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A small room – Where else, What else –

A small room lined with books from floor to ceiling on dark wooden shelves lit by unobtrusive spots. More books in roughly neat piles on rugs by a couple of wing chairs and narrow end tables bearing up under the weight of yet more unshelved books, leather-bound and dust-jacketed some wrapped in clear plastic, paperbacks tucked here and there and some books blankly featureless in wraps of plain brown paper. A stretch of rug, ankle-deep arabesques where it isn’t cluttered by more stacks of books ragged and angled and tumbled into a wave that’s broken against the broad high oxblood back of a tufted leather sofa pulled before the dying flicker of a fireplace. A bare foot edges up above the back of that sofa, toes pointed, clenched, the bottom of it dark with grime, a gasp and a grunt and it shivers toes unfurling with a glottal, a guttural, a long low groan that judders into a word, “ – God – ” and then relaxes, lowering, settling, the heel of it hooked over the back of the sofa, the nail of the big toe a dead grey ridge.

“Yeah?” says someone, a man. A rustle, a squeak of skin on leather, a sigh. A woman laughs, “That’s, that was,” and then she gasps and her foot on the back of the sofa jerks up and draws back lifting her shin her quivering calf, “sorry,” she says, and “aftershock.” More squeaking and rustling that’s her head there against the arm of the sofa short brown hair dark in the firelight. She’s looking off to the side, her foot braced for leverage, she’s tugging something. “Wait,” says the man. “Jo, just,” and, more rustling, “leave it,” he says.

She says, “I need a minute,” and he says, “I want to look at you,” and she says, “don’t,” but the rustling stops.

“What is this?” he says.

At the other end of the sofa in his soft brown vest the Duke’s leaning over on his elbows his shoulder under Jo’s upraised thigh his arm about her hip his hand splayed over her belly, stroking the harsh, green-black lines of a tattoo along the swell of it from navel to the edge of dark curled hair, an angular thing, abstract, a suggestion of beak and eyes.

“A tattoo,” says Jo. Lying back looking down the length of herself at him. Soft heathery dress drawn in rumpled waves up past her hips up baring her belly up to lap under her breasts, straps askew, black bra still in place beneath. One arm tangled in the folds of it not tugging it down. “Well, yes, a tattoo,” says the Duke. He kisses it. “What’s it of?”

“It’s, a reminder,” says Jo. She sits up, she scoots back, she pulls her foot down from the back of the sofa. “Wait,” says the Duke, sitting back, as her dress falling into her lap she takes his face in her hands and kisses him. “Oh,” he says. On the floor by the hearth a cane topped by a rough-hewn hawk, a sword in a plain black scabbard, a tossed-off red and brown striped jacket, a wadded pair of grey boxer briefs. “That was,” says Jo, and then she kisses him again. His hand on her knee, his hand on her hip under her dress. “It’s been a while,” says Jo. “I can’t believe I’m asking you this. But tell me you have a rubber in your pocket.”

“In my,” says the Duke.

“A condom,” says Jo.

“I know what,” says the Duke, “you have to trust me, Jo, I could no more get you with child than I could bring you down the moon.”

“That’s not,” says Jo, “that’s not all I’m.” She’s frowning. “The music.”

“There’s no,” says the Duke, and Jo says, “It stopped.” Reaching down for the hilt of the sword when from somewhere else in the house a great crack of sound that shakes the sofa and tumbles the books piled all about them. Someone’s screaming. Jo stands abruptly banging into the picnic table rattling the liquor bottles lined across it, five or six of them round and square, clear glass and green glass and deep deep brown. In her satiny black slip, her skinny black jeans, her hands splayed flat on rainbowed graffiti. “Duke?” she says. “Leo?” Someone screams.

“Shit.” Jo jerks herself free of the picnic table, toppling a bottle. Whisky slops to the floor. “Is anyone,” comes a call from deeper, further in, “is anybody, where’s, is anyone? Here?”

“Jessie?” calls Jo down the cramped hall lit by ropes of white lights.

“Hello? Who’s that?”

“Hang on,” says Jo, “I’m coming,” but behind her something thumps and someone gruffly says “Hey!” and Jo catches herself as white lights clatter with the heavy footsteps behind her. “Hey, lady!” Jo turns arms wrapped tightly about herself in a puffy ski jacket some filthy color impossible to name in those shadows under the bridge. One arm of it slashed leaking tufts of white down fill. “Where else am I gonna go?” she’s saying. “Huh? Tell me that.”

“Anywhere,” says the man in the long dark coat, more of a boy, narrow shoulders hunched up around his ears. “Anywhere but here.” A truck booms over the bridge above and he scowls up and waits until it’s passed. “They weren’t all out looking for you they’d be here. They’d be drawing you a circle in the dirt.”

“But not you, huh, Christian?” She sniffs, she gulps. Her hair’s long, dark, the tips of it stiff with dirt patter the shoulders of her jacket as she shudders. “Smart enough to know I’d come back here.” Her Chuck Taylors digging into the gravel, scuffed white toe half torn away, the sock within spotted dark. “I been taxed,” says Jo. “What else she gonna do to me?”

“Lady, what the hell. You hear me? You okay?”

One hand braced against a bare wood rafter Jo’s frowning at the man in the grey suit and the white shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat. He’s got her wrist in one hand and a gun in the other, a snub-nosed revolver pointed at the floor between them. “Let go,” she says, and he does. “Leir,” he says. “I’m looking for Leir.”

“Damned if I know,” says Jo, taking a step back. He takes a step forward. Strings of light clatter. She’s looking at the gun still pointed at the floor and takes another step back. “I ain’t gonna shoot you,” he says, taking another step toward her. “This is for him.” Another step, boards creaking, lights clattering. “Ain’t neither of us got time for this.”

“I don’t know,” says Jo, taking another step back. He doesn’t. He isn’t looking at her, he’s blinking rapidly, his gaze jerks about, gun-hand dangling. Jo steps toward him, bending low, looks up at his dark face. He’s mumbling something turning his head chin brushing the shoulder of his suit. Her eyes on the gun now forgotten in his fist. His face jerks tendons in his throat jumping like he’s yelling at something far away. “Jo?” cries someone from further, deeper in. “Oh God are you gone too?” and the man in the grey suit shudders and blinks and Jo cringes, the hand that was reaching for the gun closing in a fist stepping back and back again she turns on down the hallway stumbling through a door down the one low step beyond crashing to all fours on the rugs laid one over another on the unfinished planks. Lifting herself and starting back suddenly one hand still on the floor the other over her mouth. Not looking away from the puddle of puke on the black-and-white tiles between her bare knees.

Chairs scrape back. “Oh God,” says someone, a blond girl at a desk beside her. Jo looks up to see all of them staring at her and at the end of the aisle of desks before the whiteboard a man in an argyle sweater, cheeks reddening over his thick brown beard.

“What have you done to me,” says Jo Maguire.

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M.E. Traylor    28 February 2011    #

AT LAAAAST. Very cleanly done, with the usual dose of delicious confusion.

And yes. The aftershocks.

cajeck    1 March 2011    #

Wonderful. But gotta say, not diggin on Jo’s decision to get involved with the Duke. Makes me ten shades of unhappy. Not that I’m rooting for some other pairing, but…well, yeah.

Loving the craziness, nevertheless. Can’t see how this turns out!

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