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Awake, she

Awake, she sits upright blankets falling into her lap. One hand to her breast one to her belly, tangled black hair slipping over one shoulder in a matted clump as she holds herself. Something scrapes. Something’s sizzling. Her mouth opens around a word. She tries again: “Jo?” she says.

Jo pops around the corner from the little hallway kitchen, spatula in her hand. “You’re awake,” she says. “Did I wake you? How you doing?” She’s wearing boxers and a loose black tank top.

“Thirsty,” says Ysabel, her voice rough and weak. Jo busies herself in the kitchen with cabinets and the refrigerator as Ysabel leans back closes her eyes pulls the blankets to her chin.

“We only had the two eggs left,” says Jo. Ysabel opens her eyes and takes the glass of water. “I cut ’em with the can of cream of mushroom. Campbelled eggs, which I used to have when I was a kid.” She’s setting plates on the blankets by Ysabel, greyish yellow glops of egg, black-cornered toast. “Only I think the ratio of egg-to-soup needs to be higher. But you can soak the toast in it, which is good because the bread’s pretty stale.” Ysabel’s handing back the glass, empty, tugging the blankets back up to her chin. “You want a shirt?” says Jo.

Ysabel shakes her head. “These are new,” she says. The top blanket’s a woolly plaid in black and red and orange-browns over a maroon thermal blanket.

“They replaced the futon, too,” says Jo, forking up some runny egg. “With a mattress, but whatever. No idea how they did it while we were sleeping on it.” The carpet where she’s sitting’s no longer stained, but bleached almost white in big round spots. “Dishes weren’t done, though. And your clothes are still all over the place.” She scoops some more egg onto her toast, looks at Ysabel. “I went ahead,” she says, “and called us out sick to work. Stomach flu, I said.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel. “What did you do to me?”

“What did we,” says Jo. “We saved you, Ysabel.”

“I don’t know about that.” Ysabel’s slumping, folding about herself.

Jo says, “What the hell was that stuff” as Ysabel’s saying, “I feel, I feel lighter. Empty. Emptier. As if something were missing.” Holding herself tightly under the blankets. “I’m cold.”

“Roland said it turned on you. It went bad. And we had to cut it out of you.”

“What does he know.”

“More than me.”

Ysabel reaches our from under the blankets and takes Jo’s hand. “I never meant,” she says, and she squeezes, lets go, pulls her own back under the blankets. “It’s a mystery.”

“Well, yeah,” says Jo.

“I mean it might have been working. Maybe that’s what has to happen. Every single, every time.” Curled about herself she rests her cheek on her knees. “I don’t know.”

“What are we talking about?” says Jo, her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder.

“What does the Queen do?” Ysabel sits up, Jo’s hand falling away.

“Your mother? I don’t – ”

“Why is she the Queen? Where does the owr come from, Jo?”

“The owr?” Jo frowns. “Roland said a different word. Began with an em.”

“Medhu,” says Ysabel. They sit there a moment, Ysabel on the bed, Jo beside it, eyes locked, plates forgotten.

“So you,” says Jo, “the Queen takes this,” and there’s a knock on the door. “Fuck,” she says. The knock again. “Hang on,” says Jo, getting to her feet.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, “wait.”

“Just a minute,” says Jo, heading into the little hallway kitchen, opening the door to the apartment. Marfisa’s there in black boots and a dark blue trench coat, her hair about her shoulders a loose cloud of curls the color of clotted cream. “Jo Gallowglas,” she says. “I will not come in.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“Marfisa,” calls Ysabel weakly from the bed.

“I would have you know,” says Marfisa, “that come the Samani, when our Queen with her hand gives you a sword and names you a knight, I will then have you offered grease and ash and sugar that your body might prove the merits of my quarrel: you are a false knight, and in no wise fit to bear blade or office.”

“You’re,” says Jo, “you’re talking about a duel.”

“I would not have anyone say you were surprised. In seventeen days, I will take her from you. Whether you choose to fight or not is of no concern to me.” Marfisa turns and walks away down the hall, toward the elevators.

“Marfisa!” calls Ysabel, her voice still rough, still weak. “Axe!”

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M.E.Traylor    14 August 2010    #

Marfisa is all about the drama. Not that I’m not thrilled as the plot thickens.

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