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“Oh” – how Does she Ever – blood & water, Lilies, glass – the Point of dreams –

“Oh,” says Jo, and then, “that can’t be right.”

“Holed up in St. Johns, with Chad and his dad. I was up there a couple weeks, sleeping in the damn, the dang basement.” Christian takes a drag from the cigarette and holds it out to her. “I’m supposed to be quitting,” she says as she takes it. “He got ten years. No way he’s out so soon.”

“Good behavior,” says Christian, and Jo snorts smoke. “Danny fucking Moody?”

Christian takes the cigarette back. “Maybe he broke out. Maybe five-oh’s closing in. Hard target search!” Another drag. He offers it to her, but she shakes her head, “It would’ve been in the news,” she says.

He lets the butt drop, grinds it into the mud. “Film at eleven.”

“The hell you were doing up there, anyway,” says Jo. Looking away down the unpaved alley, crowded by garage doors, high back fences, drifts of green grass up to the knee. “Two fucking weeks? The hell, Christian? You walk away from me, you walk away from everything I was gonna do for you, you walk away and you fucking go to the goddamn Dread fucking Paladin?”

Christian turns away. The gate behind them, leaning drunkenly from a single hinge. “Say what you like, the XO still runs the gutters. And for a racist motherfucker, he never stiffs me on what I bank with him?” Tucking his hands up under his bulky pullover, winding and unwinding. “I was gonna sleep up under the Marquam, but then he went and told me Moody’s back,” his elbows pulled in tight, “so I went elsewhere. Out to Avi’s, for a couple days?” and Jo laughs then, “Jesus,” she says, “he’s still,” and “Yeah,” says Christian, “only, Roadhouse? It’s streaming online now or some shit. No way you wear that tape out. So after a couple of days I head back into town, and that’s, that’s when,” a deep breath, “I went to St. Francis, to get some food. No jefes, right? But there’s the XO, tooling by in his truck, and Moody’s with him, and Moody,” Christian shrugs. “Wants me.”

“The hell for?” says Jo.

“Help him get you,” says Christian.

“I,” says Jo, “me,” and her eyes go wide, she steps back, hands up out of her pockets, but Christian’s turning aside, laughter blooming in his throat, and he tips back his head to let it out. “You actually thought,” leaning over, a shove at her shoulder, and “Fuck you,” says Jo, shaking him off.

“He is after you,” says Christian. “Has a serious mad-on for you, but he ain’t doing shit about it. Two weeks we sat in that fucking basement, the CO wheeling around upstairs. Every now and then we’d step out. Do a mischief.” Looking up, through that gate. “Smashed Gordon’s window, one night.” And then, with a tilt of his head, “Hey,” he says. “What kind of shoe did you have?”


“When you first got in all this, Duchess. What was the shoe you had? And the match, that didn’t match. What did he have?”

“I didn’t,” says Jo, “I, I have no idea what’s up with that.”

“Then, how the, how’d you, get into this?”

“How do I ever get into any goddamn trouble.” She pushes the gate open. “I picked a fight with a psychopath. Come on,” and she steps through.

“Come on?” says Christian, scrambling after. “Where?”

“Back to Plan A,” Jo says, heading up the length of the lot tuffeted with soggy grass, up toward the old unpainted brick building, the flight of stairs bolted to the back of it. “You come stay with us, at least until we figure out if he’s gonna pull anything,” and “Jo,” says Christian, but “if there’s any danger,” she’s saying, and he grabs her arm. “Jo!” he says. “I’m fine. Here. It’s good.”

“You have no idea,” she says, and she opens the door.

“I can take care of myself!” But she’s stepping inside. “Dammit! Jo!”

Within, a kitchen, cramped, scuffed linoleum, dark cabinets, Gordon in his blue shirt there by the stove. “Grace,” he says. A kettle’s hissing to itself on a reddening eye.

“Gordon,” she says. “I, ah, we appreciate, what you’ve been able to do, but Christian, he’s gonna come back with me, now.”

“That so,” says Gordon to Christian, who’s looking away, the beaded curtain off down the hall there.

“You don’t need any more trouble,” says Jo. “This is on me. Goes way back, before either of us had anything to do with any of you. It’s on me, so I’m taking care of it. I’ve got you,” she says, to Christian.

“Come here, boy,” says Gordon. In one hand a little paring knife.

“I can, go watch the front,” says Christian, and a step toward the curtain.

“Mr. Beaumont,” says Gordon, beckoning. “Something the both of you need to see.”

“Gordon,” says Jo, but “Porter,” he says, “we’re gonna be formal and all. Mine is an open house, your grace. All are welcome, no one is turned away, and nobody leaves without they say so. We clear? Now give me your hand, boy.”

“Why,” says Jo.

“Gonna show you a thing, like I said.” Gordon takes Christian’s hand in his, and lifts that knife. “Then you make your call. Go, or stay.”

“The hell, Gordon,” says Jo, but Christian sucks in a breath. Gordon sets the knife aside. There’s a trickle from the nick in Christian’s thumb, a milky bead that rolls down to dangle, swelling, touched with gold, from the edge of the heel of his hand.

“This goes back, too,” says Gordon. “Way back. And it’s nothing to do with your troubles. Now go on home, Gallowglas. Back to your unwed Queen. Leave us to get along as we will. Your friend,” and he holds out a clean white rag, “will look to himself.”

After a moment, Christian takes the rag.

Leaning back in the swivel chair, stockinged feet crossed up on the desk, not a smile so much as an air of being on the verge about her mouth and eyes. “David,” she says.

Kerr lets the leather satchel slip from his shoulder. “Don’t like the view from your office?” A glance at his watch. Twenty of eleven, though a couple of smaller dials spin loosely about.

“You aren’t returning my calls.” Her hair’s cut short, in curly spikes the bright red of her lips. “You really should return my calls.”

“What is this, Avery,” says Kerr.

“There’s expectations, of every contractor. It’s why we have contracts. Each obligation set down in black and white so all parties can agree, what must be done, and how, by when and whom,” a rolling gesture to emphasize each point, and now she lowers her feet, sits up, “what happens when it doesn’t. You don’t report. You don’t check in. You blow off staff meetings, you – ”

“There’s nothing to report!” says Kerr. “Avery. I, lay the groundwork. So you can knock it out of the park. Any campaign – ”

“I know what you do, David.”

“Any campaign that needs me to scramble three weeks out is in serious trouble. You’re not in serious trouble. He could totally blow the debate, he’ll still clear fifty-two, fifty-one percent. So no run-off, in November. So you don’t need me coming in Wednesdays and Fridays to say what I said six months ago, last year, it’s all done! You listened, you mostly did what I said, yay team! It’s a waste of everyone’s time.”

“Then we’re left with a – ”

“Who is this for?” says Kerr. “These ambush theatrics. It’s just the two of us in here, and you’ve got to be smart enough to know this does nothing for me. Are you bucking yourself up with this little show? Because, I gotta tell you, that really – ”

“We’re left with a question, David,” says Avery firmly. Her mouth and eyes are nowhere near a smile, now. “If you are done, why should we keep you around?”

“Well,” says Kerr, “that contract also specifies payments, bonuses – ”

“And you’ve established you’re in breach.”

Kerr closes his eyes. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. The debate – ”

“But I thought he couldn’t lose, even if he blew it. Thanks to your hard work.” She leans down, working a foot into the straps of a spindly black heel. “It’s nothing personal, David.” Leaning over to the other side, her other shoe. “I’m sure we’ll work together again. Soon.” Standing, she hands him a blank white envelope. “You’re very good at what you do.” And out she goes.

“Well, shit,” says David Kerr.

A smash of glass out there, a splatter, a shriek, the comforter tumbled tossed up Ysabel springing the length of her arm out snatching a wrap of white lace striding quickly out the door as Chrissie sits up yellow hair askew about her squinted face, “Ysabel?” she says, softly muzzy. Someone’s wailing out there, and wracking, yelping sobs. Chrissie kicks herself free of the bedclothes, crouches naked by the wide white bed, rummaging through scraps of discarded black clothing, “Dammit,” she’s draping an awkward halter about her neck when the cries out there redouble, words can be made out, such a fucking God damn, she scrambles to her feet, cords of the halter dangling loose by the exaggerated lip-print cartooned in red on her flank. “Ysabel?” she calls, out the door, down the hall, into the kitchen, slick of water, shards of glass, the broken stems of a dozen lilies, waxen white-gold petals splayed and crushed. Jo sits on the floor in her coat the color of butter, her back to the breakfast bar, hands held one clutched up in the other and blood, red blood runneling, splotching her coat, her face screwed tight with pain. Ysabel wrapped in white lace kneels on the low steps beside her, murmuring something, and “Oh,” says Chrissie, “oh, that looks,” gingerly stepping about the smashed vase to grab a dish towel from the handle of the fridge, “Stupid fucking what did I,” Jo’s choked growl, and Chrissie kneels at her other side heedless of the water, the flowers, the glass, “let’s get some pressure,” she says, but “Jesus Christ!” spits Jo, jerking away.

“I’m sure,” says Chrissie, “if we could just – ”

“You want to pretend to help?” snarls Jo. “Put on some goddamn pants.”

“I,” says Chrissie, “I just,” but Ysabel takes the towel from her slackening hands. “Go,” she says, her eyes on Jo.

“I could,” says Chrissie, “sweep this up for you, at least let me – ”

“Go,” says Ysabel. “Away. Now.”

Chrissie, slowly, climbs to her feet. A long step over the worst of the glass, then – quietly – out of the kitchen.

“Well,” says Ysabel. Blotting the worst from the gash across Jo’s palm, but fresh blood wells up there between thumb and forefinger. Jo takes a ragged breath, “I’ve ruined your lace, what is that,” she says. “A peignoir? I don’t know all the,” wincing as Ysabel winds the towel about her hand, “It’s a wrap,” she says, “and at the moment, the least of my concerns. Hold that. I’ll fetch some owr. You’ll be fine.” But she doesn’t get to her feet, and Jo opens her eyes. “What the fuck are we doing, Ysabel?”

“Pitching a tantrum, it seems.” Ysabel looks over the spill of water and lilies. “A shame. Today’s bouquet was lovely, I thought.”

“I punched him in the nose, is the thing,” says Jo. “I mean, otherwise? I’d tell you, sure, maybe I saw him get cut or something, scrape a knee, but I wouldn’t be sure. Maybe I was just making up what I wanted to remember. But. First time we met? We just met, and he cracks some stupid, bullshit joke, and I punched him, and what squirted out,” she holds up that reddening, tight-wound towel. “So. Today?” she says, closing her eyes. “When he?” Lowering her hand. Ysabel catches it, lifts it gently back upright, “Hold that above your heart,” she says.

“What do you know about hearts,” says Jo.

Ysabel lets go of her hand.

“He’s gone, isn’t he,” says Jo. “Christian.” That hand up by her shoulder. “I mean, whoever that is, it looks like him, it talks like him, knows what he’d know but it isn’t, it’s, one of you, dressed up, like, and – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“ – he’s dead, he’s dead, I knew it, I knew he was dead, last year, that stupid fucking hunt, I never,” looking away. “I never should’ve said yes.”

Quietly, Ysabel says, “Do you mean that,” but Jo’s catching her hiccuping breath, “Or is it,” she says, “is that it, that when you die, if you die and you’re lucky you come back, as one of you,” but Ysabel starts forward, seizes Jo’s unwrapped hand in hers, leans close, a kiss for her forehead, “Feel,” she says, “the warmth of me, my flesh, my breath – you know I am no ghost,” and Jo, blinking her wet eyes, “My God,” she says, “do you love me.”

“Of course,” says Ysabel, cradling Jo, “there can be no question,” but Jo twists away, “I,” she says, and “you, why, why,” says Jo, “did you pick him,” pulling back, “not me?” Her head against the bar now. Ysabel setting back on those low steps. “Christian fucking Beaumont. He gets in, he gets to go on, with his shoes and whatever and I’m stuck, here, with, with this?” Holding up the blood-soaked towel wrapped tight about her fist. “And Frankie?” she says, and her eyes close up about tears. “And Danny goddamn Moody,” she says, and a tremendous sob. “Jo,” says Ysabel, leaning close, but that fist, that fist, Jo opens her eyes, “Because you need this, don’t you. To answer every insult. To be the law. While you – ”

“Jo,” says Ysabel.

“While you lie about, pretending to be queen.”

Ysabel looks down, away, to one side. Puts a hand on the floor, the water there. “I will,” she says, lifting her hand, planting it again, “I will fetch the owr,” she says, pushing herself to her feet. “To stop the bleeding.”

“I’m not the only one,” says Jo, gathering herself. Ysabel holds out a hand, “What do you mean?” she says, but Jo holds her one hand in the other, twists away from Ysabel’s help as she stands, “Ask your brother,” she says, pushing past Ysabel, out of the kitchen, into the hall, through the door to her room.

“My brother,” says Ysabel. “Jo?” And then, “Jo, who is Danny Moody?” And a mutter, to herself, “You’re not making sense.” And then, plaintive, faltering, “Gallowglas?”

That door bangs open. Jo in her blood-splattered coat steps out of the shadows, and in her bloodied, towel-wrapped hand the skull-mask, crude teeth thickly lined with black ink, long black mane dragging the floor, the water, the flowers, the clink of glass.

“Where are you going,” says Ysabel.

Jo hoists that mask. “See about getting rid of this,” she says. Her hand on the knob of the door to the apartment. “I’m,” she says, looking down. “I, tell, Chrissie. I’m sorry, I was, she was just,” but then she opens the door. Looks back over her shoulder. “Let her go home, Ysabel,” she says.

“Wait,” says Ysabel, “please. Stop,” but Jo steps out, she’s gone.

“Few things,” she says, “make any sort of sense now,” as she pokes the glowing embers on the grate, stirring sparks. “Then, I might take up my bright sword, my sturdy burgonet, draw on my gloves and take down my whip from over the door,” a scrape of metal as she sits back. Her left arm sleeved in gleaming plate, cop and pauldron, vambraces and cowter. “My mare without, eager for the narrow road, and the morning at our backs.” Her hair a close-shorn cap, warmly grey in the firelight. “The very bushes would lie flat for us, the streams shrink for us, and men and women bow as we passed. They knew their manners then, and what was proper to a knight. But now that I’ve a banner of my own? The crowd about me, mewling their every need to me, as if I were the source and sovereign remedy, and I must,” closing up her gauntlet in a fist upon her knee, “listen,” she says, with a soured look.

“The irony’s not lost upon us,” says one of the women on the sofa behind her, and her long white hair’s unbound, left loose to float in wisps about her head and shoulders. “The crown of even a Marquess has some heft,” says the other, white hair tightly bound in ruthless braids.

“I sleep now,” says the Marquess. “Since I came back to life, I sleep most every night, and I have dreams.” She hangs the poker from its hook there by the fire. “Or rather – I know that I have dreamed. I wake up, I come back to myself, deviled by these scraps of, not even memories: colors, mostly. A sense of motion.” Clank and squeak she lifts and opens her fist, as if tossing something into the air. “I don’t see the point of them.”

“And yet,” says one of the women. “But,” the other. They sit with their backs against the arms of that sofa, brownish pink, their legs curled up together under a knitted afghan, a god’s eye, neon-bright.

“Last night,” says the Marquess, “and the night before, the same still moment surfaced from all that huggermugger. I stood, or seemed to stand, on the parapet of a tower, high above the city, but no such tower exists. The sun shone, but through a haze, not fog, or clouds, but smoke, as if siege-towers burned at our gates, and the light was at once too bright and dim. But I could see the river, the waters of it risen to swallow bridges, to fill streets and lap at windowpanes, and the flood was dark and red in that awful light, like rust.”

“Blood, I think you’ll find.”

“Rust’s why blood is red.”

“But fire’s what makes rust.”

“Oh, now that’s a reach.”

“What does it mean?” says the Marquess, turned about on the hearth now to face them both, the one of them carefully shaping a nail with an emery board, the other peeling a green apple with a little silver knife.



“We’ll know soon enough.”

“Unless we don’t, of course.”

“True, true.”

That armored hand closes up again in a fist.

She’s pulled on black jeans, and a loose white cardigan over the halter, but her feet are bare on the lush grass. She’s looking down at them, at the grass, and her yellow hair has fallen before her face like a still straight curtain. The sky above a cloudless blue impassively clear, the flowers that fill the raised bed richly white and pink, bright orange, yellow. A latch clacks, hinges squeak, she lifts her head hair swinging, the door there’s opening under the awning of the little wooden porch, and Ysabel black hair streaked with silver in the shadows, lace wrap splashed with something, blood. “Oh, God,” says Chrissie, “is she, are you okay?” but Ysabel’s lifting a hand heavy with light, gold streaks and clumps of shining dust, “Come,” she says.

A lurching step across the grass. “Ysabel?”

“Do you love me.”

“Of course,” says Chrissie, another step, another. “Yes, Ysabel, I – ”

“Do you want me.”

“I, but, what,” says Chrissie, as Ysabel seizes Chrissie by a belt loop with that gold-clotted hand and stops her sputtering with a kiss. “Do you want me,” says Ysabel, dragging her hand up between them, smearing Chrissie’s belly with light, her chest and throat now shining, golden, her eyes closing, lips parting, a breath, but the word, trembling, will not come, she nods instead, quickly, frantically: yes.

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Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire,” written by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, within the public domain.

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