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that Stern and Rough-hewn Hawk – Egg whites & Eschatology – Sky falls; Mountains crumble – three Answers –

That stern and rough-hewn hawk caged in his fingers the Duke’s leaning on his cane by the glass-topped café table, still in his long and camel-colored topcoat, a red-brown derby on his head. “Was there a riot in here?” he says as they open the door. Behind him by the bulky blond wood armoire Jessie arms folded in a double-breasted pinstripe coatdress, her hair in a tight bun, her lips carefully red.

“Get out,” says Jo, unshouldering the duffel bag and laying it and the narrow box on the floor. Ysabel behind her still in the little hallway kitchen.

“I came here out of concern,” says the Duke, “and frankly, I’m even more concerned, now – ”

“Get out,” says Jo, laying a hand on the glass table-top.

“Words were said,” says the Duke. “In haste. By both of us, I’m not gonna deny it, but in all that heat I had a little light in mind and I’m worried it didn’t articulate in a fully appreciable manner. So maybe – ”

“Get. Out,” says Jo.

“Breakfast,” says the Duke. “I can get us a private dining room at the Heathman, full spread buffet, we can talk, undisturbed – ”

“We already ate,” says Ysabel, as Jo’s saying, “Dammit, Leo, get the fuck out of my apartment.”

“Jo!” snaps the Duke, and he tumps his cane-tip on the carpet. “Listen to me. This is important. If you cannot keep a roof over her head then all bets are off.”

Ysabel steps up close behind Jo then. Jessie’s looking down at the pile of clothing by her feet. “The fuck is that supposed to mean,” says Jo quietly.

“You ever stop to think why nobody’s been coming at you?” Braced on his cane leaning over the table at her. “They’re all wary of the special understanding between me and the Queen, as regards the two of you.”

“Special,” Jo starts to say, as Ysabel’s saying “You don’t have a special understanding with my mother.”

“Precisely,” says the Duke. “And the minute you two get kicked out of this,” sniffing, looking about the small main room, “this shithole,” the mounds of clothing, the broken television, the filthy walls, “the very instant they get a whiff of any instability in your furlough, Princess, they all tumble to that very fact. And they will come a-running for you, Gallowglas. Swords out.”

“Is that how it’s supposed to go down,” says Jo, her voice still tightly quiet. “You graciously offer to do what you can to help us with the eviction, then do not a goddamn thing until it’s too fucking late. When there’s nowhere else to turn but you.”

“He called,” says Jessie, and the Duke thumps his cane again. “He did call,” she mutters. The Duke’s saying, “She didn’t say I didn’t, Jessie. We’re strictly in the realm of the hypothetical, here.”

“Hypothetically,” says Jo, both hands on the table-top closed in fists, “it might have worked.” Her eyes locked on his. “Only you went too far last night.”

“Too far?” says the Duke. “When I threw a party for you? That’s somehow – ”

“When you raped me, you sonofabitch.”

Ysabel lifts a hand but does not lay it on Jo’s arm. Jessie’s head snaps up, she’s looking at Jo, at the Duke gone suddenly pale. The thump of his cane-tip clanks this time and rings and he tilts the head of the cane to one side in his left hand, his right twitching his longsword the tip of it in a savagely quick little circle over the carpet. “Have a care, Gallowglas,” he says, “how you bandy that word about. You’ll force me to name you a liar, and then we’d have to test the merits of our quarrel.” Bringing his hands together again, resting them both on the hawk at the head of his cane.

“Liar?” says Jo. “You drugged me, then you fucked me. What else would you call that?”

“Jessie,” says the Duke, “did you enjoy your rape of our Princess?”

“Leo – ” says Jessie, and Jo roars, “I didn’t know it was in the goddamn drink!”

“Jo,” snaps the Duke, and then, gently, “all it does, in this, this context – I told you. It enhances, your sensations, your mood, your – ”

“Turns maybe,” says Jo, “into yes.”

He closes his eyes, purses his lips. Opens his eyes. “It does nothing to change your mind, Jo, or – ”

“I’m never gonna know that am I?” she says. “You should have just told me. You should have said something, Leo. Just, please. Just go.”

“Jo,” says the Duke, “I’m not about to walk out of here and leave it like this. Listen to me – ”

“Southeast,” says Ysabel, and the Duke closes his mouth, looks down at his hands on the head of his cane.

“Hawk,” she says, and he looks up, eyes dark. “Hind,” he says.

Ysabel puts a hand on Jo’s shoulder. “My champion has asked you to leave,” she says.

“Very well,” says the Duke, turning, holding out a hand to Jessie, letting her looking down the whole time lead the way as he limps out past Jo and Ysabel through the little hallway kitchen. One hand on the doorknob he turns, licks his lips, says, “I take my leave of you.” And then, “I wish you hadn’t cut your hair.”

He closes the door, gently.

“Jo?” says Ysabel, stepping to her side, both hands on Jo’s shoulders. Jo’s eyes are closed and she’s tipping her head back slowly, slowly, her mouth tightening, her breath gone shallow and quick. “Jo?”

The kitchen yellow and cream with glossy granite counters brightly lit against the gloomy morning light outside. Standing at the counter using a fork and knife to cut an egg-white omelette into precisely tiny pieces she’s wearing black, black jeans, a plain black T-shirt, a dark grey cardigan. “Well,” she says, cutting the tip from a triangle of toast. “Send him in.” Spearing a bite of omelette, a bit of toast, biting them both from her fork. The woman wearing the narrow black-rimmed glasses nods and turns and signals to someone in the hall.

“Chariot,” says the woman all in black.

“Ma’am,” says Roland. He hands a small jar half full of something viscous, milky, touched with just a hint of warm yellow gold, to the woman in the narrow black-rimmed glasses. His track suit’s a pale yellow with green stripes down the sleeves and legs.

“Thank you, Anna,” says the woman all in black, and the woman in the glasses nods and leaves, the jar in her hands. “How is my daughter?” says the woman all in black, slicing more strips from her toast.

“Ma’am,” says Roland, “I have not seen the Princess in almost a week.” His hands in fingerless bicycle gloves are clasped behind his back.

“Almost a week?”

He ducks his head. “It will have been a week ago tomorrow,” he says. “Afternoon.”

“And yet,” says the Queen, taking another bite of egg-white and toast, chewing, swallowing, “I saw her last night.” She lays her fork and knife to either side of the plate. “I managed a few hours’ sleep, Chariot. Not only that, I dreamed. Do you dream?”

He nods. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Singularly unpleasant,” she says. “I was suddenly in a filthy little bathroom, quite disgusting. Used wads of tissue littering the corner, grime between the tiles, you couldn’t begin to see your reflection in the mirror. The toilet? Was a horror. A girl lay on the floor, utterly naked, soaking wet, shivering so hard I could hear the teeth clattering in her head, and as I realized it was my daughter lying before me, Chariot, she opened her eyes, and she opened her mouth, and she clutched her belly,” and the Queen’s hands fold themselves together under her breasts, over her belly, “and it,” she says, “and her, it, she – it – ” She pushes her plate away across the counter, the omelette half-uneaten. “I woke up,” she says. “How is my daughter, Roland?”

“She has given herself to the Gallowglas,” says the Chariot. “Who has, in turn, been seduced by Southeast.”

“How is she physically?”

“Physically, ma’am?” he says, looking up to meet a piercing scowl.

“Is she hale? Whole? Ill in any way?”

“She has,” he says, and he looks back down, “assured me, ma’am, that she is well.”

“A week ago.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then it is not as bad as it could be,” says the Queen. “Merely worse, far worse, than we feared. I’d thought to distract her, by indulging her predilections. I never dreamed the Duke would, would stoop to such an oblique angle.”

“Ma’am,” says Roland, but she’s put both hands squarely on the counter, is looking at him frankly, head tipped back just, “Six weeks exactly,” she says, “isn’t it? He’ll try on the Solstice, don’t you think? It would appeal to his sense of the dramatic.” Her mouth smiles but her eyes do not. “The Hawk fancies himself an oak, and for me with all I’ve done it’s to be Gammer-hood, or worse.” Her hands on the counter rippled and ridged with thick veins and dotted the left especially with liver-colored spots.

“If the Bride is well,” says Roland.

“If she is well?” says the Queen. “You said she is well, all else considered.”

“She said she is well, ma’am.” His bicycle gloved hands clasped before him now, fingers fiddling with a velcro strap. “But what if she isn’t? What if she is no more a Princess than, than – ”

“Do you mean to say, Chariot, that she has lied to you?”

His hands freeze there before him. He slowly shakes his head. “What if she were wrong, ma’am?”

“She would know,” says the Queen. “We would all know. It would be the end, of everything.”

Roland walks back alone through the darkened house, rubbing his hands together before him. He stops to knock at a half-closed door, the room beyond lit only by a blue-shaded banker’s lamp on a long library table. Sitting at it the woman in narrow black-rimmed glasses looks up from a thick ledger filled with tiny, handwritten figures. By the ledger a wide-mouthed jar hashed with lines in white ink down the sides denoting ounces, gills, mutchkins, a thirdendeal. A drift of golden dust along an arc at the very bottom of it. “My audience is done,” says Roland.

“I have nothing for you, sir,” says the woman, setting aside a glass nib pen.


“There is to be nothing for anyone this week,” she says, looking back down at her ledger.

“What am I to tell – ”

“That there is to be no Apportionment this week, sir,” she says, taking off her glasses, looking up again. “This last batch was – off. No telling how, or from whom.”

“I see,” says Roland.

“Are you awake?” says Ysabel.

Curtains drawn sunlight thin and grey seeping around the edges. Side by side on the futon under the black and red and orange-brown blanket Jo and Ysabel neither of them eyes closed staring up at the dingy popcorned ceiling.

“No,” says Jo.

“Can I tell you something?” Ysabel shifts a little, turns her head to look sidelong at Jo.

Jo closes her eyes. “Sure,” she says.

“You said,” says Ysabel, “you don’t believe in love, and I said that was because you’d fallen out of love.” She shifts back, looking up at the ceiling again. “And I said I only knew love because I’d seen it in what other people do. I’d never been in love myself before. But seeing yourself like that, seeing what you do, from outside yourself – if I were in love, well, I wouldn’t know, would I.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, and Ysabel turns on her side, “Shh,” raising a hand to lay a finger against Jo’s lips. Jo jerks her head to one side out from under it, “Don’t,” she says, and “Sorry,” says Ysabel, “I’m sorry,” and “Please just, let me finish.” Settling on her side head on the pillow both hands folded now and tucked beneath her chin. “You’re the first person,” she says, “you’re the only person, ever to tell me no.”

Jo turns her head at that, frowning at Ysabel. “The only, what?”

“You know what I mean,” says Ysabel. “The question, that I asked you. When it started to rain?”

“No, I, I,” says Jo, looking away back up at the ceiling again, “I do, but, Ysabel, I – ”

“Shh,” says Ysabel. “Had you said yes, you would have been bound to me.”

“Bound?” says Jo.

“Like,” says Ysabel, “the Chariot, and the Axe, Rain, a dozen, dozen others.” She swallows. “You said no. Which bound me to you, a link of toradh that will not be broken till, oh, till the sky falls, or the mountains crumble that are made of the dust of the mountains about us now.”

“Bound,” says Jo, shifting to look at Ysabel again.

“I am yours, Jo Maguire,” says Ysabel, as Jo’s saying, “That’s, that’s not love, that’s – ” and Ysabel shushes her again, presses a fingertip to Jo’s lips again, “Please,” she says. “Let me finish.” Stroking Jo’s cheek. “I knew you would say no. When I asked I knew you would say no.” Brushing Jo’s chin. “I am many things, but I’m not stupid. It’s why I asked you. I knew what you would say.”

“That’s,” says Jo, “that’s insane.”

Ysabel smiles. “I know.” She shifts onto her back, looking up again, and takes a deep deep breath. “It’s why I think it’s love,” she says.

Not a sob so much as a choked-off breath, a word maybe, as Jo curls over face clenching, Ysabel saying, “No, no, Jo,” reaching over, pulling her close, “Jo, it’s all right, I’m here, for you, whatever you need,” and Jo’s trembling, shaking in her arms, leaning back, wet eyes half-closed, biting her lip as the sound boils up again in bubbling yelps of laughter. “Jo?” says Ysabel, letting go, sitting up, as Jo rolls over hands to her face saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in among the gasps.

“This is important,” says Ysabel, and Jo’s laughter redoubles and helplessly squeezing herself legs kicking up under the blanket “I know,” she says, “I know, I’m sorry, if I don’t,” catching her breath, “oh God if I don’t laugh I’m gonna fucking break down and cry for a fucking week, oh Ysabel, oh, oh,” wiping her eyes, “that was, I think that was the sweetest thing you’ve ever said. I’m sorry.”

“I just wanted you to know,” says Ysabel, arms folded in her lap.

“I know,” says Jo. “I know.”

“Whatever you did. Whatever you have to tell me, it doesn’t matter.” Shrugging in her oversized yellow nightshirt, her black curls snarled about her head. Looking down, away from Jo, a bit of a pout to her mouth. “Or not tell me, whichever.”

“There’s a price,” says Jo.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Ysabel.

“Don’t say that yet,” says Jo. “I mean I can show it to you. It’s a very concrete price.”

Sitting up in her black tank top Jo plucks from the white shelf behind them a wad of money clamped in a medium-sized binder clip. She undoes the clip and rifles through the bills, teasing out a gold credit card, which she lays on the pillow between them. MasterCard, it says. Bank of Trebizond. Joliet K. Maguire. Good thru 13/99. “That bank,” says Jo. “They have offices, in the Meier & Frank building, don’t they, or some kind of partnership, arrangement or something?”

“That’s the Duke’s card,” says Ysabel.

“No,” says Jo. “No. I mean he gave it to me, yeah. But it’s mine. All mine. The secret, that I gave them? When you sent me in there? Was worth a hell of a lot more than a couple of dresses and some underwear.”

Ysabel folding her arms about herself, smaller somehow, huddled in that baggy nightshirt, looks down at the card, then back up at Jo. “Billy,” she says.

“For about maybe a week?” says Jo, looking away over Ysabel’s shoulder, the dark sheets of the curtains, dull light leaking around the edges. “I was going to keep him, carry him and have him. I was going to name him after my father. William. Bill, Bill Maguire. Billy.” She closes her eyes. “But,” she says. “I wouldn’t have finished high school. And I – tested well. There were maybe some scholarships, there was some family money we could maybe, I had options, I had things, that I could do, places to go if I just, if I could just – ” She shakes her head, looks down at the gold card on the pillow between them. “I made an appointment, I got an abortion.”

“Oh,” says Ysabel, and then, leaning forward, “oh, Jo, I – ”

“I’m not done,” says Jo, her hand on Ysabel’s knee.

Ysabel looks down at the gold card. Her hand on Jo’s hand there on her knee. She looks back up, and she nods, once.

Jo swallows. “She asked me three questions, the woman with the bank. Whether I missed him. If I still loved him. What I would tell him, if I could. And I said, I said. Yes, I said. Yes. And I’m sorry.” Leaning forward elbows on her knees head down hunching in on herself. “Because it was all for nothing,” she says. “Because look what all I did with all those fucking options. I’m sorry how badly I fucked it all up,” and with a splintery crack the gold card splits into three sharp jagged shards. Ysabel jerks back. Jo puts her face in her hands.

After a moment, Ysabel reaches out to lay a hand on Jo’s shoulder. Lays her other hand on Jo’s other shoulder and leans forward, tugging Jo toward her until Jo buckles her head against Ysabel’s chest, Ysabel’s arms folding about her. She kisses Jo’s wine-red hair, then tilts, leans down a little to kiss her cheek. Her nose against Jo’s temple. “That’s it, then,” she says.

“Yeah,” says Jo, muffled by Ysabel’s nightshirt, sighing, pulling her arms out from between them, settling them around Ysabel’s hips. Pulling her close, a sudden fierce hug, and Ysabel lifts her head blinking, looking down at Jo and opening her mouth a word there trembling which does not fall. She shuts her mouth firmly, closes her eyes, lays her head against Jo’s.

“I got,” says Jo, “twelve hundred on the way home.” Sitting up, pulling back a little, leaning back in Ysabel’s arms. “With what we’ve got here that’s seventeen? Eighteen?” Looking over her shoulder at the cracked television hanging over the foot of the futon. “We sell what that thing didn’t break or ruin? We can maybe clear two thousand.” Leaning back further as Ysabel lets go. “It’s not enough, not nearly enough. Not for first, last, security – we’ve gotta find new jobs – shit.”

Ysabel says, “The Duke offered us a – ”

“The Duke,” snaps Jo, “is out of the question.”

“I know!” says Ysabel. “I, I know. I’m just trying to catch up.”

“Yeah,” says Jo. “Yeah, he offered. Now I wouldn’t be surprised if we go outside and find he’s sent his boys after us again, whatsisname, the Stirrup with his sword out to take you back, for your own good.”

“The Mason,” says Ysabel.

“Or that scary-ass motherfucker,” says Jo, looking down, then suddenly back up at Ysabel, “Oh, hell, Jessie. I’m sorry, Ysabel, I didn’t even – I mean, are you gonna be, do you need to – ”

“Jessie,” says Ysabel, “Rain, well. If I need, if I want something like that, there’s this – ”

“A dozen dozen others?”

“Well,” says Ysabel. Smiling. “Not all of them.”

“Okay,” says Jo, “that settles it. Our next place, we’re definitely getting separate rooms.”

Ysabel laughs. “I’d like to request a proper tub,” she says.

“Why stop there? Full-on jacuzzi. Only way to go.”

“Walk-in closets.”

“Hell, that’s a given. Underwear drawers as high as you can reach. And a fireplace.”

“A ballroom,” says Ysabel, laughing, “a fully stocked wet bar.”

“A decent goddamn kitchen,” says Jo.

“Oh yes.”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, her hand on Ysabel’s knee. “When I find whoever it was who did this, who sicced that thing on me. I’m going to kill them.”

“I know,” says Ysabel, her hand on Jo’s. “I’m going to help you.”

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M.E. Traylor    27 July 2011    #

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