ONE HUNDRED NINE
“Oh, Lady, well done,” said Watermelon Shoulders. And added: “If thou wouldst take stand with us, we wouldst make great service of thy valiancy.”
He seemed to be looking at the saluting shadow. Huh?
But I wasn’t going to ask. I wasn’t going to ask. I was about to swear a blood oath—there being so much blood available—that I would never, ever ask a leading question of anyone ever again. Ever. I’d had practise. When Gelasio told me he wanted a divorce I did not ask why. He told me he’d met somebody else. But I think usually some kind of ‘why’ creeps into the discussion at some point. I didn’t need to know any more. That he’d asked was enough. I didn’t need to know if she had blue eyes (mine were hazelly green) or creative ways with whipped cream and/or handcuffs or that he was merely tired of paying all the big bills.
I hadn’t wanted to know. And now I didn’t want to know why I was holding a sword—a real sword. A real! sword!—that had been leaning against the wall next to the front door—next to my front door. I didn’t want to know why there was a dead guy lying in a lake of his own blood a few feet from that door. I didn’t want to know why a lot of the air in my house—my house—had gone all snaky and opaque.
Not asking leading questions didn’t seem to be working. Was there some other more effective oath I could swear (pity to waste all the blood. Possibly also a well-sworn oath would suck a lot of it up and get it away from my books)?
I didn’t want to know why there was a big black forsoothly guy standing next to me carrying the (much bigger) sword he’d just used to off the guy in the front room.
I didn’t want to know why there was a tall thin shadow that looked like bolted-together small-gauge piping vellicating in a corner of the window seat in the—in my—parlour. Very tall and very thin: taller than a human and not much bigger around than a broom handle. Next to six rose-bushes in pots, five of which were . . . whatever it was they were.
I wanted to run away. Although that hadn’t turned out so well for me so far either. No, wait, I hadn’t run away from Manhattan. I’d taken a mature, rational decision to leave because I couldn’t afford to live there under circumstances that did not involve a close personal relationship with cockroaches and other undesirables in an apartment whose square footage was slightly smaller than a double bed and a bookcase. The sticking a pin in a map plan for relocation however had perhaps not been so mature and rational. Although I could have opened my old paper atlas to the Florida page. Alligators would have been better than this.
I didn’t want to know why the sword-hilt I was holding was beginning to feel as if it fit my hand rather well. The handle was faintly rough, as if to give better purchase. It might have been leather, like a good pair of gloves. I didn’t want to know that some time between seeing Watermelon Shoulders’ sword appear in the middle of the dead guy’s chest and now, my own hand had gone from paralysed to gripping. Grip it! Watermelon Shoulders had said. Fine. Great. Then what? The only reason the dead guy hadn’t killed me first was because of Watermelon Shoulders—and my dog—and the rose bracelet. I’d probably only managed to lift my sword against the not-yet-dead guy the first time because of the adrenaline rush, and I’d probably only managed to parry his first blow because he was not expecting someone in a pink nightgown to raise any sword any how.
I shook back the nightgown sleeve and looked down at my left forearm. The looping twists of darkness didn’t obscure the bracelet and it, like the sword had done, seemed to glow with its own faint light. Usually when you shove a big fat wide bracelet up your arm and it sticks, it sticks because it’s digging into your flesh or adhering to your smothered skin’s sweat. Which is why I didn’t wear big fat wide bracelets. This one just seemed to . . . hold on. Like a hand resting on my arm, fingers gently curled to keep its place. When I flicked the pebble with a finger and the muscles in my forearm moved, the bracelet glittered.
Sid had her chin on the table. Mustn’t let your dog put her chin on the kitchen table. There was something funny about her collar, the way it had rucked up the hair on the back of her neck. I flicked the pebble again and watched my bracelet glitter. My bracelet. Sid pricked her ears. I reached out to smooth her fur down, and push the collar back where it belonged.
It wasn’t the red nylon collar. It was the fancy leather one out of the Book of Kells. Which I hadn’t put on her. What with one thing and another I hadn’t noticed it had disappeared from the table. The little gold beads sparkled in the dull light. When I had a minute I’d find my magnifying glass—the one that came with the old hard-copy compact version of the OED—and look at them more closely.
In this light, and in my less than reliable state of mind, they looked as if they might be roses.
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