"What's the time?"
"Six. How did he take the Frost news?" he asked, picking burrs from the edge of her skirt.
"Better than I expected, at first, but then he... it wasn't... good."
“Did you get the gooseberry eye?” He mimed it for her. She nodded. “After that, you’ve got about eight seconds before body parts start pinging off the ceiling.”
"I know that now." Susan opened the glovebox before her then tried to cram it shut, too late to stem the flow of wet wipes, hair ties and brightly-cased singalong CDs into her lap. Together they stared down at the alien artifacts, William grimacing as they returned them to their lair.
"This is why I don't steal cars... now I feel like we've got soccer practice, and then we have to pick up Macy and Brianna from ballet." They shuddered together and he smiled, almost hesitantly, though her expression pushed his own back into distress and he drummed a foot on the floor of the car. "Christabel... ishah y'li sidati... I can’t let you go if you’re not dealing with this better than I am.”
"I am." she sighed, digging through the contents of her bag. He watched her, smiling briefly.
“How long will you take to get into Auberjonois once you're in the air?"
“I don't know." she replied absently, looping the strap of her bag over her head. "I'll have to wait for the seatbelt sign." Susan leant across to take his chin in her hand; he closed his eyes while she painted lipstick on his mouth with careful strokes, moving only as she leant forward and kissed the colour onto her own. "We have to go...” She conceded the syllables in exchange for another slow taste of him, her hand loath to relinquish his neck.
Dust flew from their footsteps as they strode across the gravel verge and he stooped to wrench the chain link free of the ground, holding it up for her. Susan rose on the other side, brushing off the sharp stones pressed into her palms, her face beaten colourless by the cold wind. Once more she felt the drag of the ineluctable current that had already borne her so far out into terra incognita that it eroded the very certainty of the ground beneath her feet, the distant, industrial drone clashing with her thoughts like static. Gideon’s aircraft was a sleek work of cold white art upon the tarmac; a fat fuel truck disengaged from it and rolled away slowly, an orange light flashing on the roof of its cab. The plane was larger than her worst expectations but did not approach those far more comforting dimensions of her limited experience, lit softly gold from within, its owner standing in the curve of a doorway set deeply into the fuselage.
“Don't go back to the house." she murmured to William, brushing the dust from her bag. They halted at the foot of the slightly battered set of steps.
"It'll be taped off by now."
“I might never see you again, either... these fucking death traps crash all the...” William lifted a hand to her mouth against the portentous nature of the observation; she took it in her own then between her teeth, and he bent to embrace her. She held him so tightly that his bones began to hurt her arms as Gideon descended the steps toward them, tugging down his cuffs and smoothing a hand over his head. Winding a length of William's hair around her fingers, she yanked it free, closing it in her fist when he set her down and rubbed his head. “If I don’t see you again, I’ll find a witch and curse you. How do you say goodbye?"
"We don't, really. Is Pet with you?" he asked their host, keeping hold of her hand.
"She is inside, asleep already. That colour, it is wonderful on you." Gideon smiled at the faint, wandering shade of coral on his lips. "An you look very lovely tonight, Sussan.” he added, casting an eye over her grimy, blood-spattered person. William crooked a finger at him, to which he smiled again, inquisitive.
“If she tells me that you or anyone else so much as looked at her the wrong way, I’ll neuter your whole sleazy fucking tribe with the same teaspoon. Je suis fucking sincére. T'as intérêt à lui coller aux basques sinon ça va barder pour toi."
“Have no fear. She is in good hands, bijoux... the best hands. You may find she does not want to leave... then what will you do?”
“I just told you, so write it down.”
"Bonsoir, serpent-visage.” Gideon called, fluttering a hand at the warning finger William kept pointed at him as they ascended the steps.
“Bon débarras, grenouille stupide.” the latter replied.
Gideon swept Susan’s luggage from her grasp, shepherding her into the plane before she could further delay their departure. Its interior was a secluded study in dense, bewildering, transplanted luxury, its perfumed air as warm as blood against her face and neck, the curving cabin panels lined with a caramel skin of dappled maple and reclining chairs in black, glove-soft Italian leather. Luc and Étienne sat behind automotive magazines and comics in the rear; they smiled up at her from beneath their headphones. Gazing along the narrow aisle, Susan chose a seat behind the door, the soft squab deflating slowly beneath her as she sank down.
On the tarmac William lifted his T-shirt from his stomach to wipe his streaming eyes, still weeping as he let it fall and walked slowly backward, hands clasped on his head. She pressed her lips to the double pane as Gideon sat down beside her, looking past her shoulder.
“Look at him... crying, comme un grand enfant." he chuckled. “What is this?” She glanced down at the fist imprisoning the hair from William’s head, unfurling her fingers; to her dismay, her palm held only translucent dust, like finely-powdered glass. He tisked. “Per'aps you were holding it too tightly.”
The engines roared on either side of them, pressing her back into the seat, their velocity climbing exponentially and without preamble until the floor tilted away from the tarmac. The jet followed its nose into the air, turning a half-circle over the brightly glowing city and its dark blue arc of hills.
E N D O F P A R T O N E
This chapter is now available to read onsite in its entirety.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce