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a Jagged crack – 
the Man in the Chair – as she Passes –

A jagged crack across the black glass face of it, and she takes great care, laying it on the pillow, inserting the power cord. Knelt there, wavering, exhaustion perhaps, sagging with sudden relief when the screen of it flickers to life, a black bitten apple on a white field. A photo appears, herself, brown hair short and tufted, cheek to cheek with Ysabel, long black curls, knowing smile. 12:19, say slender floating numerals above. Friday, May 4.

Steam billows from the shower, but she’s by the sink, long robe of buffalo plaid tied off about her waist, empty sleeves a-dangle. She’s smearing creme over her sunblasted shoulders, wincingly persisting till she catches sight of herself in the artfully oblong mirror, ragged hair, that nose, her thin-lipped grimace. From the rumple of robe about her hips a faintly puckered seam runs pinkly up and pale to an ovoid dimple the size of a thumbprint, sheened with a vague iridescence, canted in the middle of her breast.

Wrapped in that robe, squatting in the doorway, she works a plug in a socket. Strings of little yellow lights flick on. Up then, across the kitchen, past a dead bouquet, the counter littered with desiccated petals, brown-pink, black-purple. Down the three low steps into the open room beyond, windows left and right in walls that narrow to a point, and at the top of the room a great dark chair. Knee on the cushions, leaned close to the window, she looks down. A car preternaturally silent passes through the intersection. The marquee of the theater across the way is dark, but the letters can still be made out, Reds 600, Cinco de Mayo la Batalla, 930.

A pot left on an unlit burner, and something dried within rattles loose when she picks it up, sets it frowning in the sink. Shakes out a wadded dishtowel, folds it, leaves it a neat little square on the counter. Opens the fridge on a shrunken lemon half, a couple of wilted scallions, some cans of diet cola and a cardboard takeout box. A slender carton of milk, red and white, Alpenrose, it says. She pulls it out, pinches it open, tips it over a blue-lipped glass, but what pours out is thickly lumpy slopping, fouled, she hurls the carton splattering away to drop a-splot in the sink.

The high wide bed is neatly made, white comforter draping the foot of it, white pillows piled at the head, but the dressing screen’s knocked over, linen panels awkwardly folded over themselves, whitewashed frame askew. White trousers crumpled and a coil of measuring tape, tumbled lace and satin. She’s there in the doorway, by the dresser, another dead bouquet atop it, and a small brass box. Six or seven cigarettes within she stirs about, plucks one, and a ragged book of matches.

Into the room across the hall, around the futon, cracked phone still charging on the pillow. She wrestles open the window at the end there, rattle and grind of the sash. Sits herself on the sill. In her fingers the soft spark of a cigarette she doesn’t lift, or look at, she doesn’t look out, across the darkly empty street, one lone window lit in the apartments opposite, the banner hung that says, Now Leasing. She isn’t looking at the stark white wall of her room, or the plain black scabbard hung there, empty, from a single nail.

She stubs out the cigarette. Drops it out the window to the sidewalk below. Parts her robe just enough to thumb the enameled nodule there against her breast. A wince, a shudder, she closes up the robe, and then her eyes.

Starts awake, sunlight blazing the lozenge, a riot of birdsong. Closes up her robe. “Shit,” she says. Leans over the futon, thumbing the phone to life. 06:31, say the numerals on the screen. Saturday, May 5.

“Shit,” she says.

Dressed now, black jeans, black T-shirt, stood in the sunlit kitchen. Blue-lipped glass still there on the counter, carton still in the sink, the glaze of drying milk. A look back down the hall, lit by those little yellow lights, half-closed doors at the end of it. She lifts her right hand, turns it over and back again, pronated, supinated, fingers wriggled, curled in a loose grip. For a moment she holds herself quite still, feet planted, eyes closed. Reaching for something, arm quivering with the effort of it, until her hand squeezes in a fist, her arm drops. She sighs.

Crashing out the back door, off the little wooden porch, across the potted lawn, past the patterned bronze chiminea, cold and dark. Crouching there, between a couple of raised beds, elbows on her knees. Takes hold of the wire-wrapped hilt of the poignard, thrust upright in the unkempt grass. Yanks it free.

Back inside, down the hall, into the kitchen, past the counter and the bouquet, past the steps, she yanks open and out the door to the apartment. Down the steps to the landing below, two plain brown doors, she knocks at one of them, gently, “Iona?” she calls, tucking the blade in the back of her jeans. “Chariot?” Trying the knob, jerking her hand back when it turns and the door cracks open. Within unpainted walls patched and seamed with unsmoothed plaster, a freestanding rack hung with tracksuits, three or four, yellow and white. “Iona?” she says, again. And then, more quietly, “Ysabel?”

Down the last steep flight, into the lobby, the hall behind her, boxes stacked along one wall, a wooden crate, an ottoman abandoned with a broken leg. She leans on the crash bar of the door outside and steps into the sunlight, the wall of the building rising brown and darker brown behind her, and signs filling the storefront windows across the street, Opening Soon, the letters tastefully slender, Boxer Sushi. She closes her eyes and slowly opens up her arms, a diffident breeze stirring her sunbleached hair.

Heading toward the garage, one arm outstretched, fingers trailing along the brown, brown wall, tap, tappity-tap, tap. Down the drive, around and down the precipitous curl of the ramp, the basement opening out under the length of the building above, polished concrete shining under fluorescent lights, a ruddy, low-slung sedan there, parked at an angle across a couple of spaces. Beyond, stacked against the back wall, banker’s boxes white and brown in mostly regular columns, four or five high, a couple left on the floor by a simple folding table, a high-backed black office chair turned away, and someone sitting in it.

“David?” she says, pitched to carry, blinking at the echo. And then, much more quietly, “Luys?”

He’s asleep, the man in the chair, and short enough his feet in once-elegant brogues are left to dangle, but the fingers of his hands so long and slender, laid over the photographs on his lap, black and white, sepia, dull silver.

“Inchwick,” says Jo.

He jerks awake, wiping his mouth with the back of one of those hands, blinking. Catching sight of her he flings himself from the chair rolling back, photos scattering flutter to his knees with a grunt, pressing his forehead to the floor as she skips back, “Hey,” she says, “hey,” the chair fetching up against the boxes. She squats before him, “Don’t,” she says, “you don’t have to,” reaching toward him, drawing back, “come on,” she says. “You’re Inchwick, right? Get up.”

“As your grace would have it,” he says, pushing himself upright, “though that the mouth of one such as herself should come to be troubled by the shape of the name of one such as this,” and he shakes his head hung low, “what, oh what has come of this vale of tears.”

“That’s,” says Jo, “kinda what I was,” leaning forward, trying to catch his eye, giving up, sitting back. Tugging, smoothing her black T-shirt back into place. Leered across the front of it the face of a red devil, marred by silkscreen craquelure, and her hand stops, splayed across it. She looks away. “Where is everybody?”

“Your grace,” he says, eyes still downcast, “but everybody’s such an amorphous and an expansive assembly, difficult to pin down – ”

“Everybody,” she snaps. “The Queen. The Chariot. The, whoever, washes the dishes, does the, the, the apartment’s abandoned, Inchwick. Please. They’re all gone. Everybody’s gone. Except, except you.” Leaning forward. “You’re here,” she says. “You stayed.”

“Of course,” says Inchwick, head a-bob. “Of course. This one could do no less, your grace.”

“Don’t,” says Jo, “don’t say that.”

“But, your grace,” he says, and “I’m not,” she snaps, hands up for emphasis, and he looks up enough to see her shirt. “I’m not the Duke!” she cries, as he knocks his forehead back to the floor. “I’m not, it’s all,” the heel of her hand to her breast then, and a wince.

“But,” he says, his voice quite muffled, till he lifts his face, “your grace did save the morgue.”

She opens up her eyes. He’s turned half around, looking back to those boxes stacked along the wall. “For that alone,” he says, “this one should serve my lady till the end of all our days.”

“I didn’t,” she says, half-says, and then, a deep breath, “Inchwick,” she says, with terrible patience. “What happened to the Queen.”

“The day your grace disappeared, my lady, if such a one as this might be forgiven for saying so,” he turns back, head ducked once more, “the King passed, too, and every grain of owr in the city was turned to dust with the grief of it. The Queen in her majesty did with an insuperable effort bring forth one last wonder, and did portion it out, in a warehouse toward the river, but,” he’s lifted one of those hands to his mouth. “It was not enough,” he says, breath catching on the word. “Not nearly enough.” A sniff. He blots his cheek. “Her majesty keeps something of a court there, now. The old Eyetalian grocers’, on Taylor.”

She gets to her feet with a squeak of her shoe. He pushes himself up as she steps away, “Your grace!” She stops, looks back, “what is to be done,” he says, “with your grace’s morgue?”

“It’s not,” she says, shaking her head, a sigh. “Keep it safe,” she says. “If it, ah, starts to rain? Like, a lot?” She shrugs. “Get it upstairs.”

“As my lady would have it,” he says, and bows to her as she leaves.

Blocky columns swell in the gloom to groin a lowering roof, and nestled among them an archipelago of candles, guttering wicks in limpid pools, reefed and shoaled about by congealing wax. That lambent glow sheens silks smooth-woven, roughly raw, in purples, magentas, gold, cushions heaped and bolsters, wraps spread, draped, tumbled over thick-piled Turkey rugs the patterns of them breathing in the play of light, light that lends a warmth to olive skin, and pale, that snags black curls artfully tangled, shot here and there with sprigs of silver, that serely slicks severely yellow hair, that swallows, recedes, laps shadows pooled about soft curving plains, abruptly muscled ridges, escarpments of elbow, shin, chin. Ysabel asleep in the midst of them all, her pillow the Starling’s belly, the Starling her arms flung wide, face tipped up, eyes closed, and such a smile of contentment there, glazed with drying white, a frost clung to the stubble that roughens her cheek. Étienne between the Starling’s canted knees, one pale sugar-crusted hand reached over Ysabel’s waist to hold her sister’s hand, Christienne in Ysabel’s arms, her sleeping yellow head against Ysabel’s brown breast, her spume-caked thigh nocked between Ysabel’s thighs, and there a confusion of milk-dusted feet.

A hand on one of those columns, barely touched by that flickering light, Marfisa turns away from them, slipping ghostly into the shadows. Back through the columns toward a thinly seep of daylight limning the nosings of steps that climb into a somewhat brighter light, falling from the foyer above. She stops a moment, hand against the wall, feet on different steps, sleek running shoes, black tights, grey tank, her wild white hair hung low.

Into the foyer, brightly blue graffitied with primary colors, lines and shapes, corpulent miens of exaggerated joy, surprise, exasperation, a tree that scales one wall, leaves and fruit of it trowels and rakes, shears, empty gloves, hoes, hammers, and up the other wall a ziggurat of rough red bricks that somehow become the lines and knots of a net flung high above the stairs and filled with fish, with stars, bones, coins, and painted over the ceiling far above the keel and churning wake of a ship. She crosses yellowing tiles, past the stairs, under a long low arch lit by glowing tubes along the floor, and out into the cavernous warehouse, brightly sunlit. Most of the stalls that march the length of it have been opened to the outside, and clusters of people are sat or stood together among the art, speaking softly, laughing quietly, sipping coffee from paper cups, or tea, dozing in the sun, bent over tools laid out on folded towels, screwdrivers and crescent wrenches, awls and chisels, clamps, taking up each in turn to be checked, adjusted, polished, snapped home in a toolbox or a belt, cleaning brushes in a bowl of cloudy spirits, sluicing paint from roller sponges, mixing color in a pot, dollop of umber in the carnadine, genially disputing a paint-spattered sketch, but conversations falter as she passes, laughter trails away, focus shifts, returns, drops to the task at hand, the cup laid by. No one looks to her, but all watch as she makes her way, footfalls quiet in those shoes, out into the open area before the raised stage, past that main overhead door rolled all the way up to the skeletal staircase there, under the faded painted letters that once said Eastside Italian Market & Grocery, onto the walkway, up to the door there, freshly painted purple and green. She takes hold of the knob, and opens it.

“No, no,” Gloria Monday’s saying, leaned against an escritoire, “where are we gonna put ’em. It’s not like we have a conference room,” and Anna Nirdlinger, sat on the nubbled green armchair, holds up a placating hand, “It’ll be fine,” she says, and adjusts her narrow glasses. “Perhaps the upper gallery.”

“Put whom?” says Marfisa.

“Still smells like God knows what,” says Gloria to Anna, and then, “Where’s her majesty?”

“She yet sleeps,” says Marfisa, and Gloria snorts. Her oversized T-shirt in a pulpy font says Dick Storm in South America. “Put whom,” says Marfisa again, more sharply.

“Her lawyers,” says Anna.

“Your liege?” says Marfisa.

“Our bank,” says Gloria. “They’ll be here after lunch.”

“Why,” says Marfisa, frowning. “Why would they be coming?”

“That,” says Gloria, pushing away from the escritoire with a creak, “is the ten thousand dollar question. That is maybe something her ostensible majesty could weigh in on. Share her thoughts. Maybe give us some insight as to what’s maybe in play, here?” Stepping closer to Marfisa. “So maybe you might could go back downstairs, and this time you could ask her, politely, please press pause on the orgy, just for a minute, so she could,” and her head whips back with the crack of a slap, “the fuck?” she snarls.

“You would do well,” says Marfisa, lowering her hand, “to ameliorate your tone.”

“You don’t touch me,” spits Gloria. “Not ever,” and “Ladies,” says Anna, hands on her knees as if about to stand.

“I swear to God,” says Gloria, rubbing her cheek, “I am never gonna understand,” braced against the escritoire, “what it is you see in that colossally. Useless. Bitch.”

Anna leaps up, stepping between them, “She is,” she says, turning to Gloria, “our Queen.”

“Yeah?” says Gloria. “What has she done for you lately? I’m serious!” leaning to follow Marfisa, who’s turned away. “She isn’t up here, taking people in. She isn’t holding this place together with her bare hands and takeout,” as Marfisa yanks open the door, “it isn’t her name on the goddamn credit card!”

The door slams shut hard enough to bounce open again. Marfisa’s footsteps ringing on the walkway, rattling down the stairs. Gloria stands in the doorway a moment, looking out over them all below. “I wish,” says Anna, behind her, and then Gloria slams the door shut again.

“You wouldn’t,” says Anna.

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Reds, written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, copyright holder unknown. Cinco de Mayo la Batalla, written by Rafæl Lara, copyright holder unknown.

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