Plugs

Two elephants carved from a black wood stand on the counter alongside a card advertising Gonella Baking Company Italian beef dogs and a small stack of flyers for Triple-A.  Each elephant wears on its forehead an index card with the words ‘For Sale – $100′ in faded red ink.  The handwriting is cursive, feminine, neat.

As I cover my brats with ketchup, I notice the elephants seem angry.  Their eyes, inlaid disks of unpolished silvery metal located on the sides of their heads, hold a rage that threatens to ignite them, to send them marching up and down the lunchcounter, setting the flyers ablaze in an advertising apocalypse as they trumpet righteous fire.  But why?  Is it the plight of their great brothers and sister in Africa?  Or is it simply because they have cards taped to their heads?

I remove the cards, peeling back the tape with great care, then prop them up along the elephants.  It doesn’t seem to help.  All I have done is attract their attention.  Are their trunks quivering, their feet readying themselves to stampede?

I throw a dollar beside my half-eaten brats and step outside.  Outside in the August sunshine, a car rolls by, metal hubcaps flashing.  Behind me, I can feel the weight of elephant eyes watching me go.

Lost in thought, Chet bumped into a paramete in full plumage. She reared back, inadvertently spurting a few centiliters of rainbow spores from her bejeweled gametoslits.

“Clumsy human! May cleanser grubs devour you alive!”

Chet offered the Bow of Contrition, but the paramete swept past and was gone.  Chet glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing.

***

Returning home, Chet hurried to his rooftop lab. He wasn’t allowed to work in the basement since the Thousand Stenches incident. He took out the parcel he’d picked up at Thaumaturge’s Market.  As he sought the proper protocol, a gust of wind ripped a page out of his lab notebook.  He hoped it wasn’t crucial.

Chet ground a slice of the memory root into a fine powder. He mixed it up into the last of the lemon hummus, scraped it onto a pita chip, and ate. Trembling, he sat on the cool tar roof and waited to “meet” his father–world’s finest thaumatuge–who’d died in a horrible lab accident involving parametes when Chet was three.

Thaumaturgic symbols Chet had inscribed around him set the time frame. Touching his father’s ashes at his mother’s house was to ensure he’d see the right memories. Chet’s fingernails tickled, his nose hairs quivered, and murmuring noises burbled in his ears. This was it. This would be worth saving a year and a half to buy that memory root. A vision–bright colors writhed, bucked–came into focus:

It was a paramete pleasure nest, on a particularly pleasure-filled night. Chet realized: He had bumped into a paramete on the way home.  The parametes paused in their feathered flurry and, poking their long necks out of the fray, turned to Chet.  This was supposed to be a memory, Chet thought as he backed into a wall of pointy sticks.  The parametes surrounded him and glared.  Simultaneously, the parametes shook and ruffled their feathers, showering a cascade of cleanser grubs that inched their way toward Chet.  Chet tried to leap over them, but they leapt with him, crawling up pant legs, down his shirt collar, through shirt sleeves.  He weakened before he was able to strip off his shirt to peel off grubs.  His last thought: Why had he bothered to hang on?

***

Chet awoke on the rooftop, groggy as from a night of indulgence.  It must have been one helluva night because he remembered nothing from the day before.

I had a dream last night. But Emmot did too, and hers was much stranger; Margery and Constance and I all agreed. I heard it from Emmot at noon, when Maud sent me back to Baker’s, again, for having brought home the wrong kind of bread. I was sore angry, for it’s only Maud’s fussiness that makes the bread wrong. At least this time it gave me the chance to hear Emmot’s dream.

Emmot said: “I dreamed I was in a house, like a lord’s house, only small. There was a window glass, clear as water, and outside snow was falling. But inside it was like summer, though there was never a fire or torch. And such furniture — and everywhere soft pillows.

“Then they brought out strawberries, and oranges — though it was dead winter! — and told me I might have all I wished. And oh, I haven’t said, but there were books in every room. And all the people all had gold and silver on their hands and arms.

“And then… Is this not the strangest part? I asked them who kept the rooms for them, and who did all the cooking. And they said: ‘In this house we have no servants. And everyone has gold and silver, Emmot, and books, and a warm room. And oranges in winter. Even you.’”

“Was it not a strange dream?” she said again. And we all nodded, and went away thinking; or at least I did.

As for my own dream… well, last night I dreamed that my mother was alive again, and the baby too: his face looked like Father’s. My mother laughed and said how tall I had got, and like a woman. She stroked my hair, and said: “Don’t be afraid, my Mariot: I know your secret fear, but put it aside. I shall watch over you, and be your midwife and physician at need, so you and your children will live.”

You see how commonplace it was. We all see our mothers when we’re asleep: Emmot does too, and Margery. (Constance still has her own mother. But she’s supposed to be due again in the summer, so we will see.)

My dream was not like Emmot’s. Mine was only an ordinary thing, with no mystery about it, and none of that strange feeling dreams can give you about how there could be a different world, or what things might be like otherwise. So I know there is no use thinking or talking about it any more.


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