June 25, 2012

KES, 21


I almost cried.  I was having a stressful day.  My eyes did maybe fill up a bit.  I’m pretty sure the cover went blurrier than it already was.  (This was a good thing, as was the coffee stain, and the torn corner.  My early covers . . . well.  Let me just say for the record that I have never, and will never, write a female character with pneumatic boobs, and that the purpose of leather clothing if you’ve reluctantly become a sword for hire is to cover you up.  And the mad demon Flowerhair inadvertently took Doomblade away from was not iridescent purple and did not have four arms and twisty yellow horns.) 

            Hayley was holding the book out toward me so I lifted one hand and took it.

            I stood staring at it.  The blotchy cover went away and I was remembering the first time I had met Flowerhair—met used in the storyteller’s sense of that first jolt of fetching up against a character or a story with a life of its own that you might be able to use.    

             I was ten years old.  I’d just been beat up by the neighborhood bully again.  Bullying, like most things in New York, was compartmentalised.  There were the playground bullies at school, who followed a strict class hierarchy, and I mostly hid out in the library anyway.  But eventually I had to go home.  I was beneath the notice of our building’s bullies, who were teenagers, but out on the street and on our block, unfortunately, there was a preteen bully, and he and his cronies totally had my name.  Our janitor—this was years before building managers and doorpersons—would run them off if they hit me too near home and he noticed, but he was about ninety years old, mostly deaf and half blind.  And one of the building teenagers took a kind of big-brother shine to me, but this was not actually so great, because my nemesis would hit me harder next time if his hero had been defending me.  My mother had her Ghastlies, and my father thought you were supposed to stand up to bullies.  That’s all very well if you’re at least as big as they are (which I wasn’t) and the odds were a little more in your favor (there were four of them and one of me).  It was not a great time in my life.

            This particular occasion, one of the gang somewhat imprudently punched me in the head.  Skulls are hard, you know?  And he hurt his hand.  Poor baby.  Ow, he said.  But he’d hit me hard enough that I saw stars, and when he hit me again in the stomach (with his other hand) I fell down, and stayed down.  That was usually their signal to run away (as long as I hadn’t fallen down too soon and spoiled their fun:  there were rules about being bullied too), which they did.  I sat up, cautiously, but didn’t try to get up immediately, because I was watching a fascinating movie in my head. 

            There was a young woman dressed in white, with flowers in her hair, seated on a high open carriage drawn by four horses:  two black and two white.  The carriage was very grand, gold and white;  behind the young woman stood two guards dressed in black, leaning on their spears against the motion of the carriage, but looking very alert and dangerous for all of that.  I wondered what—or who—it was that this young woman needed to be so carefully protected against:  not that I knew any more about spear-carrying guards than Tolkien (or Robert E Howard) could teach me, but these didn’t look like honor guards to me. 

            The young woman looked brave.  And she looked like she needed to be brave.  She sat up very straight, although the bench she was on was backless, and her chin was a raised a little bit higher than if she had been on her way to a picnic or a prom.  Her hands were quietly in her lap;  she was wearing a ring that sparkled in the sunlight, and I glanced down at it.  Which is when I saw that her hands were chained together.  Chained.  The shock was almost as great as if No Brain had come back and given me another punch in the stomach.  

            I’d been telling myself stories for as long as I could remember.  Longer.  My memory began with a story-telling habit already established.  Sometimes I wrote my stories down.  (Sometimes I burned them after I’d written them down.)   But this one was different.  I wasn’t making this one up.  Whoever the young woman with the flowers in her hair and the chains round her wrists was, she existed. 

            It was at this point that our janitor found me, helped me up, brushed me off, and distracted me with some very colorful epithets concerning No Brain and his buds. 

            I shook myself and looked up.  Hayley was watching me anxiously.  I guessed that Sally didn’t know anything about Homeric Homes’ new client’s dubious means of earning a living, or that one of her employees was a fan.  “Would you like me to sign it for you?” I said.


Baby robins


I am skronking a blog entry together here even later than usual, having been working on SHADOWS till a depraved hour, having also decided this afternoon that it was over time to do you my fabulous Second Nest photo essay . . .  and always forgetting that photo blogs take JUST AS LONG as text blogs because of all the choosing and cropping and rechoosing and recropping and fussing and making lists and changing my mind.   I fuss slowly.  In this case complicated by the fact that I have extraordinary numbers of . . . ahem . . . not totally excellent photos to fuss over. 

Baby robins. Among the plant food and Epsom salts.

Now this is the first nest, and you see that it was not divinely situated for photo taking.  I could see it fine–and I can tell you there are five baby robins in there–but since I didn’t want to shoot off the flash in their little fluffy faces I was a bit stymed on the photo front.

Teeny teeny weeny. Not much with the feathers either.

Now this is the second nest, beautifully open to sunlight and photography . . . except for the little fact that it’s over my head behind a wall of pots and paraphernalia and that I took this and all the following photos (and a great many more you are spared) standing in a highly precarious manner with my feet on two loose bits of timber propped up on bricks and holding the camera at full arm’s length pointing down to where I know the nest is, on the far side of the aforementioned wall, and my other hand frantically grasping anything it can, to keep me (relatively) steady for shutter-clicking.  The things I go through for this blog.

By the way, to give you some idea of scale, the width of those upside-down pressed-compost pots leaning on the edge of the nest is two and a half inches.  Baby robins are very small. 

You may remember I discovered the presence of the nest when I dropped some of these pressed-compost pots on sitting mama robin’s head.  I had to clear them away without being able to see what I was doing either, and these last few were  inadvertently left behind.  And then when the photos revealed their presence I was afraid to try to move them because I didn’t want to freak anybody out.  Mum and dad remained dubious about me (despite all the mealworms) but the kids were so used to this ticking black rectangular thing swooping down at them from overhead every day (just about the time the mealworms arrived, in fact) that I could probably have decorated the nest with ribbons and pinwheels and they wouldn’t have batted an eye.  Although I’m sure mum and dad would have disapproved.


Feeeeeeeeed meeeeeeeee

They are all mouth at this age–with its beak open you feel like you can see the back of a baby robin’s skull, not just its throat–on these tiny wavery little necks.

Are we cute yet?

They're getting a little more emphatic. They're still all beak, but they're BIGGER.

Feed me, revisited.  They’re even beginning to make some effort about feathers.

I never did quite decide if there were four or five this time.

I think it’s only four.  But there are always slightly more bulges than four robins decently need, and I never saw them live directly either–just the photos.  Maybe the fifth one is shy.  Note beaks still as big as their heads.

Mum, keeping an eye on me

If you look carefully in the gap in the centre, you will see a tiny little red head, its eye clearly staring suspiciously at the photographer. 




Well.  I have a car.  Maybe.  I seem to have a car at the moment.  Um.  A car-shaped object.  It looks a lot like Wolfgang.  Except that this red, convincingly dented and red-paint-touched-up, very Wolfgang-like car-thing keeps starting.  Well.  So far.

            Yesterday afternoon I rang the garage.  The line was engaged.  It went on being engaged.  I said to Colin and Niall, when they arrived to ring handbells, that the garage had taken their phone off the hook so I couldn’t ring them up.  I kept trying.  Eventually someone absent-mindedly put the phone back in its cradle again and then there it was, ringing, and they sighed heavily and answered.

            It’s all ready, said Paxton.

            Uh huh (I did not say aloud).  I’ve heard that one before.

            Paxton heard me anyway.  No, really, he said.  We couldn’t find anything wrong with it . . . until we discovered it had been fitted with a gingledrabbler.  We’ve never seen a gingledrabbler on a Volkswagen before.

            Um.  Granted that everything I know about cars could dance on the head of a pin with room left over for a picnic table, but this is not a word I’ve ever heard before, in relation to cars or anything else.  I don’t want to have a discussion about it but I do at least know the word ‘solenoid’ exists, for example, and that it’s a Car Part in one of its manifestations, and that you need the one or ones in your car to be happy in their work.  Gingledrabbler I do not know.  Apparently it’s another of these fluxy electrically channelly things.  And it was interrupting the flow in Wolfgang somewhere. 

            So we called Volkswagen, Paxton went on enthusiastically, and they said, oh, yeah, only a few cars were fitted with gingledrabblers—

            —Which I take as a bad sign, just by the way.  They tried it and they decided it was a bad idea and didn’t do it any more. 

            —but, went on Paxton, they said they were still making replacements.  So we ordered one.  And we’ve fitted it and the car starts.

            Okay, good, I said cautiously.  Wolfgang had run brilliantly over the Jubilee weekend after our little emergency trip to the local garage with the RAC man, and then declined to start two or three times as he readied himself for the additional exertion of dropping me in the proverbial soup at 70 mph on the motorway.  And then there was last Tuesday.  I’m feeling a little bruised. 

            I’ll take it out tomorrow morning and drive it really hard, said Paxton.  And turn it on and off a lot.  Give us a ring, and you can pick it up in the afternoon.

            My today began last night, as my todays usually do.  We are in a supper resistant phase with the hellhounds.*  The current system involves that they must have lain at tortured, food-repelling angles all over the kitchen floor for a sufficient time and then locked in their crate before they will eat.  Sometimes.  And it’s not like the exact sufficiency of time is measurable or predictable.  Nooooooo.  No, you have to monitor the tortured angles, and at the RIGHT MOMENT you have to move them into their bed, and then watch them closely** for tiny signs of interest in the contents of their bowls.  If you shut them in too quickly it doesn’t work, and then you have to start all over.  If you wait too long they just go to sleep.  ARRRRRRGH.  I could be solving the global financial crisis and finding a cure for malaria with the focus and energy I’m using TRYING TO GET FOOD INTO HELLHOUNDS.

            Last night was a Chaos fail.  And I couldn’t stay awake any longer.***  So we all got off to a slow, late and CRANKY start today.  And the weather was going RAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIN sun RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIN sun RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIN WIIIIIIIIIIIIND sun so on the whole I decided we did not want to walk back out to Warm Upford again.  Instead I sacrificed my music lesson and Oisin drove me out there.†  I approached Wolfgang with caution, holding out three keys in a humble, supplicating manner.††  I got in the driver’s seat.  I buckled my seatbelt to indicate my faith in the process.  And with Oisin looking on somewhat cynically, I turned the key in the little hole. . . .

            And Wolfgang started.  Vroom vroom.  There was a problem?†††

            Hellhounds and I had a gorgeous post-more-handbells‡ hurtle this evening while my knees and ankles went No heavy knapsack!  No endless commuting with heavy knapsack!  Wheeeeee!  Do you have any idea what a bag of dog kibble WEIGHS?  No, don’t put it on the scale, we don’t want to know!

            And then we got in Wolfgang‡‡ and luxuriously DROVE to the mews.

            And now I guess I get to see if he’s going to start for the, uh, fifth time in a row. . . . 

* * *

* You’ve all seen some version of this, yes?  http://mikewarot.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/humor-how-to-give-cat-pill.html ^ Of the ones I’ve seen, this one’s my favourite, not least for the ‘how to give a dog a pill’ add on at the end.  But then dogs and sighthounds are only distantly related.  You’re much better off giving a sighthound—my hellhounds anyway—a pill the hard way, which is to say opening its mouth and poking it down its throat.  It will look at you reproachfully, but that’s about all.^^  But try to offer it food out of context and clearly the end of the world is approaching.  My guys adore liver, and (usually) shoot out of their bed to beg for it if they think it’s on offer.^^^  But offer it outdoors in what might conceivably be a training environment and it’s squashy, red-brown cyanide.  My guys’ recall is mysteriously good^^^^ but for godssake don’t offer them a reward for coming, that will put them right off.               

^ Although it leaves out the peeing-on-you stage.  I was once left in charge of a cat that had to have a pill every day.  Longest week of my life.  

^^ If it’s your own dog, and it manages to hork it up again, I find that saying ‘you’re supposed to swallow that, you wretched animal’ before repeating the opening-and-poking routine is usually effective.  Dog Hierarchy:  Make It Work for You.  You might as well get the breaks where you can, you’re still going to be cleaning sick off the floor at intervals, not to mention the out-of-hours emergency runs to the vet. + 

+ Companion animals are SO REWARDING. 

^^^ This includes after they’ve had their dinner and I might be so brazen as to be having liver myself for mine.+  I’ve told you before that the hellhounds are so, well, awful, about eating that I have positively encouraged them to learn to beg while I’m putting their meals together:  ANY interest in food is to be encouraged.  This means that on liver nights I approach preparing my portion with a kind of lightning-raid mentality, because I will have hellhounds underfoot for the duration.  Yes, they get scraps of mine too.  When I decide to err as a dog owner, I err comprehensively.  

+ I LIKE liver, okay?  It’s also one of those superfoods—we buy organic—that is a Very Good Idea if you’ve got a chronic debilitator like ME.     

^^^^ knocking on wood here till my knuckles bleed 

** While pretending to ignore them.  This is easier out in the kitchen with, you know, light, than it is in the deep dark recesses of the frelling crate. 

*** I was too tired to KNIT.  

† And I brought my camera . . . and there was no puppy.  

†† Paxton said that sometimes the chips in the keys go wrong.  So when Paxton drove us in the other day I sent him back with ALL Wolfgang’s keys. 

††† Oisin followed me home.  So he could pick up the bits that fell off, as he said helpfully. 

‡ The theory is that I ring only with Niall and Colin on Thursday or Niall and Gemma on Friday, because I have a novel to finish, etc.  But like this week we were already set up for Gemma on Friday and then Colin suddenly realised he wasn’t leaving on holiday till Friday and could therefore ring handbells on Thursday, and . . . I have no self control . . . but my touches of bob minor on the three-four are improving.  

‡‡ With a remarkable assortment of stuff that seems to have silted up at the wrong end.  There’s its equal and opposite load at the mews.

Sleep, short of, very


I am Very Short of Sleep.  I tried to print out the first 1,000,000,000,000* words of SHADOWS yesterday evening.  I knew it was going to be a less than happy, joyful experience, because my printer is POSSESSED BY DEMONS as SO MANY TECHNOLOGICAL APPURTENANCES BUT ESPECIALLY PRINTERS ARE.  I cast my mind back, and I think I’ve always hated my printers, which live** to find reasons to refuse to print, but of course the current incumbent is most on my mind so I am convinced I HATE IT WORSE THAN I’VE EVER HATED ANY OTHER PRINTER.

            Last night I got one—that’s one, that’s COUNT IT ONE page out of said printer before it jammed. ONE.  ONE PAGE.  ONE.  Well, before it claimed to jam, which is one of its little jokes.  So I opened all its stupid, sticky-catched doors and couldn’t find anything wrong of course (it very, very, very rarely has a paper jam, it just likes the attention), and hit ‘print’ again.  Now it’s telling me there’s a Paper Mismatch in Tray, which is its default non-printing position.***  Usually if you yank the paper tray in and out a few times it will sullenly (and temporarily) accept its fate and print out a few pages.  Not last night.  I think the prospect of printing out lots of pages was giving it a more drastic than its usual case of the megrims . . . and so when I resorted to turning the bloody thing off, knitting a row†, and turning it back on again . . . there was a pause for warming up and contemplating its options before it shouted:  TONER INVALID!  . . . Which is a new one.   I haven’t seen toner invalid before.  New experiences are so refreshing.  And then it ran through all the different toners individually:  toner black INVALID!  toner cyan INVALID!  toner magenta INVALID!  toner yellow INVAAAAAAAAAALID!!!!!!!!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA GOTCHA!!!!!!!!

            Whereupon I had a nervous breakdown and emailed Raphael.  Who is an insane person, and checks his business emails even at 8 o’clock at night.  I’ll ask Gabriel to get on it tomorrow, he replied.

            Hellhounds and I hurtled back to the mews for dinner.  And then—despite Peter warning me about the weather—we went home at our usual rrggmmph o’clock except, as you may recall, we are presently on foot, and hellhounds were TRAUMATISED, that’s TRAUMATISED by having to walk home in the RAIN.  Now, granted, it was heavy rain, and if hellhounds were in the habit of listening to either husbands or weather reports they might have been feeling a little testy about my having ignored both these excellent sources of advice, but I’m pretty convinced they came up with the whole TRAUMATISED thing all on their own.

            And they wouldn’t eat their supper.  No, no, we couldn’t touch a morsel, they said, shuddering delicately, we’re so TRAUMATISED. 

            . . . And then Gabriel, bless him, rang first thing this morning.

            I am very short of sleep.           


Okay… so the dwarf doesn’t appear to be the landlord… 

Well, if he is, Cathy and I need to have a more complex conversation than I realised.  As I’ve told you I’m trying to stay about ten eps ahead of what I’m posting so I have some clue where I may be headed, and every now and then, while she gets on with her life, I send Cathy some new fragment of story info which has only just emerged . . . and I mean fragment.   These tend to be so fragmentary that she would be forgiven for saying, um, you’re telling me this why?, except that they come with that charge, like putting your finger in a live socket, that says SOMETHING HERE.

Anyway.  So far as I know Ron is not the landlord. 


Do authors hate their characters enough to make them realtors? Oh, wait. 

Hey.  I have a friend who’s a realtor.††  Remember that KES is also a parody.  I will send up anyone I can get my little hands on, Kes herself in particular of course, but everyone, and the horse they rode in on, and the street names of New Iceland, and . . . I’ve already told you that I’m really looking forward to writing the first scene/chapter of FLOWERHAIR THE INVINCIBLE—which you get a peek at, I think it’s next ep—but that doesn’t negate that somewhere down the line she has some trouble with attack mushrooms.  


I’m working on some of Britten’s arias right now (Titania’s two big ones, from his version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and one from “The Turn of the Screw”) – he certainly does like to torture musicians. But it’s a good sort of torturing. 

Wowie zowie honey, you’re in at the deep end.  I think if your head will bend in that direction††† Britten is an absolutely fabulous education all by himself.  One of my fantasies is to sing his setting of Auden’s Tell Me the Truth about Love but . . . not this week.  

. . . this house is basically my dream home. Grottiness and out-of-datedness and possible Cthulhu and/or Yog-Sothoth in the cellar included. 

Oh, me too.  If I asked for a show of forum hands I suspect we’re in the majority.  But that’s part of the fun (I hope).  Parody and riffing on a favourite trope are very nearly the same thing. 


I can’t help but wonder if Hayley is just a fan and doing her best not to totally fan-girl geek-out. Matching accessories notwithstanding.

 Mother pin a rose on you.‡  I did wonder how many of you were silently having your suspicions.  I didn’t know till, um, I think the second ep Hayley appears.  I had the same initial reaction to her that Kes herself did.  (No, damn it, we are not interchangeable, even metaphorically.  There’s just a lot of overlap.)   I still want to remonstrate with her about her footgear however.


As someone who normally bolts through a book, this sort of drip-feeding is….. causing me no end of anguish. (And then the author chuckles evilly…?) 

Well, yes, I never turn down an opportunity to chuckle evilly, but . . . 


I love this whole thing so much. But it really is torture, only getting a tiny bit at a time.  

. . .  tell yourselves that the only way you will have KES at all is like this.  While I admit I hope she turns out to have some kind of long term, comprehensive, something-or-other future, I would, for example NEVER have written last night’s ep for a story that, you know, started life as a contracted book.  KES is more work than I was, um, hoping, but she’s also even more fun than I was hoping.  And I’ll take all the fun I can get.  Especially when there are things like printers in my life. 


::reads Kes 20:: ::reaches end of excerpt:: ::dies laughing:: 

‘dies laughing’?‡‡  You churl.  Wait . . . wait . . . a new storyline is just coming into view.  I can’t see it clearly yet . . . hang on . . . yes . . . it’s something about a violinist.  Something . . . something awful happens to a violinist. 

* * *

* I keep dwelling on how slowly this final draft and tidy-up and yank-together is going but as I organised the first lump for printing out I realised that one reason is because it has got long.  It’s not in the PEGASUS category but . . . it’s not short.  It’s not a cheerful little 75,000-word throw-off that it started life as.  Well of course not.  Who do I think I am.  IT’S NOT LIKE THIS IS UNDER MY CONTROL, YOU KNOW. 

** And caper and dance and laugh maniacally as soon as you’re out of your office. 

*** It has paper size SETTINGS.  It ignores these.  You can carefully select the paper you’re using, and during the exciting hey-presto of PAPER JAM and PAPER TRAY MISMATCH it will have reset them.  It will have reset them to a paper size that has never existed in the history of the world so that you don’t have opportunity to give it the paper it claims to want, to see if this makes any difference.  I comfort myself with the thought that it wouldn’t.     

† Waaaaaaaay better than that flimsy old counting-to-ten thing.  I have no problem merely counting to ten and then committing murder.  Knitting a row has an actual tranquillizing effect.^ 

^ Unless of course I make a horrible error. 

†† And, if we’re counting, three friends who are accountants. 

††† And no shame if it doesn’t, EMoon,^ everyone’s different, give me a minute and I’ll think of three major composers I can’t stick on any account.^^ 

^ EMoon

[ep 20]  is SO VERY MUCH what I needed tonight!!! 

Oh good.  ::Beams::

^^ You can take 90% of John Adams, Harrison Birtwhistle and Pierre Boulez, and 80% of Stravinsky and Ravel, and bury them in the back garden, for example. 

‡ This is a common phrase, yes?  It’s not just me? 

‡‡ PamAdams

My shout of laughter on the ending of Kes #20 just brought my office mates to my door. I believe they’re thinking that I’m the madwoman in the attic.  

I think you might have a legal case for unacceptable working conditions.  You might want to look into this.

KES, 20



By the time we went downstairs again I’d been silent for so long that Hayley’s sales pitch was beginning to splutter and stall.  I knew I should rescue her—my life crisis was not her fault—but I was feeling a little overwhelmed.  We went out into the garden and stared back toward the house.  It was on enough of a slope that there were only a few steps down to ground level from the kitchen door.  Maybe that meant that the space under the front porch was only large enough for rabid raccoons and not for deinonychus.   I looked at the cellar doors I wasn’t supposed to leave open.  I looked up at the tower (still no visible madwoman at the windows.  Oh, wait, maybe that was going to be me).  

I glanced at Hayley.  She looked like a woman trying not to wring her hands.  She was also, in her four-inch heels, limited to walking on the (overgrown) stepping stones.  These only went a little way down the garden and petered out in a paved circle that was probably supposed to have a table on it for artistic al fresco dining.  I looked away from the house, toward Yggdrasil:  it could wait, like the wardrobe in the room upstairs.  “I’m afraid the garden has been let go rather badly,” said Hayley.  “If—if you take the house, Homeric Homes would of course have someone in to do some clearing up.”

I made an effort.  “That’s all right.  I’m sort of looking forward to having the epic confrontation with the garden myself.  And I’ve already heard of a teenage boy who wants to do the mowing.”  I looked at Hayley.  She was staring at me as if I’d turned into a deinonychus.  Or a rabid raccoon.  “I’ll take it,” I said, although my voice broke on the second word.  “Er—that’s what you want me to say, isn’t it?”

She shut her ever-so-slightly-dangling jaw with a snap.  “Yes—yes, of course, I’m delighted.  I—I just —”  She suddenly looked like the teenager she’d been not all that long ago, wearing her older, businesswoman sister’s clothes.  “I haven’t been out here myself in two or three months.  It—it didn’t look quite so—so —”

“Shabby?” I said.  “Don’t worry.  I won’t tell your boss.”

She drooped.  “Yes.  Shabby.  Not ‘in need of some modernisation’ but—shabby.   It looked better with three feet of snow on the ground.”

I looked up at the house again.  They didn’t look anything like Ford’s rose-bushes, but I thought those might be rose-bushes under the windows. “I don’t mind taking baths.  I like taking baths.  As long as the hot water works.”

“The hot water works.  Or it will be made to work.  Ron is a bit of a magician really.  Sally, my boss, keeps trying to convince him to work in New Iceland—and he’d make better money there.  But while he’ll come occasionally if the job sounds interesting, he stays in Cold Valley.”  She looked at me again, still puzzled.  “But the house is huge.  I know you want a dog, but—oh!”  She blushed again.  “I’m so sorry.  Of course you —”

“No,” I said, smiling.  I was beginning to think Hayley was in the wrong line of work.  Weren’t realtors supposed to be made of stainless steel and granite, interested only in getting your name on the dotted line?  “It’s just me.”

“If it didn’t have to be Cold Valley,” Hayley said, “there are other, smaller, better maintained houses in this area that allow pets.  The details for one came in just yesterday—I thought of you.  We don’t have the info sheet printed yet, but it’s not very far out of our way back to New Iceland.  We could swing past and if it interests you we could go back to the office and pick up the keys.” 

I looked at this house once more.  But this time I was pretty sure it was looking back at me.  Maybe it was the rose-bushes.  Since that last glass of fizz in the penthouse garden I’d been feeling a little sensitive on the subject of rose-bushes.  Or maybe it was fellow feeling for something old and shabby and no longer desirable.  “No,” I said slowly.  “No, I think it’s this house.”

“It will be desperately hard to heat in the winter,” argued Hayley.

I laughed.  “You are the most extraordinary real estate agent,” I said.  “You’re supposed to be whipping out the contract the moment I show weakness, and saying, ‘just sign here, here and here, in blood please, what are you waiting for?, it’s only five hundred years, here’s a lancet for your finger’.”

Hayley’s blush was so vivid her hands turned red too.  She was clutching her handbag again, as if it contained the lease for the Taj Mahal.  She slipped the strap off her shoulder, and unzipped the bag.  Well, well, I thought.  She’s a realtor after all—she does have the contract ready and waiting.  And I was embarrassed to feel a little disappointed. 

But it wasn’t anything like a normal sort of contract that she pulled out of the depths of her bag and wordlessly held out toward me.  It looked like a paperback book.  An old, extremely beat-up paperback book.  The pages were coming out, a corner of the cover had either been torn off or had disintegrated, and there was a big blotchy stain across most of the rest of it that might have been tea or coffee.  And the pages were wavy, as if it had been read in a steaming-hot bath two or twenty-two times.

I hadn’t seen one in a long time.  It took me a moment to recognise it. 

It was a first edition of Flowerhair One.  FLOWERHAIR THE INVINCIBLE.  


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