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Laughter, a Whoop of delight – Sunday morning

Laughter, a whoop of delight as they come across the darkly silent intersection, black parka, big green coat, hoodie over a nightgown leaping boots to clomp the last bit of snow in the gutter. On the wedge of sidewalk there across from the pizza place a mound of bicycles, tires fat and white, and skinny buff, ape-hanger bars over a comically tiny front wheel, banana seats glittering silver and gold, stumpy kid’s bikes in medicinal pinks and blues. Wound about and through a thick chain and also lengths of yellow plastic tape printed with bold black letters, CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS. Hung on the front of the pile by chain and tape a door ripped from a car, white with letters that say ND POLICE and a rose stenciled near the bottom. The woman in the nightgown bangs a tattoo on the door, whooping again, as the man in the parka finds a padlock on the chain and fits a key to it. The man in the green coat leans over to catch a loosening hank of chain. The woman in the nightgown takes the weight of the car door, helping it down the pile clatter and scrape.

Backing out of the cabinet under the sink he’s hunched over rubbing the small of his back, grumble and whoof, settling on his knees on the lemon-yellow floor. He pulls from the cabinet a yellow tin that says Clabber Girl, and a white tin that says Guardsman Professional Strength, and a handful of rags. Reaching deep inside, thump and rattle, he pulls out a little red handheld vacuum cleaner, and then pulls himself to his feet, yawning, scratching himself under his loose blue shirt. He reaches a knobby bare foot into the cabinet to drag out a pair of salt-stained espadrilles, working in one foot, then the other, and taking up tins and vacuum and rags in his wide hands he shuffles out of the dark kitchen, down a long unlit hall creak and pop into a big room empty but for an overstuffed armchair, and a low table beside it and through a wall of glass the lights of the city beyond, below. He sets his stuff down and with a muttered growl reaches up to yank a pull chain and a low bulb flares above, banishing the city. Leaning down he takes up the yellow tin and tut-tutting, shaking his head, he sprinkles cornstarch over the stains that blot the cushions of the chair.

Eight people in the train car, all clustered there in the open space near the doors, each of them with a bicycle, hung from the racks, upended on back wheels, a sturdy mountain bike and a low dun brown recumbent, a couple of battered minibikes their frames gleaming under chipped and scored paint, a delicate ten-speed with drop handlebars. The clack and chunk of wheels on rails as the walls of a tunnel rise up and over them, and they pick up speed, and the woman with the recumbent bike opens her mouth to let out a low rumbling note. The man with one of the minibikes laughs and joins her, and the man with the luridly purple wheelie bike, the note becoming a syllable, the syllable a word, “Uncorrected personality traits,” they’re singing, a ragged, jagged harmony, “that seem whimsical in a child,” and another joining in, and another, “may prove to be ugly in a fully grown adult,” as the walls of the tunnel rush past.

Parked at an angle in the shallow curl of driveway a white panel van, the tail of it tucked under the open garage door, and light spilling out onto the shadowed scrap of yard. She opens the rear doors, then tugs her black vest down and back into place before with a scrape startling loud pulling a tray from the rack, lifting a corner of the towel draped over it to check the loaves, flat slipper-shapes darkly crusted. Careful in both hands she carries it up a short flight of steps into the kitchen, brightly lit, the lemon-yellow floor, the gleaming white cabinets. “One more of these,” she says, wrestling it up onto the countertop, “and the butter into the fridge,” and the man in the black vest and the bow tie just like hers nods and hands her a paper coffee cup. “Thank you,” she says, and she turns to fill it from a great silver urn as he heads out the door to the garage.

“Here he comes!” someone cries, and the cheers go up across the parking lot, knots of people with their bicycles, and clustered around this pickup truck, that unmarked van. Men in suits of sky and Carolina, periwinkle, denim and Oxford, midnight, navy, all about the tailgate of a dark blue SUV, reach up for the bicycles being handed down, all of them pink with the same swooping frames, and dotted with the same appliquéd flowers, yellow and white. Down there, past the closed dark gates, the cabin that says Oregon Zoo in letters up on the gable, up the arc of sidewalk along the lot a lone man in a long dark coat, his head bare, and his hair a pinkish orange pompadour. The sky above a pearly grey, and all the colors lurking within.

Flights of bicycles kick off skirling toward him, he waves, he nods, stepping into the lot and across it toward the crowd, toward the woman there in the black leather jacket and the long silvery dress of sequins, like mail, toward the man beside her in green coveralls that say Thomas Thomas over his left breast in neat black embroidery. “Marquess,” says Lymond, and “Soames,” shaking their hands, turning to find the Viscount there in a suit of Prussian blue, pale dreadlocks tied back neatly, and a pink bicycle up on his shoulder. “You must not think of me as a rival,” he says to Lymond, and offers up his hand. “I’m only sorry you’ve been pushed to this extremity, and without a Queen.” Lymond, slowly, takes his hand, and shakes it. “The Duke’s sent no ambassadour?” says Agravante.

“No,” says Lymond.

“If only your mother had ever managed a Bride,” says Agravante. “To wed to him, and heal this rift. It’d be him to take this terrible risk today, instead of you.”

Lymond turns away, lifting his hands, to face the crowd. “Thank you!” he calls to them, and they all fall silent, mechanicals and bikers, knights and clowns. “Thank you. For coming on such short notice, and so early in the morning. It’s not far, and there’s a little something at the end of it, tea, and coffee, and fresh-baked bread.” And he turns abruptly and starts away, up the switchbacking length of road out of the lot, up the wooded slope still dusted with snow, soaking up the chilly early light.

“The Viscount’s rude,” says the Soames Thomas, marching close beside Lymond down the quiet winding street, “but he’s right.” The bicycles winding behind them, and the trundling pickup and its hangers-on.

“You’d rather a Duke, not a Prince, for King,” says Lymond.

“I’d rather a Queen,” says the Soames. “I was promised a Queen.”

“You expect wonder hard on the heels of miracle,” says Lymond. “I am the only Perry, and the last of them. Let’s first see if that’s enough.”

Heading to the edge of the street, across the sidewalk and the scrap of dying grass, up to the yellow front door, followed by the Marquess and the Soames and the Viscount, and clatter and clank and ticking spinning as bicycles tumble to stops behind them. Lymond pulls a padded envelope from inside his coat, and from the envelope he pulls a gold credit card. Letting the envelope fall he works the card into the gap between door and frame, slipping it down, jimmying it as he leans against the door. The Soames frowns at the Marquess, and the Viscount smiles behind his fingers. A click, a clunk, and Lymond opens the door. “My house,” he calls out to them, “is yours,” and he steps inside, and down the long hall, followed by the thunder of dozens of footsteps out into the big room, empty but for the overstuffed armchair and the low table beside it, and that great window, and the shapes of the city uncertain in the shining haze, and beyond the mountain a pale shadow of blue and rose against the first rays of the rising sun.

“Well,” says Lymond, as the footsteps settle, and the rustle of coats, scarves and gloves, blue suits and green coveralls. All of that motley crowd under the window, uncertain whether to look at out the view, or at Lymond there, his back to them, his hands on the arms of the chair. “Let’s see,” he says, and turning, sits him down.

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“Uncorrected Personality Traits,” written by Robyn Hitchock, © 1984.

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