In 2013, we were tremendously impressed by Adrian Van Young‘s collection The Man Who Noticed Everything, which brought together a host of sinister, elegantly-paced short stories. 2016 will bring with it his debut novel Shadows in Summerland, about spiritualism and spirit photography on the eve of the Civil War, via ChiZine Publications. We’re pleased to bring you an excerpt from it today. (An earlier version appeared in 2013 at Black Candies.)
Fanny in Development
Rap once for no, three times for yes, and five if you wish the alphabet. If the session is successful, thank the spirits for their kindness; if it is unsuccessful, curse the lot of them for tricksters. Make your feet and knees your friends and be sure they are always warm for feet and knees too cold and cramped will never work a proper rap. Always maintain perfect posture. Never concede to be shut in a cabinet. Be wary of writers and college professors. Do not speak outside the trance. Wear a dress that shows your neck but wear a skirt that hides your feet. Watch the face but not the eyes. Invest in harps and horns and strings. Do not be afraid to put a little sap in it. Often pray and always sing. Repeat words and phrases. Say: Harmony, Beauty, Comfort for the Ills of Life. Never agree to sit on credit, but always agree to sit for free. Condition your palms not to sweat. Exude grace. Never take more than a glass of red wine.
Miss Cluer and I sat across from each other. E.H.B. sat in the middle, observing. Even at so young an age—both of us were just sixteen—E.H.B. would call us Miss. This was no different for small girls of ten.
“Miss Cluer, you have lost your daughter. Your daughter was five when she died. It was measles. Miss Cluer has sought you out, Miss Conant. She’s heard that you can see beyond. Your signal job,” said E.H.B., “is making that beyond seem closer. Make it local, in a word. Make beyond a place, Miss Conant, that she can go to in her heart and yet make it one, if you possibly can, that she will require you to show her around. Comfort and confidence first, dear girls, but loyalty second, third and fourth. Loyalty is the sweet, soft milk that draws them here like hungry cats.”
E.H.B. held up one hand, the other inching up to join it.
“Comfort and confidence first,” we recited. “Loyalty second, third and fourth.”
“Such a lovely harmony!” She clapped her raised hands and we smiled at her weakly. “Miss Conant,” she said, “engage Miss Cluer. What are you going to ask her first?”
“Who were you hoping to speak to tonight?”
“Who were you hoping to contact, Miss Conant. If mediumship is to be a profession we must use professional words, mustn’t we?”
“Who were you hoping to contact, Miss Cluer?”
“Splendid, Miss Conant! Miss Cluer, your answer?”
Susie Cluer was a strange one. She was a tall and awkward girl who did not understand her body; her posture in the séance room was, for our teacher, an ongoing nightmare. It was also her habit to mumble her lines which is why, in our sessions, I was often the leader.
“You tell me,” said Susie Cluer.
“Please enunciate, Miss Cluer. Who were you hoping to contact tonight?”
“Whoever you think best,” said Susie. “I sit here at your expertise.”
“Miss Cluer, you’ve listened! Now you go, Miss Conant.”
“I am sensing a presence. It knows you, Miss Cluer.”
“Less purposeful, Miss Conant, please. Are you not in the grip of a mesmeric trance?”
“I am…sensing….a presence. It…knows you, Miss Cluer.”
Susie peeked out from beneath her lank bangs. “What kind of a presence?” she said, more assured.
“A female presence,” I responded, but already our teacher was clucking her tongue.
“Let Miss Cluer guess, Miss Conant. Tell her: a presence longed for and beloved.”
“A presence longed for and beloved,” I amended.
“Is the spirit male?” said Susie.
I rapped once with my toes, in the negative sequence.
“Is it female, then?” said Susie.
“Quicker, girls!” said E.H.B.
I rapped my toes three times for yes.
“Is the spirit old?”
“Is the spirit young?”
E.H.B. held up her palm. “If my memory serves, me Miss Conant,” she said, “you’re ambidextrous in your talents. In that case don’t be shy about it. Your clients shall want variation.”
I rolled my eyes about the room, rendered passive by the trance.
“Excellent!” said E.H.B. “Let her heartbeat race a bit. And now begin to feed her, slowly.”
I rapped twice with my toes and three times with my knees for a total of five at which E.H.B. beamed. “The alphabet is motioned for. So spell for us your name,” I said. “Oh bountiful, womanly rose of the Summerland, gladden our hearts with your name,” I cried out.
“Now you are laying it on a bit thick. But markedly improved, Miss Conant. Miss Cluer, what shall be her name?”
“Theodora,” said Miss Cluer.
It was a name I recognized as that of the sister who’d brought Susie here. This was after their parents had died in a fire or so the rumor got around, and Susie was remanded to her older sister’s keeping. That had been two years ago. The sister had gone to Baltimore to prepare, Susie said, for her railroad arrival, while in the meantime getting by at what her sister had informed her was a sort of acting college. On the day she had been in too much of a hurry to shake the hand of E.H.B., Susie’s sister told her this before running to catch her train.
“Let it be Theodora then. Miss Conant, watch Miss Cluer’s face.”
Her eyes were wide and wet and red.
“Never look into the eyes,” said our teacher. “A girl will get lost in the eyes of a mourner. There is such emptiness, you see. And yet such boundless, gorgeous hope.”
“You think that she is dead to you. And yet…” I gave pause “…she is not far away.”
E.H.B. considered this. “Forceful, Miss Conant and yet it wants finish. Is not far away and—what?”
“Your daughter’s closer than you know. Come with me,” I said. “I’ll take you.”
“I will conduct you, Miss Conant. Conduct. That it what you lack sometimes. But all in all a good attempt. Do you feel less alone in the world, Miss Cluer?”
Wednesday was mail-day and saw me abroad, walking the dimly lit halls with a basket. Every able-bodied girl had a job that she was bound to as a tenant of the basement and so it was in place of rent that I went room to room with my parcels of mail. Sometimes the women didn’t answer and I would leave the parcel at the base of the door. Other times they answered in the middle of a session or some other task, such as keeping their books, and briskly accepted the bound correspondence while speaking or looking back over their shoulders. And still other times they seemed happy to see me or not surprised at any rate, and came to the door in their robe de chambre, smelling like powder and calling me dear.
Many of their names I knew. Rebecca R. Rynders. Lavinia Wilburne. Fredericka Marvin. Lucie May Beebe. These were girls the same as me, albeit two or three years older.
But they were housecats, strung with bells while I was a stray come to stand at the glass. It was my job to bring them the things that they needed, the things that they couldn’t acquire for themselves.
One day a man opened one of the doors. He saw me, said nothing, turned back to the room.
“Of course, I understand, Miss Marvin. Not for everyone, you know! But why not keep my card on hand?”
By way of response, Miss Marvin said something I couldn’t quite catch where I stood in the hall.
“Auditions, don’t you know,” he said. “The call of fame is loudest in the daytime, I suppose. Direc-tors,” he said in a sonorous voice and laid his hand upon his chest.
I peeked through the door and around the man’s body. Miss Marvin was powdered and blushed, at the bureau. And almost in spite of herself she was smiling at the gentleman posing in her door. It wasn’t long before she saw me, beckoned that I leave her mail. The man and I passed one another en route. He watched as I knelt to deposit the parcel.
“Un facteur la femme,” he said. “Now that isn’t something you see every day.”
He leaned on the wall, legs crossed at the ankles. He had an urgent, pointy face and he rifled his pockets, not looking away. He brought out what appeared to be the workings of a cigarette.
“Is she a friend of yours, Miss Marvin?”
“I deliver her mail, if you call that a friend.”
“But you must wonder who I am. Josiah Jefferson.” He bowed. “An actor of the stage, by trade. I love to have a little hash. And all of you girls are so pretty, you know. Do you talk to spirits, Madame Le Facteur?”
In the flare of the match that he put to this cigarette, I saw his well-groomed eyebrows raise. His face was unnaturally gay, too expectant. It looked to be lightly made up at some angles. Brushstrokes of blush, thin layer of powder, black pencil about the eyes.
“I have done my share,” I said.
“Ah-ha,” said the actor. “A rising apprentice. Yes I remember mine too well. Richard the Third, Mr. Phineas Pankhurst and him, he had done all the titans, you know. And there I was, a runty turnip, trying to soak up the man’s natural light. Do you have clients of your own? Miss Marvin has hers. I am one of them, clearly. What did you say that your name was, my dear?”
“I hadn’t,” I said.
“Go right ahead.”
“You may call me Fanny.”
“That’s a good girl,” he said.
There was a pause in which he watched me.
“Fanny,” he said, uncrossing his legs and drawing erect with a tight little smile. “How should you like to appear at a party?”
“Appear at a party?”
“Attend one,” he said.
He stood a moment, smoking stiffly. And then his face birthed a maniacal smile. He pointed at me with the cigarette, waving. “You’re keen to every word, aren’t you?”
“Actors have parties backstage, Mr. Jefferson. I gather that you mean a séance?”
“Why yes, I’d forgotten. You’re terribly earnest. All you Spiritualists, you know. It’s a séance of sorts,” said the actor. “Tomorrow. Rather last minute, I know, but I thought…”
“I had better ask my guardian, hadn’t I, Mr. Jefferson?”
“It’s a private engagement. Other girls. And yet I feel I could be clearer? No, you are not the flambish sort. You’ve a head on your shoulders. That’s clear as it sounds. But want a little daring, don’t you?”
“All I wish to know,” I said, “is what you propose I’m to do at this party.”
“To sit and be present,” he said. “That is all. An opera might explain it best.”
“An opera?” I said. “Is there going to be singing?”
“A few notes here and there,” he said. “But that’s not why I bring up opera. Opera is drama, performance of course and yet it’s unique in the way that it’s staged. Do you know why that is, my dear?”
“Baritones,” I said, “and altos?”
The actor looked taken aback at my words. I watched him attempt to get centered again.
“Extras,” he told me. “Whole choruses of them.”
Bizarrely, I found I was smiling at him. He’d asked Miss Marvin too, I saw, but she’d elected not to do.
“My dear, you must admit,” he said. “Spiritualism is high drama. I should think you’d be a natural.”
“To sit and be present,” I said. “And that’s all?”
“Perchance to learn,” he said. “To live. To do, for once, the unexpected. Why don’t I leave you the address, all right? You can decide at your leisure that way.”
He rifled some more in his pockets, down-looking. He didn’t seem so threatening then. He wrote in his daybook and tore out the page and unfolded himself from the wall. I leaned forward to take the scrap but he held it just short of my hand, shook it lightly.
“Come any time after midnight,” he said. “And you may even bring a friend.”
“If I decide to come,” I said, “then you will see me there, on time. And if I do not you’ll not see me again. That is because I’ll have made my decision.”
“Shall I write you the password?”
“You may say it,” I said.
“You’ll remember it, will you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Samuel. One. Twenty-Eight,” he pronounced.
I recognized the verse myself. It was Samuel consulting the witch in the cave. It was a passage from the Bible much quoted at the Center, sole evidence of our faith in the verses.
The man stood there observing me, as if to make sure I had heard him correctly. When he was satisfied he smiled and donned a black hat with a silken green band. “Well, then,” he said. “I shall see you or not see you. Good afternoon to you, Miss Fanny.”
All throughout our conversation I’d been pressing myself more and more to the wall. Stepping away, I staggered forward, almost upending my basket of mail.
“Oh, and Miss Fanny.” The man turned around. “I’d almost forgotten to mention attire. It needn’t be anything fancy,’ he said, “but don’t forget to wear a mask.”
Tomorrow was tomorrow. I decided I would go. But I would not go there alone. With me would come Susie Cluer, who I told of the party in between practice sessions.
“Why must we wear masks?” she said. “Is it a costume party, Fanny?”
“We must look our best,” I said. “That is probably all he meant.”
“Where are we going to find masks?” said the orphan.
Since Rynders was a frivolous and impolite woman, hers were the sheets that I brought to meet Susie. And not only those but a few of her bedclothes.
Susie launched forward to cover them up. “Fanny,” she said and began giggling wildly. “Fanny, you are much too much.”
With a scissors I took from Miss Beebe’s sowing basket, we started to construct our masks. Feline, I think, was the evening’s motif, with the eyes slanting up and the nose a triangle. Over the linen we draped lace and sewed it on loosely to border the face holes. We wore the masks and arched our necks. In the mirror we appeared to glimmer.
After an hour of pretending to sleep, we crept among our sleeping mates. We left through the window, no more than a scraping, toting our lace-covered masks in a sack. The dresses we wore were the dresses we wore. Mine was blue and Susie’s brown. We looked like dowdy runaways. We had no coin to ride the trolley.
The house bordered a kind of park. There might’ve been water further on. The windows glowed, but not by much. I’d expected the lighting to be more aggressive; the hour was aggressive, the offer itself. But the light in the windows was rich and inviting. Somewhere inside a piano was babbling. The sound of someone, somewhere, laughing was as steady and recurrent as the crickets in the yard.
“Suppose it’s time,” said Susie Cluer.
I handed her her homemade mask. We donned them while facing away from each other and then turned around to admire and inspect them. Susie resembled a raving mad woman gone out to preach in the streets in a tea-cloth. “Tray mysterious,” she said.
For all the house seemed flush with guests, the door was considerably long in the answering. A small compartment opened in the top of the door, but a voice didn’t speak right away. There was laughing. That, and bits of conversation, floated out into the night.
“Yes well you can’t blame her, can you? Why I should think she knew full well!” And then: “Recite the charm to enter.”
“Samuel. One. Twenty-Eight,” I pronounced, just as the man had pronounced in the hall.
The compartment swung shut and the door opened in. A woman in an evening dress of dark and sparkling blue stood there. And she must’ve been wearing nice shoes, with additions, for Susie and I, neither one of us short, stared into her starry bodice. Her face was turned away from us, her voice still engaged with a presence behind her. A contraption of satin and feathers and wire enclosed the borders of her head. Beyond her milled a modest crowd. Every face there was obscured by a mask and every mask was sipping something.
“Get in with you, chickens. Get in,” said the woman.
She presented the room with a sweep of her arm.
“I have come as night,” she said.
She swirled the cosmos of her skirts.
“We are Sleep,” I said.
She gasped. “Of course! Harvest,” she said to the woman behind her, “come see darling Sleep. They’re twins!”
Harvest, with feathers like high, healthy wheat, looked us up and down and said: “Rather sleep-inducing, I should say, Madam Night.”
“Pay this one no mind,” said Night. “Harvest answers only to the tyrant of fashion. Harvest scoffs at everything that doesn’t grace the pages of her Godey’s Lady Book.”
Susie, who would be red with shame underneath her tattered linen, shifted her gaze between me and the door. I suddenly felt awful for her. So much of life had been hidden from Susie and yet our ward, our basement mates, trivial girls such as these, even me, we all of us expected her to know exactly how to act. It didn’t seem the least bit fair. In point of fact, it made me angry.
I pointed to the feathers at the top of Harvest’s mask.
“You’re due for a trimming, aren’t you?” I said. “Children will get lost in that.”
“Children of your height,” she said.
I studied her a moment for some weak spot, some chink.
“If I am such a child,” I said, “then how have I managed to rankle you so. Why, I can see it in your eyes. Right amidst those holes,” I said and walked a bit closer, my fingers extended.
My index and my middle twirled as if they meant to prod her blind.
“Come Madam Harvest. Let’s venture elsewhere.” The one called Night took Harvest’s arm. And after a moment of pressure applied they wandered away through the crowd.
By the time that the shock of that moment wore off, I felt I understood it better. Tonight was not a night for names; nor either was it one for faces. Here was an evening for beauty and boldness, contempt, if it arrived at that. Here was an evening in which everything save the evening itself would be better forgotten.
“She’s drunk,” I told Susie. “She slurred—did you hear?”
“Do we appear that silly, Fanny?”
“Susie,” I said and turned to her. Not caring what it looked like, I grasped her thin shoulders. “Susie,” I repeated. “We are guests in this house. We are guests of Mr. Jefferson. Remember?”
“How else could I have known the charm? How else could I have known the address? Tell me, Susie. How?”
“No other way, I suppose,” Susie said.
“Now.” I set her shoulders level. “Let us venture elsewhere, Miss Cluer. Allons.”
Arm in arm, we circulated. Susie kept her shoulders straight. Notwithstanding the fact that we’d snuck from our beds, E.H.B. would have been proud.
The party, or séance—whatever it was—was smaller in number than I’d thought. Apart from us and Night and Harvest, there were five other women, give or take, outweighed by fifteen, twenty men. Drinks were tilting everywhere and not a single slab of beefsteak. One woman and many men were swaying around a small piano, making a mess of Auld Lang Syne. The masks of the men were plain white or plain black, with strange wailing holes at the bottom for mouths. It was almost unexpected when the eyeholes showed eyes. All were moist and red with drink.
Apart from the guests grouped around the piano, the rest of the people stood in pairs. Night stood with a shorter man. The lips of his mask were long and pursed. He turned his head in my direction, nodded a beat and then turned back to Night. On a blue fainting couch in the corner of the room, Harvest had stretched out her legs. A man in a black mask resembling a lion leaned in above her and pounced, left her giggling. Her skirts came up above her knees. He scanned the room and pounced again.
A man approached. His mask was gold, the eyes and mouth outlined in black. It struck me as vaguely Oriental, what a Japanese prince would wear at court. He had come from a sideboard infested with bottles, through a haze of cigar and pipe smoke, glasses raised.
“You ladies look lost without something to sip on.”
I politely declined. Susie Cluer accepted.
“And now I have done my good deed for the night. Vice,” he bellowed, “do your worst!”
He drank off the drink he’d intended for me, holding his head back a moment too long. For a while it appeared he was watching the ceiling, transfixed by the lights through the holes in his mask.
“Sirens and Satyrs, friends and lovers, your attention,” said a voice.
It came from a man toward the back of the room. Could this be Mr. Jefferson? He’d seemed to emerge from behind the piano, though I didn’t recognize him from the singers around it. This man’s mask was small and stubbed, like the face of a dog or a pig without whiskers. The butchering of Auld Lang Syne stopped bleeding and died as the man took the floor.
“What is championed in heaven is strange here on earth. Sprits walk among us, friends. Spirits speak to us, console us. But can a spirit love?” he said.
“I have seen them love!” said someone. “I have seen their limbs entwined.”
“Your husband?” said a second voice. “Husbands like a little lark!”
“Where is this gentleman’s wife?” said the first voice. “I should like to pity her.”
“Now, now,” said the man in the animal’s mask. “Plenty of time for jousting later. To the neighboring room,” said the man, herding sideways. “To the neighboring room. And let no one go thirsty!”
And Susie Cluer, sure enough, was making herself a second drink. The man in the mask like a Japanese prince hovered around her, lunging, laughing.
I had never tasted spirits or wine in my life. Tonight, of course, would be no different. But I’d smelled it before on men’s breath, in their pores—had seen the change it wrought in them. As well it might’ve been to drink, but Susie Cluer was not me.
Already she walked with the hitch in her step. Her legs became less and less hers every minute. She chatted with the gold-masked man: coquetry and platitudes. Every so often as she walked, laughing and twirling her arms at her sides, I pictured her face beneath her mask, its gaunt and unassuming features.
The room we arrived in was large, with high ceilings. It was dark save for the mischief of a grand old candelabra. The wallpaper showed a nature scene—thickets of saplings clung with vines. The saplings were yellow or red or bright orange, while the trellis of vines went from light to dark blue the closer you moved toward the seam of the wall. Floor to ceiling sections of the wall were draped in bed sheets, and these all had a squarish look, as if something hard were concealed underneath them. Whatever function it had served, the room was bare of all but couches. Four of them—long, blood red and plush—were arranged in a sort of diamond shape. The candelabra hung above the middle of the diamond. A window was open somewhere in the house and the sheets on the wall rippled some in a breeze.
“Gentleman, ladies, right this way. Positives and negatives, as best you can manage. Though we appear to have a surplus of the former on our hands,” said the man in a mask like a dog or a pig, standing at the center of the diamond, directing. “No matter, no matter. As best you can manage. There’s a lady, there’s a gent. Two by two—not three!” he said, motioning to Susie, gold-mask, and myself. “Sir—King Midas—Croesus, yes, if you might sit between these ladies. These Circes in sackcloth—these bonny beekeepers—these monuments to tattered lace…,”
He continued to call out the guests one by one and one by one they hastened past, outrunning the spotlight to sit on a couch.
To my right was the man in the black and gold mask and on his right sat Susie Cluer. On my left was the man in the mask of a lion, watching me with bright green eyes.
The man was bigger than I’d thought. And he wasn’t well-muscled so much as just generous. His stockiness expressed itself in a slab of firm flesh, segmented by waistcoat.
“I hear that you’re called Sleep,” he said. “I take it she’s your better half?”
I nodded to him that this was so. I heard Susie laugh, pause to sip, laugh again.
“Which makes you what?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“If she is half of sleep,” he said, “then I should wonder, what are you?”
“Wakefulness, perhaps,” I said.
His eyes had a warm squintiness through the holes.
“I am called the Lion in the Meadow,” he said.
I said, “Your mask is very black. A nighttime meadow, I suppose?”
“Velvet,” he said.
“May I touch it?”
The Lion in the Meadow leaned a little closer toward me. I touched my fingers to his snout. He nuzzled his face against my fingers and they slid from the snout to the lips, down the chin. Going over the hole that allowed him to breathe, I felt him panting through the mask. All four of the couches were backless and low. They showed you as you really were. Or rather the sitter you were. They showed that.
“Let no man or woman speak false of the spirits,” said the man in the mask of a pig or a dog. “Let no man proclaim that they stalk the far shore, parched and lonely strangers to the wonder that is love. Nor let him proclaim to his bosom companion who walks beside him through the vale that the spirits, our guardians, command us these words: Go in want through this brief life. If he cannot speak true of them, then let him speak no more, I say. If he cannot speak true of them then let him speak the truth of love. Yes, let him speak the truth of love, which does not expire with the husk of the body, no more than it expires or fades under the thralldom of marriage,” he said. “Or the scorn of ill health. Or the winter of age. Close your many eyes,” he said, “that you might come as one to see.”
I myself did not so do. Other people might’ve of though.
This was once a library, I thought to myself as the man stepped aside. And then he extended his arm like a showman.
A series of figures filed into the room.
The lighting, as I said, was dim. So it was difficult initially to tell them for human. They might’ve been kangaroos or cats. They had that sleek, agile uprightness. They made a circuit of the room, skipping along the walls, hands clasped. Masks rotated after them or else they did not move an inch.
“Continue to close your eyes, my friends. Feel the breeze these sprits make. Feel their ecstasy, their force. Sense them around you with all but your eyes.”
The figures, some ten, passed once, then again. Their scents were sweet and bottled ones, the air they passed through strangely stale. I remembered the wives of the Roundot committee, pushing past me through the dark. “Oh my,” said the people, some thirty and laughed. I watched the figures turn about. A garland of girls all wearing dark gauze—in nothing but dark gauze, I saw—circled the couches around and around, and started at last to use their fingers. They trailed them along the people’s shoulders. They ran them up and down their arms. They touched their ears, where earrings hung. They teased them up their trembling throats. They stood in back of peoples’ chairs, and the gauze that they wore had a luminous look.
“See only the backs of your eyelids, my friends,” said the man in a mask of a pig or a dog.
Susie Cluer would be smiling. Susie Cluer would be blushing. Susie Cluer would be trembling, her hand in the hand of the Japanese prince.
One girl brushed a lady’s hair, working her fingers through the thickness and as the woman’s face tipped back she started to braid it, strand by strand. Now a lady bared her throat. Now a gentleman slumped forward. Now another laughed then groaned as a woman fell over him, kissing his mouth.
The man in the black and gold mask turned to Susie but the mouth of her mask was too small for a kiss. He hiked it up and kissed her cruelly. While Susie kissed, ginger at first, a woman in gauze came around to the man and started to stroke his naked ears. The man in the leonine mask held my hand. And that’s when I saw that his body was wrenched toward one of the women in gauze just behind him. Sort of nibbling his jawline, she leaned in between us. His jaw was as brassy and proud as an axe.
The maestro had partnered with one of the girls. They waltzed the diamond point to point. One woman rose from her place on the couch and danced all alone in their wake, her arms swaying. Her fingertips were pale and sharp. They seemed to rend the darkened air.
And then I felt myself get up. The man in the leonine mask and myself were crossing the diamond en route to the door. Before us went Susie and black and gold mask, their arms around each other’s shoulders. At first I thought that he was leading, and then I felt I wasn’t sure, and finally I had the thought that Susie was supporting him. And then it struck me: I was not being led. The man walked at my side. We walked.
An indistinct, persistent bell was singing just outside my ken.
I thought at Susie: turn around. Oh turn around, you foolish girl.
“Miss Sleep,” said the man, turning toward me en route. “I should say I’m new to this. I don’t often come to such functions, you see.”
We passed through the doorway and into a hall. The way was long, the lighting sparse. Susie and black and gold mask went before us, twenty paces by my guess.
“By which I mean,” he said, voice muffled, “I am a gentleman, you see.” And then the bravado came back to his voice: “As much as Miss Sleep is a lady, I’m sure.”
Susie turned around again. Susie, stumbling, called my name. And then her face appeared to plummet. It was as though she’d fallen through a gulf in the floor. She cried in delight. She was on the man’s shoulders. And he was running with her full tilt down the hall.
“Farewell, Sister Sleep,” she cried.
And that was the last time I saw Susie Cluer.
Later when she made her plans; and later when I saw her on the night that she left; and yet later still when I saw her again, standing on the sidewalk looking up at the building before she picked her way downtown to meet the man that she called Jeffs, the man in the mask of the Japanese prince. Or maybe it was another man.
None of them were her. Not Susie. Susie was that other girl. Susie was that wriggling thing, borne away on shoulders down a dimly lit hall.
And so it was not Susie either, several years after that night, when a woman washed up on the shores of the Charles, tangled in among its trash.
Adrian Van Young is the author of the story collection The Man Who Noticed Everything (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), and the novel Shadows in Summerland, forthcoming in April 2016 from ChiZine Publications. His fiction and non-fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Lumina, The American Reader, Black Warrior Review, The Masters Review, The Collagist, The Line-Up, VICE, Slate and The Believer, as well as Gigantic Worlds and States of Terror II, among other publications and anthologies. He is a regular contributor to Electricliterature.com. He lives in New Orleans with his wife Darcy and his son Sebastian. See more at: adrianvanyoung.com
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