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Clank, and up

Clank and up he sits, owlish, fuddled. Puts out a hand bang against the side of the tub and clatter the ducting clamped about his forearm, the pot lid cupping his shoulder, wound about with grubby grey tape. The colander rakishly precarious on his head tilts over the bridge of his nose and his running shoes squeak on the enamel and the ducting and stove pipe crimping his filthy jeans a kitchen cabinet spilling into a sink. Scrape and thump. One hand bare finds the edge of the tub and grips it, the other a club in a thick hockey glove bats the colander, knocking it back, there’s his dark unfocused eyes, his unwashed hair that lankly shines, the stubble blotching his chin.

Leaning over the toilet rush and splatter of piss that bulky gloved hand braced against the wall. Scrape and jangle. Red plastic cups lined up along the back of the toilet and a couple of cans that say Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Cola, Real Kentucky. Pushing back wavering from the wall both hands gloved and bare pawing at the fly of his jeans “Shit” he says and hisses and then frustrated shakes the glove loose, flings it thump to the floor and catches himself from falling. Buttons himself up.

“Fucking hell,” says Frankie Reichart.

Clamor and clunk down a flight of stairs too many at a time, wrenching himself to a stop before the bottom, leaning out over the railing, the dark hall below, to one side a wide doorway, high-ceilinged room, a ruddy flicker struggling with daylight muted by drawn shades. At the foot of the steps is sprawled a woman in a green and yellow cheerleader outfit, dozing with a laptop on her chest. She doesn’t stir as he gingerly steps over.

In that room past the long dining table littered with dirty glasses and mostly empty bottles a fireplace, and crouching before it a bald man all sharp corners draped in a charcoal-stripe suit. He doesn’t look up as Frankie crashes to a halt. Keeps poking the dying fire as Frankie says “Hey,” and “Hey” and “Where is everybody.” Clanking further into the room, and all those painted faces up along the picture-molding, just beneath the ceiling, looking out upon each other. “The party’s over? You got me all dolled up like this, marched me half across town, now what.”

“She’s left us here, arreared, to join herself to the Changeling’s court,” says the bald man by the fire. “Yourself is free to go, or not.” On the pale hearth by his knee in a splash of char a tarnished snake of silvery metal, not much longer than two hands laid one after another.

“What happened,” says Frankie, “what happened to your – ”

“Stay, or go,” says the bald man, “as you’d prefer.” Levering up a log with the poker, he blows into the gap he’s made, and sullen flames lick out from underneath. “You’ll find it makes no difference.”

A hand up against the brilliance of the white outside, the seamless snow, the faintest blue tingeing the cloudless sky. “Christ,” says Frankie Reichart, looking back through the door stood open on the darkness of that house. A gassy snort, a climbing whine of a rumble dropping suddenly to climb again and the clinking of chains, a bus bulling its way down the street, and wet black ruts in its wake. A peal of laughter from somewhere, a block away, or two, and water ticking, dripping, a plop and splash from the eaves. “Well, hell,” he says, and yanks the colander from his head, whips it skimming out into the yard. “It’ll all be gone by two, anyway.” Banging a stumble down the steps from the porch, and way up above, the ghost of a crescent moon, looking back toward the rising sun.

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