ONE HUNDRED THREE
First out was Sid’s fabulous leather collar, which looked even more fabulous after dark, sitting in your new kitchen with the wreckage of the first stage of unpacking all around you, and trying not to hear Yog-Sothoth in the cellar, deinonychus under the porch or the madwoman in the attic. (I wandered off into a brief fantasy about deinonychus being invited to join the poker game through a door specially cut through the wall of the cellar. But it was too horrible so I turned around and came back to reality. Relative reality, with a hob who eats scrambled eggs.) I might have to look for a dog beauty salon if Sid was ever going to wear this. Ugh. Or rethink that bath. Double ugh. At least the actual bathtub was big enough. Instead of six friends I could hire six strong men to hold her while I applied shampoo. Triple ugh.
Then I pulled the rose bracelet out and looked at it. The hob (and the hot water) had made me light-headed. I was ready to believe anything. But nothing interestingly impossible occurred to me. The cuff still looked like silver, with vines or something etched into it. Okay, there was something impossible I could believe: they weren’t vines at all, they were an arcane alphabet spelling out disast . . . No. Not disaster. The rose seemed to flicker gently, as if it were a real rose in a real garden in patchy shadow with a breeze blowing. And I smelled roses again. Maybe the arcane alphabet was a spell for the scent of roses. I turned my head to glance at the door into the parlour where one really real and five semi-real rose bushes sat. I was relieved not to see any little eyes peering back at me—or possibly at my chocolate. No. There were limits. Besides, I wasn’t going to leave chocolate lying around: Sid might get there first. “Would you like some peppermint tea?” I said.
There was no answer. Duh.
I looked at the rose medallion again. I had no idea what it was made of. I had originally thought it was painted ceramic, but on closer inspection I wasn’t so sure. There was a very slightly irregular, perhaps faceted, feel to it that my finger could sense although my eyes (at least not in this light) couldn’t. And the depth of the color seemed to me extraordinary for mere paint. I laid it down and sighed. As mysteries go I much preferred this one to horse dung and Murac.
When I got up to give myself a second cup of peppermint tea I picked the hob’s bowl up from the side of the sink (new shopping list: drying rack), dried it off, poured some peppermint tea in it, put a folded-up square of tea towel on the wooden window seat first so it wouldn’t leave a mark because drying wasn’t my best skill, and set the bowl on it. Also the towel might perform some minor role of tea cosy in case the hob was busy elsewhere at the moment.
It was after ten o’clock. I was exhausted. Maybe I could go to bed. I who regularly didn’t get to bed before three, and then usually had to read for a while before I resigned myself to wasting time sleeping. I found a flashlight and took Sid out through the kitchen door, having remembered that the flight of stairs to the back yard was shorter than to the front. Sid moseyed around in the way of dogs who know they’ll go back indoors as soon as they’ve done what you’ve brought them out here for, and I concentrated on thinking about things like drying racks. Speaking of drying, was there a clothes line? And . . . um . . . how about garbage collection? I was going to be well beyond cranky if I had to take my own rotting effluvia to the dump. I didn’t even know where the dump was. Something else to ask Hayley . . . oh, glory, Hayley was coming to dinner tomorrow. That was right now an even more appalling prospect than Yog-Sothoth.
Sid was rootling in a thicket. There were rustling noises, as of something fleeing out the other side. “If you find an orc, leave it there,” I said. “Or a skunk. Especially a skunk.” —There. Finally. I picked it up, tied a knot in the bag and left it on the porch. I would look for garbage bins tomorrow.
We went back inside. I locked the door. I brushed my teeth. I fetched the hob’s (empty) bowl and washed it and my tea mug, trying to remember if I’d kept the bigger as well as the smaller teapot. If the hob had a taste for peppermint tea I’d need a two-person—well, two-creature—sized teapot. But I might have been having one of the Alone Forever in a Hostile Universe moods common to the recently divorced and only kept the smaller one.
I checked the front door. I looked at the mess in the parlour. I could either tackle this or go to bed. I was much too tired to tackle it, but if I went to bed I’d have to . . . you know, turn the lights out and stuff. Shut my eyes. . . .
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