The bank didn’t pay for the oranges. They should have — offerings were clearly listed as a reimbursable expense — but the turnaround time and degree of nudging needed when Agnes submitted receipts made the whole process prohibitive. If she bugged Trask too much around the wrong things she might lose the job, and with it the gas card, which was worth a lot more money than the oranges.
A day at the edge of spring. Faith, Magnolia, and Jim sit in the bar, looking out at the square. The unlikely New Orleans snow is melting, making puddles on the asphalt, for the wind that blows is warm. Clouds scud across the sky; the pavement’s alternately light and dark. People stand about in the square, wearing opened jackets, the way they do in later spring up north in New York. It’s really too cool still but they do it anyway.
Put them all in a room together, and give them each a knife. They’ll hardly notice the change of circumstances. Their tales are nothing but this struggle, and they’re well enough used to being run through. You begin. At first it would be chaos. Fragile beauty and a kind heart does you no good here. (Never does; that’s what made it fairy stories, that so many people would help them just for kindness.)
“Pedro Infante has died!” someone yelled. “His plane went down in Yucatán! They said it on the radio!” Cecilia stood by the window, a ream of paper in her hands, and her soul flew out of her body. Cecilia met Pedro the previous spring, at the offices of Lic. Luis Barragán. She was pretty and the fastest typist on her floor. She also exuded an air of superiority which kept the other secretaries far from her and made the young men quiver.
Ana and Rico walked on the very edge of the road where the pavement slumped and crumbled. They were on their way to buy sodas, and there were no sidewalks. They made it as far as the spot where the old meat-packing factory had burned down when Deputy Chad drove up and coasted his car alongside at a walking pace. Ana was just tall enough to see the deputy through his car window and the empty space of the passenger seat.
For the next few weeks Delia wrestled with hope. She walked the Island talking with Rainbow, who always lashed the tube to her back and stuffed cornbread in one pocket and a peach in another. Delia didn’t show Rainbow the hidden valley, just the inhospitable perimeter. An occasional ship passed in the distance. Nothing got close to the Island.
Miz Delia’s Island was protected by deadly reefs on the Georgia/Florida side and nine hundred feet of jagged cliffs on the other. Indians called it Thunder Rock, a place where the wind and sea played rough and tumble. Spaniards named it Ghost Reef because of whirlpools, deadly fog, and wailing drowned folk who wouldn’t rest. English sailors claimed that Delia was a vengeful slave haint, howling demon talk and luring men to a bloody death.
Detective Inspector Chen brushed aside the chaos on his desk and carefully lit a single stick of crimson incense. Smoke spiralled up into the air, contributing to the brown smear that marked the ceiling like a bloodstain immediately above Chen’s desk. Chen bent his head in a brief prayer, then picked up the photograph and held it over the stream of smoke. The girl’s face appeared by degrees, manifesting out of a dark background.
The moment Erm Kaslo’s flesh touched the substance of the entity, he understood everything — but only for that moment. Then it turned out that everything was far, far too much for a human brain to take in all at once. He felt as if his skull was straining not to burst its seams, and as if the mind it housed was a thimble into which someone had crammed a barrel’s worth of knowledge. Just sorting all the information into gross categories would be the work of several lifetimes; subdividing it into manageable portions would take millennia.
There’s this legend your father tells you. It’s about a girl who sleeps in the center of a sphere. She floats in the air, tossed above the waves, destined to remain fast asleep until awakened by a kiss. You laugh when your father tells this story. You’ve heard all the stories before. Most of these stories involve handsome princes on white chargers. You’re not a prince, and you don’t have a white charger.