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Laughing she Opens the Door – Not even breathing – Something Sharp – “Hold out your hand” –

Laughing she opens the door to the apartment. “Ysabel?” she calls, standing there in the little hallway kitchen. Out in the main room three candles still burn on the glass-topped café table. Before them a small glass jar, uncapped, empty, sides filmed with milky residue. “You wanted a little atmosphere?” Jo flicks the light switch. The shoulders of her jacket and her short brown hair are dark with rain. Her face screws up. “Jesus, the smell,” she says. On the carpet bare feet bare legs stretching along around the corner Jo’s suddenly darting forward to see Ysabel naked on the floor by the futon head to one side eyes open mouth slack black curls smeared and wet. Jo hands over her mouth eyes wide. “Ysabel?” Her voice gone quiet, and then, coming back, “Oh fuck oh fuck. Ysabel. What have you done? What,” kneeling by Ysabel’s side hand over Ysabel’s throat under her matted plastered hair, “did you take,” reaching instead for her wrist, the arm flung to one side over the futon, stopping short and coming up to her own face, reaching down again to peel the hair from Ysabel’s throat and breast, her thumb then fingers feeling for a pulse just below the corner of Ysabel’s jaw when Ysabel’s mouth sucks down a thinly ragged breath. Jo shrieks her hand jerking back up in the air. That breath escapes in a gentle sigh and is followed by another, deeper, bubbling in the pit of it. “Fuck,” Jo’s saying, “Jesus fuck,” almost a sob, “what did you do what did you do.” Reaching for Ysabel’s flung-aside arm, pulling it close, looking to the crooks of her elbows. “What did you do.” Jo stands, looking about the room. By the candles on the table the jar still filmed with a milky residue.

She snatches it up and holds it to the light, brings it to her nose for a sniff. A slime of vomit clings to her hand, and she sniffs that, her face screwing up again. “The fuck is this stuff? What did you do?”

Another ragged breath Ysabel’s back arching one arm reaching up her hand a claw, her other arm clutching her belly eyes wild red-rimmed looking for Jo. “Oh fuck,” says Jo, dropping to her knees again by Ysabel as Ysabel’s arm reaching for Jo grabbing at Jo’s arm Jo’s hands hanging useless, “I don’t know,” and then finally Jo reaches out and pulls Ysabel to her, “what’s happening,” Ysabel’s breath now coming in short and shallow pants, “Ysabel, say something, please,” Ysabel’s head settling on Jo’s shoulder the claws of her hands relaxing one loosing its grip on Jo’s shoulder falling away slowly slumping the arm to the floor as she sags in Jo’s embrace. “Ysabel. Ysabel, please. Breathe goddammit. Breathe. Breathe!” Jo leans back. Ysabel’s head slumps forward and Jo catches her chin lifting up and back Ysabel’s eyes closed now her jaw slack once more. “Ysabel!” Jo shakes her. Ysabel’s head flopping back and forth loosely on her neck. “Oh God Ysabel you stupid. Stupid fucking goddamn Ysabel you stupid, stupid, stupid – ” Jo slaps her. Lifts her head. Slaps her again. “Fuck!” Pulling her close, holding her tightly her head again on her shoulder, “Oh God I don’t know I don’t know.” Rocking back and forth. “I don’t know what to do, Ysabel, I don’t know what to do, I don’t, I don’t.” Slowing. Jo leans back away again, lays Ysabel’s body gently down supporting her shoulders, her head. “Roland,” says Jo. “Roland.” Ysabel laid out on the floor by the futon Jo smoothing her hair back straightening her arms. Ysabel’s belly shivers. “Oh, God,” says Jo, and she does not brush the fluttering skin with her fingers. “Roland,” she says, and she stands.

Jo savagely twists the handle of the window cranking it open leaning against it with her shoulder. “Roland!” she cries. “Roland! Roland!” Leaning out over the faux balcony hands on the flaking white railing. “Roland!” Screaming into the rain. “Woot!” cries someone outside unseen. In the parking lot across the street a big man in a dark suit’s standing next to a black car looking up at her. “Roland,” she says again, her voice faltering. “You useless sonofabitch. Five fucking dollars and you can’t, you can’t fucking hear me when I need you, Roland! Roland!”

A block or two away a car’s honking a screech of tires and coming around the corner there a figure all in white streetlight glinting from green piping flashing from jagged green sunglasses like pieces of broken bottle running across the street under the window and there’s a banging down there and a yell and the sound of breaking glass. Jo steps back from the window knuckling her eyes. She finds the spindly wrought-iron chair by the table and falls into it as footsteps shake the hall outside. He doesn’t knock. The door bangs open and he’s there, past the little hallway kitchen and standing before her in the main room, one hand stripping off his sunglasses, one hand knocking the blue and white headphones from his ears. Not even breathing hard. Rain shining in the white-blond fuzz of his hair.

“She’s naked,” he says.

“She isn’t fucking breathing,” says Jo. “She took something. I don’t know, what is it you people take. It isn’t heroin. She fucking overdosed on something – ” He’s by the table looming over her snatching up the small glass jar, turning it over in his gloved hand, watching the milky residue roll down the sides. “Who gave this to her?” His voice quiet, strained.

“I don’t know. We have to get her help, Roland. I don’t know who to call or where – ”

“Who gave this to her?”

“I don’t know!”

“You must know. She’s your responsibility.”

“Roland, please,” says Jo, still sitting in that spindly chair. “She’s dying.”

He closes that jar in his fist and stoops to pick up the Spongebob Squarepants towel from the floor. He drapes it over Ysabel’s body, then sits on the edge of the futon, dragging his gloved hand through the foul spew puddled among the blankets. He lifts his slimed hand holding something pinched, a pearly curd. He squeezes it until it bursts in a sudden puff of ashy dust that hissing he shakes away, beating his hand against the blankets. He rips the velcro on his glove and peels it off, dropping it in the vomit. “Is this it? The only bed?”

“Nah,” says Jo, “there’s another one in the bathroom. I’m kidding.”

“Then help me strip this one,” he says.

Jo gets up from the chair and sets the pillows to one side and together they bundle the blankets together, the sheets, Jo wadding them into one of the blond wood crates at the foot of the futon. The futon itself is stained, an irregular dull grey patch soaked through the white ticking. “Help me lift her up here,” says Roland.

“That isn’t puke,” says Jo.

“Careful.” Roland takes up Ysabel’s shoulders cradling her head as Jo hooks her hands behind Ysabel’s knees. They lay her on the futon close to the wall, away from the stain. “She’s so heavy,” says Jo. Roland’s resettling the towel over Ysabel’s body. “Who gave her the jar?” he says.

“I can’t suddenly remember something I never knew,” snaps Jo.

“This is important, Jo.” Sitting there at the head of the futon, hands on his knees, one bare, one still gloved.

“So’s this!”

“She’s not in any danger of dying. Not the way you think. Was there anyone at the grocery store today?”

“She’s just gonna wake up, is that it? Nothing but maybe a terrible hangover? Blinding headache? Shivers and shakes and babies on the ceiling? What are we talking about here, Roland?”

“Anyone at all that you recognized, today?”

“What the hell with today?”

“She did it today,” says Roland. “You left her alone, today. At the grocery store.”

“This is not,” says Jo, but Ysabel’s hand lifts a little fingers trembling and her chin tilts mouth opening around a gurgling sip of air. “Hell,” says Jo, when Ysabel’s hand settles palm up now, “if it’s me leaving her alone, then maybe it was somebody at the Queen’s dinner party? Or the siege at the church last week. Or hell maybe it was you gave it to her while I was off hunting the boar with the Duke. Somebody could have dropped it off tonight while I was out getting jumped – ”

“Tonight?” roars Roland.

“Shit’s gotta get done! She wouldn’t get out of the fucking tub! And what the fuck would it matter me leaving her alone? Did I know she wasn’t supposed to get a fucking jar of something? Somebody walks up and hands a jar of something to her and what do I say because did anybody tell me? Jesus, Roland, what do we do?”

He’s looking down at his bare hand picking at the velcro straps of his remaining bicycle glove. “I need a knife,” he says.

“What?” says Jo.

“A carving knife. Steak knife. Something sharp.” She’s looking at him blankly. “I can’t use my sword, Jo. Never mind.” He heads for the little hallway kitchen, opening drawers, rattling through cutlery.

“What are you,” Jo tries to say, and then again, “what are you going to cut.” Staring down at Ysabel’s body, at the towel trembling, rippling over Ysabel’s belly. “Roland? What the fuck are you going to cut?” He’s standing by the glass-topped café table holding the long thin blade of a knife in the flame of the tall white candle. “Jesus Roland,” says Jo getting up from the futon, grabbing his arm, “what are you doing – ”

“If you struggle,” he says, “a cut will destroy her.” He holds the knife up. The blade smoked black, the edge of it glimmering sparking red here and there.

“What are you cutting,” says Jo, not letting go of his arm.

His headphones clack together around his neck as he shifts in Jo’s grasp. “She tried to turn the medhu,” he says, his voice flat. “She failed. It’s gone bad in her and must be cut out.”

Jo lets go of his arm. “Tell me you’re not going to hurt her.”

Roland takes a step toward Ysabel’s body on the futon. “I must,” he says. “Try your best to remember that this is chirurgerie. Not battle.” He kneels beside her, heedless of the stain.

“Wait,” says Jo. “Don’t we need bandages or something? Boiling water? I don’t – ”

“Sit,” says Roland. “Please.”

“Okay,” says Jo, and she sits in the spindly wrought-iron chair. Roland the knife in his gloved hand reaches for the towel with his bare hand and lifts it from Ysabel’s body. The muscles in her stomach bunch and relax, bunch and relax. He leans over her bare hand gingerly just below her breasts on the arch of her ribcage knife point-down in his gloved fist tip of it there by his bare thumb. Jo closes her eyes squeezes them shut then opens them just as Roland punches the tip of the knife through Ysabel’s skin.

Jo gasps knuckles to her mouth. Ysabel’s shoulders jump neck arching and no sound is coming from her open mouth. Roland crouching bare hand shivering drags the knife from her sternum down and down through her navel opening a yellow line that gleams that shines that dims filling with something darkening reddish brownish black that overflows in runnels slow and thick like syrup down her flanks her hips jerking one of her arms flopping and from the back of her throat now a keening grating groan her head tipping over her chest rising around a great sucking draught of air and Ysabel begins to scream.

“Help me.” Roland’s tossed the knife to the floor and is wrapping his arms about Ysabel’s kicking legs. “Her shoulders.” Jo’s up from the chair and kneeling by Ysabel’s head knocking from side to side eyes open as she screams. “Let her cry!” Jo’s hands leap from Ysabel’s face. “Let her cry,” says Roland hoarsely. “Help me turn her. On her side.” Ysabel’s belly clenching at the bottom of her scream a bubble brown and shining slicked with red and yellowed black swelling from the wound as Jo shovels her hands under Ysabel’s back and when they lift her and turn her it bursts spattering the wall the futon Roland’s crisp white track suit hissing and steaming Jo’s jeans her jacket sleeve her face a weight of it slopping from the wound oozing across the futon between them splashing the carpet with great thick plops staining Roland’s spotless white running shoes. “Hold her,” he says, standing. Ysabel’s legs gone limp now. Her scream crumbled into sobs. “Hold her.” Jo awkwardly shifting her hands her grip into a hug Ysabel reaching for Jo’s arms pulling Jo close, “Jo,” she’s saying in among the hiccups, “oh Jo.”

“Shh,” says Jo. “You’re gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.” She’s looking over at Roland as she says this, Roland tugging at a zipper on a white nylon pouch. “Okay,” says Jo. “It’s okay.”

“The wound,” says Roland. “Hold it shut. We must close it.” Jo’s staring down at the ruin of Ysabel’s belly edges of the cut hanging slackly gleaming oily in the light and streaked with hints and blots of greens and blues, purples, reds and yellows, the stain on the futon spread before her now a fan of seeping darkness wetly plop of fat drops here and there still falling to the carpet. “I don’t,” says Jo, and then, “there’s nothing,” and then, “there’s nothing there. Is there.” Her hands stained the color of liver. Her jacket cuffs soaked. Ysabel’s wet eyes gently closed.

“This’ll be enough,” says Roland, pulling a plastic baggie from the nylon pouch. “This might be enough.” A thimbleful of gold dust in one corner of it. He looks up at Jo cradling Ysabel in her arms her hands slipping in the dark mess of the wound Ysabel’s eyes closed tightly now biting her lip. “Jo,” he says. “Jo, you’ll need to.” Holding the baggie out to her.

It takes a moment before she looks up at him. She says, “I can’t.”

“There’s not much here. You’ve the keeping of her. It’ll mean more, from your hand – ”

“Roland, I can’t. I’m not, I don’t, I don’t have the – ”

“The what?” His voice rising, no longer ragged. “The honor? The devotion?” His face softens. “Jo,” he says. “Hold out your hand.”

She holds out her hand, reaching across Ysabel’s body. He pours the dust into it.

“Oh,” says Jo. “Oh wow.”

“Quickly,” says Roland.

Jo carefully lowers her hand glowing enough to light up that darkness as she presses it flat against the wound Ysabel hissing rigid and trembling as Jo draws that hand up along the wetly open edges of the wound and where it passes all that’s left behind’s a whitish line of scar. Jo strokes Ysabel’s belly again and even the scar puckers away, the dregs of the stain on Ysabel’s skin dissolving in sparks of color, and when Jo closes her dimming hand in a fist and opens it again no longer glowing at all it’s been scoured clean. Ysabel’s twisting in Jo’s arms laying her head against Jo’s chest. “I’m so,” she’s saying. “Sorry. I never.”

“Shh,” says Jo. Then, “I think she’s asleep.”

“She will for a while,” says Roland. “You’ll want to get her off that bed.”

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, slumped against the wall unmoving, “the smell alone. Christ how am I gonna clean this up.”

“You must burn it all,” says Roland, sitting heavily in the spindly wrought-iron chair. “Nothing but bad luck and nightmares will come of it now.”

“What,” says Jo, “even the carpet? I think, I think they’re gonna have a problem with that.” Laying her head back, eyes closed. Ysabel’s head slipping from her chest to her shoulder. “Could you maybe find an uncursed blanket or something? I don’t wanna disturb her.”

“Oh,” says Roland. “Of course.” Standing and rooting about the scattered laundry, he scoops up the Spongebob Squarepants towel and shakes it out, holds it up, eyeing both sides. He spreads it over them both, Jo on her side, Ysabel asleep in her arms. “There,” he says. “There.” Jo’s closed her eyes.

“You guys gonna buy me a new bedroom set or what?” she says, her voice thick with sleep.

“You must learn to take this more seriously,” says Roland, and Jo snorts, shaking with quiet giggles. Roland straightens, frowning. “You do realize,” she says, when she can, “how funny that is.”

“Yes,” says Roland. “I think I do.” Jo’s quivering giggles redouble. Roland turns and sits heavily in the spindly chair. He fingers the stain on the knee of his crisp white track pants, a purplish brown that fades to yellow at its edges like an old bruise.

When Jo begins to snore lightly, he gets to his feet and heads into the little hallway kitchen and stoops to knock on the cabinet door under the sink. He knocks again. He looks up, straightens and knocks on the cabinet door up above the refrigerator. As he’s doing so he’s looking down at the sink full of dirty dishes. “Oh,” he says, shifting the handle of a frying pan caked with leftover refried beans. “I see.” He looks about the main room, Jo and Ysabel asleep under the thin towel, the appalling stain splattered across the futon and the carpet, the pile of ruined blankets and sheets kicked to one side, the drifts of Ysabel’s dirty laundry here and there about the room. The black spear-haft stretched on the floor under the glass-topped café table. The dead candles. He steps into the room and picks up the knife from where he’d tossed it, then heads back out again, switching off the lights as he goes.

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M.E.Traylor    14 August 2010    #

The many facets of Roland fascinate me. I’m getting a house elf vibe from the cabinet knocking and the insulted invisible housekeeper.

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