Happy July! Now, I’m going off on a road trip with two swords and my favorite sparring partner basically as soon as this posts, so… yeah, Chapter 30 when I get back, okay?
This month’s prompt was the weird visual one: Write about a terrible or wonderful thing that probably never happened on these staircases.
For the record: this is the foyer of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (UK), and the most over-the-top use of marble I have ever been privileged to see, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to be. Today, for instance, it is going to be the foyer and steps of a nameless but rather prestigious art gallery, at night, and an interesting party is happening beyond those doors between the caryatids.
(There’s a rather marvelous relief of Sennacherib under that flight of stairs in the foreground, by the way.)
I am leaning against the plinth of a bust of William Pitt the Younger, wearing a dress that Rider magicked out of two charity-shop shirts, and eating a packet of Haribo Starmix in order of color. This ought to be be one of the more exciting evenings of my life, but I am scared to go into the room full of important people and drinks I’m not allowed to drink. So I wait in the foyer, legs pulled up to my chest – skirt tucked up under my legs so I don’t show my knickers – not that anybody’s coming past. They’re all either inside already, or not interested enough in one of England’s greatest Prime Ministers to make a detour on the way from stairs to gallery door.
The floor is cold, and the Haribo taste like plastic under their mildly sweet fruit flavoring, feel like plastic, smooth and resilient, and I don’t read the backs of packets anymore because I know what the numbers mean, and I know Haribo are artificial this, that, and the other, but I’m staying here. In the glass of a hugely enlarged framed photograph stretching from floor to ceiling in front of me, I can see myself, weirdly ghosted in among a forest of dignified legs at a Royal garden party a hundred years ago. Shaggy fair hair brushed out of my eyes. I’m wearing makeup, and the ghost seems to be wearing far more – she looks plain, and very young, all huge smudgy eyes and dark lips.
After all the craziness of the last few months, you’d think I could handle a famous-people-and-politicians party. Getting shot at? Being on a warship in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a war kicking off around me? Tracking down a missing person and calling the police and… okay, that was harder… Ann, run! in the vacant lot in the middle of the night… Fine. No worries. Being in the same room as several MPs who are technically on the same ‘side’? Not fine.
And then someone is interested in William Pitt the Younger, and comes around the corner instead of going straight to the doors.
“O favorite niece and woman of the hour!”
“Yeah, hey, Olwo, what up.” I bite the head off a gummy bear – humane Haribo-eating – and stare up at him. I’ve never seen Oliver in anything more formal than khakis and a blazer, and even that was because he was borrowing Luke’s clothes and it was the most laid-back thing Luke had. Tonight it’s a classic black tuxedo… with a blue paisley bowtie. This is Luke’s too.
Jumping over the railing, he sits cross-legged in the other side of Pitt’s niche, grabs for the Haribo packet. “What are you doing out here – and more importantly, did you save me a ring?” Holding out one hand, fingers splayed, he looks at me expectantly.
I pick out one with a blue bubble on its yellow band, and slide it solemnly onto Oliver’s little finger. “There. I don’t want to go in, Ollie.” In the silence as I wait for him to answer, I add a green, a pink, and an orange ring on his remaining fingers.
“I accept Uncle Oliver, or Oliver alone; I accept Olwo; I will even under special circumstances consider Sir, but… don’t. Ollie is Sharrie’s territory.” He eats the green ring, chewing slowly, and stares at the others as if deciding which to have next.
“Sorry.” Sharrie is dead. It was pretty messy, and we’re only just finished clearing up the mess. Oliver still isn’t fully cleared up – maybe never will be. You get that, I guess, when your wife’s body is eaten by eels and you spend the next few months looking for the guy that killed her and kidnapped your son. He rubs his free hand through his blonde hair – blonde like Mom’s – rumpling a gel job that must have taken Rider half an hour. Rider’s already inside, along with Mom and Dad and Aidey and Pete and… yeah. The whole crowd.
“Black?” Oliver asks.
“They don’t make black. Anyway, you’ve got one.” A dark sapphire in a signet ring, and I’m not sure where it came from. I manufacture a black ring out of a lemon sour worm and a licorice coin. It’s quite large, but Oliver seems satisfied.
“I don’t want to go in either. I haven’t seen most of these people since before Sharrie died,” he says matter-of-factly, unrolling the coin from around the worm and nibbling at its edge. “Sympathy storm.”
“Stick to Luke,” I say crossly, counting gummy bears. Eight.
“Luke’s sticking to Mark. Mark’s trying to stick to Rider. Kyle and Alice are mingling nicely. Your parents – now they’re the real grownups. The pros. Pete and Aidey are playing some horrible electronic game on Aidey’s phone.” Aidey is Aiden, Oliver’s son. I found him, after Oliver sent me home to be out of that war I mentioned. Pete is my older brother Peter. Kyle and Alice are my parents.
“Pokémens or Ikachee or Chizards or something,” I tell him. “Pete’s obsessed. How do you know what everyone’s doing?”
“Because I am a genius. Seriously, Ann, they’re waiting. For us. We have to be civilized now.” Oliver stands up, brushing dust off his trousers, and eats the remaining three rings off his fingers. I think elven kings but say something else.
“I’d rather do the whole thing again than go to the party that’s meant to congratulate us for doing it.”
“I’ll tell you a secret. Sharrie used to bear the brunt of the diplomatic stuff, but now we all have to pick it up. Everyone in the Department. And I mean everyone. You look fine -” he sweeps my hair back again “- and you have your father’s genes so you’ll be a model of poise. Come on.”
I hide the half-empty Haribo packet behind Pitt’s plinth, and take Oliver’s hand, and we walk together to the gallery doors.
Next month’s prompt – mildly topical for some – is Write a prospective sidekick’s application letter to their dream mentor.
e.g. Timothy Drake applying to be Robin, Rose Tyler applying to travel with the Doctor, an Initiate writing to a Master asking to be taken on as Padawan… you get me. Feel free to cross universes. Write a few short letters all from different universes if you feel like it. Doesn’t have to be written ‘as you’, doesn’t have to be written to an existing mentor character (make one up if you like). DOES have to be written to a fictional person – real people are off-limits. Rose Tyler (or you) may not write to David Tennant for this prompt. Depa Billaba (or you) may not write to Samuel L. Jackson for this prompt… again, you get me. What you do in your life is your affair, but this prompt is not about fan letters.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you when we get back!