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“Such a nothing time” – Drawing the Circle – What’s left Behind – a Coat to a Cobbler –

“Such a nothing time,” says Becker, “three in the morning.” He snaps the little phone shut and lays it carefully in the worn leather shoe on the floor by a discarded pair of jeans and a big plaid empty shirt. “You stay up till one, sure,” he says, sitting up in the dimly greenish streak of light from the louvered windows lining one long wall of the narrow room. “Two, even, you can go back to sleep for three or four hours. That’s like a full cycle. Enough to keep you going.” His knees tenting the crazed tangle of quilts and blankets and sheets. He scratches the dark hair scattered sparsely across his chest. “Four o’clock, you can give up, get up, go make some coffee.” Folding his hands behind his head. “But what the fuck can you do with three in the goddamn morning?”

Pyrocles his head laid on one arm folded like a wing eyes closed smiles sleepily beneath his crookedly drooping mustaches. “You can keep everyone else around you awake.”

Becker shifts on his side, looking down at Pyrocles. “It’s not insomnia,” he says. “It’s not misery loving company. I just don’t want to miss any of this.”

“I know,” says Pyrocles.

“When I was a kid,” says Becker, and then, “a kid, ha, in high school, which was so long ago – I was obsessed with this idea. I would try, I would do everything I could not to fall asleep.” He worms his way a little deeper under the blankets, closer to Pyrocles, hands tucked under his chin. “Because, sure, I’d wake up in the morning, but it would be a, a new me. Like rebooting a computer. As soon as I closed my eyes and let go, that would be it, for this me.” He taps his forehead. “Like blowing out a candle. Doesn’t matter to the flame that the candle can be relit later.”

Pyrocles hikes himself up on an elbow, a quilt of blues gone black and grey in the dim light falling from his bare shoulder. He leans over to kiss Becker’s forehead. “I did not take too well to sleep at first myself,” he says. “But there are dreams. The candle gutters, but it’s not extinguished.”

“I don’t,” says Becker, rolling onto his back, “I don’t really remember my dreams. Once in a blue moon. But yeah, that’s sort of what I ended up telling myself. There’s like a pilot light. I was obsessed, yeah, but I was also in high school. I was worried sick about reports and tests and grades and getting into a good college, ha, look what that got me.” Running a hand through what little of his hair is left. “And worrying about whether Brian Peake had any idea how gay I was for him. I couldn’t possibly not sleep. And I was way too chickenshit for drugs.” He squeezes his eyes shut, squeezes his whole face shut, shivering. “I should have gone home,” he says. “I shouldn’t have stayed. I’m gonna wake up in the morning, I’m not gonna remember who you are, I’m gonna think I got too drunk again, hooked up again,” and he rolls over on his side again and there’s Pyrocles, head still pillowed on his folded arm, blue eyes half-open, his smile sleepy and sad behind those mustaches. “I’ll run out of here again,” says Becker, “like an idiot. And make excuses at work again.” A hand on Becker’s shoulder Pyrocles draws him close. “And you’ll have to,” says Becker, “come find me, again,” and they kiss. “Maybe you shouldn’t,” says Becker.


“Maybe you shouldn’t come find me again,” says Becker. “Maybe you should just let me go, on my merry, oblivious way. Maybe you shouldn’t start this up again, and again and again – ” and then Pyrocles kisses him again, and again.

“If I thought,” says Pyrocles in his deep rough voice gone soft with sleep, “this was you, asking me this, and not three in the morning, I would do my best to do as you ask. But Becker, you must know that I am weak. The light that shines in your eyes, the way you blush, and duck your head, every time you see me, for the first time – forgive me, Becker. I could not help but seek you out, for another glimpse of that.”

Becker sighs and closes his eyes, and then after a long long moment opens them again. “Not yet,” he says. “Not just yet.”

It’s not rain so much as haze too heavy and wet to be fog, blurring streetlights, drifting slowly down about them. When they stop under the bridge Jo heaves the big duffel bag from her shoulder and sets it gently on the ground, then brushes water from her forehead and the sleeves of her leather jacket. Ysabel in a yellow slicker shakes out her big clear umbrella, then furls it, wiping her eyes. There’s a long narrow cardboard box strapped to the side of the duffel, and it rattles and thumps as the duffel rustles. There’s a muffled whine. Jo looks over at Ysabel.

“That way,” says Ysabel, pointing past the railroad tracks, down the long dark aisle of pillars holding the bridge up above them. “Further in.”

Jo stoops and hauls up the duffel, careful of it and the skinny box, and follows Ysabel into the darkness under the bridge. Buildings shoulder close to either side of the bridge as it slopes gradually to the ground ahead. There are things painted on the pillars about them, a hermit holding aloft a lantern shining sketchily, a black-faced lion awkwardly savaging an antelope under criss-crossed branches, a chalky bird perched on the enormous nose of a face grown from the scraggled outline of a tree, that same bird or one very like it with an elaborate tail sitting on a drawn plinth that says God Is Love, and a scroll beneath that says Light Hope Truth April 7 1948. Something large, a truck booms by overhead. “Ysabel,” says Jo. “Ysabel. How much further. We’re running out of, out of – bridge – ” Ahead the shortening pillars stop as the deck of the bridge above meets a thick blank concrete wall.

“I thought it would be enough,” says Ysabel, looking about.

“I can’t exactly open this damn thing if we’re still here,” says Jo.

“I know, I know,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, I think – I think I have an idea.”

Jo kneels by the duffel as it rustles again and opens one end of the cardboard box. Reaches inside with one hand, both hands, tugs and yanks then pulls with a ringing scrape of metal free her sword. She steps back away from the duffel, out into the space between the last of the pillars and the wall, her sword-tip pointed at the dirt, but she stops before she touches the ground, and lifts it, a little. “I wouldn’t,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah,” says Jo. “I get that.” Overhead a car passes a bit of something popping under its tires quite loudly in the stillness. “Get him out of there.”

Ysabel kneels by the duffel and begins unknotting the strings that hold it shut. “I think drawing your blade was enough,” she says, looking up at the bridge now silent above them.

Jo’s shaking her head. “We need a circle,” she says. She starts to drag the duct-taped toe of her white Chuck Taylor after her through the dirt and the muck.

“You’ve done this before.”

“No,” says Jo. “Not this.”

Ysabel tugs the duffel open and down. The boy’s head pushes up those curls flopping as he twists his head back and forth, stretches his neck. There’s something, a washcloth wadded in his mouth, tied in place with a white terrycloth belt. Jo still dragging out the circle says, “Undo it.”

“I am,” says Ysabel, working the duffel down past the boy’s shoulders.

“The gag,” says Jo. Ysabel looks up at her. “No one’s gonna hear now,” says Jo. “Right?”

Frowning Ysabel unties the belt and pulls the cloth from his mouth and he hacks up a cough or two and spits and says, “Mommy, Mommy! Mommy!” and “Shut up,” says Ysabel, working the duffel down his chest swathed in plastic wrap, his arms pressed tight against him folded in front of him and tightly wound about with layers of the stuff. “Mommy!” he calls, twisting around in the duffel bag, and Ysabel cuffs his head, “Shut up,” she says.

“Ysabel,” says Jo.

“You wanted it undone,” says Ysabel.

“Don’t hit him.”

“No no,” says the boy, “no, no no, not again, I gave at the office.”

“Just,” says Jo, and “What,” says Ysabel, “what?” Jo’s stepping away from the half-done circle, into it, toward Ysabel and the boy in the bag, and Ysabel stands, backs away. “Just let me,” says Jo, stooping.

“Mommy,” says the boy.

“Shut up,” says Jo. “Hold still. Hold very still.” Holding her sword both hands on its blade one of them gingerly close to the tip she pierces the plastic wrap and pushes and twists until it pops and starts to rip. “Oh no it’s time to go,” the boy’s muttering. “I hate to leave you’ll make me though.” Jo the sword laid across her lap tears the plastic wrap away until he can wriggle his arms loose and crawl half out of the duffel bag. “Hold still,” says Jo, wrenching the plastic wrapped around his legs down and off.

“Jo, what are you,” Ysabel starts to say.

“Go on,” says Jo, as the boy crawls all the way out of the duffel. “Get out of here.”

“You can’t, Jo, you can’t,” says Ysabel.

“It’s dark,” says the boy, squatting in the dirt by the duffel, arms folding about himself.

“Where’s it going to go?” says Ysabel.

“It’s cold, Mommy,” says the boy.

“I don’t care,” says Jo. “Just get out of here.”

“You don’t care you don’t care,” the boy’s saying, “you don’t care,” as Ysabel says, “It doesn’t have anywhere else to go, Jo. It can’t go anywhere else. It’s not a kid, it’s a, a thing, a monster that was set upon us, by somebody, and if you let it go it will just – come back – ”

“You don’t care, Mommy,” says the boy.

“What, Ysabel,” says Jo, looking from the boy to her in her yellow slicker, the clear umbrella planted like a walking stick, shaking her head a little, her mouth open around something she’s almost about to say. “What,” says Jo.

“Something,” says Ysabel, tilting her head, “something my Gammer said to me, the very first night we met. I didn’t think it meant anything at all at the time. Just her – babble – ”

“I want to go home,” says the boy. “Shut up,” says Jo. “What was it. What did she say.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel. “Who’s Billy?”

“Billy,” says the boy, “Billy, I’m Billy,” and Jo slaps him. Then puts her hand to her mouth and closes her eyes. Lifts her hand away. “My father,” she says.

“No,” says Ysabel.

“The hell he isn’t!” snarls Jo, standing, taking her sword in her hand. “Bill fucking Maguire, you ask him – ”

“Bill,” says Ysabel. “Not Billy.”

“I’m Billy,” says the boy.

“I,” says Jo. “Ysabel. Don’t. Ask me that. I can’t, I can’t tell you – ”

“Yes you can,” says Ysabel. “Billy. That’s how it was fixed on us.” Stepping closer, taking Jo’s free hand in hers. “Please. Tell me who he is.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” says Jo.

“I want to go home,” the boy’s saying, and Ysabel says, “Yes, I do.”

“No,” says Jo. “You really don’t. I can’t tell you, Ysabel. It would change – a lot – ”

“You can trust me,” says Ysabel, pressing Jo’s hand to her breast.

“That’s not,” says Jo, tugging her hand back, “that’s not what I’m – ”

“I want to go home, Mommy,” says the boy, “it’s cold,” and wailing Jo turns and steps and lunges punching a hole through his chest. The edges of that wound flutter about the blade as his head lurches back and he opens his mouth, letting out a long sighful of breath arms up fingers wigging legs wobbling his head collapsing and his torso in on itself slithering off the sword as shivering he sinks down and down to the mud. Jo stands there over what’s left sword unmoving. Rubbery folds of skin, an empty hand, a foot stuck upright at an angle drooping, that curly mop of hair.

“Jo?” says Ysabel after a moment.

“Don’t,” says Jo. Stepping back. Pulling in her sword, lowering the tip of it. Something large, a truck booms by overhead. A car alarm’s blaring and whooping somewhere blocks away. On the ground before her in the darkness a little stir of something, garbage, a screwed-up twist of greasy paper, a burger wrapper, a yellow dish glove ripped half inside-out, the fingers of it flopped at odd and broken angles, a scrap of some threadbare old stuffed animal with hanks of tangled, curly fur.

“Leave it,” says Ysabel.

“Oh, yeah,” says Jo, shaking her head. “Hell yeah.” Kneeling by the duffel she works the sword back into that narrow cardboard box and drives it home. “I could eat a horse,” she says.

The storefront’s lit up yellow and warm in the blue-grey dawn. George’s, it says in red and yellow letters in a curve across the big front window. Shoes Repaired. Inside a half-dozen or so men and women in the little space between the front door and the counter and as many again in the marginally larger space beyond, bounded by a worktable mounded high with shoes of every shape and color, jogging shoes and sneakers in every garish color lapped open, laces undone, hightop basketball shoes and boat shoes, brogues and wingtips, pumps and slippers in jeweled dye jobs and faded dusty blacks, lurking stilettos, slingbacks and cork-soled clogs, monk and gladiator sandals, spectators and Oxfords, flats and mules and flip-flops printed with the filthy soles of bare feet long since gone, stern little Mary Janes, galoshes and Uggs, jackboots and hiking boots and chukkas and Chelseas, winklepickers, shitkickers, a long black shining knee-high vinyl boot laid crinkled and empty along one side of the mound, forlorn without a foot, and not one of any of them a match for any one of the others. To one side of the mound a couple of cardboard boxes with spigots and little running coffee cups printed on the side. An old man’s pouring coffee from one of them into styrofoam cups on the counter before him. He’s wearing a worn plaid shirt in greens and blacks with threads of yellow and his hair’s a crisp circle of curls from one ear around the back of his head to the other in a white that’s almost yellow against the reddish blackness of his skin. “Unleaded,” says a woman in blue coveralls, holding a stainless steel travel mug, and he sets the first box down and fills her mug from the second.

“An Apportionment,” someone’s saying, and “since the Samani,” and “not since two weeks before,” and “a thimbleful she’s promised twice now,” and “you’ll set up shop as a tailor if she,” and “oh, a supplier to tailors, a veritable thimblesmith,” and there’s laughter, but it’s bitter, muted.

“Yet you all keep on working for them,” says the man behind the counter.

After a moment a man in an olive work shirt says, “What else is there to do?” The name tag sewn on his shirt says Turlupin.

“The work must get done,” says the woman in blue coveralls.

“I think we ought to have another run at the basics of the thing,” says the man behind the counter, sipping coffee from one of the styrofoam cups.

“Oh, no,” says someone by the door, and they’re all turning, craning to look out the window. A woman naked her hair quite short and gunmetal grey a polished silver torc about her neck is marching across the dim and empty street toward the store. Behind her hurries a man in a grimy blue windbreaker, shopping bags in either hand bounced about by his churning legs. The bell over the door to the shop rings, and someone’s slipping out, walking quickly away down the sidewalk as that naked woman her pale skin splashed with something here and there that’s dried in white and crusted swathes crosses the narrow median stepping into the street again without looking either way. The bell dings again, and again, men and women in work shirts and coveralls, jean jackets, paint-splattered sweatshirts and medical smocks make their studiously unhurried way to the left and the right along the sidewalk away from the lit storefront. By the time she steps through the ringing door the man behind the counter is alone, and the little trash can on the floor is filled with empty styrofoam cups.

“Good morning,” says Linesse.

The man behind the counter doesn’t say anything. His eyes wide staring at her and his mouth open just he’s gone quite grey. “You can see her?” says Frankie, setting his shopping bags down on the floor.

“Of course I can, boy,” says the man behind the counter, after a moment.

“Well, good,” says Frankie, sourly. “There’s three or four people and a big-ass bus driver on the number six heading downtown who couldn’t at all.”

“Hollow and hive, boy, she’s dead,” says the man behind the counter.

“Dead but not forgotten,” says Linesse. “Why was your shop filled at daybreak with clods and urisks and domestics who should be about their business, Gordon? Do you mean to turn them all to rabbits?”

“You ain’t come here to talk politics,” says the man behind the counter.

“No,” says Linesse, looking from Gordon to Frankie, and back to Gordon again. “I must ask of you one last boon,” she says.

Gordon looks then at Frankie for the first time, head to toe, then shaking his head looks down at the cup of coffee in his hands. “Well,” he says, “I never said no to you before.” There’s a smile on his face now, rueful, wistful, as he looks up to meet her still stern eyes.

“No matter that I’ve turned my coat?” she says.

“What’s a coat to a cobbler?” says Gordon.

“What’s, what are we doing here?” says Frankie Reichart.

From unseen speakers somewhere up among the maze of ductwork painted white and struts a growling voice is chanting I had money, yeah, and I had none, over a churning organ riff, I had money, yeah, and I had none, but I never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town. “Another one?” says Ysabel.

“Go get some coffee or something,” says Jo. She’s headed for the squat grey shape of a cash machine there under the switchback of the access ramp, by the florist stand, pulling a wad of money from her jacket clamped in a medium-sized binder clip.

“She isn’t,” says Ysabel, looking down the aisles of groceries at the unlit green sign that says Starbucks, down by the deli counter, “they aren’t open.” Jo’s plucked a gold credit card from the binder clip and runs it through the reader on the cash machine. “Jo, what do you need all this money for?” says Ysabel.

Jo’s running her fingers along the options listed on the screen, twenty dollars, forty dollars, sixty dollars. Jo presses the screen by the last one which says Oh the heck with it three hundred. “I’m hoping I don’t,” says Jo. The cash machine starts whirring. It spits out twenty dollar bill after twenty dollar bill, and Jo scoops them up, counting through them quickly, folding them, stuffing them into the duffel bag.

“Jo,” says Ysabel, grabbing her hand. “Please – ”

“Don’t,” says Jo. “Don’t ask. I’m telling you.”

I’m the air you breathe, food you eat, growls the voice over the speakers. Friends you greet in the sullen street, wow.

Outside in the wet grey light Jo rushes ahead across the empty intersection, Ysabel trotting behind, “Jo, wait,” she’s saying. Catching her at the corner. “What are we doing. What’s happening.”

“I don’t know?” says Jo. “I need to, I’ve got to get some sleep, I’ve got to think – let’s just,” lifting both her hands to rub her eyes, her face, Ysabel stepping closer, her hands on Jo’s arms, “let’s go home, let’s clean up enough to collapse. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

“Whatever it is,” says Ysabel, ducking her head to catch Jo’s eyes as Jo looks down, away. “Whatever it is. You can trust me, Jo. Jo, please. Jo.” A hand to the side of Jo’s face, leaning closer. Kissing the bruise above Jo’s eye, then kissing her cheek. Jo standing stiff and still, breathing quickly, trembling. “Whatever,” says Ysabel. “So you had a kid – ”

“Don’t,” snarls Jo, pushing away, “Christ, Ysabel, just, just stop, you have no idea –

“You can trust me, Jo,” says Ysabel. “I trust you, I, I – ”

“It has nothing to do with that,” says Jo, turning, walking away. “Oh. Oh fucking hell.”


Jo’s pointing, down the street, toward the bulk of the apartment building, toward the cars parked along the street before it, toward the reddish brown car parked at an alacritous angle among them, a black stripe painted down its side.

“Oh,” says Ysabel.

“I just,” says Jo, “want to get some fucking sleep –

Table of Contents

The Changeling,” written by Jim Morrison, copyright holder unknown.

M.E. Traylor    27 July 2011    #

Really loved the depth of feelings in these scenes. I feel less emotionally connected to Linesse and Frankie, but I suppose I’m not as involved with them. So I just distractedly wonder what they’re up do and how it’s going to affect the characters I’m more attached to.

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