The latex rompers were shaping her old body in a way she quite enjoyed. It was like being back in her… she counted on her fingers to be sure. To be even surer she counted twice. Yes! It was like being back in the sixties, especially with the choice of colours that had been made by whomever had made the rompers. Her silhouette looked gorgeous, if you didn’t pay too much attention to the bingo wings and the pelican throat. She laughed. It was like seeing a superposition of a younger and an older self. She would have loved the face of Ricardo if he saw her like that. And the beehive haircut, it certainly was a good idea. She wondered if she was still under LSD. But the walls and the beehive hair seemed too solid for that.
A sliding door that she had not noticed before opened.
“Good to see you’re settling in,” said the woman who entered with a puff of bacon smell. “I’m Barbara.” She was holding a tray with a steaming plate of sweet peas and carrots. Sophie always had a sharp eye but couldn’t see any real bacon among the peas and the carrots. She smiled to the newcomer anyway. Barbara had the same latex rompers with the same colours. And she had a beehive haircut.
“Hello! Barbara,” said Sophie. “I like that name. I knew a man once… well not that you’re a man. Are you? Anyway I see you have a beehive haircut too. Am I back in the sixties?” She realised she was a bit confused, not able to finish one sentence or follow a single narrative. But the smell of bacon was so unnerving.
Barbara put the tray on the table.
“Well, no,” she said to Sophie. “It’s just a haircut that I like and it’s very practical for all sort of things.” She reached into hers and got out a pen and a notebook. Sophie lifted her hand to her haircut.
“Do I have?..”
“No dear. But, I need your sign here… just a formality.” Barbara smiled and handed the notebook to Sophie along with the pen. Then she crossed her arms waiting. Her fingers were drumming on her soft pale skin and Sophie couldn’t help but notice that Barbara had six fingers on one of her hands.
“Where am I?” she asked.
Bella says to me, I want to see the whales. She keeps going on about it, tugging at my skirts while I’m trying to get things done. What do you mean you want to see the whales I asks her. Took me a time to know she means the stories I used to tell about the place where my Mam lives with the legend of the whales there. The place we be going but how can she know that?
First it is Jimmy and his dreams and now Bella. It be so many years since I told her these tales and now she is remembering them. Cook is here I must leave off writing for now for she is asking after the hens. I won’t have her killing my Esther for her pot. God knows what will happen to them once we’ve gone. I will set them free before then. At least they have a chance.
“I’m loathe to admit June, but you may have had a genius impulse, getting us out of the US.”
“Of course, dear April.” June answered absentmindedly. She roared in laughter. “Look at the last one! Isn’t it hilarious! Fun change from the boring elections newsies!”
The spike in humorous creativity on the network of confined friends was indeed an unexpected relief.
“My parents are starting to worry though. I’ve got some news, and they are starting to hide from the neighbourhood, with Lump talking about Chinese virus, it’s not good being too Asian looking.”
She pointed at the unfamiliar coastline. “And you never told us where we were sailing to? Care to explain?”
Young Jimmy says to me this morning, “I dreamed we were travelling far away from here, Mama. It was only you and me and Bella.” I nearly choked on my grits. I am thankful Cook did not hear. She is as superstitious as the day is long and takes great store in dreams and the like. “Funny things, dreams,” I says to Jimmy. “Hard to know what they mean.” I longed to question him more on the dream, same time, don’t want him talking about it in front of Cook. Best he forgets it.
I’ve heard no more of the sickness. Methinks perhaps it has come to naught. And I’m fit as a fiddle and the children too. I’ve decided Thursday next. On Thursdays, Master goes to the meeting in the Village and Cook has her night off when she goes to see her brother in Thombeen.
I think how pleased they will be to see me. How astonished they will be. When I think about it like that, stops me from fearing. Ten years it has been. I would send a letter ahead but cannot risk it falling in the wrong hands.
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
They keep calling me Belinda, I don’t know why. They’re all nice enough, the ones who come and bring my meals and keep the place tidy, so don’t make a fuss when they do. If I’m honest, I don’t always remember their names either.
Today they had white paper face masks on, which seems a bit rude if you ask me. I asked the morning one, do I smell or something? and she said, no, it’s the bolona virus, hadn’t I seen it on the news? My dear, I said, if you only knew how many times I’ve died of the plague! She laughed at me and said don’t you worry, you’re not dying of the plague, as if I didn’t know that. They sound patronizing at times but they do it to cover up how dense they are, some of these helpers.
The plague was long a-coming to our parish, I said, ignoring her remark, and when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence. By the time the cart came for you to dump you in the pit, you were glad to be out of it, I tell you.
She gave me a funny look and reminded me to eat my toast.
The front door of Mr French had a certain Gothic quality to it which caught the eye of Star. She was a sucker for the glitz and the extravagant –the more garish, the better. Had she got her way, their office would be full of the cumbersome stuff. Catching the glint in Star’s green eyes, Tara rolled hers. She clanged the metal lion to signal their presence.
A decrepit butler called off their ruckus after what seemed like a pause in eternity. They could hear the rambling from a distance behind the door. “I’m coming! No need for such noise! Ah, these youngs nowadays, not a shred of patience!…”
“Are you sure about it Star? After all, the deposit check cleared, why should we be concerned about Mr French. And we still haven’t got much to go on about Uncle Basil…”
“Shttt, let me handle it,” replied Star shaping her face into a genial one, oozing honey and butterflies.
When the butler finally opened the door, he snapped her shut “We’re not interested in whatever… hem, services you’re offering Mesdames.”
Tara caught Star’s hand mid-air, as it was about to fly and land square on the rude dried up mummy’s face in front of them.
“Sir, you must have us confused. We’ve been hired a week ago by Mr French for a very private matter we cannot obviously discuss on the doorstep. Please check with Mr French, maybe?”
The butler’s face turned sour. “Yes of course, I understand. Then you should know Mr French has been in a coma since his dreadful accident last month. Since you have a direct line to him, I suggest you… call him?” And with that, he slammed the door shut on their faces.
“Rude!” Tara mouthed.
“At least, that tells us something my dear.”
“Don’t bait me like this. I’ll ask, what exactly?”
“That our Mr French is not who he says he is…”
“I wonder if it has something to do with the immense fortune he made with his voice…”
“That would be a very interesting question to answer indeed.”
I fear to write. The little lock that keeps thee shut won’t keep out none that have set their mind upon knowing my secrets. But I must tell someone or I will go truly mad.
There is none other I can trust. Dear Lisa’s brain is no bigger than the brain of a sparrow but her mouth is the size of a whale. And perhaps I insult the sparrows to compare thusly. The children must not know, though hard it is to keep secrets when their gentle eyes watch my every move, afraid to let me from their sights. It’s for them I must leave. For my own sake, I care not.
Since the past two days I have been making preparations. When the time is come, I will be ready.
One, Two, Three… testing the keyboard. It seems to work fine. Now I’m not sure how to continue. Well it’s today obviously and should I say Hello Mr Journal? Maybe it’s a female, but that would be distracting. I think I should call it a whale for now.
Hello Dear Whale, long time no sea. Haha. I’m making me laugh alone. I hope people will not think I’m a lunatic. I’m not. They never are. Oh maybe you’d like some setting Whale? I am at the terrasse of a café in Saint Germain district in Paris. Waiting for a friend that I fear will never come. I don’t know them of course, and maybe that’s why they never come.
It just occurred to me that I should maybe try another approach. Did that come from you? Maybe you’re the friend I’ve been waiting for for so long.
Arthur was driving the minivan. It was an old Chewy Express van with the big bold “DRAPES CLEANING” sign on it that he’d repainted by himself over the years. The business wasn’t doing great, truth be told, so he’d cut down the marketing costs, which according to Ella Marie wasn’t a bright idea. “You never know where you next patrons could hide.” She’d said, and then had him hooked up on some social website to post random things and get some likes and thumbs up. He’d come a little late for the new century’s game and couldn’t see any of the appeal, but he’d learned over the years never to make the missus irate.
He’d been so glad when she’d come back from the floods, unscathed and full of completely batshit crazy stories. Mummies and stuff. Sounded like being rolled in shredded drapes fanfiction to him. Complete garbage, but you can’t tell people they’re crazy, they’d hate you for it, and in truth you may be wrong. You might be the one crazy and all the others the sane ones. How’s that for a thought.
Anyway, he loved his Ella Marie dearly, and had learned not to sweat the small stuff. Like this night drive to a funny place she’d just received coordinates from an acquaintance on the Net. Those were mad times, mad times indeed. At least, she could have told him she wanted to catch a new rare pokemeon go! in the dead of night, and it might have sounded… well, just as mad probably.
They were driving steadily, being careful about the road signs; the van wasn’t much for crazy stunts anyway.
“How far is that?” he asked the wife, who was busy on her phone tracking the route and chatting on the thing with her friends imaginary or else.
“Not far, luv’. Next turn right, then left, then right and we should be there.”
The last turn took them off the road, and Arthur started to wonder if that wasn’t another “turn left at your peril” GPS experiment, where they’d have to haul the van out of a tar pit, but it seemed fine so far. The place looked ominous, and full of croaking noises 🐸🐸🐸🐸.
He killed the headlights, and moved in the parking lot at a crawl. There was no point in alerting whoever was there of their nocturnal visit. A barn owl flew straight in front of the van, scaring them.
“STOP!” jumped Jacqui, who’d been sleeping the whole time, and woke up to a frightful sight.
Arthur pushed on the brakes that gave off a screeching sound that would wake up a mummy.
“So, what do we do now?” asked Fox. Call it a sixth sense or a seventh sense, but he knew before he got the answer that he was going to regret it somehow. He had always been too quick to ask questions, and his years at the service of Master Gibbon apparently hadn’t made this habit go away.
“Well dear assistant. You can start with the dishes,” said Kumihimo with a broad smile, “and then clean the rest of the hut.”
Fox swallowed. He looked at the piles of stuff everywhere. What had seemed fun a moment before, playing with Kumihimo’s recipes and what he still thought of as her power toys, had turned into a chore. Though, his eyes stopped on a paquet he hadn’t notice before. It looked heavy and wet. The wrapping was not completely closed on the top and he thought he could see pink. That renewed his energy and motivation. Thinking that afterwards they would revive Gorrash suddenly made him feel the cleaning would be done in no time. He simply needed to be methodical and tackle each task one by one.
First the glassware, it was the most fragile and took most of the space outside.
Fox didn’t know how long he had been at it. He had been so engrossed in the cleaning, that he hadn’t paid attention to the others who had been talking all along. He felt a little exhausted and his stomach growled. How since he last ate. His body was stiff with all the movements and carrying stuff around. He was about to ask for some food when he noticed Kumihimo and Rukshan were still talking. The Fae looked exhausted too, he had his panda eyes, but he seemed captivated by their discussion.
“Things are going to get worse,” was saying Kumihimo, “We need everybody ready for what’s coming next. The fires were just the beginning.”
“Do you have anything to eat?” asked Fox not knowing what else to contribute to the conversation. But he knew he wouldn’t be of any help if he didn’t eat something first.
“You’ve lost weight” Rukshan said, not knowing where to start. The shaman thinner look was besuiting.
“So have you, my friend.” They both laughed.
“So what have been up to, in these parts of the woods?”
“It just happens that I was a bit ahead of you, and have just come back from the Great Austral Dry Lands.”
They all became somber. The Fires had devastated the place, and the news which came were not good. There was little chance they could put an expedition in place to gather the pink clay, with all this devastation… unless… He smiled.
“You’ve brought some back, haven’t you?”
Kumihimo smiled back. “Indeed. Not easy to come by, pink clay, isn’t it?”
Fox who had been turning his head right and left, and right and left following the conversation marked a moment, and the realization came.
“Does it mean we can revive Gorrash?”
“It may well be my dear Fox, with this last ingredient now gathered, it may well be.”
“Mmm, it might be a hit. Sophie’s remote viewing has been right on spot even if odder and odder. I guess it fits with the intent of our… I mean your newspaper, doesn’t it?”
Ricardo looked surprised. Was it the recognition he was waiting for all these past months working hard behind the scenes. Not a promotion yet but… Or maybe, just because the usual writers Connie & Hilda weren’t around, off to somewhere only they had the secret.
“Still, you must admit, investigating an alcohol made of rillettes does sound rather ludicrous, even for this newspaper, or even for Sweet Sophie.”
“There might be more to cover, a tree hiding a forest. Besides, she was right about the reptiles falling in Miami during the cold snap! We missed that story… If only we’d jumped on it right away!”
“What else you need? I told you to get on with it, chop chop!”
“Maybe a promotion?…” he added tentatively.
“You’re already staff writer by default dear…”
“A raise then?”
“Don’t push you luck. And you’ll book those tickets to Chickasaw, Alabama in charter. We’re not rolling in the dough, like the Yanks say.”
June looked at the “locate my e-zapper” app on her phone and had to do a double-take.
“Look at that, April dear; I need a second pair of eyes, yeah you look a tad more sober than I am. I must say,… I may not be at my peak performance, brain-wise and all,…” she started, her tongue rolling in vapours of the strong Chinese spirits, “but, why does it say the baby is on the move on the Interstate 81, few miles north of Birmingham, Alabama??”
April’s hand flew to her mouth. 🤭
June was impatiently waiting for the Oober, and asking April every second where the driver was.
“You should get the app if you’re so damn impatient!” finally snapped April who had watched a video on how to stop being a crowd pleaser and start asserting herself. Might as well be with June, as she was the kind of bossy britches who would let the light shine anywhere else than on herself.
June looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Good, you’re learning from our dear Pdt Lump, be yourself. Have you tweeted it already?”
“Why do you always have to make everything a political statement?”
“Because everything is, dear! Don’t get me started on that… Look, I think that’s our driver! Whoohooo!” She waved at him in an outrageous fashion.
“Stop that! Or we’ll have to find another ride, or worse, get assaulted!” The driver did actually look a little bit started by the two in their matching red tracksuits. They had a street dance planned with the Chinese maids from the Chinese Embassy where the party was planned during the time it was empty, due to Chinese New Year.
“Anyway, I hope the kid is going to be fine.” April sighed a little concerned.
“Oh don’t worry about that, what could happen, really? Let’s enjoy our Friday night out, shall we.”
“My name is Trebuchet and my message is clear. The message, the clear message, is in the glossary.”
The glossary was fascinating. Who were all these people? Horrified, she noticed more and more names of dear friends who she’d completely forgotten about. How could she?
Liz was not pleased about the latest insubordinate action of those plotting against her. Fashion choices indeed! She had been sorting out her wardrobe, having to do it all herself because of Finnley’s latest scam to take time off, putting away the summery things and bringing out the clothes for the coming cooler weather.
She’d had the usual little thrill at seeing familiar old favourites, clothes that she’d felt comfortable and happy in for many years. It would be unthinkable to throw them out, like tossing out an old friend just because they were getting wrinkled and saggy, or fat in the wrong places.
Liz prided herself on her thoughtfulness about the environment when making her “fashion” choices, always choosing second hand items. She liked to think they already had a little of their own history, and that they appreciated being rescued. She abhorred the trends that the gullible lapped up when she saw them looking ridiculous in unflattering unsuitable clothes that would be clearly out of fashion just as they were starting to look pleasantly worn in.
Warming to the theme, Liz recalled some of the particularly useless garments she’d seen over the years. Woolly polo neck sweaters that were sleeveless, for example. In what possible weather would one wear such a thing, without either suffering from a stifling hot neck, or goose flesh arms? High heeled shoes was another thing. The evidence was clear, judging by the amount of high heeled shoes in immaculate only worn once condition that littered the second hand markets. Nobody could walk in them, and nobody wanted them. Oddly enough though, people were still somehow persuaded to buy more and more new ones. Maybe one day in the future, collectors would have glass fronted cabinets, full of antique high heeled shoes. Or perhaps it would baffle future archaeologists, and they would guess they had been for religious or ritual purposes.
Liz decided to turn the tables on this new character, Alessandro. She would give him a lesson or two on dress sense. The first thing she would tell him was that labels are supposed to be worn on the inside, not the outside.
“One doesn’t write “Avon” in orange make up on one’s face, dear, even if it’s been seen in one of those shiny colourful publications,” Liz said it kindly so as not to rile him too much. “One doesn’t write “Pepto Dismal” in pink marker pen upon ones stomach.”
“While you’re out, I’ll see what Liz has thrown out, so I can cut it up for dolls clothes,” Fnnley said, to which Liz retorted, “I have thrown nothing out.” Liz cut Finnley short as she protested that Liz didn’t wear most of it anyway. “Yes, but I might, one day.”
Turning to Alessandro, she said “Although I’m a busy woman, I will come shopping with you, my boy. You clearly need some pointers,” she added, looking at his shoes.
“Ah! There you are, my dear,” said Alessandro. “I have searched all over the house for you and now I find you in the laundry.” He shook his head and waggled a finger at Liz. “Where is that naughty maid of yours who should be doing this?.”
Liz leapt away from the laundry basket. “I was looking for something other than this … this obscenity,” she said flinging the pink satin garment to the ground. “And, who exactly are you?”
“I am Alessandro! Fashion Designer extraordinaire. I am rather surprised you do not know of me,” he said, pouting. “Your maid employed me to assist you with your fashion choices.”
“Cheek!” spluttered Liz.
Finnley limped into the room. “Oh you are here. Good,” she said flatly. “Sort her out, will you, Alessandro. She has done nothing but moan lately.”
“Sure,” said Finnley. She bent down to pick up the pink satin with a loud groan. “I might cut this up for doll’s clothes,” she said mysteriously.
“I’m so glad you’ve forgotten all that silliness about writing a book, Finnley dear. Now run along and put the kettle on, and why don’t you have one yourself,” Liz added in a surge of indulgent affection. “Come and put your feet up, you’ve been too hard at it, taking too much on. You can have the rest of the day off and sit with me, we can have a nice cosy little natter.”
“Please, don’t any of you dress me in pink satin again,” Liz announced to whoever was listening.
But nobody was. They were all in the lavatory inspecting the woodwork. Or so they said.
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