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the Lights above – Leaning green – Glad Wide Jars – What happened, What didn’t –

The lights above the escalator are set in metal cups, the ceiling about them sooty from years of incandescent heat. At the top behind a low glass wall shine three glossy mannequins, smooth white shells with hair and lips and eyelids painted in bright thin colors. One wears a T-shirt that says Virgo! Are you absolutely positive? Another wears a T-shirt with Albert Einstein on it, that says INTP in big block letters. The center of attention! says the poster hanging above them. None of them wears shoes. Jo turns as her step nears the top, looking down at Ysabel behind her. “What?” says Ysabel.

“I don’t know,” says Jo, stepping off. “I figured you as more a Nordstrom’s girl.”

“Nordstrom,” says Ysabel.


“Never mind.” Silvery letters on the wall say Petites. Designer Dresses, say signs atop racks hung with deep greens, reds and browns like wet earth, like wines, all the toasted colors, umbras and siennas, ochres, butters. “Shall we?” says Ysabel.

Arms outstretched Jo presses her hands firmly against the beige walls to either side and regards her reflection. Lips pursed. Eyebrow crooked. Her short hair, blond at the tips, is dark about the scalp. Longer black shocks spike out halfheartedly, already wilting, lying back against the blond. She lifts her chin. Frowns. The dress is long and soft, a heathery grey. Yellow and white stripes pipe down either side. She tucks a black bra strap under. When she lowers her arms, it slips back out. “You know,” she says, “I like the capris better.”

“No,” says Ysabel. A rustle and a thump and her hands appear at the top of the wall, her head peeking over. “I told you. A dress. How’s the skirt? For moving?”

Jo squats, stands up. Rolls her eyes. Plants her feet wide spreading her knees and slapping her hands on them, hunkering over like a sumo wrestler. The skirt stretches taut. She sticks her tongue out at her reflection, googles her eyes. “Well?” says Ysabel. Jo’s knocking her knees together, hands shuffling back and forth in a Charleston. She snorts. “It’s fine,” she says, standing up. “Stretchy.” Half-turning. Her bra clearly visible in the mirror, there where the wide straps of the dress join in the back.

“We can get you one of those bandeau bras,” says Ysabel. She looks down, her head disappearing. There’s another thump.

“I don’t like those bras,” mutters Jo. She hikes up the dress, bending over, peeling it up and off. “And the colors,” Ysabel’s saying. “The colors are perfect. I definitely say that’s the one.”

“So this hunt,” says Jo, standing there in her boxer shorts and bra. “What is it we’re, uh, hunting?”

“I don’t know,” says Ysabel. “Ow.”

“Ow?” Jo looks at the wall, up, her hands pausing, the dress half-clipped to its hanger.

“Ripped a nail. Blasted jeans.”

“So,” says Jo. She hangs the dress from the hook on the door. “We don’t know what we’re hunting. And it’s being thrown by the Duke, right?” She picks up her black T-shirt and still bent over rubs the scab on her knee with her thumb.

“Yes,” says Ysabel. “Duke, umf, Duke Barganax.” There’s another thump.

“The same guy who sent those guys after us.”

“Yes, Jo.”

“So I don’t get it.” Jo sits on the narrow bench by the mirror, turning her T-shirt right-side out. “What do we get by going right up to him? What’s he gonna pull?”

“He’s not going to ‘pull’ anything, Jo. He’s called a hunt, in my honor.” Jo starts to wrestle her way into her T-shirt. “He may even mean this as an apology. Whatever else he’s done, he’s a Duke. I’m leaning toward the green one.”


“Tell me what you think.”

Jo pops open the flimsy louvered door of her fitting room and steps around to the next, rattling its door until it unsticks with a jerk. Ysabel’s smiling, arms akimbo. The green in her dress is rich and deep like old glass bottles. The skirt is cut above the knee to one side, below it to the other. Thin straps leave her shoulders bare beneath her dark curls. “Well?”

“Works,” says Jo.

Ysabel drops one hand, exasperated. “That’s it?”

“It gets the job done,” says Jo. “That’s, which, the two hundred and fifty dollar one? What?”

“I’m sorry,” says Ysabel, sputtering with laughter. “I’m sorry. It’s the, it’s the boxer shorts. Really.”

“Whatever,” says Jo, rolling her eyes, leaning against the jamb.

“We must get you some new underwear while we’re at it. Along with the bra. A thong, considering the cut of that dress.”

“Hell no,” snaps Jo, straightening up away from the door.

“They’re really much more comfortable than you think,” says Ysabel.

“Hell no.”

“Frankie?” says Gaveston. He knocks. “Mr. Reichart?”

Orlando pushes himself up from the wrought-iron railing he’s been leaning against. “Allow me,” he says.

“Just a moment,” says Gaveston. “Perhaps he’s – ”

Orlando hikes up his leg and kicks. There’s a crunch and a twang. Around the deadbolt plate the door buckles. Biting his lip Orlando swings his leg back, taps the ball of his foot against the concrete, swings forward and up, knee to his chest, drives his foot into the door. It pops open, bouncing off the wall inside, swinging shut. He catches it as he steps through. Gaveston shakes his head and is about to follow when somebody says, “Hey!”

At the bottom of the stairs down the outside of the apartment building there’s Frankie, looking up, one hand shading his eyes, a six-pack of hard lemonade dangling from the other. “Orlando!” calls Gaveston, swinging his portfolio tube up onto his shoulder, coming down the stairs quickly, carefully, one hand on the railing. “Who the,” Frankie’s saying, “what are you, hey!” as Orlando pops out of the doorway. The bottles ring and clank but none of them breaks. Hands free, Frankie’s taking a couple of hasty steps backwards, arms windmilling for balance as he turns, leans, starts to run. Orlando crouches there on the balcony and leaps, legs gathered under himself, half-unbuttoned shirt whipping, long slim curve of his Japanese sword up over his head, shining.

Green flocking flakes from the fake topiary to reveal a dark wicker frame. Buckets filled with dusty silk flowers line the bottom of the glass case. A fountain to be mounted on a wall leans against the base of one of the bushes, its lion’s mouth dry, a black tube dangling unattached from its back. On a plinth above a gaggle of grey plastic ducks sits a young girl, her butterfly wings rendered in thick grey plaster. “Jo?” says Ysabel.

Jo looks away from the glass case, the only thing to be seen on this small landing. Ysabel’s standing at the base of the escalator up, one hand on her hip. “Up to housewares?” says Jo.

Ysabel points to a blank door, the same dull white as the walls. “Oh,” says Jo.

“Offices are on this floor,” says Ysabel. “Go through there and down to the last one on the left. There aren’t any doors. Don’t look at anything, don’t say anything, don’t have anything to do with anything but the last one on the left.” She’s reaching into the front pocket of her jeans. “When you get there, knock four times on the wall outside. Do exactly as you are told.” She’s worming a clear plastic baggie from her pocket. A spoonful of gold dust snakes along the bottom. “Answer every question truthfully. You’ll do fine.”

“And then what?” Jo frowns as Ysabel pinches some gold dust and sprinkles it on the doorknob. “Close your eyes,” says Ysabel.

Jo takes a step closer. Shrugs, and closes her eyes. Ysabel pauses, her gold-dusted finger poised by Jo’s face. Looks at her, standing there in her old black jeans and her black T-shirt. The dresses slumped over one arm, soft grey, slippery silky green. Black underwear dangling from a little plastic hanger in her other hand, a packet of stockings. Ysabel smiles. She brushes Jo’s eyelids lightly one and then the other with her fingertip, glittering them. “You’ll be fine,” she says, in Jo’s ear.

Jo opens her eyes. “Whoa,” she says.

The offices are dim. The cubicle walls are chin-high, a dingy, nappy brown. Jo doesn’t look at the plaques by each opening. Warm light glows from the cubicle to the right. “No,” someone’s saying. “Shadow-time’s orthogonal to pseudo-time. Plates? They’re gonna be glad wide jars again. Yeah. The car under the stale light is a familiar answer, but don’t run to the stranger’s benison – there is nothing in the end but now, and now – ” Jo hurries past, dresses rustling like underbrush. Her knocks against the wall outside the last cubicle on the left are muffled. “Come in,” a woman says.

She’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. She wears a white blouse and a big soft grey bow knotted under her collar. There’s nowhere to sit. Jo stands in the cubicle entrance, the load awkward in her arms. The woman pauses her rapid flipping, holds a chunk of printout in the air while selecting a clear plastic ruler, which she lays along the blurry lines of data. “Jo Maguire,” she says.

“Yes,” says Jo.

“That wasn’t a question,” she says. “The first question is: do you miss him?”

Jo frowns. “Do I miss him? Who?”

The woman’s peering at the printout. “Do you miss him.”

Jo blinks. Her lips part as the frown slips from her face. She closes her eyes. “Oh,” she says. Opens them. “Yes. I do.”

The clear plastic ruler jerks down a line. “Do you love him?”

“Of course,” says Jo. Her voice rough, far away. She clears her throat.

The ruler jerks down once more. “If you could say one thing to him, what would it be?”

“I’m sorry,” says Jo. “I’m very sorry.”

The woman neatens up her pile of printout. “That will do,” she says, standing. Bending in front of Jo she pats down the dresses, finds a security tag, pops it off with an orange plastic grip. She pulls a shopping bag from the shelf above her terminal, unfurls it with a shake. Jo drops the dresses in, the stockings, the underwear. “Thank you so much for shopping with us,” says the woman.

Becker leans back, rubbing one eye with the heel of his hand. A piano rings softly through the speakers to either side of his computer monitor. Samson went back to bed, a woman’s singing, not much hair left on his head. Ate a slice of Wonderbread and went right back to bed. The office is dark, lit only by the lamp on his desk and the bright white glaring from the door to the kitchen, where Guthrie’s standing, arms folded. “Hey,” he says.

“Jesus,” says Becker, starting. “I thought everybody was gone.”

“I was waiting,” says Guthrie. “We were going to talk.”

“Yeah, well,” says Becker, “perks of being promoted.” He turns down the music. “First in, last out. So.”


“What are we talking about?”

Guthrie’s pulling a chair up to Becker’s desk. “The two guys,” he says. He straddles the back of the chair, frowning.

“Two guys,” says Becker, shifting his mouse, clicking, tapping a number on the keyboard. “Help me out here. What two guys?”

“The,” says Guthrie, “the two guys.” He points to the door to the lobby. “Wanted to talk to you about Jo, and Ysabel.”

“Oh,” says Becker. “Those two guys. What about them?”

“They didn’t seem weird to you?”

“Just about everything with that girl is weird.”

Guthrie’s fiddling with a fat binder clip, opening and closing the little metal arms. It clinks against the rings on his fingers. “You remember how we met her?”

“Jo brought her in,” says Becker.

Guthrie drops the clip into a wire basket full of them. “That’s not when we met her.”

“There was the thing,” says Becker. “When I got bumped up. At the VC. She was there, wasn’t she? And then Jo went off with her to some party up in Northwest, and – what?”

Guthrie’s shaking his head. “That’s not it,” he says. “You don’t remember.” His hands float over Becker’s desk as if he’s unsure what shape to make with them. “We were there. It was a big old house on Everett.”

“No, see, I remember the party,” says Becker. “It was a little, I had a lot of beer. It’s a little fuzzy.”

“I had way too much beer,” says Guthrie. He taps his head. “Still clear as a bell. You remember the girl who tried to steal your watch?”

“Yeah, but,” says Becker.

“Or the one who said she’d been herself in a former life?”

“I don’t – ”

“You remember the band, right?” Guthrie looks up at Becker now, and Becker looks right back at him, eyes a little wide, frowning just. “They were pretty good,” says Guthrie. “You remember Ysabel’s boyfriend picking a fight? With a sword?”

“Now wait a,” says Becker.

“How he stabbed Jo in the back?”

“Guthrie.” Becker pushes back, hands up, as if he expects Guthrie to leap over the desk at him. Guthrie doesn’t move, doesn’t look away. He says, “That’s when you – ”

“I never,” says Becker.

“ – when you went for him. He was still holding that damn sword, but you went roaring at him. Took three of them to hold you back. And he never even looked at you, he just, he put up his sword, and he walked away.”

“You are so full of shit,” says Becker.

At that Guthrie looks down. His pale hands curl in on themselves, fingernails coated in chipped black polish. “I didn’t do anything,” he says. “I just watched them haul you outside. Watched them bundle her up in a blanket. They told me they were taking her across the street and I said okay. They told me not to worry about it. She was going to be fine. And I said whatever, okay. They told me to take you home.” Guthrie flattens his hands on Becker’s desk and looks up at him. “You were standing there on the porch. Staring off at nothing. I said, let’s get you home. You said sure. You’d already forgotten everything.”

“That’s because it never happened,” says Becker, gently.

“Ask Jo,” says Guthrie. “Ask Ysabel.” He pushes back from Becker’s desk. “Anyway. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He stands up, bumping the chair back towards the line of phone carrels. “Which is why I think we should go to this thing tomorrow night. You know. That those two guys were telling you about?” He shrugs. “Or maybe that never happened, either.”

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Samson” written by Regina Spektor, ©2002.