display | more...
previous

The basement of the house of the D’Ubervilles is whitewashed, streaked with grime and old stains as basements tend to go. Likewise as basements of such houses tend to go, it is filled with instruments, devices, and structures that the people living upstairs know little about and never use – washbasins, ironing boards, kitchen equipment, washboards, fireplaces with spits turned by rising hot air, and so on. The outside of the houses gleam white because the servants clean them thoroughly, but the people living upstairs do not care to ask how the servants do this; it is enough to know that the work is done. The inside of the houses are spic and span, and the people living upstairs barely wonder how this happens; it simply happens. Why, if you employ the proper head servants, with impeccable character and references, then the work seems to do itself! From the perspective of upstairs.

From the perspective of downstairs there was always something to be done, and if the work ever got done it was never before long after supper. Most basements in the district of Des Gens Biens were full of people running about, here and there, hauling water, chopping vegetables, bringing mops up and down stairs, scrubbing pans.

Save for this basement. The hand that broke through the brick floor entered a basement whose devices lay without hands to work them. There was but a young Indio woman, sitting at a pedal-powered sewing machine.

When she saw the metal-clawed hand burst through the floor, she screamed, and ran upstairs.

Had Alejandra been slower to dig her way out fully then she might have been in a position for her mother to whack at her arm. As it was, she was standing there in her mother’s basement, caked with dirt and slumped in exhaustion, just in time to greet her mother coming down the basement stairs.

“A metal hand out of the floor,” said her mother, “Really, mademoiselle Le Chifre, do you expect me to believe such wild tales – ” She turned her gaze to her daughter, then to her daughter’s hands, still gloved in metal claws, then to the large hole in the floor. “Goodness, child. Did you attempt to rob a bank and miss? You’re supposed to use maps and measure your distances out ahead of time.”

“Speak to me not of your youth, dear mother. You were never as efficient as Father when it came to robbing banks, for he understood that the best way to rob them was to work behind the counter. No, we were simply escaping the police. No thanks to you.”

“We?”

Maggie Noyr crawled out of the hole.

“Oh!” said Madame D’Uberville. “Another ladyfriend of my daughter. She brings home so many, I cannot keep track of them all. They seem to come and go so quickly. Will you be staying the night?”

“If you have room to spare.”

Madame D’Uberville strode over to the hole. “And this hole, I assume it leads directly to the police station?"

“Directly,” said Alejandra.

“And you were willing to lead them here,” said Madame D’Uberville, “knowing that we have nothing left with which to bribe them?”

“That’s entirely your fault, mother.”

“My fault?” said Madame D’Uberville. “My fault! Humph! Your father spent all the money and ran, my dear. I told him that boats were a hole in the water that you pour money into. But, no matter. That is water under the bridge. She clapped her hands. “Mademoiselle Le Chifre, if you would be so kind as to fill in this hole and then serve us some tea?”

Maggie grabbed the gloves from Alejandra’s hands and put them on. “No trouble,” she said, “I will take care of it.”

...

The maid, mademoiselle Le Chifre, poured tea into Maggie’s cup.

My apologies for ruining your basement floor,” said Maggie, “and I am gratified that you are willing to serve us after we did you such an unkindness.”

Mademoiselle Le Chifre looked at Maggie like she was cracked in the head, but said nothing.

“Is there any way we can atone?” continued Maggie. “Perhaps treat you to dinner sometime, I know a place that’s wonderful, the Café Maximilian on Rue d’Saints.”

Mademoiselle Le Chifre bustled out of the room without offering Maggie any cream or sugar.

“Goodness,” said Maggie. “Perhaps we startled her more than I realized.”

Alejandra sipped her tea but said nothing.

“That reminds me,” said Maggie, “I never thought to ask her for her first name. perhaps I ought to do that sometime.”

Madame D’Uberville had an amazing technique of sipping tea through pursed lips.

“ANYWAY,” said Alejandra, “Mother, I expected you to at least come to the station to plead for my release.”

“My daughter,” said Madame d’Uberville, “are you so unfamiliar with those ruffians that you are unaware of how they release people? You have to bribe them with cash, and we have so little left.”

“Surely enough to get me out of jail?” said Alejandra. “If you have enough to pay for servants – ”

“What exactly would we do without servants?”

Alejandra put her tea down, having tasted none. “What exactly would you do without me?”

“The same as we already do,” said Madame d’Uberville. “Sit around and wait for the family name to die while you go on with one woman after another. Really, Alejandra, you never even thought of producing children?”

“That discussion is quite off the table,” said Alejandra.

“Will you at least settle down for once?” said Madame d’Uberville. “Perhaps with this woman here. You were willing to follow her into escaping a police station, after all.”

“I just said – ”

“I had not thought of settling down either,” said Maggie. “For surely I am too young. Depending on how you look at it, I was born but a day ago.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” said Madame D’Uberville, “are you having some kind of joke at my expense?”

“Not at all,” said Maggie. “My apologies, Madame D’Uberville, there are many circumstances about my life that are confusing to me. I think I can hardly explain them – the fact that I erased a man from existence —”

The eyes of Madame d’Uberville grew wide. “You can vanish people? Like Les Tantes de Yeux?”

“I don’t want to! I can vanish all kinds of things but I don’t want to! It is a terrible power. I can re-order the thoughts of human beings and it is a terrible power.”

“I see.” Madame sipped her tea. “And those gloves, did you make them as well?”

“Yes.”

“Then you can call things into existence. That is not a terrible power. Not so much, at any rate. With it you could work miracles. You could bring people back from the dead. Why, call your friend back into existence right now, if you wish.”

“It didn’t work last time, but…Luis Alvarez will now appear before me.”

And for an instant, just a brief moment, no more than a blink, Luis stood before them. Maggie began to rise in her chair. But Luis was already gone, with nothing more than a slight rush of air, before Maggie could get any farther.

“Good heavens,” said Madame d’Uberville. She had not moved an inch. “My dear, it appears someone is contradicting you.” She sipped her tea. “And not only are they contradicting you, they are doing it indoors. Les Tantes de Yeux are not normally so bold. I wonder what’s on their minds this time? Perhaps they hate this Luis. Alejandra, what on earth is the matter with you?”

Alejandra was shivering, though the day was hot, and staring straight ahead at nothing. “Las Tías de Ojos are working indoors now,” she whispered. “it's not even safe to stay out of the waterThere is no place safe from them after all.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” said Madame d’Uberville. She pointed to a window, which was open. “Look, we’ve been letting the wind in this whole time.”

Maggie rose, but Alejandra rose with haste and had the window shut before Maggie could even get halfway there. “Call for Luis again,” she said. “Call for Luis again and bring him back, and let me believe that we have some sort of shelter.”

“Very well,” said Maggie. “Luis Alvarez is standing before us.”

And so he appeared again. He did not look perplexed, as Maggie would have expected a man to appear after blinking into existence. He looked frustrated, and apologetic. “I am very sorry,” he said, “But I am being held captive.” And then he vanished.

“God dammit!” said Alejandra. “God fucking dammit!” She grabbed the pull cord for the window blind and quickly cut off light from the window, then ran to the next one.

“Really,” said Madame d’Uberville. “Let the servants do that for you, daughter.” She rose and pulled a thin cord on the wall. While Alejandra was busy ignoring the advice of her mother, her mother was waiting at the door.

 But no servant came. “That is very strange,” said Madame d’Uberville. “Where is Mademoiselle le Chifre?”

 “Perhaps nowhere,” said Alejandra. “Maggie, call Luis back again, will you?”

 “Luis Alvarez stands before us,” said Maggie. And lo, he stood before them once more.

 “I cannot stay,” said Luis. “I am a captive.”

 “But where?” said Maggie. “Where on earth are you held?”

 “Where the stinging sands blow,” said Luis, “At the ends of the earth.”

“But I have called you here,” said Maggie. “Here in the shadows, you should surely be able to hide from the eyes of our cruel aunts.”

“But I do not wish to,” said Luis. “For where I am held, there are so many other people, and there are my fish, and I can share my fish with them, and perhaps we can fight against our captivity, or at least keep each other alive, which is itself a fight, for our captor has no interest in keeping us alive. I do not wish to abandon so many people to their fate. Do you understand? I must go. I only ask that you find me. but what about me, huh?Please send me back.”

“Then go,” said Maggie. “And I will tell Rafael what happened.”

Luis vanished once more.

Maggie turned to Alejandra. “You wanted to work against Las Tías,” she said. “I think we have a common interest here."

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.