Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

the Blue umbrella – the Three Acorns – Roly-poly Gang Bang – “Just let it ring” – Her promise –

The blue umbrella’s smeared with whorls of starry light, a fiery painted circle of yellow moon. Ysabel eyes the rain dripping from its edges with moued lips and pinched brows. “I’m not dressed for this,” she says.

“No one told you to wear heels,” says Jo. Hatless, she’s flipped up the collar of her army green jacket.

“I didn’t know we’d be walking for miles tonight,” says Ysabel.

“It’s a couple of fucking blocks,” says Jo, glaring at the ivy-choked fence that towers to the right.

“Thirteen,” says Ysabel. “Since we got off the train.”

“So it’s a big couple,” says Jo.

“You’re not going to see anything,” says Ysabel.

After a minute, Jo says “I think that” as Ysabel stops there in the middle of the street and snaps, “You’re not going to see anything! Thirteen blocks in the rain and it’s cold, my feet hurt and we’re in Northeast again, again, and it’s all a complete waste of time because you’re not going to see anything!”

“I think,” says Jo, slowly, pointing up the sidewalk, “that driveway there, that’s a parking lot, it’ll take us to the edge. Past this crap.” She walks on, hands jammed in her pockets, shoulders hunched.

Ysabel spins the umbrella between her hands, flinging raindrops about. Tips her head, resting it against the umbrella’s shaft. The other side of the street lined with parked cars. The house behind her porch lit up, strings of lights wound about the columns, draped from the eaves.

The ivy-choked fence ends at the driveway. The driveway opens into a parking lot for a rambling low apartment complex. Jo’s there, under a sign that says American Property Management, No Trespassing or Loitering, Violators Will Be Prosecuted. Her fingers laced in the chained links of a gate. Past the gate another lot dips down the edge of the gulch around a jumble of building, weatherbeaten oblongs under a flat tarpaper roof. Below it the railroad tracks. Beyond them a wall ten or fifteen feet high and then the freeway, traffic shushing busily east and west through the rain.

“He must have come through that fence up there,” says Jo, pointing back along the top of the gulch. “Down the slope and maybe he jumped from there to the roof. Where we saw him. That’s.” She thumbs a trickle of rain from her forehead. “He jumped,” she says. “From there to the fucking freeway. The freeway. Landed so hard he broke the road. I was picking pieces of pavement out of my hair. He broke the fucking road and look.” She rattles the fence. Rainwater splats the shoulders of her jacket. Traffic passing back and forth below, red lights and white lights and the yellow wink of a turn signal. “Nothing. No work crews. No orange cones. Not a goddamn crack. Like it never happened. Like he was never there.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “he was a monster.” Jo looks at her over her shoulder, frowning, “I,” she starts to say. “His name was Erymathos,” says Ysabel, and “I know what his name,” says Jo as Ysabel’s saying, “and a long time ago, as everyone knows, he winnowed the oak-mast of the forests above Eugea, there among the ankle-bones of the Dyfün Mountain, until he found and gobbled three certain acorns.” She lifts her umbrella, holding it over both of them. “The first swelled his shoulders like a mighty canopy of oak, sun-shield and thunder-trap. The second rooted the four great boles of him to the earth, and from then on he could never be overturned. But the third.” She stands quite close to Jo now, her voice a soft murmur over the distracted rain. “The third acorn hardened his heart like knot-wood, shriveling it down to a nubbin no bigger than his eye, and as black.” She reaches out to brush more rain from Jo’s forehead. Jo shakes her head away. “There will never again be a forest above Eugea.”

“I don’t,” says Jo, turning back to the fence, the ramshackle building, the trees along the wall of the gulch, the railroad tracks below, the freeway.

“Why are you so angry, Jo Maguire? Because he’s gone? He was a monster. For all that cities terrified him, and concrete was like ice under his hooves.” Ysabel’s hand on Jo’s shoulder, the umbrella brushing the fence above them. “A hundred hundred knights sought him out with sword and spear and hound and he laughed at them all and sent more than a few down to dust. Is it because the Duke picked you for his Gallowglas? It could have been anyone. Any one of you, ten months from now, or ten years, by his side, or the Anvil’s, or the Chariot’s.”

“It’s, I just,” says Jo. She hits the fence again. Rain splashes. “He should have stopped traffic. You know? After all that.”

“Three weeks?” says Ysabel, sitting on the bench under the shelter, umbrella furled between her knees.

“It was a Saturday night,” says Jo, leaning against the ticket machine. “Becker’s little promotion shindig at the VC.” She cranes her head, peering down the railroad tracks into the rainy darkness. Pulls a pack of cigarettes from her jacket pocket. “Three weeks ago.”

“Twenty-one days,” says Ysabel.

“Assuming math still works,” says Jo, cigarette bouncing in the corner of her mouth. A pop and a match flares in her hands.

“Seems longer.”

Jo blows a stream of smoke up and out past the dim lights of the shelter.

“You’re still angry,” says Ysabel.

“I’m not angry,” says Jo.

“You are,” says Ysabel. There’s a light down the tracks, getting brighter. Jo laughs. “Works every time,” she says, taking one last long drag from the cigarette.

“What?” says Ysabel.

“That’s why I haven’t quit,” says Jo. “You’re waiting for a bus or a train? Light one up and boom. There it is.” She drops the cigarette to the platform. “Like magic.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, as the train pulls in. Jokes on us, says the ad running along the side of it, swarming with smiling television stars. Jo steps into the second car and climbs a couple of steps up from the floor to the raised rear seats. The car’s otherwise empty. Ysabel’s standing in the doorway. “Come on,” says Jo, as a recorded voice says “This is a Red Line train to Portland City Center. Next stop is Northeast Seventh Avenue.” Another voice says, “Este un tren de la línea roja a Portland City Center.” The first voice says, “The doors are closing.”

Ysabel steps into the car. The doors close. “What’s wrong?” says Jo.

“I’m not sure,” says Ysabel. She grabs for the handrail as the train lurches into motion. The lights flicker.

“What is it?” says Jo.

“I don’t,” says Ysabel. “Gabba gabba hey,” says the boy lounging in the accordioned joint in the middle of the car. “Jo?” says Ysabel.

“Yeah, I see him,” says Jo.

“And he,” says Ysabel.

“He wasn’t there when we got on,” says Jo.

“Gowan,” says the boy. “Smile!” His head’s bald. He’s wearing a grey denim jacket over a baggy grey hoodie.

“Why don’t you,” Jo’s saying, as Ysabel says “I told you we shouldn’t have.” Jo’s standing in the aisle. “Why don’t you get up here.”

“Lovely,” says the man standing next to the boy, swaying with the motion of the train. Ysabel’s quickly climbing the couple of steps and swinging into a seat. The man wears a tan trench coat and his pink and yellow tie is loose. An old brown briefcase on the floor between his feet. “Hubba hubba,” says the boy in the hoodie. The lights flicker.

“What’s going on?” says Jo.

“We’re in Northeast,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah? So?”

“A spitfire!” says the man in the grimy blue coveralls, pushing past the boy in the hoodie, out onto the floor between the doors. “Lose the jacket,” says the boy in the hoode. “Hell yeah!” says the lanky guy in basketball shorts. He’s back by the man in the trench coat. “Panties,” says the man in the trench coat. He giggles. They’re all laughing, barking, roaring, the lanky guy hooting, the man in the coveralls doubled over, hanging one-handed from the handrail, slapping his knee. “Jesus,” says Jo to herself. “Where the fuck are they coming from?”

“Gimme a kiss,” says the boy in the hoodie, laughing. “Let’s see them legs!” says the man in the coveralls. “Sweet little things,” says the man in the trench coat. “Northeast Seventh Avenue,” says the recorded voice. “Doors to my right.”

“Get up,” says Jo. “Slowly. Get up. We’re getting off.” She heads down to the floor of the car one slow step at a time, eyes not leaving the men no longer laughing, swaying together with the train.

“It’s not stopping,” says Ysabel, standing up.

“It’s not stopping,” says Jo. The lights flicker. “It’s not stopping!” A woman’s face sweeps by outside, dismayed, framed in a yellow slicker hood. The man in the coveralls plants his feet against the wobble of the train, arms out, hands free, grinning. “You want some of this,” he says.

“Of course she does,” says the man in the trench coat. “Tag team,” says the lanky guy. “Fuck yeah!” says the boy in the hoodie. “Swallow this!”

“Jo?” says Ysabel, eyes wide.

“I, ah,” says Jo. “Are these your people?”

“What?” says Ysabel. The man in the trench coat snorts. “Gagging lolita,” says the lanky guy.

“Are they, you know, like you?” says Jo.

“What kind of question is that?”

“Gang bang, gang bang,” sing-songs the boy in the hoodie. “Roly-poly gang bang.”

“Shut up!” yells Jo. The man in the coveralls frowning, smiling, chuckling deep in his throat like a growl. “Jesus whichever,” says Jo, “it’s self-defense anyway. Get ready.”

“For what?” says Ysabel, but Jo’s foot has already left the floor.

“Baby wants to pinch them,” snarls the man in the coveralls, and then the crook of Jo’s foot catches him right in the crotch, lifts him up on his toes. There’s a smash like breaking crockery. His arms curling in mouth rounding air blowing out of him in one big burst. Her foot dropping she reaches past him for the front of the boy’s grey hoodie hauling as the man in the coveralls sags over the seat beside him. Hauls the boy past her and around squawking “Yah!” to fetch up clang his forehead into the handrail knocked back arms wheeling over and down. The man in the coveralls still moaning.

“Excuse me,” says the man in the trench coat.

“Now!” yells Jo, throwing her elbow back, hurling a sharp-knuckled punch into the lanky guy’s chest. “Hey,” he says. “Now!” yells Jo, kicking at his knee and missing.

“Now what?” screams Ysabel standing, fingers white around the handrail. “Jo!”

The lanky guy’s caught Jo’s off-balanced fist in his big flat hand. He lifts, wrenching her wrist. “Now!” she yells, and hisses, eyes crumpled. “The brake! Pull it!” She kicks again. Her toe bounces off his shin with a tinny clank. The man in the coveralls growling on the floor hands slipping and pushing at nothing. The boy in the hoodie rearing back off him hands to his forehead wobbling upright, a deep dent dug in that bald head. The lanky guy grunts as Jo kicks him and kicks him again. “Pull it!”

“Pull what?”

“The brake! The brake! The motherfucking brake!” Jo throws herself at the lanky guy and back, yanking at her fist still locked in that hand. Ysabel’s looking all about her eyes wild one hand up to her mouth. “On the wall!” cries Jo. The man in the trench coat steps gingerly around the lanky guy, wary of the rocking of the train. “Behind you! On the damn wall!”

“You little bitch,” says the man in the trench coat, and hunkering arm dropped swings his briefcase up at Jo’s head. Ysabel screams. Jo dangles from the lanky guy’s fist head back blood shining her cheekbone. Spun about the man in the trench coat swings back at Jo the briefcase into her gut. He pulls but doubled over she’s caught it with her free hand. Roaring. The man in the trench coat stumbles as she yanks it from him. The lanky guy watches frowning as the man in the coveralls grabs his ankle. “Do you know who I am?” bellows Jo, her other hand still caught. “The fucking Gallowglas!” She slams the briefcase into the lanky guy’s chest and again. “I will end you!” And again.

The lights flicker. “Whore,” grunts the man in the coveralls, crumbling the word, pushing himself to his knees clanking a weight dangling between his thighs. “Let go of me!” Jo’s screaming. “Frigid little cunt,” spits the man in the trench coat, rubbing his wrist. “Jo, I can’t,” Ysabel’s saying, “I don’t,” and Jo’s face twists. “Fucking dyke,” says the man in the trench coat. His briefcase hits him squarely in the nose. Something crunches. His hands up shaking as Jo lowers the briefcase, his nose gone, sunk with his eyes, his brows and mouth and chin clenched around it all, he backs away, feeling for his face, yowling, muffled, choked. Jo looks up at the lanky guy, at her fist in his hand, his warm-up jacket fluttering, blowing out as he exhales, sucked flat against his chest as he inhales, rasping, ragged. He squeezes.

Jo yanks harder eyes frantic her fist not moving kicking his shin and his knee and it twangs bent by her shoe. He grunts. The man in the coveralls crotch clanking plants his foot grabbing her jacket yanking it to one side swaying with the train his other hand wrapping under Jo’s chin fingers denting her cheek smearing blood thumb along her jaw pushing up and back. “You, you will,” he says, fighting for breath, “Fuck. You.” The lights flicker. “Fuck you.” The lights go out and the train shakes a wallow ripples its length squealing monstrously and they all fall Jo suddenly free, briefcase tumbling away down the car as the train judders slowing, squalling, stopping.

“On the wall,” says Ysabel, bent over clutching the handrail. She laughs, a little gasping burst. It’s gone quiet.

“Jesus,” says Jo, in the shadows.

“Jo?” says Ysabel. “Jo!”

On her shoulder and elbow and knees cheek to the floor in the accordioned joint in the middle of the car Jo says “Fucking hell.”

“I found it,” says Ysabel, “I did it. I found it.”

“Yeah,” says Jo, sitting back on her heels. Blood streaks her reddened face, a handprint smeared along her cheek. There’s no one else in the car.

In the darkness by the sink a dishtowel’s laid flat. On the towel a small plate, a slender knife, a glass set upside down. Out in the main room on the glass-topped café table a spill of smooth clean pebbles, a scatter of dead leaves. A key rattles in the lock. Jo limps in shrugging a shoulder out of her sodden jacket, flicking on the light in the little hallway kitchen. The knife gleams. She shimmies her other arm free and lets the jacket plop to the floor. Heads across the main room stumbling over the black spear-haft stretching away under the table and sinks to her knees by the futon. She falls forward, onto her face, arms flung wide.

“You’re soaking,” says Ysabel. She sets the furled umbrella by the armoire in the corner. Jo says something into the comforter. “You’re on my side of the bed,” says Ysabel. She opens the armoire, squats to tug at a drawer at the bottom. “You’re still bleeding, Jo. Get up.”

The phone rings.

“I should get that?” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo. She’s pushed herself up on her elbows, head hung.

“Just let it ring,” says Ysabel.

“Telemarketers,” says Jo. “Windshield repair. Timeshares in Bend.” Her fingertips dotting the blood along the split skin of her swollen cheek. “Gonna leave a hella mark.”

“No,” says Ysabel. “It isn’t. Roll over.” Jo settles on her side. Ysabel sits on the floor beside her. In her hands a clear plastic baggie swollen with dust the color of old clay in this weak light.

“What is that stuff?” says Jo.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel, scooping up a pinch of dust glimmering faintly.

“Don’t what?” says Jo. The phone’s stopped ringing.

“Don’t,” says Ysabel. “Hold still.”

“Don’t hold still?”

“Jo,” says Ysabel. She strokes Jo’s cut cheek and again, the darkening bruise, the skin puffed under her eye, glittering her face with gold dust. “You could have been killed,” says Ysabel. Jo snorts. “Don’t,” says Ysabel. She taps dust from her fingertips back into the baggie. Jo says “What are you,” and then she says “Come on.”

“They were going to kill you,” says Ysabel, twisting the baggie shut.

“How?” says Jo. She sits up abruptly, swinging her feet off the futon. Ysabel leans out of her way, shifting to climb to her feet, but Jo grabs her wrist. “How the hell were they gonna do that?”

“Don’t,” says Ysabel.

“Huh?” says Jo. “I mean, with what? That briefcase?”

“That hurts,” says Ysabel.

Jo lets go. “Roland had a goddamn sword,” she says. “He shoved a goddamn sword through me. Right here.” She taps her chest.

“We can’t hurt you,” says Ysabel. “People like me. Is that what you think?” She sets the baggie on the floor by her knee. “I,” says Jo, but Ysabel’s saying, “You were in Robin Goodfellow’s house when Roland struck you with a borrowed blade. You were brought to my Gammer and her potions within the hour. If any of that had been otherwise, you’d never have come back.”

“Come – back?” says Jo.

“People like me,” says Ysabel. “You don’t know what they were. I don’t know. Monsters? Vengeful spirits? Men, like you, ensorcelled?”

“They weren’t like,” says Jo.

“You don’t know!” snaps Ysabel.

“Well how the fuck am I supposed to find out if you blow me off every time I ask a question?”

“I don’t,” says Ysabel, and then she says, “You don’t ask questions, Jo. You demand answers.”

“Rah!” yells Jo, leaping to her feet. Stepping past Ysabel, over the spear-haft. Stopping in the little hallway kitchen. Head down, she touches her cheek unswollen, the bruise faded, the gash an angry red line. “What’s it called?” she says, her voice low. “The powder stuff. The glitter.”

“Owr,” says Ysabel.

“Our what?” says Jo.

Ysabel stands. “Owr. Just owr.”

Jo turns to face her, one hand squeezing into a fist, opening flat again. “And those guys. If I hadn’t leaped in like that, what were they gonna do to us?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah, you do,” says Jo. “I’m supposed to protect you, right? Keep you safe? That’s what I swore to do, three weeks ago.”

“Jo, you’ve kept me, as you should, warm, and dry, and fed.”

“So you’re a cat now?” Jo reaches out for Ysabel’s hand. “You don’t have to,” says Ysabel. “I said yes, and I mean it,” says Jo. “I’m all in. I will not let you down.”

“But you mustn’t die,” says Ysabel.

“Ain’t planning on it,” says Jo.

Ysabel closes her eyes at that. “All right then,” she says. She opens her eyes. Smiles just a little. Tips her head to kiss Jo’s cheek, lightly, where the cut had been.

Table of Contents

M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

Whoa. All sorts of stuff coming together, becoming clearer. Very exciting. I love it when the “neighbors” actually let loose and talk about stuff.

  Textile Help