Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

“Of course!” says Ysabel – Unbuttoning – at Her table – Happy Birthday –

“Of course I wasn’t going to do it myself,” says Ysabel. The taxi starts then lurches to a stop as a woman under a clear umbrella dashes across the street before them. “Farging pedestrians,” mutters the driver.

“You could have said, is all,” says Jo. “Before.”

“You could have asked,” says Ysabel. “Or haven’t you noticed you haven’t had to do laundry in weeks? You didn’t thank him, did you?” She glares at Jo. “Or ask his name?”

“The mystery man in my mirror?” says Jo. “I was too busy being shocked. You have to tell me these things – ”

“How about your mother? How about if you’d said something about that?”

“I told you not to answer the phone,” says Jo.

“Because of spam!”

“Ladies,” the driver’s saying.

“Can we worry about your mother instead?” says Jo.

“Ladies, we’re here,” says the driver. The taxi’s pulled up by a loading dock rising dark and green to a black metal railing, tables up there under grey umbrellas. Ysabel’s opened her door. The driver’s reaching over the seat as Jo opens hers. “Four seventy-five,” he says. “Ladies?”

“Oh,” says Jo, half out the door. “He said they’d send a car, I mean – ”

“Four seventy-five, miss,” says the driver.

“Here,” says the tall man, coming around the front of the taxi. His suit is black, his face narrow and somber. “Here,” he says. In one white-gloved hand he’s holding out a folded five-dollar bill. Ysabel’s headed up the steps of the loading dock. A round clock hangs there, blue hands lit up by white neon. Jo takes the bill and shaking her head reaches down to the top of her boot and plucks out a small wad of money clamped in a medium-sized binder clip. She tugs free a couple of ones and hands them with the crisp five to the driver. “Miss,” he says. A boy in a blue and white rainshell at a valet stand by the steps, eyeing a yellow SUV rolling up in the rain. Laughter from a knot of people around one of the tables, ruddy in the glow of heat lamps. None of them Ysabel. “Inside,” says the tall man, gesturing with a hand now bare. The taxi’s nosing around the SUV into the street.

Inside candlelit tables with low brown chairs curtained here and there by gauzy grey-brown drapes hung from thick white beams. The floor well-worn, painted white. “Perry party?” says the woman by the hostess stand. “Your table’s not quite ready, but if you’d like to wait in the bar?” Behind her a low dark room walled here and there by more drapes, lit by a wall of liquor bottles, white light shining through caramel and red, green and yellow, orange and cold clear nothing. A synthesizer chirps under a loop of boys chanting oh, oh ah oh. Ysabel there in her long-sleeved minidress shining silver and white, a drink already in her hand. A drumbeat perking under the music opens into a blare of guitar like a jet engine. Oh but we go out at night, chant the boys. Ysabel laughs. The man next to her smiling, saying something else. White dreadlocks brush the shoulders of his blue seersucker suit. Roland sits there, hunched over a table head in his hands headphones over his ears. Ignoring the man leaning over him, red hair bobbing. Marfisa by the bar, her coatdress pale and blue. “Take your coat?” says the Duke.

Jo shakes her head, hands in pockets pulling her army green jacket closed. “How’s your leg?” she asks.

He lurches back, leaning heavily on his wooden cane. “Lends a certain gravitas, don’t you think?”

“He said dinner,” says Jo. “I wasn’t expecting a normal, you know, restaurant. A normal, fancy restaurant.”

“The Queen may take you into her house,” says the Duke, “but she’ll never let you in her home. What’s with the crest?” He’s pointing at her shirt, bright yellow, a squirrel posed with an acorn as if stiff-arming through a defensive line. “Not hound, nor hawk, nor hive,” he says, “Not hare, hind, or hollow. But squirrel.”

“Ysabel said wear something yellow,” says Jo, looking around. Marfisa’s pushed away from the bar, headed toward the back of the restaurant. “Where’d she go? I should – ”

“We’re all friends here,” says the Duke, his hand on her arm. “Let me buy you a drink. They make a Manhattan where they rinse the glass with port. It’s,” he kisses his fingertips. “What do you say?”

“It’s not much,” says Marfisa in Ysabel’s ear.

“I still have so much left,” says Ysabel. A faint lip print left on Marfisa’s throat. In her palm by Marfisa’s hip a small clear plastic bag, a thimbleful of gold dust sparkling. “You’re too generous.” Dark hair against curls the color of clotted cream. “You should leave something for yourself.” Another kiss on her cheek, her mouth. Ysabel’s other hand working a button loose on Marfisa’s coatdress, and another. All those beautiful boys, flutes a voice over unseen speakers. Tattoos of ships and tattoos of tears.

“Lady,” says Marfisa. Shaking her head away. “We can’t.” Stepping back against the corner of the bathroom stall. Ysabel’s hand falling away. “Can’t?” she says. “That word doesn’t work. Not here. Not with me.”

“They’re all out there,” says Marfisa. “My brother – ”

“And they have no idea,” says Ysabel, pulling Marfisa back. Kissing her and kissing her again. “My mother’s,” she says, “always late.” Loosing another button above Marfisa’s knees, and another.

“Roland,” says Marfisa.

“Roland is a dolt,” says Ysabel.

“Roland saw.”

“Saw what?” says Ysabel, leaning back in Marfisa’s arms, looking up at her.

“Us, lady. The night of the hunt, when we. Stopped playing games. He said as much. He told me – ”

“What did he tell you,” says Ysabel.

Marfisa takes one hand from the small of Ysabel’s back to brush her fingertips along Ysabel’s cheek. “I love you, Princess,” she says. “Beyond all reason. But that’s on me only. You are promised to the King – ” Ysabel jerks free from her grasp. “Lady, listen, please, you are promised – ” Ysabel’s thrown the bolt on the stall door, shoved it open and out into the restroom. Aged eighty-seven, a woman’s singing from the unseen speakers. Could justifiably be called the last to go up to Surrealist heaven.

“You’ve decided then,” says Ysabel, her back to Marfisa. Baggie of dust in one clenched fist.

“I have no choice,” says Marfisa.

“Yes, you do,” says Ysabel. “I’m giving it to you. Marfisa. Please.”

“Roland will – ”

“Roland!” Ysabel spins around, glaring. “Of course!”

“What do you – ”

“I said of course he saw us! How else was I going to get you to leave me alone?” Ysabel steps over to the sinks. “Like some six-foot fucking puppy dog I swear.” Sets the baggie on the counter and runs cold water over her hands. “Go box up your mouth and your hands and your heart in your room, Axe. You’ll be perfectly safe. He’s very discreet, he won’t say a word. Watch it all from your window, Axe. I am going home.” She splashes her face with water, yanks paper towels from the dispenser to blot it dry. “My mother will take Jo as a knight and she will come home with me and she will never tell me I am promised to anyone.” Marfisa isn’t looking at her, hasn’t moved. “I will have everything I need,” says Ysabel. “You can rot, Marfisa. Rot safely. I won’t need your pathetic handouts ever again.” Leaning over the sink she mashes the baggie against the mirror, mashing until it pops, gold dust clouding her hand, streaking the mirror, glass darkening, creaking, a crack chasing through it suddenly to the edge. Dust settling on the counter, blackening where it hits the water puddled about the sink. Ysabel turns to go. Marfisa’s lifting her hands to her mouth. Deep in her throat a rough-edged keening, almost a growl.

Laughing Jo comes down the stairs, her boots, her kilt, her yellow T-shirt. Her jacket’s gone. The Duke a few steps behind her. “Hand to heart,” he says.

“And then he?” says Jo.

“Right over the edge,” says the Duke. “I lost count after the fifth bounce.” Jo’s laughing harder, stumbling over the last step, one arm out liquor sloshing from her cocktail glass. “Whoa,” says the Duke, catching her other hand. “Oh,” says Jo, looking about. It’s a close room, long enough for the table running down the center of it draped in white cloth, lined with wineglasses licked by candlelight. Leather banquettes along one wall behind a row of shorter tables. The other’s racked with wine bottles floor to ceiling, thousands of them, flickering black-green and honey-green and deep blood brown. Ysabel sits in a straight brown chair, elbows on the table, chin on her hands, one hand wrapped in a white napkin. Candlelight spangles the silver sewn into her dress. Her eyes are hidden behind her hair. Across the table an old man in a soft blue suit, ivory hair a wild crown about his pink head bobbing. There at the head a young man in blue seersucker, his white dreadlocks touched with gold, smiling and saying something to an older man in a crisp white shirt and a white apron brushing his shoe-tops. “Gallowglas,” says Roland. His jacket checked with green and black. His hand on the back of the straight brown chair by Ysabel.

“Such an ugly word,” says the Duke, letting go of Jo’s hand.

“Truth is frequently ugly, Your Grace,” says Roland.

“Truth is a process, boy,” says the Duke, limping into the room. His high-buttoned vest of deep red suede with a pinstriped back. “Not our fault it turns to shit in your hands. You’ll want to sit next to the Princess,” he says to Jo.

“Boy?” says Roland.

“Privileges of rank,” says the Duke airily. Jo’s pulling out a chair next to Ysabel. “You okay?” she says, softly.

Ysabel looks up from the napkin wrapped about her fist. “I’m fine,” she says. “Why would you ask?”

“I don’t know,” says Jo. “I just thought – ”

“Roasted beets!” blares the old man. “Red and gold with arugula and spinach and the first blood oranges of the year. Virgin olive oil from a cold first press and cracked pepper – not ground – a sherry vinegar, and sea salt smoked over an alderwood fire. Alder!” He bangs the table with a fist surprisingly large for such a skinny arm. “I will know if it’s not. And the risotto, with the heirloom squash and the wild mushrooms. They were picked this morning?” He’s suddenly querulous, looking about at the rest of them. “With the shallots?”

“We ordering?” says the Duke, sitting a couple of places down from the old man.

The waiter in his apron carefully unsmiling inclines his head, a nod and a shrug at once. “We have a succotash,” he starts to say.

“Surprise me,” says the Duke. “Agravante! Have you met Jo Gallowglas, who saved our Princess from a fate most foul?”

“His usual, yes,” the man in the blue seersucker’s saying. “I’d quite like the risotto myself, and the twenty greens salad. I hadn’t,” he says as he heads toward Jo, hand outstretched, “had the honor, not in person, though of course I saw you at the Duke’s Equinox hunt. Agravante.” Jo half-stands, shakes his hand. “The Axehandle.”

“Marfisa’s brother,” says Jo.

“The very same,” says Agravante.

“The risotto,” says Ysabel. “It’s not an heirloom,” the waiter starts to say, and she says, “That’s fine.” He turns to Jo.

“Are we it? Do you know what you want?” she says to Roland.

“The onion salad,” he says.

“I mean, I thought there was more of us or something, I guess. More of you. The party, I mean.”

“You would choose who sits at our table, Miss Maguire?” says the Queen, standing at the bottom of the stairs dressed all in black. The Duke smiles. Ysabel’s unwinding the napkin from her fist. “No, ma’am,” says Jo, “majesty, I, um. Ma’am. I’ve just never been to a dinner party in a fancy restaurant with a queen before. I don’t know the protocol.”

“One could never tell,” says the Queen. She’s come around to the head of the table. “Do you know what you’d like?” she says, sitting.

“The, um,” says Jo, looking up at the waiter, “steak? The New York whatsis, with the, um.” The waiter is not nodding. He isn’t smiling. The Duke’s looking at an empty wineglass at the end of the table. Ysabel’s wrapped the napkin around the fingers of both her hands. The old man’s glaring at Jo, one fat fist trembling over his plate, and the Queen’s smiling to herself.

“The succotash, perhaps?” says the waiter.

“Sure,” says Jo. “The succotash.”

“I’d like that as well,” says the Queen. Bang! Cutlery rattles and glasses chime. “You bring it with you wherever you go, girl,” snarls the old man, and he bangs the table again with his fist. “Blood, and death – ”

“Enough, Frederic,” says the Queen. He lowers his fist, spreads it open on the table, fingers bent and trembling. “Unless a dinner’s an affair of state, Miss Maguire, we prefer them to be small, and intimate. We’d asked our vassals each to bring but one guest, much as our daughter would, much as we have our Chariot. The Count, of course, has brought his grandson. The Duke, however..?”

“My Helm, it seems, is otherwise engaged,” says the Duke.

“Perhaps she seeks your Dagger?” says the Queen. “No matter. But though this is a small and intimate dinner, there’s still business to conduct before the bread. The Duke has sought through honesty what he could not accomplish through guile: he has openly asked you be knighted in honor of the service you did us last night.”

“But not formally petitioned,” says the Duke.

“Why so modest, Leo?” says the Queen. He shrugs. “Have you anything to say to this news, Miss Maguire?”

“What I did, ma’am,” says Jo, “I didn’t do for any reward, or honor. We were being attacked. I’m not just going to let that happen.”

“Perhaps you’ll listen, then, when told our sister’s demesne is not to be trifled with? No matter. We have decided to grant the Duke’s request. However informal.”

Ysabel lets out a breath she’d been holding. The Count curls his hand into a fist again. The Duke sips from his cocktail. Agravante frowns. Roland sits quite still with his hands in his lap.

“We shall create you a knight banneret, Jo Maguire, at the Samani at the end of this month.”

“Banneret?” says Jo.

“A great honor,” says the Duke, frowning. Setting down his cocktail glass. “A very great honor,” says Agravante. He isn’t frowning. Ysabel’s tightened her grip on the napkin.

“I’m sorry,” says Jo, “but what’s it mean?”

“You may fight under your own device,” says Agravante. “The squirrel,” says the Duke. The Count’s sitting back in his chair, fist falling open. “Responsible to no one,” says Agravante. “Like the Mooncalfe. But no one’s responsible for you, either. Still: mortals have no need of owr, and three weeks without seem to have done the Princess little harm.” Ysabel scrapes back her chair and drops her napkin on her plate. Jo puts her hand on Ysabel’s. “Is something wrong?” she says.

“Of course not,” says Ysabel.

“Isn’t this what you said would happen?”

“I said – ” says Ysabel. “I want to go – ” She stands. “Wash my face. Let go. Please.”

“I meant it. I’d take that chance.”


“Have someone fight me. If that’s what it takes to set this right. I’d – ”

Agravante’s laughing. Ysabel’s yanked her hand free. She’s walking away, down the length of the long white table.

“What happened?” says Jo.

“No one will challenge you,” says Roland, quietly. “If there’s a hint you’d lose deliberately.”

“You said yes, Gallowglas,” says the Queen.

“I cannot have her in my house,” says the Queen, quietly. Ysabel does not turn to face her. Across the bar Jo’s handing a ticket to the hostess. “Doing such an honor to a Gallowglas when lackeys are dying and knights being run out of town is – unthinkable.” The Queen puts her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder. “Who was bringing the owr to you? The Axe?” Ysabel jerks at that. “Did you think I was blind, child?” says the Queen. “Did you think I cared?”

“I will be Queen, mother,” says Ysabel.

“One day, yes,” says the Queen.

“Soon,” says Ysabel. “I’ve seen it. And she will be at my side.” The hostess is handing Jo her army green coat. “She’s so much stronger than you know.”

“Poor Erymathos,” says the Queen, lifting her hand from Ysabel’s shoulder. “I’ve seen things as well,” she says. She leans close, and murmurs in Ysabel’s ear. “You will not be the one to break her heart.”

“Here,” says Jo, holding her jacket out to Ysabel.

“Why?” says Ysabel.

“Unless you’ve got cash for a cab, we’re walking. And you don’t have a coat. And neither of us has an umbrella. But hey.” She holds up a white paper bag. “At least we’ve got lots of risotto for lunch.”

“You’ll freeze,” says Ysabel, taking the jacket.

“So let’s hustle,” says Jo. “It’s maybe a mile. Come on.” She turns to go.

“Happy birthday, Jo,” says Ysabel, settling into the jacket.

“What?” says Jo, scowling.

“It’s what your mother said. On the phone. Tell her happy birthday for me.”

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, I didn’t know, and I thought I should say something. When was it?”

“Yesterday,” says Jo, still scowling. “The first.”

“Happy birthday, then,” says Ysabel.

“What happened?” says Jo. “I was supposed to be knighted, or whatever, and I’m gonna be, and that’s suddenly like the worst thing in the world?”

“Nothing happened, Jo,” says Ysabel. “Nothing changed. Nothing at all.”

Table of Contents

I Need a Life,” written by Born Ruffians, remixed by Four Tet, ©2007 Warp Records. “Beautiful Boyz,” written by Bianca and Sierra Casady, copyright holder unknown. “Leonor,” written by Katell Keinig, ©1997 Warner Chappell (BMI).

M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

“Truth is a process.” Awesome line. The past few chapters have flowed really well. No choppiness at all.

  Textile Help