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Posted by on May 16, 2021 in ISLE OF DOGS, Sci Fi Noir | 0 comments

excerpt: isle of dogs, part 3

chapter 32, sec. 5

Not long after, Ruth came looking for her again. She arrived at the box office highly agitated and spoke directly to Suki. “I’m looking for a girl, a woman of sixteen named Phaedra.”

“Never heard of her. We have a lot of young interns, but they’re all over the age of eighteen, I can assure you.”

“She’s very tall, with blond hair, and looks much older than her age. She might go by the name of Sara Stjarna.”

Suki said, “No.”

“Sara Istar? No? Any Saras at all?”

Suki shook her head. “Sorry, no. I’d love to help you. There’s a runaway board at the homeless shelter.”

Ruth turned to leave and then remembered that the Ruler Bánffy had said she sometimes goes by the name of Panic. “What about Panic?”

Suki laughed. “Panic? Sure.”

Ruth said, “Where might I find her?”

“She’s in her room on the seventh floor. Do you want me to call her down?”

“Might I visit her unannounced? I’m an old friend and I want to surprise her.”

“Take the elevator. It’s 7F.”

Phaedra was performing both sides of a scene between two people. Stefan had given her a list of ten first lines and told her to write a one-page scene every day, between two characters, based on the first line. She was working on, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

There’s something I have to tell you.

It can wait.

There was a knock at the door. “Yes,” she said.

“May I come in?” Ruth asked.

“Mama?” Phaedra asked, so mad it burst from her face and made her cry. The door opened and Ruth entered, staring warily about. “Your boss, the American Lady, said you might be here. I’ve been a dozen times.” Phaedra put down the pen and paper and faced her. “I was worried you were in one of those awful shooting galleries I’ve read about. A girl was found dismembered. I read about it in the local paper.”

“In Budapest, there is always some story about dismembered children.”

“I didn’t come to fight.”

“You came to take me home.”

“May I touch you, please?”

Phaedra stood rigidly while Ruth hugged her, her grimace uncompromising. “What did I ever do to you?” Ruth cried.

“Being alive, mother. Being alive suffices.”

Ruth clasped her hand to her mouth and emitted a pained cry. “Where did my baby go?”

“Continue like this and I will throw you out.”

Ruth wiped her eyes and said, “I’m sorry I ever raised you in that detestable family. Had I never left Hungary—”

“I would never have been born.”

“It had been better for your father.”

Phaedra asked, “Father, what father?” Ruth said nothing. “Why are you here? To make me feel like shit?”

“Because I thought you would care that your dear Duck has died.”

Now her tears knotted up in her chest and she couldn’t breathe. Phaedra turned from her mother and sat on her bed, fighting with herself, grinding her teeth. Duck dead. Of course Duck was dead. She was old, ancient. “Of a broken heart no doubt,” she spit. “Prisoner in that demented Santa Claus castle.”

Ruth lowered her head. “She was my mother through all those years alone in the Winter Palace and Hommocks Cottage, playing in the basements and the halls. She read to me, told me long stories she made up from this and that, what the old women told around the fire back in Austria when she was a child, and bathed me, and when I cried for home she held me and gave me forbidden sweets, and sang to me in German when I couldn’t sleep. When I was your age and pushed her away she didn’t hold a grudge or cry. She endured silences and rages. And when I was pregnant with you she talked to me and sat up through the night. I shared with her all my secrets, and they died with her—she kept her silence. There is an art to silence. I am so sad to lose her, but to lose you too is more than I can bear. My heart shatters in my chest and the future is lost, as if my whole life were leading up to nothing. My dream was to live with your father, as husband and wife. I thought we would sail to Europe and visit my Mama and live in a castle together. I didn’t believe in happily-ever-after stories, no, I wasn’t an idiot. I wanted adventure and danger and I found it, but it wasn’t what I expected, and your father left us, as anyone in their right mind would have known he would do. I put my faith in others. One must trust to love, but how can we trust? And what do we trust? The drift of things will not allow it. Love, like everything else, comes and goes, while we, by the action of time, erode to nothing. I have learned that this is the only truth, but I thought that you at least would be with me, when you were grown and I was old. What was I thinking? Fool. Little fool.”

Phaedra didn’t know what to say. Finally she said, “If you lived here, I would visit.”

“I am moving from Smolnik back to Castelul Bánffy to be with Oma. It is my home. It will be lonely, but I love the countryside. I will have a horse. I can ride, garden. Will you visit me there? Can I come see you?”   

“The theater is going on tour. I need my passport.”

“Where are you going?”

“Around the world! Isn’t that exciting? I might go to America. I could go home.”

“No! It isn’t safe.”

“Why? Because the President was killed? Why should they come after me? I’m no one.”

“Did you never wonder why your hair glows?”

Phaedra was uncertain. Had she wondered? She had wondered but always encountered that silence. It was the silence that had enveloped her life, the black surrounding walls of her origins wherever she went. The strange looks. The changing circumstances never explained. “I assumed you or my father had some bioluminescent trait. It’s not like no one has that.” She sat squirming, thinking about Duck. Flashes of thought came and went, blades of light slicing through the dark that vanished before she could think out loud. She tried to think of her father but the Ruler Sargon was all that came into her head, her Papa, whose shoulders bore her through the water of the pool, whose back was her horse, who gave her sweets at Christmas, who called her Mausi. He was her Papa and Young Sargon was her brother, and Ruth was her Mama. She knew nothing else. She knew the Ruler Sargon was not and could not be her father. But she had never asked who her real father was. What she had was enough. The question mark, the terra incognita, the mystery behind the curtain of flesh, did not provoke her curiosity, and desire’s lure, which ruled her as surely as any other ruse, led out not in. “Mother, Mama, who was my father?”

Ruth stared at her, her eyes frigid, like still mountain lakes, silent. “He was a Bánffy. I loved him for a summer and he went away. Doc Hughes fixed it, but, as you can see, strands of your hair glow like the sun. And your father’s body lit up like a torch. How beautiful he was at night, diving into the black water of the Sound, glowing yellow, the green phosphorescent algae streaming off his fingertips.”

“Ew. I hope it wasn’t one of Santa’s spawn. Will you bring me the passport, Mama?”

Ruth nodded slowly, her face hard. “Perhaps my Sire, the Ruler Bánffy, can help.”

Phaedra said nothing. Ruth rose and walked out the door. Phaedra suddenly thought, it is such a long way to BonÈ›ida. She ran after Ruth and caught her at the elevator. The hall was dimly lit by a single bluish-white bulb covered in fly specks and grimed with the greasy grit that covered the worn wooden floors and coated the walls. She hugged her tight and asked, face crushed into her hair, “Mama… was Duck alone?” Ruth stroked the back of her head. “No. I went back. She drifted in and out of consciousness. It wasn’t long. I told her I loved her, and she died holding my hand, in peace.” Ruth kissed her and wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I’m going home now, but I’ll be back with the passport, OK munchkin? I’ll be back. I love you.”      

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