Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

an Indecisive Cream – a Change of Clothes – one Hell of a Cue – the Sound & the Light –

The office painted an indecisive cream just big enough for a desk and a couple of chairs. Neither of them sitting. Jo’s leaning against one of the closed doors still in her careworn jacket, army-surplus green. Over her shoulder a poster, a photo of the full moon that says Shoot for the moon… Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. “You can’t do this to us,” she says.

Becker shrugs in his big flannel shirt, half-sitting on the edge of the desk. “My hands are tied. Client pulled the survey early. Tartt’s as pissed as any of you and now Sales is out there scrambling,” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder at the other closed door behind him, “because there’s nothing in the hopper till Pet Depot comes back online in a couple of weeks.”

“Come on, Becker! You got three people out there dialing a bee-to-bee right now. Give us a couple of phones. You know me and Ysabel can rack up completes like nobody else.” Becker shrugs again, runs a hand through what little of his hair is left. “Becker, come on! You need the numbers.”

“I need reliable people is what I need,” says Becker. “You and her, you knock off early, you don’t show up – ”

“I call! I give you notice!”

“You play by the rules, yeah,” says Becker. “And I can cut you slack on a night shift. But for the commercial stuff I need people in seats I know will be there. I mean, are you ever even conscious at six in the morning?”

“Fuck you, Becker,” says Jo. “You know the shit we have to deal with.”

“I know the what now?” says Becker.

“Fuck it,” says Jo, slumping against the door. “Never mind.”

“The job’s unreliable, Jo. You know that. We had a good run but there’s always downtime. Pet Depot’s a sure thing in a couple of weeks. Until then, you know, apply for unemployment, hang tight, go find something else, I don’t know. I can’t tell you what to do here.”

“It’s just one more goddamn thing I have to – ”

The door behind Becker pops open and a woman sticks her head through topped by a tricorn hat edged with frilly lace and red ribbons. “Arnie, I need that old WinBank file. I think it’s on top of the monitor there?”

“Sure, Donna,” says Becker, “just a second.”

“Oh,” she says, stepping through, seeing Jo. “Sorry. Didn’t know you had someone in here.” A garish red low-cut blouse that’s slipped from both her shoulders held up by a shiny black corset. She points a short plastic cutlass at the desk. “Actually, I left it right there. If you could just.” Becker scoops up the file and hands it to her. “I’ll get out of your hair.”

“Scrambling, huh,” says Jo as the door closes.

“Halloween party,” says Becker.

“Yeah? What are you going as?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” He spreads his hands grinning ruefully. “Phone room supervisor.”

Jo splashes water over her face, runs wet hands through her hair. Hangs a moment over the sink hands braced to either side. “Come on,” she says to herself. “Come on. You can do this. Whatever the fuck it is. Do it.” Pushing up and there she is in the mirror over the sink. Short brown hair water-darkened, slicked back. Muddy eyes to either side of her nose, that nose, flat cheeks warmed by big round yellow bulbs around the mirror, mouth a thin flat pale-lipped line. The cords in her throat leap out, fall back as she swallows. A simple dress long and soft, heathery grey, yellow and white piping down either side. Splashed water mottles the fabric of it here and there. A black bra strap peeps out to one side. She tucks it back with her thumb, scoops up more water, splashes her face again, slicks her hair again, stops there both hands on her head. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.” Shaking water from her hands. On the floor by the stainless steel bathroom stall tangled clothing a pair of jeans one leg flung out a grubby T-shirt a blue sweatshirt half inside-out a careworn jacket, army-surplus green. Atop the pile in its soft leather sheath the bell of it dull and dented her épée. She squats there, roots around, comes up with one and then another of a mismatched pair of Chuck Taylors, black and white, toe swaddled in grubby duct tape. She’s tugging one open loosening the laces when she stops, sets them both by the épée on the pile of clothes. Stands, flexing her bare feet against the wide white tiles. The nail of her left big toe a dead grey ridge.

Up a narrow high-walled switchback staircase of poured concrete Jo pads into the darkened coffee shop chairs upended on tables all about the lights above all dim in pale glass globes like emptied honeycombs. On all sides the walls are windows floor to ceiling filled beyond with a mass of milling shifting waiting people half-seen in the confusion of light-struck reflections and shadows dazzling the glass. Past a dim glass cabinet filled with signs for pastries and donuts by empty plates the Queen in her black dress stands by a rack of CDs under a sign that says A Wynters Nightes Pastime. Her hand on Ysabel’s shoulder leaning forward to tell her something, their two dark heads bent together. Cardboard ornaments red and white that say Hope and Faith and Wish hang on strings from the rafters all about them. To one side a man in a black suit hands behind his back chin restless between the high white gateposts of his upturned shirt-collar. A chair’s been set down by a table for an old woman in a glittering gown and jacket of pink and red and white her glossy white hair done up in an elaborately braided bun. Past them all the barista bay where under the weak light on the counter is laid a sword.

The scabbard plain and black with a beaten metal throat and chape the color of thunderclouds. The hilt of it simple and straight, wrapped in dulled wire, the quillions clean straight bars almost as long together as the hilt. Over and around them a glittering net of wiry strands that meet in thick round worked steel knots all gathered together in a single cord swooping down the length of the hilt to end at the great silvery clout of a pommel.

“Whoa,” says Jo approaching, more a breath than a word.

Behind the counter the big man straining the shoulders of his soft blue coat says, “Welcome, Gallowglas.” About his mouth gently smiling droop two long grey mustaches. “As my Queen has asked, a sword made to your hand.”

“Is it okay?” says Jo. “To look, I mean? It’s not like a bride and groom thing, right?”

“Feel free,” says Pyrocles. He takes the hilt in one hand and the scabbard’s throat in his other and tugs free about six inches of blade. The surface of it polished shining but within deep waves of dark and light steel chase the spine of it. “The steel was folded over eleven times,” he says.

“That’s, ah, that’s good, right?” says Jo.

His smile widens. “This sword was once a leaf spring from a 1972 Buick Skylark,” he says. “The car belonged to Peabo, an old friend of the mechanicals, though never a member of their union. It was a beautiful car, a lovely deep red color, and he took great pains to keep it so.” He sheathes the sword with a whisp and a snick. “It never went as fast as it wanted.”

“You mean you made this from a car?”

“Part of a car,” says Pyrocles.

“Wow,” says Jo.

“Aren’t your feet cold?” says the Queen, her black dress rustling up to them.

“Majesty,” says Pyrocles, ducking his head, and “Ma’am,” says Jo.

“Thank you for your hard work,” says the Queen, “it is we are certain a fine blade and true, Anvil. If you would take your leave. Now,” she says, turning to Jo as Pyrocles ducks his head again and steps out from behind the counter. “Let’s be straight about something. You are only being granted your spurs ex officio. The moment my daughter tires of this dalliance, and sets you aside, is the moment you will no more be welcome in this our court.”

“I wouldn’t dream of imposing, ma’am.”

“And yet you would say yes.” The Queen lays a hand on the sword’s scabbard. “These decorations,” she says, looking up a moment at the ornaments. “Do you people not know what season it is?”

“I’m surprised they waited till Halloween, honestly,” says Jo.

The Queen smiles. “Our daughter will gird you herself with her own two hands, before,” she says, and wraps her pale hand about the black lacquer scabbard, lifting it. “I find it helps to keep the fumbling to a minimum during the colée. When you hear the trumpets.” Turning she rustles sword under her arm to the front doors of the coffee shop, where Pyrocles and the man in the black suit push them open. The crowd settles and grows still out there as she walks through them around the glass-walled coffee shop to a balcony lit up with harsh white lights under banners slack, a hawk, a hound, a bee.

“You look beautiful,” says Ysabel. Her gown a clattering fall of amber and gold beads over a short ivory slip. In her hands she holds a limp black belt.

“You got a strange idea of beauty,” says Jo, lifting her arms as Ysabel wraps the belt loosely about her hips. “We’re both gonna be chilly out there.”

“It’s not that cold tonight,” says Ysabel. “And it won’t take long. She will strike you gently on the shoulders, three times.”

“You went over this already.” Outside they’re cheering something the Queen has said to them.

“She will tell them all to remember your honor and your bravery.” Jo rolls her eyes at that, and Ysabel jerks the belt tighter, an admonishment. “She will tell you to remember your oaths and obligations, and she will ask that you hew to the Apportionment and likewise to keep all our feasts and revels. And then she will tell you to rise, lady knight.”

“And then Marfisa calls me out.”

Ysabel adjusts the angle of the belt. “Do you believe me? Do you trust me?”

“That it’s all gonna work out fine?” Jo shrugs. “Something’s got to go right today.” Outside a sudden rush of trumpet notes, a fanfare harshly bright as the spotlights. “That’s one hell of a cue,” says Jo.

“You will not lose,” says Ysabel, both of Jo’s hands held tight in her own. “You will not destroy her.”

“Okay,” says Jo, nodding. “Okay.”

“I’m right behind you.” She opens the door before Jo, and outside the crowd begins to applaud as Jo walks through them around the glass-walled coffee shop to the balcony under the banners. Ysabel stands and watches, holding the door still open.

“Hey, Ys,” says a voice from the otherwise empty shop, and she jumps and lets the door swing shut. She does not turn around. Quiet and calm and flat she says “You son of a bitch. Where the fuck have you been.”

“The Gallowglas has coarsened your tongue.” A deep voice, rough, slurred a little. “Is that any way to speak of Mother?” Maybe a shadow by one of the pillars between dazzled crowd-filled windows shifts something that might be a head, a shoulder.

“I have been left here alone without you,” she says, something filling swelling her words until they almost burst, but he says “You love her, don’t you?” and she stops. Leaning her head against the glass. “And she doesn’t know, does she?” he says. Outside more applause shakes them all like wind.

“You know what that would cost me,” she says, quiet and flat and calm again.

“She’s.” A little hitch in his breath that might be a chuckle. “She’s surprising.”

“She’s fierce,” says Ysabel. “And so loyal and true and so,” and she stops to let the air out of her words again, “beautiful,” she says, “but Mother told me I will not be the one to break her heart. She’s seen it, she says.”

“Pay no attention to what Mother says.” The shadow leans back, folding itself into the sharper shadows of pillar and rafter and window frame. “The next few weeks will be hard,” he says, his voice fading, falling away. “Harder than what went before. But I promise you this – ”

She looks up. Steps over toward the pillar. There’s nothing there, nothing at all. But outside the crowd’s gone still, stock still and silent.

Ysabel pushes open the doors walking out along the side of the glass-walled coffee shop the clatter of the beads of her gown startling in the silence of the crowd all about her peering and craning to see what can be seen in the plaza below. Clear as a bell then the Queen says, “If this is a joke, it is in poor taste.”

Pushing between the last few people Ysabel steps out onto the balcony there beneath the banners where Jo’s standing looking down at the sword hooked to her belt. No one is looking at Jo, or the Queen, or at Ysabel even as they step out of her way. Everyone in those still and silent crowds on the great sweep of steps to the right, the low walls to either side, staring at the figure in the center of the otherwise empty brick-paved plaza, a broad-shouldered man in leather trousers and battered, dusty boots. Broad leather straps about his shoulders fix a greened bronze disk over his bare chest. A mask white and blocky crudely painted with thick black lines to resemble a grinning skull hides his face. An upturned mane of black hair rippling slowly in the otherwise still air. His arm outstretched he holds in his gauntleted right hand the hilt of a longsword pointed at the crowd on the low wall there, the crowd that has pulled back away from where the sword is pointing to reveal Marfisa standing in her breastplate and her armored skirt and her greaves.

Ysabel takes Jo’s hand.

Marfisa steps down from the wall and pulls her sword from the air sandals slapping the bricks as she strides toward the masked man who settles on slightly bent knees both hands now on the hilt of his sword held ready.

He falls backward ripping the sword from her hand the sword that’s buried half its length or more through his side at an angle to burst its glittering tip from his back scraping against the brick as half on his side he tries to roll over push himself up throwing his gauntleted hand across his body for momentum. The upturned mane of black hair about his mask falling gently as if dropped to settle about his shoulders. Marfisa panting plants her sandaled foot on the bronzed disk strapped to his chest and pushes his body back against the bricks. Wraps her hand about the hilt of her sword and wrenches it free. She says something to him that is lost in the cheering and whooping and the thunderclap rush of applause sweeping the crowds all about them. Steps back and offers her left hand. He takes it in his bare hand, and she pulls him to his feet.

“Well fought, O Axe,” calls the Queen effortlessly over the roar of the crowds, settling them all and quieting them again. “We had not thought to celebrate this investiture with a passage at arms. Your willingness to rise to this unknown warrior’s bait is most commended. And as for you, sir.” No hint of a smile upon her face. “Your sense of humor is perhaps too rarified for an audience so large. The office of Huntsman is anathema to us – take solace, then, in this: should I in some dark day that’s yet to come seek out a knight to fill that role, all you’ve done tonight is to remove your name from our consideration.” Until now, perhaps, that relaxation of her mouth, the settling just of her chin. “Whatever that name might be. My city!” And she throws wide her arms as if to take them all in. “All of you who call these streets your home. When first we came here many years ago we brought with us a light that had not shone until that day, a color that had not before been seen. We said an unspoken word, and made music where once had been only silence. Tonight!” Sweeping through the crowd another sound, the rustle of hands in pockets, of plastic baggies in hands, of candy-tins and cigarette cases, pill bottles and ampoules, of gel caps snapped between thumbs and forefingers, as hands lift up above their heads glittering and gleaming with golden light that shines and builds and fills the empty brick-paved plaza. “Tonight, my people! Lift up your voice with mine and show this world that light has not gone out!”

And behind her Jo caught tight in Ysabel’s embrace her chin on Ysabel’s shoulder says, “I didn’t lose,” All about them the crowds have begun to sing, a slowly rising nameless vowel that rises till it slips dizzyingly at once into an ululation ringing back from the buildings towering over them. And Ysabel in Jo’s ear says, “Nor was she lost.”

Leaning back in Jo’s arms Ysabel begins to sing with them all, with the Queen, another round of that simple swooping phrase from a thousand throats filling the plaza and the streets about it, the blocks beyond, all glowing now with a golden hazy light that drifts in curls and tendrils like a fog, clinging to streetlamps and neon signs. Jo reaches out away from Ysabel for a droplet of it skirling up out of her grasp, light tumbling and eddying the wake of her hand. The bricks beneath her feet have taken on a dull red glow as falling light seeps into them. The ivy twined about the pillars smolders with a green and yellow light. The pillars themselves gleam as if newly made, and the green band about the coffee shop sign too bright to look upon rings an unbearably portentous sigil of a mermaid mired in black ink.

“Let’s go dancing!” cries Ysabel, and Jo begins to laugh. All about them the song falling away as people take down their hands from the lofting light, a shirtless boy in a three-piece suit, a heavyset woman in cycling tights blazoned with angry cartoon cats, an old man in a cardigan and plaid pyjama pants leaning on the shoulder of a woman in a shiny yellow sou’wester, putting away bottles and vials and cases and little plastic baggies, cupping still-glowing hands like candles to their chests, a man in a peppermint seersucker jacket stuffing his hand into a pocket that becomes a dim lantern, and one by two and three they turn and take their leave.

Table of Contents

Ava,” written by David Byrne, copyright holder unknown.

M.E.Traylor    14 August 2010    #

Confused, feeling a little bit of anti-climax like with the boar fight, but I am prepared to be surprised.

  Textile Help