==> Rose: Put up with your mother's ironic attempt at being parent-friends.
When Mom Lalonde got into one of her ironically parental moods, Rose reflected, one was never quite sure what one was in store for. Getting their ears pierced together, getting manicures (and what, Rose wondered, was the purpose of getting a ten year old a manicure?) going automobile shopping... Rose couldn't help but shake her head at the memory of her mother haggling over an original Volkswagon Beetle (rose red, "The perfect color!" she'd gushed) that had been lovingly restored to near mint condition by an aging hippie. It even had the original bud vase mounted to the dashboard. Rose's mother paid cash for the car then and there, an alarmingly thick wad of bills passing from her perfectly manicured hands to the older man's grizzled and scarred hands. The first accessory purchased for the car, on the trip home, was a single white rosebud, summarily placed into the aforementioned incongruous bud vase with care.
"Some old friends of mine are in town," Roxy said as she bundled Rose into the Beetle and slammed the door just a little too enthusiastically. "I'd so like you to meet them, I'm sure you'll have lots in common. One of them is Kirk Morrison who's something of a famous author, perhaps you've heard of him? Plus, learning to network is a core life skill and it's never too early to start!"
Rose cast a row of neat purple yarn onto one of her needles, noting the backwards loops absently while mentally calculating how many years separated her and her mother's college drinking buddies. Sure. Lots in common. Sounds like fun. Was it polite to admit to an allegedly famous author that one had never heard of him, or should she lie and say that she'd just picked up his latest novel and was still reading it? Decisions, decisions. The Beetle took a speed pillow rather faster than the posted limit, causing the wilted and browning flower blossom to bob up and down from its perch upon the dashboard, nodding almost mockingly in Rose's direction.
Rather than one of the ironically hip hole-in-the-wall coffee bars staffed by college students with too many tattoos that Rose was often dragged to, she found herself pleasantly surprised by the familiar green-and-white awning of a chain coffee shop that her mother ordinarily avoided at all costs. "Perhaps she has been studying remedial irony from Dave's older brother," Rose wondered, then promptly strangled the thought as she drew the next row on her needles a bit too tightly. The idea of her mother and Dave's Bro' chatting was more disturbing than she was willing to consider, if the tales Dave regaled her with were even fractionally true. If nothing else they had coffee drinks more to her liking and, it appeared, some new confections in the glass display case.
"Kiiiiiiirrrrrrrk! O rex regum, o rex vulgus, how ARE you? Come here!"
The carefully sculpted mask of detached boredom Rose ordinarily cultivated while on one of her mother's excursions slipped, fell, and shattered on the coffee-stained tile floor as the apparition across the room caught her eye. A mad mop of frizzy red hair, too pale to have come from a bottle and adorned with handfuls of little black hairclips, bright green eyes, and a thick layer of white foundation forming a mask atop pale olive skin. The woman curled on the wooden chair looked to Rose for all the world as if she'd leaped through the front window of a thrift store and escaped out the back wearing whatever articles of clothing had clung: A brown corderoy blazer, a brilliant pink blouse with white lace frills, voluminous jeans hacked off just below the knee, a wide leather belt with a silver and jade belt buckle, mismatched striped stockings, tight-looking knitted gloves with the fingertips cut off, half-moon reading glasses and new looking sneakers. The woman deliberately dropped her empty cup on a nearby table and blinked inquisitively at Rose.
Comparatively, the odd-looking woman's companion appeared almost mundane at first glance. Jeans, white t-shirt with a bull's eye pattern stencilled on the front, motorcycle boots, worn leather jacket. A cluster of pins was fastened to the lapel of the leather jacket, multicolored images that Rose couldn't decipher at a distance and one button that appeared to be blank. Fine fuzz on the man's shaven head skimmed the light as his head turned. Moving with deceptive speed he crossed the coffee shop with long strides and crushed Rose against her mother's leg as he embraced them both. Rose noted that the man's coat smelled acrid, something like ashes and a little like petroleum of some kind, maybe lighter fluid. "Roxy! You brought little Rose with you!" he said with a Scottish burr. "It's so good to see you again - and good to meet you, of course, Rose."
The man stood and held her mother at arm's length, one callused hand on either shoulder. "How goes the watch? Holding down the fort for us in the Colonies?"
"Colonies indeed, Kirk. Colonies indeed. As for my observations, they proceed apace. I think you'll find this new data relevant to your ongoing project..."
Before her mother could start one of her lectures on the topic of astrophysics Rose took the opportunity to practice something else she'd watched her mother do from time to time. She cleared her throat sharply but not loudly (or so she hoped) and spoke in measured tones. "Sir, I shall admit that I know nothing of you, but I'll thank you to not call me 'little'. I'm quite aware of both my age and relative lack of experience when compared to yourself or my mother, and there is little need to remind me of this fact."
There are pauses and there are pregnant pauses. The latter made its presence felt.
The man crouched before Rose, pale blue eyes seeking and meeting hers. Rose felt her resolve quiver and she broke eye contact, studying the thin gold hoops through the man's lower lip, left eyebrow and both ears instead. What was it her classmates had said about men wearing earrings in their right ears? What did it mean if he had both ears pierced? She made a mental note to look it up later. Later, as in as soon as possible, as in please get me out of here...
To her surprise the older man chuckled gently. "Well, well, well, you are indeed a chip off the old block. Sharp as a razor and cutting right to the quick. You'll go far, Rose, just you see. Take after your guardian, you do."
"Go on, Rosie," her mother said, gently pushing her toward the table, "sit down and I'll get you something. I'm sure that you and Robin will have lots to talk about! Kirk and I have some catching up to do."
"Well," Rose told herself, "Kirk didn't seem so bad." She found herself taking tentative steps toward the unusual looking woman whose gaze, as far as she could determine, had never left her.
Rose deposited her neatly coiled knitting atop the small circular table and climbed into an unoccupied chair with a hop. Seated, she reached for the ball of yarn and needles, took them in hand, and set to work on a new row of neat stitches. Still as a statue, the woman's eyes silently tracked each loop of yarn as Rose added them to the course, then began a new one in the opposite direction, followed by a third.
The woman's voice, clear as a bell with an unfamiliar accent split the silence and gave pause to Rose's fingers mid-stitch. "Hi, I'm Ragged Robin. I'm nuts."
Eyes left yarn and engaged the jade orbs once more. "Indeed," she said quietly, and completed the course without looking down.
Ragged Robin's eyebrows made high arches, causing minute cracks to appear in the foundation on her forehead and ruining the masklike effect of the makeup. Rose practiced a gesture she'd once seen on an old television show and uneasily raised a single eyebrow. Robin opened her eyes comically wide, green discs adrift in black pools of eyeshadow and mascara within a vast, white expanse. When she spoke the older woman's voice wasn't mad at all, instead it sounded level and clear, with none of the shrill notes or quavering that movies and television had advised Rose such a person would speak with. "Tell your future, little girl? I'm told I'm quite accurate. And yes, 'indeed' is exactly the word I'd use. Slightly less sarcasm, though, unless you want me to weave you another fate."
For a long moment the only audible sounds above the hissing of espresso machines were the knitting needles clutched in Rose's hands clicking and the grinding of her teeth.
Robin picked up the empty cardboard cup, stained with dark brown coffee and smears of cherry red lipstick, and gestured with it toward Rose. The rim of the cup bobbed in time with each word: "You don't /have/ to listen to me, you're much more interested in your knitting project there. In fact, I'd bet you'd much rather be at home right now leafing through the books your mother keeps in the bookcase in the living room beneath the stairs." Robin's fingers sprang open and the cup dropped back to the table. "The ones you keep picking up and putting back down. Tell you what: Let me talk and you can listen or not as you please? Fair?"
The knitting needles froze in mid-purl. "You must know my mother decently well to know about that. How long ago did you first come to know her, if you don't mind my prying?"
"I don't mind. After all, I just offered to pry into your future. Kirk," she gestured at the bald man paying the barista with a single bill and dropping the wad of change into the tipjar, "and I met her in college a few years before you were born and we became quite good friends. We went our separate ways, as friends often do after graduation but we kept in touch."
"I give you license to hypothesize about my impending demise, or whatever it is that tickles your fancy. I shall continue to practice knitting. Consider that your cue to astound and amaze me."
The older woman reached beneath the circular table and pulled an absurdly large handbag crocheted from rainbow colored yarn into her lap. The shoulder strap looked as if it had been fashioned from a slightly frayed canvas belt of some kind, with uneven rows of grommets at regular intervals up and down its length. Robin reached inside with both hands and rummaged around the bag's contents, giving Rose brief glimpses of torn paperback books, a fist sized coil of parachute cord, an aged television remote control, and a dessicated apple core before extracting a scuffed cardboard box. Lidless, she dumped a stack of pasteboard cards into one hand, squared them, and slapped them carelessly upon the tabletop. "Cut."
Rose carefully trapped her free needle beneath her thumb, picked up the upper half of the deck of cards between thumb and forefinger, and gingerly set them down on the table as if she feared they might explode. Fluorescent light skittered across the brown and tan print on the back of the topmost card, diamonds within diamonds within leaf-shapes and bubbles around the edge. As the final card fell to rest a soft scratching sound seemed to ripple through the coffee shop, neatly evading conversation and conversant alike to perch and bloom behind Rose's eyes. Once when very small, Rose had tumbled head over heels down the front staircase and landed face-first upon the marble floor. The pain behind her eyes and dripping from her nose felt very similar.
"You're bleeding," Robin said conversationally as she snatched the deck up, squared the cards with great precision, and proceeded to deal three cards face-up, scarcely touching the pasteboards as she did so. "This," she said, flicking the card with a nail bitten down to the quick, "is where you came from."
As Rose fumbled her knitting and the ball of yarn up to her face to staunch the nosebleed the face of the card, depicting an ornate grandfather clock drawn in purple and gold caught her sight. "You came to be at precisely the right time, though it remains to be seen if it was in the correct way or not. More's the point, you arrived just when everything either could or could not have changed. Everything's going to change soon, and you're in the right place at the right time."
"Forgive my skepticism," Rose began, her voice muffled by the wad of swiftly reddening fiber, "but everything constantly changes around us. You merely state the obvious while neglecting to charge me a sum for listening to your fifty cent sentence structure."
Robin's middle fingertip came to rest on the center card and brushed it across the table toward Rose. Two strangely colored figures clasped hands in the image, seemingly joined by or pivoting around a lozenge of white light. "Ace of Wands. Right now. You've made a recent discovery which will kindle something within you, if you let it. If you make it a part of you, you'll reap great benefits later on, and even success."
Abandoning pretense, Rose stared over the bridge of her nose at the clownfaced woman crouched on the opposite chair. She let the wreckage of her knitting project fall into her lap. "I'm learning to knit, Brigadier General Perception."
The woman snickered somewaht unkindly, giving Rose the distinct impression that she was laughing at her own expense. "Brigadier General? My, it would appear that my powers of prognostication have been rewarded with a promotion skyward on the ecceladder! Pray tell, o captain my captain, what new and fresh responsibilities shall be required of me?" Removing her spectacles with a theatrical flourish she used the earpiece on one side to push the third card Roseward across the table. Abandoning her own pretense of tomfoolery, she tapped the final illustration, an orange figure with what appeared to be moth wings sprouting from its back kneeling in a puddle of blue. A vague figure wearing what appeared to be a uniform or armor gazed up at Rose from the cerulean liquid. "The Tower. Least beloved trump of the family. The thunderclap that heralds the moment when everything changes. The explosion, if you like, with yourself standing at the epicenter."
Deliberately, Rose slid her bamboo knitting needles from the row of stitches in her now-ruined knitting and crumpled the blood-sticky yarn in both hands. "Well. I can scarcely contain my horror and enthusiasm garnered from gazing upon the shape of things to come. Can you not envision me skipping for joy as I consider my ultimate destiny? It would seem that my esteemed progenitor..." Rose pointed daintily over her shoulder in the general direction of her mother with her knitting needles. She didn't need to turn to know that her mother had palmed a minute silver flask from her handbag while dropping her car keys inside and was surreptitiously pouring amber liquid from it into her coffee along with the contents of two packets of artificial sweetener. "...was right about one thing: I do have something in common with you. A mutual admiration for the craft of wordsmithing to conceal sentiments we would rather not have to waste time and breath defending."
With deliberate slowness, Robin shuffled the three cards back into the deck, sleeved the deck once more, and dropped it back into her shoulder bag. "Sharp wit and a tongue to match. Tell me, did you learn that from those books also, or do you and your mother verbally fence come sunrise and sunset to perfect your skill? I wonder if such a rapier wit could draw blood given half a chance. Care to find out?"
This time, Rose's eyebrow arched perfectly. "Are you challenging me?"
In way of reply Ragged Robin leaned forward and plucked one of the knitting needles from Rose's lap. Sitting back on the wooden chair once more she grasped the blunt end of the needle in her fist and studied the slender bamboo rod, Rose's blood having soaked into the grain. "It's funny how much knitting needles resemble magick wands, don't you think? You can use just about anything for a wand if you believe hard enough in it. Genesis P. Orridge once said that your dick was a magick wand if you knew how to use it properly."
Rose snorted and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand. "You're worse than Dave. Not only do you have absolutely no scruples against talking to ten year old girls about dicks," she said pointedly, "but you're so hung up on wooden surrogate phalli that you believe you wield both forest and trees with both hands."
Ragged Robin's face turned grave as the barb struck home. She rest her elbows on her knees and steepled her fingers, trapping the knitting needle between parallel rows of fingertips. The hair on the back of Rose's neck stood erect and did its damndest to salute as Robin began rocking back and forth on the chair, chanting... something. Something not words, not a sentence, but a sound like an enraged animal throwing itself against the bars of its cage, a language that made Rose's eyelashes itch with a cadence like a steak knife sawing through someone's larnyx. Robin's face was utterly flat, perfectly emotionless as she ranted in the not-language. Rose noted that the background noise of the coffee shop had utterly vanished. Popping to her feet she cast her gaze around in panic - surely somebody was paying attention to this lunatic, her mother was on the other side of the shop, she should go she should...
Nobody in the shop was paying the slightest attention to them. Adults sitting in stylishly worn overstuffed chairs paged through the local paper, college students living on their parents' money sat hunched at their too-small circular tables raptly gazing into their Palm Pilots and laptop computers. Children younger than Rose clung to their parents' hands while they stood in line at the counter. Her mother.. her mother and the bald man stood laughing silently at the side of the counter, where they kept cuplets of creamer, stirring sticks, and napkins, sharing some joke no doubt.
"See that? That's nothing."
Ragged Robin grinned ferally at Rose, eye to eye, flat white nose to smeary red nose. She spoke in a child's singsong voice: "Would you like to find out for yourself, or are you merely content to pass through life reading books but knowing nothing at all because you have no actual experience?"
Unwilling to back down, Rose climbed back into the chair and sat crosslegged, aping Ragged Robin's pose. "So, you challenge me to touch the brow, and plunge my hand into the side, to feel blood and water pour forth from the wound? I simply can't control myself; I must have a weakness for insufferable pricks. Challenge accepted."
Robin made a sound not quite a snort, closer to a bark than a laugh. "Hold the other needle in your dominant hand like this," she said as she tucked the knob of the knitting needle between her first and middle fingers so it rest against the base of her thumb. "Use your thumb to brace your fingers."
Rose did this, noting the gunlike shape her hand made. "What were the words you spoke? I didn't understand them."
Robin ignored her. "When you chant, you need to put everything you have into every single word. Breathe through your skin and let each word fill your chest until you can feel it inside you. Think only of the word you're vibrating, not breathing, not the next word, only this one. Then vibrate the next in the same way."
"Think only.. madness." Rose sighed. How does her mother meet these aliens, anyway?
Robin's fingertip touched the point of Rose's knitting needle and pushed until she held it vertical. "You asked. It takes a little practice but you'll get the hang of it. Promise. 'Oglogoth'."
Rose repeated the word, wondering vaguely if she'd heard it someplace before.
Ragged Robin carefully sounded seven other... Rose couldn't call them words, properly. They were sounds just barely utterable by a person, but they possessed a timbre and rhythm unique in themselves. Rose repeated them as clearly as she could but they felt unfamiliar as she spoke, like sitting in a dentist's chair with all manner of surgical tools in her mouth.
"Good. Fantastic. Now vibrate them like I showed you. Reach way down into your stomach, breathe through your skin, and sound them. Let the words shake your ribs and burst out through your mouth."
Rose attempted this and found herself gasping for breath before the end of the third word, then broke into a dry cough.
"Lift your hands over your head, it'll help. Not a bad first try. You ran out of air too soon, but you'll get it. Give it another try, only... go for duration on each word, not force. Make them whole notes if it'll help. Yes, make each word a whole note."
"Remember, nobody here can hear us. Or is more than faintly aware that we're here. Besides, you couldn't possibly look any more dumb than I did."
Rose made another attempt at sounding the words, tapping her foot to keep time as if she was practicing her violin. She found herself out of breath again, but halfway through the final word this time. No choking or gasping, either. Small victories.
"Good... good...." Robin nodded sagely as she spoke, absently tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she did so. "You're getting there. Give it another go with the same technique. Take a minute to center yourself, get your breath back. Take a few deep breaths, it'll help."
Crouched on the hard wooden chair for many long minutes, Rose was vaguely aware of how her knees and ass were beginning to smart. "I started it, I may as well finish it," she mused and began to breathe the way Ragged Robin instructed her, riding the ache with each inhalation. Droplets of sweat broke out upon her forehead and beneath her hairband. She ignored them as they trickled over her skin. Pulling a final breath she used it to intone each sound, feeling it resonate within her lungs and vibrating her teeth like the branches of a tree in a windstorm. "OGLOGOTH BEJADOZ JAFRI QEDRAD HEV RENCEB SEGWAR BE HASPU..." This time it felt correct somehow. Like she'd stumbled into the right combination of variables and technique and everything had fallen into place just this once and spooled on and on and on.
In retrospect Rose wasn't quite sure why she forgot to stop after the first time through. Once you've gotten something right, shouldn't you practice it to perfect your technique? No, that wasn't chanting at all, I just got into a tight cycle and used it for a while... The wand burned cold in Rose's hand, painfully cold. The sensation of many minute mouths sucked and nipped at the back of her neck, the insides of her elbows, beneath her nails, the roof of her mouth. The sound of mountains clashing - a vast grinding, chewing, rasping sound that made her feel as if she had levitated off the chair poured from her mouth and spilled upon the floor. White and black somethings strobed in Rose's vision, oozing and squishing and making her eyelashes itch.
Something soft but rigid impacted the back of Rose's head, flipping her headband into Robin's lap followed by her knitting needle. "ROSE!"
Blinking in confusion, Rose noted that the floor tiles were blackened and cracked beneath them, similar to the last third of her knitting needle. The chairs she and Robin crouched upon were noticeably more worn, older, spiderwebbed with blotchy white as if they'd been left out in the rain and forgotten. Broad patches of pale olive skin shone through gaps in Ragged Robin's makeup, the greasepaint dried to powder and dusting the front of her blouse and cutoffs. Throwing her head around wildly the plain steel buckle of Kirk's belt and the zipper of his leather jacket swam into view. Roxy looked down at Rose and smiled coldly. The pockmarks in the skin of her mother's cheeks and brow, usually carefully covered with concealer and foundation stood out in stark relief. The ironically perfect and exceedingly wealthy single mother betraying her imperfection in a moment of... not weakness, exactly. Something else. As if a mask had been torn away.
"Fine job, kid. Not everybody's first invocation goes that well. I threw up all over myself the first time I tried it."
"Kirk!" Roxy smacked Kirk's shoulder, flesh meeting stiff leather noisily. "Please!"
Rose absently dug the edge of a fingernail beneath the matching nail on her other hand and rocked it back and forth, trying to scratch the itch that didn't quite go away when she dropped out of trance.
"Aye. Sorry." Kirk crouched so he was eye to eye with Rose and peered at the smear of blood on her face, then the whites of her eyes. "Are you going to be all right? You look a bit tousled, like you need a breather or some time to straighten out. Maybe wash your face or something."
When Rose spoke the roof of her mouth and throat ached, not unlike they had when she'd had her tonsils out a few years before. "I think so. Just need to catch my breath for a minute."
"I think we'd best be getting home, Rosie. It looks like you've had quite a fright and some rest would do you some good." Roxy gently placed her camel hair coat over Rose's shoulders and laid a maternal hand on the back of her neck. "No irony or passive-aggressive shenanagains here. She really does feel concern," she thought. "Noteworthy."
"Robin, Kirk, it's been wonderful to see you again. I'll be sure to send you the late-est ast-ronomical data I've collected as soon as I get back. I think it's something that they're going to need soon."
Like some vast undersea thing Ragged Robin uncurled herself from the wooden chair and rose to her feet. If she was in pain or numb anywhere from the hard chair her movements didn't betray it. "Here you go, Rose. It still suits you." Robin carefully guided Rose's fallen hairband over her ears and forehead and gently back into position, holding Rose's hair back and away from her eyes.
"Go on home, kid. You did a great job; now it's time for you to find you way home and rest." Kirk gently laid a hand on Robin's shoulder as they turned back toward the counter while Roxy guided Rose toward the front door of the coffee shop. "Oh, and Rose?"
Rose paused and turned in the direction of Kirk's voice, raised unexpectedly so she'd hear him over the background noise. "Yes?"
The bald man raised a hand and peered through a circled thumb and forefinger at Rose, smirking. "Be seeing you."
"Be... seeing you?" Rose returned, unsteadily, and let Roxy guide her back to the Volkswagon in the parking lot. Roxy held the door open for Rose as she got in, then climbed into the car on the driver's side and started the engine. The Beetle reversed smoothly, shifted gears, and gently accelerated toward the main drag of town. The white rosebud in the dashboard vase regarded Rose silently from its perch on the dashboard.
"Well," Roxy began somewhat less enthusiastically than she had earlier. "It l-ooks like you and Robin got along famously this afternoon. I hope it was instructive at the very least. Remember, it's always good to get out and network when-ever you can..."
Rose gradually tuned out her mother's roadtime patter. Her head spun as she ran and re-ran and re-re-ran the events of the last hour or two in her mind like a hamster scampering on a wheel. What had happened? Had she done those things? What, exactly, was it that she did? It certainly wasn't in her head, the damage around her was plain to see by everyone ... One of the sounds she'd uttered, Oglogoth, felt vaguely familiar. Perhaps it was in one of the books she kept setting aside "to read later" as so many texts are wont to be. Ruined knitting forgotten, she caught herself fiddling with the lapel of her mother's camel hair coat, worrying at the burning sensation beneath her fingernails. While ruminating she'd been fiddling with the buttons; one felt slightly different.
A small, white pin, about the size of a nickel. Very much like the one on Kirk's leather jacket.