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The light from the Television – what Time it is –

The light from the television flickers over tangled blankets in the otherwise dark room. It’s a large flat-sceen model hung on the wall over the blond wood crates at the foot of the futon. On the screen a man in a white top hat and tails is dancing before a gospel choir as a couple of men in orange jumpsuits wheel about him on skateboards. If you don’t come see me today, says the television, I can’t save you any money. Someone’s snoring lightly. At the foot of the futon a tumbled pile of empty shoe boxes, a couple that say Converse, a larger one that says John Fluevog. An orange carton of cigarettes ripped open at one end. Djarum, says the label. 76. The commercial ends with a fanfare and the light from the television changes. A man in a dark suit’s scooping cat food from one can into another in a minty pastel kitchen. He’s humming along with the soundtrack. A shot of a marmalade tabby pawing and mewling at the louvered kitchen doors. The snoring hitches and stops and a bare foot kicks out from under the blankets as Jo rolls over on her side. Wrapped in a clean white fluffy robe loosely belted falling from one shoulder. Oh the cat’s hungry, right, right, says the television. I’ll fix you dinner just as soon as I get me a smoke. Jo takes in a deep fluttering breath and the snoring starts again. At the head of the futon a low shelf painted white, a glass ashtray with three or four butts, a low thick-bottomed tumbler, a slick of something amber left inside. A half-dozen DVD cases most still saying Security Device Enclosed along the side and three books lying flat, the top one with a receipt tucked inside. A sword in a plain black scabbard, its guard a glittering net of wiry strands about the hilt, its pommel a great silvery clout. Someone moans.

The bathroom door is closed. Inside it’s dark but for three candles on the back of the toilet. Ysabel on the bathmat in black lace underwear curled on her side her hair a great black tangle spread across the grimy tiles her arms shivering clenched about herself. Gasping. A sob, and another. Her lips move, and she licks them, swallows, her cheek against the tiles she says her voice a breath, “Could I enchant, and that it lawful were,” and maybe she coughs, or laughs, and then she says, her voice worn thin, “her would I charm, softly, that none should hear – ”

Standing leaning against the sink her hand held up before her reflection shadowed and colorless. Her forefinger and middle finger together, extended, glistening in the candlelight. She presses her fingertips to the mirror and with a squeak draws them across the bridge of her reflection’s nose leaving a smeared and blurry wake obliterating the eyes. “Fuck the sager sort,” she says, shaking her head, her reflection turning away, falling as she sits on the bathmat, the smear left behind, snagging the candlelight. Ysabel leans over to twist a knob on the baseboard heater and then wrapping her arms about herself lies down again her back to it as a mosquito-whine climbs a couple of notches and something somewhere inside it begins gently to buzz. She closes her eyes, her mouth set in a straight flat line. From a hook on the closed door hangs a clean white fluffy robe, the belt of it dangling from one soft loop to draggle on the floor.

The light from the candles caught in that smear on the mirror flaring, popping. On the floor Ysabel doesn’t stir. Four sparks, five, left glimmering on the mirror, pulsing a little against the candles’ flicker, fading. Falling away from the mirror three specks of glittering gold dust, four, drifting down and down to settle there on the edge of the sink. One of them and another landing in droplets of water still standing by a faucet, where they blacken and are gone.

“I don’t know,” says Jo in her white robe sitting on the futon, eating garish orange cereal from a yellow oblong plastic bowl. On the large screen on the wall behind her a cartoon girl in chaps and cowboy boots and a long white scarf soundlessly fires her outsized handguns at a giant robot.

“Is it ten o’clock?” says Ysabel. In her black underwear curled into one of the wrought-iron chairs, heels on the cushion and arms about her shins. On the glass-topped café table an empty pink oblong plastic bowl and an open cereal box that says OJ’s. “Half past ten?” Her cheek on her knees.

“I have no idea,” says Jo. Her voice rough and slow. “Maybe. We were out late.”

“Is it almost eleven?”

“Goddammit, Ysabel,” says Jo, leaning over, grabbing a glassy black phone from the shelf at the head of the futon. She thumbs the only button on its face. “Quarter of ten,” she says. “Okay? Happy?” Tossing the phone back onto the shelf.

“He said you could go back on Monday,” says Ysabel, turning her head, her chin on her knees now. Looking out the window. “And we didn’t go back on Monday.” Jo’s scooping up more cereal. “Or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday – ”

“There’s a point?” says Jo, thumbing some milk from her chin.

“You said you wanted to learn from him. You wanted to learn how to use the sword.”

“Are you hungry?” says Jo. “Aren’t you cold?” Ysabel’s resting her cheek on her knees again. “I was thinking,” says Jo, “I don’t know. Maybe it’d be smart if we both used a little time to cool off. Him and me.”

“Does he know that?” says Ysabel.

“Jesus, would you put on a fucking shirt?”

Ysabel doesn’t move, and Jo looks away, looks down, sets her bowl on the shelf. On the television behind her the girl in the chaps and cowboy boots is silhouetted by an enormous orange explosion. “As you wish,” says Ysabel then, and she unfolds herself stretching her arms and legs and still sitting bends to grab a plain white T-shirt from the floor, tugging it out from under the black spear-haft that lies under the glass-topped table. Jo’s leaning across the futon, digging through the clothing stuffed in the blond wood crates, sitting back with an armload of stuff, all black. Scooting off the futon holding the robe closed as she climbs to her feet. Ysabel watching as Jo walks past, into the little hallway kitchen, clothing bundled under one arm. “You never used to get dressed in the bathroom,” says Ysabel.

“You never used to sleep in the bathroom,” says Jo, closing the door.

Table of Contents

The Greatest Auto Dealer Commercial of All Time,” written by Nerve, copyright holder unknown. The Long Goodbye, written by Leigh Brackett, copyright holder unknown. Loue me or not, loue her I must or dye,” written by Thomas Campion, within the public domain. Bakuretsu Tenshi, ©2003 GONZO.

M.E.Traylor    7 September 2010    #

Wow, tension. There’s a part of me going, “JO. Learn to use the SWORD. God.” The fate of the owr is nagging me.

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