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Book 1 – Introduction, Part 2

This has to end in a swordfight. Probably in Copley Square across from the Boston Public Library in the great stone courtyard with the church where the homeless people huddle from the wind. It should happen in the fall, after a rainstorm so the subway station is dripping and the city folk tramp the puddles up the stairs. I’m meeting Trisha for coffee somewhere and I don’t notice anything beyond the concrete pavement where my eyes are cast down. I’m tired of traveling but I must to reach her, down the Green Line where I haven’t memorized the stops.

I crowd in with the others waiting to cross the intersection into the Square. The cars wander by at the speed of old cattle. A policeman raises his arm to hold them back and I walk into the street.

And there, by a park bench, or even better, by a statue of Athena and her hounds, I see Elory passing on her way to something equally benign. She has a long grey coat of tweed or polyester and I’m in my wool one because I don’t have a coat just for fall. I can avoid her. It’s a big Square. Instead, I call out her name. I demand satisfaction. I command that she give me back my life and my good standing in the community.

My tail whips behind me and arches as she raises her head to meet my eyes. I have one thing she can never steal. I’m younger than she’ll ever be. She can feed off me all she wants but I am overflowing with life. I have to be. I’m still standing.

I bump my shoulder into hers. “Apologize,” I say and spit in her face.

She wipes it away with a casual grace but her fingers tense and she does not fool me. “I have nothing to say to you,” she replies.

I step back and draw my rapier from my coat. “We end this,” I say, “Now.”

She lifts her arm up and draws her own blade. The peasants around us scatter to clear the stage. If I strike first, she will have the advantage. At least she will think so.

I don’t know who cuts first. The blow has happened already and is in search for a voice in our silver blades. I thrust, aiming high enough for her to parry with ease. My skirt flutters around me and as I step aside to avoid her retaliation, I grip her arm and push it downwards because her knees are brittle. She launches herself up, back to back against me until I stumble and she breaks free. We parry high. We parry low. I feint and she falls for it. I plunge my blade into her gut and savor the split second I have to twist.

My thigh cries out in pain. She has cut into my bone. My tail sticks straight out. She anticipated this from me. I am Clockwork Cheryl, transparent no matter what I do.

We withdraw and continue. She knocks my blade up and I direct it through her ear. I slice cleanly and smell the spray that jets from her head. She grits her teeth and does not scream. She channels the agony and whips herself around. The wind blows her coat out like a wedding train. My eyes are in the wrong place and she slices through my left elbow. My forearm falls to the ground. I hold the stump because it is all I can do.

When I can think again, I take out her eye. The tip slides into her face as a toothpick into an olive and I draw it out, covered in humors dripping to the earth.

She strikes my nose off. I don’t need it. I don’t need any part of me anymore. I need her to go away.

We cut and slice away our beauty, our civility and any trace of friendship until we are quivering piles of organs on the stone ground mixed in the concert flyers and coffee cups. At last, she severs my tail as the last thing to take from me, but it’s moot. We are two little hands clutching rapiers trying to carve up each other until we are consumed entirely.

It has to end like this but it won’t. It’s spring now in Boston but still too cold to even throw snowballs. Trisha can’t afford a downtown coffee shop and she wouldn’t know anyone there any more than me. I’m not sure she wants to see me alone either. We might have to talk about all the things I’ve done, especially to her.

I can’t fight with Elory anymore, but she has her quest to take me down. She loves me. I know she does. That’s why she’s as cruel as she is, but she’s kept her boundaries.

I told her about the time when I was in grade school and Tiffany Stockford came dressed as a cat for Halloween. Tiffany had a leotard with ears on a headband, and I wanted to deck her. She had three finger smears on each cheek for whiskers and she said, “Meow” like it was a greeting in a language she had heard in a joke.

My mom would look at me funny if I even chirped at birds.

There were times growing up, when my history project would get lost, or the neighborhood brats would roll nickels at me to have me bend to pick them up, or I’d trip in the halls for no reason. I would truly believe my life wasn’t going to get any better. I would pull the comforter off my bed and huddle on the floor. I spent enough time on that bed. It was good to feel the cold hard wood support me. It was good to whimper, hide and peek out at the reckless world from all fours.

I had a place on the floor. The room grew with weird structures spread throughout. Wooden steps ran up to the ceiling with chewy things filled with grass-thin leaves that fluttered like birds when I hurled them into the air. Little stands fell over when I put my paws on their backs. I froze when I heard footsteps behind the door but mom had come in enough times that she didn’t bother anymore.

I compromised with mom that Halloween and she agreed to let me be a harlequin. And then in school, there was Tiffany. She was everything I needed to be when I was sad, and she did a foul job of it. She flounced, she giggled and she hip-checked the pirates and the Power Rangers. I ran away to the bathroom. The teachers came for me but I didn’t tell them anything.

I kept that secret for the longest time. I wasn’t crazy. I needed to be an animal or I would break down into something smaller that couldn’t put herself together. I was well liked in high school. I got my cum laude degree from Boston University with Simon and my other friends. Things worked out. I only needed to hang on a while through hell.

That was one of the few things that Elory has never used against me.

I’ve been watching too much television recently, always a bad sign. I even moved the set over so I can see it from the toilet if I leave the bathroom and bedroom doors open. I’ve been buying more manga. I’m almost through the end of Rurouni Kenshin to find out what really happens. The anime was finished before the comic so the animators made up their own story. The latest book is on my nightstand, in front of the little purple clown’s hat I won at the sculpture exhibition freshman year. It’s nothing special. It’s just a pretty hat. It’s twice the size of the fox miniature beside it that I took from my grandmother’s house when she died.

I have a glass of water there, too, which has a mouthful left in it from when I was reading last night. It’s sitting on a pile of tissues from the box behind it, which I haven’t replaced in months, since last February when Della left. My clock radio and all the cracks of open space on my nightstand have dust I can scoop up on a finger. I wipe them down every once in a while. Blowing on them never seems to work.

My stuffed fox White-Star lies on my pillow or crouches on my dresser to spy on me. Recently, he’s been ending up on the floor. I don’t know why. I apologize to him but he doesn’t seem to mind.

I’ve tried to take more walks these past few weekends, at least down around Davis Square which isn’t too far from my apartment. The snow isn’t as bad this winter but by the time I’m ready, the sun has set. And the television’s waiting for me. Not Simon, not Trisha, not anybody.

It’s not so bad. My apartment complex has a moat around it. It looks like trampled grass with puffy hedges when the snow recedes, but it’s really a watery trench filled with barracuda and electric eels. It keeps me safe here as long as I don’t go out, but I have to. There’s nowhere to buy food in here.

I’ve been thinking about going back to Della. It scares me that she might say yes. It wouldn’t last and she’d rub my nose in everything we went through, even if it’s all her fault. When she left, she took something of my heart and she still has it. A little of the right sort of love might be worth the price. I don’t know.

My tail is in the corner, draped over my old card table with the top curled around itself. The fur is too maroon to be mistaken for a real fox’s tail and the prickly gold pins where the top meets my flesh are a dead giveaway, too. I touch it and the fur gives way to the electric bone chain inside. I sew a new coat for it every other month. I used to glue the fur on but now I have a mesh that slips over the base.

Its batteries are recharging underneath. Its leather harness hangs behind my bedroom door. It slaps when I swing the door open to refill my glass. I keep meaning to tack up some felt behind it but I never think to buy any when I’m out.

That harness is worth the money, though. It’s suppler than my last one, which was almost as old as me. It’s hard to pick up something every day and know I was an infant when it was made, waiting for me. But of course, it wasn’t.

If something happened to my tail now, it wouldn’t be so bad. If it fell into the Charles or was caught in the wheels of a tractor trailer or sliced by a stray rapier, I could let it go this time. I tried not wearing it to work but I end up off-balance, leaning forward like an old ballet instructor. And it’s strange to smile without feeling it beat behind me. Many languages have words that require physical actions to complete; “hai” with a quick nod of the head. It’s like that. I’m losing my language.

Add that to my friends and sanity.

I can eat crackers in bed while I finish my manga. I slide my legs tight under the sheets and wet my thumb to pick up the crumbs. I have the time to go through a few chapters. And maybe a few more and then the book will be over and I’ll have to go to sleep.

I don’t have the money or the friends to move; not far enough away from her. Elory does, but she doesn’t care. I can’t stay here anymore, though.

This has to end in a swordfight.

Categories: 0 - Introduction, Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail.

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