Meeting a complete stranger (and a stranger one than most) alone at his place for tea in mid-evening is not a thing Cathryn would normally do or even advise doing. But she had a Problem to solve. She had a husband unconscious and being fished back from the pool of death and a friend in an almost equally parlous circumstance, and the door to the solution had a lock on it that would only open if you answered the right riddle the right way. If it would even open then. So Cathryn was walking down a mostly empty streetlamp-lit sidewalk with undead leaves dancing around her feet like mocking street urchins, on her way from the subway station to 26 Prince Street. On either side of her, buildings of a sampler of ages and a random distribution of heights rose in expressionist perspective.
And then she was at the door. Continue reading
To: Pierre von Falk
From: Cathryn Espy
Hi, Pierre. A friend just let me know her husband had used “enervated” with bad results. Also “schmaltz.”
Cathryn hit Send and sat back, right arm across her chest, left hand up to her mouth in the no-I’m-not-thinking-of-sucking-my-thumb-why-would-you-ask-that pose. Now. She looked over at the bookmark with the email addresses, which was sitting next to her keyboard. What next? Continue reading
Still available on Amazon.
Cathryn stared at her computer screen. The dictionary hadn’t been pulled off the market.
They knew, right? Pierre knew. But he wasn’t in charge.
But how many people could be buying it? Most people just go online and use the free version – or another dictionary site. Or buy the collegiate one if they want a book. The full Universal was a doorstopper. Too big to be an ox-stunner because you have to be able to swing something to stun an ox with it. And it was… $126.42, discounted price. Who would even spend that?
People with friends having birthdays, that’s who. Given the price, friends they really cared about. Ironically. Continue reading
Cathryn could have spent all day sitting looking at Henry as he lay there breathing almost imperceptibly, the long clear reverse leeches of intravenous tubes feeding him, drip by drip. She took his hand for a time, but it was like holding the limp foot of bird. It still had the weathering that bicyclists get, but no longer the nutrition. Henry’s hands were strong enough to get a glass jar of sauerkraut open in less than a minute most of the time, but not now. His hand, like his whole body, seemed little more than an asterisk for the real thing, but the real Henry was buried in a footnote that she had no access to.
So here she was, walking into Skullbox Espresso, trying to find that footnote and bring him out of it into the body text. Maybe this dictionary thing was really unrelated. But until he was talking again, what else did she have to go on? And the nurse and Doctor Nurse had said positive things but looked more concerned than she thought they should. Continue reading
Cathryn flicked on the kitchen light. She set her purse on one counter. An open bag of corn chips was mostly sticking out the top of it. In her left hand was a brown bag with a fifteen-dollar screwcap bottle of red wine in it; she set that down next to the purse. She walked up to the cupboard that held the glasses. Open… ah, whew, still there. She opened one of the food cabinet doors.
Still not there.
She closed the cabinet. She said, out loud to the empty apartment, “Our food and beverage supplies are literally decimated.” She opened the cabinet again, hoping to see 90% of it there. Continue reading
“I’m sorry,” Cathryn said to her friend Lily as they sat down in the subway train. “I shouldn’t have said I’m— I shouldn’t have said I was worried sick.” The doors closed and the train started moving, carrying them away from the platform where Cathryn had just urgently left a very unpleasant mess in one of those clear hanging garbage bags that are supposed to better for security.
“It’s OK,” Lily said. “It’s stress. This is sudden and unexpected.”
“And downright weird,” Cathryn said. Then she was seized with a fear that she might instantly be surrounded by ghouls or goblins or other eldritch entities. She looked around. There was a lady with a bright orange shower-curtain-looking dress. A goth-dressed girl with black lipstick reciting a litany of discontents to her apparent boyfriend, who had four lip rings and hair dyed orange onto the scalp. A very small but very muscular woman wearing cactus-coloured scrubs. A fellow with a matted beard and jeans and a vest that didn’t seem to have been washed since the last unexpected rainstorm. Several people togged in H&M’s finest (does sarcasm still work?). Two very tired-looking women, even more tired-looking than most people, having a pleasant conversation. Across from Cathryn and Lily, a fiftyish man in a black leather jacket was reading a battered copy of Joyce’s Ulysses and glancing around every so often. All perfectly normal for the subway. Almost normaler than normal. Continue reading
Cathryn sat in the padded guest chair by the hospital bed, a brush sketch of black clothes and red hair and pale pink skin in the overriding washed green and taupe décor.
It just didn’t seem real. Henry had been… how would you put this? The picture of health? But that’s only appearances. And now he was an unconscious stick figure under hospital sheets. What could she say that might make it all change back? He was literally the healthiest person she knew?
No, then they might all become sicker. Continue reading