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Gently brush the Dust – so Small a life – how Different, he looks – “Is that it?” –

Gently brushing dust from that sleeping face, fingertips dredging a crumbling pile from pillow to palm, both hands together now cupping the fitful glow, lifting to lips pursed to blow, gently, dust that lofts in great slow billows that do not fall, that coil and glitter, a thousand thousand golden stars, a galaxy of atomies that lights them both lain on the high wide bed, bodies shadowed shapes atop striped sheets drifted with more dust. “I kissed her, once,” says Ysabel. “For a cup of coffee. And tonight, she, she,” a heavy hank of curls dislodges with a shrug.

“She wanted you. She did not know what having you entailed.”

“I didn’t know,” she says, thin wisps of words. “I had no idea.” A gold-flecked hand strokes a shining, sleeping cheek, brushes spangled short black hair. Her other hand laid across the bare gold-dusted breast, fingertips against black lace still tied about the throat. “Will she wake?”

“She will wake.” Past the yawning door in the lightless hall a shuffle, a change in posture perhaps, a shift of clothing. “She will wake, when day has broken, and if she does not see you here she will wonder why her bed is full of sand. She will curse the need to sweep her floor, and wash her only linen, and she will scour herself in the bath, and at brunch with her friends when stray specks yet catch the light at her cheek or the corner of her eye she’ll make empty jokes about glitter and glue and grade-school art. And in the days and weeks to come she will find herself from time to time to’ve been staring at nothing at all, and her chest cracked open, and the heart of her cored right out, and nothing to hand but stones that might fill the hollow ache, and she will not know why. But these will pass; they will come to her fewer and fainter and further between, as time passes. But they still will come, till the end of her days.”

Bending down she presses a simple kiss to those sleeping lips, then sits up. “I should go,” she says. She pulls at sheets and blankets to free them, drape them over the body beside her, sloughing more glimmering clouds.

“You might. But where?”

Tucking blankets about shoulders she doesn’t look up, doesn’t turn around. “With you?” she says.

And a hiss of intaken breath from out in the hall, and the light all about the room quivers. “Not yet.” A sigh, and the light begins to gyre. “Not for some time yet.”

“How,” she says, but the next word’s just a shape of her mouth, and she swallows, and starts again. “I have nothing,” she says. Turning on the bed, light swimming about her. “Not a thing.” Lowering a foot to the rumpled shadows strewn along the floor, but she does not stand. “Even my clothes are someone else’s.”

“I hope the coat is warm, Majesty.”

She looks up, into the darkness, arms around herself.

“It snows. Do you not hear it? An inch or more already, while you were,” and another hiss of breath then, colder, softer, “otherwise,” as she says “Fucking” sharply. “While we we were fucking. Say it. It’s a perfectly fine word, for what we were doing.”

“Majesty. This is unseemly,” but she’s turned away again, stirring the syrupy light with a dismissive hand. “So this is the great mystery?” she says, her voice rising. “This is how Queens might be quickened? Because the wonder then is that it hasn’t happened a hundred times over already.” Leaning over the body asleep beside her, hair falling a curtain before her face. “Is this woman, then, Petra B, does this make her King of Roses? And am I now her Bride?” Pushing her hair up and back over her shoulder, a gesture that sets off another glittering pavane in the air, she looks up and past it all into the darkness. “Or is it to be the cocktail waitress I kissed tonight, or the dancer? The Starling? And a fine return on the Duke’s joke that would be.” Up then and unfolding herself by the bed to stand in an awful slow collision of light, knotting sparks that flare and pop about her, here and there, and there. “Or that appalling girl who cut me, laid me open and started it all, welling up. Who’s dead now, but no matter! All hail her! All hail the King, come back.” The light’s settling, glittering in her hair, limning her shoulders, her breasts, her hand on her hip, her knee cocked, so. “Or must,” she says, “the King be a king? Is it then to be the Mooncalfe? He did sweep me so adroitly off my feet. Will he now sit the Empty Throne? Is that where this all ends?”

A creak, a floorboard, perhaps. “Your brother,” says that voice, slowly, and lugubrious.

“Wait for the King,” she’s saying, “wait for the King, wait for the King to take my hand and gallantly lead me to my wheel. My wheel; my burden, my guí and toradh; his hand. My brother? He,” but the next word stumbles, and she closes her eyes. Bites her lip. Sits back again, against the edge of the bed. “Ys, he said, Ys, there once were queens, wild queens, in the mountains, who spun whatever gold they liked from straw. If we might only learn their secret, that mystery, why, you can be Queen, Ys, and I can be your King, and you, you will never, have to take, anyone’s, hand…”

“He loves you, very much.”

“He left me.”

“Majesty – ”

“Do not call me that,” she says, quietly, and calm.

“But you are now the Queen.”

“Because of this,” she says, scooping up a handful of dust. “What do you think, a firkin? Or more?” Letting it shimmer through her fingers. “A Queen’s ransom,” she says.

“Or a city’s.”

She flings the dust then, toward the open door, but it blooms in swirls and useless puffs of light that do not reach the shadows. “You’d leave it here, like sand, for her to sweep,” she says.

“You will make more.”

The light sifting out of the dimming air. Sullen glows lick the edges of things, the blankets hillocked behind her, the crowded nightstand there, wineglass and plastic tumbler, bottles and jars of lotions and creams, an alarm clock topped by little bells, a dull pale fluted phallus, a jumble of keys on a ring. The artless tangle of her hair as her head bows. The bare slopes of her shoulders. “I broke,” she says. Arms folded in her lap, elbows cupped in her hands, feet on the gilded floor crossed one over the other. “I need a,” and then she shivers, shakes her head, fending off what might have been a laugh. “I don’t even have any cigarettes,” she says, and then, “I saw, today, what I hadn’t seen, that morning. When I ate the tongue.” Looking up now, up and up in the darkening room. “I’ve told anyone who might listen that I’d seen myself, as Queen. And Jo, at my side, and, and no King at all, that I was mindful of.” She’s closed her eyes. “But,” she says. “I was not sumptuously dressed. Jo wore, one of her T-shirts. One of those awful T-shirts. And it was, a glorious day, a blue sky, and only one great cloud, white and gold, and,” she opens her eyes. “It was shaped, it was a shape one might’ve taken for a Hind, for the banner, of the Bride. But it was just, a cloud, and her hand, I held, her hand. And all about us,” and she takes a breath, and looks down, back out into the shadowed hall. “All about us people, just people, went about their business, and took no notice.” A hand to her forehead now, her eyes. “And I hadn’t noticed, until, it hadn’t occurred to me, before. I was just, we were just.” Another breath, deep, shaky. “So small a life,” she says, “but still. And now – you’ve come, to tell me I am Queen. And she will wake. And I must go.” Both hands in her lap again, and her head hung low. “I need a cigarette.”

“I – can’t help, with that.”

“Then what use are you,” she says, and pushes herself back to her feet. Dust kicked up from the floor glimmers over the shapes of discarded clothing. She stoops, to snatch at something.

“But little enough, except at times. When I might pass on some scrap of message, or such little news, as might, for instance, be about your brother.”

“Petulance does not,” she snaps, “become,” but then she looks up, a T-shirt pale in her hands, and “you,” she says, a sliver of a word. “Lymond?”

“Even he. He has returned.”

“You let him go.”

“I never held him, child. He’s none of mine.”

“No,” she says, looking down.

“He is about the city, gathering banners to his own. He would be King.”

“I would,” she’s saying, “he would’ve found me. He would’ve come for me. I would, I would be, he, he promised.”

“Whatever I might think, he will be King. And you, his Queen. And everything you wanted, everything, despite all our misgivings. It will come to pass.”

“No,” she says, and she lifts the T-shirt up above her head, working one arm then the other up and into and through the sleeves.

“It snows, but snow will melt. We will go on.”

“No,” she says, tugging the T-shirt down about herself. A thump from out in the hall then, a step toward her, or away. “Ysabel.”

“No,” she says, and then more loudly “No” and “No” and “No.” A rustle of blankets behind her, a bedspring’s groan, a snort, a snoring sigh. She tugs her black hair from the neck of the T-shirt, and light fluffs into the air. “No,” she says, quietly, again. Letters scrawled in black ink across the front of that shirt say The Gloomadon Poppers.

“We must go on.”

“I broke,” she says. “Today. I,” and then, “for as long as I can remember,” she says, “I have held above my head this crown, and waited, patiently, until the day that I might put it on. But, today.” Kneeling in that sagging T-shirt on the glowering floor. “Today. This,” and a hitch in her breath before the next word, “terrible, day, I, I put it down. And I’m, you can’t see it. But I’m trembling, with such, such relief? It was too heavy. You must know. Far too heavy. And I can’t take it up, again.” Looking out once more through the empty doorway. “No one could.”

“Ysabel. Child.”

“I think,” she says, “I’ve changed my mind. I’d rather you showed the deference you think I’m due.”

“But you have just said you refuse it. You would not take it up again.”

“You would have us want it.”

“You can no more not be Queen, Ysabel, than not – ”

“Not spin your straw to gold,” she says. She blinks, and then looks down, at her hands, lain flat upon her knees.

Another rush of breath sucked in, and when it’s let out bright dust skirls in flickering devils, a dozen candles or more, wavering, guttering, dying, stripping away what little light is left. “Why then did you flee?”

Her one hand crosses over the other and wraps about it.

“Why did you run from the Mooncalfe? If you’d stayed, let him take you with him to whatever hell he’s planned – it will all end much the same.”

“For the city, perhaps?” she says. “But not for me.”

The room is dark, now, almost as dark as the hall outside. The window in the wall past the bed’s no longer so blank, so black, a sense within of something falling, softly, gently. Or else the whole room floating, rising dizzily, up into the air. And a feathery scratching, faint against the glass.

“Then, Majesty, we have returned to our impasse. And there is nothing left for me to do but hope the coat you have is warm.”

“Wait,” she says, looking up, pushing up, to her feet, a groan and a pop from out in the hall, floorboards, a footstep. She heads for the wall there by the doorway, whick and whisp of her hands on the wallpaper, the sudden thick click of a switch. Light blares whitely from naked bulbs in the fixture in the middle of the ceiling. The walls are suddenly all pink arabesques and faded bouquets, the tangled bedclothes striped dull brown and beige, the clothing on the floor still black, the window harshly glazed now with reflections, and everywhere the drifts of yellow dust. And out in the hall the floor a ruddy wood, the walls of it painted white some time ago, a man, and his pants the color of gravel, and his shirt of ash, and his face is cold and colorless in that light caught wide eyes black a mouth held open under a shapeless nose, jaw set, fixed, a word unspoken, held back with great effort.

“You look,” she says, a hand on the door frame, “so, different…”

And, he closes his eyes. His mouth. He opens his eyes and that face has softened, his shoulders in that ashen shirt pulling back, lowering as he straightens, and his hands held empty, useless, at his sides. He says, in that voice grey, and drear, “You will see me twice more yet.”

“Twice,” says Ysabel, “once, two three – if I, do this,” and the light switch clicks again, the light’s gone, snuffed in ink, “does it count,” she says in the darkness, and click again, the light, too bright, returns, beaming, “as a second time?” But the hall is empty now. There’s no one there.

She takes her hand from the switch, her face quite still, and sere.

Behind her a rustle, and a creak of bedsprings, a hoarsely sleepy voice, “I just had the strangest,” and a cough. “What time is it? Ysabel?”

Ysabel doesn’t answer, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t turn, doesn’t move.

Petra B sits up in her bed, dust sparkling in the harsh light as it falls from her shoulders. “Are you leaving?” She reaches over to the nightstand and finds a phone and thumbs its screen to life. “It’s not even almost three,” she says.

When Ysabel doesn’t say anything again, “Hey. Beautiful. Come back to bed. Stay a while?”

And then, “Ysabel?”

Lurching buttocks clenching spasms tremoring up to jerking shoulders slap and again of flesh on flesh and he barks, the heel of his hand on her hip thumbing the burning heart at the base of her spine and she groans, her hands braced against the other arm of the overstuffed chair and “greh” she says as blowing out he pushes back a single unsteady step reaching out to catch at the back of the chair, his other hand about his cock, her yellow hair heavy with sweat she pushes grimacing the cushion rolling onto her hip on the arm of the chair as he barks and “hanh” he says, a strangled yelp and pale stuff gouts across the chair-back falling to glisten on the cushion and another stream of it jetting from the darkly swollen head of his cock over the other arm of the chair to patter to the floor beyond and she’s off the chair entirely half-falling to a crouch before it looking up at him in that ruddy amber light, head back, braced, clenched, a yowl, and one last dollop, plopping.

“Leo?” she says.

Slumping, buckling, clutching the side of the chair as he sags to his knees, hauling air in, shoving it out, “Nothing,” he says. Shivering.

“Leo,” she says, wincing as she shifts herself a closer crabwise step.

“Not a thing,” he says, looking up, pulling himself grunting to his feet. “All right.” Reaching down a hand to her. She takes it shaky in her own and lets him pull her up. “Maybe it wasn’t, whatever. That’s it. It’s time.” The words a mutter he’s pushing her backwards before him around to the front of the chair. “Forget the car, they’re gonna come looking for the car. Forget the money. Don’t go back to the hall at all. I should’ve thought of that.”

“Leo,” she says, a third time.

“You can’t trust them. You can’t trust anybody.”

“Not even you?”

Pulling her into his arms tight about her, his forehead to her shoulder, “Especially not him,” he says, muffled. Then he leans back to say, “Leave the city,” and she kisses him. “Go,” he says, turning his mouth to one side away. “Plane, train, automobile, gravel barge by dead of night. Get out.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she says, and lays her cheek against his chest.

“You will,” he says, stepping back from her embrace, turning to face the chair. “Give it a minute.” Leaning forward, bending over, both hands planting on the ends of the arms of the chair.

“Hey,” she says.

“Blood and milk, and jism,” he says, “and honey, and not a mark,” breathing in as he straightens slowly unrolling his spine lifting his shoulders, his head, letting go of the arms of the chair, and then turning his back to it, and facing her again. “Don’t,” she says.

He opens his eyes. Out there past the dim reflections in the great sweep of window the lights of the city spread out below, and the snow, falling. “I am King,” he says, “or I am nothing,” and he lowers himself to sit upon the chair.

And naked before him she shudders violently as he does.

“Huh,” he says.

Naked before him, shivering, arms wound about herself, fingers to her lips, she’s looking down at him naked in the chair, armrests gripped by hands unclenching, bare feet crossed at the ankles. “Is that,” she says, “is that it?”

He looks up from himself his brown locks spilling back from his face and there a slyly sidelong grin, an eyebrow cocked, “Is that it,” he says, “Your Majesty.”

A gasp of a laugh from her and she looks away, a jerk of her head, fingers falling, and laughing himself he snatches her hand and pulls her, stumbling, into his lap, a tangle of knees and elbows, and he kisses her, and she squirms about settling herself, folding her legs together to stretch them out over an arm of the chair, and she takes his face in both her hands and kisses him back.

“You know,” he says.

“What,” she says.

“I am, unutterably hungry.”

“Am I not enough,” and a giggle, “for His Majesty?”

“Ah, ha ha,” he says, “supping my fill of you’s what’s left me ravenous.”

“It’s, what time is it.” She sits up, pulls back. “Three? Four?”

“Or noon, or tea, or quitting, who knows?” he says. “Who cares? There’s one place in town that’s always open.”

“You want hot cakes,” she says, getting up off his lap.

“I could go for some hot cakes,” says the King.

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Emily    9 March 2013    #

OMG Leo you are so stupid! Stop being so stupid aaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Emily    9 March 2013    #

No wait I’m not done. I need there to be stories of the Wild Queens in the hills. Like short stories of the fairytales Ysabel would have heard from her brother or whatever.

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