GH Monday: Day 02 Scene 04
Max Beaumont (m) & Wooster
The next morning, after only a little more than four hours of sleep, I woke up a man. I’d have been exhausted anyway, on so little sleep, but the gender change only made my tiredness worse. I sat up, running my hand over the newly formed stubble on my jaw. The temptation to go back to bed was overwhelming and but I knew that if I didn’t show up for work by ten, I’d lose my job and probably any chance of working as a mage in this city ever again. I struggled to my feet, dislodging Wooster, who’d spent the night as always, pressed firmly against my side with his chin resting on my stomach. I didn’t fancy my chances at cadjin work. As a qualified mage, what would I be good for? Flipping burgers, serving fancy coffees? I didn’t think my people skills would even stretch to a job at McDonalds. All mages are reasonably antisocial, but even by their standards, I was a loner.
It was nine o’clock and I had time to take Wooster for a quick walk before breakfast. Frankly, a walk was the only thing that was going to keep me from falling back on that bed and falling back into a stunned sleep. I quickly dressed in thermals. My style is necessarily tomboy, the only way I can avoid buying two wardrobes full of clothes, and winter imposed its own style limits. I wrapped a scarf around my neck, put on my coat and hat, pulled on my boots and headed outside, Wooster eager at my heels.
It was freezing, my legs immediately chilled by the wind. Wooster seemed oblivious, happily skittering through the snow like a lamb, his ears flopping as he leaped. I followed him as best I could, picking my way cautiously through icy sidewalks not yet cleared. The storm had come on a Sunday night and only know where shopkeepers getting round to shovelling and salted. The ones I cursed where those who’d partially cleared, but not salted, leaving a thin slick of ice across the red brick for me to skate across. The completely unshovelled walks were fine, my boots protecting me as I trudged knee deep through them.
The roads had been cleared overnight and salted and the usual Monday morning rush had Harvard Square clogged. Commuters were heading into the T station, bundled up in quilted coats and waterproof boots. It was hard to tell male from female, we were all so rounded by our layers, only our noses and eyes visible. Wooster amused himself by sticking his head in every snowbank, burying himself up to the neck. He retreated from one with a gelatine worm, three inches long, which he proceeded to wolf down, looking up at me with guilty eyes as though he expected me to take it from him. I ignored him, what harm was a sweet going to do him?
I found the undertaker’s ghost, and my first task of the day, on the corner of the Coop bookstore. He was a tall, lean man with a long face and a warm smile, dressed formally in black and a top hat. The city paid me to keep his haunting going; they’re proud of their ghosts, or some of them at least. Proud that the city is old enough to have ghosts and, in the same way that the older European cities do, they keep several as tourist attractions.
My job was to make sure the ghost had enough magic about him to maintain his haunting. I unslung my backpack and retrieved a small tube of magic, its contents glistening green and gold. I’d been able to replenish my supply during the previous night’s storm, before the blizzard and the ghosts had grown too thick for me to focus on anything else. I took the ghost’s daiman, a piece of his knuckle bone slung on a leather cord around his neck, and used tweezers to coax strands of the magic from my tube into the sigils. The magic crackled beneath my fingers. The sigils weren’t mine, of course, this was an old spell, first cast over a hundred years ago. It occurred to me that the spell and the spell-maker were as much a part of the city’s history as the undertaker, but there you go. Mages make terrible ghosts, they’re too powerful and too often become demonic. I returned the daiman to the undertaker, the spell recharged by the new magic, and he gave me a polite bow, and handed me one of his calling cards, black-edged, adorned with grinning skulls and emblazoned with the reassuring words, Memento Mori. At least it wasn’t an invitation to a funeral, which he sometimes hands out. I never know which is sadder, the invitations to real funerals to be held that day, or those of funerals long past, the mourners long since mourned themselves.
The commuters pushed past us, intent only of getting to work as fast as possible, climbing over the snow banks to cross the road. I left the undertaker and made my way through Harvard Yard, where Wooster could run around, free of the cars and crowds. The Out of Town newsstand had been turned into an igloo in last night’s storm, its magazines and signs hidden beneath thick walls of ice bricks. A trio of grey-uniformed storm-fighters were sweating over it, trying to melt the ice with sung chants, but the igloo walls were strong with magic and it clearly wasn’t going to be an easy job.
They’d cordoned it off with yellow police caution tape and we had to cross the road further up, a police officer guiding us.
“What I want to know,” a man with a slight accent was angrily demanding of the policeman, “Is when they melt the f***ing igloo am I going to end up with just a puddle of ice? Or is my shop still in there, somewhere?”
“You’ll have to ask a storm-fighter, sir,” the policeman said, distantly, waving me on to cross. Harvard Yard was an oasis of quiet. The only students who were up were building snowmen and snowforts. One enterprising lot where attempting a snow castle. The paths, of course, were immaculately cleared, white with salt. Wooster frolicked happily, before stopping to poop. I sighed, picked it up with a doggie bag and deposited it in a nearby bin.
“Come on,” I told him. “I want some breakfast before I have to start work again.”
We headed back through the Square. There was a small group of homeless men and women clustered outside the T station and I wondered where they’d spent the night, remembering the homeless man’s corpse and ghost I’d chanced upon on the Common. I headed into Starbucks for a coffee, Wooster and I dripping wet snow onto the already slick floor. I asked for a tall Americano, clarified that I’d said tall, not two, then also ordered a venti latte and a blueberry muffin. The place was busy, as always, but the baristas were efficient and I was soon heading back out again.
I passed by the homeless woman who sat on a low wall near the coffee shop every day, unless it was raining or snowing, when she would take shelter in the entrance to the Coop bookshop. As always, she had her embroidery out, the silks carefully stored in plastic carrier bags, so they couldn’t get wet from the snow. She was filthy, her hair a matted mess, dressed in thick, layers of dull-coloured clothes, but her embroidery was pristine, the colours bright against the white cloth. As was my habit I placed the venti latte, with several packets of sugar, and the blueberry muffin on the wall next to her. She didn’t look up, she never did look up, not even when someone placed money in the empty Starbucks cup beside her, in which resided a handful of loose change.
It was what I liked about her, her determination to get on with her embroidery, her clear dislike for any attention. Around her, the other homeless people were getting ready for the day, writing out their signs on clean pieces of cardboard, jokes and sob stories equally split amongst them. As I carried on my way, I turned back to see that she had picked up the coffee, opening the lid to add the sugar. I returned to the gloom of my basement flat. It was a good location, but I hated living underground and was determined to move when my twelve month lease was up.
My stubble was irritating me, so I shaved, then made porridge for breakfast; at least, I made oatmeal which was the closest thing to porridge I could find in America, thicker cut, but if you bought the quick cook kind, it was not too coarse. I sweetened it liberally with honey and fed Wooster his kibble - an extravagant illusion, but it makes him happy. It was too late for any TV news, so I contented myself with the newspapers I had delivered every day to my iPad. Wooster sat at my feet, hoping that porridge was something I would share with him (it wasn’t). In the Times, I read the story of a four year old boy whose mummified corpse had been found in his cot, almost two years after he starved to death. He was dressed in baby clothes that still fit him, so stunted was his growth by malnutrition.
In the Boston Globe, the news was all of the storm, including photos of cars buried, only their windscreen wipers poking through the drifts, of children sledging in Danehy Park, of weary snowplough drivers who’d worked through the night. A few thousand homes were without power, the snow bringing down lines, but mostly in more rural areas. To the disappointment of many children, it wasn’t a snow day, though many schools were opening later to accommodate any delays there may be on the roads. In the same spirit, the state government was opening at ten. Which reminded me, I was going to be late to work, if I didn’t get going. I checked my phone, but there was already a text there from the Chief.
- Don’t report to HQ. Go straight to Harvard Square T. Ghost there.
Well, in that case, I had time to brush my teeth, reading some more of the Times as I did so.
“Nazis bred giant rabbits to make troops’ fluffy uniforms,” the headline ran. Well, it made a change from starving children and snow.
© Essie Gilbey, 2014
© Essie Gilbey, 2014