“My sister,” says someone, says Lymond, “gentlemen: Ysabel,” and the rustle and turn in that high wide room of all those regards to her, conversations checked, chins lifted, and glasses, those dark-suited men brushed with bonhomie in little knots and clusters under the great curving wall of glass. The uncertain grey of the clouds beyond, framed by wet black trees. She’s there in the mouth of that room, all in white, hands clasped behind her back, and then, she’s smiling, they’re looking away, back to each other. Murmurs resume.
“So pleased you could come,” says Lymond beside her, smooth white shirt and charcoal slacks, delight in his bulging eyes, one brown, one blue, and his brightly orange hair slicked back.
“I’d thought this was just a simple lunch,” says Ysabel.
“It is,” he says. “There’s food.” A gesture toward a table laden with triangled sandwiches, pinwheeled wraps, chips and crudités. Just past it under the great window a man in a pale blue suit, shoulders brushed by white-gold dreads, one hand jabbing the palm of the other as he makes a forceful point to the woman listening intently, draped in a purple gown iridescent with blues and greens, head wrapped in a fine black scarf. “Something to drink?” says Lymond. He’s taken her arm, he’s squiring her into the room, she’s shaking her nodding head, a shrug, “But,” she says, “a function such as this. Shouldn’t all the court be here?”
“You mean the Gallowglas.” He waves to someone, nods to someone else. “This, this is more of a Westside thing. Don’t you think?”
“All right,” says Ysabel.
He stops, head tipped, brow cocked. “You do know what this is about.”
“I’d thought it was to celebrate phase one,” she says, quietly.
“There’ve been some complications,” he says, softly, and then, raising his voice, “You know Mr. Sogge?”
“This guy!” growls a man in sharp navy. “This guy.” Under his suit coat a heather grey T-shirt, blazoned with a brightly yellow O, and about his chin a scruff of beard too neat to be an afterthought. Clapping Lymond’s shoulder, firmly shaking his hand, “Not only have we finally got the crane up over Park West,” he says, “the Pearl’s back underway. I’m telling you,” turning to Ysabel, “three months in and this year’s already better than all of the last.”
“Your pardon,” says Ysabel, “but I’ve no idea who you are.”
“That’s all right,” says Mr. Sogge. “I had no idea he had a sister.” Abruptly he heads off, into the scrum.
“Was he important?” says Ysabel.
“He’s not,” says Lymond, “irreplaceable. But.” He gestures toward a tiny woman in a nubbled grey suit, laughing with a heavyset man in tweedy browns and greens and a yellow meshback cap. “The mayor’s here,” says Lymond, and then, looking around, “and also Councilman Killian, somewhere, so there’s at least a couple of reporters in the room? Speak carefully.”
Ysabel says, “What’s that?”
Past the table laden with food, another, and laid atop it a city, blank white towers jumbled in a curl of broad blue painted river, and delicate white bridges stitched across it. “Rudy brought it over,” says Lymond, following Ysabel as she makes her way toward it, through the milling crowd. “Sogge. To give our celebration a little focus.”
At the foot of one of those little bridges a bloom of color, towers in red and yellow instead of white, lining a single avenue there at that end of the city. “Focus,” says Ysabel. And then, “The Pearl’s back underway, he said.” Looking up at Lymond beside her, who shrugs and says, “Complications.”
“Beautiful, isn’t she,” says a man over across the corner of it, not too tall, somewhat stout, his dark grey suit shot through with glistening silver.
“Mr. Davies,” says Ysabel. “I hadn’t expected to see you again so soon.”
“I’ve told you, please,” he says. “Feel free to call me Reg.”
“You know each other,” says Lymond.
“Mr. Davies and I have certain interests in common,” says Ysabel, and Reg lets out a snort of laughter.
“I see,” says Lymond.
“I gotta tell you, Lymond,” says Reg, “the Lovejoy Development? A lot of people in this room aren’t happy, if you asked them, honestly, with how long it took you folks to come around. But me?” A gesture over that patch of color. “Gave me a chance to grab a seat at the table. I’m thrilled, I gotta tell you, to be a part of this project.”
“Careful, Ys,” murmurs Lymond, and she spares him a sidelong look as she leans out over the city. “Tell me, Mr. Davies,” she says. “Your seat, at this table. Will you merely consult, on the marketing and such, or do you actually have – what’s the phrase? Skin, in the game.”
“Oh, I’m in,” says Reg.
“Well,” says Lymond, stepping back, “the Guisarme’s arrived, and the Glaive. I should go and welcome them.”
“By all means,” says Ysabel.
“So,” says Reg. “He’s your brother.”
“Yes,” says Ysabel.
“And you’re, what was that? The Queen? That makes him, what, a prince? Duke?”
“The King,” says Ysabel.
“But he’s your brother,” says Reg.
“Yes,” says Ysabel.
“You know, the two of you look nothing alike?”
“He takes after his father,” says Ysabel.
“So this,” he says, turning about in that little office, the two desks, the big bay window taped over with posters and flyers, “is what’s gonna save the city.” His warm-up jacket grey and blue, his navy workpants almost black. “One storefront,” he says, hands up, shoving back his lankly coiled hair. “Two desks.” Blinking broadly, as if trying to clear his eyes of something.
“Nelson’s got his own office,” says Jessie, there by the door, shrugging out of her pink and orange parka.
“Nelson,” he says, scrubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Stiles? Your glorious leader?”
“There’s the board,” says Jessie. “And the volunteers and stuff, but, yeah. Day to day, this is it.”
“You’re fucked,” he says.
“Luke,” she says. “This is the job.” Forcefully, but quietly. “This is what I could get. This is what you wanted me to get.”
“The only thing being saved in here is petty cash,” he says.
“Come on,” she says, stepping toward him. Taking his arm by the elbow. “You go on back to the car. Do, whatever. We just have to make it through tomorrow and Saturday, Saturday we get the keys. Okay?”
“A roof,” he says, pulling himself free. “We have a roof.”
“Someplace to put our stuff, then,” she says, reaching for his arm again, but he shakes her off, throws back his head, “What the fuck are you even doing here?” he blurts. Lurching across the little office toward the shelf full of binders, “Tell me,” he says, bang against that other desk there, “tell me one thing you’re getting done here. Please.”
“Keep your voice down,” says Jessie.
He’s snatched something from the desk, a poster, a mandala in greens and blues and silhouettes ringed below it about a stylized map. Hands Around Portland, it says. Third Annual. “This. You’re doing this.”
“Luke. Put it down. Come on.”
“You’re holding hands.”
“It’s a, it’s to raise awareness, you know? Just, put it down, go on, tonight we can – ”
“Third. Annual,” he says, shaking the poster for emphasis. “Three years, this has been done. Awareness must be pretty fucking high.”
“Actually,” says someone else, a man in the doorway there to the back room, “that’s last year’s poster. So this’ll be the fourth.” Grizzled and jowly, a lump of a nose, tie-dyed T-shirt all reds and purples and a dull grey cardigan. “It’s a symbolic gesture, intended – ”
“Precisely!” roars Luke, slapping the poster back on the desk, and Jessie, wild-eyed, “Luke,” she’s saying, reaching for his arm again, “Luke,” as he rounds on that man in the doorway, “You!” he says. “In here dreaming up gestures to raise awareness so you can then write a grant to beg for the money you need to buy a ticket to the meeting where, if you’re meek and lucky, you might politely get a chance to ask them maybe to think about stopping, just for a minute – they’re always gonna have more than you!”
And after a moment the man in the doorway says, “I’m sorry?”
“Money! They’ll give it to you just to prove that point! You’re never gonna get it done like this,” and the man in the doorway’s shaking his head, “I really think you ought to,” he says, but Luke’s plowed on, “you’ve got to get out there with what you have, with what they, don’t have, you seize something, take what you need, you force the situation, you make them come to you.”
“You really need to go,” says the man in the doorway.
“This was my fucking idea, Nelson,” says Luke. “And you’re fucking it up.”
“Luke!” says Jessie, sharply, and he wheels on her, “Lake!” he snarls, but then he shudders, swallowing, nodding. The man in the doorway’s frowning. He says, again, “You need to go.”
“Yeah,” says Luke. Stepping back. “Okay.” Turning around. Jessie’s backed up against her desk, hands to her face. Luke stalks past her, throws open the door. The jingle of a bell.
It’s darker under the bridge, but not by much. The white SUV slows to a stop, sits a moment, purring idly, before headlamps light up, front tires turn, crackle of gravel as one corner of it tipping up it mounts the curb, the slightest growl of engine, a threat of power, lifting the other corner of it, pause to hike up the rear wheels, rolling out onto the roughly paved lot, wallowing over old rail lines buried in the macadam. Long aisles of pillars to either side hold the length of the bridge above, a gentle slope and then more sharply down to where the buildings shoulder close to either side, where the SUV swerves, lights slicing through the gloom, splashing over pillars, slowing, stops. A sigh as the engine cuts out. After a moment a rear door opens and all in white, Ysabel steps down.
There are things painted on the pillars about her, a wide-eyed owl in a swirl of feathers, clutching ungainly a pen, a black-faced lion awkwardly savaging an antelope, a stoic bust, defaced with yellow paint, under a spray of cartoon bunting, a bird with an elaborate tail perched atop a drawn plinth that says God is Love, and a scroll beneath that says Light Hope Truth April 7 1948.
Behind her the driver’s door opens, a gentle warning chime. A woman climbs out there, hair cropped close and dyed a virulent chartreuse, looking about.
“Behold,” says Ysabel, “the complications.”
“This,” says Ysabel, with a sweep of her white-clad arm, “is what my brother means to give them. To Mister Reginald Davies.” Walking, slowly, down the aisle. “What they will tear away, to make their little towers.” A hand on the corner of a pillar, there by the shoulder of a bearded hermit, wrapped in robes, holding up a sketchy lantern.
The woman steps down from the running board, disappearing behind the spotless bulk of the SUV. When she comes around the back of it, in her yellow track suit piped with white along the sleeves and legs, she’s holding in her hands the long staff of a fauchard. Looking away, down the length of that shadowed nave under the long dark deck of the bridge, the columned aisles to either side, the glisten here and there of old rails, the street’s brief interruption, and there, blocks away, a lone boxcar rusting comfortably. Peering at it, the sickled blade of her fauchard up and ready. Its side a gallery of graffiti, the lowest edge of it rainbow-stained below a spidery great sigil-shape of white.
“Iona?” says Ysabel.
“It’s gone quiet, ma’am,” she says, stepping back, and back again.
Ysabel looks up. Closes her eyes. The air, still, and not even the thrum of tires, the rumble and mewl of engines, the sing-song whistle of crosswalk alerts or the clatter of a bicycle, not the drip and plash and seep of rainfall settling, not the wind, high above, ushering clouds across the unseen sky. “It has,” she says, then the startling clack of her heels striding back toward the SUV. “Let’s go,” she says. “East, over the river to Alberta.” Stepping up onto the running board, pulling herself up, one last look this way, that, the columns, the bridge. “My mothers will want to hear of this.”
“Yes ma’am,” says Iona.
It all goes suddenly blue, and blued she slinks to the front of the stage, sealed in a neoprene wetsuit, blackly sleeved, French cut, and strapped to her thigh a long black knife. Piano vamping from the speakers under a slice of feedback soaring, kettle-thump of drums, the day, that it became, a voice is singing, clear, and she’s swaying gently, floating on the music, the first time that I saw you for the, one hundred fiftieth time, a whoop from the audience, three men, four, crowding the stage, a fifth, and the woman with pink hair, but can you blame me? I was reaching, sings that voice, reaching, halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, and pale arms appear about her, pale hands on her breast, her hip in that blue light, pulling away with a whip that spins her around and about, twirling away from a woman draped in tinsel glimmering, the place, it socked my square-jawed face, the tinseled woman swinging her arms, miming a pull at a rope or a net as the wetsuited Starling whirling on bare feet head back arms wide swings inexorably toward her, yanked with each tug of those glimmering arms till she’s standing before the kneeling woman who grinning licks at her black rubbered crotch, halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, howls and cheers and applause as the music pounds, pounds, pounds, a half dozen men at the bar or more, that older woman at a table, ripped black T-shirt, white hair tousled, woman in a pink cocktail dress brown leather on her shoulders, woman in a red lace camisole looking away, bored, the man beside her staring, gone, gone, I have enough rope when you’re gone, the door’s opening, and someone all in white and short black hair but turning, stepping aside, making way for someone else, another woman taller, longer-legged, straight blond hair, and crumpling the Starling closes her eyes, gone, gone, gone.
Lights above the escalator, set in metal cups, and the ceiling about them sooty from years of incandescent heat. At the top the walls close in about a landing where Gloria Monday, all in black, stops, there between getting off the one escalator, onto the next, under a sign on the wall that says Housewares, and an arrow pointing up. On shelves haphazardly set within a glass case there’s a grey plaster statue of a young girl with chunky grey butterfly wings and a flock of grey plastic ducks, and on the bottom of it a single bucket filled with dusty silk flowers and a fountain to be hung from a wall, lion’s mouth yawning from a molded plaque, by the threadbare greenery of an ersatz topiary pawn, some sort of felted flocking wrapped about a wicker frame. Bracelets clack and jangle as Gloria lifts a hand to press against the glass, “This,” she says, and a chuckle, “is fantastic.”
“Over here,” says Marfisa, eyeing a door the same blank white as the walls.
“Okay,” says Gloria, turning away from the glass case, black skirts swaying.
“Now Anna said,” says Marfisa, “what did Anna say.” Wild pale hair knotted loosely at the nape of her neck, above the collar of her sheepskin coat. “There’ll be a hall. Down it to the end, last on the left, four knocks. Wait to be admitted. Speak to no one else,” and Gloria’s nodding, impatient, “Yeah, yeah,” she says. “But then what.”
“The truth,” says Marfisa. “Close your eyes.”
She’s pulled from the pocket of her coat a plastic baggie, and frowning leans close to Gloria, tipping a bit of golden dust on each purpled eyelid. Turning to sprinkle a pinch on the knob of the door. “Okay,” Gloria says, “so, Mar, do I open ’em now, or,” and then, opening her eyes, “oh.”
The offices are dim. Cubicle walls chin-high, a dingy, nappy brown, black nameplates by each opening, Offa, says one, in straight white sans-serif letters, Financialisation, and Sceatta, Courts Liaison, says another. Denarey. Manypeny. Light warms a cubicle to the right, “Look,” someone’s saying, “the show is incomplete without the three of them. Think of the chords, that Tom and Gary knew! The Stromberbrauch’s been optimized, not only on the Chip-Ebene, but up and down the line, as well,” and Gloria hurries past, hands holding her bracelets still in the creeping hush. Lloyd, says the nameplate by the last cubicle on the left. Accounts. Her knocks against the fabric of it muffled. Someone says, “Come in.”
A woman’s sitting in a black leatherette chair, flipping through an enormous stack of green-and-white fanfold printout next to an old computer terminal, black screen glowing with amber characters. A grey blouse, a soft pink bow knotted under the collar. She pauses, holding a chunk of printout in the air, takes up a clear plastic ruler, lays it along the lines of data. “Suzette Wilson,” she says.
“Ah, actually,” says Gloria, “I’m Gloria Monday? I’d rather, I’d prefer – ”
“As you wish,” says the woman, picking up a mechanical pencil, making a neat notation. “You have no purchases,” she says, setting the pencil aside.
“No,” says Gloria. “Well. I hope to – I want to – ”
“A line of credit, then.”
“Yes,” says Gloria.
“That wasn’t a question,” says the woman. “The first question is this: do you love him?”
“Love,” says Gloria, looking down, lips pursed, on the verge of shaking her head when her eyes widen, her face settles, smoothed over something fierce, and she looks up again to meet the woman’s gaze. “No,” she says. “No. He was a terrible – person.”
“There’s no need to elaborate,” says the woman, jerking the ruler down a line. “The second question,” she says.
“Halfway Across the Atlantic Ocean,” written by Kristeenyoung, ©2009 Test Tube Baby.