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No sitting or sleeping in Front of the Windows – Snow

No Sitting or Sleeping in Front of the Windows say the signs taped over and over and over again to the sweep of glass along the first floor of the grand old building to one side of the little cobbled plaza. Across the plaza a freestanding colonnade, gold letters pitted and stained along the top that spell out Ankeny Square. In the center a dead fountain, a low octagonal pool, two caryatids back to back, a great basin held over their heads. Sitting on the edge of the pool in her black jeans, her leather coat the color of butter, her sword laid flat across her knees, Jo has one hand on the scabbard, one hand on the stony edge of the pool, a cigarette smoldering between her fingers. On her other side the mask, the mane of it coiled and still. Laughter, a couple blocks away down the alley, two men leaning together on their way to somewhere else, one of them a pink box in his arms, and “Goddammit,” she says to herself.

She takes one last drag, letting smoke plume from her mouth as she stubs the cigarette out on the edge of the pool by another crumpled butt. Leaning to one side her other hand roots in the pocket of her coat, coming up with a crumpled orange pack. Only a couple-three cigarettes left inside.

“Goddammit,” she says again.

Yanking the hilt of the sword then she bares a foot or so of the blade. Knuckles white about the hilt of it, the throat of the scabbard. Fists shivering. “I’ll do it,” she says, and slams it home. Leaps to her feet spinning to look up at the caryatid, “If I have to,” she says. “I’ll beg if I have to.”

That stone face looking down at the empty pool, arms up, bent at the elbows.

Jo shifts the sword, ducks through the loop of its belt, settles it slung from her shoulder across her back. “It worked before,” she’s saying. “It’ll work.” Worming a hand into the pocket of her jeans, frowning, fishing in the one pocket of her coat, the other swaying heavily, grimacing as she plucks the gun from it, digs through that pocket. Holds up a coin pinched between fingers and thumb, a penny almost black. “Okay.” Tucking the gun away again.

She sets one foot up on the edge of the pool but stops there leaning on her upraised knee, looking down at the mask laid out there by her boot.

The mane of it stirs as she slips it over her head and when she tugs it home the stiff black hairs loft in some unfelt tremor of wind, pulled up and out behind her to undulate lazily. She turns the empty shadowed holes where eyes should be to look then at the caryatid and from beneath the crudely chiseled mask-teeth her voice rasps, “I am Jo Gallowglas, the Queen’s Huntsman. I want to make a wish.”

A clang then from somewhere inside the fountain. She steps into the pool to a rising gurgle from the spout up in the basin trembling. She reaches for the caryatid’s upturned arm, stepping onto its plinth as water burbles into the basin above. Another clang, a run of knocks as she pulls herself up and close and the mask tips and looms in close to the caryatid’s ear. The spout above her coughs and that chuckle of water seizes and stops.

Her one hand in the crook of that elbow she reaches with the other around and up into the basin, feeling about, and starts suddenly, freezes, then pulls her hand back down. That penny still clenched between finger and thumb. Turning it over, her hand. Caught in the fine hairs on the back of it a single snowflake glittering faintly in the shadows, already melting.

That mask turning to look out at the snow gently wisping all about, pink and orange in the streetlights, white and grey and blue in the shadows, thickening, gauzy curtains of it falling now, and she laughs, holds out her hand to catch more of it falling in clumps now, a froth of ice cupped in her palm.

Pulling close to the caryatid again she presses the penny to its expressionless lips and tips the mask again to whisper “I wish” into its ear, “I wish Ysabel was home and safe and sound, I wish, I wish I didn’t fuck this up,” and then the mask knocking against the upturned arm she tucks that penny into the stony drape of scarf across the caryatid’s impassive breast. Presses her wet red hand there a moment. It flares under the sudden light too white too bright she lifts it mask turning away red lights now and blue lights twirling, spinning across her white-lit back, her shoulders, the fountain, the falling snow picked out against the night beyond so suddenly dark. A fuzzed squawk of a voice too loud, “Step down,” it says, “step away from the fountain,” and “Shit” says Jo, wrenching the mask from her head. Falling back from the caryatids stumbling in the pool and “Freeze” says the voice but Jo’s catching herself turning in the snow a bumbled step another up over the edge of the pool she’s running, running, under the colonnade, a whoop of siren and pounding footsteps behind her she’s running, head down sword bouncing on her back mask in her hand mane like a banner snapping behind her running past the dark end of the plaza into a crosswalk headlights blaring “Shit” she says again, siren whooping again, scaling up to a sudden alarming chatter, a short sharp squeal of tires.

Under a pavilion between booths draped in anonymous tarps white and blue a low dark hulk of a building behind a chain-link fence draped with a long red banner that says Festival of the Last Minute. The sky a rusty black beyond, over the empty river. “Stop” from behind her a bellow now unfuzzed, “or I will shoot” as she’s running away down a loop of sidewalk toward the shadow of a bridge high above a cracking pop a chuff a zinging twang behind her, past her, a clatter dropping away as head down pelting into the shadow of the bridge, out from under the snow, boot-thuds on the pavement echoing flatly high and far away among the criss-crossed girders stretched out over the river, then back out into a wall of snow whirling hands up against it running a welter of black and white and grey, blue and rust and black tumbled together with the sudden silence, only her gasping breath now, footfalls dulled by the snow on the sidewalk, the grass, and under it only the sound of the snow itself hissing through the air.

She nearly falls up a low swell of the ground turning back a hand on a boulder between two long low aisles of gnarled trees sweeping along the riverbank, bare branches clawing at the snow, and turning again head down to run her foot snags something and hands up she sprawls headlong.

Rolling over scrambling in the snowfall back from the body half-buried in snow, snow drifted against green legs laid flat, green arms folded under snow-mounds over a green chest. Her grasping hand finds the mask flung limp and still there in the snow ahead of her, drags it close, clutches it to her as she leans over the body brushing snow from a forehead, from white-blond hair cropped close and stiff with ice, from cheeks rimed with old snow, brushing the drifts from blue and white headphones clamped over ears. Looking up, looking out, she looks back down.

“Roland,” she says.

He opens his eyes.

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