Amanita Nostalgium (short story for Bridport Prize)

The whole village had gathered around the station to watch the children perform. They watched from the grown-over railway, broad caps and waist-deep in grass, their otherwise uniform heights higgledy-piggledy on the crushed stones and sleepers.

Inside the hall on the platform the children huddled in giddy troupes on the wings, just out of view of the audience—their parents. They bustled and bumped arms, their fingers absently touching at the foreign textures of each other’s costumes.

A collective smile spread across the audience at the sounds offstage, the whispers and hushed giggles that would peak to be cut-short by a single Shh, a silence that would hold before toppling in a spittle frenzy as if frantically extinguishing candles.

Standing near the back of the crowd, Golden M smiled and listened through the rabble for the little voice of her Apple but she couldn’t hear it. She turned to Schweppe, her eldest, and gave him a playful bump and flexed her eyebrows towards the stage. He’d been surveying the sunset, the wadded clouds that blushed with the hidden Sun, wondering if there’d be time enough for a wander. At his mother’s bump he startled then smiled and followed her gaze back to the stage. His eyes floated to Teacher walking out from the platform wings. Her hips rolled in waves as she moved, hypnotic undulations that forced a rearrangement in his footing. He snuck a cautious look at his mother who was focussed on the performance.

Teacher spoke with her arms. ‘Bunches of thank yous to you all for gathering here this evening for Class’s final practice of our Bright Night display,’ she said. ‘Class have been practicing hard and are over happy to perform for you here now.’

Offstage whispering swelled and dimmed. Teacher swept a squinting look over the crowd below, the glistening faces, the caps that’d been unbuckled for the heat.

‘By the looks of things we are nearly all here. I can thank the recent cool turn I think.’ Her thick-lipped smile set-off emphatic nodding. ‘While I have you all here, I should say not to run home. After the show we need your hands for packing and stowing. We must be prepared, even with belated beckoning smoke…’ More nodding. ‘And...without anything further. Here’s Class—’

Teacher’s arm shot out proudly and she turned on a bare heel to a cascading applause that tailed as she joined Class in the offstage shade. Class had quieted to a preparatory jitter. Each pair of eyes beamed with excitement except those of little Apple whose wobbled, her insides tangling at each clap of the dying applause. She reached back for her costume tail, bent it around to hold at her chest and touched at her rounded ears. As her classmate Enjoy—the lead—received the final whispers of good luck, Apple snuck a glance out at the gleaming audience but couldn’t spot her mum. She shrank. No mum. She imagined mum still at home with Schweppe, maybe taking Pedigree for a walk along the river. They were laughing and playing and had forgotten her. Apple glanced around but there was no one to comfort her any different.

From a railway sleeper in the audience, cap in one hand, Schweppe’s shoulder under the other, Golden M balanced on tippy-toes, looking out for Apple.

With a courageous inhale, Enjoy emerged, clomping towards the polygon of crimson sunlight on centre stage. Upon seeing her, her pale-face and rouge cheeks, her oversized denim pants and buttoned-together polyester, the hitherto composed audience unravelled with whelps and guffaws, looking around to compare expressions with other parents whose half-formed expectations, too, had upturned at the spectacle.

‘Good morning, mum! Good morning, dad!’ the lead girl exclaimed, her lines lost to the uproar.

The ‘mum’ and ‘dad’—other children scarcely taller than their diminutive ‘daughter’—shuffled out, suddenly very aware of themselves.

‘Good morning, dear,’ the mother said. ‘Good morning,’ the father said, tugging at the flaps around his neck.

‘What a beautiful day it is,’ daughter said. ‘A blue sky. And will you just look at the Sun?’

A plastic cut-out of the Sun, simple smile painted on its face, bobbed across the stage and stood in the corner, shivering with giggles.

‘Can you see its smiling face, sweet sugar?’ mother asked.

‘I can,’ daughter said. ‘The smiling face in the Sun.’

The audience applauded.

‘And what’s that?’ mother said. ‘Can you hear...’

Scuffling sounded offstage then two figures burst out whistling and blooming with the rainbow, their outfits feathered with streamers and ornaments that jangled on waving arms. A sweet cacophony of whistling lit-up offstage and the audience applauded more, chuckling, suddenly filled with child-like thrill at the sight.

‘Birbs, mamma!’ daughter exclaimed. ‘It’s birbs!’

‘Yes, beautiful birbs,’ mother said.

Birbs Golden M said, mouthing the words. The audience watched the array of colours, enraptured.

‘What would you like to do to day, little one? On this week end,’ the mother said casting a  sideways look at the giggling audience.

The little girl looked to the actual sky, cloudy and red, hands on hips, umming and tapping one clownish clog.

‘Let’s have a fruit lunch,’ she said. ‘A fruit lunch at the zooo. It’s a perfect day for the zooo.’

‘It is a perfect day for the zooo,’ father said. His attention strayed to his mum in the audience, rattling his nerves. ‘Th-th-that must mean we’ll need our mo-motor vehicle.’

A crudely coloured cut-out of a red car emerged from the wings of the stage and slid to mask the family. As they held its outline, their arms circling and their mouths babbling brums, pieces of scenery—a fruit tree, smiling clouds—slid across the stage followed by the two birbs, and finally a large zoo cut-out that settled as the background.

The comic smile on each audience member’s face only widened as they watched the onstage family explore the zoo and its delightfully-costumed animals: the pied cow that lumped across the stage to the crowd’s moos, the horse—two children in each half, and the lurid pink pig—oinking as it went, and then a kangaroo to an applause, skipping—one foot over another in loops around the family.

‘What a fun morning we’ve had!?’ daughter said to her nodding parents who wiped their brows, sweat tracing cloudy white rivulets of make-up. The audience, too, dabbed at their brows and used their caps as fans under the afternoon heat radiating through the clouds in additive waves.

‘It must be lunch o'clock,’ daughter declared, accepting a metal bowl of plastic fruits from a classmate. She raised a bunch of plastic bananas. ‘Here, let’s feed these to the monkey—’

From the audience, Golden M’s heart kicked up and she scanned the shadows offstage. Upon hearing the line, Apple had frozen. Her heart jittered, her breath quickened, and no amount of clutching at her ears helped. Her animal classmates had disappeared one at a time to the other side, and now she was alone in the dark and mother was gone and she was hot-faced with tears.

Let’s feed these to the monkey,’ daughter repeated.

Golden M held her breath. Come on, App. Come on, baby.

The onstage family, the sweltering audience—all were paused, unsure of what was unfolding, and then, a button-nosed monkey appeared. Golden M released her breath and shook Schweppe’s shoulder who was lost again in daydreams. The audience gave a relieved applause at the sight.

‘The monkey!’ daughter exclaimed, wholly uplifted at Apple’s appearance. ‘Here, monkey, have some bananas.’

Hoot-hoot, mouthed Golden M. Hoot-hoot. But Apple didn’t hoot and she didn’t take the plastic bananas. She took hold of her tail—the blurry audience watching, their hopeful smiles swimming in tears, the silhouettes of her animal friends in the wings—and backed slowly off stage before yanking it free.

The audience hesitated then turned to Golden M with mostly wishful, accommodating expressions. And then there was Chief Bridgestone by an opening, stocked and layered in full garb and shaking his head. His wild-eyed headdress swayed with disapproval, menacing cat jaws clamped over his head, its pelt draped and caped, the banded tail hanging between his legs as his own. His ample lips kinked sour as Golden M rushed by.

 

Golden M stumbled over the hot gravel behind the stage searching for her little monkey, but nothing. Just as panic began crystallising, she heard a faint pooft. Down an alley, in a bed of wide, brown toadstools, she spotted two rounded ears. Her taut insides melted at the sight, turning fluid and vulnerable for her little love.

‘Hay,’ she said, pushing the bustling caps aside to crouch, ‘hay—

Apple was sitting cross-legged with an upturned mushroom cap in her lap like a cushion, her fingertips dusted with soot as they moved over the lamellar folds of its gills. The caress of her mother’s voice was all it took and she began to cry, a sob, quiet at first, then painful at the shock of itself. Golden M moved the cap away with both hands, removed the monkey ears and wrapped the little girl in a tight cuddle. Rocking back-and-forth, Golden M spotted a little fuzzy among the stool bases and showed it to Apple. Apple’s little fingers left her mother’s cuddle to reach for it. She pressed it in her satchel among the other fuzzies and admired them stuffed in there, pleased at the coziness, apparently amnesic for the panic onstage.

 

Schweppe continued watching the performance meanwhile, his eyes vacant, his mind wandering—the warning from his mother looping, its tone shifting at each pass: Don’t gamble with the light, you know that, but if you have to—never alone. After considering her words closely, maturely, they began to seem less like rules and more like suggestions. And since his mother was one for growth through experience, they may very well have been a secret prompt, not a warning but a call to adventure. Besides, he wouldn’t be alone if he took Pedigree. With the attention of the village lost in the play, he ducked away.

On his way home he found a loose pipe, hollow but sturdy enough to rake over the rocks and crushed concrete with a pleasing metallic resonance. It didn’t take long before his thoughtless foot-dragging grew to empowered, full-chested strides, the pipe in his grip like the swords he’d seen in buried images.

Schweppe picked up Pedigree from home, hanging up his cap and satchel, and left again, following the block of houses around, each decaying face a landmark counting to the farm. When he arrived it was twilight. It was too late, but since he hadn’t checked his livestock since the last rain, he could do that and be home before dark.  The farm was a vacant block enclosed by townhouses, their golem bodies plunging the plot in shadow except for hazy red spears of overcast Sun that pierced their crumbled sides, spilling bricks among the grasses and weedy stools.

He reached up for the farm gate, opened and closed it, and opened it again, admiring the smoothness of its arc, the fruit of his craftsmanship. The rain’s passage was evident; a jungle of weeds crowded the path, and as he pushed through with his pipe, Pedigree at heel, their furry leaves bristled at him and hanging over, the metres-tall mushrooms like alien ganglia swayed and bobbled, and he thought to greet them.

The damp air struck him into alarm: his crawlies drowned in the rain. He quickened to their boxes. There’d be nothing to display at Bright Night except a quaggy massacre and humiliation. Reaching their boxes, catastrophic images in-mind, he lowered his heart for what he might see, but—lifting the lid, relaxed. The crawlies were fine and the soil dry. They scuttled at the light, burying themselves beneath and inside rotting logs that rippled with fungi. He replenished their food with branches and grasses. Before checking the boxes beneath, he withdrew two crawlies, shining, dropped one to a tremulous-jawed Pedigree and halved the other in his incisors, tasting ripeness, testing shell maturity.

Satisfied, he checked the worms, the larvae, the wrigglies, and turned for home when his ears triggered to alert. Pedigree too, froze to listen. It was dark now. Schweppe replaced the crawlies’ lid and took up the pipe, nodded at Pedigree. Intuition for the threat drew him further down the path.

As he walked, regret flooded in, regret for not listening to his mother, for disobeying without reason—just this once, and now it would be the last. His ears tugged at their anchors and he pictured his fate: the monstrous form poised in the grass, the tail, a python of matted fur, and the demon’s eyes that flexed caverns to his death. Pedigree yelped and Schweppe spun. His legs collapsed but he struck out with the pipe, whistling metal mouth that collided smack in the palm of a hand. A bright smile in the dark, Golden M stood before Schweppe. She released the pipe and helped him from the ground. Pedigree circled, fishtailing his rump.

‘Attacking your own mother. I never...’ she said patting him off, her smile fading as he regained his footing. ‘What did I tell you, Schweppe?’

His innards winced at the sound of his name.

‘I’ve been allowing you more chances to learn yourself. Have you noticed?’

Schweppe watched the flashes of Pedigree’s tail.

‘Have you noticed?’ she said again.

He nodded.

‘You’re emerging and you need them. But from what I’ve provided, you’ve taken more. A lot more. And that might seem without consequence, but you’re wrong.’

Schweppe looked down at his little feet and wanted desperately to hide his toy pipe.

‘It’s Bright Night tomorrow,’ his mother continued. ‘We’re all excited. You’ll discover more of yourself than you know and I’ll leave you to it. Not just for you because you need it but because I’ll have other things to worry about. Your sister. Our things. The spores. Pedigree. Everything. But I’ll need you to be there for me, sweet.’ She thought for him to look at her and he did.

The globes of her eyes suspended him and he wanted to slip away but there was nowhere to go.

‘Do you understand?’ she said.

He nodded.

‘You do?’ she asked firmly.

‘Yes,’ he said, his voice wet and wavering.

‘Okay.’ She put her hand over his shoulder like a blanket. ‘Show me your crawlies. Did they get wet under the rain?’

 

Schweppe displayed his crawlies to his mother, their exoskeletons liquid under the lantern, an upturned crawly pincered lightly in his fingers, the healthy vigour of its waving legs, the girth of its abdomen, and then he showed the worms, the wrigglies—he didn’t disturb the larvae again—and Golden M observed quietly before telling him how impressed she was at his husbandry, discerning and dedicated, and how little she could wait for him to display his stocks at Bright Night, and he agreed, now excited beyond precedent.

The three of them made their way home, Schweppe waxing over Bright Night and the other traders and foreign trinkets he might discover. He didn’t mention the girls he’d been dreaming of. Golden M nodded, herself filling with metered excitement.

When they got home, Pedigree galloped over to Apple who was waiting in the doorway. At his mother’s motioning, Schweppe joined them and went on to light the house and put the waters on for dinner. Golden M took the firepole from the coat stand, told the children she’d be home after duties and left for her rounds.

 

Golden M trundled through the grasses of the street savouring the last evening before Bright Night departure, the edges and points of home tarmac at her soles like tectonic plates uplifted and submerged in the ground, the stray seedheads pronged up to tickle her knuckles, the balmy night air and cloud ceiling rolling bright and red from the unseen but near-full Moon. Rusted out and radiating heat from the day, the shell of a motor vehicle sank into the earth, its passengers bundles of fungi, hats lopsided against the roof.

It was already a bright night—scarcely necessitating lighting but she went about her duties anyway, lighting lanterns at each street corner, footing the route she’d footed for years.

Approaching Nissan’s house, a private grin crept across her face for she could make out three crimson figures in the front yard, one big and two small, working away on a vehicle.

Raising the firepole to a nearby lantern, the scene widened. It was Nissan and his boys repairing her trolley like he’d promised. The trolley was upside-down and held steady by Nissan whose arms pulsed with strain, while his boys—standing high on the belly of the upturned cage—spin-sanded the mycelial tyres flush. The three of them paused at the sudden brightness.

‘Golden M,’ Nissan said with his tiled grin.

‘You boys are out late,’ she said. ‘It’s looking great.’ She cast an exaggerated look over the entire trolley. ‘Again—it’s lovely of you to do this. Schweppe and Apple are thankful, too.’

‘It’s nothing’, Nissan said. ‘We had some moulds we needed to get rid of and the boys needed some work to do.’ He rumbled the trolley base and the boys cackled. ‘Class’s Bright Night display was a special watch,’ he added warmly.

‘It was,’ Golden M said. ‘Our little Village has some promising talents.’

‘Bright Night will love it.’

‘Yes,’ Golden M said. ‘So long as one little monkey—’

Nissan preempted this, bowing his inflection to allay, when one of his boys dropped down between them.

‘Are the tyres good you think, Pup?’

Nissan held eyes with Golden M and rose to reach for the trolley tyres, slapping their hides whizzing.

‘They’re just fine,’ he said. ‘Peak job, fellows. Say, Golden M: You’ve the nose, have you smelled the beckoning smoke ye—’

A front door opened with a click, pouring homely light over the boys. Their mother held the frame.

‘Dinner is ready,’ she said. ‘Oh—Golden M. Nice night.’

‘Nice night.’

‘One more sleep…’

Golden M nodded then silence, except a distant conversation, laughter swallowed up in the darkness.

‘I don’t mean to hold you from dinner,’ Golden M said. ‘I’m just doing the rounds and then going home myself. Tomorrow’s the big day.’

‘Tomorrow’s the big day.’

The two boys swatted the grass from their knees and shuffled under the arch of their mother’s arm.

‘I’ll be in in a moment, sweet.’ Nissan said. ‘I’ve got to get this trolley sealed and away for the night. Golden M—’ he said, ‘I’ll have it to you before break fast.’

 

Lighting another lantern, Golden M spotted a soiled fuzzy in the grass. She stooped and put it in her satchel with the others she’d collected tonight. She thought of how else she might treat Apple, perhaps a sap pudding. It’d been weeks since—

A slippery, hacking laugh slapped her ears. Chief Bridgestone was on lookout, drinking by the sound of things, and she wasn’t in the soft-edged mood to tolerate a blithering Bridgestone.

She extinguished her firepole among the rocks and slunk off for the next block when a creak sounded.

‘Em…’

She paused.

‘Golden Emm.’

Golden M could only see the watchtower’s underside. She felt backwards through the grass until Bridgestone’s shape came into view, puddled on his stool, headdress slouched and flaggan in-hand, joined by...by...she couldn’t discern the figure.

‘Oh Golden M, hay,’ the figure said. It was Amatil, his spindly arms folded over the watchtower railing.

‘Nice night,’ exchanged all three.

‘You’re both well?’ she said.

‘Aye!’ Bridgestone said. ‘Over well.’

‘Over well?’ Golden M said amused. ‘Maybe not so much tomorrow morning…’

‘...aye. May be.’

‘It’s an early rise.’

‘Aye.’

Golden M allowed some moments for Bridgestone’s comment, but none came. ‘An important day...there are many who will need direction, support.’

Quiet followed, filled only with the fumes from above, shroombrew that bit at her nostrils.

‘An important day for some,’ Bridgestone said, turning his head. The rip-flack of phlegm tore through the night and stamped as a package some distant tarmac. ‘Won’t you have some humour, Em? It’s Bright Night Eve and the beckoning smoke is nowhere to be smelled.’ He drew in a rattling, full-bodied breath. ‘Can you smell it? You always have had the best nose.’

Golden M remained silent.

‘If things tend true,’ Bridgestone said, savouring his disagreeability, ‘—no smoke means no Night. The thing’s been cancelled for all good. The desperate waste of effort it is.’ He was ready to stop but the inaction of Golden M was alluring, her attention fertile. ‘What could Village find at Bright Night that we don’t already have?’ he asked, searching her stance. ‘What have we ever found? What have you ever found?’ The next thought came as an impediment to his train, catching and tripping his bloated countenance into a hiccough. ‘...he’s not what you need, Em,’ he said, pawing spittle from his lip.

Amatil braced the railing as if on a tempestuous ship. Until now his watch had been on Golden M, her taut attitude among the bristled grasses, but now it stumbled skyward.

‘If I’ve a nose for smells,’ Golden M said, ‘you’ve one for tasteless words. I’m performing my duties—lighting Village—so I might return to my children preparing for dinner and an early rest for Bright Night. You’re only duty is on lookout, confirming the safety of Village. And what are you doing? You’re big after your mushroom, sitting rotten drunk taking ugly guesses.’ Hot blood beat through Golden M; her loosed words wrenched more. ‘We could have displayed something wonder full to Bright Night. And Bright Night could have displayed something wonder full to us. But you don’t care for a thing. You’re hope less. And now we are be, too.’

The stiff silence that followed retroactively sharpened the volume and petulance of Golden M’s words. She thought of the friendly faces bearing her screeches in the dark and darkened herself. She thought of Apple’s rounded monkey ears slinking offstage. She grew unsteady and moved to leave.

‘Golden M,’ Bridgestone called, his voice like a sure hand. ‘I’m sorry. But you’re incorrect. I’m not hope less. I’m hope full. From up here, you think it’s only cats? I’m on lookout not for the threats treading into Village, but for the threats Village is treading into. Now, and for all my breaths. If you care for Village, don’t abuse me and walk away. Come—join me. We can talk. Your children are fine at home. We can depend on them.’

 

After Golden M had gathered her breath and settled the diatribe in her forehead, she climbed the watchtower ladder, each rung subverting animosity to curiosity and, as she took a stool between Bridgestone and Amatil, felt compassion ease her face. Bridgestone handed her a lichen-smattered flaggan of shroom brew.

‘Thank you,’ he said as she took a sip, and he shifted his weight evenly around the stool, the headdress glaring with feline intensity. ‘Village is safe. We are safe. We are healthy. We are happy. We could not dream any thing more. My concern is only… We’re endangered when we foot into dark, new grasses. And that’s Bright Night. It’s displaying, it’s trading, it’s consumption. And our Village isn’t hungry. And it’s certainly not sick. So if it’s not medicine we’re consuming, it must be poison.’

Amatil had been sitting in deaf fascination for Golden M, his hand draped by his stool, twiddling a lip of flesh come loose from the stem, when he drifted back to the conversation only to hear its sentiment and then suddenly announce some task at home that needed tending and descended from the lookout.

It was just the two now. A breeze snuck past, brushed Golden M’s cheek as it moved, and she smelled the character in it. She took a sip of brew and conveyed her satchel around her waist to use as a rest.

‘You found something in the grass,’ Bridgestone said, motioning over the railing to where Golden M had been.

She blinked, the brew fumes dissolving any referents in-mind. She shook her head then stopped, scoffed, and stilted at her satchel. She opened and showed the pale fuzzies inside—fluffed cylinders bloated and shrivelled, off-white and yellowed, pale in the satchel and bunched as if stowaways on a voyage.

‘Fuzzies…’ she said, a touch of Apple in her voice.

He leaned in to see with an audible frown.

‘You know,’ Bridgestone said, ‘the Time in the Sun is not just a name.’

‘I know that.’

‘It was up there...’ His broad fingertips like spades spread at the red-clouded sky. ‘The Sun. The Moon. ...stars’

‘And they hid—’

‘They didn’t hide,’ Bridgestone said earnestly. ‘They couldn’t. They watched. They had to. Watched as we found fire and smoked. We smoked. And smoked. And then discovered it killed us,’ he said. ‘Get that!? We hid in our shame clouds...smut dreams of yester day. It was growth. Spreading...popping up everywhere. But did we stop? There were filters but nobody stopped. We smoked the plants, yes the plants, but the birbs, the bees, the flowers, the trees. We set them on fire and sat in the smoke and choked.’

Golden M set down the flaggan between clamped feet. ‘It’s not We. It’s They. They were titans.’

‘Who’s they,’ Bridgestone said, his slur-encumbered tongue. He emptied the flaggan into his cocked head—the dregs catching a slipstream and running off his chin. He leaned to place it at his feet and fell forward onto a clumsy prop of fingers, the tortoise-shell pelt slipping off his shoulders, cat’s eyes bleared. ‘They chatted on lookout duty,’ he continued. ‘They had some drinks. ...they nearly fell into their drink.’

He grinned and Golden M laughed. Red moonlight wheezed through folds of the atmosphere and Bridgestone had it on his face, a wash over corrugations and she could see him. The wrinkles around his eyes pinched into a smile.

‘We should celebrate it!’ he said suddenly. ‘The Bright Night. It’s beautiful. There’s no harm in that. We can dance at the fire and drink and have fun. As a fact—that’s exactly what we should do.’

Golden M straightened at this youthful Bridgestone, his glistening chin giggling, his portly form brimming with promise. Golden M put both flaggans up, confirmed the satchel closed and conveyed it behind.

‘If it wasn’t clear,’ Bridgestone said, testing his feet. ‘It’s clear now. I drunk too much.’ He went to sling another spit but a retch forced a swallow. ‘It’s a shame...I didn’t go to bed earlier. That I could enjoy tomorrow for what it deserves.’

Golden M helped Bridgestone off his stool, speaking through gritted teeth: ‘Now—I think it might be safe for saying—now you’re over well.’

 

When Golden M arrived home the place was immaculate: pyjamas and prop bits cast around from this morning’s tumult were stowed away, the stacks of set aside travel dishes and clothes were packed in boxes that lined the entryway and scrawled upon ‘PILLOWS + BLANKETS’, ‘BOLLS + PLAYTS’, ‘SPORES + APPLES PROPS’, and in the living room, embraced by lamp light were the children, Schweppe lying belly-down on the floor drawing beside Pedigree, and little Apple upon the lounge, a little fuzzy in her fingers, teasing out the fluff to stuff in her toy monkey. Golden M took a seat beside Apple and contributed her satchel fuzzies, the sight of which loaded her lips with a poignant fact that extinguished with a curious look from Apple. Golden M ran fingers through her hair and helped tease fuzzy fibres. Schweppe said there was field soup on the stove.

Golden M wiped the last of the dishes following the hand movements of her reflection, the illuminated living room behind, the village beyond, homes dark and streets dim, lanterns smote—save those on street corners. It was bedtime. She informed her kids as such and swept the room, collecting stray stuffing and blowing out lights, watched by Apple’s squinting eyes who sleepily raised her arms as she approached. Schweppe followed, blowing out the last lantern and mentioning to his mother the scentless air, the night that didn’t beckon. Over Apple cradled in her arms, Golden M whispered not to worry, that it would be on and to have sweet dreams and that she loved him, and she laid Apple to bed, folding the covers over and staying for a moment, listening to the soft, loose breaths of sleep.

Schweppe lay in bed, his fingertips feeling over his upper lip, still smooth, while his mind teetered on the edge of sleep, unable to slip for nocturnal reveries—intangible features of exotic girls dancing at Bright Night, pert cheeks and curling hair blipping and eclipsing, wisped hands outreached and beckoning, then the lips of Teacher, her rolling waist and he, floating atop the waves rising and falling ferrying him away, smaller, quieter, to some distant vanishing…

Golden M looked through the darkness behind closed eyes, the red gaze of moonlight fixed on her windowsill and profile as she thought of everything Bridgestone had said, her mind changing, the constitution of her days shuffling, spirited plans and commitments constructing and collapsing, the notion of Bright Night a mere ember that wavered with her exhaustion, a glowing point that dimmed with each breath before blinking out in the night. Later, though it would not register, like calls dissipating in a void, the scent of smoke whispered at her window.

Apple slept the heaviest, bouts of silence spotted with laughter for the creatures in her dreams, monkeys in funny troops like furry people running and jumping and laughing up into the trees that dripped with fruits and colours and the birds springing from them, the rainbows that streamed as they waved, whistling and singing.