“What's that called... when you can’t think what the fuck you were just doing? Or if you did it? Starts with D.” she asked, her voice echoing slightly.
“Dissociation.” Edward replied. He glanced at her briefly; her small grey T-shirt and brief skirt emphasized the condition she had begun to lose. “It’s associated with insomnia.”
“Did I say I was dissociative?” she muttered. An inquisitive bird rustled high in the chimney spout, the soot dislodged by its sortie dusting the tiles before the empty hearth. “What if you get a dissociative thing, and when you come out of it you’re on the other side of the house, or like... in the garden, and you don’t know what just happened?”
Edward stood largely in the shade of his own body; the pages cast a little of the daylight back toward his features but in profile they were unintelligible, except to Lilian, who saw his gaze shift in a slightly less methodical manner across the text.
"That's bad, right?"
"A number of discreet conditions involve fugue states and somatic passivity. I’m not a psychiatrist.”
“Susan asked me if she should wear the black thing from the store to your show tonight. Your brother's taking her." She leant back in her chair, letting it rest against the wall. "To your show. You know... the one you’re going to.”
“I’m contractually obliged to attend.”
“I’m contractually obliged to split my fucking take-home with local Vice.” When he maintained his silence she tapped the spoon against the edge of the bowl. “You just fucking get along to that thing, Lamb... pat some scrawny ass, suck it in for the paps, make like you're not getting intrusive thoughts about spreader bars. Opal'll love you for it, she’ll book you a whole bunch of gigs just like it and I can go get a real fucking job.”
“You told me you had no intention of ever attending anything like that. You were very specific about it.” Edward reminded her, folding the paper over and dropping it next to the three he had already digested before selecting another.
“Fuck no, I didn’t want to go back then. Now I do.”
“You also said something about loathing everything associated with art.”
“And you gave me the idea that you weren’t a hustling bitch who’d sell my ass out first chance you got.” She regarded him bitterly from her chair. “So when you’re done blowing Opal for one more fucking C note or whatever, ask yourself how flush you feel.”
“I would prefer you stayed here tonight.”
"Are you out of your mind?" Lilian demanded, incredulous. "What am I, your butterface shamefuck? Lock it up til you want to get it wet? Give it to me straight, Lamb, right now, or I swear I’ll be gone when you get back.”
He looked up from his paper.
“It’s not your reputation that keeps me from taking this public. It’s mine.”
With her pale eyes intent on his Lilian sat still for short while, then stood, firing the bowl at the skirting board as she remembered its weight in her hand. On the landing Susan held her tongue as she stalked past and a moment later observed the other party disappearing into the garage, waiting for the sound of Edward’s vehicle to recede along the drive before descending into the passage that led toward his library.
It took a great deal of her courage to brave his private station, its black desk and chair seeming almost to impersonate him in the static, watchful seclusion. The narrow panes of glazing stood aloof; she gazed around herself, rubbing her fingers together before dragging the chair out from behind the desk and setting it carefully before the shelving. At the very edge of her reach one of the small compartments yielded; she took down the closest volume and cradled its heather-brown and half-defeated binding in both hands.
The pages, far more ancient even than its protective shell, revealed the xylographic text and woodcut illustration of an incunabula, the stiff paper shedding pale matter from its ragged edges onto the inside of her wrists. It was a bestiary, peopled with a catalogue of smiling, bright-eyed chimeras, thorny bears, monoceri, purple goats, golden, horned, hybrid panthers and sardonic basilisks, accorded their enduring colours by hand. Scowling at the rubricated Latin she confined herself to a study of the images, though no anthropomorphi stood amongst them, no vampyres or werebeasts nor anything resembling the brothers' own confounding order. On discovering her William stood for a short while in his amusement, then crossed the room behind her on bare feet and breathed a short remark into her ear.
“Certa amittimus dum incerta petimus.”
Susan exclaimed and began to totter, dropping the incunabula. He caught it in a puff of dust.
"Stop doing that!" she hissed, keeping her voice low. As her face regained its colour she ignored his proffered hand, bending at the knees until they were of equal stature to peruse his features from that novel perspective. "One of your eyes is completely different to the other, like you were made from different bits..."
"I think we were." he confessed. She sighed, opening the volume he had handed back to her and flipping speculatively through its pages.
“That is incredibly creepy. What do you think you are, scientifically?”
His expression became dry and weary.
"A rose by any other name, in the dark, still walks in beauty or whatever. I am open to being captured and handled by Sir David Attenborough, but I wouldn’t let anyone else do it.” He smiled again. “Present company excluded.”
“What do you want, then? I’m busy.”
“I don’t know a Philip.”
“My spectacular folicular technician.” He rolled his eyes. “He does hair. Sort of... now, so come on.”
“What’s wrong with my hair? You're hurting my brain. I don’t like arty things... can we not just stay in and watch a movie?”
He took her hand as she stepped down and began to drag her from the room, then along the corridor outside; she muttered to herself as he shepherded her before him up the stairs.
“Pink elastic.” he remarked, abstractly, until she discerned the subject of his observation and slapped her skirt against the back of her legs with both hands, stepping against the wall so that he was forced to precede her. “At least you’re wearing some." he laughed. "I had no such good fortune when you violated my personal sanctity at gunpoint.”
“If I'd known that I would have turned the bloody thing on myself." Susan assured him.
Against her private expectations, Philip the friseur presented as a tall, scrupulously gym-fit man of forty in a fitted, wet-look T-shirt, the limpid black fabric embracing both the barbells in his nipples and the impressive girth of his toast-brown biceps. Wraithlike, sculpted sideburns descended from a fauxhawk of the same pale shade. He awaited them in William’s ensuite bathroom with his kit bags and glossy, transparent apron, the stern centrepiece in a scene of unimpeachable professionalism. Philip smiled for William as he ushered Susan into the chamber, but greeted the latter with an undisguised lack of enthusiasm.
“You know I’m always here for you... why make me regret it?” he sighed in an aside, eyes sliding in Susan’s direction as the latter sat on the edge of the bath. Pushing William down into the kitchen chair he began to draw handfuls of the latter's parti-coloured mane toward himself, bemoaning its amateur modification. “I could put a thousand homosexual hours into this mess and a day later you’d be back to ghetto homefried.” Philip turned to look at Susan accusingly. “Did you do this? Friends don’t let friends go Midnite Madder.”
“She’s completely innocent, and it was Wicked Cherry anyway.” William chewed his finger absently. “Wicked Cherry, Nuclear Red... and okay, maybe there was a drunken Midnite Madder incident.”
“Lucky you're a gruesome freak of nature that grows hair like nothing should.”
Susan looked up at the remark and then at William, who smiled tranquilly.
“Christabel... what do you want done?” he inquired, squinting as his head was bent forward and his hair combed out with a punitive hand.
“I wouldn’t mind a decent haircut.” she murmured, returning Philip’s glance. “If you do those.”
“You know, she sounds like Midnite Madder.” the technician decided. Laying back his head and staring up at him, William succeeded in softening Philip's expression, the capitulation manifested in his handling of the comb. “Speaking of female ruination... I heard someone had to peel that Rachelle Whateley off your slutty sectors in front of a hundred weeping innocents. Why do I now feel the need to scrub myself so intensively?”
“Rumours of my participation are exaggerated.”
“Have you seen her lately? Don’t go looking is all I’ll say...”
“Why?” Susan inquired.
“My god, she’s been on a hyper sci fi bender since this here weaned her off the panty pork.” Philip warmed to his subject, shaking out a black dye cape and laying it carefully over William’s shoulders. “Dickmatized right off the deep end. Opal La Rue’s ready to choke a bitch... all that time she spent corn-feeding that trainwreck... can you imagine? Where was I? Oh yeah... she cut Rachelle’s ass off cold when all the bills came back to her... ice cold. So then Rachelle brings it with the plastic rampage until those camel toes at D&G cut up her last card, in front of everyone...” He winced tightly. “I had to throw her out of Salon Philip, which is a shame... fabulous natural body. Just fabulous. If she dies with that rogue weave on her head I will kill her all over again for going into the light looking like something waxed right off a taint in Reykjavík.” He began to mix up the colourant in a little black bowl. “It’s bad, but it’s epic bad, so you can’t complain.” Susan’s expression contradicted him. "Bitch please... don’t give me some vaginal monologue about how much you love Rachelle... you don’t. That sensation you’re experiencing is pleasure. You love what I just told you. Love it.” Philip assured her. “My sources confirmed she beat down her therapist with a lampstand when he tried to ease up her prescription shit... which I guess downgrades her from troubled heiress to crazy crack whore. Oh the humanity.” With William’s hair wrapped into clingfilm, Philip turned his attention toward Susan, who took the chair and frowned into the mirror. “I know... why don't you just tell me what to do?” he suggested.
Despite the declaration it did not take Philip long to devise the treatment she required, nor did it impair his ability to impart the lurid foibles of his diverse clientele. The timer presiding over William chimed an end to his confinement and he reached in to wrestle with the taps over the bath tub while Susan’s colour was concluded. She frowned again at the distinctive sound of garments being shed onto the tiles.
“Is he taking his clothes off again?” she demanded, bringing a hand up to the side of her face.
“Oh god, won't someone do something?" Philip sighed, shaking his head as he enjoyed the shower curtain's nominal opacity. "So, so nasty."
“Have you finished this?” she sighed, pointing to her own head. Philip shrugged, noncommital, and she ducked out of the bathroom.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce