrinkling, and already in the thick white clouds below sparks flare. “Ysabel,” says Jo, shifting her grip from Ysabel’s hand to her wrist, and “I’ll be fine,” says Ysabel, “Jo,” she says, “Jo, trust me,” and “I do,” says Jo. “In this,” says Ysabel, “trust me.”
“I do,” says Jo.
“Do you,” says Ysabel. “Do you,” but she bites off the next word, turns away, and her other hand breaks the water’s skin a billow of steam lifting to wipe at eyes and cheeks sheened with water, sweat, with tears, “it’s never, I always, I always knew, before,” she’s saying. Looking up, those green eyes immense, the black fuzz of her shorn hair.
“Ysabel,” says Jo.
“Now, I don’t,” says Ysabel.
“Yes,” says Jo.
“Do you,” says Ysabel, water lapping her chin, and “Yes,” says Jo again, as Ysabel says, “love me?”
“Of course,” says Jo. Looking down. Swallowing. Her other hand pressed between her breasts, fingers flat against her skin. “I love you,” she says.
Ysabel ducks her head again, a sniff, a smile. “I love you, too,” she says, and she hikes up a deep shuddering swallow of air and cheeks bulging, eyes shut, plunges suddenly under the water. Her hand the last of her to slip under, and Jo’s with it, into the whitely swirling mirk.
A short straight sword, the hilt of it wrapped in white leather yellowed with long handling, quillions and pommel heavy and plain. The floor where it’s been thrust is singed, scratched wood black and rough as charcoal in a neat ring about the blade. Ysabel stands with her back to it, long white coat colored by Christmas lights blinking in the window, white hat in her hands. Her hair spilling down, over her shoulders, black curls tangled here and there with sprigs of white. She looks expectantly up the flight of stairs that descends into this big front room. By the front door there a woman waits, powerfully built, yellow track suit, white piping, and from somewhere further back in the house, brittlely slippery guitar chords rise and fall.
Footsteps above, a murmur, a floorboard groans. Black sneakers, black jeans descending carefully, leading a tic-thock, tic-thock of polished black heels, long black skirts swaying like a bell. The man in the black jeans steps aside as the woman pauses, gathering herself on the last step, hand on the newel post, hand on her hip. Long black coat buttoned up to a hint of white collar at her throat. Long hair glossy, almost entirely white, twisted into a ruthless coil of braids. “Chariot,” she says, and the woman in yellow nods. And then, “But where’s your brother? Has the King not come to see me to my exile?”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Mother,” says Ysabel.
“It’s to be the end of me, you realize.”
“Have you packed?” says Ysabel. Her mother gestures absently, and Robin Goodfellow all in black sets the small black bag he’s carried on the step beside her. “I have so little left, you see,” says Duenna says.
“Your health,” says Ysabel. “Family. A city, restored.”
“I see,” says Duenna, chin lifting, lips moued. And then, “Majesty suits you.”
“The car’s waiting, Mother,” says Ysabel, sweeping her hat up onto her head. The Chariot all in yellow opens the front door.
The noise in the bar, the crowd, the piano and bass somewhere above it all, so Becker leans close over the standing table between them, the drinks, what’s left of his martini, the other darkly red in a squat glass, a curl of lemon peel. “I told you!” he says. “I don’t have any idea what I’m doing!”
“Who does?” says Kerr across from him, hair a dark untidy mop, his shirt striped red and brown, a gold watch heavy about his wrist. “You’re making more than twice what you were for less than half the work. What’s to understand?” He sips, he shrugs, he sips again.
“But why?” says Becker.
“I like you?” says Kerr, and he grins, and he laughs. “You have talents!” he says, laying a hand on Becker’s. “A keen eye, a cool head, and who but me’s seen that?” He swallows the rest of his drink.
“I’ll get you another,” says Becker, of a sudden, pushing away from the table, and Kerr looks after him, quizzical, bemused.
“Gin martini,” says Becker, when he can get the bartender’s attention, “and a Sazerac.” She nods, she’s reaching for glasses, bottles, and he taps his fingers on the bar, takes a paper napkin, folds it over, and over again. “Do I know you?” he says, to the man at the bar beside him, who’s looking down, the mustaches drooping to either side of his mouth, the ends of them gathered and weighted by heavy irregular beads of dull pewter. “That,” says the man, his voice pitched low, “is a question you must answer for yourself.”
“Okay,” says Becker, unfolding the napkin. “Do you know me. Every time I look up you’re staring. At me.”
“It isn’t only that.” He wears a blue jacket, tight across his shoulders. “No,” says Becker, smoothing the napkin flat. “No, it isn’t.”
“My name is Pyrocles,” says the man in the blue jacket. He lays a hand flat for a moment on the napkin, between Becker’s hands, and when he lifts it away a clear plastic baggie is left behind, almost empty but for a pinch of dust, twisted into a corner of it. “The hell,” says Becker, looking up, blinking, “drugs? I don’t – ”
“Not medicine,” says Pyrocles. “Magic. The last I have. Tip it into a glass of water tonight, and drink it off before you take yourself to sleep. And tomorrow, then, if you remember,” his hand on Becker’s shoulder, and Becker doesn’t start, or shy away, “come to Mount Tabor, midway between sunset, and midnight. The reservoirs, on the southwest slopes.”
“Martini,” says the bartender, setting a glass down. Becker nods to her, takes it, and when he looks back that blue jacket’s pushing off away through the crowd. He turns about, looking over the crush of people to see the standing table by the window, Kerr leaning an elbow on it, phone to his ear. Becker sips his drink, and tucks the baggie into his pocket.
“Wait,” says Duenna in her black coat there on the sidewalk, by the bicycles parked in a jumble at the edge of the yard.
“Mother,” says Ysabel, in her white coat on the steps, a foot on the cramped front porch.
“Three weeks remain, until the Solstice. Three whole weeks. Why do we not wait, and do it properly?”
“Tomorrow night we hold the Apportionment,” says Ysabel.
“But,” says Duenna, agog, “you, you must rally the peers, you must gather up a whole new offering! You’ve no time to put me off like – ”
“It is all,” says Ysabel, “well in hand, Mother.” Coming down a step. The house behind her, the peeling pink siding, the tiny lights strung along the railing of the porch. “So soon,” says Duenna, and “Needs must,” says Ysabel, tightly, and “No!” cries Duenna, hands raised against Ysabel before her.
“Mother,” says Ysabel, again.
“Why can we not stay, the both of us, either of us on either side? Why can’t you and I just, go, back across the river? As we were?”
“It’s time,” says Ysabel.
“As we have been for so long?”
The front door of the house opens and the man who steps out’s tall, in a charcoal stripe suit. “Majesty,” he says, and a bow to Ysabel, who nods in return. Duenna’s drawn a hand back to her face, her lips. “Chazz,” she says, softly.
“Ah,” he says, with a smile. “My lady. I am better.” One hand to his chest there, just below his throat wrapped about in a black turtleneck. “The Devil, you know.” His trousers rolled at the cuffs, feet laced into stiffly shining black wingtips. His hand floats a gesture toward the front door opening again, the people stepping one by one out onto the porch, all of them in black, black shirts, black sweaters, black jackets and coats, and all their faces crudely blotched with reds, blues, yellows and black, rictuses thickly drawn on ghastly white. Shoulder to shoulder along the railing, silent, still, as behind them one last figure, stooped, tump and thock of the stick in her hand, shuffle and rustle of her tattered black cloak, and her white hair unbound, drifting lightly in the air. “You are,” she says, “you have,” and Duenna bursts into tears.
The woman on the porch lifts her stick, gnarled and grey, dull as driftwood, tossing it down to clatter before Duenna. One careful step at a time she comes down past Ysabel leaning back, out of the way, a bare foot nudging from under her cloak to kick the stick aside, and Duenna lifts up her head, sobbing, wailing wordlessly. She reaches for Duenna’s cheek and Duenna twists away, her own hand coming up to catch, to grip, to hold. “You’re here,” she says, and a gulp, a hiccough.
Ysabel looks away, up to the Devil, the clowns, waiting, expressionless.
Ragged tatters, straight black coat, white-haired heads leaned together, tangled and braided, nodding in unison. “Seize her,” says one of them.
The Devil nods, steps back, as two of the clowns push their way over to the steps, one little and round, one taller, head wrapped in a black scarf. They stop there to either side of Ysabel waiting patiently on the steps below, and they look from her to each other, to the Devil, to the figures on the sidewalk, draped in black, crowned in white. “Seize her!” cries the other of them, and with a shrug Ysabel lifts both her hands up and out. The clowns, gingerly, tenderly, each take hold of a wrist.
Up the ladder, out into that high wide room, the glass wall blankly black, down the hall, boots loud. She grabs the frame of one of the side doors jerking to a stop, a kitchen brightly lit, white cabinets gleaming, lemon yellow floor. Luys, sitting at a table in his yellow chamois shirt. Standing at the sink the man in buff coveralls, washing his hands. “You coming?” snaps Jo, and Luys looks up, startled, nodding, stooping to gather up his brown ski vest from the floor at his feet.
She’s already in the car by the time he makes it out the front door, her head tipped back, eyes closed. The dressing on her brow a pale flash in the dark. He sits himself behind the wheel, pulls his door shut.
“Still no answer,” she says, her hand on her knee, her phone in her hand.
“Jo,” he says, but she looks over at him. “Did you know?” she says. “I mean, did you have any idea?”
His hands on the wheel. A bit of leather thong tied loosely about one wrist. “I had my hopes,” he says.
“Hopes,” she says. “Okay.” Stuffing her phone back into her jacket. “So,” she says. “I have somewhere I need to be.”
“You have but to tell me where,” says Luys, starting the engine.
Spitting wine poured into her mouth, black in the darkness lightening to a red that slathers her cheeks, her throat, purples her yellow camisole, coughing, she laughs. Shadows pass over, a hand reaches in, green clumped on two fingers pressed to her eyelid, smudged, the other, another hand red thickly across her mouth, brighter than the wine that’s stained her chin. She ducks away, shaking back her hair, curls of it heavy, wet. A figure backlit squats before her, haloed in white frizz tangled, harsh light slopping over a bare shoulder, blue-veined breast brown-nippled. Knobby fingers grip her chin, her cheeks, pointed grey nails dimpling her skin, turning this way, that. Another figure behind her, bare flesh stooping stark in the light. Knobby flat-nailed fingers take up the weight of all that hair. “Memento,” says the one. “Godhvydh!” the other.
“Yes,” she says. “I know.”
Pulling that hair into a sheaf, tugging, jerking her back she pulls forward, wincing, “Nakoirano,” says the one, and “Riaghail,” the other, and “Yes,” she says. “Yes.”
“Mer, mr-no. Murnan, Mimir.”
“Caw. Cwo cwi caw. Fetch them.”
A rustle, a step. “Th’art,” says the one, and “Thou rul’st,” the other. “How, thou art,” and, “Why, the rule.” Black sleeve, a hand holding by the blades a set of shears. Her eyes widen. The figure before her takes the shears by the joint and passes them handle first to the figure behind. “No,” she says, struggling against her jacket tugged down, binding her arms, “this stops,” she says, but her head’s yanked back, her hair pulled taut, “Remember!”
“I am,” she says, “you must, wait,” but those grey nails dig into her cheeks again, “Thou art regal, daughter mine.”
“Thy rule, my Queen.”
“I am,” she says, again. Indistinct about them, painted faces float in the darkness. She nods. She says, “Yes, I will.” She says, “I am.”
“Thou art regal,” the whisper in one ear. “Thou art regal,” the whisper in the other. Shears lifted, blades spread with a scrape of metal. Hair lifted, wound about once, the hank of it fitted between. The flat-nailed fingers, squeezing. Her eyes, closing, as the blades bite.
Waiting under the blank sky far above, stirring as here and there someone, someone else, moves through the crowd toward the bare stage, off to the side there, stepping up onto it, a man in a pale suit glimmering blue in the light, and he lifts his shining hand to them all, his hair white, touched with gold, hanging in dreaded locks down to his shoulders. Behind him, a tall woman in a gown of sequins glittering like water, like starlight, like mail, her arms and shoulders bare, her close-cropped hair a gunmetal grey. Over there, mounting the steps on the other side of the stage, a short man, heavyset, tweed suit brown and green and a meshback cap on his head, and when he holds both his hands up shining there are cheers and whoops and whistles from the crowd. And there, hoisting herself up in the middle, black jeans, black jacket swinging open as she stands on the stage, turning, her T-shirt red, and in her dark-gloved hand a mask, a skull of white with empty eyes, teeth crudely drawn, a long black mane brushing the stone floor of the stage. The noise of the crowd falters, fades, back to that rustling stillness, and the light, growing now even as the crowd parts, shuffling, turning, looking back, to where that light is breaking. In a yellow raincoat over a plain white shirt, his pink hair washed out in the brilliance, the King, Lymond, waving to them all, shaking hands as he makes his way down the aisle they’ve made, and at his side, in her long white coat, Ysabel, the Queen.
Jo crumpled to white tile dusted over all about with gold, hand pressed to her breast clenching, relaxing, lifting, as she opens her eyes, “Ow,” she says. Reaching for the rim of the tub, and the skin between her breasts left clean, pale, dust falling as she pulls herself up, dust crunching under her fingers, squeaking under her thigh, her knee as she shifts, crusts of it clinging, wetly, dropping in darker clumps. The tub filled with dust, wet, a shoreline rippled, trembling, crumbling up as fingers wriggle free, “Ysabel,” says Jo, a croak, grabbing the hand, pulling, a chin appearing, lips spitting, working, eyes blinking, arm pulled free, shoulder, chest and throat a spilling hiss of dust that slithers under around behind her as she sits up shaking, sobbing, laughing soundlessly. Jo’s brushing dust from those eyes, those cheeks, the glinting stubble of that hair, that mouth, and Ysabel presses a kiss, triumphant, to the tips of her fingers.
Unsteadily Jo makes her way through buttery summer light to the robe that’s hung from a hook on the wall, the wall of white tile splattered, spangled in a great jagged bloom of gold all about the tub. Gold, shaken from plaid folds as she digs into a pocket of the robe, pulling out a crumpled orange pack of cigarettes, a book of matches.
Pop and spark Jo lights a cigarette, sits on the rim of the tub. Shakes out the match. Offers another to Ysabel straining against that softly golden weight to take it in her lips. Jo holds out her own, touching the bright coal of it to Ysabel’s, and Ysabel puffs until with a crackle hers is lit. Tips back her head, both hands resting limply on all that gold.
“We’re gonna need a bigger tub,” says Jo, and sputtering, coughing, Ysabel begins to laugh.
Signing her name, Jo Maguire, her hand hangs a moment, pen above the heavy, gilt-edged page. Three names written, above hers, “Thomas Thomas?” she says. Luys beside her looks back along the hall, flocked yellow wallpaper, brass chandeliers brightly lit, a spray of flowers atop an old mahogany hutch, lilies pink and white, spears of pale green gladiolus, there by the flashing lights of a cable modem. The doorway before them hung with red curtains, and light glaring from soffits all about the room within, green-cushioned pews in tight rows facing a white-draped catafalque. The casket softly taupe, with coppery fittings, lid of it propped open, laid within a man in a sober grey suit, his long hair brushed to a dark gleam over the pillow. Pale hands folded at his breast, just so.
In the second row a woman, hunched in a puffy winter coat, head ducked, short hair the color of iron. At the back of the room the only other figure in a green jacket zipped up to his chin, a maroon meshback cap that says Freightliner over the bill, and he’s looking out from under it directly at Luys, who nods, crisply, turns back to Jo, to the body resting before them. His brow lifts, his lips purse. “I know him,” he says, quietly, but his deep voice carries in the hush. “The Duke’s jape.” Whispering, now.
“Frankie,” says Jo, quietly. “Reichart.”
Luys steps back. “I,” he says, “I’ll just,” and another step back. He turns. He makes his way down the aisle, he sits at the back of the room, across from the man in the green jacket, who leans over to say, quietly, “A good evening to you, sir.” Jo’s holding a crumpled orange pack of cigarettes in her hand.
“Your grace,” whispers Luys. The man in the green jacket shakes his head. “Address me direct, sir, if you please. It’s only myself, and the union, after all.”
“Soames,” says Luys. Jo’s reaching into the casket, tucking a cigarette into the breast pocket of that suit.
“Uncanny,” says the Soames. “How they linger, when they’ve gone.” Luys doesn’t nod at that, or shake his head. Jo’s stepped into the aisle, she’s kneeling now, creak of her boots, hand up on the pew as she says something to the woman hunched there, unmoving as Jo leans in, looks up, repeats herself.
“She must understand,” says the Soames. “Her grace, I mean. It was an accident. He thought to defend his friend; Swift thought only to defend himself – when he saw the blood, red, on his blade,” and he shakes his head. “There’s no retaliation to be called for,” he says, “is what we’d have her understand.” Jo’s stopped, in the middle of what she’s saying, as the woman begins to speak, lifting her iron head to make a point, and another, and only a few words can be made out of her brittle voice, “didn’t,” and “you,” and “fault.”
“Mrs. Reichart, please,” says Jo, standing, stepping back. The woman in the pew looks away with a shake of her head, and Jo leaves, abruptly, red curtains flapping in her wake as Luys pulls himself to his feet.
Barreling out the front door of the funeral home head down hood up hands jammed in her pockets Jo heads down the front steps into the mostly empty parking lot. The front door bangs open again, there’s Luys, coming after her, and she quickens her pace, around the corner of the big brick home, where she stops, suddenly. Behind a screen of hedge the reddish brown car, the black stripe down the side, and parked beside it now a white SUV, gold trim, tinted glass, the back of it opened, a woman there in a yellow track suit, and a man in blue coveralls, handing her a white plastic bucket. Skirting them Jo makes her way around to the other side of the SUV, the rear door open there, demure interior lights, a grey-trousered leg, a lemon and grey pump, “You’re late,” she says, heated, a hand on the doorpost, and her eyes wide, her face slack, “Jesus fucking Christ,” she says.
“I do apologize,” says Ysabel, sitting back in the white leather seat, her cheeks, her forehead still blotched with traces of color, her jacket rent, her camisole stained. “I promised I would be here for you.”
“You cut off your hair,” says Jo, a hand to her chest.
“I had it cut,” says Ysabel, her green eyes immense. “How was,” and she shakes her head, “how are you,” she says.
“Oh,” says Jo, looking away. Luys is out there, by the corner of the home, waiting. “My ex-boyfriend’s mother just told me to go to hell, at his funeral. But hey,” lowering her hood, turning back to Ysabel, the flash of the white dressing taped to her brow, “apparently I’m running half the city?”
“A fifth,” says Ysabel, but Jo’s shouting, “Why didn’t you say something! Why didn’t you tell me!”
“I wanted,” says Ysabel, and the SUV shakes as the tailgate’s closed. Out there, at the edge of the shadowed lot, the Soames half-listens to what the man in the blue coveralls is telling him. “I wanted you,” says Ysabel, “to have a chance to say goodbye, before you were caught up in all of this.”
“You should’ve asked,” says Jo, stepping back.
“I didn’t think I had to,” says Ysabel, closing her eyes.
“Where do you wish to go?” says Luys, signaling a turn, working the clutch and the gear shift with some concentration. And a block or so later, Jo says, “I don’t know. What does a Duke do, time like this?” And then, “Duchess.” And then, “What do I do.”
Luys signals another turn.
“Will there be anything else, ma’am,” says the Chariot all in yellow, setting the bucket down by the tub.
“No, Iona,” says Ysabel in the hall. “I’ll see myself to bed.”
“Of course,” says Iona. “I’m right downstairs, should you need anything.”
After a moment, Ysabel nods.
“Hell of a view,” says Jo, leaning back against the hood of the car. Past the fence a dizzying fall of steps to an inky reservoir below, and then the lights, house lights and porch lights, signs and storefronts, streetlights an awful grid broken, gentled here and there by blank dark clusters and thickets of tree-shadow, all of it lipped by a dark low line of a ridge, blocks and blocks away. Past all that the glowing downtown haze, clusters of light piled up under the blank black sky, and there a lone tower off to the right, a silhouette dotted with windows irregularly lit, and lined at the top bright red and green. “We need to talk,” she says, and she drops the spark of her cigarette to the sidewalk. “I can’t,” she says.
“Milady?” says Luys, sitting beside her, work boots up on the bumper.
“I am never gonna get you not to do that, am I.”
“I will,” he says, big hands on his knees, a bit of leather thong tied about his wrist. “Withstand oppressor’s power, with arm, with puissant hand. Recover right, for those that wrong has grieved.” Looking up, at her. “Battle guile, and malice, and despite.” Those eyes, big, darkly brown. “And I will show my liege the respect that she is due.” One of his hands on the leaden pommel of a very long sword, the hilt of it and the ricasso wrapped about in leather, the tip of it against the sidewalk, and he bows his head, tilting the weight of it toward her, and trembling Jo lets out the breath she’s holding and leans over, leans down, gently to kiss his knuckle.
On the counter by the mound of roses a blue glass bottle sealed with pink wax, a white card propped on the counter before it, a simple drawing in blue ink of a hound’s head. Ysabel lays the card flat, shaking her head at it. Stepping out of her pumps she picks up the bottle and carries it off, padding down the dim hall to the bathroom shining white at the end of it, where she sets it on the floor by the lidded bucket, the plastic milk jug, the tureen, wrapped in foil.
Skinning off her camisole she leaves it maroon and yellow on the white tile. Leans against the sink, green eyes blinking in the jagged oblong of mirror set in the wall. Fingers to a delicate chin, lifted to brush sleek black fuzz. She looks out suddenly, into the dark hall, blinking. Waiting a moment. Says something, a barely shaped breath, not even a whisper, “Jo?”
White coat about her shoulders, clutched to her throat, past the blank glass portholes of washer and dryer, through the door out under the low canopy. A fire’s burning in the patterned bronze chiminea, and someone’s sitting up in one of the Adirondack chairs, long legs gathering themselves to push up a shadow, a silhouette haloed blazing white and gold in the firelight. “My Queen,” says Marfisa.
Kissing him, and kissing him again, his breath catching as she reaches a bare arm out from under her white coat parting, gripping her arm, pulling her close, and he grunts, her gloved hand under his down vest, inside his shirt, gripping his wide brown belt as she kisses his throat, as she presses a delicate kiss to her shivering lips, uncertain what to say.
“Yes,” he says, when she looks up at him, and then, thickly, “please,” as she falls heavily to her knees in the dying grass, sheepskin coat draped over stockinged feet, and he’s hiked himself up on the hood to give her room, leaning back on an elbow as she undoes his jeans, belt lolling in her hand, her hand in that white-gold hair as she kisses her there, at the top of her thigh, “Yes,” she says, “yes, please.”
“Oh hell yes,” she says, wrenching the car door open as her white coat falls from her shoulders, gasping as she’s caught in arms laid back along the grass, sitting heavily in the back seat as he looms in over leaned against the front seat levered up, hands at the buttons of her jeans she kisses him once more before rolling over on her hands and knees, kisses that skim her belly, that lick at a nipple, that meet her mouth left slack and a weak laugh rolling over in the grass, kicking free of trousers tangling her legs as he helps her tug her black jeans over her hips, as she reaches down to pull her up, “It’s cold,” she says.
Her hand on his between her thighs, his boot scraping pavement as she skips away laughing, as she lunges to her feet, he hisses, she bites her lip, her cheek grinding digging the heel of her hand in the vinyl as one door crashes open and the next, thump and squeak after slithery whick and the car rocks, his hips pump shoulders arm spread out against the roof head wedged at an awkward angle, “Wait,” she’s saying, and a whoop of delight as slap her hand catches her arm, “hold it,” she’s saying, panting, he falters, whirling about in the hall to spin to crash together, “there,” she’s saying, “try,” then she groans, she lets her turn her about, leaning back as she reaches around the sheepskin coat, and his face is set, his hand braces her hip, grunting, her fingers unzipping her pants, worming under, in, her cries, muffled by the seat, her sigh, in her arms.
The screen door croaks, he holds it open with his foot, he’s patting his coat, his pants for his keys. The hand on his shoulder, the heavy gold watch. “I, could,” says Kerr, a small sly smile.
“You could,” says Becker, looking down, and that hand shifts, lifts away, as he says, “but.”
“But,” says Kerr. Leaning back against the siding weirdly pale in the streetlight.
“I have,” says Becker, and he sighs, “this job? In the morning.”
“Hey,” says Kerr. A finger under Becker’s chin. “There’s the basic deal of this world. Right?” Becker, looking up at him. “You take,” says Kerr, “or you get took,” and he kisses Becker, stepping back, smile widening at Becker’s smile. “Start taking.”
“Tomorrow,” says Becker, and, stepping back, again, “All right,” says Kerr, nodding. “Tomorrow.” Turning, heading away, down the stairs.
Unlocking the front door, stepping inside. There by the low glass-topped coffee table Becker empties his pockets, pants and coat, setting down a wallet, a phone, a ring of keys, a plastic baggie, a handful of change, he stops, quarter twirling down to clatter flat against the glass. Picks up the baggie. Looks at it, there in his palm.
“It is what’s within,” he says, leaning over her, yellow shirt unbuttoned, her boot in his lap. “What we weep, what we sweat, what we bleed,” and “I know,” she’s saying, “I get it, I do,” laid out across the back seat, jeans lopped open, “I just,” she says, shivering, arms wrapped about herself, “I didn’t, get it.”
He shifts, closer to her, jangle of belt buckle, slur of his down vest against the vinyl. The one hand held over her, two fingers crooked, sheened with something glimmering in the darkness. “It fades, rapidly, unless it’s fixed,” he says.
“Turned,” she says, shaking with something that might be laughter.
“Yes,” he says. “But.” Gently nudging aside the bit of gauze askew on her brow, the tape peeleing away. “Freshly spilled,” he says, intent on his fingers, dabbing at the wound there, ugly, open, darkly red. “It’s as puissant as any pinch of dust,” he says.
She fills the glass up to the brim, then sets the bottle of milk back in the refrigerator, closing the door, shutting out the harsh white light of it. Leaving the full glass there by the sink she takes up the tray and heads back down the hall, glasses clinking, into the flickering yellow and white room, the curls and pools of light from serried ranks of candles aflame along the dresser there, the windowsills, and she sets the tray on the bed by Marfisa on her side, propped up on an elbow. Shucking her bulky sweater Ysabel clambers naked under the blankets, careful of the tray, “This cordial,” she’s saying, “you must try. An eau de vie,” plucking up one of the high narrow glasses of something faintly in that light just barely green, “infused,” and Marfisa takes it from her, “with an essence of fir.”
“Fir,” says Marfisa, dubious, and then, “what is this supposed to be,” with a gesture of her glass over the rest of the tray, the heel of bread, the cheese, the dish of olives, purple and black and grassy green. “I thought,” says Ysabel, “you might, perhaps, be hungry.”
“Lady,” says Marfisa, and she drains her glass, and carefully sets it back on the tray, by the wooden salt cellar. “I didn’t come here to come back.”
“But you haven’t left,” says Ysabel, her glass in her hand.
“I tried,” says Marfisa, and Ysabel closes her eyes. “I did try. I walked out into the woods until I forgot my words,” and her hand on Ysabel’s still hand. “I woke up in a Gresham motel. I thought about, flying – I set a foot on the steps of a bus. My brother, my own Handle, gave me money to go.” Her hand, pulled away. “I threw it in his face.”
“You tried,” says Ysabel, the words half-voiced, lifting from a whisper, “and you failed. And now the King’s come back. And you, you might kiss me,” and she’s smiling, “in the street, for all to see,” reaching over the tray for Marfisa’s hand. “And not a promise broken.”
“Your brother can’t be King,” says Marfisa.
“He sat the Throne,” says Ysabel.
“What does that matter, lady, when he’s sat a mechanical at your deliberations! With my brother, and faithless Linesse, and Southeast’s empty chair – ”
“The Gallowglas,” says Ysabel.
“As?” says Marfisa, and then she looks away, slumping at Ysabel’s nod, white hair a cloud, massed on the pillows. “Speak your mind,” says Ysabel, sipping her cordial.
“You will not hold this city long,” says Marfisa. “Even if you might turn the owr.”
“I can,” says Ysabel. “I will.”
“They will turn on you,” says Marfisa. “My brother has written to other courts, seeking any spare Princess – ”
“We know,” says Ysabel.
“A new Bride,” says Marfisa, looking to Ysabel, “for the King to come.”
“So come you back,” says Ysabel. “Take up your sword again. Help us.”
Marfisa sits up, leaning on an elbow. “I was told,” she says. “I will never kneel to another King.” And then, “Lady, leave with me.” Ysabel drinks off the rest of her cordial, and sets her glass down, clink. “Come away with me,” says Marfisa, and then, “Ysabel,” she says. “Do you love me.”
And Ysabel leans over to kiss her, Marfisa starting back, and Ysabel pursues her, heedless of the tray, kissing her over, over and down.
“I wanted,” she says, headed around to the trunk of the reddish brown car, “to talk.” Bare arms about herself.
“Yes,” he says, leaned against the open door. “You said. Aren’t you cold?”
“Before,” says Jo. “I wanted to talk before we, did, that.”
“If we get back in the car,” says Luys, “I might turn on the heater,” but “Nope,” she says. Holding out her hand. “Give me the keys.” And then, “Luys. Mason.” And stepping to the rear fender, he hands them over. “Last week,” she says, jangling through them in her hand. “That night. When we, the three of us.” Shivering, her other arm still wrapped about herself.
“Yes,” says Luys.
“I wasn’t entirely honest,” she says, holding up one of the keys, darkly brassy bronze against her fingers.
“That’s, a key to the car,” says Luys, after a moment.
“To the trunk,” she says. “Jessie had the car keys, or Sweetloaf. This one he always kept, in a pocket, on his person, safest place, he said, in the city,” and she fits the key to the lock of the trunk. “Only reason I was in that bed that night was so when he went to sleep.” Looking up. “When you went to sleep. I could get it, and come down here. See for sure.”
“See, what?” says Luys, his hand leaned on the trunk, and then, when she does not look away, he does, shifting, lifting his hand away. “The mask,” she says. “That you wore, that once.”
“I did not want to do that,” he says, the one hand rubbing the other.
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Jo. “I’m glad you did.” She turns the key in the lock. “But. I saw it, that day, when he introduced me to the crew? I saw it, or thought I saw it. I was pretty sure I saw it.” Her hands on the lid. “But it wasn’t till that night, last week. Frankie was there. Did you know that? Washing dishes. It was the last, time.” Shivering she takes in a breath. “It wasn’t, until he said – anyway. That I got up the nerve,” and she opens up the trunk.
Inside a couple of boxes, one lined with a garbage bag, holding a big brown glass growler. She pulls out from between them a mask that could swallow half a head, white, crudely painted with thick black lines to resemble a grinning skull, and a mane of long black hair that stirs as she holds it up with a swallowed sob, her eyes shut tight.
“Jo?” says Luys. He leans into the car, comes out with her black coat, stands there holding it in his hands as unsteady she sits back against the lip of the open trunk, the mask held at her knee. “It was gone,” she says, head bowed. “Lost.” Her other hand a fist against her heart. “I dropped it,” and the mane of it rustles by her feet, “somewhere, else.” Looking up, looking back. “He gave you the key, didn’t he,” she says.
“He,” says Luys, frowning, “asked me to drive, yes.” Stepping closer, her coat in his hands. “To the motel. Jessie had left, unexpectedly and – ”
“That bastard,” she says, to herself. “He knew. How could he possibly have known.”
“Milady,” he says, “I don’t understand,” but shaking her head she’s turning, setting the mask back in the trunk, coiling its spill of mane in after it. “Milady?”
“Okay,” she’s saying. “All right. I’ll do it.” She’s peeling the garbage bag away from the neck of the growler, tugging at a sticky patch, and her face screws up, she draws back, “That, smell,” she says, waving a hand, looking for a word, “that, sour, that’s the, the,” and Luys beside her now says “It’s been in there a week, or more. It spoils, if it’s not fixed.”
“So it’s, worthless?” she says, stepping back as he nods, once, and she turns about, away, “Fine,” she says, and “okay, that’s not a, we can just,” she says, and “that’s fine, I will,” she says, and then she shouts, “I will!”
And standing there, her coat in his hands, Luys says, “What will you, my lady.”
“Freeze,” she says, with a laugh, taking her coat from him. Nodding toward the open trunk as she slips an arm into a sleeve, “We’re gonna find somewhere we can hose that out,” she says, “and then,” and she laughs, “we’re gonna go about the, the,” her hand waving again, “the realm? I guess?” Headed past him suddenly, she lurches for the trunk, slams it shut, “We’ll get some more!” she cries. Past the car now, up onto the sidewalk, “Somebody’s got to still be up,” she says. Turning back there, and behind her the fence, and beyond, below, the lights of the night-filled city, and her wet cheeks shine, but she’s smiling, laughing again, “That’s how it works, right? Blood, sweat? Tears? Our offering, to the Queen?”
And Luys, the Mason, nods. “Yes, your grace,” he says.
All that white gold hair spread over a bent knee not so pale as her wet cheek, fingers chilly white against the warm bare belly, gently stroking a scribble of hair, black hair longer than the fuzz that sleeks the scalp between her own spread thighs, and as she lets herself fall back to the tangled blankets, spilled salt, tumbled olives, she closes her eyes, she bites her lip, gripping that upturned hip now, fumbling, slapping the sheets, knocking a delicate glass to the floor, and out in the hall Jo’s lifted her hand to knock but there’s a whimper, a groaning sob, she opens her hand, lowers it. In her other hand the mask, the mane of it looped about her fingers. Past the closed door a rustle, a murmur, she steps back, the lilt of a question, an answering syllable, she stoops, hauls up in her free hand the weight of the growler, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag, sloshing faintly as she steps into the room across the hall, unlit, white walls. She sets the growler down.
She stands there, unmoving, for a time.
The light, changing, shifting and returning as traffic crawls by, outside, the sound of it distant, muted.
She lifts a hand, brushes back her hair. She’s smiling. She turns, hangs the mask there, on the wall, above the sword slung from its leather strap. She unbuckles, pries loose her boots, leaves them by the futon, shrugs off the black coat, wrestles her way out of black jeans that she lets fall to the floor. Pulls something from a pocket of her coat, her phone, and crawling under the covers thumbs it to life, shining a photo, Jo and Ysabel cheek to cheek, Ysabel with a hand to the upturned collar of her coat, looking sidelong at Jo, smiling widely, directly at the camera, the blur of her arm at the bottom, and at the top the phone’s clock. It says 03:07, Thursday, December 1. She swipes and pokes, sets the alarm for seven in the morning, lays the phone on the crate by the head of the futon. A sharp cry from across the hall through both closed doors and she stifles a laugh with the heel of her hand, shaking under the blankets, head nestled on the pillows.
Only a few more minutes pass before her shoulder slumps, her hand tips away, her breathing gentles, smoothed, into sleep.
“My people!” cries the King, as he mounts the stage there in the middle, by Jo. “All of you that call this city home.” Spreading his arms as applause begins to spatter below, redouble, grow. “Here we are!” he cries, into the mounting approbation. “Your Court, of Roses!” Stepping to one side, throwing out a hand toward the short man in tweed, the meshback cap on his head, “The Soames!” cries the King. “For the North!” and the Soames lifts his hands clasped over his head to the cheers and whoops. Stepping to the other, leaning, a gesture toward the woman down there in her silvery gown, “The Helm,” cries the King, “for the Northeast Marches!” and she inclines her head. “The Handle!” cries the King, as the man in the pale blue suit steps forward, and the applause swells even more, deepening, thundering. “For Southwest!” And then, taking Jo’s hand in his, “For Southeast!” His voice booming. “Our Huntsman!” Down there, at the end of the stage, the Queen in her white coat’s climbed the steps, she’s making her way to the center, past the Soames, in her long white coat, her shorn head crowned with a white slouch hat, her hand outstretched to reach for the King’s other, outstretched hand. “And,” he cries, “I give you,” taking her hand in his own, “my sister,” and the applause, the cheers are deafening now, “your Queen!”
And when he can make himself heard again, “All of you,” he says, “all of you who washed up on this shore so long ago, in the light of a dawn that had never before been seen.” Jo looks down at her hand in his, at his hand about hers, firm, familiar, and the red mark there, on the heel of it, an old cut long since healed. “Who gave voice to a word that had never before been said, and sent it ringing out into the day. Tonight!” And the light that’s filling that little round is growing, warmer, brighter, shining up from them all, banishing the sky above, “Here!” cries the King, “And now!” And Jo looks over, past him, to the Queen, to Ysabel, holding his other hand. “My people!” cries the King. “Lift up your hands, your voices, with mine!” And he hoists his in the air, and theirs up with him, as down the ragged aisle left in the crowd before them too bright almost to look upon a cooler held up in the Anvil’s broad arms, the lid of it removed, and the Mason beside him, and the Devil, the Chariot, Biscuit in his long brown coat, each of them reaching into the cooler and pulling out handfuls of light, tossing them, pellets and globules, spangles and sparks, lighting up the glowing shining hands that catch them, and the upturned faces, smiling, laughing, weeping, cheering, whooping, sobbing, roaring, as the King cries out, his words lost in the noise, as the Queen, as Ysabel, closes her eyes, leans back her head, takes it all in, as the mask jerks and twists in Jo’s hand, the mane of it leaping and lashing about, and down in the city Philip Keightlinger sits up on a bare mattress, mahogany beard in disarray, and reaches for a pair of sunglasses, and Jessie Vitaly wrapped in a ski jacket and a fleece blanket looks over at the man asleep in the driver’s seat beside her, Lach, or Luke, or Lake, and Guthrie turns on the light in an empty kitchen, stands there, blinking, rings a-glitter, and Petra B winds herself more tightly in striped sheets as tears spring to her eyes, and Vincent Erne his full length stretched along a spavined couch snores lightly, his face relaxed, his hook still, and in a room full of bunk beds all of them occupied, Suzette, Gloria Monday, glares at the bedsprings above her, glaring at the rustle from across the aisle, and Tim Carroll runs packing tape over the top of another box, but takes a sharp breath, looks up, blinking, at the faintest echo of that sound, and in the train station, a woman’s sitting on a bench, head wrapped in a fringed scarf, and at her feet a cage with walls of gauzy nylon, and the shadows of butterflies sleeping within, and she checks her pocket watch, and frowns.
Some time later Pyrocles looks up, stands up, there by the ravaged cooler, heads across the glittering lawn, past knots of people here and there, some speaking quietly one to another and all of them looking down at the dimming light in their hands. On the ramp there, leading down from the parking lot, a man in a heavy raincoat, trilby in his hands, and what’s left of his hair lofts a little in a gelid gust, and striding, not quite running, Pyrocles makes his way up to him to kiss him, and kiss him again.
“What is this,” says Becker, as Pyrocles hands to him a plastic baggie filled with dust.
“I told you,” says Pyrocles. “Magic.” And then he says, “But it is late, and cold, and I should take you home – ”
“No,” says Becker, “not yet,” and he sighs. Leans against Pyrocles, and kisses him, their arms about each other.
“Ava,” written by David Byrne, copyright holder unknown.