I carried the Majormojo bags into the kitchen. Briskly. A householder going about her normal household business. There was a biggish pantry and various shelves and cupboards. Even after I unpacked my paltry kitchen gear there was far more space than I had stuff to fill up. Maybe I should start collecting something. Lake pebbles—once I found out where the lake was from here. Fossils. I had a vague idea a lake shore would be a good place for fossils. Feathers. Maybe the odd empty birds’ nest. Trophy deinonychus skulls were probably not practical for a number of reasons.
I took one of the sordid rental-property bowls down from its shelf, nervously turned the tap on—nothing happened, except that water flowed mildly out—gave the bowl a good scrub, and filled it with milk. After a moment’s thought I took it into the parlour and put it on a corner of the window-seat, next to the last rose-bush. “I hope you like milk,” I said softly. If the hob wanted whisky I’m not sure how he—she?—was going to get the point across. I didn’t think you borrowed shots of whisky the way you borrowed cups of sugar from your neighbors. Aside from the unlikelihood of borrowing anything from the Lanchesters. Anything I’d want anyway.
Sid was standing in the kitchen doorway: silhouette of dog. “You wouldn’t drink the hob’s milk, would you?” I said. She lifted her head as I came past her and gave me a would-I-stoop-so-low look of outrage. “Of course not,” I said. “Forgive me for asking. I’m—I’m not myself.” A great dark unbalancing surge of something washed through me as I said I’m not myself and I put out a hand, found a chair, and sat down.
This wasn’t going to get supper scratched together or a bed-substitute invented. I got up again. The bedding boxes were relatively easy to find: there weren’t very many of anything that wasn’t books, and these were labelled KITCH, BED, CLOTH and MISC. Once I’d used my few towels to wrap an equally few fragile items there wasn’t enough to make up a box labelled BATH and the only obvious potential living-room item was the little sofa. Two of the towel-wrapped articles were lamps, but one was my desk lamp and the other one was earmarked to become a reading-in-bed lamp. At the penthouse there had been wall lights above the bed head specially put in for this purpose, with clever shades to focus the beam so no one sharing the bed with the reader would be disturbed. I’d have to hope Sid wouldn’t mind the low-tech system.
I carried the bedding boxes to Caedmon’s niche and opened them. Please the gods or the hob or anyone with a good workaround for fate’s whimsy, let my air mattress be in one of these boxes. . . .
It was. I pulled it out, stifled my memory of just how annoying pumping it up with its tiny built-in foot pump was, and started pumping. I could have bought one with an electric pump—back in the days when I had Gelasio’s money to spend—but this one was cuter. It had red roses stamped all over its grey vinyl skin.
When my foot got tired I considered dinner. First I considered a ham sandwich and then I thought no, damn it, I live here. Scrambled eggs and broccoli. Cooked broccoli. Supposing I could find my steamer.
By the time both feet were aching and the festering air mattress was a good three-quarters inflated I had found my steamer, washed, peeled and cut up my broccoli, and beaten six eggs in one of my own bowls. I was assuming Sid would also eat scrambled eggs. There was a gratuitously icky skillet next to the sordid bowls on the shelf, but I had also found my glorious and beautiful all-purposes copper-plated stainless-steel pan, which weighed a ton and a half but all was forgiven because of the way it made even me look like a capable cook (sometimes. Almost). The icky skillet, with its gouged non-stick coating and half-broken-off plastic handle that furthermore looked a trifle melted, was clearly kin to the gas stove. I rather thought if I put my magnificent copper pot on the latter it would collapse into a pile of fragments, which would be fine in terms of insisting it be taken away, but not so good in terms of the possible leaking gas line.
I lobbed a chunk of butter in the pan and went hopefully toward Caedmon. Probably you learned where the hot and hotter spots on the surface were. Holding my hands over it . . . it was all hot. Well, let’s try . . . there. I put my steamer down where it might be hotter, and my pan where it might be less hot, and went back to the air mattress. Sid was snoring, the pump made a kind of feeble groaning whistle, and I was breathing a little hard myself, chiefly from annoyance. But there were other noises too. I stopped pumping and heard the murmur of water coming to the boil, and smelled hot butter.
I stood up. There had been another faint noise from another direction, although it had stopped as soon as the pump had fallen silent. I went into the parlour.
The hob’s milk was gone.
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