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When the Alarm Clock buzzes – How it is – What she Shouldn’t have done – the wrong damn Hatch –

When the alarm clock buzzes the rumpled blankets jerk and twist and spit out a hand. It fumbles about and finds the clock and slaps the snooze button. A head pops out, blinking, befuddled. Mousy brown hair maybe down to the shoulders, tangled with sleep. She kicks herself free of the thick down comforter half-tumbling naked from off the big broad bed to stand there a moment, scratching herself under her breasts. Sunlight shines vaguely behind the drawn curtains. The sound of a shower running somewhere down the hall.

The kitchen’s long and narrow, empty, dim. She’s pouring steaming water from a kettle into a carafe of ground coffee. She’s pulled on a faded yellow work shirt with the sleeves rolled up and only a couple-three buttons fastened. She sets the kettle on the gleaming white stovetop and picks up a plunger, fits it to the top of the carafe. Looks up at the round clock over the stainless steel refrigerator, toying with one of the undone buttons on her shirt. Quarter of nine.

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

One of them stands open, a small dark room beyond, coats on the wall, a couple bicycles leaning together, the corner of a clothes-dryer stacked on top of a washing machine. A pair of rubber boots. The other door is closed. Like the first it’s tall, skinny, paneled and painted white. She walks toward them, bare feet pale against the red and black whorls of the linoleum, reaching for the closed door, its crystal knob set in old greened brass.


Jo spins, hand to her mouth. “Jesus, Duke,” she says. He’s by the sink in a long dressing gown crowded with paisleys of purple and maroon and gold and brown. He stops drying his hair with a towel, head tocking back, struck by a little smile. “You haven’t called me that in a while,” he says. Draping the towel about his neck. “Is there coffee?”

The clock says five of nine. “Oh hell,” says Jo, rushing back down the length of the kitchen. “I don’t know what happened – ”

“It’s okay,” says the Duke.

“It’s only been ten minutes, it should be okay,” she’s saying, grabbing the plunger, leaning on it, pressing down into the carafe, and “Not so hard,” says the Duke, “you don’t want to,” leaning over, peering around her, “pop it, like last time,” as Jo says, “It’s not gonna break.” Hiking up on her toes to force the plunger down. “You want to get down a couple of cups?”

“I dunno,” says the Duke close behind her. One arm snaking about her waist. One hand on her bare hip under her shirt. “Maybe I don’t need the coffee.”

“Leo,” she says, letting go of the plunger as he kisses her neck. “That’s it,” he says, both hands on her hips now, bending his knees a little leaning back. “Jesus, Leo, not so – ” and her eyes get wide and she takes a quick sip of air and grips the counter.

“Well?” says the Duke, leaning forward over her back, kissing her neck again, her ear. “Go on,” she says, still gripping the counter, “if you’re gonna, go on,” and ducking bracing himself hands on her hips again his dressing gown falls open towel slipping from his shoulders belly tight against her ass bared shirt ridden up to the small of her back slapping as he rocks back and forth and she winces hand slapping grabbing the rim of the sink face clenched she bites her lip “Jesus” she says, “Leo – ”

A rattling bang his knees against the cabinets and “Shit,” he says, faltering. “Oh,” says Jo, “hey,” and he leans back jerking her hips back bucking against her again and again a bang. “Fuck!” says the Duke, “hang on,” but Jo’s leaning forward against the sink pushing him back a step and then another staggering vaguely confused his gown slipping from his shoulders his cock bobbing, foreskin drawn back, the swollen purple head of it glistening. “No I can,” he says, reaching for her, but she’s swarming over him grabbing his face her mouth glued to his and they spin about her hair swinging his wet hair pasted to the back of his neck. She pushes him down and down to his knees still kissing him down and back to sit on the floor as she straddles his lap. “There,” she says, one hand on his shoulder, one hand down between them as she settles herself, and “Oh,” he says, “oh that works too.” A phone’s ringing.

“I guess it has, hasn’t it,” says Jo, sitting in a low flat armchair, a glassy black phone to her ear. “We’ve been busy.” In her faded yellow work shirt and a pair of brown jeans. “Well there’s a lot to do, you know? A lot of things to do.”

It’s a wide white room filled with blue shadows, wheat-colored drapes drawn over an enormous picture window. At one end a big white unadorned fireplace, cold and dark, the wall above it darkened by old smoke. There’s an orange couch, long and low on spindly aluminum legs. “I want you to meet him too,” says Jo. Hanging over the couch a sword slung from a red leather strap, 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, swaddled in a basket of wiry strands. “He’s a, well, there’s a lot of things he does. I guess you could say he’s an entrepreneur. But that’s what I mean, he’s always, there’s always – ” Jo leans forward, one leg drawn up, her foot resting on the cushion. “Well, openings, things like that, going out to support this or – ” Rolls her eyes. “I don’t really need one anymore. Actually, I’m thinking of going to school.” Leans back a little. “Yeah. I was thinking maybe art history or – well it doesn’t – well it doesn’t have to be – it doesn’t have to be practical, Mom.” Leaning forward again, elbows on her knees, both feet swallowed by the thick white carpet. “That’s just how it is.” Anger flashes across her face. “Well, I did.” She squeezes her eyes shut, dips her head. “What, I was gonna keep Dad’s name? That would have made you happy?” She leaps to her feet. “Well I did, it’s done. Okay? It happened. It’s done.” Listening, her eyes shutting again, shaking her head. “Mom.” With aimless steps she walks away from the chair, past the front door white in a white frame, high windows filled with reflected white light. “Well – ” she says, biting off the word with stern lips set in a grimace that shivers, softens, melts into something almost concerned, almost a smile. She leans in the doorway to the dim narrow kitchen. “We both said stuff we didn’t – ” Ducking her head again, tucking a wave of hair up behind her ear. “Well I’m – I’m – well, I, I’m – thanks, Mom. Thank you.” Turning in the doorway, folding her free arm about herself. “I’m, I’m sorry, too, Mom.”

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

“What?” Frowning, blinking. Stepping into the kitchen. “I, I missed that. What – ”

One of them standing open, a small dark room beyond, coats, a couple bicycles, washer and dryer and a pair of rubber boots. The other door is closed. Jo’s walking toward them both her bare feet pale against the red and black whorls of the linoleum. “I’m sorry, Mom, can you hang on just a – ” Reaching for the closed door, its crystal knob set in old greened brass. From the front of the house a pounding, a doorbell bonging, and again.

“Mrs. Barganax?”

“What,” says Jo, the door opened just a crack between them.

“Joliet Kendal Barganax?” says the one with the shock of pinkish orange hair. He’s holding up a badge in a brown leather wallet. “I’m Detective Fox.” Tucking the badge back into his black leather jacket, nodding at the man next to him, both hands in the pockets of his black wool greatcoat. “This is Detective Tassick. We have some questions for you, if we could come inside?”

“Here’s fine,” says Jo, lifting a cigarette to her lipsticked mouth. Blowing smoke past them. The little entryway screened by a high green hedge.

“Bit chilly,” says Fox, shrugging. He pulls a manila envelope from his jacket. “You know a Jasmine Chavda?” Showing her a black and white photo, a woman looking away from the camera, a strong nose, long hair straight and black and loose.

“No,” says Jo, letting the door open a little more. She’s wearing a brief black slip with simple ribbon straps and her hair’s done up in curlers, pink and minty green and baby blue. Her toenails painted red and black, except the dead grey ridge on the big toe of her left foot.

“Lauren Yallowshot?” says Fox. “Jessie Vitaly?” More photos, a teenaged girl laughing, one hand on the oversized headphones she’s wearing, a blond woman in a white T-shirt staring expressionless at the camera.

“Jessie, yes,” says Jo. “She used to work for my husband.”

“You know she’s an exotic dancer,” says Tassick. His voice is deep and roughly worn. He wears a salt-and-pepper Van Dyke, neatly trimmed.

“I didn’t know she’d gone back to it,” says Jo.

“But she and your husband, had a relationship?” says Fox.

“So?” says Jo.

“You said she worked for him,” says Tassick.

“Guys,” says Jo, “if everybody with a, a stripper for an ex in this city’s suddenly police business, I mean, damn.”

“We have reason to believe these women are involved in a matter of notional security,” says Fox, reaching into his jacket again. “If you see any of them, or hear from Ms. Vitaly at any point, in the next few days, Mrs. Barganax,” he’s handing her a card, “we’d appreciate a call?”

She takes the card in her free hand, saying, “My name’s Jo – ” Looking down, past the card, her feet in mismatched Chuck Taylors, one of them black, one of them white, the toe held on with duct tape. “This is bullshit,” she says, and lets the card drop from her fingers.

“Mrs. Barganax,” says Tassick.

“I didn’t get married!” screams Jo, and for a moment no one says anything, the detectives outside, Jo clinging to the door. “I’m not the one getting married,” she says, and she ducks back into the house. “Mrs. Barganax!” calls Fox, and Tassick shoves him.

There are two doors at the other end of the kitchen.

Jo cigarette in her hand marches down the length of the kitchen and puts her hand on the crystal knob set in old green brass. “Please,” she whispers, and she opens the door.

A gleaming white bathroom lit by coiled fluorescent bulbs around a mirror over the sink the floor of tiny black and white hexagonal tiles stretching the length of it to a clawfoot tub ringed by clear plastic curtains.

“Ysabel?” says Jo, setting her cigarette on the edge of the sink.

Through the curtains blurry vague the tub’s filled almost to the brim with filthy water clouded brown and grey a greasy sheen to it jackknifed knees upright at one end a hand floating limply thumb just breaking the surface. “Oh God” says Jo, ripping the curtains open hooks ringing, “oh God no,” plunging heedless hands into the tub pulling splashing slippery torso an arm flopping a chin a woman’s face foul water the color of old blood pouring from the slackly open mouth black hair heavy a thickly soaking sheet of it clinging to shoulders breasts as Jo hauls twisting falling back one arm wrapped about the weight of the body half out of the tub now, “Ysabel,” she says, sluicing black hair from that face, “Ysabel!” the half-open mouth, the green eyes dull in the harsh flat light.

“Jo,” says someone, the Duke, a flat question. Ysabel in her arms she turns halfway to see him in the mirror over the sink, his red and brown striped jacket, his face obscured by a streak of something smeared across the glass. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” A drift of grey ash falls from the smoldering cigarette to mar the white bowl of the sink. A tearing retching gasp and Ysabel begins to breathe heaving in Jo’s arms sloshing water from the tub squeaking one arm caught in the shower curtains pulling rings popping ripping loose as Ysabel slips from the tub and they fall back to the tiles hacking coughing spitting rustling in all that clear plastic. “Ysabel?” Jo’s saying. “Ysabel are you okay? Are you there?” and Ysabel, slowly, nods.

Gasping, laughing, Jo pulls her close, “Oh God,” she’s saying, Ysabel clinging to her still nodding, still coughing, and Jo scrapes away more hair to find her mouth her eyes her forehead which she kisses, holding Ysabel calming gentling to her. “Hey,” says Jo then, “Leo.” Struggling with the plastic. “A little help here? Leo?”

He’s standing in the doorway, leaning on his cane, the rough-hewn hawk at its head caged in his fingers. Staring at the tub, the wall beyond, his brow faintly creased by some quizzical concern.

“Christ,” mutters Jo, kicking at the plastic. “Ysabel,” fighting her way upright, “are you, can you,” and Ysabel curled on her side lifts a hand weakly shaking her head, then nods, pushes herself up to her hands and knees, shivering. Jo to her feet now grabs the Duke by his lapels. “Hey!” She slaps him. Blinking, his mouth working, he lifts a hand to his cheek. “You in there?” says Jo.

“Of course,” says the Duke.

“Well fucking help then or get out of the way,” says Jo, pushing past him, wet shoes slapping the kitchen floor.

In the bedroom she hauls open the frosted glass doors of the closet at the foot of the big broad bed to find a row of red and brown striped jackets and little black dresses one after another all the same. Hangers rattle as she shoves them back and forth. “This has got to be your dream house,” she mutters, pulling out one of the jackets free, turning to the bed. Shoving the down comforter to the floor she yanks a woven blanket loose and bundles it with her.

In the living room Ysabel’s crouching on the carpet wrapped in the Duke’s red and brown striped jacket. The Duke in his cream-colored vest propped on his cane leans over her. Jo looks at the red and brown striped jacket in her hands, shrugs, tosses it to him, then kneels by the shivering Ysabel, wrapping her in the blanket. “I have other clothes, you know,” says the Duke, pulling on the jacket.

“Not here you don’t,” says Jo. Ysabel’s squeezing water from her hair with a corner of the blanket.

“You should pay more attention.”

“I should,” snaps Jo. “Where’d you get the idea I’d be wearing slinky little cocktail dresses?”

“We need,” says Ysabel, “to go.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” says Jo, getting to her feet.

“Jo, no,” says the Duke, as she heads to the front door, “not that way,” as she pulls it open. The entryway’s gone. The doorway’s walled off by the high thick hedge. “Shit,” says Jo, shutting the door, heading for the wheat-colored drapes. “Jo, don’t,” says the Duke, we have to, don’t!” as she yanks them open.

The Duke’s gently pushing her back from the window, pulling the drapes shut without looking. The hissing rush of sound dies away. “It’s pretty raw,” he says.

“How do we,” says Jo, shuddering, “is there, what, a back door?”

“We need to go up,” says Ysabel, standing now, wrapped in the jacket and the blanket.

“Or down,” says the Duke. He lifts a hand but doesn’t brush her cheek.

“Up’s good,” says Jo, pointing back toward the bedroom. “I think this place has an attic.”

“Lead on,” says the Duke, and limping after her offers an arm to Ysabel. They follow her into the hall.

Then Jo jogs back into the living room jumps onto the orange couch grabs the sword hanging there. Wet shoes on the orange cushions she takes the scabbard in her left hand and the hilt in her right and tugs free half a foot of blade. The surface of it polished but within deep waves of dark and light steel chase the spine of it. “Okay,” says Jo, sheathing it with a whisp and a snick, slinging the red strap over a shoulder, stepping down off the couch.

In the hall the Duke’s unfolding a stepladder from a trapdoor in the ceiling, Ysabel beside him, huddled in the blanket. “So what’s up there?” says Jo.

“The attic?” says the Duke, his hand on one of the rungs. “Let’s go find out,” he says, limping around to the foot of the ladder, tucking his cane under an arm. “No, no,” says Jo, “let me go first,” a hand on the other side.

“Barganax,” says Ysabel.

“You need to help the Princess,” says the Duke, pushing gently but firmly against Jo, and “Dammit, Leo,” says Jo, pushing back.

“Gallowglas!” says Ysabel sharply. “Southeast!” They both stop and turn to look at her. She’s resettling the blanket about her shoulders. “Jo, you go first. Duke, I’ll follow after you.”

“Princess,” says the Duke, stepping back. “This is hardly the time for modesty.” Jo starts up the ladder.

“Your leg, Barganax,” says Ysabel. “This is no time for pride.”

The Duke looks down, puts a foot on a rung. “No need to be so formal.”

Jo puts her head up through a hatch, works a shoulder then another up and through shimmying to get her elbows up on the floor of a small room framed and paneled in dark wood. Her sword thumping as she hauls it up. Two other hatches open in the floor, one to either side. Oil lamps sway from slender chains. In the corner there is Jasmine, sitting on a pile of folded cloth, robes in richly clashing colors folded one atop another. She’s wearing a greyly black wetsuit, her hair pulled back in a long tight braid. She’s cradling a girl in her lap, all knees and elbows in a schoolgirl’s sailor suit, her face screwed up and ugly red with weeping. “You made it,” says Jasmine. Snuffling the girl looks up.

“Yeah,” says Jo, and from beneath her the Duke’s voice, muffled, “You okay? What’s up there?” Jo shifts, trying to peer down through the narrow hatch, “I don’t know,” she calls, pulling herself up and out. “Not an attic.”

Almost immediately a hand grips the edge of the next hatch over, another hand hoisting up a wooden cane, a stern, rough-hewn hawk at its head. Grimacing the Duke’s pulling himself out of the hatch on the far side of that small room, and “The fuck,” Jo’s saying, “Leo, Christ, that’s the wrong damn hatch – ”

“The hell are you,” grunts the Duke in his red and brown striped jacket, sitting himself on the edge of his hatch, rubbing his thigh. “It’s the only one – ” He stops, seeing her hatch beside his, the hatch beyond, at Jasmine’s feet.

“Can I come up?” says Ysabel somewhere below.

The Duke’s lifting his legs out of the hatch as Jo scrambles over to him, grabbing his shoulder. “Are you you?” She jerks him around to face her. “How do I know it’s you?”

“What kind of question is that?” says the Duke.

“Where is she?” says the girl in Jasmine’s lap.

A wadded-up blanket’s pushed up through the middle hatch, followed by Ysabel in her red and brown striped jacket, her damp dark head turning to take in the hatches, Jasmine and the girl, the pile of robes, the Duke and Jo.

“Where is she?” says the girl, sitting up.

“You found both the Duke and the Princess?” says Jasmine.

“I,” says Jo, leaning over to grab the blanket, “yes.” Wrapping it about Ysabel’s shoulders. “Yes I did.” Watching the Duke all the while, leaning on his cane now in the corner. “Where are we? Back in the teahouse?”

“We’ll never get back!” wails the girl in Jasmine’s lap, and “Hush, Lauren,” says Jasmine, stroking her hair.

“I think we’re on a ship,” says the Duke.

“Never?” says Ysabel.

“What?” says Jo.

“A ship,” says the Duke, pointing to the swaying lanterns.

“We’re somewhere between,” says Jasmine. “It will be much harder to move on, without all three of us.”

“Between, between what,” says Jo.

“Here,” says Jasmine, “and, well, there.”

“You never,” says Lauren, as Ysabel says “No,” and the Duke says “Well, there are nuances – Jo, dammit, wait – ”

Jo’s leaning over the hatch at his feet. “What?” she says. “Three hatches, three of us.” Swinging herself around, her feet a-dangle. “You came out of that one, right?” she says to Jasmine and Lauren, pointing to the hatch on the far side of the small room.

“Yes,” says Jasmine, and Lauren, wide-eyed, nods.

“And we came up out of the middle one,” says Jo, turning to the Duke, “and you came up out of this one. Alone. I think she’s down here.”

“Wait,” says the Duke.

“For what?” says Jo. “I’m just gonna take a look. What’ll happen if I go down there?”

“I don’t know,” says the Duke.

“Anybody?” She looks around at them all in that small room. “Ysabel? Can anybody tell me what’ll happen if I go down there?”

“No,” says Jasmine.

“We need her,” says Lauren.

“Okay then,” says Jo, and she pushes off the edge and drops through the hatch and is gone.

“Oh,” says the Duke, “I wish she hadn’t done that.”

“Well, she did,” says Ysabel, and then someone raps on the door. “Are ye ready?” says a rough voice, hushed, trying to be heard through that door but not much further. The Duke looks at Ysabel, Ysabel looks at the Duke, and Jasmine looks at them both. Lauren’s looking at the door.

“Well?” says whoever it is. “It’s almost time!”

Table of Contents

“4'33",” written by John Cage, copyright holder unknown.

M.E. Traylor    15 March 2011    #

‘Joliet’ kind of banks the fire of my secret hope that Jo is trans, but whatever. Loving the interactions here, everyone who’s used to being in charge just needing to buckle down and follow orders.

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