Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

the Lights are Out; the Curtains drawn – Order 722 – 
what Becker hasn’t done –

The lights are out, the curtains drawn. She sits in one of the two chairs there by the small round table in the corner, wrapped in a thin white towel, hair limply, darkly damp. Hand on a knee, elbow on the table by a slim black phone, screen of it cracked. She blinks. Neatly draped over the dull yellow coverlet of the one queen-sized bed a pair of black jeans, a sort-of folded black T-shirt. On the shag carpet at the foot of it a pair of Chuck Taylor hightops, one white, one black, both grubby, fraying duct tape wound about the toe of one of them. She draws a slow, deep breath. Lets it out.

There’s a knock at the door. “Jo? Hey. Jo.”

“It’s open.” She doesn’t get up out of the chair.

A lowly ruddy flare of morning light as the door swings open, and somehow the room becomes smaller, wallpaper shot though with fraying metalled threads, dusty flat screen of a dead television, peeling veneer of the dresser, expressionist print of a football tackle askew above the bed. The man in the doorway heavyset and tall, leaning a shoulder on the one jamb, hand braced against the other, in the fingers of it a featureless yellow keycard. “I need the room,” he says.

It’s unclear whether she nods, or shrugs, at that.

“So I gotta kick you out,” he says. Looking about the room. His hair is greasily brown and cut to no specific length, his short-sleeved shirt a drably olive, his tie of mustard yellow. “Do you,” he says, frowning. Shifting his weight in the doorway, still braced. Trying again. “Did you even get any sleep?”

“You don’t get to pretend you give a fuck,” she says, quietly, but clear.

“Jo,” he says, and drops his head, shaking it vaguely. Hauls it back up with a deep breath in through his nose. “Room has to be cleaned and prepped by eleven,” he says. “You, what, you just used the shower? Jo?” Looking away, shaking his head more definitely. “I can let you have it till ten. Do what you need. Get yourself some sleep, whatever. There will be a wake-up call.”

“I need a charging cord,” she says.

“You,” he says. “You need a.”

“I need to charge my phone,” she says.

“You want me to get you a,” he says.

“Just for an hour or two.”

“This place?” he says, “you better not set on fire.”

“I didn’t,” she starts to say, but closes her eyes. “Just for an hour. Or two,” she says, opening them.

He drops his hand, takes a step into the room, onto the carpet dazed by all that light, reaching for the doorknob. “You don’t get to make a habit out of this,” he says, and pulls it toward him.

“Zach,” she says, before the door shuts. “Thanks,” she says.

“Lemme see about that cord,” he says, and the click of the latch.

She closes her eyes again. Sat there, in one of those two chairs, by the small round table in the corner. Wrapped in a thin white towel, hands folded in her lap, bare feet nestled in the thick shag. Damp hair slowly drying.

“Good morning, welcome to Jack in the Box, how may I take your order?”

The guy in line ahead of her, tall enough to stoop and preternaturally thin, steps up to the counter and says, “Southwest Scrambler. With sausage. And a salted caramel shake.”

“I’m sorry, sir. That’s on the lunch menu, sir, the shake.”

She’s fishing from her pocket a medium-sized binder clip pinched about a five, a couple of ones. At her feet a black nylon duffel, limply empty, brightly new.

“We serve breakfast all day, sir. Lunch starts at eleven.”

“Caramel whatsit, then,” he says. “Coffee. Large.”

“Southwest Scrambler, Caramel Iced Coffee, that’ll be nine dollars eleven cents. Number seven twenty-one. Next?”

She kicks the duffel across flatly red tiles up to the counter, the red-jacketed clerk patient at the register, sizzle and pop and scrape behind, “Good morning, welcome to Jack in the Box, how may I take your order.”

“The, ah, combos.” She’s peering at the brightly lit menu above, all close-up images of carefully assembled sandwiches, glistening fried potatoes, sweating and steaming cups of this or that. “Coffee’s included?”

“And hash browns, yes.”

“Okay,” she says. “Let’s have the ultimate breakfast, then. Combo.” She’s unclipping the bills.

“Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich Combo, four dollars eighty-nine cents. Number seven twenty-two.”

She lays the five on the counter, takes the receipt and the change.

“Next?”

A low and narrow booth in the back corner. She’s sat herself on one short vinyl-coated bench, stuck the duffel on the other, she’s undoing with a rip the velcro of her fingerless cycling gloves, tugging one free, then the other. On the table by a paper cup of black coffee and three torn sugar packets is her phone, the screen of it lit up, 09:42, say the numerals of the phone’s clock, Tuesday, May 15. 35%, the much tinier numerals by the partially filled icon of a battery, all of it floating over a photograph taken somewhere outside, at night, herself and Ysabel, cheek to cheek, Ysabel’s hand at the upturned collar of her white coat under her lopping black curls, a coolly sidelong smile for Jo beside her, laughing, short hair tufted every which way, blur of her arm reached into the bottom of the shot where the corner of the glass is webbed with cracks, one of them jagging through the two of them up to the top. “Seven nineteen, order seven nineteen,” blurts a voice from speakers up by the ceiling, and then, distantly, “Welcome to Jack in the,” unamplified, “can I take your.”

She presses the button at the bottom of the phone, gingerly taps in a code to unlock it. Touches the nested gears from among the icons that appear, sprinkled over their faces. Scrolls through a list of options till she reaches one that says Wallpaper.

“Seven twenty-one,” the voice from the speakers. “Seven twenty-one.”

Choose a New Wallpaper. Dynamic, Stills, Live, All Photos 152, Recent Photos 152, Favorites 0. Her fingertip dithers over Live, over Stills.

“Seven twenty-two. Order seven twenty-two.”

Live. A selection of swirling cloudscapes appears, teal, indigo, stormy grey. She selects stormy grey, and the clouds fill the screen, squirming under her fingertip. Set, or Cancel.

“Seven twenty, and seven twenty-two. Orders seven twenty and seven twenty-two.”

She looks up. Thumbs off the phone, stuffs it in her pocket. Heads for the counter, where a tray is waiting.

In the parlor, with the bicycles and the folded sandwich board that says Piano Lessons, Weekday Appointments, all glazed by morning light that drifts through high side windows, Becker’s in a white T-shirt and grey lounge pants, one hand on the newel post at the foot of the stairs, he’s taking a deep breath in through his nose, “Wow,” he says.

“Yeah,” says a woman away toward the back of the house, past the dining room opening off of the parlor, stood in the kitchen there through the archway, holding a great cast iron skillet.

“Is that,” says Becker, and he sniffs again, “can I scam a cup?”

“I didn’t make it,” she says, staring at the skillet, heavy and wide and the yellow enamel of it pitted and stained, worn away with use. She tilts it, looking over the inside of it in the light, smoothly faintly glossy unmarred black. Becker bustling behind her, opening a cupboard, selecting a mug, looking over the electric drip coffeemaker on the gleamingly clean counter, carafe of it full and steaming. “Maybe it’s Hollis’s?” he says. “Hollis wouldn’t mind. Would he?”

“Somebody cleaned,” she says.

“Somebody,” says Becker, looking about, empty mug in his hand. The kitchen does sparkle, in this light, diffused though it is though the leaves of the trees without, glass jars of grains and beans lining the spotless countertops, faucet gleaming over an empty white sink, even the floor with a freshly mopped sheen. She’s stood there, her oddly layered housedress, rainbow socks, her flamingo-headed slippers, that skillet in her hands, “Somebody cleaned my pan,” she says, aghast.

“Is it okay?” he says. She looks at him, then. Sets the skillet on an eye of the stove, and even the drip pan beneath the element’s been scrubbed clean. “Oz,” he says. “Is it okay?”

“It’s perfectly seasoned,” she says.

“Oh,” he says.

“Nobody touches my pan,” she says.

“I know, Oz. I know.”

“Nobody uses my pan.”

“I know.” He turns back to the coffeemaker. Pours himself some coffee. The mug is blazoned with a dancing rag-and-bone man leading an elaborately laden horse. “Maybe it was Hollis?”

“Hollis didn’t do this,” she says.

“Well, I didn’t,” he says, sipping. “Dang, this is good.”

“Pour me a cup,” she says, and abruptly opens the fridge.

“So we’re assuming it’s communal,” he says, getting down another mug, this one embossed with stylized chickens. “Oz?” He fills it with coffee. She’s still before the refrigerator, one hand on the open door. “We out of oat milk?” he says.

Oz reaches both hands into the fridge to awkwardly, gingerly lift out a plastic takeaway dish to set it, quickly, on the counter, hands leaping away as if burnt. What’s within can be made out, just, through the clear plastic lid, wide noodles set in a chilled red ragù, tumbled with glistening chunks of meat under a still-fluffy cloud of grated cheese and finely chopped herbs yet green. Giorgio’s, says the label pasted on that lid. 5/14. “Oh,” says Becker, peering over her shoulder. “I’ve been there.” He frowns. “I think.” Stepping back. It’s a, fancy Italian place.”

“Becker, says Oz.

“In the Pearl,” he says.

“This is a vegan refrigerator, Becker.”

“I know that,” he says. And then, eyes widening, “Jesus, Oz, that’s not mine.”

“I didn’t put it there.”

“I know, but – ”

“Hollis doesn’t eat pasta.”

“Yes, but – ”

“Jayfer’s still out in Boardman.”

“Maybe she came back early?”

“She would never violate the refrigerator like this.”

“Maybe somebody’s pranking you! I don’t know!” Pushing back what’s left of his hair. “I didn’t, go, to a fancy restaurant, last night, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep-clean the, the kitchen, in the middle of the night, I never touched your pan, and that’s not mine!”

“Can I have some?” says the man in the archway, pointing to the coffeemaker. “I am gonna need a cup or two before I can deal with this nonsense.” Pushing between them both, reaching for a mug. “Hollis,” says Oz. “Hollis! Somebody cleaned the kitchen.”

“Yeah?” says Hollis, filling a mug. “Did you notice the bathroom?”


Table of Contents


Post-season Football Classic,” painted by LeRoy Neiman, ©1985. Jack in the Box®, founded 1951 by Robert Oscar Peterson, registered trademark of Different Rules, LLC.

those Scrawny arms – the Semblance of a Hound – Up under; high Beneath – 157,185 SF – a Delicate clink –

Those scrawny arms of his folded about himself as if for warmth, Christian Beaumont in a stained grey hoodie stands with one foot on the pallet, looking over the great wooden tub, staves of it worn yellow oak sawn off about knee-high, closely fit together and bound about by riveted iron hoops, wide enough across that he might lie down his full length within it, were he so inclined. The blues and indigos that usually plane his hunched cheekbones have ablated to oranges and reds in the candescent light of all the golden dust that fills it. “Go on,” says Cackletub beside him. “Take some.”

“And do what with it,” says Christian.

“Have it,” says Cackletub, taken aback. “Hold it. Let it warm the bones. Light the way. Shew again the colors we did lose. Crowd the mouth with flavors, the air with odors, that we forgot we ever knew. And the songs that can be heard, the deeds it makes it possible to do?” a gnarled finger lifts, thick-nailed tip of it pressed quick to Christian’s forehead, and he rocks back from the touch of it. “Once you’ve known that, the old and deep and true of it, why – the world without seems cold and small, and empty, as it is.”

“That’s, um,” says Christian, “yeah.”

Someone steps up to the other side of the tub, the Stirrup in his brick-red vest, to dip a pyrex measuring cup in the golden dust. He holds it up, eyeing the level, pours back a slithering handfall, holds it up again. Shakes the cup to settle the owr.

“He’s his obligations, as a knight,” says Cackletub, leaning close. Christian starts. “You, you’re the Porter’s. He’d bring you your portion, but he’s famously pledged: not one drop, nor yet a pinch.”

“I’m the whose, now?”

“Gordon. The Porter. Who carries the mace, and opens the door.”

“I’m not,” says Christian, “his, I’m not nobody’s,” but “Wisht!” from Cackletub. “Not so loud. Not even in this room, so loud.” Leaning close, “Gordon won’t bring your portion, but you might take it for yourself.” Christian’s edging away, but Cackletub presses close, “You’ve been here a week, yet you haven’t begun to wonder at why,” a bony elbow in Christian’s ribs, “go on. Her majesty’s said.”

Christian looks up and away at that, to the raised stage at the one end of the cavernous warehouse. Empty now but for the nubbled pea-green couch, where the Queen and her favorite hold court, the one sat up at one end, arm stretched along the back of it, the other laid the length of the couch, bare feet coquettishly crossed over the arm of it, black curls spread over the pillowing lap, and only the black lace and silver ribbon, the white silk and gold satin, to tell the two of them apart. Laid on cushions at their feet the twins in stockings red and black, Chrissie on her belly and her elbows, pinching and poking the screen of a tablet computer, Ettie perched over her shoulder, pointing and commenting. Synthesizer chords chime brightly cheerful from an unseen speaker, take me to the desert, someone’s singing, take me to the sand, show me the color of your right hand. On the floor before them, some few knights and others mingle, chatting quietly. Far off to the side of the stage, where the makeshift tabouret’s been dragged, a woman in a black leather jacket is sat upon a stool, reading a tattered paperback. A greatsword sheathed and leaned against the wall behind her.

A bustle ruffles the disparate crowd, someone stepping in from the daylight, stooping under the half-raised overhead door, straightening, the Guisarme in a light linen suit, his lemon shirt, his tie of lime. With him, towering over him, the Sovnya, shoulders of her white blouse crimped by a shining silver bevor. The Guisarme bows, deeply, to the stage, the couch, the Queen, then turns toward the tub on its pallets.

“A moment, Guisarme,” says the Queen, voice pitched to carry. The milling comes to a sudden, jerking halt. The Guisarme, with a breath, swings back, the Sovnya close by his side. “My lady,” he says, and bows again. “As always, it’s ever a pleasure.”

“Your third such, in but a sennight,” she says, stroking the Starling’s hair. “One should, perhaps, beware,” and she looks from him to the tub behind him, “the risks, that attend to overindulgence,” and now she looks to the Sovnya by his side.

“Needs must, my lady,” he says. “And your majesty’s gracious generosity does see to our every need.”

“Our charitable concern, my lord,” she says, “is it’s your brother’s needs that drive you, not your own.”

He spreads his hands, he bows his head. “My brother’s needs are my own, majesty.”

“Your brother’s coat’s still blue, Welund,” says the Queen.

“He does yet serve the Hound,” says the Guisarme. “Would your majesty not agree that loyalty, that commitment, must, however difficult the course, stand firm against the lashings of such – ”

“What he does serve,” says the Queen, and her words ring in that cavernous room, “oh, it cringes when it’s whipped, yes. It does bite the hand that feeds, though its yipping bark’s more piercing than its teeth, and there can be no doubt, no doubt at all, it does return to its own vomit, for it is sick, quite sick – but not with gratitude, my lord. No. It has obtained the semblance and the seeming of a Hound, down to a trick, and it would have its day – but look into its eyes. Look deep within. You’ll find no warmth, no adoration, and nothing of the Pinabel. Our cousin, Frederic? Is no more.”

The Guisarme opens his mouth, but does not speak. All those gazes of the crowd, patiently impassive, yet focused all on him, those knights and others there before the stage, and the smattering behind him, there about the tub, the Buckler, the Stevedore, the Sequin and the Jackstaff, the Axe, the Flynn and Jenny Rye, Goggie, Luchryman, even the Sovnya at his side, chin ducked behind the shining bulwark of her bevor, and also Chrissie, and Ettie, chins in hands, and the Queen, her arm still stretched across the back of the couch, and only the Starling as she sits up from the Queen’s lap’s looking down, with a secret smile. The woman at the far end of the stage has not yet looked up from her book. He closes up his mouth, the Guisarme, and he swallows, and tries again. “Your majesty,” he says, “cannot possibly be wrong, but is it not – ”

“Are you not sworn to the Hive, Guisarme?”

He blinks. “Without question, ma’am.”

“And your brother, the Glaive – is it possible he stands now at your side?” She makes a show of craning her head about, “But we do not see him. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of him, in fact, for ten days and nine nights. Is it possible, that in that time, he’s come to serve our Helm? Or salve our wounded Hawk? Can it be he’s seen the light, and does now seek to soothe the Hare?” Leaned forward, elbows on her white-draped knees. “Or does his wind yet blow Southwesterly?”

The Guisarme, head bowed, says, “It is even as her majesty would have it.”

“Until your brother changes his coat for a color we like more. Until he does come before us, and makes amends for his loyalty, his – commitment – to our bitterest enemy. Until such time. He will take no part of our bounty, with his hand, or any other’s. This,” she says, sitting back, “is how we,” crossing one leg over another, “would have it.” Shifting her arm from the back of the couch to the Starling’s shoulders. “You may go.” At their feet, Ettie ruffles Chrissie’s hair, and Chrissie, annoyed, strokes it back in place. The Guisarme nods. They’re all turning away from him, knights and hobs, domestics, peers, and only Sovnya with a nod for him in return, falling in smartly as he heads for the overhead door.

“Well, wasn’t that a thing not to have missed,” says Cackletub, turning away from the stage, but Christian isn’t there.

Blue sky a seamless ceiling high above. Holding up a hand a moment to shade his eyes he peers across a half-empty parking lot. A simple arch at the far corner, a green sign that says Springwater Corridor, hung over a narrow path between the railroad tracks to the left, the fenced-in yard of a gravel plant to the right, towering tanks and pipes, the lines and slants of conveyor belts silent, still. He sets off, thin robe loosely flapping, stripes of it in various colors that might once have been brighter, some few launderings ago, brown hair long and damply lank, redder beard quite full. Under the arch without a pause and past another sign that says Stop! Please Use Caution – Heavy Truck Traffic.

Beyond the plant the fence to the right swaddled in a heavy coat of vines, crowded leaves broad and darkly green affording only glimpses of the river, a muddy grey too gently smoothed to sparkle in the sun. To the left, past the rails, a slope rises steeply, shaggily, wildly green. Shadows ahead under a high bridge, and traffic booming and growling over it, the concrete pillars of it tattooed with graffiti, signatures, sigils, cartoons. “You could’ve,” he’s muttering to his trudging sneakers, “you could’ve been with me. Up above the river.” He looks up, in the shadow of the bridge. “Under the earth,” he says.

Calved from the bridge an offramp on spindly pillars curls through the air above to merge with a freeway along the top of that steep slope. “Echo,” he says, “echo,” eyeing it, and the bare fence between himself and the rails, “three, not ten,” he says, and then, as he passes the last pillar upholding that ramp, “one,” he says, “two, three, not ten, ten, six, eleven,” he’s counting fenceposts, “seven eleven, twelve,” skipping ahead, “fourteen!” A hole’s been cut in the next panel of cyclone fencing, close to the lush grass, where a green plastic bowl’s been placed, and a clear reservoir with a bit of kibble still within wired to the pole. He stops, a faint breeze stirring the loose skirts of his bathrobe. Faintly happy cheers and a whoop from someone unseen on the river. Away ahead a cluster of bobbing dots, joggers growing as they approach. Grabbing the fencepost wire ringing under the kicking slipping soles of his sneakers he clumsily throws a leg over the fence, rolls himself over, drops to the tracks. Unsnagging his trailing robe with an irritated jerk. “You could’ve been with me,” he says, and sweeps back his hair, combs his fingers through his beard, tugging loose a snarl. “Up under,” he says, looking along the railroad. “High beneath.” Darting across, into the brush, and up and up the grassy slope.

He finds a path, halfway up, half-hidden along a brow of earth. Shaggy trees lean heavily green out over the railway, the little herd of joggers passing by so far below. He braces himself against a crooked trunk, a balustrade to clamber the last steep hillock of path, onto the narrow top of the slope, between the trees and the shadowy galleries under the freeway so close above, regular bays between concrete walls that uphold the deck of it, floored with gravel-studded hardpack. A great eye’s been painted on a wall of the first gallery, the iris of it elaborately paned, red paint squiggled over the pupil. He passes it quickly, stumbling over a low flat rock at the edge of the overgrown path, “One,” he says, passing the next gallery, empty but for dust and what’s left of a couple of dirt-raddled empty black garbage bags, “one, one, two!” and a dismissive wave for three kids clustered in the next, back denim and brown-tinged leather and red, hair shaved and sculpted in grimy hanks, ragged braids, in drooping petalled spikes, an unevenly gravid joint making its way from one hand to the next, “two!” he shouts again, scurrying past, “three!” as he jerks to a stop, there, this gallery empty but for a beige and brown dome tent pitched a-kilter in the sharp dark shadow of the freeway just above.

“Three!” he barks, under the rush of unseen traffic. “Not ten, fourteen, but three!”

Stood there, waiting, bathrobe snapped out behind by a sudden gust. Some baroquely intricate siege engine’s printed across the front of his T-shirt.

“She could’ve been with me!”

Up past the tent, where the earth rises up to meet the deck, the dirt’s been tumbled, piled, a yawning mouth scratched up against the concrete piling. Hauling his robe back about himself he steps off the path up toward it, stomp, stomp, when the rolling wash of sound from above is cut by the drawn-out rip of a zipper. He stops, looks back to the tent, flaps of it parting just enough for a peering eye, “Hey!” he yells. “What are you, hey!” The tent shivers, flaps close up. “What are you doing here? Can’t you smell it? Hey!” One last thrashing shiver, and the tent is still.

“Well,” he says. “I can smell it.”

Up to the empty darkness of the tunnel, laying a hand on the lip of it, thrumming freeway a ceiling too close. A deep breath. He ducks into the darkness.

Low, cramped, the floor unevenly rolling up into a wall he brushes with a shoulder, patterfall of loose dirt, he shakes that shaggy silhouette of a head. Shoves a hand in a pocket of his bathrobe, yanks it out, snap! A spark enough to show where he’s stepping down and down and deeper within, stopping once, stooping, his unlit hand against the cleanly scraped wall for balance, face screwed up with disgust in the harsh glare. He snatches a fold of his robe up over his mouth and nose.

Shadows pool and spill ahead of his lit hand. The tenor of the dulled thrum hollows, opens, a space cleared off to the right where the wall falls away. He pauses. Coughs behind his robe.

The room unfolds itself from shadows in his light, back wall of pitted concrete, floor of it a sea of bags and sacks and plastic crates, a demolished cardboard box stuffed with blankets and trousers, coats and more, unidentifiable parcels and bundles and wads of fabric about, and so many empty cans and bottles, and bundles of newspaper trimly tied, and a body splayed atop it all, arms and legs at uncommon angles, torso bloated and collapsed all wrong beneath the pasted, blackened clothing, steeped in something long since dried and flaking crackled.

“I thought you got,” he says, that one bright hand held high. “You thought,” he says. “You thought he got the chair.”

His hand drops, and darkness falls, complete, obliterate. Rustle and shuff, another pattering scrabble of falling dirt, crinkle of plastic, he’s sitting, perhaps. A sigh. “You kept her safe,” he says, to himself. “But.”

And then, quietly, “This’ll do.”

A blue sky, utterly bereft of clouds, but nonetheless a haze has risen from some unfixable middle distance to diffuse itself between clearly here and soft, indefinite there, somewhere past the distant line of trees that edge the vast field to the right, still crisp, still sharp against the paling blue beyond, but somewhere yet before the mountain there, a single cuspid smaller, somehow, than it should be, to seem so much closer than it is, blued edges of its fading snowcap blurred by the bluing haze, its summit more inferred than certain, slipping away off behind those trees. More trees more closely planted not too long ago separate this narrow sidewalk from the field, this haphazardly patched seam-sprung walk that’s more of an afterthought, really, too close to the wide straight cleanly painted road, where panel trucks and a tall van speed past, only a couple of feet away. Behind these trees, a low and temporary fence of two-by-fours and startling orange plastic sheeting’s been pitched, one more straight line along with trees, sidewalk, road, relentlessly converging on a point off in that unseen, uncertain middle distance. A sign’s erected awkwardly ahead, the framing lumber of the same fresh yellow provenance as the fenceposts. For Lease, it says. 157,185 SF. Call Now. It’s close enough to the sidewalk she can slap it as she passes.

Her duffel’s black, her jeans are black, her shirt is black, and across the front of it a devil’s leering face, marred by silkscreen craquelure. Pause as a car whips past, dully grey, wind in the wake of it tugging at her, ruffling her hair, browner now, perhaps, indifferently cut. Starts out again, stops again, lifting her white shoe to kick it against the sidewalk. A pebble’s dislodged from the cracked and duct-taped toe.

A semi blows past, one lane over, followed by another car, too close, too fast, top-heavy with a matte black cargo shell. She skips off the sidewalk at that, through the line of trees, past tummocky grass and raw bare earth, kicks a leg up over that startling orange fence and steps out, away from the traffic, out into the sun-bright field.

Flat and open and wide, but so much longer, stretched out alongside the road, grass of it thick and green and yellow, up about her shins, lined the four sides with greenly dark trees, exuberantly thicker at the ends and down the far side to the right, to the left that regimented rank all of the same tensed upthrust shape, branches too nervous yet to settle and relax, spaced with room enough between to grow, yet close enough to muffle passing traffic. She picks her way over roughly lumpy ground, one arm out for balance, the other tucked close, holding fast that shoulder-slung emaciated duffel. One last half-leaping step from deep grass to a rutted track, freshly churned by tires, or treads.

That track crests a barely perceptible rise to angle down the vaguest of slopes, but this slight change in perspective’s enough to reveal a broadly section of the field scraped clear of grass and rumples, excess earth piled indiscreetly here and there along the edges of it, and corners and points of perhaps some future interest marked with stakes, strips of that startling orange plastic tied to flutter and dangle about the ends of them. Traces of the track cross a corner of the lot, past overturned earth dried dustily dull, to where grass springs up again. The track, less freshly used here, angles further across the field toward that other bordering line of trees, thicker, more wildly lush, past a second lot much smaller, less officious, defined by trampled grass in a roughly ring about the charred remains of a bonfire, and a scattered detritus of food wrappers, discarded clothing, a lone heel-sprung running shoe, an untidy spill of unopened mail, stained and swollen by old rain, and above it all swirling silent eddies of flies and midges. The track resumes its parallel course, thick dark wall of trees to the right, the murmuring, whining road a ways off to the left.

Midges scatter, a dragonfly slicing their midst, stitching zip from point to point before her and she freezes to see it hung there, shivering, depended from the rainbowed whir of lacy wings. She tenses as it swoops quite close, then leaps away, a fleeting scrap too fast, lost in the soft blue sky.

There’s someone away up ahead.

A quarter-mile or so up the track, not yet to the trees that cap that far end of the field, a cluster of half a dozen cars or so, and trucks, parked on the grass, and somebody there before them, arms swung in soundless claps, leaned forward, echoing after, a distant shout, “Oy!” And again, “Hey, Oy!” Or maybe “Roy!”

Something bounds from flailing grass onto the track, making for her with alacrity, low shape galloping, a dog, much too slender for a dog, and brightly streaming. One or two others have stepped out from among the vehicles to watch. The shouting somebody’s set off running down the track as well, after the spindly, long-legged whatever-it-is. She steps off track, kneeling in the grass, unshouldering fumbling open her duffel. “Roy!” the closer cry now, definitely “Roy! Wait!” as sharply patterfall too sharp for paws that cutting soil crisply little thunder wire-wrapped hilt in her hand but rocking back her heels she’s blinking hand held up against a brightness not the sun but, but iridescent shimmering galumph a tiny horse not even a pony scampering past to wheel a tight curl whirling snorting halt, her one arm up and braced the sheathed poignard tucked behind her forearm, “Hanh!” she blurts.

“Roy!”

The horse, that tiny horse, leaps into the grass behind her and springs back out again, bucking on the track before her snort and whinny, four hands, maybe five at the most, dark-tufted fetlocks over dainty cloven hooves, pale glossy rose-grey coat, a skinny nearly hairless tail but for a sudden puffball shock at the end of it, as brightly shining as the mane, and iridescent, red in it, and yellow, shocks of green and sudden flares of blue as it tosses its head again, and its horn.

“He don’t bite,” calls the somebody, a boy, young man in jeans, denim jacket a-clatter with buttons. “Roy. Leave her alone. C’mon, Roy.”

The unicorn, that tiny unicorn, takes a hesitant step closer to Jo. Trembling, flanks a-bellows from the effort of his galloping approach. The wire-wrapped hilt still in her hand, sheath still tucked behind her arm. She’s lowering her other hand, reaching for the drily grassy earth before her, without taking her eyes off the unicorn taking another closer step, stretching out his neck, those black eyes liquid blinking, white-spotted lips, fine silky hairs about the black-rimmed nostrils, close enough his blown breath stirs her hair. She swallows. “Hey,” she says.

“He’s okay,” says the young man in denim. “C’mon, Roy.”

The horn of him’s helically ridged, translucent as the inside of a shell, chased with as many colors as the mane but paler and subdued. It rises from just above his eyes, as long again as his neck, the tip of it trembling fixed to a point she has to look up from his eyes to meet. “Wow,” she says. “That’s, uh – ”

The unicorn snorts, and lowers his head.

“Wait,” she says.

The unicorn lowers his head, tip of his horn stretching just a bit further, just, to touch, to dimple her T-shirt there, above the devil’s leering eye, to press. There’s the faintest and most terribly delicate clink, and then a sudden extravagant flash of light.


Table of Contents


You have Placed a Chill in my Heart,” written by Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, copyright holder unknown. Moonwise, written by Greer Ilene Gilman, ©1991.

“Welcome back” – Jack’s dog – the Fly, the Fly – 
Less than a two-Point-five –

“Welcome back.”

Jo lifts a hand, a shadow among shadows. Rubs her eyes, fingertip and thumb, pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Had us worried, girl. Come on. Sit yourself up. Water? Jack, fetch us a water.”

Footstep, creak of springs, a slithering thump. “Careful, Jack,” that voice, pitched high, creaky with smoke, or age.

“Ma’am,” another voice, the young man. She opens her eyes. She’s laid across a small and rumpled bed, legs bent over the side of it, feet somewhere on the floor. The space is long and narrow, dim despite the windows in every wall, for every curtain’s drawn with differing colors and prints, reds and yellows for the cowboy hats and boots, purples and greens and blues and pinks for floral sprays, browns and oranges for squatly happy mushrooms, all backlit by daylight without. Someone’s sat on the bed beside her, a dumpy woman, cardigan, what light there is catching rims and frame of heavy spectacles over her eyes. Jo sits up with a grimacing hiss, leaning over on one elbow, reaching to press a hand to her breast, rubbing, a soothing stroke.

“Here we go,” says the woman beside her. That young man in denim’s stood before them, holding out a short plastic bottle of water, cap of it already off. Jo takes it with a nod, sips, then drinks it down.

“Better?” says the woman. Jo holds up the empty bottle, but no one seems inclined to take it. “Where you headed?” says the woman.

“Away,” says Jo, leaning forward, looking to set the empty bottle on the floor, maybe, but the floor is covered, piled with magazines, dozens, hundreds of them, neatly stacked here, collapsing in drifts there, Jack with his feet planted in some of the only cleared space available, a marginal meander from the bed in its nook up past a booth to one side under wide windows curtained with palm trees in pinks and yellows, a terribly compact kitchenette the other, and every available surface laden with more magazines, a helmeted warrior, an iceberg, a close-up of an eagle’s head, a hedgehog curled in someone’s hand, an astronaut, someone holding a pair of binoculars, someone scowling else, hand tucked in the jacket of his uniform, The Battle of Waterloo, The New Europeans, Wild Pets, Is Anybody Out There?, The Tallest Trees, Planet or Plastic, Becoming Jane, Why Birds Matter, and all of them each of them every single one of those cover photos set in the framed by the same thick border of brightly jonquil yellow. Jo sits up, reaches past the young man, Jack, who twists aside, she seizes something from a scrap of countertop behind him, knocking off slippery flap a handful of magazines, “Careful, girl,” a warning tone from the woman next to her.

“This is mine,” says Jo, hitching up so she can tuck away the binder clipped about two dollar bills in a pocket, patting the others, “my phone,” she says, looking about. “My phone?”

“You were flat on your back, dead to the world,” says the woman next to her. The lenses of those heavy spectacles wrap around her eyes, lightlessly opaque. “Had no idea if we’d be calling 911, or what.” A jerk of her head for Jack, who nods, leans over to fetch something from the magazines stacked on the table of the booth, hands it to Jo, her phone. She thumbs it on. 15:34, the numerals floating over her face, and Ysabel’s. Quickly off again. “My bag?” she says. “The knife?” Holding out her hand. “The knife.”

“You sure you’re okay?” says the woman. “Collapsing out there like that.”

“I’m fine, I’ll be fine,” says Jo, hand still out. “The water helped. Thank you. My stuff.”

“Because I know it can’t have nothing to do with Jack’s cute little dog.”

Jo’s hand lowers. “Dog,” she says, looking up to Jack, stood there in the meander. Behind him, up at the front of the space a single window, a windshield, curtained as well with plain dark burlap, a couple of captain’s chairs, a steering wheel. Shadows render whatever expression his face might hold unreadable.

“Oh, Jack’s got him done up all funny, sure. But he wouldn’t hurt a flea, that dog.”

“I promise,” says Jo, “I won’t tell anybody about Jack’s,” a sidelong look for the woman beside her, “dog. Okay?” Sitting forward, feeling for a clear patch of floor with her feet. “Just, give me my stuff, I’ll get out of your hair, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Okay? Nothing.”

“You sure?” says the woman. Jack’s already leaning over the booth again, hauling up the nearly empty duffel, something heavy in it dragging one end. “You don’t need anything else?”

“Water,” says Jo, taking her bag. “Another water, if I could.” Zips it open, roots about inside. The woman nods to Jack again, but he’s bent over, peering through a gap in the curtains. Voices, indistinct, back and forth somewhere out there.

“Who is it?” The woman’s gone from sitting to perching. Jack shrugs. She gets to her feet and somehow a step here, a step there, nimbly she’s past him and headed up front without disturbing a page. A scrabble up there, one of the captain’s chairs swinging about as she nears it, a flicker of colors, the unicorn’s laid on the seat of it, legs awkwardly dangled. She leans over to scritch that brilliant mane. “Get her that water,” she says, “but stay inside. Won’t be a minute.”

Opening the door, a sudden flare of sunlight. The unicorn snorts. The door closes up the light again.

“Dog?” says Jo.

Jack shrugs, looks back over his shoulder. The unicorn’s perked up, looking up and over, the voices outside rising, a shout ringing over that creaky rasp.

“The hell?” says Jo, getting to her careful feet, “Wait,” says Jack, but crumple slippy rippering step she’s leaning against the tiny closet to reach “Jesus” for the counter past him lurching to brace himself against the ceiling, “You’re gonna,” but “Shut up,” she snatches a curtain-corner, drags it ringing aside.

Another back-and-forth of voices without, lower, but as heated.

“Shit,” says Jo Maguire, letting the curtain fall. Pulling the straps of the duffel up about her shoulder. Setting off tipping to lean from countertop to booth-table, making her way up the meander, eyeing all the while the captain’s chair, and the unicorn sat upon it.

“May said stay inside,” says Jack.

“Don’t sweat it,” says Jo, reaching for the door-latch. “I got this.” A shrug. “I know these guys.”

Yanking it open, into the light.

The first rolls of stuff high, ungainly wide, slick black plastic stiffly thick, creaking as they’re wrestled into place under the aloof blue sky. A gentle “hupf!” not so much from any one of them but all at once they’re tipped over, thump-thud, crunch on the grey pea stone. A breath of a pause, another, sharper “ho!” and they’re off, slowly at first with the weight of them, pressing forward, unrolling to score wide black lanes side-by-side down the grey gravel length of the roof.

Even as they’re still unrolling the second wave is setting up, more stiff ungainly rolls gallumphed to the gaps between lanes. Christian’s wrenching his around, eyeing the placement when “hupf!” shoved over crackle and thump, he’s wrestling the one end of his, checking the angle, hauling it back, “ho!” they set off, unrolling more plastic to overlap the first, Christian a little behind the others, filthy blue running shoes slipping and one long sliding step that leaves him on one knee on the stuff, scrabbling. Some of the others already returning, back over squeak and crack plastic to heave and let fall long green sacks of gravel from off their shoulders, weighting those unrolled strips. Christian steps off the plastic, up to a dwindling levee of gravel-sacks, and squats to get his knees under one, lifting with a scowl the weight of it, staggering back onto footsteps carefulling plastic past sacks already dropped, there, there, he lets his fall as soon as he can and bends over it, hands on his knees. Straightens. All about him they’ve set to ripping open sacks with shears, multi-tools, daggers, claws, spilling gravel out. He looks around, at his own bare hands, the long green sack on the plastic before him, weightily stuffed, of thick cord tightly woven. Here comes Charlichhold, hook-tipped knife out and ready, and Christian steps back, again, managing not to stumble over the drift of gravel already loosed behind.

Stripped to the waist, he kneels upon the grass.

Shaking his head he brushes gravel dust from the shoulder of his hoodie, making his way toward the other end of the unrolled plastic where tools have been piled, shovels, rakes. “The fly, the fly, the fly,” someone’s chanting, Trucos there by the small crane leaned out over the edge of the roof, and Getulos, “the fly, the fly, the fly,” the two of them working the winch of it, muscles bunching and releasing across bared shoulders glossy with sweat, “the fly is on the turmut!” Christian takes up a push broom and joins the others, raking and shoveling, spreading the gravel, flattening out those piles over the plastic. “Was on a jolly summer’s morn,” someone’s singing, “the fifteenth day of May,” more joining in, “Jim Turk!” someone shouts, and a guffaw from Big Jim in the midst of them all, he took his turmut hoe, and trudged off on his way! For some delight in haymaking, and some they fancies mowing, but of all the trades we do like best, give us the turmut-hoeing!

Stripped to the waist he’s knelt there, on rich green grass, lifting up his head.

Push broom turned over, bristles up, wooden head of it press and scrape, back and push. The gravel’s more varied in color, generally brown, larger than the pea stone still visible, a pale strand of it lapping the base of the back brick wall, the reach of it left to stretch away the far end of the roof. For the fly, the fly, the fly be on the turmut! they’re chanting, bent over with rakes and shovels, brooms, spreading the gravel from parapet to parapet until the last of the plastic’s buried away, and it’s all my eye for we to try to keep fly off the turmut!

And now come some, arms laden with stuff, rolls of speckled grey felt they drop and kick over, unrolling across the gravel, but also blankets and sheets, ratty old quilts shook out, even sheets of cardboard, spatchcocked boxes tossed onto the rocks, now the next place as we went to work, it were with, and someone shouts above the others, “Brether Nedrick!” and general laughter, and a rough deep voice booms out, “An I vows an swares, an dizz declare, yar wiz an farst-rate hoer!” and the laughter then redoubles as they toss and stamp, flatten and spread. He steps back, nearly bumps into the Flynn, turns about, cardboard crumpling underfoot. Stripped to the waist he topples forward, hands and knees, clutching the trembling grass, “Shit,” he hisses, trying to get himself out of the way, for it’s all my eye as we do try to keep fly off the turmut!

He stuffs a hand in the pocket of his hoodie as they’re stepping past, sprinkling water over cardboard and cloth from pots and jugs with ladles and cups and thumbs over spouts, dripping, dampening, dolloping, when we was ower at yonder farm, they sent for us a-mowin’! But we sent word back we’d take the sack, nor lose our turmut-hoein’! Over by the crane they’ve hauled up one pallet laden with plastic sacks that say FoxFarm and Sun Gro and Black Gold, and they’re busily hauling up another with great wrenching twists of the winch, the fly, the fly, the fly! He’s pulled his hand from his pocket, thumb-tip absently stroking grains of brightly gold against the blue-brown crease of index finger, shaking away a trailing thread from the frayed cuff. Suddenly elbows and wriggling Christian shrugs his way under and out of that hoodie, dropping it onto a patch of gravel, steps back with a nod as water’s flung onto it, grabbing a handful of gravel to weight it down with the rest.

Stripped to the waist, a half dozen or so of them crouch and kneel, bared backs shining brown and glistening pale, ruddily bronze, jeans and dungarees, corduroys, work boots and knobbed bare feet, filthy blue running shoes, they spread and evenly scrape, tireless, chanting become a rolling thrumming nearly wordless hum-de-dum, the fly, the fly, the turmut as they press and tamp, rumpled and hillocked soil tumbled and spilt on the dampened cloth and cardboard mulched into the gravel spread over the plastic below, it’s all left smoothly glossy in their wake, a rich black even field. There at the crane Getulous and Trucos, and Jim Turk with them, it’s all my eye, it’s all my eye as they winch up a pallet of turf-rolls, richly brown, coiled with startling green. Spread and scrape, press and tamp, shake off the sweat and breathe and blow, smooth and tamp and spread until, until, until shirtless he rolls onto his back in all the gingerly unfolding grass, under the high blue sky.

He sits up, utterly alone in the midst of that high new lawn. Not even a broomstick left behind, but his shoulders bare, and his jeans heavy with wet dirt.

“Hello, good evening. My name is Arnold Becker. I’m calling on behalf of Barshefsky Associates, an independent market research firm. This is, I assure you. This is not a sales,” he closes his eyes, and rocks the handset back into its cradle. Sighs. Taps the tab key, toggling radio buttons next to listed items on the screen until he gets to Refusal (Hang Up). Presses tab again, to Refusal (Definite), then on to Disconnected, then back to No Answer at the top. Strokes his scratchily stubbled cheek. Reaches to press the enter key, but takes hold of the mouse instead. Moves the pointer on the screen to press the radio button next to Refusal (Hang Up). Sighs again. Hits enter.

A new number appears on the screen, ten digits, numerals bold and large. He reaches for the handset, rocks it forward off the cradle, and a dial tone leaks from the earpieces of his headset. Adjusts the mike of it with one hand while he taps the number on the phone with the other. Tips back his waiting head.

A click, followed not by the burr of a ringing phone, but the howling piercing gurgle of a modem, testing its connection. He slaps the headset from his ears to bounce against the keyboard, knocks the handset back into its cradle, cutting off the noise. The woman beside him spares him a scowl of sympathy, but she’s speaking to someone on her headset, “no sir, not a sales call at all. Yessir. Jessie Vee. Well, that’s great! Okay. And I know this sounds a little weird, but I have to ask, would you say you’re the person who makes most of the financial decisions for your household?”

He lifts the headset off the keyboard, flicks it toward the back of his carrel. Pounds the tab key, down, down, until the radio button by Disconnected is lit up.

“And would that be all of the financial decisions, at least half, less than half, or none of the financial decisions for your household? I know, I know, it’s a little weird. Trust me. It gets better.”

Becker pushes back his chair, bends down to scoop up his messenger bag. Settles a dark grey meshback cap on his head as he gets to his feet. Rolls the chair carefully back into place before the narrow carrel, just enough room for the phone, the keyboard, the monitor waiting patiently for someone to confirm the status of this phone number.

“Becker,” says the kid at the desk, “hey, Becker? What’s up?” Voice pitched to carry just enough under the clatterous murmur of numbers dialed, questions asked, data entered. Becker’s steps stutter, he shifts the strap of the bag on his shoulder, tightens his grip. Looks the kid over, his blue on blue check shirt, thick-knotted tie of brown and purple paisley. “You’ve only got six in the bag,” says the kid. “That’s less than a two-point-five. Becker? Becker!”

Becker pushes open the door, steps out into the cramped lobby, empty but for a couple of leather armchairs, the large copper letters of the logo on the wall, and, when the door swings shut behind him, so very quiet.


Table of Contents


Controlling interest in the National Geographic magazine has been held by the Walt Disney Company since 2019. Turmut-hoeing,” traditional, within the public domain. FoxFarm Soil & Fertilizer Co., founded 1984 in Humboldt County. Black Gold® is a registered trademark of Sun Gro Horticulture, acquired by 1582956 Alberta Ltd. in 2011.

East Multnomah Soil & Water – 
duty – Ward, or Sigil? – Select Passenger – Beautiful Mountain –

“The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District?” a plaintive bellow loud enough to be heard through the front door, even as he’s unlocking it. “How, I ask, can we possibly ever be expected to bear the inestimably weighty responsibility of choosing the directors of such an august enterprise? With only this,” a rattling flutter, “to guide us?”

Through the twilight-steeped parlor, past the bicycles, the sandwich board draped with somebody’s coat, the dining room’s very bright, three people sat about the table piled with books and unopened mail. In the kitchen through the archway Oz is kneading something, shaking her head. A band of angels came to me, weeping, in the night, sings a woman from some unseen speaker, someone’s phone, maybe. “Arnie!” cries a thickset man at the table, lowering the newsprint booklet he’s been waving about for emphasis. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“I’ve told you, Jimmy,” he lets the messenger bag slip from his shoulder, “feel free to call me Becker, just like everybody else.”

“Whatever it is you’re to be called – on which point, you’ll note, this jury is still out,” Jimmy holds up a forestalling finger, “we’d been led to believe you’d be at work tonight. Thus, the surprise.”

“Yeah, well,” says Becker, letting the messenger bag slump to the floor. “I think I, ah, well. Quit.”

Oz stops kneading. Hollis looks up from the paper on the table before him. Blood, color of the flower, emblazoned on your breast, sings the unseen phone. Jimmy blinks. “Forgive me,” he says, “but one is usually a touch more definite about such milestones.”

“I guess. I mean,” says Becker, “I’m not going back. I’m not doing that again. So.”

On the road to Jericho, sings the phone.

“A toast!” cries Jimmy. “An occasion so momentous must be marked. But with something more festive than kombucha,” and a meaningful scowl for the brown glass bottle by Hollis’s elbow. “It’s apple juice,” says Hollis.

“Even so,” says Jimmy, cocking a brow imploringly at Oz who’s leaned in the arch now, wiping her flour-dusted hands on her apron. “No,” says Becker, “that’s okay, I don’t, we don’t need to. It’s fine. So what is this? Some kind of, voting party?”

“Our civic duty!” booms Jimmy, sweeping a sweater-draggled arm over the ballots and booklets, the phones and the tablet spread over the table before them. “Third Tuesday in May, and evidence of the exercise of our franchise must be lodged with the appropriate authorities by eight o’clock this very night.”

“We were gonna walk ’em down to the library,” says the woman across from Jimmy. “Swing by the Bite after,” says Hollis. “But doubtless, Arnie,” says Jimmy, “you have long since posted your ballot by mail, and already confirmed its arrival with the county. Still. We might well benefit from your input, sir, in our deliberations.”

“Actually?” says Becker, attempting a winsome shrug. Jimmy slaps the table. “My good lord, Becker,” he says, “you do disappoint. You were fully intending to work your shift – which, if memory serves, typically extends to nine o’clock, on those evenings when you don’t quit in the middle – without having performed your secularly sacral duty.”

“Jimmy,” says Becker. “I’ve had a day. I’ve had a week.”

“Leave him alone,” says Hollis.

“I shall most certainly not,” says Jimmy, holding up an admonishing finger, holding back a gust of laughter. “This must not, this will not stand. Arnie. If you are half the man I suspect you still to be, that ballot sits,” and he pauses, pursing his lips. “Jimmy,” says the woman across the table from him, but Jimmy shakes his head. “Not in your bag, no. It’s in your room, unopened, isn’t it. Not blatantly, out in the open, no: that’d be too on-the-nose. But innocuously stacked with other items you haven’t gotten around to yet, but mean to, soon enough. So that you might relish the thrills of guilt – sharpened, perhaps, with an edge of self-loathing – that sweep over you whenever you inadvertently catch sight of the envelope’s patriotically red embellishments. Reminding you of this obligation, to your neighbors, your city, that you failed to fulfill. Until you tire of the sport when its returns inevitably diminish over the coming weeks, and you finally toss it out with the recycling. So! Go on. Run away upstairs and fetch it down. Do this thing – not for the ideal of it, or the greater good: do it for yourself, Arnie. Redeem the day you’ve had. I feel certain that, in order to encourage such a rapprochement, between yourself, and your better self, Oz would be willing to break out the good stuff.”

Hollis snorts. The woman across from Jimmy shakes her head with all her dangling, tiny braids. Oz cocks her brow, but she’s smiling. Becker isn’t. “James Frederic Madison DuPris,” he says, “if that really is your name,” and Jimmy’s lips purse again at that. “I’ve moved,” says Becker, “three times, since the last election. Most recently?” Looking about the dining room, the archway to the kitchen, them at the table, and Oz, “Less than four weeks ago. I don’t have, a ballot. It’s probably,” throwing off a gesture, “sitting in a mailbox, back at my old place by the Lloyd Center.”

“You failed,” cries Jimmy, theatrically clutching his chest, “to update your registration?”

“I’ve been busy!” snaps Becker. “And who gives a damn about an election in May, anyway?”

“We gotta vote for Chloe,” says Hollis, a hand on his ballot.

“It’s totally gonna be whatsisname,” says Becker. “Killian.”

“But that’s the point,” says Oz. “Even if he wins, if he doesn’t have a majority, there’s a run-off in November,” lifting a hand to make air-quotes, “the important election, right? So we’ll have time, to – ”

“To do what? Work for Chloe?” Becker hauls his messenger bag back up onto his shoulder. “She doesn’t make the run-off. It’ll be between Beagle, and Killian, which is basically just two different clubs of developers tussling over whose pot of money gets bigger next year. And Killian’s still gonna win.” The song picking its way through the air has changed, another woman’s singing, he gave her a dime store watch, and a ring made from a spoon. Becker turns away, back through the parlor.

“Such cynicism, in one so young,” says Jimmy. “You are not the man I thought I knew, Arnold Becker!”

“What can I tell you, Jimmy?” Becker calls back, over his shoulder. “I got layers.”

Tock and clack of heels on tarmacadam, passing under a sign that says Springwater Corridor, between railroad tracks to the left, a gravel plant to the right, she makes her way toward the high bridge ahead, lit against oncoming night, glown white and sullen red with headlights and taillights to-and-fro-ing above the wheeling flares of red and blue that disrupt the shadows ahead. Those lights suggest colors hidden in the sleekly grey of her pantsuit, but do nothing to illuminate her face, or bring out the color of her corkscrew curls. She spares not a glance to either side, the dark slope to the left, rising to the freeway, the river away off to the right, disaffectedly rippled with light, nor does her stride falter as she rounds a slight bend in the path to see the source of those flashes, the police SUV, the ambulance, parked one before the other to block the narrow path not far beyond the bridge. The SUV’s lights atop its roof, before and behind, all flash and sweep and stutter. The ambulance is dark.

A small crowd stood about, mostly beyond the SUV, joggers and a couple of cyclists in athletic togs, somebody with a high, elaborate backpack, a woman in tights and a filthy T-shirt speaking with a couple, man and woman, both in dark suit coats. An officer uniformed in black by the rear of the SUV, looking up the slope, they’re all looking up the slope, where a couple of figures in white coveralls struggle their way down with some bulky burden. Still looking up, he steps away from the SUV, “Hold up,” he says. “Trail’s closed.”

“It’s okay,” she says, smiling. “I’m from headquarters.” Reaching into her jacket she pulls out not a wallet or a badge but a small white card. “You’re Officer Latif?” Holding the card not so much for him to see, but the tiny lens on the palm-sized camera clipped to his tactical vest. He doesn’t look down at it, printed though it is with black squares scattered about a grid in a staticky random blot. He doesn’t look away from her eyes, large and dark and neatly lined, friendly and welcoming. “Who’ve you got?” she says, tucking the card away.

“Guy who reported it,” says the officer. “Didn’t do it, but he’s the closest we’ve got to anybody of interest. Most everybody else up there scattered.” A sidelong look for the woman still speaking with the two in suits. The SUV rocks behind him, staccato thumps within, a muffled bellow. “Hey!” barks the officer. “We ain’t got a full statement yet,” he says, turning back to her. “He’s, ah. Belligerent.”

“He’ll do,” she says, opening the rear door of the SUV on a wordless howl, the dome light revealing a man, bearded, wrapped in a striped bathrobe, hands behind his back, kicking and hurling his weight about on the plastic back seat. “Stop that,” she says, and the howl breaks, he holds himself, trembling, still, wedged back against the closed door behind him, head at an awkward angle, bare feet braced against the partition. “Can we talk?” she says.

Shivering, tense, still wedged, panting heavily enough to ruffle his overgrown mustache, trouble his rankly matted beard. He swallows. “Sure,” he says, relaxing enough feet slipping on the plastic floor to settle back on the seat.

“Good,” she says, climbing into the SUV, sitting herself on the bench beside him, pulling the door shut. “Hey, wait,” he says, as the dome light clicks off. “You’re, I, what? Who are you?”

“A moment, please.” She’s holding that card up so the printed squares face a smokey plastic globe high up on one corner of that partition between front seats and back. “Your pardon,” she says, leaning across him to hold the card up before a similar globe in the opposite corner.

“What are you doing?”

“Just a moment.” She’s pressed the printed face of the card to the glass that windows the partition, criss-crossed with a wire grill, holding it still there a moment. “That should do it. Keep your voice down, just in case.”

“You’re not police,” he says.

“Oh, I am, of a sort,” she says. “What I’m not is a cop. I can’t abide cops.” Shifting on that plastic bench. “They’ll primly tell you that the seats must be like this, to allow them to be cleaned, quickly, and easily, but they do not have to be so narrow, slick, unyielding. The discomfort is the point. Baked into the very design of the thing.” Tucking that card back into her jacket. “It’s, quite simply, cruel. And I can’t abide cruelty.”

“What was that, a sigil of some kind? A ward?”

“A QR code,” she says, cocking a brow. “We don’t have much time. Lean forward.”

He does, but “Wait!” he blurts, as she reaches behind him, “what are you doing?”

“That zip-tie can’t be comfortable.”

“Leave it!” he says, sitting back, pressing back against the door, away from her. “Leave it.”

“You found the body,” she says. “You reported it.” He nods. “But you didn’t kill him,” she says. “Her. Whomever.”

“Of course not!”

“And yet,” she says, “you’re the one in the back of a police car.”

He shrugs.

She sits back against her door, perched on the edge of the plastic seat. “Is it in remission, then?” she says.

He blinks, and takes much too long to say, “What?”

“By your fundament betrayed,” she murmurs, leaning toward him, eyes closed, for a long, savoring sniff. “You need a bath,” she says, sitting back, “but not so much that it might mask what I can’t smell.” Opening those artfully painted eyes. “Do you know what it smells like? Metastasis? Take that thread of pleasant warmth you can find in the smell of shit, let it swell to the very point it twists into foulness – that’s what I don’t smell. The cancer that was eating its way, out of your colon, into your liver.”

“I,” he says. “I don’t, what? What?”

“You’ve made a deal, Michael Sinjin Lake. The question is, with whom.”

“Luke,” he says, collapsing, slumped on the seat. “Luke. She was supposed to call me Lake. So I’d know it was her.” He looks up, tentatively, something almost like yearning in his eye, but she’s looking at his clean bare feet. “I have to be across town,” she says. “I’d thought this to be a mission of mercy. I’d thought to find a dying, deluded fool. But you, Sinjin? Turns out you’re a smooth operator,” and she knocks on the window, sharply. “Operating correctly.”

“Don’t tell them?” he says, sat there on plastic, his striped bathrobe, his long and ragged beard, his hair, his hands behind his back. “I can do, so much,” he says, low, quiet, urgent. “Please. Don’t fuck this up.”

The officer outside opens the door behind her. “Stay out of our way,” she says, and climbs out of the SUV. He resumes his howling, his thrashing, as the door’s slammed shut.

He cuts through a parking lot under the blue-white light of a sign that says Motel 6, darting through a gap in the shin-high hedge, between a couple of startled trees out onto the street, looking up and down its carless length, a lane of it taken up by a set of tracks. A block up in a pool of streetlight waits a MAX train, and seeing it Christian breaks into a heedless, headlong run, leaping the scruffy median, up onto the sidewalk and down it, across the intersection against the light, the blatting honk of a yellow truck, and as the warning bell dings he manages to hurl himself through the closing doors of the first car, catching himself with one hand the railing by a couple of hanging bicycles. “Next stop,” says a recorded voice, “is Convention Center. Puertas a mi derecha.”

Bent over, settling his breath. His draggled jeans glossy and running shoes stiff with ground-in earth, his clean plaid overshirt too softly large for his skinny frame. No one in the thin crowd scattered throughout the carriage seems to have taken much notice at all of his last-second entrance. He allows himself a brief small smile, under those hunched cheekbones.

Next stop, he steps back from the doors to make room, just in case, but no one seems to want to get off, or on, not here, not through this open door. He looks away, through the opposite windows, small dim park across the street, two improbably slender glass spires lit up behind it, mere ghosts of skyscrapers. “This is a Green Line train to Portland City Center. Next stop is Rose Quarter Transit Center. Este un tren de la Línea Verde a Portland City Center. The doors are closing.”

The MAX sets off, and now various passengers stir themselves, collecting briefcases, shopping bags, a suitcase, themselves, “Puertas a me izquierda,” as an overpass appears, approaches, swallows them, the train sighing to a stop in the attenuated salmon light beneath. Christian is first off the train.

A wide plaza, brightly lit, tangled with intersections, streets, rail lines, crosswalks, and all the stoplights. Up a low rise there past a scruff of trees just coming into their own the immensely spot-lit bulk of a coliseum, and under its pointed curl of roof by a stylized rose, a gigantic billboard of a basketball player preparing to take a shot, back-lit letters that say Rose Garden. A spur off all those intersections lined with idling busses, each with the same Warner Pacific University ad on the side. Away across the other side of the plaza, off toward the unseen river, more lights flare from the tops of a wall of concrete silos, and enormous letters painted along the rumpled length of them some faded time ago say amazon.com wouldn’t fit here. Christian slips in among the flowing crowds, deftly navigating currents that turn away here up the sidewalks toward the coliseum, wash away there toward the busses, eddy at this corner or that, waiting until enough pressure’s built up to spill them across a street, until only a few are left about him, headed toward another MAX stop behind a modest thicket of sculptures, slender white poles topped by skeletal cones suggesting lace, or coral, disconcertingly bright. He ducks around a ticket machine blinking to itself, Select Passenger, Select Passenger, slips past this person, that cluster settling themselves to wait, all the way up by himself to the end of the long slender glass-topped awning. Leans back against a brassy donut ringed about the awning’s pole, just below hip-height, folds his arms in that oversized shirt, creases still clenching the front of it, and the sleeves, he’s half-singing to himself, “all my eye for the fly, the fly,” but he catches himself and he stops, rolling his eyes.

There’s someone else down at this far end of the stop.

Out past the edge of the awning she’s stood before a tall red plinth, peering at the schedule framed on one of its faces, long full skirt and a trim little sweater, hair in a neatly tucked updo, and in her arms a broad round footed platter, a cakestand, all of milky green glass, intricately figured. Catching sight of him having caught sight of her, she offers a flash of a smile and the smallest nod before redoubling her attention to the schedule, clutching more closely her awkward bundle.

With a shrug, a sigh, he pushes off the pole, hands in his pockets, makes his way toward her. “It’ll be along soon enough,” he says. “You don’t really need the schedule. They come every fifteen minutes, pretty much.”

“What I don’t really need,” she says, and pauses, collecting herself. “Thank you, sir, but the operation of a streetcar schedule is within my capabilities.”

“I didn’t,” he says, “I wasn’t, I just,” shrugging, hands still in his pockets, “looked like you were looking for something.”

“I was,” she says, reluctantly, “I seem to have gotten myself turned around. Where might I catch a bus on the Vanport line?”

“Vanport?” he says, shaking his head. “What number’s that?”

“I don’t know the number of any specific bus,” she says.

“No, I mean,” he looks up, turns away. “Where you going, north?”

“Vanport.”

“I mean,” he says, “maybe the six, but that’s over on – ”

“The six?”

“Runs up MLK.”

“Em,” she says, brow cocked, “ell, kay? Milk?”

“No,” he says, drawn out. Tipping his head to one side, looking down. She wears a pair of saddle shoes, well-polished, and frilled white bobby socks.

“I had thought,” she says, resettling her grip on the cakestand, “to ride a trolley for a bit, until I recognized a stop, but,” looking about, “this doesn’t appear to be a stop for the Interstate line.”

“Hey,” he says, pointing to the stylized rail map on the plinth, straight lines of yellow, red, blue and green, orange, neatly twined about the simple cyan angle of the river. The stop almost at the top of the yellow line, there, labeled Delta Park and Vanport. “There you go,” he says. “You’re in the right, ah, place,” but she’s shaking her head. “I think I would’ve noticed,” she says, “if they’d built a trolley out to my neighborhood.”

“Yeah, well,” he says, “pretty sure there ain’t much of a neighborhood out that far. Just, like, a park, and a golf course. And then Jantzen Beach.” The sound, rising about them, rush and whining grind, the train’s approaching, long and white, sloping nose of it swinging about as it uncurls a curve under streetlights, the lights within shining out its windows. Expo Center, say the pinprick letter-lights along the top of the slanted windscreen, by a square of colored lights more orange than yellow. “Here we go,” he says, turning to her, still stood by the plinth, clutching the cakestand, blinking.

“I think,” she says, as the train sighs to a stop, clang of bell, “I’ll wait, for a trolley I recognize.” Doors slough open, down the length of it. “And must you keep staring at my shoes? Look me in the eye to say farewell, as anyone with manners should. Mister, ah,” brow lifted, waiting.

“Beaumont,” he says. “Christian Beaumont.”

“The beautiful mountain.” She shifts her grip on the cakestand. “And you might know me as Cora Bunch.”

“All right,” he says, stepping up onto the train. “All right.”

Sometime later, a bell jingles over the door as Christian steps through into the dilapidated front room of the shop, counter there, worktable behind it mounded high with shoes of every shape and color and then some. Standing there in the middle of the bare scuffed floor, looking down at himself, mud-freighted jeans, filthy running shoes.

Clatter and clack from the back. He looks up. There’s Gordon, strands of bead curtain draping and framing the bulk of him, his ragged sweater, shoulder-seam coming unpicked, his dark bald head with its circle of crisp white curls. “New shirt,” he says.

Christian shrugs.

“You back?”

Christian heads up to the counter then, slips behind it. Pulls a plain brown moc-toed pump from the mound, holds it up a moment. Casts about for another.

“You’re back,” says Gordon. “Tea?”


Table of Contents


Jericho,” written by Susan McKeown, copyright holder unknown. Hold On,” written by Tom Waits, copyright holder unknown. The QR code system was invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara for the Japanese company Denso Wave. Microphone Fiend,” written by Eric Barrier and Rakim Allah, copyright holder unknown. Warner Pacific University, founded in 1937 by the Church of God. amazon.com is a registered trademark of You Know Who.

the Last of the International Harvesters – “Sorry about the burrito” – the VERN – east of Everything
 –

The Last of the International Harvesters, say letters greenly sprayed across a sheet that’s pinned to the beige and olive side of it, channeled like siding, studded with grids and hatches for outlets, hookups, compartments, and wide windows of flimsy sliding glass. Tires of it lost in the grass gown up about them. The scrub that blurs the line between field and copse has crept out over the bumper of it, seized hold of the radiator grille, stretched up to the dully staring headlights, reflectors pitted by rust. Yellow-spined magazines can be seen through dust-streaked windshields, sloppily stacked in the gap between dashboard and curtains. There by it a small enough fire burns, haphazardly contained, licking an untidy pile of sticks in a scorched splotch of grass. She’s bent over it, poking the flames with a crooked stick, light of them slipping red and gold a-sliding cross the blankly opaque lenses of her heavy spectacles.

“Girl’s in it, you know,” says the man sat in one of the lawn chairs by the fire. “You saw how she was with them boys. She ain’t just in it, she’s all the way up in it,” waving a paper-wrapped bottle for emphasis, “nothing but respect.”

“Up in what?” says the other man, leaned against the fender of a hulking pickup parked close by the stranded motorcoach. “What you got going on, Ma?” The dome light in the cab up behind him’s dimly shining, and a song is playing within, faintly chugging bass and tinny soaring horns, than the first time you placed those stale smooth cigarette lips to my mouth.

“Shut that noise off,” she rasps, but not unkindly, poking the fire again. He steps up on the running board of the pickup, reaches in through the open window. The song snaps off mid-swell. “Ma?” he says, stepping down. A cat yowls somewhere back that way, she stiffens, straightens, “That was Hot Soup,” she says, holding up a hand. “Somebody’s coming.” Limps back to the other lawn chair, thick woven straps of blue and white, rickety aluminum frame. The man in the other lawn chair tucks his bottle away in the grass.

“I don’t hear anybody,” says the man by the pickup, after a moment.

“Ain’t nobody coming,” says the man in the other lawn chair, leaning down to pluck up paper crinkling his bottle for a healthy swallow. His T-shirt tight, hiked up to leave a hairy swell of belly above his sweatpants.

“Oh,” she says, “and now you’re the one who says what is, and what isn’t.” Leaning down for a stubby plastic bottle of water from the cardboard flat at her feet. “Cats don’t make a noise like that, unless they have a reason. Better than dogs.”

“Lo que, lo que,” mutters the man in the other lawn chair.

“They will be coming back,” she says.

“Ma,” says the man by the pickup, plaid shirt neatly tucked into his jeans. “You got somebody messing with you? Do I need to stick around?”

“Oh, Mikey, hon, no,” she says, hoisting her bottle to him, a waggling salute. “You’ve done enough. Get on home,” but the whole time, those opaque lenses are fixed past him, the pickup, the sedan tilted beyond it, missing at least one wheel, the little runabout, hatchback sprung, the panel van, a tarp draped out from the side in a makeshift awning, the abandoned trailer rocked back on its wheels, hitch of it uselessly upthrust, past the handful of tents pitched among the cars, a couple of domes, the A-frame there, all vaguely lit by the ambiguous light of the boulevard across the vasty field, the office park beyond the boulevard, and a light flicks on in the A-frame tent, swinging about, blue-tinged, flicking off. Past all that, on the far side of this irregular little parking lot, there’s a low, wide tummock of garbage, cinderblocks and upended pallets, what might be a toppled shopping cart, and light flickers within, another fire, perhaps, but also a brightness sharper, colder, quicksilverly tenuous.

“We’ll be fine,” she says. “Just fine.”

“Sorry about that burrito,” says Jack, gruffly. “They’re pretty good if you can heat ’em up. Instead of,” and he shakes his head, sort of laughs, “room temperature,” he says. He selects a stick from the pile beside his knee and feeds it to the little fire before him, crackling up a prettily assembled cone of sticks and twigs. The slogans on some of the buttons a-clatter on his jacket can just be made out, Psychick TV, Born This Way, Keep Portland Weird, Sex Fossil, I Can’t Help Myself, Stumptown Comics Fest. He looks up, over the low wall of garbage that’s ringed about them, past the ragged darkness of the trees beyond, to the full moon riding clear and high in the brighter black above. “It’ll be clear and dry tonight. Bit chilly. You can have the tent. I’ll be fine out here.” He feeds another stick to the fire, more of a twig really, and looks over his shoulder, to Jo.

She’s laid back against a garbage bag stuffed with something that seems soft enough, sat up just enough to watch the unicorn. The rainbowed effusions of his mane hang brightly in the darkness, spikes and arcs of color that might almost be touched as he snuffles and grazes. He looks up at some distant sound, a yowl well out beyond their little paddock, and those colors whirl and dazzle, settling in gleaming new configurations. “That’s just one of May’s cats, Roy,” says Jack. “You know that.”

“How long have you had him? says Jo, hand splayed over her belly, palm of it and wrist blocking the leering eyes of the devil on her T-shirt, thumb of it atop a small hole charred through, there, by her breast.

“A while,” says Jack. His face isn’t so youthful in the firelight.

“You’ve had a pet unicorn for a while,” she says.

Another stick, a flare of flame. He places it, just so.

“Is that,” she says, “a while, like, years? Months?”

“Weeks,” he says, finally. “Couple of weeks.”

The unicorn’s returned to grazing, twitching that skinny, tufted tail, there by the toppled shopping cart half draped by a tarp, moldering pallet leaned against it, cinderblocks there, and garbage bags, the three or four milk crates, all piled just a bit higher than the unicorn’s upraised head. “Is that,” says Jo, “a couple of weeks, like, fourteen days, exactly?” Sitting up. “Or more like, maybe, closer to ten days.” That garbage bag behind her, and her nearly empty duffle, by one bent pole of a low dome tent, orange and beige, set up atop some wooden pallets, the back of their little corral.

“Who were those guys?” says Jack.

Jo draws up her legs, folding her arms about them, chin on her knee.

“Because they sure seemed to know,” says Jack, but “They were here for Roy,” says Jo.

He looks at her directly for a moment, before turning back to the fire. “Were they,” he says, then.

“He’s a goddamn unicorn,” she says. Roy, absently chewing, steps gleaming about the verge of the fire, black eyes blinking turned toward her. “What happened, ten days ago?” says Jack.

“That’s not,” she says, wrapping more tightly about herself as Roy minces ever closer. “It’s got nothing to do with what happened today, when he,” a sharp breath as the unicorn skitters a hop closer to her, lowering with a shake his shining horn, pushing those slender forelegs, those daintily cloven hooves, shivering stretching his full length out before her, for all the world like a dog. “When he did what he did,” she says, swallowing.

“And what was that.”

“Aw, no.” Jo looks over at him not looking back at her. “Not even I knew you a fuck of a lot better.”

The unicorn curls and folds his awkward legs, settling himself before Jo, laying out the length of his neck with a blowsy snort. Jack hikes up on his knees, shrugs out of his denim jacket, holds it out to her. “I told you,” he says, when she doesn’t take it. “It’s getting chilly.” His black T-shirt says Cadavers Left Around. Eyes on the unicorn, she leans over, gingerly, and takes the jacket from him, wraps it clattering about her shoulders. What Urge Will Save Us, says a button under her fingers, and another, Cruelty Is Always Possible.

“So how do you know those guys,” says Jack.

“Who, Gradasso and,” she pronounces it with exaggerated care, “Pwyll?” She shrugs. “They used to work for me.”

A pop from the fire, a descending crackle. “You were their boss?”

“I was their Duke. Just for a bit.”

Jack sits back. Looks down at the sticks left by his knee. “Duke,” he says.

“Duchess of Southeast,” she says. “The Hawk’s Widow.” She manages not to look away when he looks up at her. “Southeast,” he says.

“Below Burnside,” she says, “and, ah, sunward of the river. But really, practically speaking, only out to about Eighty-second or so. There’s other guys, out past that, Wu Song, Končak, Hopper John, though, I mean, he’s really out in Gresham, I guess,” but she slumps, then, blows out a chuckling sigh. “Look,” she leans away from the sleeping unicorn, reaching over, Jack draws back but she’s snagging one of those sticks left by his knee. “I’ll show you how it works. Portland,” she says, “is divided into, well, I guess it’s five fifths, now.” Sketches a quick circle in the grassy dirt between them.

VERN, say red neon letters over the door. The sign that holds them’s battered, dented, as if struck a mighty blow some time ago, and a T and an A hang lightless from the crumpled front of it. A taxi white and green pulls up beneath it, and the two of them get out, the one on the sidewalk in a red frock coat, puckered with intricate embroidery, and the other, street-side, in a short grey jacket with lots of little pockets and straps, and the sleeves pushed up past his elbows, shutting his door and slapping the roof of the cab, bang! It pulls away.

The bar within lit up in jukebox colors that do nothing to cast much light on anything at all, but the two of them push through without hesitation, past the bar to the right, tables to the left, the small crowd listening to a man on a stool in the corner, savagely striking a whirl-a-gig tune from his elaborately beautiful guitar, flinging chords over an insistently strummed bassline even as thumb and fingertips knock together a percussive floor of thumps and tocks from the soundbox. Past him, and a service window opening on a brilliantly lit white kitchen, through a low wide door into a side room, quieter and darker, even, a line of video poker machines blinking silently to themselves, an unattended pool table, green felt of it under its low-hung lights about the brightest thing in the room. “Kern Gradasso!” booms Chillicoathe, the Harper. “Cinquedea!” He waves them over to one of the red-upholstered booths tucked in the far end. “Pull up some chairs. Have a tot. What’s the news?”

“Peg’s with us, now?” says the Cinquedea, Pwyll, in his red frock coat. Gradasso in his grey jacket folds his arms. The enormous woman sat across from Chilli plucks a red-dusted tater tot from the platter in the middle of the table, her gnarl-knuckled fingers gleaming with glitter-painted scales, purple and grey. Chilli smiles somewhere in his big yellow beard. “Daisy here can clearly see which way the wind is blowing,” he says.

“Keep playing with my name like that,” she growls. “The wind will change.”

“Oh, not this wind,” says the third of them at the table, the red-headed man wedged against the wall, looking up to the woman beside him. “Can’t you feel it?” His windowpane tie loosely knotted, tucked into his tightly buttoned vest. “A gentle breeze, perhaps, for now. Almost pleasant. But it’s constant. It will not stop. And every day it blows, it blows away a little more of her majesty’s great pile of golden dust. And every day it blows away a little more than the day before. It won’t change. It will,” he taps the table, “not” and again, “stop. And when that pile is done and gone,” slam, the flat of his hand, “you think another will just, magically appear?”

Chilli lays his hand over that hand on the table. “Brother Stirrup will wax eloquent. But the plain and simple fact remains, Pegling Meg: the Queen is done.”

“Done,” she says, sitting back, booth creaking under her bulk.

“Has she a Bride?” says Pwyll, dragging a chair close to sit himself on it.

“What about toradh?” she says.

“What about it?” says Gradasso, leaning over for a couple of tots. “When any knob or churl might nip in off the street to fill their pockets, at any hour of the day, and no one to portion it properly.”

“Any knob not of the Hound,” mutters the Stirrup.

“She’s exiled our own Duchess, Gretel,” says Chilli.

“Actually,” says Gradasso, licking his fingers, but Chilli’s carried on, “She’s taken Southeast for her own, and named another gallowglas to be her Huntsman!”

“No, but, Harper,” says Gradasso, but Chilli’s leaning over that platter of tots, finger pointed up at the woman across from him, “So who’s to do for us, but us, Sweet Marguerite?” She cocks a skeptical brow. “Chiseauvert?” he says, and she sighs. But his smile’s back.

“So, Harper, funny thing,” says Gradasso, but that pointing finger’s beckoning to the Stirrup, now. “Make with the map,” says Chilli.

Gaveston, the Stirrup, presses himself with a grimace against the wall to make the room he needs to reach within his vest. He tugs out a colorful map that he unfolds across the table, heedless of the leaf that lops over the platter of tots. “Where’d you guys end up?” says Chilli, spreading his hands to smooth it out.

Pwyll hikes up in his chair to lean over the platter, the map, those hands, to plant a finger in the far upper right, by the thick blue river running along the top of it. “Airport Way,” he says.

“Well Number Two,” says Gradasso, and then, “well, the field behind it. Hard by the slough,” as Chilli moves to make a careful X on the indicated oblong with a thick black marker. “Huh,” he says. There are other Xes on the map, a handful or so, but all of them down and in, close by the other river, that runs from bottom to top. “What was it?” he says. “Another by-blow?”

“What was what,” rumbles Greentooth.

“The bang this morning,” says Pwyll, sitting back down. She shrugs.

“What was it?” says Chilli, snapping the cap back on the marker.

“Don’t know,” says Gradasso, chewing.

“There was this, complication,” says Pwyll.

“I was trying to say,” says Gradasso.

“Then say it, blast your eyes!” snarls Chilli, but Pwyll leans forward to say, “More of a who,” and picks out a tot.

“What?” says the Stirrup.

“Do tell,” says Greentooth.

“Who,” grates Chilli, glaring at Pwyll.

“Herself,” says Gradasso, looking at his nails.

“Who?” says the Stirrup.

“Herself,” says Greentooth, half a question.

“But this,” says Chilli, perplexed, “this is east of everything.” His fingers stray leftward a moment from the fresh X to tap a knot of access roads and ramps there, just before the yellow swoop of highway crosses the blue river along the top. “She was always more like to set up somewhere around Smith and Bybee,” those fingers lifted, swept off to the left, a patch of green on the very tip of land where the two rivers meet. “When she wasn’t up the island,” he says.

“Her grace?” says Gradasso, frowning.

“Her awfulness,” says Chilli.

“Herself,” says Greentooth.

“No,” says Pwyll, as Gradasso says, “Her grace never,” and the Stirrup says, “Wait,” and “Harper,” says Pwyll. You’re twisted. Old Nineteen Names is still shacked up with the Gammer.”

“She is the Gammer,” mutters the Stirrup.

“We saw her grace,” says Pwyll.

“Jo Gallowglas,” says Gradasso.

“The Duchess Exiled,” says Pwyll.

Chilli blinks.


Table of Contents


Charm City,” written by Jenny Toomey, copyright holder unknown. When,” written by Patty Larkin, copyright holder unknown.

the Lights are Out, the Curtains Drawn

The lights are out, the curtains drawn in the unlit parlor, but he moves with an easy confidence past bicycles, sandwich board, into the dining room, past the shadowy bulk of the table still piled with books and papers, under the archway, into the kitchen lit only by what’s cast off from other lights without, just enough to gleam the jars that line the counters, to sketch the pots left on the stovetop, to limn the dishes in the sink, and slip over the rough-shaped pewter beads that weight the tips of his mustaches. He sets a paper bag and a larger canvas sack side-by-side on the counter by the stove, then stands there a moment, head tipped back, listening.

From the canvas sack he pulls a handful of cloth rags, a scrub brush, a small clay jug, a large, anonymous squirt bottle, a smaller spray bottle that says Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Orange Clove, and a pair of yellow gloves. From the paper bag he slips a plastic takeaway dish still vaguely steaming. Giorgio’s, says the label pasted on the clear plastic lid of it. 5/15. Opening the refrigerator, he sets it carefully within, the fridge light washing over him, his blue jeans, blue denim jacket, his close-cropped iron hair, winking away as he soundlessly closes the door.

Then, tugging on the yellow gloves, taking up the scrub brush and the squirt bottle, the Anvil Pyrocles sets to work.


Table of Contents