I trudged up the steps and met Mike scampering down. I wasn’t sure I approved of a man who might have already turned forty who still scampered. He grinned at me, misreading my expression. “Don’t worry. We’ll have you back in New Iceland in plenty of time.”
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m afraid of, I didn’t say because I was out of breath—less from the climb than from borrowing trouble. Borrowing trouble is very tiring, trouble being such a nimble and protean beast. Through the pounding in my head I couldn’t remember how long my lease was for: was it month to month, or had I agreed to three months—six—a year? What would constitute a valid reason for breaking my lease? A madwoman in the attic? Swamp water on the floor and tentacle marks on the walls? If I left where would I go? With too many book boxes and a tall black dog?
I left the kibble on the top of a pile of those book boxes and walked through the parlour to dump my plastic bags at the foot of the stairs. I was going to have to face the upstairs soon. I groped for a light switch and (miraculously) found one. The hall jumped into existence. I hadn’t noticed, yesterday with Hayley, that the stair risers had leaves and little round flowers like Tudor roses carved on them. Gelasio’s penthouse hadn’t had any Tudor roses. It hadn’t had any stairs either, except the ones to the roof garden, which either were or were pretending to be white marble. I had tried not to pay attention when some minor domestic arrangement cost more than I earned in a year.
I stared up. I was going to have to go upstairs and face down those beds some time soon. But not now. I turned the light off again. Coming back through I paused to look out through the big parlour windows. I had always loved that long low golden afternoon light, when the weather and work deadlines cooperated. The light was especially lush today—or maybe I was just acclimating to the jungle. What was out there? Could be anything. Cold lakes. Burgundy velvet and golden hounds. Big black men riding big black horses. My memory lingered on that one. The man rode so beautifully I might have thought he was a centaur—it was as likely as anything else that had been happening right then—except I didn’t think centaurs usually had their human bodies growing out of the middle of their backs. But it wouldn’t have to be cosmic horror and deinonychus in my gone-to-wild garden. There might even be more rose-bushes, tangled up in their tougher neighbours for some protection against the elements. A girl can dream.
I sighed, and turned again to face the parlour, and more boxes than I was sure had been in the van in the first place. That was another good reason to stay here: once I got the books out of their boxes I did not want to have to load them back in again. Bookshelves. Oh help. My lease undoubtedly denied me permission to screw things into the walls, free-standing bookcases cost, and those kit things were sagging in the middle before you finished loading the last shelf. And at almost-forty years old I refused to go the cement-blocks-and-planks, poverty-stricken student route. Refused. Refused. Well, maybe if I used attractive vintage bricks. . . .
I went through the kitchen on my way to the front door. Anything to delay carrying any more boxes. I wondered again about the weird jaggedy row of something at the very back of the van. Maybe my trophy dragon’s jawbone had got left on the last row of boxes. Ha ha. One of the magicians Flowerhair had worked for had had a dragon’s jawbone as a staff. It had not been a happy collaboration.
Sid was stretched out in front of Caedmon looking utterly comfortable and at ease. After the winter she had just had I couldn’t begrudge her. I even stifled uttering the threat to find panniers that would fit her. (Although it was an interesting thought. I might consult Susanna. My mother usually had a Ghastly or two who would pull a tiny cart, which was a big hit at kids’ birthday parties in our neighborhood.)
The van was rocking slightly as I reluctantly descended the stairs, refusing to admit to myself that it wasn’t box avoidance that was troubling me, it was facing that the unloading stage was over with . . . and I would shortly be forced on to the next stage. Mike emerged from the back of the van, carrying something. What? I didn’t have anything that looked like that. My eyes were involuntarily drawn to my rose-bush in her pot, attempting all by herself to be a rose-hedge lining the driveway to Rose Manor.
Mike set what he was carrying down beside her, and climbed back into the van. I got to the bottom of the stairs and was standing beside my rose-bush and her companion by the time Mike stepped gingerly down from the back of the van, carrying . . .
. . . a third rose-bush, which he set beside the first two.
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