A Gram of Silence

I saw her eyes, just the once: when she pulled me from Father’s house, her blindfold had come undone.

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1. Our House (1)

I saw her eyes, just the once: when she pulled me from father’s House, her blindfold had come undone. So bright, emeralds on fire.

Rain had daggered her lashes like ingrown teeth; they scratched at her eyes, those iridescent lights, full of veins. Black veins. As she tore away my rubble blanket – brick and stone crushed to dust between her skinny fingers – their stunted branches grew, pulsating,

She had looked at me. They were glass…no, they were flesh, throbbing in their sockets, but they shone like glass. They were blind too – the left wandering far too left, the right pupil a dripping pool of green – but the balefire made them alive.

I stopped breathing. My crumpled legs tried to flee, but they were pinned under a pillar of concrete. Even now, after three years spent in her constant, immovable company, I could not look her above the neck. Maybe that was why she wore the blindfold; delirious under the debris, half-drowned in a grey brine of rain and quicklime, it felt as if her gaze scorched the life from me.

I had fainted. When I came to her eyes were once more hidden behind the silk palisade. She had hefted the pillar onto her shoulder, a slab of concrete twelve feet long. Her right hand clawed into it, her white-caked fingers sunk to the second knuckle; her left she had offered to me. 

Her hand…

Warm. Burning. Not the heat of a living body, but thick old leather roasted under the desert sun. A fever, even on her fingertips. As she held me up by the wrist, dangling me there like a doll with half its stuffing on the floor, my face had pressed against her arm. Under her coat of thick black wool, she was skin and bone. Yellow-grey blotches ran from her wrist into the shadow of her sleeve, then appeared again under her high collar, almost reaching her ear. Then I smelled the stench.  

A powerful, chemical stench. At first I thought it some kind of cheap perfume gone rotten from sitting on a shelf for too long. Now, after handling an infinite number of jars and canisters of that same stink, I know better. After a thousand days in her company, I no longer smelled her at all.

The same indifference could not be said of the clients who came to our House. They all shrank from her; even the brawniest men became weasels at the sight of her. They put silken handkerchiefs to their snouts, and pretended to sneeze until they realized they couldn’t stop.

Not a month ago, a child had gone into a seizure in the lobby, streaming bloody snot onto the Marisian rug and wheezing something about missing his purple friend, but before I could call him James was already storming out of his office, yellow snow piled thick on the shoulders of his marquee robe, and a minute later the boy was calm and dozing, a stupid smile on his chubby face. Then his mother had apologized, and asked whether the good Master would object to keeping her at a distance from the Seneschal’s son.

The next day I was given a desk in the lobby, facing the big oaken doors. Whenever I sat behind it with papers and clipboards James gave triple the usual wage, so I often sat there until well into the night. I greeted the clients when they came in, took their gold, marked down their appointment, and when they went into James’ office I closed the door behind them, then stood on the left by the petunias while she stood on the right.

Sometimes they screamed. Sometimes they cried. They laughed too, occasionally, but never the sane kind. She was always silent though, never a sound. And most times I stood with her, in case James needed tea or some concoction to be fetched from the laboratory, but now and again deliveries would come in, or some other client would start molesting the bell, and I’d have to step away. She never stepped away.

Not when James was with a client. 

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