Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

the House, full of Leaves

The house is full of leaves, piled in corners, drifted against the walls, orange and dead dry brown maple and oak, yellow alder and locust, dull silvered myrtle, crunching underfoot. In the parlor the sofa’s collapsed to one side, stuffing sprung from old stained cushions. Splintered wooden frames and broken glass scored with dust sprinkled over moldering rugs. Canvases black with smoke glower from the walls above, nothing but a hand, a bit of shirt, the edge of a face, an eye to be made out through the murk. In one hand the figure holds a sheathed sword, gripped about its fitted throat of beaten metal. In the other a flat black pistol, pointed with jerks to the side, the front, the side again. “Mooncalfe?” she says, her voice muffled by a mask, a blocky skull that swallows half her head. The rustle of the stiff black mane that floats behind is louder almost than the crackle of her footsteps. “Ysabel? Anyone?”

More leaves in the hallway beyond, and a hole in the floor, a rusted pipe thrust up at an angle. She edges around it, gun pointed ahead, then back across her body, then ahead again. In the kitchen the linoleum peeling up, torn away from the mottled subflooring in great swathes. The refrigerator door hangs open. It’s dark inside. The stove an avocado-colored thing, orange with rust and black with ancient grease. Beyond the house opens up in a big back room, the far wall lined with French doors, panes empty in the gloom. Somewhere far off a floor or two away a creak, a groan, a long slow settling fall of something, paper, cloth. There’s someone sitting before that blank black glass.

“Majesty?” says Jo.

In her black skirt, her black blouse, the Queen sits on the floor against one of the doors, her knees drawn up. Weeping soundlessly she clutches a glossy white braid neatly cut to her breast. On the floor before her the withered corpse of a little brindle cat.

“Ma’am?” says Jo, lowering her gun. “What happened?”

The Queen looks up, blinking. “Vincent?” she says.

“What?” says Jo, then, “no, no,” dipping her head, working off the clumsy mask with the hand that holds the sword. “It’s me, ma’am. Jo.” The gun still in her other hand, pointed at the floor. “Your daughter’s Gallowglas.”

The Queen looks away.

“Where is everyone,” says Jo, coming down the shallow steps into the back room. “What, what – ”

“My lover,” the Queen’s saying. “My son. My husband. And now my mother and my daughter. Gone, all gone – ”

“Ysabel,” says Jo, stooping, kneeling by the Queen, laying the sword and the mask on the floor, the gun in her hand in her lap. “Ysabel’s not – gone?”

“Orlando took her,” says the Queen with a shudder. “Orlando Mooncalfe, sneak-thief and scuttle-sneer. Murderer. Had I the breath, I’d render such a curse upon him – tie that hair of his in knots, and wreathe it about his neck, then pull, and pull, until his head popped off – ”

“Where did he take her? Ma’am, please. Where did they go? When? How late am I?”

“Why?” says the Queen. “Would you just shoot him, like a gangster, with that?”

“I can’t beat him with the sword,” says Jo. “But please. Ma’am. I will do it. I will make amends, I swear. I will save her. Please. Please tell me.”

“Even if I knew,” says the Queen, “it would do no good. She’s gone, she’s gone, it’s all gone and done. We’re done.”

“No ma’am,” he says, stepping carefully down the shallow steps, and Jo yanks the gun up to point at him, and he smiles, eyes big and bright under that shock of pinkish orange hair. “No,” he says, “it’s not.”

“Who,” says the Queen, a breath of a word, and Jo says, “Ray?” The gun drooping.

“No,” he says, kneeling before them, his worn leather jacket creaking. “Not anymore.” Taking the braid from the Queen’s limp hand, pressing it to his lips, then laying it back on her lap. “It’s me, mother,” he says. “I’m back.”

Table of Contents

  Textile Help