New Thing, aka KES, 11
It was still early, and there was nothing back at the Friendly Campfire for me but a rose-bush and a screaming skull. And some promiscuously rustling trees, and maybe some threatening crickets clicking their mandibles. (It’s not their wings, you know. It’s their teeth. Hmm. Note to self: Flowerhair Six: Crickets.) Warily I ordered tea, trying not to hope that the Eats’ management responsible for the subtlety of the meatloaf, the perfection of the cole slaw and the ecstatic climax of the cherry pie might extend to include the awareness that imprisoning good tea in bags is a criminal act, and that bad tea is . . . my mind wandered. Perhaps Flowerhair, escaping from the attack mushrooms, might meet a marching army of camellia sinensis bound for world domination. . . . Billie pointed to another chalkboard displaying a list of teas. At its foot was a glass teapot containing a mesh infuser. I blinked. She was looking at me, smiling faintly. “We also have floor-sweepings in bags, if you prefer a vicious toxic rush.”
“No, no,” I said hastily. “I’ll have . . . uh . . . Golden Tippy First Curlicue Doodah Supreme Whatsit.”
“Mug or pot?”
“Oh—mug,” I said regretfully. But the mug, when it came, might have passed for a ewer, and it had a red Chinese dragon on it—the hairy, bristly kind. The tea was glorious. As I was rolling it around in my mouth like an oenophile engaging with a charming little chardonnay, I ran a finger down the dragon’s shiny enamelled back. I was tired, and my eyes had been staring at cars and roads and highway markings for far too long, which is probably why the dragon winked at me. Well, why shouldn’t a dragon enjoy a stroke occasionally? I rubbed its whiskery forehead. And it’s a funny thing, but my tea stayed hot to the last mouthful.
I didn’t quite need the wheelbarrow, going back to the motel, but I may have stopped and leaned on a fire hydrant or a phone pole once or twice. It was a fine clear night and . . . cold. It was also only nine o’clock and the streets were nearly empty. I had a sudden dizzying, disorienting, miserabling wash of nostalgia for my town, where at 9 p.m. the evening would be barely starting. If you went for a stroll at 9 p.m. in my old neighbourhood you’d be knocked down by joggers so blissed out on endorphins and whatever was playing on their iPods that they never saw you, and then trampled underfoot by the diamond-encrusted brigade whose life contract stated that they would not recognise, acknowledge nor intermingle with the hoi polloi. Sometimes if I was struggling with a plot point (had Aldetruda brought her collapsible stake in her tiny, clearly-too-small-to-contain-professional-weaponry evening bag when she agreed to meet with the virago’s vavasour’s vassal at his box at the opera? The vassal wouldn’t be alone, of course, and not only can you only wedge one collapsible stake in a bag made to contain a lipstick, a lace handkerchief and a Saturday night special, the drawback to a collapsible stake is that you need an extra second to shake the thing out and make it lock, and extra seconds while dealing with vampires tend to be in short supply) the competition for sidewalk space could be pretty annoying, but it did serve to keep you alert.
Doubtless it was lack of alertness that was making me see shadows that didn’t have acceptable reasons for being. Maybe it was something to do with starlight and moonlight and too few streetlights. Or nostalgia. At home—no, where I used to live—between headlights and store lights and the reflective sequins that might grace your current pair of All Stars and the rhinestones that might be gleaming from your t-shirt plus the local contingent of the diamond-encrusted brigade flinching away from you, there was always an acceptable reason for shadows. I looked sharply to my right—down, indeed, Schmitz Street, the street that Homeric Homes was on—and the low trotting shadow disappeared. If it had ever been there in the first place. Maybe I should get my rhinestone t shirts out. They were one of the things I had kept.
I was moving idly. This had nothing to do with shadows, and everything to do with the fact that it was only 9 p.m. and I didn’t think any good would come of my plugging in my laptop at the motel and pretending to do anything—and the fact that I’d just eaten enough food for six Mastiffs and a Chihuahua (the Chihuahua would probably be stuck with the cole slaw). I wandered a few feet down the side street and stopped in front of Homeric Homes’ window. I wasn’t really checking out my peripheral vision. I was looking at the house posters hanging in the window—New Iceland, Amity, Bittern Marsh, Cold Valley. I could see a couple of other houses in Cold Valley, but the descriptions of aluminum sidings and septic tanks were failing to engage my interest. I’d forgotten to ask Serena where she lived. . . .
There it was again.
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