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she said Yes – tomorrow, tonight –

“Yes?” she says. “I guess.” Looking over to him, a shrug. “Who wouldn’t.” And he smiles. He’s smiling already, thinly, lips unparted under his long thin nose. The black patch over one eye. He takes her hand, the other woman’s hand, in his. “You see?” he says to her. Light swoops, shadows rush over them, leaping up walls to hang a moment swirling as the massive speaker stacks begin to groan a thrumbling beat. She leans back, spangles in her black hair snagging the light that blares her pink bangs, shadows under hollowed eyes etch disgust, revulsion, and he laughs, the sound of it swallowed by the revving song, let’s go, chirps a vocoded voice, let’s go, he lifts that hand, the other woman’s hand, to his thin drawn lips, let’s go, the gesture isn’t at all a kiss, let’s go, let’s go, oh, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs –

She steps back from the canvas tautly stretched before her. Somewhere outside a siren whoops, squeals, cuts out, a shiver of rain. A window’s open, a door cracked, somewhere. Her black hair unbraided now, spangles gone, pink leached from her bangs. The brush in her hand. Her feet, her thick legs bare, specked with gooseflesh. Her T-shirt grey, and black letters across the front say Outing, Thunder in parentheses. She drops the brush to a makeshift tabouret. The room behind her cavernous, laddered with rafters trussed and hung over unlit bulks, boxes, equipment, whatever it is lost in the glare of the trouble light that dangles over her head, shining on the canvas stretched, slathered black and red the suggestion of an arm, a sleek line there a throat, a chin, a head tipped back, pillowed in madly scribbled hair. She’s picked up a tube of paint, she’s squeezing it, a dollop of green out onto her fingertip, bright, electric, poisonously pure. Leaning forward to press it carefully, there, and twist: an eye. She steps back. Sniffs.

“Fucking Flashdance,” she says.

Stooping in the harsh light, squatting to pry open the rubber-handled clamps that hold the bottom stretcher of the canvas fixed to a straight-backed paint-splattered chair, the canvas bouncing gently, stiffly dangled, stretching up on her toes to undo the clamps holding the top of it fixed to a cable hung across that corner of the space, knocking the trouble lamp, swooping the shadows about as she struggles with the weight of the canvas, the bottom whacking the concrete floor. Turning it about on one corner, letting it fall, clattering against a stack of canvases all of them tacked to stretchers, each of them spattered, crusted with paint, blacks and reds, arms and hands, torsos, breasts, cheeks and noses, throats, all of them anchoring, framed by explosions of hair, and glimmering in each somewhere a single bright green eye.

“Shit,” says Gloria Monday.

Up from a cigarette hissing in the damp grass threads of smoke until she crushes it with her slippered foot. Gloom yellowed by little lights strung from the branches of young trees, newly leafed, placed here and there in wooden tubs. A hammered bronze chiminea on spindly legs, a couple of Adirondack chairs, on the arm of one an empty wineglass, stippled with rain. She steps back inside, shuff and snap of slippers, long white cardigan trailing, her black hair short, swept up in front, a tidy stack of curls.

Candlelight licks bedroom walls, gilds petals, leaves, daffodils and hyacinths in a vase atop the dresser. She opens a small brass box and drops a pack of cigarettes inside, a ragged matchbook. “Still raining?” says the woman on the bed, without looking up.

“Well,” says Ysabel, stepping out of her slippers. “It’s not not.” Shedding the long white cardigan, slither of satin pyjamas golden in the light of all those candles blazing along the shelves, the windowsill, the footboard of the bed. She lifts the comforter and climbs in next to the woman sitting up against a heap of pillows, chin-length yellow hair severely straight, her face, her breast paled eerily in the light of a laptop. “You’re chilly,” says the woman, as Ysabel leans close, pressing a kiss to her shoulder, then impish reaches up to poke a nipple bluely pinked, laughing as the woman jerks away, a giggling shriek, “Ysabel! Stop. I promised, I said to Ettie I’d look these over.” The laptop screen is tiled with thumbnails, wedge-soled sandal puddle splash, wet hand filthy, lipsticked mouth, two faces, cheek by cheek, and framed by the same severely yellow hair, the same striking noses, the same blue eyes, one looking down, one up and out. “Grimy,” says Ysabel. Pointing. “I like that one.”

“Derivative,” says the blond woman, dragging some images into a folder. “Why do you go outside?”

“What,” says Ysabel, “to smoke? The smell. Jo. She’s trying to quit.”

“Oh,” says the woman. Her lips sour. “Jo.”

Ysabel sits up, draws back.

Ysabel’s opening the door to the apartment, “You’re busy,” she’s saying, “I’m distracted, really, it’s best,” as pulling on a long brown coat the woman with yellow hair comes down the hall. “You can make it up to me tomorrow night,” says Ysabel, as the woman steps out onto the landing, “at the dinner. Christienne?”

Turning, and under that straight yellow hair as she steps back in, steps close, that scowl twists into a pointed little smile, dipped in to kiss Ysabel’s mouth softening, opening, starting to return the kiss when Chrissie pulls away. “It’s tonight,” she says. “The dinner’s tonight.”

“What?” says Ysabel.

“The clock?” says Chrissie, headed down the stairs.

Ysabel looks back, into the dark kitchen. Green numbers shine over the stovetop, 12:17, striking gleams from a glass half full of milk there by the sink. She shakes her head. “Pedant,” she says, closing the door.

In the dim hall she pauses, there by the doorway flickering, candlelit. She turns away, stepping into the other room, unlit, across the hall. There to one side a sword’s slung from a leather strap in a plain black scabbard, and the hilt of it netted in wiry strands. From the same nail driven in sheetrock hangs a painted skull-mask, crudely toothed, black mane falling from it almost to the floor. She doesn’t touch the sword or the mask but turns to sit on the bed, a low futon opened flat. Over the head of it a shapeless collage, taped and pasted to the wall, post cards, scribbled notes, pages ripped from magazines. Through the closed windows a sigh of traffic, the wash of rain. A click, there in the room, metal against leather. She looks up. The mask on the wall, wobbling, the rustle of its mane. The scabbard beneath it swaying, empty, the hilt, the sword, now gone.

She looks down. She lays herself down, head on a pillow, pulling a corner of the blanket up and over about her shoulders. Hand on the other pillow there beside her. Closing her eyes.

“Be careful,” she says.

He shuts off the engine, looks across to her. She’s looking out her window rainwater lurid in the light cast from an Oregon Lottery sign, red and blue and yellowed white. KJ Rice Noodle Shop & Restaurant, say the letters underneath. “What does your grace intend?” he says.

A rip of velcro as she adjusts her fingerless cycling gloves, black and grubby grey. She’s all in black, black jeans, black shirt buttoned to her throat, a long black coat. Her short hair dyed a cherry red to match the red Chuck Taylors on her feet. “Well,” she says, a gesture at the glass door out there, warmly lit up under the blue and red and white. “We go in there, we get the Harper, we come back out. In that order.”

“You make it sound easy,” he says.

“Well, hell,” says Jo Maguire, shoving her door open. “I’m the goddamn Duke, right?”

Table of Contents

“Let’s Go,” written by Tiesto and/or Icona Pop, copyright holder unknown.

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