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Book 1 – Chapter 2 – Summoning – Part 1

I had cotton mush for brains the next morning. Della had left me with three truths – she wanted us over, it was my fault, and she thought nothing of still sleeping with me. I expected her to be lying beside me, gripping my comforter for dear life. I was ready to put on a pot of coffee for her; Vermont Green, her favorite, with two spoons of cream and one of sugar. I would toast two bagels, with butter for her and cream cheese for me.

The other apartments skittered as the kids raced to the Saturday morning cartoons. One television was so loud, I could follow an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my head.

I buried my face in my pillow. I had had three dreams that night. I didn’t know what happened in them, but I remembered moments when I wasn’t tossing or staring at the clock. I needed to sleep. I had to sleep. The day wouldn’t end until I slept and now it had started all over again.

No one had left any messages on my answering machine or my cell phone. No notes were slipped under my door. The peanut butter balls were spilled open on the stove. I flipped through my CDs in case Della had helped herself to any on her way out. I ran my finger over all the ones I remembered, but she still had my Tribe and Modest Mouse. I was always the one missing things after breakups.

I had several art prints hidden in my drawers. Della had objected to “Vixens of Wall Street,” “Foxgirls in Space,” and a few others. The anime prints were fine, but the American ones rubbed her wrong. I hadn’t replaced them with any pictures, so I hung them back on my doors and over the futon. The nails slid into their holes with a little effort.

The electric base of the tail had been twisted over. She might have taken one good whack for the road. I plugged the tail in quickly. It flopped around on the kitchen counter. I stopped it before it fell over the side.

I had an entire weekend free and I didn’t know where to start. I was afraid I would spend all day trying to figure out what to do, so I called Simon and Trisha to see if they wanted to meet for lunch at Taylor’s. They said yes. I had a reason to take a shower and get dressed. I had to show them the tail.

I still had the rope I used to tie Angie up when we were dating. I practiced forming a harness on my waist. My hands remembered the motions from rock-climbing at summer camp. I had picked up the saline gel earlier. I squeezed a dollop on the base of my spine and bound the tail over it. I attached the batteries’ cable and hoped.

The tail jerked me while it seized up. It swatted my leg as its links bit into each other and twisted like a warped Erector set. The gel leaked down my rear, and I caught the glob before it hit the floor.

I strutted through the kitchen like a cowgirl. The tail kicked its tip around in a circle. I unplugged the toaster and the refrigerator in case they gave off interference. I had no luck.

I hadn’t paid for the tail, but I was seriously thinking about returning it. I struggled against it. I wriggled around in case it hadn’t found the right nerves yet. I saw my shadow by the window, naked with the streak coming from the back. Sometimes when I’m shopping, I will pick up the whackiest outfits simply because they look good for a split second at an angle. My silhouette was perfect even when I turned my hips. For the first time, I was wearing something that surpassed my memory of Tiffany Stockford. With the tail on my backside, I looked smokin’.

I wrenched the furry thing off me and coiled it in my backpack.

I let myself decompress over breakfast. The television had an animal show which ended before I had finished my banana. I flipped across the channels. I stopped on a photograph of a beagle on a sidewalk. It had a tan and black yin/yang patch over its left eye. The news reporter mentioned a “dog-mugger.”

“Eight months ago, police were baffled by a series of muggings around Boston, all performed, witnesses said, by a thirty year old man walking a dog,” the anchorwoman said. “Last night, police arrested Lionel Harrington at his studio in Brookline on twelve charges of robbery and threat with a deadly weapon. In their statement, the police say he always brought a different dog for cover so he could patrol more upscale neighborhoods without causing suspicion. They are making inquiries about the whereabouts of the other dogs. This beagle is the last known one he used. An anonymous tipster will be claiming the five hundred dollar reward for his capture.”

I wasn’t big on animal cop shows, so I switched to a dumb fairy cartoon.

I did my eyes up and dressed for the cold train ride to Brookline. I threw out the bus schedule on my refrigerator. I had been planning a trip to the zoo with Della that weekend.

Taylor’s had a new wooden sign over their street entrance where the glass used to be. Their name flowed in a script emerging from an outline of a pizza. Getting a seat was a nuisance, since they only had the bare minimum of tables but plenty of space for the take-out line. Simon’s great hairy arm waved to me in a corner, probably practicing for the last half hour. He was in that big black “G.U.R.P.S” gaming T-shirt he bought during our sophomore year, but his goatee and mustache were trimmed too well for him to fool anyone. He was a T.A., not a student, but better people than I couldn’t convince him of the fact. His mane was wet from a quick wash. Some of his students turned to see if he was trying to get their attention. I flopped over his shoulders and squeezed.

He was really bubbly, for an afternoon. “Hey,” he said while he reached back to hug me, “That family behind you. They’ve been eyeing your chair. I was afraid I couldn’t defend it much longer.”

I hopped onto the spindly seat. I almost touched the table before I noticed the shiny smear across it. “Trisha should be here soon,” I said. “How are the mid-terms going?”

He pulled out a napkin to wipe his space down. “Still a week away. I’ll be a slave to them soon. How’re you?”

I fondled the salt shaker. I could have used a tequila to go with it. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “Last night, Della came over to dump me. She said I’ve changed, or something stupid like that. Have I changed that much?”

He reached over to take my palm like all my past breakups have taught him to do. “Oh crap, I’m sorry. But who hasn’t?”

“I know,” I said, “But that’s all I have to go on.”

He nodded in that way guys do when they know they should be interested, but it was distracting. “I think you’re calmer than you used to be.”

I pushed him away playfully. “Forget it,” I said. “She’s off in her world and she decided not to take me along this time.”

“Well, I still feel for you,” he said.

I eyed him with suspicion. “Did you see this coming?”

He sighed. “Do you want to take a quick walk before we have lunch?”

I poked him in the wrist. “No. Tell me.”

He seized up. “Really! I never met the girl. And I hate it when people just go with lame excuses. You deserve better.”

There was a gasp to my left. A crepe-paper velveteen dress fell out of an old wool coat. Trisha stuffed her gloves in her knitted hat and shook out her curls in the permanent to end all perms. “You have seats,” she said. “I was worried we’d have to stand. How are you?”

She shivered as the kitchen heat overwhelmed her, but leaned over to hug me and held on a second too long. Her eyes were painted dark violet to match her Slavic-Bohemian ensemble. She always screamed drama geek, even though our theater troupe had imploded months ago. She gave Simon a one-armed wrap-around embrace before inching behind me to a chair.

“I’m having one of those lifetimes,” I said. “Has anyone you know started treating you like crap, out of the blue?”

“Yes,” she said, “Who was it this time?”

“Della,” Simon said. We both stared at him. His eyes darted left and right.

“Anyway, yes,” I said. “She came over last night and out of nowhere, she broke up with me, apparently because I’ve changed.”

She snapped her neck towards me. “Bull poop,” she said. “She can’t even think up… nevermind. I am so sorry. Has she told anyone?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t really speak to her friends.”

“Well, that’s awful,” she said. “Tell me more.”

Simon’s chair screeched as he pushed it back. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “we should order something before we’re rooted.”

“Mmm, food,” Trisha said and blinked at me. “Coming?”

“Hell, yes,” I said.

The line was empty and the punk girl at the register was folding take-out boxes. I leaned my head into Trisha’s shoulder. “Want to split a large pizza?” I said. “The smalls are too much for me.”

“Sure,” she said, “what are you in the mood for?”

I scanned the toppings overhead. I had known Trisha for years, and I completely blanked on what she ate. She wasn’t vegan, or was she? I had thought that was Angie. “Tomato and spinach?” I said.

She shrugged her shoulders. “That’s good,” she said. “Do you mind if I get sausage on my half?”

Simon scooted around us to the counter. He was locked on the menu while he rattled off his order to the girl. “Hi,” he said, “can I get a large wrap? Romaine, cherry tomatoes, chicken, sprouts and that cheese. What do you call it? It’s crumbly and not really white. Medusa. Gorgonzola! And that heart stuff. Green and yellowish in the center and you pull the bits off it.”

I called out, “Artichoke.”

“That’s it,” he said. “And a Sprite.”

The girl wrote our orders down. I asked for sausage on our whole pie. I forgot to say I didn’t want ice in my soda, and as I feared, she overfilled it.

At our table, Trisha picked a cube from her drink and sucked on it. “So, about Della. Go on.”

I blew my straw wrapper at Simon. I aimed for his forehead but it bounced off his chin. He was unperturbed. “I’m not sure how to feel about it,” I said, “I haven’t cried, and I was a wreck when Angie and I broke up. There’s something Della’s not telling me and she’s never going to. So what do I do?”

“Breathe,” Trisha said.

“Practice your aim on her.” Simon launched his own wrapper at Trisha. It slid into her hair and stayed there. Trisha ran her fingers through to find it.

Simon mocked Trisha, “Ha ha, you threw yours away. You can’t retaliate.”

Trisha ripped the end of the wrapper and made a spitball from it. Simon reached for his leather coat and draped it over his head.

“Spit in his drink, Cheryl,” Trisha said.

I hocked up a loogie in my throat. He snatched his cup away and hid it behind his coat.

“Let him be,” I said. “He has to come out sometime.”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “I can be safe and warm in here forever.”

Trisha fired her spitball into the coat anyway. “Seriously,” she said to me, “can I do anything to help?”

A cold breeze from the front door slid around me. “Let me know if she comes in,” I said. “She won’t, but just let me know.”

It was only a matter of time. I had run into most of my professors on the Green Line after I graduated.

“Actually, I could use some help,” I said. “I picked this up Monday night, but it doesn’t work right. I would appreciate your valuable assistance.”

I hoisted the backpack and bumped it into Simon’s arm. He put his coat back and reached into my backpack. He uncoiled the tail out by its white end. He had no idea what it meant until he shifted it in his arms, sensing its weight and crinkling its joints. “Oh my God,” he said.

Trisha reached over to stroke the connectors in its base. “Is that really it?”

I nodded. “I got it from Tigerlilac.”

Simon passed it with care to Trisha. “It does move, though?” he said.

Trisha twisted it while sizing up my stitching. “Hold on tight,” I said and attached the batteries. Trisha jumped as it began to squirm. It flailed and struck the Parmesan shaker against the wall. She offered it to Simon, but he refused.

I made it limp again. “Any ideas on what I can do?”

“It’s supposed to wag and grab things?” Trisha said.

“Can you ask Tigerlilac?” Simon said.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “We left kind of weird.”

Trisha curled it in my backpack. “Do you want to go back to my place and test it?” she said.

Simon patted his jeans pocket. “I have the keys to the college,” he said. “Plenty of the rooms are free and it’s right down the street.”

“You don’t mind?” I said.

Trisha lifted the white end to watch it fall. “Hell, if you can control it, I’ll probably want one.”

We were almost finished with lunch when Trisha asked me for the time. My cell phone said it was close to two.

Simon peeked over to check. “Butter ‘n’ eggs,” he said.

I put my slice down and wiped my mouth. “What’s wrong?”

“I was supposed to call Chet this afternoon,” he said. “I can do it later. It’s not a big deal.”

“What’s ‘butter ‘n’ eggs’?” Trisha said.

Simon shook his head.

“It’s your new word, right?” I said.

“Yeah. Yellow petticoats at an exhibition I saw last week,” he said.

“You saw what?” Trisha said.

I whispered in her ear, “Tell you later.”

Trisha took a long sip and pretended she hadn’t said anything. Simon nudged her leg from under the table. “Those guys at the seats across from us have been staring at you,” he said.

Three varsity college boys picked at a pile of chicken wings across the restaurant. Their heads dropped as I turned to them. “Are you sure they aren’t ogling me?” I said.

“Yeah. They started when Trisha went to get the pizza.”

“So? Let them,” Trisha said.

“You don’t want to leave before them?” he said.

“We leave when we leave,” Trisha said. She stroked her chin at the exact spot where Simon had a piece of gorgonzola stuck. It took him a while to realize what she meant.

I was stuffed. I could have eaten another slice, but only to quench the guilt of wasting food. “You can have the rest,” I said to Trisha.

She helped herself to another. “Why don’t you put the tail on?” she said. “You don’t have to plug it in.”

Simon concurred between bites.

I heaved up my backpack and knocked on the door to the women’s room. It was empty, but small enough to make dressing difficult. And it had a vent loud enough to drown out a jackhammer. I slapped on the cold gel and tied the nylon harness. I kept my low-rise jeans down so the tail’s base wouldn’t prick my backside. When I secured my tail, I realized my coat had a slit up the rear. It slid over perfectly.

When I came out, Trisha had loaded the extra pizza into a box, and Simon had bundled himself into a hoodie under his coat. He stood up and batted at my tail to watch it swing.

Trisha snickered. “By the way, I love the stitching.”

We left the restaurant and kept single file down the cold Commonwealth Avenue. The tail was very sensitive to motion, and bounced when I didn’t walk in a straight line. Simon led us into a city suburb towards Macleod College, where we had enough sidewalk to spread out. The breeze dusted us with powder from the trees and roofs. Half the driveways weren’t plowed. The sun was right on us and we felt nothing. The air sucked the moisture from my mouth.

Trisha blurted, “Hang on,” and ran ahead of us. She pulled out her tiny digital camera from her pocket, and balanced her pizza box on her knee. Simon shrugged at me and we raced after her.

At the next intersection, an ivory Lincoln car had stopped for a woman jogging across a street. Behind them at the corner, a concrete wall surrounded a town house. Hundreds of stones, smooth as dinosaur eggs, were inset in the wall. Trisha snapped pictures rapidly. The Lincoln gunned its engine when the woman had cleared its path and drove off.

“You saw it, right?” she said.

Simon and I echoed, “Uh uh.” I didn’t see any patterns or pictures in the stones.

“Forget it, it’s gone,” she said. “The car was almost the color of the concrete, and see the shadows? The sun’s so low, they’re almost horizontal. From this angle, it looked like the car was pressed into the wall.”

The eggs’ shadows were more south-east than east, but I wasn’t the best judge. “Did you get the pictures?” I said.

She pored over her tiny screen. “Maybe. I was shaking.”

Simon poked her chin towards her. “You had image stabilization on, right?”

“Of course,” she said. “But I had to jack the aperture up.” She pointed out the settings to him. She knew what she was doing. She had tried to break into fetish photography for years. I had helped her a few times. Some things we never told Simon.

They started gabbing over the camera, so I started walking in the direction of the college. Eventually they caught up.

I kept an eye out for other scenes which might tickle Trisha’s interest. I spotted a pigeon overhead framed by a ring of gnarled branches. A parked truck had the license plate, “8IG JOO.” A blotchy beagle huddled beside a stucco office building. It looked up at us, but didn’t approach. It had a tan yin/yang patch around one eye. I didn’t see a collar on its neck. I grabbed Simon’s elbow.

“Hang on,” I said, “did you hear the news about the dog mugger?”

The footprints in the snow strip by the building were mushed together. Trisha crossed her arms and kept back when she saw the dog. “No,” she said, “is that him?”

I lowered myself to the sidewalk. The dog’s floppy ears shivered, and he settled in the snow bank. He must have been left there. A feral dog would have found better shelter. The college was only a few blocks away.

“It was on this morning. They said they caught a dog walker who was holding people up. They showed that dog’s picture on the news, I’m positive.”

Trisha flipped open her phone. “Want me to call the Rescue League?”

“Please,” I said.

She gave our location to the operator on call. “They won’t be here for hours,” she said. “They’re short-staffed on weekends.”

I called to Simon. “Do you think we’d get in trouble if we brought him to the college? We’d only keep him inside a little while until they arrived.”

Simon shook his head. “But you’ll have to stay with him,” he said.

The dog licked the snow beneath him. I whistled to him, but he didn’t move. I tore off a chunk of crust from Trisha’s pizza box. That got his attention. He waddled within a few feet of me and wagged at us. He said, if I really meant to feed him, I could toss the food over.

I never had a dog when I was a kid, but my neighborhood had several. I knew how their minds worked. I inched away while holding the bread in full sight. His rear legs quivered, but his forepaws were planted. Simon twiddled his fingers and the dog cocked his head.

Since the dog liked to see things wriggle, I plugged my tail in.

He almost skittered backward as my tail whipped out. I willed it to be calm. I imagined waterfalls and public pools. Simon and Trisha edged out of its range. It clicked and it forced its links together. It wouldn’t listen.

I dropped the crust for him. “Forget it,” I said. “Let’s just go. He’ll probably be here still when they come by.”

The beagle pounced on the bread and looked up for more. I held out my hands. “All gone.”

Trisha took a quick picture of him. “We can post this,” she said.

I turned to leave, but a thud ran up my tail. The beagle had crashed into it. He hopped back, paws spread for another charge.

Simon closed his eyes. “Oh, good Lord.”

Trisha squatted and took more photographs. “Your tail isn’t that spastic,” she said. “Can you make it ball up again? The animal seems to like that.”

I guided the little mutt towards the college. The beagle didn’t understand the street was dangerous, and hopped into it to find new ways of pouncing on my tail. Simon shooed him towards the sidewalk and Trisha took point.

Someone began to shout, “Hey!” behind us, but I tuned it out until I was certain it was directed at me. Simon and Trisha stayed close to me while a scruffy man with a matted coat ran behind us. He was gasping and left white streaks in the air. I was afraid he would crash into us.

Simon put his hands up and stepped between us. “What’s the problem, sir?”

The beagle skittered behind me to follow my tail. Trisha glanced around for places to run.

The man bent over until he could speak clearly. “Where are you going with my dog?” he said.

I stepped out of Simon’s shadow. “We didn’t know he was yours,” I said. I darted my head to find witnesses, but the street was empty.

The man stuck his pinkies in his mouth and whistled two notes at once. “Skipper!”

Skipper ducked under a car for a moment, and then scampered to the man’s feet. His tongue lolled out. He said he would have run away all over again if it meant this much fun.

I hoped that Simon and Trisha wouldn’t give their real names if he asked. We could have been sued.

“Look, I’m sorry,” I said. “I saw him on the news. I thought they arrested his owner.”

The man held his palm flat and Skipper sat. “I just take care of him,” he said. “You can tell your friends Lionel only borrowed him once. What were you doing with him?”

“We were sending him to the Rescue League,” I said.

The man’s eyes bugged out. “Did you want to kill him?” he said. “You know how many dogs make it out of there?”

I didn’t have the figures on me. I didn’t know how many times I would have to apologize before he took the hint and left us alone. I ground my boot into the concrete.

“Forget it,” he said.

I heard my tail flick. The beagle spun his head around. The man stood on his tiptoes to check behind me. “How’d you get him to follow you?”

I swung my hips around. “He was after my tail,” I said.

The man followed its length and I didn’t dare move. The beagle barked to say, “See? I told you so.”

“I’ll be,” the man said, “Did you make that?”

“I’m borrowing it from a friend,” I said. “It still has a few kinks.”

The man curled his lip and stepped toward me. Simon interrupted him. “We don’t want any trouble,” he said. “Can I offer you some cash?”

The man locked his gaze on me, and I forgot how to run. He ignored Simon and scoured my face over. He leered down my throat. He hurled his palm at me but caught it in mid-air. “Sit!”

My legs buckled and I fell to my knees. The concrete bit into my jeans. I could fight, but he hadn’t laid a finger on me.

He swung his palm toward the power lines. “Up!”

I hopped to my feet. His body was stiff enough to strike any second.

He twisted his palm flat at me. “Wait!”

My mouth clamped shut. Every inch of my flesh tensed. He kept me still until I realized I’d forgotten to breathe.

He snapped his fingers. “Down! Sit!”

I collapsed to the pavement and sucked in all the air I could.

His eye glinted and he smiled at the nice view I gave under him.

“Looks like it works to me,” he said.

Simon and Trisha had their mouths hung open when I looked to them for help. I gathered myself to my feet. My tail rocked side to side, beating in slow time.

Simon shook himself from his trance. He pulled some bills from his pocket and passed them over.

The man stuffed them in his coat and whistled to Skipper. He still had his salty grin. “Get going,” he said. He dug his hand in his sweatpants pocket, right at crotch level.

Simon helped me up and squeezed my hand. Trisha’s camera clicked. “Did you see that?” she said.

“Your tail was behaving,” he said.

I reached for it and it was steady. I shifted my weight left and it bent right.

“The second time he said, ‘Sit,’ it went straight out,” Trisha said. “I swear it was wagging when he said, ‘Up.’”

“He said, ‘Wait,’ and it almost went straight up,” Simon said. “I’m not kidding.”

I planted my hand on the base and rocked my hips slowly. My tail balanced out perfectly. I kept at my swaying, but the rhythm fell off-beat. Soon, my control was gone and it attacked Simon. I ripped out the battery pack. I buried my head into Simon’s chest. “Shit,” I said.

He wrapped an arm around me, and Trisha leaned in to help. “You can do it again,” she said.

Simon’s hot breath tickled my hair. “It’s going to be okay,” he said.

I balled my fists up.

“You need to be in the right head space,” Trisha said. “Do you want to go back to my apartment? I still have all my toys.”

I swallowed. Simon was warm, but his back was tense and it flowed into me. I let him go. “Sure, you wouldn’t mind?” I said. I tapped Simon’s chest. “Do you want to come?”

His eyes darted to Trisha and back to me. “It’s okay,” he said, “I have some papers I need to catch up on. And my room’s a mess. You have fun, though. Let me know how it goes.”

Trisha snagged him for a quick hug. “It was great to see you. We’re still doing Munchkin on Wednesday?”

“Yeah,” he said, but he didn’t hug her back. “We might be missing a player, but it shouldn’t affect anything.”

I saluted him. “I’ll see you around,” I said.

Simon cinched his hoodie tight and gave me a toothy tiger smirk. He turned his back to us and went to his college.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 2 - Summoning.

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