Barnum: Day Twenty-Eight

Amelia is what’s known as a Riveter, after that Rosie broad who looked tough in all the old posters they’ve reprinted and posted around.  A strength that survives even after they took away the mechanism for us to grow beyond the manual labor that Rosie was the cause celebre for.  She runs the planes. She makes them them come and lets them go as I she sees fit.  If she don’t want to let you ride, you will walk across the great and burning desert as brambles cut your feet, for that is all that can be found in the lost lands between cities.    They’ve taken so much away that four tiny planes and a pair of runways makes for a certain amount of cache.   And this, Amelia, refuses to forget.

It’s late in the afternoon, the light worth remarking on as it presses itself through the wooden slat shades,  It’s almost time for Amelia to make her rounds, review the accounts one last time before closing her business for the day.

Before she can return to her bungalow and the relative luxury of a good meal and a bottle of wine that this success affords her,  there is, of course, the matter of the Traveler.

She adjusts her fascinator, puts the white gloves in the snap-latched purse and leans over the desk .

“It’s been a bad year for your kind,” she peers at him, “And you don’t know that men from our time light ladies’ cigarettes to say that they’ll listen to a dame if only for the time it takes to let the ashes fall into an ashtray.”

She gestures at the empty smoked glass bowl sitting in front of her.  For Amelia, that little knick-knack, the only one in the spartan room is beautiful, but only because that beauty is serviceable.

He says nothing.

She snaps open the purse again and pulls a little cigarette from some secret compartment, and lights it with a knowing, blase click.

“Oh, don’t cry now.”  Through pursed lips, she murmurs mostly to herself,  “How strange that men may cry if they find themselves so far from home, so at the mercy of a woman who has little reason to offer succor but for mercy.”

The Traveler wore a suit stressed and strained at all its seams, caked in reddish dirt.  He’d come through the wild lands, that much was clear.  Some of his wounds were new, from an over-eager security team that’s found little enough to secure when the city’s police pursue their invisible justices with terrible and overwhelming authority.  Some less recent, but still raw, including a stinging zipper of a cut running deep along his forearm. Crawling beneath the fence was reckless, almost, if Amelia were the sort of woman to be so swayed, brave.    It is only that they sent her a photograph that she knew him for what he was, and it is only, perhaps, that these long, weatherless days had been driving her to distraction that she called for him to be brought to her office before they they turned him over to the police.  A gaunt, unhappy character,  he looked like most of her employees.  Except, of course, the tattoo his kind wore in hopes her kind might recognize it, in blue ink right above his collarbones, and the tears pearling along the brick-red waterline of his eyes.

“There’s planes,” she said, almost idly, as if it was something to mention while stirring your tea, “from here and there. If that’s what you want.  Those I say can be gotten for pennies, for cheap thrills, when the cards are played right.”

The traveler takes a breath and nods, those tears just about gone to the end of his chin and dead.

“From here to there is easy,” Amelia says as a ring of smoke makes an axis or a nimbus around his heavy head. “From now to then’s…another matter.” She tap, tap, taps the cigarette.  The churn of the typewriters in the pen of offices outside the glass window behind her stops until she bangs her fist on the desk that separates them.  The cloud of white noise resumes, but quieter, and less frantic, more orchestrated.

She stands up straight, circles lightly, and lets herself land on the other side of the isthmus of mahogany.

He croaks, his face contorting in pain as the words slip out between teeth and lip. “They say you’re the lady to talk to.”

Amelia laughs, having heard that once or twice before, though never from a Traveler.  “At the moment, the yellow-grey sky is all my birds, all my sky.  Still, I need to pay these folks. And, you sir, don’t look like you’re up for much, certainly not to cover the fuel. So you’ll have to find a way. Maybe the mayor. He thinks he runs the town, and we let him think it because someone has to pull the sun aloft and someone has to butter the bread. Maybe he can swing you a ticket. But how do I pay him, you ask. Quite a fix, I say, I’m not sure what he’ll want. Some letters delivered, some men boxed up tight in a freezer. But it’s better than what I’ll ask.” I lean against the beveled edge, to take the weight off my heels. “It’d be easier for you to give.” A plane screams over all the noise and she shudders despite being accustomed.

But it isn’t the noise that makes her jump, it’s the Traveler’s worn and callused hand that Amelia can feel even through the industrial nylons.

“At least you know,” She says, with a strange sense of relief as she slides backwards on the desk knocking over the blotter, and ashtray, sending the whole works askew, “how to get from here to there.”

“Don’t even need a plane,” the Traveler says.  His face is not handsome, but worth remarking on.  Earnest,  sincere, a beauty that is serviceable even through the bruises and the bloodshot.  He smiles with a thick lip that’s been bitten dry. She feels it with with her own, until till they share the red between them.

“Now and then?” He whispers into her ear.

She presses the lighter into his hand, fumbles for another cigarette, and leans in, waiting for a spark.

 

Eat Your Veggies: Day Fifteen

When she heard the doorbell ring, she shuddered with her whole body.

Not.  Again.

It was 11:32 in the morning so that left no doubt in Emily’s mind who was on the other side.   Most people were working at 11:32 in the morning.  Those who weren’t, typically had a good reason to be home, even if that wasn’t Emily’s case. She had been deemed unemployable by three successive, and increasingly militant retail outlets.  Caring, the last had told her before handing her the familiar pink slip, a Mr. Peele with gimlet eyes and a certain decrepit smell, should be the business of the young.  She debated, unwilling to even look through the peep hole, and  hesitating over the knob, until she jumped, startled by a sudden banging against the door.  A thick Southern accent followed, “Girl!  Girl! I know you’re in there, girl!” 

She turned the lock and let the door sling open.  Mrs. Elliott stood on her parents’ doorstep and glared at her.   Dressed in a lemon-colored tweed suit with black orthopedic shoes, she held a dead robin by the foot and wiggled the tiny corpse in her face.  The robin had fully snapped its mortal coil, though its mouth hung open as if it had been caught mid-song.  Mrs. Elliott, who lived four houses to the right, on the other hand, was far less peaceful.

“Do you know what this is? Do you know?”

“A…dead bird?”  Emily had been asleep not ten minutes earlier, so she stood stock-still, agog as the bird as she tried to register if this was perhaps another surreal stage to her dream.

“NO!”  She shouted and pointed her a knotted finger in between Emily’s bleary eyes.  “This is a sign!”

“A sign of what? You’re not going to say the apocalypse, I hope.  Because it is way too early for me to be dealing with fire and brimstone.”  Finding her own bad jokes excessively amusing was not one of Emily’s more attractive traits, but it had been three straight days of Mrs. Elliott, the neighborhood’s notorious nut showing up at 11:32a.m. to chastise her for existing and she was starting to crack. Not unlike Mrs. Elliott’s plaster of paris complexion. Another joke, but Irma Elliott caught the grin creeping across Emily’s face and stomped on it.

“NO! You miserable girl, I will be speaking to your parents about the terrible way you have been treating me.  I come to your door to tell you these important truths and you shut your eyes to me!”

“Fine.  Well, what’s with the bird, then?”  Emily folded her arms in front of her.

There was no answer.  Mrs. Elliott’s cakey face seemed to freeze as though she was caught in a reverie she couldn’t escape, a dream that caught her with garroting wire from behind.  Her eyes began to glaze and she dropped the robin with an unceremonious thud.

“Mrs. Elliott?  Mrs. Elliott?”  And just as quickly, the woman spun and trudged back down the street, muttering.

Emily reminded herself to set the alarm for 11:30 tomorrow.

Casualty of Love: Day Twenty

“Every day.” She said softly and took the book out of Annie’s hands and held it closed between her hands as though she were waiting for it to pulse and come to life.  Annie thought she was waiting for her to say something, but instead, gestured towards her steaming cup.

“I think you should try some of the tea.  You’re anxious.”  Moira turned her head.  Annie found herself thinking of the last time she was across the table from an opponent which is what the psychic felt like, not the advisor Mary had promised.

“Why? Is it magical?”  Annie’s words rode out of her with a sneer.  The silence of the room was uncomfortable and the baby had begun to kick hard enough to make her eyes water.

“It’s soothing, a sort of magic.  Drink it, please, and quit the attitude or I can be of no further help to you.”

Satisfied that Annie had actually swallowed some of the tea, tea which tasted as much like any other green tea Annie had ever come across, no secret unguent to unnerve her or give her pause, Moira closed her eyes for a second.

Annie found herself involuntarily leaning in, watching the woman, listening for a hum or a crackle, or a knee knocking against the table meant to be a spirit from the great beyond.  There was none of that as she opened her eyes with a concerted breath and read the first thing her eyes seemed to see.

“Then Agammemnon called a council of his wisest and bravest chiefs.  Nestor advised that an embassy should be sent to Achilles to persuade him to return to the field; that Agammemnon should yield the maiden, the cause of the dispute, with ample gifts to atone for the wrong that he had done.”

She closed the book, and looked up, her eyes sad and stoic.  Annie was uncomfortable with all the emotion that seemed to run through the woman like the Nile. “Do you see what you’re being told? Do you hear the message in the words?”

Annie shook her head,  “I’m no maiden.  This King of yours…it means nothing.”

Moira did not waver this time, “No.  You will have a daughter. ”

Her hand fell to her belly, the little piglet, the little creature was a girl.  If she believed, and she found that she did, Annie could start to love her.  She chuckled. Alright.  Maybe.

“You should give appease him and give her up.  That is the wise council of the chiefs.”

“Give her up to him?”  Her plan, her secret unspoken plan was being dictated to her by some sort of witch.  This wasn’t right.  He…what did he want with her?”

“You know what happened the Trojans ignored this wise council? Ten years of war.

“What the hell kind of advice is this?”  Annie bolted up out of her chair, a pang of maternal power galvanizing her.  She ripped the book out of Moira’s hand who let it loose, but met her eyes and kept Annie standing in front of her.

She drank another slug of tea. “But this is not my council.  Mary sent you here to protect herself, her family.  To keep your King from taking more from her after he lit Charlie’s corpse alight.  I tell you this not for Mary’s sake, or mine, and certainly not for yours, but for the sake of that child, you should leave Falls Valley.  Go into hiding, instead of a war, perhaps he’ll forget.”

“There is no such place.  And you don’t know shit if you think I can sidestep this man.”

“This man?”  At this, she laughed.  “Your King is no man.  Was once, surely, but that was long ago.   It’s a bad miracle that he had the life in him to make a child. And whatever purpose he sees in you, in the child you bear, it will not serve anyone but himself.”

Umbra: Day Six

The whole thing was completely out of her experience.  It was one in the afternoon, and with Autumn’s arrival Falls Valley was coming into its short-lived, mediocre glory before even the trees drove their leaves out into the winds to crumble into dust.

This was a lead, a loose thread, a nail that had to be followed so it could be cut off at the quick.   When Annie pushed open the door, she did not see what she expected.

There was a woman sitting at the table along with three empty cups and a steaming tea-kettle on a cast-iron trivet.   She was about Annie’s age, though, as she scanned the corners of her eyes, the slight bend on her shoulders, she guessed again. She was perhaps five or six years north of her thirty, her brown hair in a French braid that just barely slipped over her shoulder onto a denim work shirt.  Her fingers too soft to have known hard labor, but knotted. Philosophical joints.  Probably from braiding, detailed craft, though the home didn’t show much sign of that sort of handiwork.

Around her were bookshelves after bookshelves after bookshelves.  None matched precisely though they were all constructed in light wood and lined every wall in the little houses that Annie could see, save a few cabinets in the kitchen and the wall behind her.  There were no empty shelves wanting for books.

She was surrounded by a bay window behind the table and sat on a thinly cushioned bench.  Sort of prim.

“Hello? Are you Moira?”

Moira nodded, gestured for Annie to pull out a chair on her side of the table and take a seat..

“My friend Mary gave me your card.  Said I should talk to you.”

She snorted slightly, but her smile seemed genuine and didn’t dim or twist along her mouth afterwards.  She sipped her tea.

“It is a risky thing to claim friends you don’t actually have.”

Annie shot back, “How do you know?  Cause you’re dead wrong, psychic.  She must count me as the closest friend in the whole world…”

“Just because she was frightened enough to give you her torment and you were stupid enough to leave with it, no, I wouldn’t call that friendship.”  The smile spread out as the lines of her mouth with taut.   Moira didn’t wear any makeup, but she didn’t look like she would benefit from it.  She looked like she got plenty of sleep, and if the whole communing with the beyond jazz didn’t bother Annie, nor being called stupid (it was hard as hell to argue that one out), there was no way to trust women who could got a regular full eight hours shut-eye.

If she knew about the gun, well, maybe there wasn’t anything to say.

“You came here with questions to which there are no earthly answers.”

“I don’t know how this works for absolute sure, but I’m betting there needs to be some cards, or a pentagram.  Very least you need a black cat.”

Moira, looked passive, whatever pool of serenity she was drawing from had to be as deep as Mender’s Pond and just as still.  Maybe just as full of crap, too, mostlike.

“We do things differently here.  Pick a book.”  As she said this, she poured herself a glass of some minty-smelling tea and poured the same into a cup for Annie.

Annie looked around before she reached into her brown backpack and pulled out a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology.  “Didn’t think your kind got surprised.”

“Every  day.”  She said softly and took the book out of Annie’s hands.

Character Sketch

I can’t tell where my failings end and the failings of the universe right now begin.

….

Okay, that was in the heart of it all.

….

Miranda slipped her flute of wine, newly manicured nails delicately gripping the stem.  She was aware of the time.  She was aware of what she had set into motion.  Daylight was melting into dusk outside the massive glass walls of Daedalus and the alcohol was draining the strength of her senses into one, a warmth that settled around her head like a nimbus, an incubator, a blow dryer on high.

She had taken off her shoes, silvery pumps with a heel high enough to be noteworthy.  In this city, that was a good six inches and her legs throbbed from her knobby knees down to her clammy, irregularly sized toes.  Miranda’s body had always been a little off.   She’d been born a hairy child with clubbed thumbs.  Her mother and father called her una piccola scimmia pelosa.   Through the services of a good – no, excellent – aesthetician, the aggressive eyebrows had been thinned decisively, her upper lip as silken and hairless as the rest of her.  But the murderer’s thumbs,  like so much else, were destiny.

“What do you know about your…friend?”

Maybe she had had more of the Barbaresco than she intended.  But she could be excused for craving it.  The taste of strawberries melded with rose petals blooming in a delicate, garnet-hued vintage.  Was like drinking blood must be for a vampire, radiating life’s essence.  As she turned to meet the eyes of this boy, she realized the black bottle was empty.  She’d have to ask for another.

The boy chained to his chair didn’t answer.

“Come on now, I’ve requested your company, and you don’t have anything to say to me?”

Her Barbaresco, and maybe some of the drugs from the party, were starting to kick in.  The black glass, his black eyes, the obsidian awards lining the shelves.  A perfect darkness.  She flicked at the top three buttons on her ivory dress shirt.

“He’s out doing what you wouldn’t.  7:02pm.  11th and Halvorson.  A tall man with a noticeable limp that is just about to become moot.  He’s out there protecting you from your fate, your destiny. It’s almost romantic.  He’d like us both to think of it that way.  I’ve sorted him that far.  And I also know it would upset him for you and I to become friends.  Jack’s always been rather possessive.  But, you see, I need to upset him.  Turnabout’s fair play.”   She reached, inelegantly, to shimmy out of her panty hose.

The boy in the chair smiled just enough to feel she’d been silently ridiculed.  Miranda felt a dryness in her throat.  She flicked another button to  and smiled back.

“I’d offer you a drink.  You’re old enough now, right?  There’s some white wine over by the caddy. ” She motioned vaguely behind him. “But I’ve had the sort of drink you can’t follow with swill.   It’d be like going from caviar to White Castles.  Besides, the light is rather bright, anyway.  And we’re all well past breaking ice.”

She stepped behind him, on those waxed but unsteady legs, leaning forward to press herself into the back of the chair as she ran her hands down his shirt.

In a thick, cakey whisper, she moaned with an amiable sincerity.  “It’s a terrible thing we have to do together.  You have to prove he doesn’t own you, and I…have to prove he does.”