Sunday, April 11, 2010


You become aware of them one at a time, as if a spotlight were cast upon them. Their forms are not clear to you; it is nothing like observing the objects as they are conveyed individually into your field of vision. The seven objects emerge into your consciousnesses as ideals. A long bone. A lock with no key. A battle helmet. A wire. A gown. A blade. And a mirror.

"Iha ma!" Irene cried all out of cadence. Their harmony fell apart – "sha phor bfudh mudh rash aau bfath!" she cried – and was replaced by a new union of voices, a chorus of hisses and aspirations rising from Irene's throat and lips, modulated into word-like sounds.

Peter tore his eyes open and looked to Irene.

In her place, there was a dimly lit and unfamiliar bedside. Beyond that, there was an open door, and a toilet. The world was groggy and muffled, Peter felt dry. His mouth felt stuffed with cotton. Peter tried to lift his body from the covers, but his elbow gave out and he collapsed. He hit the bed again and discovered that his mouth really had been filled with gauze. Failing to push it out with his own tongue, Peter pulled at it with clumsy fingers. Again he felt the steed creeping up his arms.

Something else touched him. He turned to face the threat.

"Peter-ji!" Bhakti exclaimed. Lightning flash from outside lit the window behind her. There was no steed. "You’re alive!" Bhakti cried excitedly. "My God, let me see you!" she demanded as she pressed a hand uncomfortably into Peter’s face and set about checking the size of his pupils.

"O mata-ji!" Peter wept. Their harmony fell apart – "Rishi Lopamudra das-se path par bhayatak!" he cried – and was replaced by a dissonance, a cacophony of voices in different languages, tripping over one another's elocutions, rhythms, and syllabaries.

Irene forced her words into the air even louder. The attempt to project the truer syllables of Irene’s own secret tongue failed, washed away in the thunder of voices. The languages clashed and fused into a racket, a rumbling of destruction utterly unlike music or song. Antlers clattered, wood creaked, waves crashed, explosions, a crowd roared.

Sudden silence. Irene felt the cushioned seat of the couch gather between her tense shoulder blades. In her hands was the long, tooth-like mirror. She touched her forehead and opened her eyes. Wasn't she meant to be in a chair? In a lightning flash, she recognized Peter's flat on Frederichstrasse, and in the space between the peels of thunder, she heard a song drifting in the stairwell from somewhere below.

Mademoiselle from Armetieres 'Parley voo'
Mademoiselle from Armetieres 'Parley voo'
She got the palm and Croiz de Guerre
For washing soldier's underwear
Hinky dinky 'Parley voo.'

Alexandr was not there.

Cautiously, Irene sat and watched. A measure of light from the street lamps below rose into the flat, but it was not enough to make out forms, only movement. It was quite cold and the window was open. Water had pooled on the floor beneath.

The lip of Irene's purse, set neatly by the table near the couch, bulged, and out came the mouse.


  1. Peter swatted Bhakti's well-meaning hands away. A sudden surge of adrenaline enabled him to bolt upright as a flash of lightning briefly turned night to day.



    "Did it follow us??"

    His unfocused eyes scanned the room wildly.

  2. Irene dropped the mirror as if it were red hot and looked around the room with wary, befuddled eyes.

    In the absence of any human face, that tiny, twitching nose and inquisitive eyes were like the visage of an old friend. Irene smiled slowly, as if uncertain that she remembered how to curve her lips into a happy expression, and then scooted gently towards the table. Leaning forward, she extended a trembling hand to the tiny gray creature that had probably made quite a mess in her purse.

    "Where is everyone?" she asked her little companion. Her voice came out rough and dry, and immediately Irene turned her head and coughed into her shoulder. Not only was her throat sore, it was very dry. It took a few deliberate swallows to take away the unpleasant itchiness.

    Irene stroked the mouse gently between its ears and tried to get her bearings. Where was Alexandr, her supposedly faithful watchman? She must have been "gone" for quite some time if he had moved her to the couch and left her alone—that is, she was assuming he had been the one to place her there. But surely she had not missed more than a few hours. Right?

    At last, Irene rose to her feet, bones cracking and muscles aching. Her right leg was numb, so she had to drag it along as she shuffled awkwardly to the door. Every so often she winced as the prickling sensation inched up towards her thigh, but eventually she threw the door open and leaned gratefully against the frame.

    Gathering all her strength, she took a deep breath and shouted: "Alexandr! Klaus! Katya! Someone, please!"