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“July, July!” – Ganesa’s Smile –

“July, July!” sings Jo in the shower. “It never seemed so strange, it never seemed so strange!”

Ysabel sitting in the open window lights a cigarette and takes a drag. Shaking out the match she blows the smoke outside. Stretches one long bare leg onto the skinny white faux balcony. She’s wearing an oversized blue sweatshirt that says Brigadoon! She reaches up to pluck a crumb of tobacco from her lip.

“And the water rolls down the drain,” sings Jo, opening the bathroom door. Her wet hair is plastered to her skull, black tufts smeared back against yellow fuzz. She’s wrapped up in a Spongebob Squarepants towel. Jo plops herself on the foot of the futon and starts digging through a tangled nest of laundry. “Aha!” She yanks a pair of black tights free and holds them up. Sniffs them. Shrugs.

“You live in a pigsty,” says Ysabel.

“What?” says Jo, standing up, tugging the tights up over her hips.

“You live,” says Ysabel, “in a pigsty. You should have someone in here to clean it.”

Jo looks up at Ysabel. Coughs up a single snort of laughter. “Yeah,” she says. “I’ll get right on that.” She unwraps the towel and ducks her head into it, ruffling her hair.

It’s a small studio apartment. There’s a narrow kitchenette along the wall opposite the bathroom. The sink is filled with dirty dishes, empty Ramen wrappers, a half-empty ashtray, the remains of a case of Diet Coke. A petrified sprawl of old, dried spaghetti clings to the wall above the little electric range. Jo’s futon takes up most of the open floorspace. In the corner by the window is a big black bag overflowing with shoes: high-heeled sandals with thin straps, high soft limp brown leather boots, spotless black and yellow and white athletic slip-ons. A small television set sits on a milk crate up above a welter of potato chip bags and more Diet Coke cans and a stray shoe or two.

Ysabel primly moues her mouth and looks out the window, at the green hills to the west, sweeping north. Past the scatter of highrises and apartment buildings, the great curve of the highway bridge looms over the river. The sky is high and white. It’s going to be a hot and humid day.

“Damn,” says Jo. She’s pulled on a black T-shirt. There’s a big red devil’s face on it, sticking out his tongue. “I wish it would make up its mind and start with the rain already.”

“It will,” says Ysabel. “Soon enough.” She leans back against the window frame, then looks up and over at Jo. “I’m hungry,” she says.

“There’s still some pizza left over.”

Ysabel lets a mouthful of smoke leak out the window. “I don’t want cold pizza,” she says.

“So we can heat it – ”

“I don’t want hot pizza, either.”

“Oh.” Jo’s digging around in the pile of laundry again, and comes up with a black denim miniskirt. “There’s ramen,” she says, wriggling into it.

“You know what I want, Jo.”

“And I’m talking about what you can have.”

“I want,” says Ysabel, “to go to a restaurant. And have a proper meal.”

“And I want a million bucks,” says Jo, pulling on a couple of mismatched tube socks. “Isn’t gonna happen anytime soon.”

“You can’t possibly expect me to survive on a diet of noodles and those,” she shakes her head, “those flavor packets!”

“And Diet Coke,” says Jo. “And cigarettes. And pizza.”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, grinding out her cigarette butt on the slatted floor of the faux balcony.

“I mean, you’re perfectly free to go wherever you want.” Jo fishes up one big black battered boot. “As far as a restaurant or whatever. Hell, I’m not stopping you.”

“Jo,” snaps Ysabel, swinging around to stand up.

“What?” says Jo, and then, waving off Ysabel, “Don’t tell me, I know, I know. I have the keeping of you.”

“You do,” says Ysabel, folding her arms across her chest.

“Like it was my idea,” says Jo, sighing.

“It’s not my choice, either,” says Ysabel. “Nonetheless. I’m your responsibility. And I want to go to a restaurant and have a nice brunch.”

Jo stands up, her leg canted a little, one boot on and one boot off. “We’ll go to the Roxy,” she says. “You can have an omelet.”

Ysabel opens her mouth and then stops, frowning. She nods. “At least it gets us out of this – apartment,” she says.

“Whatever,” says Jo, bending over to scoop up her other boot. “You might want to put on some pants first.”

The man in the linen suit stands on the corner looking up at a big, blocky brick building. The cornerstone is marked with a Masonic compass and square. Signs advertising an Indian restaurant and a head shop hang over the front doors between green-capped white columns. The man in the linen suit ducks under a bouquet of tie-dyed shirts sales tags fluttering and steps into the hemp and bead and world crafts shop.

“Hey,” says the kid behind the counter. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” says the man in the linen suit. He picks up a small statue, a whip-thin figure coiling into an improbable, prayerful pose. He smiles at it. His face is fleshy, and his rich red hair flops from a high widow’s peak. He carries a long black artist’s portfolio tube slung over his shoulder. “Tell His Grace the Stirrup is here to see him.”

The kid behind the counter picks up the phone and says something into it. The Stirrup looks up at a wall papered with overlapping Hindi religious posters. Ganesa looks down at him with soft dark eyes. If he’s smiling, it’s hidden behind his pink trunk.

“Go on up,” says the kid behind the counter, hanging up the phone.

“Gaveston!” cries the young man who opens the door.

“Your Grace,” says the Stirrup.

“Come in, come in.” His Grace is barefoot. He’s wearing pyjama pants and a floor-length dressing gown crowded with paisleys of purple and maroon and gold and brown. He leads Gaveston down a dark hall into a room filled with sunlight from tall, narrow windows. A low bed stretches across the middle of it. On the bed lies a woman, on her stomach. She has long blond hair and wears a pair of black lace shorts and has a pen in her teeth. She’s frowning at the crossword puzzle in a newspaper.

“Please excuse the mess,” His Grace is saying. “I was just getting ready for the morning staff meeting.”

“I had hoped,” says the Stirrup, “that we might have a word in private?”

“Oh, don’t mind Tommy,” His Grace says, sitting on the edge of the bed. He points to the squat man, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans and standing to one side of the door. His long dark hair gleams in the light. “Tommy hears everything. That’s his job.”

Tommy grunts. The Stirrup looks at the woman on the bed, then looks back at His Grace. Who winces sheepishly, and leans back next to her. Strokes the small of her back. Kisses her shoulder. “Darling?”

“What,” she says, “is six letters long and means ‘the magic word’? It starts with P.”

“I have no idea,” says His Grace. “Maybe you could go look it up? Give us a minute, to talk business?”

Sighing, she rolls out of bed, scoops up her newspaper, and pads past Tommy down the dark hall.

“Well?” says His Grace.

The Stirrup takes a deep breath. Shifts the weight of the portfolio tube hanging from his shoulder. “Your Grace,” he says. “If you will allow, I shall see to it that – by this time tomorrow – you will be a married man.”

His Grace frowns. Points at the doorway. “To her?” he says.

“Oh, no, Your Grace,” says the Stirrup. “To the Bride.”

“Oh,” His Grace says. He looks over at Tommy, who shrugs. He looks up at the Stirrup. “Go on,” he says. He smiles. “I’m listening.”

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July, July!” written by Colin Meloy, © 2002 (ASCAP).