I should have had eaten some of Sid’s hash or a piece of the cheese and had a cup of stale floor-sweepings teabag tea with extra sugar before we came out. I was dangerously short of both calories and caffeine, and hallucinating.
I looked back toward Mr Melmoth. Who had disappeared.
What? I looked wildly in both directions. People don’t just disappear. He had sprinted down Schmitz or something, or round the corner to the used-books shop. He looked like he’d escaped off one of the paperback covers in the window anyway.
Hastily I looked back toward Watermelon Shoulders. At least he hadn’t disappeared. He’d pulled his cloak back down around him so I couldn’t see his biceps any more although the breadth of shoulders was still evident. I kept my eyes up and did not check the bottom of his cape for something that wasn’t the point of a sword sticking out.
He smiled, and nodded his head. I was not going to register that it looked more like a small bow than a nod, any more than I was going to look for the tip of a sword. At least it was a nice smile. His teeth were very white. His face was as black as his clothing. “Lady,” he said, and turned, and walked away.
I wanted to run after him. I wanted to ask him who he was, who Mr Melmoth was. I wanted to ask him what had just happened.
I didn’t want to ask him any of these things. I wanted to forget what had just happened. I wanted to decide that it had all been a low-blood-sugar incident. I looked down at my dog. Sid was standing there idly, like any dog waiting for the human at the other end of the lead to make up her feeble mind about where they were going. She looked up at me. Her tail sketched a brief acknowledging wave. She did not look like a dog that had just faced down a monster out of a fairy tale, or even the local bully . . . oh. That was it. That was all it was. Mr Melmoth was just some creep who’d been mean to her while she was a stray. (She was no longer a stray, of course.)
That left Watermelon Shoulders to be a low-blood-sugar incident. Okay. I could handle it. We were on our way to the Eatsmobile. I looked up again. Watermelon Shoulders had had plenty of time to turn out of my line of sight. I made it easier by not looking in the direction he had gone. Besides, he didn’t exist. Like the poet said.
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away*
I hadn’t noticed the gate beside Eats before but I saw it today: a black iron gate whose uprights, just now, reminded me a little too much of swords, especially since the bottom ends which stuck down below the crossbars were pointy. I hesitated briefly, and then firmly put my hand on the latch, which opened at once. We walked down a short passage between Eats and its neighbor, and then out into a startlingly large (but then I was in an easily startle-able mood) paved courtyard. It was big enough to have small trees in two unpaved corners, a trellis framing big wooden double doors on the far side of the courtyard, and three large pots swaddled in what looked like a cross between bubble wrap and woolly mufflers standing by the ordinary single-human-sized door into Eats. One pot contained some unknown shrub covered in new pale-green spring leaves. The other two pots held rose-bushes. I liked Eats better and better all the time.
There was one table and one chair. The table was close to Eats’ door, and an extension cord ran under the door and was draped over the back of the chair. The chair had a cushion on it. Since both chair and table were metal, I was grateful. My nose was already cold, and the rest of me would quickly follow as soon as I stopped moving and the adrenaline spike from what hadn’t happened drained away. I sat down. So did Sid. Reluctantly. “I know,” I said. “But you didn’t phone ahead and I wasn’t ready. I promise we’ll have dinner together indoors. Hot dinner.” I hoped. I wondered if I could bribe Hayley into coming out to Rose Manor again and showing me how to ask Caedmon to burn stuff and get warm. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the college-dorm-reject stove.
The Eats’ door banged open and Bridget came out carrying a tray. “Having conversations with your dog already are you—oh!” she said. She stopped, still holding the tray, staring at Sid. I looked down at my dog. Sid was just sitting there. She was a scrawny, dirty mess, now brutally revealed by daylight, but I didn’t think she looked, you know, surprising. Maybe I should have told Bridget my inadvertent dog was a stray. Maybe I hadn’t wanted to admit officially how rash I was being.
“You’ve caught the Phantom,” said Bridget. “Well, well, well.”
*Just in case this poem is no longer recognised as a necessary part of our cultural heritage, which, if so, would be very sad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antigonish_(poem)
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