This is the tie that makes me invisible. Other people have shoes that fly or t-shirts that let you see the future, but I have this tie. I found it in my father’s closet after he died. He was 57. I don’t know if he bought it before or after my mom passed.
When I’m not wearing the tie, you can see it has yellow and burgundy stripes. It’s from a time when most cars didn’t have air conditioning, when there were four TV channels. Maybe he bought it new. Maybe he bought it new and never told her. Maybe he bought it before they were married and spied on her.
I’ve spent happy afternoons in women’s locker rooms. I’ve stolen more than six thousand dollars worth of household electronics. I went to a Willie Nelson concert for free once and went backstage and sat two feet from Willie after the show. He was tired and had to wait a long time while somebody brought him a burrito. We just sat there for fifteen or twenty minutes, me and Willie, not saying anything, like old friends. I got up and left when the guy came with Willie’s burrito.
Tomorrow I’m going to meet Benny’s sister Rachel. Benny works with me at the bakery. I saw his sister Rachel once when Benny’s car was in the shop and she had to pick him up. She has brown hair down to her shoulder blades that tumbles like sweet cereal falling out of a box. I could go to her house right now, wearing this tie, and she’d never see me. I could watch her take her clothes off for bed or stand a foot away, barely breathing, as she brushed her hair. Tomorrow I’m supposed to meet her the regular way, the way where she can see me.
This is the tie that makes me invisible.
I’m thinking of selling it.
“What is God?”
The old man bent his head. When he raised it, he looked rueful. “God, my dear,” he said, hesitantly. “God is love.”
Emeril stood upon the platform as it rose higher, her parents behind her. They were level with God’s knees now. Massive metal sheets flexed in His skin as servos adjusted to tiny changes in air pressure. Oxygen tanks, resting on a table, would be required once they were at shoulder height. Beside them lay the knife.
The old man was waiting for something. She thought hard.
“What is love?” she asked tentatively.
“Ah.” The old man smiled. “Love is sacrifice.”
Project Deus had begun almost immediately after the Fall. While the theories differed in specifics, all agreed: the Fall had occurred the absence of God. For redemption, His return was required.
So thirty-seven years passed in hard labor. And even as hurricanes raged, radiation seals failed, birth defects multiplied, hopes rose with the growing juggernaut. And now… Now the machine was built.
But a machine was not God. To become God, more was required.
“What is sacrifice?” she asked.
But the old man shook his head. He reached for the dog collar lying on his desk and led her out to the platform where her parents were waiting.
Her parents led her from the platform onto a metal grill set into God’s head. Through it she could see the funnels that fed into the AI engines that sat behind God’s lake-sized eyes.
“They could have used synthetic blood, couldn’t they?” she had asked her father, as they rose past God’s navel.
“It’s not the same,” he said.
“It’s identical,” she objected.
“No,” said her mother. “Not for the worshipers.”
Her father fetched the table with the knife. He placed it between them, closed his eyes, whispered a prayer.
Emeril seized the moment and the knife. She lunged, thrusting it into her mother’s neck. Blood sprayed. Thick. Arterial. She whirled. Her father put up his hands. She slashed his wrists.
“Why?” he asked as he bled out.
“God is love,” she said. “Love is sacrifice. And apparently no one cares who is sacrificed.” She wiped a smear of blood from her cheek. “Except me.”
Emeril stood upon the platform as it descended. And she prayed as God began to stir.
Ziggi dropped me home. I handed him a wad of the notes Bela had given me. Somehow it didn’t feel like my money. ‘Same time tonight.’
He nodded; drove off. I limped up the path. The jasmine was thick on the front fence, overpoweringly sweet.
‘Verity? Can you get my ball?’ Between the fence palings a small hand appeared.
I picked up the ball. ‘Birthday present?’
‘Uh-huh. But I like yours best.’ I’d given her a book of fairytales – the proper ones, where little children are eaten by wolves with no hope of rescue. Her mother had frowned, but Lizzie ate the stories up.
I dropped the ball over the fence.
‘Thanks, Verity. Can I come over?’
‘Not today, my friend. Maybe on the weekend.’
Inside, the hot air almost smothered me, so I quickly opened all the windows. The breeze did its thing and soon the place was bearable. I sat in one of the faded green chairs on the back deck and waited.
I stretched my leg out and rested it on the top of the table. I looked at the jacaranda tree in the backyard and nodded to the extremely fat kookaburra perched on one of its limbs. A movement caught at the edge of my vision.
‘It’s rude not to knock. It’s also rude to keep my house key since we broke up.’
Bela sat. ‘Someone might need to help you.’
‘Your kind of help, I can do without.’
‘And a big hello to you, too.’ He nodded at my leg. ‘Sore? I can fix it, you know.’
I touched his face. ‘Your price is too high.’
‘Plenty of ideas. No answers.’
‘Why am I paying you?’
‘No idea.’ I told him about last night’s tour.
He sighed. ‘There hasn’t been activity like this since your father.’
I closed my eyes.
There’s a market for everything.
My mother was Normal and gone before I knew her. My father was Weyrd. For a long time I didn’t know there was a difference. The everyday things were salt in corners to soak up curses; bake blood into the bread to keep ghosts away; sweep towards your front door, chanting for wealth.
My father. Twenty years ago he was jailed as a kidnapper and killer, but that didn’t even begin to touch the skin of what he was.
Kinderfresser. Child-eater. Butcher to the Weyrd.
The Queen of Egypt sat on the steps of her House, watching her father’s boat start across the sky. She thought she could almost see the oars flash.
Maybe she would have them take out the barge today. The river would rise soon, they would move the household, and it would be pyramids, pyramids, pyramids all summer, with letters from her husband Pharoah, off in Libya, saying, “How goes my monument?”—before he asked after his children.
She thought about the golden treasure of barley sinking level by level in the granaries; she heard the servants in the night, when she walked and rocked her youngest son in her arms. She liked to carry him herself. She felt they had not succeeded with her other sons, who had a “How goes my monument?” look to them.
The High Priestess of her sister Bastet came down the steps, bowed, and sat at her feet, resting one hand on her sandal.
“Do you remember,” said the Queen, “when we used to get up this early to run around the garden?”
“I remember,” said the Priestess.
“What is this day lucky for?”
“It is lucky for conceiving a great ruler,” said the Priestess.
“One who will keep the granaries full, listen to his people, stay home where he won’t waste young men who ought to be farming and fathering…and who—this is important—won’t bother with a great fat pile of rock more than he has to?”
The Priestess turned to look at her and smiled.
“It’s worth a try.”
“With my husband far away.”
“The gods might step in.”
In the hot afternoon, while her younger children ran around the garden and her older ones drank beer and designed chariots, the Queen climbed the wall and set her goblet down. A falcon hunted over the eastern wing of the palace. She watched it circle and backwing. She looked beyond, where her father’s boat continued slowly, above the flashing river. Then the falcon flapped above her, gilded eye turned to hers, wings fanning her face—there and gone. Something fell with a splash into her goblet.
“If you’ve crapped in my beer, I’ll go get my bow,” she told the vanished falcon. But instead a seed of lapis lazuli blinked in the depths. She looked at it and raised her cup, saying, “Bring me a good Pharoah,” before she drank it down.