"So what's the heart above the city?"
I sat down on a metal bench near the brownstone wall. "Shouldn't I be the one asking that question?" I said. "You're the one who knows literally everything about this place."
Jo sat down next to me, as close as she could be considering the curving armrest between us. "You are almost right. I know almost everything about this city." She looked into my eyes. "But what I don't know is wether you've been paying attention. Tell me, based on everything I've told you about Greater New York, what do you predict for the Top Floor?"
"You told me that...Left New York was all about Magic...and Right New York had absolutely no magic..."
"Right. Go on."
The wind shook the branches of the tree overhead. "And Forward New York always changes...and Back New York barely ever changes...It's a game of opposites, isn't it? So What's the shtick of Down New York that will go the other way when we head Up? Is it the density? The anarchy? The grass-roots order? The pollution? Is Up New York going to be 500 houses spread out over 500 miles, and nobody talks to anyone else?"
"Oh, my dear Pat, you have been paying attention!" Jo clapped her hands. "But this is about more than simply what you can see. This is about what the city thinks about itself. This is about what the people want. And, perhaps, what they fear. Once you get to Up New York, the answers will become more clear."
The wind shook the branches again, and a mulberry fell into my lap. I looked up. There were no berries on the tree, because it was an oak tree.
I looked across the road. Marina waved at me, and grinned. I scowled. "Don't look now," I said, "but here comes my least favorite sister."
"But don't you only have —"
Marina was not standing at a crosswalk. She was standing on the edge of an exceptionally busy road. Despite this fact, she stepped forward into traffic and pranced forward, running toes-first as if she were barefoot on hot asphalt. I stared closely at her, and this time I was certain -- there were instants when she wasn't visible at all, like she was in a messily-edited security film. And not a single car slowed down, not a single car sounded its horn, and now here was Marina before us, dropping ber backpack on the ground.
"Hey, favorite sibling." Good God, she didn't even sound out of breath. "I just thought I'd come over and—" Her eyes fell upon the metal bench. "Oh! Oh dear. I see something has come between you two. Should I leave so you can work it out alone?"
"Hello, sister", I said. "I pray thee, come and sit with us a while on this convenient metal platform. But please understand, after last week's incident with the "homemade" "strawberry" "jam" I am not on full speaking terms with you for a while. Why don't you talk to my good friend Jo for a while?"
Marina took a knee before me.
"My dear sister!" She said, head bowed. "Once again, I apologize profusely for the mess I caused and the havoc I wrought. I have paid for the damages incurred by the upstairs neighbors, and I spent almost all my stock of mulberries on the effort to make the neighborhood forget the blast. I have swept floors for a month, I have done nothing but homework each evening, I have replaced the kitchen cabinets and the Immortal Mortar. What more must I do to earn your forgiveness?" She gazed up at me.
I could not meet her eyes, and held mine downward. "Only to wait for me," I said softly.
Marina looked confused.
"Think of it this way," said Jo. "If humans were robots, we'd be able to say PROBLEM SOLVED once every error had been corrected, and we'd forget the issue instantly. But Humans feel pain and we remember it for a while after it hits. It takes a while to let go. Wounds to the emotions can take longer to heal than wounds to the body, and some never heal. Now, in the case of a single spectacular event like your failure with the...what was it again?"
"Homemade strawberry jam", she said, "with a twist and a bang, though not quite in the way I intended. Oh well. I'm sure next time will —"
"No more next time!" i said, glaring at Marina. "No more using the Immortal Mortar for your experiements! Not until you actually learn from your mistakes and stop jumping into everything feet-first! For God's Sake, read the instructions before you try something and you won't make City Hall vanish or Grenovia the size of a grape! If you actually listened to me for once, you'd know how to do the Fast Step across the city and the police would never be able to catch you and I wouldn't have to keep breaking you out of jail, would I?"
"Oh, my dear sister," said Marina, "you never needed to break me out of jail. The only barriers to me in that place were the bars of cold iron. YOU never listened to ME when I told you. Every time you broke me out of jail, I told you. Why did you not listen?"
I looked into Marina's eyes. I never enjoyed doing so. There was something behind those wide pupils, dark as they were and yet clearly moving, dancing eternally. I looked away.
Marina sighed. "It's not just the jam, is it? You've resented me for a long time. Ever since Mom told you what happened, you've looked at me with fear." She hung her head. "Look, I can't help the way i was brought into this world. I had no part in it." She looked up again. "You, of all people, should understand that. You know what it's like to be hated because of something you can't control. But that's among strangers! Imagine having your own sister rebuff your every attempt at connection! Imagine living with someone who only tolerated you! And I never feared you, though you are older than me. I feel very lucky to be a part of your family."
I said nothing, but glared at the ground.
"Look," said Marina, "What happened with the jam and the mortar, that was my fault. I am sorry for it. I can wait for you to forgive me. But what happened with my birth is not my fault, and resenting me for that will get us nowhere, but only keep an old wound open." She stood up. "I can tell by Jo's eyes that she's never heard this story before. Why don't I leave you two to discuss the matter? I have more mulberries to find. Don't touch the backpack." With that, she leapt over the brownstone wall and vanished among the trees.
Jo stared at me, eyes wide. "Was she implying that — ”
"She was speaking as though everyone knew, but obviously you didn't."
"It sure raises a lot of questions. Like, how many others are in the city, and where your actual sister is."
I glowered at Jo. "Please! I spent years thinking that way and calling Marina thief, liar, trickster, usurper, all kinds of names. The project with the jam was supposed to mend things between us, and it just caused everything besides us to break. I don't WANT to think of Marina as my Fake Sister anymore. I don't want to imagine the girl she replaced serving as cup-bearer in someone's loft, or as a set of bones on a rooftop in Left New York, or...oh, but I'm doing it again, aren't I? It's hard to let go of that idea after you discover that the sister you've known for so long is..."
"She has an ancient and dangerous heritage," said Jo. "Currently her gifts are showing great power without the discipline necessary to control it. She is like her forebears, all fire and air, all wild and free, chaotic, life-giving and destructive in equal measure. You know what that means?"
"That I should stay away from her?"
"No! It means that you have to be the older sister and teach her to control her power. Lead her! Guide her! Practice being a Shaman. It's an excellent opportunity."
"UGH!" I sat down on the bench. "More work to do."
The faint sounds of music came from Marina's backpack.
I glanced at it. "And that's another thing," I said. "I can't help Marina with her schoolwork if I can't lift her backpack. Not once have I ever been able to lift her damn backpack. What does she keep in there?"
"Let's lift it together and dump it out," said Jo. "We'll see then. Maybe she keeps a world in it, or a mountain, or an ocean." She unzipped the bag. There was nothing but darkness within. "On three, ready?"
If you can imagine two under-exercised teenage girls lifting a baby elephant, you have an idea of how we struggled. But we managed to tip the bag over, and out spilled -- cards. Hundreads of cards. Thousands of cards. Hundreds of thousands of cards, pouring into a great pile upon the sidewalk, slowly blowing away in the wind, then faster as the wind rose, and the wind rose even more, until the entire pile was flying down Fifth Avenue in a massive storm of paper, catching in people's hair, sticking to windshields. I saw a flock of pigeons take flight in confusion, only to be brought down by thousands of papercuts. I saw cars screech to a halt as the paper flew at them. One or two were hit by cars behind.
I grabbed one of the cards to look at later, then grabbed Jo and Fast Walked into the park. I wasn't going to stick around looking guilty.