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an Apple, peeled and cored – Talking Shop – thwarting Mr. Sogge – the Rose Garden –

An apple peeled and cored and split into wedges on a plain white paper plate, the peel of it in one long ragged strand looped on the rug. A fat red candle slumped in on itself on another paper plate, guttering in a pool of melted wax. A black and silver matchbox that says Boxxes in angular slashes of letters about a stylized eye. Olive pits with bits of flesh still clinging, two cheese rinds black and pale red wax, a torn heel of crusty bread. Dregs of dark red wine in a couple of juice glasses, one printed with a cartoon bear in a spacesuit, one a frog in Lincoln scarlet, holding a bow. Over the scratchy hiss of needle on vinyl from some hidden corner a chorus of woodwinds lofts hauntingly simple notes atop gently giguing strings. By the candle a threadbare little rabbit on a leash of string noses a couple of empty yellowed gel caps. “An O?” says the woman sitting on the rug. She scoops the rabbit into her crazy-quilted lap, skirts lapping skirts in wool and watered silk and taffeta and corduroy, her legs in mismatched socks splayed among the paper plates and crumbs. “None for you, Jasper,” she says. Sitting back against a baroquely plump sofa, her hair rustling, her hair loose about her shoulders, tumbling in coils and curls down over her grubby orange rain shell, her hair pooling in slippery hanks along the rug and the bare floor. The woman curled in a corner of the sofa behind her says, “Q,” as she takes up handfuls of that hair in rhythmic, rolling strokes, and little puffs of light spark and eddy to settle again. She wears a baggy sweater the color of flour, and on the sofa beside her a floppy black hat beside a confetti-colored patchwork cap.

“Q?” The woman on the floor leans forward, tugging her hair free in a tumble of light. “There’s no little thingie.” Peering at the loop of apple peel. “Is that a descender? The little thingie?”

“O for whom?” says the woman on the sofa. “Oubliette? Outlaw?”

“Out of Outlaw.” The woman on the floor settles back against the sofa.

“But there is a Queen.” The woman on the sofa starts stroking that hair again. If her milky eyes are looking at anything, it’s the counter at the other end of the long and narrow room, the dim lamp, the beads of oil trickling regularly down the threaded curtain hanging from its shade.

“It might be a Q,” says the woman on the floor. “If everything’s otherwhich.”

“Isn’t it?” says the woman on the sofa. “Honey’s gone sour, sugar’s all but gone.”

“Don’t,” says the woman on the floor, shivering, heels kicking. “Say things like that. We’re not supposed to look at things like that.”

“What you mean we, kemo sabe,” says the woman on the sofa. She plunges her hands more deeply in that hair, and clouds of sparks light her dour moue. “It’s affecting business, yours and mine. Let’s see what can be seen. We don’t have to tell.” Up to the elbows in all that hair. The woman sitting on the floor begins to moan, her eyelids fluttering, rocking with the strokes, and her hands shape something in the air. “The dark,” she croons, “the dark of the year…”

“I’m not a rube,” mutters the woman on the sofa. Then as the moaning redoubles she pulls the woman on the floor closer. “But maybe you are?”

“Oak to oak and never a fig of holly,” says the woman on the floor, gasping, opening her eyes. “A summer and a summer,” she says flatly, “the glory and the fall. Hats.”

“That doesn’t make any,” says the woman on the sofa as rabbit spilling scrabbling from her lap the woman on the floor lurches for the confetti-colored cap. “Hats!” she says.

The sound of a gong as Orlando pushes the door open, holding it for Gloria in her long black coat twisting and turning to look at all the junk piled high in the foyer. “This way,” he says, leading her through the pinched doorway to the long and narrow room beyond, lit by a candle and a lamp and what light’s left to seep through tall and dusty windows. Two women side by side on a baroquely plump sofa under a gaudy tapestry, a dancer in veils and spangles who holds aloft a platter laden with a bearded head. “Your pardon, Ulyssa,” says Orlando. “We can come back.”

“No, no,” says the woman in the floppy black hat. “Just a little shop-talk. What can we, ah,” as the other woman in her confetti-colored cap leaps to her feet kicking over one of the juice glasses with a clink. “O for Orlando!” she cries, skipping over the rug past Gloria to circle about him, her hands over her mouth. “Oh of course of course of course of course of course!”

“You’ve met the Thrummy-cap,” says the woman on the sofa.

“You clear the path! You set the stage!”

“You have a question?” says the woman on the sofa, her smile a wry small thing under that floppy brim. “Ask her. She’s in a generous mood.”

“Gloria,” says Orlando, as the Thrummy-cap bounces before him, clapping her hands, looking from him to Gloria not quite saying something. “What,” says Orlando, “becomes of us, if she stays?”

The Thrummy-cap stops dead, hands clasped.

“Oh,” says Miss Cheney on the sofa.

“Such,” says the Thrummy-cap, “happiness,” a sprig of hair escaped from her cap and coiled along her cheek. “Such joy. Three days or a day, it’s hard to say, but then!” Stepping suddenly from him to her, gripping Gloria’s coat, the scarecrow colors of her skirts and cap stark against the sleek black bulk of it. “A best last night indeed,” she says, and “Get back!” shrieks Gloria, “you little,” pushing her away.

“And there’s the holly!” cries the Thrummy-cap. “Sprung where it’s not wanted to strangle the oak a-borning, and then it’s snow in every April ever after.”

“If,” says Orlando, “she stays.” His voice a husk.

“I’m right here,” says Gloria as the Thrummy-cap cocks her head, cap shifting with a slithery weight. “Don’t worry,” she says to Orlando, then turning to Miss Cheney, “don’t. My sweetie’s getting lunch today. It’s his turn! I forgot I set it all up weeks ago. It’s going to be okay!”

The city, spread over a table that dominates the conference room. A broad curl of blue river painted along one side, a little white boat between white foam core bridges. Blank white buildings jumble the bank of it, a tall cluster down at one end, lowering toward the middle, a low tower higher than the rest at the other end. A man half-bent over it, a thick shock of unruly white hair, a white sack suit and a shining white shirt and a wide white knit tie. He looks up as the glass door to the conference room swings shut, and his face is quite young under all that hair. The man by the door is short and thick, a scruff of grey beard about his chin, his white hair cropped close about the back of his head. A dark windowpane jacket over a heathery hoodie that says Oregon Ducks in green and yellow letters. “Rosie says I ought to talk to you,” he says.

“I have a proposition for you, Mr. Sogge,” says the man in the white suit.

“You’re gonna proposition me, call me Rudy. You work for Pinabel.” He stays there, by the door, and the man in the white suit folds his arms and says, “I’ve consulted for him, yes. But I’m not here in that capacity today. You don’t like to share, do you, Rudy.”

Rudy puts a hand on the back of one of the big brown leather chairs, wheels it away from the table. “Let’s assume,” he says as he sits, “I’m not gonna answer any rhetorical questions, so how about cutting them and any dramatic pauses and other bits of theatrical business out of the presentation, okay?” Closing his eyes.

“I-Óisqis and Iô’i,” says the man in the white suit. “Pah-to and Wy’east, La-wa-la-clough, the Loowit. Tanmahawis. You have no idea who they were, of course not, why would you. They were murdered long before your parents were born, before your great-grandfather ever thought to plat out Hoffmann’s Addition. These people were – gods is not too strong a word, I trust? The very mountains about us, the rivers, the salmon and the trees, who were yet people, that you might speak with as easily as I might speak with you.” Rudy snorts at that, his eyes still closed. The man in the white suit nods. “Oh, the names live on – there’s pizza parlors and blues bands named for some dim echo of one or the other of them. You might even speak with them yet, though their voices are quite dim now, hard to hear, and the effort requires years of study, and ruinous quantities of bourbon and pot.” Rudy his eyes still closed begins to frown at that. “A vacuum was left, is the important point, the takeaway, as I believe you put it. And nature abhors a vacuum.” The man in the white suit turns then, looking out over the city on the table. “She’s been abhorring this vacuum with a vengeance for decades, now. Half this state’s from somewhere else? Three-quarters of this city? And somewhere else is very, very wide. You’re thwarted, Mr. Sogge.”

Rudy opens his eyes at that.

“Your disastrous partnership with Pinabel in Southwest. The way he’s dragged his feet on that charming ærial tram,” gesturing toward a pylon at one end of the city, in the cluster of white towers there by the river. “The Perrys, in Northwest, preventing the destruction of the Lovejoy Ramp, stalling the Brewery Blocks,” gesturing toward high-rise blocks by one of the bridges at the other end of the table. “The Urban Restoration Squad, and Michael Lake, though of course you won’t remember him. The Fox Tower,” touching a high white block in the middle of downtown, and Rudy says, “That isn’t mine.”

“No,” says the man in the white suit, “but you’d still see the benefit if more than half its square footage were leased. Here, across this park that might yet one day be finished, your Park Avenue West,” and he lifts the next tower, a tall slim thing, entirely from the table, “have you done more yet than dig the basement? No?” He tosses the block to Rudy, who catches it deftly. “For more than a year. These impediments have all of them one thing in common: a person, a singular individual. A girl. In a few weeks I shall remove her from these various considerations.”

“Remove,” says Rudy. “You mean, you’re talking about – ”

“Is that a deal-breaker?”

Rudy’s looking down at the blank white tower in his hands. He pushes himself out of the chair, leans over the city, carefully slots the tower back into place.

“There will then be a vacuum,” says the man in the white suit. “It will be abhorred. That abhorrence, Mr. Sogge, is something you might be positioned to capitalize upon.”

“Thought I told you to call me Rudy.”

The man in the white suit shrugs. “I feel it’s best we keep our relationship strictly professional, for now.”

Rudy says, “Okay then.” Leaning both hands on the river. “What is it you want.”

“I? Illimitable power, of course. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” He reaches into his white suit coat and pulls out a mirror-bright lighter and a clear cellophane packet wrapped about cigarettes in plain white paper. “Immortality, there’s a no-brainer. But at the moment? At the moment, Mr. Sogge, I’m dying for a smoke.”

“Knock yourself out,” says Rudy.

“So that was a completely wasted day,” says Jo swaying, one hand hanging from the strap above, one holding tightly the duffel down by her feet, the narrow box awkward in the crowd. Ysabel pressed close, holding the same strap. “You made your peace with Erne,” she says.

“Only cost two hundred bucks,” says Jo.

“We now know who,” says Ysabel.

“And I have no idea what the fuck to do with that. The Mooncalfe?”

“I feel as if I’ve won a bet.” Ysabel swallows and closing her eyes lays her forehead against Jo’s shoulder. “I think I now see what it is you see in him,” she says.

“Him which?” says Jo. “You mean Frankie?”

Ysabel nods. “He’d be the Duke, if he could.”

“That,” says Jo, “that is so wrong I don’t know where to, I mean, that isn’t even wrong. Shit.” Something buzzes. Letting go of the duffel, leaning away from Ysabel swaying she pulls a glassy black phone from her jacket, stroking its surface with a thumb. “It’s that girl, with the place off Glisan? We could, we could probably catch a bus directly from the next stop – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, wincing, clutching.

“Hey,” says Jo, tucking the phone away. “Hey.” A hand on Ysabel’s shoulder, Ysabel’s arm clung about her waist. “It’s just one more errand. We’ve got to find a new place. Hey.” Ysabel eyes squeezed shut lowers her head, pressing against Jo. “You’re tired,” says Jo, “we’re both – ”

“I need,” says Ysabel thickly, “fresh air, I need to get off – ”

“Yeah, okay,” says Jo, “okay.”

“Rose Garden,” says a loud recorded voice, and all about them people stirring, collecting bags and packages, resettling coats and scarves, hats, nudging each other, looking out the dark windows. “Doors to my left. Puertas a mi izquierda.”

A wide plaza brightly lit, a tangle of intersections, streets and rail lines, crosswalks, stoplights, off up a low rise that way past a scruff of immature trees the immensely spot-lit bulk of a coliseum and under its pointed curl of a roof a sign that says Rose Garden. There a low freeway overpass, the lights of trucks and cars at standstills yearning north and south, another MAX train at the stop under the overpass, a line of busses idling each with the same Cricket wireless minutes ad on the side. Across the street behind them a wall of silos lights flaring from the tops an enormous billboard plastered along it, hands in black and white reaching up and up, Rise with us, it says, Portland Trailblazers. Away behind that the unlit towers of a bridge over the river, looming against the red-black sky. Crowds flowing from the one MAX stop to the other, heading up along sidewalks to the coliseum, over that way to the busses, waiting at the corners here and there to cross this street or that. “Fresh air,” says Jo. “You want to wait here? Not that there’s anywhere here to hang out or anything. Walk home, over the Steel Bridge? How’s your – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel, pointing.

Looking back toward the other train small figures of people getting on and off it, the small figure of a man there among them, silver piping on his green tracksuit flashing in the streetlight under the overpass, bulbous headphones blue and white clamped over his white-blond hair. “I thought he wasn’t,” Jo starts to say.

“We have to go,” says Ysabel, and a bell rings, and with a rising, grinding hum the train beside them pulls away, clank-chunking over a rail junction. “Now. Please, Jo. Before he sees me.”

“What’s he doing here,” says Jo, looking back over her shoulder as she takes Ysabel’s hand. Away across the plaza Roland’s looking along his train, the platform, the crowds about him. “We could head down the other end, out of sight. Wait for the next train there.”

“Which is when?” says Ysabel, and then as Jo’s saying, “Ten? Fifteen minutes?” she says “We have to go,” and over away across the plaza Roland’s turning, heading toward them, but looking back, of to one side, at the line of busses.

“What the hell’s he,” Jo’s saying, and Ysabel’s saying, “I don’t want to talk to him right now,” and “Okay, yeah, okay,” says Jo, and hand in hand they’re headed for the crosswalk as the light changes. Ysabel starts across the street in and among the other with Jo dragged in her wake looking back and back, Roland, there’s Roland, away from the busses now, the crowds, the lights, on the grass that slopes dimly up toward the coliseum. “The hell’s he doing?” she mutters, slowing there in the middle of the street. “Jo!” cries Ysabel, pulling.

Roland looks up.

“Shit,” says Jo, half-laughing as they half-run the rest of the way across the street, the walk don’t walk sign counting down in orange numerals five, four, three, two. “Did he, did he see us,” says Ysabel on the corner as traffic grunts and snorts into motion behind them.

“I don’t know?” says Jo. “I can’t see him anymore. He didn’t wave or anything. What’s he – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“Eastside,” says Jo. “The Lloyd Center. That’s where he was, shit. That night.”

“Jo, please,” says Ysabel.

“This is where that train finally stopped. Remember?” Jo points back to the MAX stop they’d left across the street. “That’s what he’s, why? Why would he, what’s he after?”

“I don’t care,” says Ysabel. “Let’s just. Go. Please.”

They set off across the next street as the numerals count down, four, three, two, one. Blocky yellow construction equipment behind a chain-link fence, a long banner hung there saying East Side Big Pipe – Working for Clean Rivers. The rush and roar of traffic beside them, the rumbling idle from the freeway overpass. Up a low rise and around a curve away from the coliseum, traffic thinning, a flock of bicycles clattering through the next intersection. The corner beyond a park, the ground sloping to a screen of trees and beyond the towers and lights of downtown, over across the river, and there before them the looming black shapes of trusses and girders and cables, red lights flashing from the tops of its towers. “We can lose him on the Esplanade,” says Jo, and hand in hand they cross the street and head into the park down one of the paths that loop away from the sidewalk toward the trees.

As they pass from sight, up and around the curve past that banner hung from the chain-link fence comes Roland at an easy lope, headphones down about his neck.

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Symphony in E minor, op. 32, “The Gælic Symphony” (Second Movement, “alla siciliana allegro vivace”), written by Amy Beach, copyright holder unknown.

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