Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

When the Phone sings – up, and Always up –

When the phone sings I want trumpets and violins to play over thumping drums and piano and chugging guitar the rumpled blankets jerk and twist and spit out a hand. It fumbles about and finds the phone, cutting it off mid-revolvers and adrenaline. A head drifts up, sleep-matted hair wine-red, cut short. Jo opens her eyes.

Starkly white, walls, ceiling, wider at the one end than the other, windows blotched with old paint about the mullions, two or three storeys up. Over across a narrow street an unfinished apartment complex, welter of scaffolding, plywood draped in green paper printed over and over with logos that say Regen Homewrap. Under the windows three or four blond wood crates filled with clothing neatly folded. She swings her feet off the futon and standing almost trips over discarded black jeans, black boots flopped emptily beside them, a brown glass growler wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. On the wall by the door a sword’s slung from a leather strap, the scabbard of it plain and black, the simple hilt swaddled in a basket of wiry strands. Above it from the same nail a painted skull-mask, teeth crudely chiseled, black mane falling, motionless, long enough almost to brush the floor.

A bathroom, white tile, windows of frosted glass, the tub an enameled slipper up on clawed feet. Against the wall by the tub a lidded white bucket, a stainless steel tureen covered with foil, a plastic milk jug, a blue bottle sealed with pink wax. Jo skins off her tank top, leaves it puddled blackly on white tile. Over the sink the mirror’s an artfully jagged oblong set in the wall, and caught there muddy eyes to either side of the nose, that nose, the mouth, thinly pale-lipped. Red line of an old and faded wound across her brow. Her hand to her breast, fingertips pressed against, dimpling the skin, whitening, trembling. A hiss of breath, her eyes squeezed shut, her hand yanked away.

The kitchen’s airy, white and blue and stainless steel, thin grey morning light. Wrapped in a robe of buffalo plaid, feet bare, hair wet, Jo picks a glass up out of the sink and eyes the bit of milk ringing the bottom before rinsing it out. Opening cabinets she finds a shelf of mugs, pulls one down. Over on a counter between the kitchen and the open room beyond a stainless steel carafe, there by a bouquet, a profusion of orange and gold sunflowers overtopping a slender glass vase. She thumbs back the lid of the carafe, sniffs, pours herself a cup of coffee. On the other side of the carafe a neat stack of paper, maybe an inch high, held at one corner by a fat black binder clip.

Down three low steps into the open room beyond, windows to the left and right in walls that narrow to a point, where Jo sits herself in a great maroon chair. Sipping her coffee she flips through the pages littered with little plastic flags brightly yellow and red marking this line, that box, and she sets to signing here, initialing there, JKM, JKM, Joliet Maguire, JKM. The window behind her looks out over a hatching of bare branches, a wedge of sidewalk below shimmed between two angled streets, a theater marquee across the intersection that says Brazil 700, Long Kiss Goodnight 945. Back along the length of the apartment past the kitchen down the hall beyond a door opens, quietly. Jo looks up. A silhouette down there, carrying something, a mass of tangled curls that lighten paling as she steps into the kitchen, a cloud the color of clotted cream. “Marfisa,” says Jo.

Marfisa starts, looks down into the open room. Sets her knapsack down, and the wooden baseball bat, leaning it against the door to the apartment. Shakes out her sheepskin coat. “Congratulations,” she says, slipping it on.

Jo sets down the pen. “For what?” she says. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“She loves you, Gallowglas,” says Marfisa, taking up the bat again, the knapsack. Jo stands, pages falling a rustling thump to the floor, “Look,” she says, stalking over to the steps up into the kitchen, “You do what you’re gonna do, don’t do it, I don’t care, but if you hurt her, again – ”

“I never,” says Marfisa, but Jo’s up the steps, “If,” she’s saying, hand raised, and then “don’t,” she says, “don’t hurt her. Or I’ll hurt you.”

“As I said,” says Marfisa, opening the door to the apartment.

The door, closing behind her. The papers splayed on the floor below, in the sunlight. The dark hall ahead.

In the white room kicking the black jeans out of the way Jo kneels by the growler, yanking the plastic garbage bag down and off. Inside the bottom of it slicked with something viscous, white, frothed with a sheen of bubbles, a hint of warm yellow gold. Both arms about it hefting the weight of it wadding out into the hall, the bathroom at the end. Careful of the slippery floor, lowering with her knees, she sets the growler by the bucket and the tureen. Re-belts her robe before heading back out into the hall, where the door to the left is open now, on a room painted yellow and white, and Ysabel, leaning in the doorway, arms folded in a bulky fisherman’s sweater, a cigarette smoldering in her hand. Her hair’s been cut quite short, little more than sleek black fuzz. She opens her reddened eyes. “So,” she says, and she lifts the cigarette to her lips. “Shall we do this?”

“Sure,” says Jo. “What the hell.”

Night, and the sky above an overcast rusted with city light, blotted at the end of a long busy street by the black hulk of a hill. In the lap of it there the street ends at the colonnaded porch of a big yellow house awash in pinkish orange light, and climbing up behind it isolated blooms of streetlight scratched by bare branches, the startled green of conifers, and there, and there above, the light’s pooled about fences, low stone buildings, and zigging and zagging up that hill, winding from there to there a line of embers, sparks just bright enough, flickering, to hollow out the shadows about them, marking a slow and stately passage back and forth and up, and always up, and in the lulls of the traffic’s rush, when engines idle and tires roll to a stop, when the door swings shut on the noise of the bar, when the busker at the corner strikes the last chord from her guitar and stills the strings with a hand, looking up, cocking her ear, just faintly, floating down from that hill, what might be a hundred voices or more that lift, lilting something like a song.

Table of Contents

Tumpets and violins,” written by Peter Gunnarsson and Johan Hedberg, ©2004 CHRYSALIS MUSIC GROUP.

  Textile Help