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rounding a Corner – Next Thursday – no Hullabaloo – to have gone Dancing – like Bubbles –

Rounding a corner the houses to one side fall away and there past a drop a sheen of still water and just past it low buildings a bright red roof like a circus tent a spindly Ferris wheel and a snaking curl of roller coaster. Across the river behind it all the hills of trees green-black and brown and orange dotted with houses and lights just starting to come on and then they’re past the gap and trees and houses take up that side again. “What the hell?” says Jo, craning her neck. The Duke beside her shifts, looks back as well. “Some kind of mini Disneyland thing down there by the river?” Endicott’s always back in time, sings a voice over a driving beat and popping guitars. Endicott’s not the cheatin’ kind.

“Oaks Park,” says the Duke. “You never been to Oaks Park?”

“Never heard of it,” says Jo.

“One of the delights of my demesne,” says the Duke. “We should go sometime. The rides are closed right now, but they got the rollerskating – hey, hon, turn right up there. I want to see something.”

“Fun?” says Jo, as the car slows, turns. “You’re asking me out on a date? We’re gonna put on rollerskates and listen to Journey?”

“Why not?” says the Duke, looking back through the rear window. Endicott keeps his body clean. Endicott don’t use nicotine.

“Would this be before or after the wedding?”

He looks away from where they’ve been, looks at her, crammed into the corner of the back seat in her butter-colored coat, arms folded tightly about herself chin tucked behind her shoulder one eyebrow hiked over cold and muddy eyes. He sucks his teeth. “I don’t know. What do you think, Princess? A solstice wedding?”

From the front seat without turning Ysabel says, “Why don’t we see if you survive the Throne before worrying about setting a date?”

The Duke snorts, turns to watch out the rear window again. “Feel the love in this car,” he says.

“Should I head on to Next Thursday now?” says Jessie.

“What?” says the Duke. “Yeah, just, find a cross street and cut on up. We’re good.”

“Thursday which?” says Jo.

Two residential streets, lined with parked cars, a simple intersection, the pavement of it painted in a great circle stretched from corner to corner in yellows and whites a sunflower faded by weather and traffic opening under the colorless sky. Houses sit comfortably at three of the corners windows lit here and there against the rainy gloom, and at three of the corners there by the sidewalks stands have been built, little kiosks of scrap lumber and windfall painted in primary colors dimmed with age. Jo’s standing by a sign that says Central Square over a bulletin board papered with note cards and post-its and photos and laser-printed flyers, guitarist sought, vegan nanny, found one cat, feng shui process development. Ysabel in her white trench coat stands with Jessie by a sign that says Tea over shelves laid with a couple of thermoses and some old mugs and cups and tins and cans of tea.

“Central Square,” says the Duke, standing by the reddish-brown car. He lifts his cane and points to the fourth corner. “And the Next Thursday Teahouse.”

At the fourth corner a high red gate freshly painted, white lights strung about it. Two old paned windows hang in the air to either side of it from wire just visible strung from tree branches and the gate itself. Beyond a ramshackle confusion gathers itself from windows and doors and bare wood, roofs of tin and translucent plastic aglow with lamplight, the trees of the lot winding in and out of the structure built around them.

“Your demesne contains such wonders as we’d never dreamed of, Duke,” says Ysabel.

“Yeah,” says Jo, to herself.

“Go on in,” says the Duke. “We’re expected. We’re always expected.” Ysabel takes Jessie’s hand and they walk across the sunflower toward the red gate. Jo angles toward the Duke still standing by his car. “Caught up yet?” he says, leaning on his cane.

“With what?” says Jo. “It’s been a long day.”

“With the point,” says the Duke.

“Yeah, yeah, the glory and the majesty of you,” says Jo. “We’re all impressed. What?” at his look askance. “You own a strip club. You own some coffee shops. You’re down with the anarchist bicycle collective and you support cartoonists and you take care of the old folks and what, you built this place with your own two hands?”

“I made it possible,” says the Duke. “Everything you saw today, I made all of it possible. I didn’t make any of it, I cleared the way and kept it safe so it could get made at all.”

“You,” says Jo, looking at his hands wrapped about the hawk at the head of his cane, “you should do earnest more often,” she says. Looking up. “It’s good for your eyes.”

“Go on,” says the Duke. Flexing his fingers. “I need to take care of something.”

Jo heads toward the gate, but stops just past the front of the car. “Hey,” she says. “What – what do I call you? I mean, Duke, hey Duke, it just seems a little weird.”

“Most,” says the Duke, limping around to the back of the car, “usually address My Grace.”

“Your Grace,” says Jo, smirking.

“Go on,” says the Duke. “Check it out. I’ll be there in a minute to show you the good bits.”

As she walks through the gate he pulls a single key from a pocket and opens the trunk. He leans in, wrestles a box to one side, reaches for another one toward the back, stops, sighs to himself, opens the first box. Inside maybe ten or so large plastic bags sealed with purple zip-locks. Two or three of them each filled in turn with a dozen little plastic baggies twisted tightly about thimblesful of gold dust, the rest fat with loose dust, untwisted, lighting the trunk with a fitful mimicry of daylight. He pats one, shakes his head, closes the box up shutting the color away. Reaches for the second box, lined with a garbage bag, and tries to tug it toward him but it’s caught. He reaches down, works something free, sets it to one side, a mask that could swallow half a head, white, crudely painted with thick black lines to resemble a grinning skull, a mane of long black hair dangling limply from it. Tugs the second box closer. Inside a glass jug sloshing with something viscous, white, frothed with a sheen of bubbles, a hint of warm yellow gold. From his pockets come jars and bottles and he sets them in the trunk there by the box. He uncaps the jug and starts pouring them in. As each is emptied he drops it in the box, in the garbage bag lining among other emptied bottles and jars. Some blank, unlabeled, some with labels worn away. Snapple. Fiji Water. He caps the jug again, shoves the box back in place. Clasps his hands together looking it all over for a moment. Then he shuts the trunk.

“Where is everybody?” says the Duke. He hangs his coat in a cozy little antechamber lined with Persian rugs. The only other coat hanging there’s a white trench coat, a white fedora on the hook above it. The light from ropes of white bulbs strung and tangled all about is dim but everywhere. The thumb-sized wodge of dust in the baggie he pulls from inside his jacket can’t quite manage to sparkle. “Hello?” he calls, tucking the baggie into the pocket of his collarless yellow silk shirt. Heading out into an uncertain room, angles and openings on all sides, the light still dim but all about. A rushing wash of sound, branches tossed by a wind heavy with water that’s not yet fallen as rain, lifting and rattling the tin sheets nailed above. His cane-tip dimples the rugs laid one on the other on another under his feet.

“Leo,” says the man stooping to peer through what’s yet another doorway. “I’m so glad you could come.”

“Quiet night,” says the Duke.

“We,” says the man unfolding himself into that uncertain room, “were supposed to have had the hearing yesterday.” Slip-on jogging shoes, loose grey sweatpants, a dark grey fleece pullover that says Tartans with a logo of a Scottie dog. “We spread the word to think of the Teahouse as – closed, this weekend.” The pullover’s zipped all the way up to his chin. His face all cheekbones and nose and eyebrows jutting. He’s wearing a black watch cap. “Win, or lose. I didn’t want a lot of hullabaloo.”

“But you didn’t have the hearing,” says the Duke.

The gaunt man shakes his head. “Been a bad week, Leo,” he says, and he holds up a hand, “it’s all right. Tonight it’s better. I’m okay. Okay.” His hand in a black knit glove, fingertips removed. “It’s been put off till next week.”

The Duke puts a hand to the pocket of his shirt. “I’ve got some more, Michael,” he says. “It’ll help.”

“We’ll talk,” says the gaunt man. “About that. But Jasmine’s down, from Seattle?”

“We don’t want to impose – ”

“No, no. Lauren’s here, too. We’re having an, an early supper. In the Heart. Just – try to keep it down?”

“Keep it,” says the Duke, and then, “oh. Of course.” Smiling. “Early. How can you tell in here?”

Another wash of almost-rain rattles the roof above them and Michael looks up, lays a gloved hand on a bare joist. “I should have torn all this down at the end of summer,” he says.

“We’ll talk about that,” says the Duke.

“Your friends are on the Smoking Porch,” says Michael.

Cigarette clamped in her mouth unzipping a long white boot Ysabel says “What do you think?” She tugs her boot off, points her foot, flexes her toes. Jo still in her butter-colored coat sits at the other end of the long low sofa, cigarette in her hands, hands dangled between her knees. The porch about them open on three sides, the roof held up by columns of peeled and polished unplaned branches. Past them over the tops of trees a grey stretch of river shining with what daylight’s left. “It’s incredible,” says Jo. “I had no idea any of this was down here. He must’ve been building it for years.”

“Not what I meant,” says Ysabel, unzipping her other boot, pulling it off. Jo looks over her shoulder. By the back wall Jessie in her grey chauffeur’s jacket hands behind her back is looking over a wall of stained and faded snapshots of people all of them taken in this room, with cigarettes, cigars, pipes in their hands, their mouths, a hookah stem, cigarette butts and cigar butts pinned in and around among the photos. Wind washes around the porch, tugging smoke from their cigarettes, the trees about them rolling like waves. “I think you have a thing for blonds,” says Jo quietly.

“Jealous?” says Ysabel, turning to stretch her legs down the length of the sofa, bare toes painted with gold glitter not quite touching Jo’s coat.

“I can call a cab for us whenever,” says Jo.

Ysabel shrugs. “As you wish.” Pulling her legs back curling arms about them chin on her knees. “But that wasn’t what I meant either.”

“You’re gonna marry him,” says Jo, and Ysabel lowers her knees to sit tailor-fashion, tugging her T-shirt dress down to cover her lap, stretching out the smiling blond Batgirl. “When the King comes back,” she says, absently stroking her belly, “then I will be Queen.” Leaning forward suddenly, reaching along the back of the sofa for Jo’s shoulder, the loose mass of her hair falling over one shoulder as she ducks her head, trying to catch Jo’s eye, Jo head down grinding her cigarette in the ashtray beside her. “What do you think of him?” says Ysabel. “Now that you’ve talked to him. What do you think of what you’ve gotten us into?”

Jo turns to look at Ysabel, and “There you are!” cries the Duke, in the low wide doorway to the porch. “I swear this place gets bigger every time I come.” Ysabel sits up, stubbing out her cigarette on the burn-scarred arm of the sofa. Jo’s looking down again. Jessie presses against the Duke and he pulls her into a one-armed hug. “We’ve pretty much got the place to ourselves tonight, which, unexpected, but hey, gift horses, whatnot.” He lets go of Jessie, stumps a little closer to the sofa. “Anybody hungry? Jo?” Ysabel’s stretching her legs out again, lying back again, tugging down her dress again. Jo shrugs. “There’s at least a couple of kitchens in here,” says the Duke, “usually stocked with this or that. We could assemble a picnic supper? How about it? Up for a quest?”

“Sure,” Jo’s saying, climbing to her feet. She heads past him into the low narrow hall lined with more rugs along the walls and black-light tapestries and ghostly batiked scrims. He pauses in the doorway, looks back, at Jessie, at Ysabel’s hand on the back of the sofa. “We’ll be back,” he says, “but minutes in here sometimes seem like hours? And vice-versa. Part of its charm.”

“Well,” says Ysabel, as the thump of his cane recedes. “I wanted to go dancing.”

“Well, talk to Leo when they get back,” says Jessie.

Ysabel sitting up leans over the back of the sofa chin on her folded arms. “Leo,” she says. “I see why he has you wear that jacket. You have fantastic legs. No, I wanted to go dancing just with you.”

Jessie says, “That’d be nice.”

“Nice,” says Ysabel. She tips her head back smiling looking up at the bare rafters roof rattling in another gust. “I wanted to go dancing with you,” she says, “in a room full of men we didn’t know. I wanted them to race each other to the bar to buy us drinks.” Jessie’s taken off her cap, she’s holding it in her hands, her back to that wall of photos. “I wanted,” says Ysabel, stretching, “them to be thinking of what they’d’ve been thinking they’d get to do to us,” and then she turns and lies back down along the sofa, “while the whole time we’d’ve known what we’d be doing to each other.”

Jessie doesn’t take a step toward the sofa. She doesn’t take a step toward the low wide doorway. Ysabel’s legs appear lifted straight up from the sofa bare feet pointed. “We would have pretended to go to the bathroom together,” she says, “and left them to fight over the bill.” Her hands appear working a scrap of black lace up the length of those legs. “In the elevator it would all have been too much.” Jessie lets her cap fall to the rug. “The doors would’ve opened,” says Ysabel, pulling one foot free, then the other, “and a couple of men would’ve been standing there, staring, and we’d’ve run down the hall to our room, laughing.” She lets the underwear fall from her hand behind the sofa, lowers her legs, hooking the one over the back of it her foot restlessly turning. “We wouldn’t’ve made it to the bed,” says Ysabel. Jessie stoops to pick up the underwear, stands, one hand on the back of the sofa. Ysabel sprawled along it the blond Batgirl lost in the wrinkles of her rucked-up dress and flashing there from the gold pin piercing her navel a bit of crystal. “And somewhere in all of that,” she says, “you’d’ve told me your name.”

“Rain,” says Jessie.

“Rain,” says Ysabel, holding up a hand. “Come here, Rain.”

“Michael St. John Lake,” says the Duke. “He was an architect or something? I don’t know.” He’s sitting at a picnic table painted with rainbowed swirls of graffiti.

“I got a can of sardines,” says Jo, kneeling next to some shelves built into an angle of this room where a slope of ceiling abruptly meets the walls. “And some pita chips. Stale pita chips.”

“Any glasses?” says the Duke. On the table five or six bottles, round and square, clear glass and green glass and deep deep brown. “Goblets? Paper cups?”

“No, no, and no,” says Jo, standing. She pulls her butter-colored coat from one shoulder, the other, lets it slide down her arms, drapes it over the shelf behind her.

“Decided to stay awhile?” says the Duke, as she sits across from him. He sweeps a hand over the bottles. “Lady’s choice.” She grabs a clear bottle and surprised he says “Whisky.”

“Did you?” she says, offering it to him, and he shakes his head and grabs a short fat bottle too dark to see through. “Gin for me.”

“So this Michael,” she says. “St. John Lake.” Unscrewing the cap to her bottle. “He’s not like you. Right?” She takes a swig. “He’s more like me.”

“In a world,” says the Duke, uncorking his, “where there’s only two types of people, sure. He’s more like you.” He sips from his. “Anyway. I heard about his ideas for suburban piazzas from somebody, I don’t know, and I thought – ”


“Central Square,” says the Duke. “With the street painting and the corner kiosks and anyway I wanted to see what one looked like, and have I told you you have nice shoulders? Because you do. They’re nice. You should wear stuff that shows them more like that. So says me.” Jo’s looking down, away, she takes another quick drink from her bottle. Her satiny black slip with simple ribbon straps no wider than a finger. “Why don’t you ever ask direct questions?” says the Duke.

Jo looks up, sets her bottle on the table. “I – ”

“No you don’t. Not when it matters.”

Jo rests her elbows on the table. “Okay,” she says. “Sometimes,” she says, looking at him through the thicket of bottles. “It’s like, if I did, about some stuff, sometimes, I think, I think you’d all just. Pop. Like soap bubbles.”

“People, like me,” says the Duke. Jo nods. “Well,” he says. “I’d like to think I’m a wee bit more substantial than that. Go on. Try me.”

“Okay,” says Jo, chin in her hands. “How old are you?”

“That’s a terrible question!” cries the Duke, rearing back. “How old am I. How fast is speed? How far is deep?” He takes a sip from his bottle and then leans forward both hands on the table. “I’m young at heart,” he says. Sits back. “Try again.”

Jo pulls something from her pocket, a wad of money clamped in a medium-sized binder clip, and opens it just enough to slip a gold credit card free. “Who pays for this?” she says, and she puts it on the table between them.

The Duke nods. “Better,” he says. “Better.” The card there gold and bright against the green and purple swirls. “You do,” he says.

“You said I’d never see a bill,” she says.

“You won’t,” he says. “You already paid for it.” He moves a bottle from between them, then another. “I confess,” he says. “It would’ve been a minor breach of protocol, but I went to them to see about a modest line of credit for you.” He slides the card back across the table to her. “Imagine my surprise to find you already had quite a substantial account.” Jo’s shaking her head, saying, “I don’t have any idea,” and the Duke takes her hand in his, leans forward, says “Careful, careful. Some things do pop like bubbles. Maybe you wrote something on a piece of paper and burned it. Maybe you answered three questions from a stranger. Maybe you whispered it into a tin can under a bridge, I don’t know, but don’t, don’t tell me. Don’t ever tell anyone what you said. Understand?” Jo nods. The Duke sits up a little. He doesn’t let go of her hand. “I maybe should have said something,” he says. “But, ah. I didn’t.”

“That’s,” she says, “Your Grace, it’s – thanks. Thank you.”

“Leo,” he says. “Call me Leo.” He frowns, looks over his shoulder. “Did you hear that?”

“What,” says Jo, “like a – roar?” Her hand is empty. “Leo?” There’s no one sitting across the table from her.

Table of Contents

Endicott written by August Darnell, copyright holder unknown.

M.E.Traylor    16 September 2010    #

I need to go back and reread the Huntsman fight scene. Hmmm…

Character development for the WIN. Ysabel feels so shut down now, her behavior so erratic, I have no idea what’s going on in her head (more so than usual).

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