Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

Whipped Cream – Like most people – Zoobombing – This Ray guy –

The whipped cream melts into an oily sludge. Fluffy curds calve off, bobbing up and down as Ysabel pokes them with a plastic stirrer.

“We could sell the stuff,” says Jo.

“The stuff,” says Ysabel, not looking up.

“The furniture,” says Jo, leaning forward, her elbows on the table. “The chest-thing. That whoever it was brought, who came in and cleaned up the place.”

“We can’t sell that.”

“We can’t,” says Jo.

“We can’t sell it, Jo,” snaps Ysabel, throwing the plastic stirrer down by her coffee. “Honestly. Do you really think somebody hauled all that up the elevator and set it up in your apartment while we were out shopping for a half an hour?” She slumps back in her chair, looking up at the yellowing ceiling tiles. “It’s not mine to sell,” she says.

“What were you doing on the phone?” says Jo.

“I was flirting,” says Ysabel.

“For flirting,” says Jo, “Becker cuts you off? For flirting, he wants to talk to you in the conference room?”

“Yes,” says Ysabel simply.

“Whatever,” says Jo.

“So,” says Ysabel, picking the stirrer back up. “Do you think you’re,” and she sinks a large, unwieldy blob of whipped cream, “fired?”

“For that?” Jo snorts. “I’d have to go postal or something to get fired there. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“You think I’m fired?”

“I think you quit.”

Ysabel shrugs. Dunks another shred of whipped cream.

“Are you going to drink that?”

“Probably not,” says Ysabel.

“Fine,” says Jo, pushing back her chair. “It’s about time to go meet Roland and whatshername, anyway. You know,” she says, as Ysabel plucks her jacket from the back of the chair, “we could get her to guard you while I’m working – ”

“No,” says Ysabel, heading for the door.

“No?” says Jo.

“No,” Ysabel calls over her shoulder.

“Okay, fine, whatever,” mutters Jo, following after.

After a moment, she’s back, snagging the cup of coffee, taking it with her.

“She surprises me,” says Roland, standing once again under the multi-colored Tonic banner. He’s wearing a silvery track suit with green piping. His shoes are puffy and white and spotless, and blue and white headphones cling to his neck. “I keep expecting her to give up, and she doesn’t.”

“Her nose is too big,” says Marfisa. Her hands are tucked into the pockets of a baby blue fleece pullover.

“The Princess?” says Roland.

“No,” says Marfisa. “I thought you were talking about the girl. Jo.”

“I meant the Princess.”

“The Princess’s nose is fine.”

“I know.”

“I thought you meant Jo was refusing to give up.”

“I know.”

Marfisa reaches up to tuck a curl of hair behind her ear. “And Jo is surprising.”

“Jo,” says Roland, “is surprising in precisely the way you’d expect.”

Marfisa frowns.

“Hey,” calls Jo from the corner, Ysabel behind her, a dark shape in her dark suit. Roland looks over at the front door of the building, back to the two of them coming up the street. “Change in plans,” says Jo. “I mean, we’re still going to Vincent’s. Right? We just, um. Left work a little early.”

“Oh,” says Roland.

Hall light spills onto crinkled posters for plays long since over, with titles like The Maid’s Tragedy and The Courier’s Tragedy, The Insatiate Countess and The Knight of the Burning Pestle. “You weren’t in the studio,” says Roland.

“I’m not,” says Vincent Erne, as the ceiling lights flicker to life, “am I.” He’s sitting cross-legged in an office chair, his back to a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper. He holds a coffee mug loosely, his finger through the ring. On the desk a bottle with a finger’s worth of sooty whiskey.

“You’re drinking,” says Roland.

“Why yes,” says Vincent. “I am. Did you bring your protégée? Jo?”

She’s leaning in the doorway, her head against the jamb. “She’ll be ready for Wednesday?” says Roland.

“What will you do to her, Wednesday?”

Jo’s eyes flick from Vincent to Roland and back again. “Vincent Erne,” Roland’s saying, “you have incurred certain obligations – ”

“You don’t need to remind me, boy,” snaps Vincent. “Why don’t you run along, and allow me to discharge them. As,” he says, climbing slowly out of his chair, “I see fit.”

“Should we go over to the,” says Jo, pointing down the hall after Roland.

“I’m not in the mood for running around and yelling at you,” says Vincent. A long axe, hung with ribbons and limp felt banners, leans in the corner. On the floor a large white kite-shaped shield with a gold and black bee. Vincent squats there, clattering something. “Are you in the mood to run around and be yelled at?”

“No,” says Jo.

“Then we shan’t go over to the studio,” says Vincent. He stands up, holding a sword. “Here.” He tosses it hilt down at Jo who just barely catches it above the saucer-shaped guard.

“It’s a sword,” she says.

“And this is a sheath.” He holds it up, a limp leather sock dangling from the hook at the end of his left arm. “Take off your jacket.”

“Why?” says Jo.

“So I can tie it to your belt,” he says, kneeling heavily before her, catching himself with his hand on the floor.

“You’re not,” says Jo, arms raised awkwardly out of his way. “You’re not one of them. Are you.” The scabbard hangs from a fold of black satiny fabric with a couple of long ties that he works under Jo’s belt. “I mean,” she says, “I knew you weren’t a knight. But I didn’t realize you weren’t a, well, a…”

“Go on,” says Vincent.

“You’re not – you’re like me. You’re like most people.”

“I highly doubt that,” he says, leaning back. “Then, no one is like ‘most people.’ Sheathe the sword.”

“I thought,” says Jo, looking down, aiming the wavering tip at the sheath’s mouth, “I wasn’t going anywhere near a sword, or something. All of a sudden I’m worthy?”

Vincent climbs to his feet. “It’s a piece-of-shit épée that would set you back maybe a hundred bucks.” He grins. “I get them wholesale. Now. Let me show you everything you need to know.”

He takes her left hand in his and places it on the hilt. “The most common mistake a newcomer makes with a sword is to hold it here, by the hilt. Go on. Grab it.” Jo does. The sword swings a little on her hip, the end of it sticking out behind her clunking into the door. “See?” says Vincent. “It’s a long piece of metal. You want to keep it under control, but if you grab it like that, the tip sticks out. If you were to bow before the Queen, you’d put out the eye of whomever’s standing behind you. Let go. Rest your wrist against the hilt. Push the hilt out,” and she does. From its black satiny baldric the hilt pushed out swings the blade in its sheath to tuck up against the backs of her thighs. “Under control,” says Vincent. “If you bow, just remember to keep pushing the hilt out like that. It will become second nature.”

“Okay,” says Jo. “Now. What if I get into a fight?”

“If you get in a fight, Jo,” he says, “you will lose.” He heads over to his desk and pours the last finger of whiskey into his mug. “So don’t get in a fight. Don’t curl up. Don’t snap.”

“Vincent,” says Jo.

“Mr. Erne,” he says, sipping.

“Mr. Erne,” says Jo. “What’s going to happen on Wednesday?”

Swallowing, Vincent lowers his mug. “A hunt,” he says.

“It’s a stupid way to run things, if you ask me,” says Ysabel. She’s sitting on the edge of the counter in the bathroom, next to the sink.

“Hold still,” says Marfisa. “Close your eyes.” She’s standing between Ysabel’s knees, leaning in close, a brush in one hand to smooth a pale and creamy beige across Ysabel’s eyelid.

“She wakes up,” says Ysabel, closing her eyes. “She spends six hours a day telephoning people and asking them how much they like their things. She does this for just enough money so she can come back to her apartment. Sometimes she orders a pizza.” Marfisa picks up a skinny brush and dips it into a pot of bright pink in a jumbled muddle of colors and brushes in a My Little Pony lunchbox. “She doesn’t even have half the things she asks about. Money markets. Mutual funds.” Ysabel’s hands rest idly on Marfisa’s hips. “An annuity. She doesn’t even know what those are.”

“Something that happens once a year,” mutters Marfisa, carefully drawing a thin pink line along the edge of Ysabel’s eyelid.

“I don’t think what she does matters. Whether she’s calling people or making donuts or delivering pizzas. What she’s really doing is shoveling money. From the company that pays people to ask questions to the people who own this apartment building and make the pizzas who probably put it into mutual funds which they aren’t all that satisfied with. It’s like a tide,” says Ysabel, “constantly rushing out, and she has to help it along, and she can’t ever stop and take any for herself.”

“Her loss,” says Marfisa, leaning back a little, looking at Ysabel’s closed eyes. “How’s that?”

Ysabel looks over her shoulder at herself in the mirror. Blinks. “Looks good,” she says, turning to look up at Marfisa. Smiling. “Let’s go.”

“The Bear?” says Roland, as they pass the white brick wall of the old armory. “The Stag? The Boar? None of these?”

“All he talked about was how I walked,” says Jo.

“The Fox?”

“Look,” says Jo, “I didn’t even know there was going to be this hunt until tonight. You haven’t exactly been upfront yourself.”

“I thought he was telling you,” mutters Roland. “He didn’t even talk about the Hare?”

“He gave me this,” snaps Jo, holding up the épée she’s been carrying at her side, still in its black leather sheath, her hand an awkwardly tight fist under the bell guard. “What the hell am I supposed to do with it?”

“Don’t go waving it around,” says Roland, reaching out, pushing her hand down.

“It doesn’t even have a point,” says Jo.

“Roland!” calls someone up ahead. “Roland, is that you?”

“What the hell is he up to?” says Roland, looking back the way they’ve come.

“Who, him?” says Jo, pointing with the hilt of her sword at a man with a shock of pinkish orange hair, up ahead at the corner of the intersection with Burnside. He’s wearing a black leather jacket and black jeans and he’s slouching over the handlebars of a little pink bicycle. His knees jackknife up to either side like some spindly frog. White streamers on the handlebars flutter in the breeze.

“Roland!” he calls. “It is you!”

“I was talking about Vincent,” mutters Roland. “Just hold onto the sword for now, and,” but Jo’s stepped past him.

“It’s one of those bicycles,” she says. She looks back, frowning. “I thought you said you guys didn’t do the bicycles.”

“He’s not one of my guys. Just ignore him, and he’ll – Jo – ”

“Hey!” Jo’s calling to the guy on the bike. “What the hell are you guys doing?”

His face cracks open in an enormous grin. He slings his arms out to either side and yells up into the light-stained nighttime sky, “Zoobombing!”

At the underground station a dozen of them get off the train. They wear sweaters and hooded sweatshirts, jeans and hacked-off khakis. There’s a woman in a green and yellow cheerleader outfit. Somebody’s wearing a rabbit head with a metallic, skull-like face. Some of them carry little kids’ bikes, like the pink one on the shoulder of the guy with the pinkish orange hair. Some of them carry silvery dirt bikes. The cheerleader has a big blue bicycle with fat tires and a flowery white basket hooked to the front. One guy has a rickety looking homebuilt machine with a yellow banana seat and a tiny back wheel and a long fork for the front wheel, like a chopped penny-farthing.

They head for the elevators at either end of the platform. Roland frowning hefts a battered red dirt bike. Jo after him sets a purple kids’ bike on its back wheel. “Hey,” says the guy with pinkish orange hair, last to push his way in. “Roland. If you don’t think this is going to be a blast – ”

“I said I’d do it, Ray,” mutters Roland. “So I’ll do it.”

“Going up,” says whoever’s wearing the rabbit head, punching the top button. The digital readout starts counting down from 260 feet to the surface.

“Young and tall and tan and slender,” sings someone else, giggling.

“You guys do this every week?” says Jo.

“Just about,” says a woman in a white tank top, her muscled arms ringed with tattoos and elbow pads. “First time?”

“Yeah,” says Jo.

“You know, Roland,” says Ray, “You don’t have to – ”

“I said,” snaps Roland, as the elevator doors slide open, “I’d do it.”

“Heads up!” yells somebody outside, and something comes winging in at them. Ray puts out his hand and catches it, thwock! A can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “Oh ho,” says Ray. A couple of people in the milling crowd outside break into a run, and violently shaking up the can of beer he takes off after them.

Out of the elevator a sidewalk overlooks a cluster of dimly lit parking lots sloping generally down toward the dark gate of the Oregon Zoo. There’s a swarm of people on bikes, people walking bikes, people sitting by bikes drinking beer and bottled water, snapping photos of each other posing on bikes. “I told you,” says Roland. A big guy walks past, wearing only an army helmet and a pair of white underpants. “Not us.”

“Yeah,” says Jo. “But Ray is. Right?”

“Ray is an asshole,” says Roland, after a moment.

“So what are you doing up here?”

“First,” says Roland, “I have to make sure you get back to the Princess.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” says Jo. “She’s in my apartment.”

“And I will not allow anyone to say I backed down from a challenge,” he says.

“It’s not that bad,” says the tattooed woman. “It’s all downhill from here into town. We get up to thirty, forty miles an hour, but the worst we’ve seen is a busted collarbone.” She grins. “You will wipe out. You will scrape stuff up. But it’s a hell of a run.”

Someone’s chanting something – the words lost in a thick fake Cockney accent. Somebody else takes it up: “We are the Self-Preservation, Society! We are the Self-Preservation, Society!”

“Zoobombing,” says Jo, shaking her head.

The swarm sorts itself out into a line snaking up out from under the parking lot lights along the switchbacking length of Kingston. The sky to either side glows with the lights of downtown, the suburbs on the other side of the hills. The only other lights shine from the fronts of the bicycles, bob on helmets, flicker and flash from cameras and cell phones, wink unexpectedly from reflectors in spokes. Kingston dead-ends suddenly at the top of the ridge into Fairview. The line of bicyclists starts clumping up here in ragged groups on either side of the road. There’s Ray, waddling out into the middle on his little pink bike. “Hey!” he yells. “Hey!” He sits there a moment as whistles and claps waft around him, and then throwing back his head he bellows, “Get a bloomin’ move on!” He lifts his feet, jackknifing his legs to get them onto the pedals. The bike wobbling rolls slowly downhill. Picking up speed as he leans into the curve and out of sight.

And everyone starts to follow him. Wheeling and pedaling out into the street and kicking off down the hill, dirt bikes and kids’ bikes and a ten-speed like an old greyhound, a red folding bicycle with little wheels, the homebuilt chopped penny farthing. Whoops and cries ring out. Jo follows the tattooed woman out onto the street, and Roland follows her. “Watch out,” says the tattooed woman, “for cops,” and then she’s off.

“Cops,” says Jo.

“This was your idea,” says Roland.

“You were the one who said yeah, whatever, we’ll do it.”

“You were the one who wouldn’t ignore him in the first place.”

“You know,” says Jo, as the guy in the army hat and the white underpants pedals past, giggling, “there’s a story there. If we make it to the bottom in one piece, you’re gonna have to tell me what the hell it is with you and this Ray guy.”

“Do not think to bargain with me, Jo Maguire,” snaps Roland, and he kicks off, pedaling jerkily down the hill on his red dirt bike.

Jo sits there a moment, looking after him. And then she shrugs, pushes off, finds the little pedals with her feet. “Ho. Ly. Fuck!” she yells, picking up speed.

Table of Contents

English lyrics for “Girl From Ipanema” written by Norman Gimbel, © 1964. “Get a Bloomin’ Move On” written by Quincy Jones, copyright holder unknown.