Work is so busy that a truck of dead rats pig latin Suzuki Samari!
Last night we were dining at
Nobody was interested, at first. Then,
To complete the circle of bets, I agree that should Rick do 3 panels in November, I'll draft up a fully functional
Jim, our waiter, learns about the bets and wants to join in. We reconfigure the bets so that Jim's November task (writing a 30 page children's story with 30 pages of pictures) will be the one that determines whether or not I have to do the artificial language. His penalty activity for December will be that he has to create a 20 minute soundtrack for the 20 panels that K and Rick are working on, and also write 15 minute theme songs for Rick, K, and myself.
So, the final deal came to look like this:
I'll do NaNoWriMo in November, and if I complete it, K will have to do a self-indulgent portrait of me.
K will do 3 panels in November, and if she completes them Rick will have to do NaNoWriMo in December.
Rick will do 3 paintings in November as well, and if he completes them Jim will have to do the 20-minute soundtrack and 3 15 minute theme songs for each of us.
Jim will do the children's story (30 pages of text, 30 pages of pictures), and if he completes it I'll have to create an artificial language.
Not completing your penalty activity in December is not an option.
Now it's the next day and I realize that starting this Thursday, I'm going to have quite a bit of work on my hands until the end of the year. New Years should be fun though, since we'll have earned it if all goes right.
I passed page 150 page mark on
Claire's Rise and Fall From Power
Claire flicked the blue sheet across her bed, and caught herself in the dresser mirror across the room. She righted her posture, pulling her shirt down over her hip, then compulsively ran her hand across the deflated sheet until every last wrinkle and pocket of air had been pushed off the side of the bed. With the same fluid mentality that was exercised through the smoothing of sheets, Claire applied makeup to her gaunt face, and penned a list of chores for the servants to accomplish this morning--a list that had accumulated new action items each day over the last month, slowly yet meticulously detailing and eliminating every jot and tittle of activity that lived on the periphery of everyday living and might be considered a chore. She felt the occupants of the Remington House would feel more productive for having never been bothered with these trivial worries. The rat problem had been taken care of, making visible the dust problem, which led to a detailed survey and eventual eradication of the mold problem. She checked under furniture and behind appliances for problems, then fixed them. The wiping of moist window sills in the morning was no longer a problem, nor was the vacuuming and care for the new cat, nor was the changing of newspaper bedding and feed for the three injured birds that Francie had abandoned care of. Problems that had not yet become problems, such as the old paint on the walls, the unvarnished wooden floors, the hairline crack in the hallway mirror, the airing of the back rooms in mid afternoon, the poor wiring in the walls, and the old fuse box, these were also crossed off, one by one, from lists penned in Claires unwavering, loop-intensive script.
She sat down at the living room table, looking at the days list from which everything had already been crossed off by 8am, thinking herself a little light-headed. A couple seconds of uneasy silence passed, and Claire began weeping. A newspaper that she had laid out at 6am lay still unopened at 10am. She reluctantly pulled it towards her. Then, to her delight, Claire felt the sound of a closing door come through the ceiling, and then the sound of running water through pipes. The silence was now over. She opened the paper and read the headline, Two Thousand Year Old Eaning Vase Stolen. By the time Jude stepped down the stairs, Claire was composed again.
Theres some breakfast in the kitchen, she said.
Thanks. Not hungry.
Itll be wasted. Claire stood and pulled a heavy wooden chair out for Jude, then walked into the kitchen, which was basked in blue light. Theres eggs and toast and orange juice.
Jude sat down, and thanked Claire for the plate when it came. He looked hungry after all.
Did you sleep well?
Not really, but Im not tired.
Claire looked at him seriously for a second, then pulled the paper up in her fingers. Have you ever heard of the Eaning Vase?
Jude looked at her quickly, studying her, but his eyes were unfocused. No.
Skip emerged from his room down the hall and bid Claire good morning. He then stepped heavily up the stairs, taking his time, still half asleep.
Someone stole it yesterday from the museum down the street. This says it was stolen from right under the guards collective nose. Our cameras only cover 85% of our gallery floor, theres always a chance that someone might slip through unseen, it says. It was valued at $5 million dollars. Two thousand years old, it was the oldest hand blown glass vessel known to exist.
Jude stood behind a chair, uninterested. Finally he said, Ive never heard of it, it couldnt be that famous.
It once belonged to an emperor of Rome, Augustus possibly. It was first found in 1660 buried in a sarcophagus excavated at Monte del Grano, and sold to the Duke of Portland. Claire scanned the page for its length, then began to paraphrase. The Dukes friend accidentally broke the base of it during a party, and so when it was fixed they lent to the British Museum for safe-keeping. Lets see, in 1845 it was again smashed into more than 200 pieces by a drunkard, but the British Museum pieced it back together. However, the glue they used was of poor quality, and several pieces were left out of the reconstruction accidentally. So it was pulled apart again in 1985, glued together using better glue, and they fit the last stubborn pieces back into the vase as well. Now its been stolen.
How did he get away?
It looks like a real problem. Eight billion dollars worth of art is stolen every year. Most of it never recovered. I guess it would just be too expensive to protect everything all the time. If someone really wants to steal something and they have a plan, its probably almost impossible to stop them.
Claire handed the paper to Jude, and he studied the picture. Its beautiful, Jude said, Although this picture doesnt capture it.
Youve seen it?
Yeah, but I didnt know it was called the, what, Eaning Vase? It was in the last exhibit at the museum down the street. Its much smaller than this picture makes it seem. Jude held his hands out, as if holding an invisible replica of the vase. A loud crash vibrated through the ceiling. The sound echoed through the walls, a repeating low thumping as if wood were splitting wood. The sound transferred into the air, falling down the stairs behind Claire and Jude. A grunt. A whimper of pain. And then down the stairs bounced a wooden crate, nailed shut on all sides. Halfway down, in slow motion, it caught a corner on a wooden post in the staircases railing and split several of the rails in half. It then continued the rest of the way down before coming to a stop at the bottom.
Skip stepped down the stairs and ducked his head through the opening between staircase and wall. Didnt mean to alarm you good people.
What are you doing? Claire watched calmness cast its blanket over her voice, masking the racing adrenaline beneath. It delighted her hidden pride.
Skip hunched casually, amused with himself, Nothing.
Thats nice. Claire glanced at Jude. Through her look she was asking him to return to their private conversation from before. Jude accepted and pulled the paper back into their circle, essentially erecting a wall around them.
In a voice directed only at Jude, Claire said, Did you see this: It's difficult to gauge its value exactly. In reality, because its irreplaceable, it could be considered priceless.
What the hell was that? Francie could be heard upstairs.
Skip turned up and addressed her, Nothing you need to be concerned with.
Jude had twisted in his chair and lowered his neck to glimpse up the staircase. Claire pulled him back, Just ignore them. Claire noticed a large cut on Judes arm and lightly traced it with her finger. Jude looked at it, then at Claire, smiling.
What the hell were you thinking Skip? Did you just throw that box of books down the stairs because youre stupid? Are you really that stupid? Francie stepped down the stairs and examined the damage to the staircase. Three of the poles had been cracked in half, and another had remained intact but had fallen out of its slot, now that the rail had become detached.
Claire forced her attention back to the paper, black and white lines of words wrapped around a picture of a beautifully ornate vase. The ink made the paper feel slick. It was priceless art, valued at a price greater than or equal to anything else in this world. Irreplaceable, unique, infinite in value. Francie and Skip were now yelling at one another. Jude had twisted in his chair again. A sinking emptiness bloomed in her chest, the pain of separation between herself and the actions in the room. She pulled Jude back, Do you think everything irreplaceable is priceless?
He considered for a moment, readjusting his arms and shoulders to face Claire, losing his tenseness, letting go of the anticipation that an argument generated in those who watched. No. No, of course not. Do you?
I think so.
Dont think for a second, Francie, that just because youve handed out a few pretty pamphlets to weak-minded crushes and convinced them to do your bidding, that you control this house. Or any of us that dont buy your shit. Skip kicked one of the loose staircase poles out of its tenuous socket, and it fell onto the floor below bouncing near Judes chair. The servants wont fix this staircase and neither will I. Youre just going to have to wrap your head around that.
Rudie, Roman, and Nicola had collected themselves in the hallway, concerned but also amused. Claire looked at them shuffling their feet with hands in pockets, hoping she could get their attention and communicate to them her indifference with this situation, but none of them looked in her direction. Jude was staring at Francie. Francie was flushed with emotion, but still confident, one might even say ecstatic. She was dressed in a shawl with thick bright stripes, and had on a warm-colored yarn cap. She responded to each of Skips accusations intelligently and thoughtfully, Thats nice of you to say, Skip. Now whats your personal philosophy on living with others? Do you prefer that people make points by throwing tantrums, gaining attention from ones peers at the cost of losing their respect?
Dont give me that shit, Francie. We all know that youve got plans to bring a Campaign of Logic and Order to this house. Your notebook is filled with classifications of work versus reward, authority development strategies, plans for redesigning and supposedly enhancing the financial situations for those who are too stupid to manage money themselves. Its shit. Shit, because basically thats how you see all of us, right, were shit: too stupid to control ourselves, and youre here to teach us how to be more like you. The icon of self control and wisdom. Youre so obvious, Francie. Youre a worthless shit. You put so much importance on this house, on our productivity, but what you dont know is that this house is worth absolutely nothing, our existence here is completely coincidental and meaningless. If we all left here today, we would be no different than we were when we came here.
If its all so worthless to you Skip, then why did you bother spying on me and going through my clothes and stealing my shirts? Do you like sleeping in the clothes of your enemy, Skip? What kind of man are you, how strong and proud can you really be, Skip, when you require the smell of womans clothes to feel that power, and to have that strength?
Skip hesitated, betraying guilt accidentally. I dont know what youre talking about, I have no fucking clue what youre talking about, but I didnt take your stupid clothes. What the hell.
If youll admit to reading my notebooks, why cant you admit to going through my clothes? Does it not fit this enigmatic personal image of yourself that youd like to portray to others? You dont think I noticed the disorder you left my room in yesterday? The only reason you are trying to make everything here appear insignificant is because youre upset that nobody considers you of any significance yourself.
I wasnt anywhere near this house until after midnight yesterday. Anyway, it doesnt matter, no matter what I did or didnt do its not going to prevent me from knowing that youre just a simple girl who relies heavily on beauty for power, and is now using that advantage to woo every boy in the house who has fallen for you into being your slave. I just want to let you know that Ill be throwing wrenches in your plans whenever I can, starting with destroying this worthless staircase, Skip kicked the staircase again, snapping another rail, and going all the way to your fantasy cathedral and spitting on your imaginary windows. Skip stood next to Francie, several steps higher, contemplating a push possibly, or something equally confrontational.
After several seconds of tension, Francie smiled, reached up to ruffle Skips hair, then descended the stairs. She walked past Jude, making eye contact with him, then through the living room towards the door. Halfway there, Francie turned quickly, brushed against the yellow lamp, and knocked it to the floor. It crashed and broke into a dozen pieces. Francie sighed, waved the significance away, turned and left. Nicola went into the kitchen and a came out with a broom and pan, and scooped the broken bits into a bag. Roman carried the larger pieces back through the kitchen. Rudie slid the box of books into his room. Skip left through the back door. The phone rang, and Rudie answered it in his room. Claire took her and Judes plates into the kitchen, rinsing them off in the sink and placing them in the dish washer. On her way back, she pulled her shirt down over her hip, and found that Jude had left. A familiar sinking emptiness bloomed again in her chest.
She motioned a servant over from the kitchen, Can you fix this staircase in the next day or two?
We were already told not to fix the staircase.
Since Francie asked first, we need to obey those orders.
Francie? Claire covered her face in her hands, and saw Mrs. Remington against the bluish-black curtain of her eyelids. Her golden hair, her heavily made-up shriveled lips. Claire felt a direct link open up between them, as if they were kindred spirits, with similar understandings, and similar sufferings. Claire spotted a stray fragment of glass on the floor. She stood up, retrieved it, and carried it back with her to her seat. It was a curved shard of yellow glass the size of her palm, and it looked highly reflective. She turned it in her hand, trying to catch light and image, yet wasnt able to discern any of the shapes that twisted around the glass. The noise of people and things slowly trailed out the front and back doors, unnoticed by her until the room was quiet again.
She held the state of the house in her mind, running a finger of attention along it scanning for chores and imperfections that she could add to the list. It was a calming exercise. She included Mrs. Remington in her mind, curious to see if she might find more things if the house was studied from another angle. The blemish of the staircase, however, which she understood to be beyond her ability to fix (unless she fixed it herself) eclipsed what other smaller blemishes she might notice. She did not know how to go about fixing a staircase by herself. It probably involved precise measurements and advanced skills that she did not possess. The physical challenge of the task immediately exhausted her, as the gap between where she was and where she would have to be in order to fix the staircase was huge: buying materials, learning about the process, the entire days work that would be involved. And yet the enormity of the task as it ballooned in her mind created a resistance, a physical pressure in her mind and body that was in many ways refreshing. It was the same feeling created by smoothing out covers in the morning, of paying attention to minute details that had no real significance of their own, that, when presented in bulk, endowed the whole endeavor with weight and the sensation of importance. Simply, she did not know if she could do it, but it seemed possible if taken one step at a time. The uncertainty was a new experience to her, as almost everything in the last few months had felt too certain and too easy. Also, it would be an act of defiance and strength tossed in the face of Skip and Francie.
She retrieved a pink plastic pen with a blue tip from underneath a ruler and calculator in the junk drawer. As she pushed the drawer in, it got jammed at an angle, at which she returned to her table and wrote in tiny almost illegible script along the margin of the newspaper, Fix the staircase. On the next line, she wrote, 1.) Buy materials.
In her mind, she was already much further down the list, configuring the required tone and pace for the list. It would be a simple list, with few items, but each item could be broken down into smaller items, and each of those items assumed that various other items had been taken care of. It was a different type of list than she was used to, primarily because it involved knowledge she had not yet gained and seemed to grow exponentially in each direction. She could see the shape--it was a living thing, or maybe a crystalline thing. It was overwhelming, the amount of precision and information she would have to focus on and define in order to complete her task. At the same time, the task was completely mundane, fixing a staircase, and she could imagine dropping the whole thing with no regrets. She decided to forget about making a list, resisting the one activity that she had developed for the sole purpose of managing information that had a potential to overwhelm her. Without writing a list, she was making a conscious decision, she felt, to hurt herself, to discourage herself and frustrate herself. Underneath that feeling was a hope that this frustration would in fact be invigorating, that it would nudge her into a corner that she had not been in in a long time, one that might force her to change herself. She tossed the pen across the table, grabbed her blue purse from the counter, slung it around her shoulder and left the house.
Using one of the unmarked black vans, she pulled up to a stoplight and considered for the first time the possibility of driving away and never coming back. The engine rumbled powerfully beneath her, seeming to expend enormous energy merely to remain still. After considering for a moment, and in that moment fleeing to the opposite end of the world, exercising the freedom of all events in the last two months to their full extents, returning to her life as it was before she had applied for the Remington Houses position on that frustrated morning, the light turned green again and she felt with more resolve than she had felt in a long time that to leave the house was to die.
Hiding the Vase
Whenever Jude closed his eyes he felt like his closet was being opened by an unstoppable force, thus making the vase visible to all in the house--they wouldnt give him a chance to explain, even if he could. There was nothing stopping anyone from opening that closet, no lock on his door, no lock on the closet, but it was the safest space in the house. Rationally, Jude knew that nobody would have any reason to open that closet, but logic fell apart on the road to sleep and presented paranoid scenarios to him when he was most vulnerable. This prevented him from ever arriving at that restful slumber.
Omens From Above
He had arrived on the other side of discomfort, a land of heightened sensation and lucid thought. The earth had turned away from the sun, and the winds had come to wrap him in their stories from distant lands.
I see two possibilities, two sides of a single coin. The randomness of their outcome has been programmed in at a perfect fifty percent. From the North Wind I hear battle cries and screaming voices under torture. They cry out for freedom and salvation. From the South Wind I hear voices echoing repeatedly and hopelessly through a dark wood, lost and alone. They cry out for direction and wisdom. Thick wires of information pulse with electricity, powering motors that turn in only one direction. I am tired but I cannot sleep. I am so tired, and I cannot sleep. Owen shifted his weight and the box he was sitting on slid quickly to one side, almost jolting him right off his seat. Not noticing, he parted his legs and revealed a wrapped granola bar. Peeling back its silvery skin, he let the wrapper flutter to the ground, occasionally reflecting moonlight back to him. The night was not dark, it fluctuated in intensity from moment to moment, light levels shifting dramatically in response to the movement of clouds.
Michael, Michael, Michael, my angel, my angle. My shadow within a shadow, my working man. Where are you? He chewed loudly. Jude, Jude, Jude, the good guy, the bad guy. Doesnt even know Im up here, has urgent business of his own. Running here, and running there. I hope you find what youre looking for without destroying what you dont see. What nonsense, Owen. But what wisdom. What wisdom indeed! He spat granola and wiped his face.
Goodnight Cascade. Goodnight Olympus. Goodnight North Wind. Goodnight South Wind. He closed his eyes for a second, and felt his chest implode with unconsciousness. He forced his eyes open, and rubbed the open sore in his palm to keep himself awake. He closed his eyes, and held the darkness at the front of his attention, focusing on the black sheet of the back of his head. Unconsciousness crept forward, slid through the cracks, and broke him in two.
The Date at the Castle
As if in a dropping elevator, Rudie walked up the front steps of his own house. Turning the knob of the door sharply, he slammed into it with his shoulder and tripped through the doorway with the sound of cracking wood. Francie stood from a chair near the entryway, and rushed towards him. She pulled him close, kissed him on the cheek, and said good evening into his ear.
Rudie replied and fumbled for a moment, trying to turn around and direct Francie through the door. Large blocks of light fell through the doors windows, momentarily blinding him. He pulled the thick door closed behind him and walked quickly down the street, pulled by Francies tight grip.
They came to a crowd of people packed in the courtyard of a large cement building. Around the perimeter of the gated yard were tables, half of which were loaded with refreshments, the other half with informational pamphlets.
I have to warn you, these people are going to try and wow you into giving them money. Its their specialty. Remember, were just here for the food. Francie looked to be trying to avoid making eye-contact with people as she pulled Rudie through the crowd.
Whats this all about?
The city is trying to tear down this building so they can sell the lot to some builders. These people are protesting, saying its an historical part of the city and shouldnt be torn down. Its all really dull, fundraising nonsense. You look great by the way. Nice suit. Oh crap here they come. Hi Lily. Lily, this is Rudie, who I told you about on the phone, Rudie, this is Lily. Shes the event organizer for all of this.
Not quite all, almost all. Well okay, all. Hi. This is my husband, Tom. Hell be photographing tonight, so dont be surprised if you find yourself in the Bystander next week.
Rudie writes for the Bystander, dont you?
Thats right! Lily looked for recognition between Tom and Rudie, but finding none, said, Glad you could make it, youre not following that museum story lead tonight?
You know. Oh, well, so tell me, do you dislike it there as much as Tom here does?
Rudie leaned back and looked at Lily, then Francie, making a low eh sound that could be taken either way.
Its just that Tom mentioned that theres a lot of political wrangling going on over there. Its not his style.
Francie was holding Rudies hand, and squeezed it.
Well, its a big place, said Lily, then looked over Rudies shoulder. Have some food, you two, well catch up with you some more later on, okay? Lily and Tom glanced back and waved to Rudie, nodding their heads.
They seem to like you. I knew they would.
What did you tell them about me?
Just general stuff, youre just their type though. Come, lets head towards the drink table.
Can I have your attention? The back wall was lined with windows overlooking a portion of the city that Rudie had never seen except on postcards, and in front of it a man held his hands above his head. He looked from side to side. I hope youve enjoyed the dinner. An interesting trivia tidbit for you. It was all prepared by volunteers within our group, not a single dollar went out to the IFF, or the Potts Family, who are trying to destroy the very building in which we sit in tonight. Applause. The man held his hand over the microphone and leaned down to say something to a person who was trying to say something to him from a table. Yes, yes.
After the speech, Rudie asked Francie a question.
Sort of. I was involved a little before I moved in with you guys. I actually dated Dave a couple years ago. He takes all of this a little too seriously, dont you think?
Im not sure. Rudie folded the tip of his napkin in his hand, separating the leaves of folded paper. Is all of this true?
Some, yes, but far from all. A waiter came and refilled their glasses from the tall dark bottle on their table. Francie focused her eyes for a minute on the table next to them. Could I get whatever that girl is having?
Sure. The waiter looked to Rudie, Anything for you sir?
Ill have the same. The waiter nodded.
Or we could share one. Im not sure I could finish the whole thing, said Francie. Tom shrugged in uncertainty, then nodded in agreement.
Just one blackberry cheesecake then, said the waiter as he moved on. Rudie drank deeply from his glass.
We found the book a couple years ago in the university library, outlining the plans for this city. Thats where he got most of the material that backs this conspiracy theory talk. Its the same stuff hes been saying for years. Francie sighed and looked around. Only difference is, now theres this Castle. I think he makes the city and the IFF out to be much more malicious than they probably are. Anyone whos worked with them before knows how disorganized everything is. Complicated and intentionally devious plots hardly seem possible, you know what I mean? Didnt Lily mention something about the paper? What was your experience there?
I dont know. It didnt seem too bad to me. But I was just a freelancer.
Dont discredit yourself.
I dont know. Im just wondering, though, maybe I should donate some money. Just a little, I dont spend it all myself. It seems like a deserving cause. Rudie paused for a moment, trying to study Francie through his red wine haze. What do you think? The citys history is no small thing to fabricate. And these people seem like theyre on to something, and could use the help. Right? He suddenly got angry. How could I have worked at the newspaper for so many years without hearing about this somewhere, at sometime? Not that it matters much, its just one of those strange things you wouldnt think would happen. The fact that it did and could happen might mean theres more to find out. Francie was smiling. You think Im being stupid?
Oh, no. She reached for Rudies hand. But you trust them so quickly. How do you know theyre telling the truth? Or the full story? She was giving him her whole attention, and yet Rudie couldnt keep stealing glances at the woman sitting at the table behind her, facing him.
Normally I would question that, but the real story seems to make such perfect sense. Would they make all that up about those organizations?
I wouldnt say theyre making it up, but people are always looking for ways that theyre being tricked or taken advantage of. Its in our nature. So theyve found this whole story that could possibly explain why this city was built, why the company that owns it made the decisions they did, but just because that could be the case doesnt mean it was. Both stories could potentially be true.
Not at the same time.
No. Francie turned around in her chair, grabbing the chair back as if stretching her back, then she turned around to face him again. That woman is pretty.
He looked at the woman again, this time openly, then at Francie. The waiter arrived at their table and presented them their cheesecake on a simple white plate with yellow trim. Francies posture was endearing, elbows at opposing angles to the table, her dark hair and her fingers resting on her shoulder. Thanks for bringing me here, Francie. He meant it, and he loved saying her name.
Mind if we join you? Dave, Lily and Tom appeared from behind the waiter and stood over the table, clinging to one another.
Sure. Francie looked at Rudie privately and apologetically. Rudie, this is Dave, Dave, this is my date and good friend, Rudie. Rudie shook Daves hand tightly and greeted him professionally. Lily pulled some chairs together and sat next to Rudie.
What did you think? asked Lily.
Dave sat down. Im glad you made it, Francie. Ive missed our friendly banter. They were instantly comfortable with one another.
Rudie watched as Francie replied and reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn into the conversation with Lily and Tom. I was quite impressed, actually. And strangely I never knew anything about this before. Rudie too was comfortable, he felt confident and strong. These people were good people, and he had something to give them. Whats your interest in all of this?
Half an hour later, Rudie was an integral character in the plot to save the Castle. He had plugged himself into the network, something he had always been good at doing. Having few stand-alone skills of his own, Rudie felt most competent when part of a team. I dont mind donating, its a resource I happen to have access to. Some people, like you guys, have the brains, the least I can do is fund the actions that you come up with. Rudie delighted in his own honesty, surprised that he actually knew these things about himself. Francie was beginning to stand up and grab her coat from off the chair. Rudie continued, planning to draw things together quickly before he had to go, Its as simple as this: were not going to let the Castle fall without a fight. Youve convinced me that thats the case.
Rudie? She called him from a few feet away. He wanted to be closer, he wanted to celebrate something new and great that had been achieved this evening.
You have my number. Call me first thing tomorrow. Rudie shook hands with Tom and kissed Lilys hand, then turned to Francie who was a few steps away from the others.
Youre making a big mistake.
Rudie walked right past Francie, then stopped. How? He suddenly felt torn between two new loves.
Francie caught up to him and they navigated through the network of people for the door. I learned something tonight. Theres no way were going to win this. Dave and Lily and Tom dont know what theyre doing. Youd just be throwing your money into a black hole, believe me.
They stepped through the doors leading outside and the cold air filled Rudies lungs, bringing him into the moment, a moment that he felt equally drawn to and repulsed by. He stopped, leaned in to Francie and wrapped his arms around her. He kissed her cheek, then she kissed him back. She pulled away and looked at him. Rudie said, Regardless of what happens with the Castle, I just wanted to say I had a great time with you tonight. He was immediately prepared to take back those words unless Francie reciprocated them.
Me too, Rudie. She patted him on the shoulder, and continued walking. The orange and yellow lights flooded into the dark blue familiar streets. He was happy.
Several blocks later, Rudie squeezed Francies hand and asked, What did you learn tonight that you hadnt known before?
I cant say yet. I want to make sure before saying anything. But promise me you wont give them any money just yet, okay?
He had no will of his own. Okay. Ill tell them tomorrow. But I want to know what youre thinking whenever youre willing to share. They came to their street and turned right. Francie sat at a bench about a block from the house, within view of a stoplight and a street with no cars. Rudie looked at the white man in the walk signal above giving permission to cross the street, which would take him to Shelleys house. He wanted to talk to Skip as soon as this was over, but he didnt want this to be over quite yet. Youve gotten quiet.
No, its not a problem.
The city had no stars, perhaps it was too bright. Rudie wondered if that was by design. At this point, he didnt know where nature and community ended and marketing and propaganda began. He imagined himself as the CEO of IFF, Daniel Potts, standing in the clock tower of the Castle watching the first residents driving up Main street, moving into the town that he had created. Would these people love him, or would they hate him. Would his city be the model for many of those to come, or was it an experiment doomed to fail. Then, in a separate chamber of his mind, was Francie. Sitting right next to him, his arm around her tall shoulders, Rudie lost the sense of size and distance, tingling with a familiar sensation of omnipresence. He ran his fingers through her short brown hair. She pulled away, and turned to face him.
What do you think of Mrs. Remington?
He let his hand continue to trace figure eights in her hair. Nice lady.
Do you think shes a good person?
Shed have to be. Look what shes doing.
Francie was quiet for a moment.
Why? Tom asked.
Do you think anybody in the house is happy?
More or less. Its just taking us a while to adjust, I think. Amy and Otto are happy. Roman and Nicola.
Owens sitting on a flagpole.
Francie leaned forward, looking across Rudie, down the street and over the houses. You cant quite see him.
Youre kidding. He did it?
No, Im not. Michael burned his paintings. Skips a wreck.
I dont know about that.
Anyway, Im just pointing out what I hear from others. We have all of this opportunity in front of us, and yet none of us are doing anything with it. The only people that are happy are those who have fallen in love, or whatever theyve done, and that has nothing to do with anything in the house.
Like I said.
Weve had plenty of time to adjust. Something has to change. People are going to start doing crazy things. Owens just the first. Someone needs to focus the group, dont you think?
No, Mrs. Remington. Shes the only one who doesnt have a vested interest. But she just refuses to get involved, to provide structure, or even guidelines. Ive asked her a dozen times. Shes completely unreasonable, but I dont think shes stupid. Its like she wants to see us fail.
Why would she want that?
I dont know. I need to think about it some more. I thought that maybe by not participating in the big dinners, and not receiving all the money, I might be able to see the point more clearly, but its just not happening. I feel just as unsure about everything as I did on day one. If we cant find what we really want to do in this environment where we can do anything, what chance is there that well ever find what we want to do?
I think you do have a clearer understanding of this than most of us, Francie. I really do. I wish I had half the clarity.
Would you be willing to try something, maybe? As an experiment?
Francie sat up straighter, facing Rudie. She was a little taller than Rudie on the bench, so she unconsciously slouched down a little. What if you gave me control of your salary. She leaned into his hand a little. I wouldnt spend any of your money, but I would control how much of it you received, based on your work. I would provide a little structure to your day by assigning you tasks, which wouldnt be chore-like tasks or anything, but more creative tasks that you might not do otherwise, and essentially I would pay you for completing those tasks.
She paused, re-establishing eye contact. Rudie couldnt see anything but compassion in her eyes, which distracted him from the details of the idea that seemed to spring fully-formed from Francies mouth. It would just be for a couple days, to see if maybe the sense of doing work for reward would give you a better sense of having earned it, and a clearer sense of what you wanted to do with it. It would provide something thats completely missing from our day to day life: motivation. Francies eyes looked teary and vulnerable, unsure of Rudies response, expecting to be laughed at for her ridiculous and assuming idea. Rudie, however, had no will of his own, he just wanted to be closer and closer to Francie, at any cost, to be permanently tied into her affairs, her thoughts, and this provided that assurance as much as anything else. He was a changed person, no longer denying participation, but encouraging it in all its forms. His answer was easy.
The pink trim of Francies cardigan was intelligent and beautiful.