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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Unlocking the door – whatever she Wants

Unlocking the door to the apartment she leans back against him, head against his shoulder, “It’s just,” she says, “a more, calculating knight, would’ve seen the King home. Not a lowly Duchess.”

“His majesty has no need of my help,” murmurs Luys, looking down on her red, red hair.

“You’re saying I do?” says Jo, looking up for a kiss. Arms about each other stumbled steps into the kitchen, kissing, he’s undone a button of her dress, she’s grabbing his hand, turning away from his mouth, “What,” he says, “my lady,” but she shakes her head. Looking down the dark hall, the closed doors. The light under the door to the left. Stepping away from him. “I didn’t leave a light on,” she says.

It’s the bedside lamp, an anglepoise affair pulled out to light the small thick book laid open on Ysabel’s lap. She’s sitting in the corner, pillows piled behind her, knees tenting the blankets, “I’m sorry,” she says, looking up to Jo in the doorway. “But her snoring’s terrible.”

“She came back,” says Jo, her red hair skewed, her hand holding closed her dress.

“She came back,” says Ysabel, and then, sitting up, “oh,” she says, “oh, Luys, he’s, you, Jo, I’m sorry,” setting the book aside as Jo says “No, it’s, just, it’s okay, stay. Stay.”

“No,” says Ysabel, lifting the blankets, “I can stand the noise, let me just – ”

“Ysabel,” says Jo. “It’s okay. It’s late, anyway. Just, give me a minute.”

Luys stands in the open doorway of the apartment, his hand on the knob of the door. “So,” he says, “my place, not yours? What’s that?”

She’s holding a small plastic baggie, a generous spoonful of golden dust. “I have to give Tommy Tom a call in a minute here,” she says. “When he tells me how much it’s gonna take, to fix the roses you tore up, I want to be able to tell him you’re on the way.”

“A vassal’s work is never done,” he says, taking the baggie from her hand.

“I’ll make it up to you,” she says. “Breakfast. We’ll have breakfast. Just the two of us. A proper meal.”

“There is nothing to make up, my lady.”

“Get out of here, with your my lady,” she says, and kisses him.

“Eres hermosa,” he says.

Jo closes the door to her room and stands there a moment, eyes closed, head leaned back against the jamb. “One down,” she says. Opening her eyes. “Ninety-eight to go.”

“Long day,” says Ysabel.

“More’n a day,” says Jo, setting her phone on the bedside table, a ring of keys, a money clip pinched about a sheaf of bills. “Since, yesterday? Morning?” Kicking off her shoes, letting her coat fall away. “I feel,” she says, turning away. Under the windows the three or four wood crates filled with clothing neatly folded. She’s standing there, swaying, a hand on her chest, there between the lapels of her dress half unbuttoned. “Just leave it,” says Ysabel, reading her book. “On the floor. It’ll be fine.”

“Yeah?”

“It looks good on you,” says Ysabel, as Jo undoes more buttons. “You should wear nice things more often.”

“Yeah,” says Jo, stooping over a crate, worming her way into a black T-shirt. “Sure.” A red devil leers across the front of it, marred by silkscreen craquelure. Shivering, she crawls under the blankets. Ysabel sits forward, tugs a pillow free, tosses it to the foot of the bed. Leans over Jo to set her book on the bedside table. Lays her head on Jo’s shoulder, as Jo switches off the light. “Your friend,” says Ysabel. “Christian. You need to do something about him.”

“He’s,” says Jo, “ah, he’s on Iona’s couch tonight? I think, I don’t – ”

“No,” says Ysabel. “I mean, he can’t keep running around with just, whomever. You made too big of a deal of him tonight.”

“Did I,” says Jo, shifting on her pillow to look down at those black curls. “So,” she says, closing her eyes, a yawn. “What do you suggest?”

“We need a new Shootist,” says Ysabel.

“I’m pretty sure,” says Jo, “he’s never held a gun in his life.”

“We’re also in need of a Dagger, if you’d rather.”

“So I can just, do that,” says Jo. “Just pick somebody, a freaking gallowglas, I can make him a knight.”

“You’re the Duke,” says Ysabel. “You can do whatever you want.”

“Good to know, your majesty.” Her eyes pop open, “Shit,” she says, switching on the light, reaching for the phone, “almost forgot, I have to call the fucking Soames – ”

Black hair loose, bleached bangs, red paint smudging one round cheek, grimy white T-shirt stretched out, handwritten letters distorted that say Miracle Rod and Those Amazing Trumpets. She drops her brush to the makeshift tabouret. Takes up a tube of paint, squeezing out a dollop on her fingertip, a brilliant green, apple and glass, a green like some weird flame. Stepping back, her T-shirt rides up, a roll of belly lopping pilled black satin about her hips. The canvas before her a scramble of hair in thick black strokes, a line of cheek, a mouth, all crowded at the bottom and an arm, a suggestion of an arm, the motion of a gesture of an arm reaching up, and up, a whoop from somewhere behind her, laughter echoing among the shadowed bulks, equipment, boxes, someone unseen in the flare of the trouble light dangled over her head as she turns, peers into the darkness, a hand up against the light, fingers shining with that eye-borne green. “Mar?” she says. “You get it?”

“Who cares!” The voice, contralto, brimmed with mirth, something bangs, clang a bat against a truss, “Who gives a good,” bang, “God!” clang, “damn!” and a peal of laughter, dancing up to her down the shadowed aisle, a figure in a coat, a sheepskin collar up about a mass of tangled curls that lighten paling as she prances into the light, a matted cloud of cream about her head. Dropping the bat to the floor, and the flop of an empty horse-head mask. “The oathless reprobate proposed to ambush me! A third of a dozen, against my wooden bat – but I led them such a chase!”

“Cool.” She turns back to the canvas, but her green-daubed fingers hesitate over the wild blurred face, there at the bottom of it. She straightens, picks up a rag to wipe them greenly smearing clean. “I went to see the lawyers today,” she says.

“Aren’t you cold?” says Marfisa, sitting on a nubbled pea-green couch, there at the edge of the circle of light. She starts to work a boot off of her foot.

“There was a problem with a credit card. I met somebody there. Anna Nirdlinger? She, she used to – ”

“I know who she is,” says Marfisa, setting the one boot on the floor. “The Queen’s amanuensis.”

“Well, now she’s a, a paralegal, there at the firm. She, she wants to come see the paintings.”

“Why did you tell her about the paintings,” says Marfisa.

“She’s, well,” that greened rag dropped to the tabouret. “She’s like you, Mar. She’s like me.”

“What does that mean, she’s like us.”

Biting her grinning lip, looking off in the shadows, “Fucked if I know,” says Gloria Monday.


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