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Water, crashing – Wednesday morning – Jo, unexpected –

Water, crashing into the tub. Jo tests it with a hand, adjusts a knob, fetches the stopper from a chrome rack over the nozzle and leans in to sink it home. She’s headed for the bucket, the tureen, when Ysabel says, “First things first.”

“Oh,” says Jo. She undoes the belt of her robe, but turns her back before opening it, shrugging it off to hang it from a hook there by the tub.

“I would not have expected modesty,” says Ysabel. She’s sitting on the closed toilet seat, smoking the end of her cigarette. Jo turns, head cocked, hands spread, a gesture of display, before stooping by the bucket. “Any time you’re ready,” she says.

Cigarette in her mouth Ysabel works the sweater up over her head, down her arms, to drop to the floor. She lifts her foot to work a gold ring from her little toe. “Your tattoo’s gone,” she says. Setting the ring on the windowsill. Jo’s working to pop the seals that hold the lid of the bucket in place, but one hand strays to her belly. “I guess,” she says, “it, he, couldn’t put it back. Or didn’t bother.”

“It never suited you,” says Ysabel, stubbing out the cigarette.

“It was a warning,” says Jo, but Ysabel’s hand is on her back, sliding up to her shoulder as she jerks upright, turning to find herself in an embrace, Ysabel pulling her close, shorn fuzz against wine-colored locks.

“This is weird,” says Jo.

“Of course it is,” says Ysabel. Letting go, stepping back. “We’ve never done it before.” Hoisting a leg into the tub, pulling herself in after. “Properly,” she says, and sighs as she settles in the steaming water. “Wait,” she says, when Jo turns back to the bucket. “Wait.”

Jo sits on the edge of the tub, and takes Ysabel’s dripping hand in her own, and Ysabel pulls it close to press a kiss to the palm of it. Jo closes her eyes. “Let it fill a bit more,” says Ysabel.

Abruptly up, mouth open, a word unsaid, beige blankets, white sheet wound about her legs. Grey daylight leaking past the edges of a heavy curtain drawn, incandescent light seeping under a closed door, and the howl of a hair dryer, and she draws herself up, elbow on knees, hand to her forehead, the neat white bit of gauze taped there, under her rumpled wine-red hair. A second bed beside her, comforter turned back, pillows in disarray. Grey suit laid out neatly at the foot of it, and a yellow camisole. “Ysabel?” says Jo, but softly. Clink of glass as she sets her feet to the floor, an empty bottle or two. Black tank top, black briefs, she makes her gingerly way past the low dresser laden with ravaged take-out boxes, an empty bottle of wine, white shopping bags that say Meier and Frank in red letters. A sword, blade bare, the hilt of it guarded about by a net of wiry strands. She lifts an edge of the heavy curtain and squints out, washed over in thin grey light. The wall over across the street paneled in squares of colors from old photographs, dull orange, pale grey, dull greenish grey, the brick building beside it painted over in a mural, a camel, an oasis, M.E. Dinihanian and Sons, it says. Rug Cleaning. Rug Repairing. The hair dryer stops.

The bathroom door opens. There’s Ysabel, smoothing the artful tangles of her long black hair, shot through with occasional curling threads of white. “Did I wake you?” she says.

“Time’s it,” says Jo.

“After nine,” says Ysabel. “In the morning.” She picks up the yellow camisole. “Wednesday morning,” she says, slipping it on.

“I know what,” says Jo, and then, catching herself, “it’s tomorrow.”

“The Apportionment, yes,” says Ysabel, fingers busy with buttons. “Tomorrow evening. So plenty of time, oceans of time, to gather the medhu, turn the owr, see to my mother, reassure the gentry,” reaching for grey trousers, smokey stockings.

“Is there, anything you need?” says Jo. “I can do, to help?”

Ysabel looks up. Lays the trousers back over the foot of the bed. “Don’t go,” she says. “Don’t do this to yourself.” Taking Jo’s hand from the curtain, letting darkness fall again. Jo pulls her close, a sudden embrace. “You don’t have to go,” says Ysabel, her chin on Jo’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I do,” says Jo, leaning back from all that hair.

“Then I will go with you,” says Ysabel, kissing her, softly.

“Everything you got going on?” says Jo. “And you didn’t know him. Really, you don’t have to,” and another kiss. “Yes,” says Ysabel. “I do.”

Letting go. Ysabel dressing, crisply, quietly, stockings and trousers, jacket. Jo lays a hand on the curtain again but doesn’t lift it. “Is there time for breakfast?” says Jo. “I could maybe make myself presentable, you give me a minute.”

“I must go now to secure a tub,” says Ysabel, slipping on a lemon and grey spectator pump. “For the turning. You get back in bed. We’ll try for lunch.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “Lunch. Where.”

“I’ll let you know,” says Ysabel, putting on her long white topcoat. “A surprise. My treat.” A white slouch hat on her head. “All right?”

Jo nods. When the door closes, when she’s alone, she looks down, picks up a bottle that isn’t yet empty. Jim Beam Honey, the label says.

Wandering through a grocery store a featureless silhouette, down a city street. He isn’t watching. He isn’t looking at the other monitor either, the one filled with columned numbers, rows highlighted in yellow and green. Something burbles, chimes, a notice appears, floating over the numbers, Andy Hornbeck’s office calling, Answer, Answer with video, Decline. He looks up, runs a hand through what’s left of his hair, fits a tiny black headset to his ear and taps it. “Mendlesohn Associates,” he says. Past the monitors a glass-walled office, inside a man looking out at the cityscape, dark hills, soft grey rain. “Mr. Mendlesohn’s in conference,” says Becker. “I can take a message, or he can – that’s – yes. He can. Any time before two? Yes, I’ll, I’ll let him know. Thank you.” Tapping the space bar, setting the tiny headset by the keyboard, a sleek aluminum thing with spotless white keys, unburdened by any cords.

A woman comes around a corner of those glass walls, studiedly graceful in nosebleed heels, a slender pinstripe skirt. “Arnold,” she says.

“Becker, actually,” he says, adjusting the knot of his tie, a burnished brown with muted polka dots. “Everybody, ah, calls me, just, Becker.”

She nods once, and says, “Is there any way to possibly, rearrange the entries, in the Pink Cloud and White Cloud reports, by admittance date? And print them?” Her makeup precisely invisible, blond hair swept back, pinned up. “Sure,” says Becker. “If you click the column,” pointing to the spreadsheet, “then use the sort icon, you can – ”

“Excellent,” she says. “And printouts. Of each. Thanks.”

Becker says, “Sure.”

She heads off into the glass-walled office, and he presses a key. Watches the rows and columns shift and rearrange. Stands when the printer over on the credenza whirs to life. Pages in hand, he knocks once on the glass door, then steps in, “of the under-thirties,” the man’s saying, “lock, stock, and barrel the crosstabs,” and then he looks away from the rain to see Becker, there, in the doorway. “Here,” says Becker, holding out the pages to the woman perched on a corner of the glass-topped desk.

“Both reports, Arnold,” she says.

“It is,” he says. “It’s both.”

“Five copies?” she says. “I need five copies. Of each.”

And Becker says, “Sure.”

In the bathroom he bangs open a stall door, leans against one red-painted wall. Loosens his tie, undoes the top button of his shirt. Swipes and thumbs the screen of his phone, holds it up to his ear. “We have got to talk about this situation,” he says.

“I have been here three days,” he says, “and I don’t know what I’m doing or what they think they’re doing but I don’t think they know either –

“What? David, I’m not talking about lunch! We have to –

“I – I don’t, I didn’t – ” He sighs. “Red Star. Six o’clock. Drinks, whatever.” Leaning his head back, closing his eyes. “Sure,” says Becker.

At the top of those wide white steps the Coke machine hums to itself, bright red, and on the front of it a photo of a bottle of soda, a thickly blackish brown that’s hoared with ice. In the ruddied shadows beside it a nondescript white door, the knob of it faceted glass. Up from the lobby below comes Jo’s voice echoing, rising, “my stuff! Every goddamn thing I had left in this world!”

“But there’s nothing there, milady,” says the man in the brown tweed vest.

“Bullshit,” says Jo all in black, black jeans, black boots, the hood of her jacket back over her shoulders like a crumpled scarf. The neat white dressing at her brow. She moves to step past him, and he scrambles into her path. “Lady, please.”

“The hell with this lady shit,” she says.

“I merely wish,” says the man in the vest, and “Stirrup!” says a deep voice, over there. “Gallowglas.” Jo whips around, catching herself. A man there in the doorway, under a hanging bouquet of tie-dyed T-shirts, his shoulders broad in yellow chamois, his hair a neat black cap. “What seems to be the matter in dispute,” he says.

“I just,” says Jo, “want to go upstairs, and get my stuff?”

“There’s nothing up there anymore,” says the man in the doorway, and he holds up a hand as Jo snaps, “Luys!” and he says, “so there’s no harm, in letting you see that for yourself.” A bit of leather thong tied loosely about his wrist. “Mason!” cries the Stirrup, but Luys turns his hand from forestalling to an offering with a gentle smile. Jo doesn’t take it.

“We weren’t told to expect you,” says the Stirrup, stepping aside with a scowl.

“I can’t just,” says Jo, headed for the wide white steps, “sit, all the damn day in that hotel, while she’s off, doing, God knows what.” On the landing she pauses, her hand against the wall, and Luys hurries up after, taking her arm. “My lady,” he says, quietly. “You’re drunk.”

“The hell I am,” she says.

“You’ve been drinking,” he says.

“Call me lady again,” she says, yanking herself free, marching on, up the steps. “I’ll deck you.”

The buzzing Coke machine. The white door beside it. Jo rips and resettles the velcro closures on her cycling gloves, black and grey. “The password,” she says.

“There’s no one inside to give it,” says Luys. “Go on.”

Jo closes her eyes, her hand on the knob. “Farquahr will be two,” she murmurs, and she opens the door.

The room beyond is little more than a closet. To one side a mop bucket. “Wait,” says Jo. A rack of cubbies stuffed with spray bottles and cartons of light bulbs. “I’ve seen this before.” Wrapped bundles of paper towels and looped hanks of extension cords. She closes the door. “If I just.” Opens it again.

“It’s gone,” says Luys, as she’s saying, “The rooms, all the rooms, his, my things, they were,” and he says, “You didn’t come for your things, Gallowglas.” Her eyes closing, lips clenching. “You came alone,” says Luys, quietly, “on the bus, didn’t you? With liquor on your breath, and only half the morning gone.” He takes her hand in both of his. “You loved him, didn’t you.” Her eyes open abruptly. “Or you might have,” he says. “Come to. But he’s gone. Jo. He’s gone.”

“Did you?” says Jo. “Love him?”

He looks away. Lets go her hand. Reaches past her to close the door. “Come along with me,” he says, and he heads back past the Coke machine to the steps.

“Where,” says Jo. “Where’re you going?” Stepping after him. “Where are we going?”

“To get the car,” says Luys. “To take you to your things.”

Under the trees in a ragged file they move, having left streetlights behind, a hundred of them, and another, and more, and each of them holding up a shining hand, and gleaming tendrils of a summery haze drift like smoke down and down in their wake, and fall about the brims of their hats, the crowns of their hoods, the shoulders of their heavy coats and leather jackets, nylon rainshells and fleecey pullovers, and their mouths open, singing, a nameless vowel to eddy that sluggish fog of light, and the sound of it rising slowly until it slips all at once in a dizzying ululation that winds about the trees around them. Light falls more thickly now, on roots and gravel, mud and the thin grass, pine needles and mushrooms, and the boots and shoes and muddy feet of those that come after disturb the fallen light as they pass, kick it up like dust as they move on, singing, and yet more light falling, from all those upraised hands.

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Jim Beam Honey® is a registered trademark of the Jim Beam Brands Co. Someone Great,” written by James Murphy, copyright holder unknown.

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