Serenades, chapter 13

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Literature Text

We went to Mansuetus’s family’s house in the woodlands outside the city. It wasn’t far from the train station. It was a bright but bitingly cold morning, burning straight to the marrow when the harsh wind blew.
The roaring fire and heating system in their house was a respite. Ava shrugged her heavy black velvet coat, with embroidered coral roses and blue bellflowers and a thick synthetic fur collar, off, unbuttoned it. She was in a close-fitting teal shirt, a gray slip with black lace trim and white ribbons over it, jeans more hole than denim with nothing underneath, and fluffy boots. Her hair was streaked with red-brown, tied back in twin ponytails.
“Ava, cute.”
“Huh?” she asked me.
“Everything,” I said.
“Oh, I know that. Should have worn something under my pants, though. Probably the coldest day I’ve experienced in two years.”

“Get that thing away from me!” Marciana yelled.
“What’s going on?” Ava said, restraining the dog and stroking it.
“Dogs make me nervous, sorry, I’m so flustered, sorry.”
“I’m so sorry,” Veridana said, repeating the mantra. “Eric’s friendly.”
“It will be fine as long as he’s friendly, but unfamiliar ones I have a problem with.”
“I had a dog once,” Ava said. “He was a stray mutt, but he was a nice dog, and I told him he was just like me and gave him some food and let him follow me home. Hey, wait a minute, wasn’t Eric your cat’s name?”
“What happened to Eric the cat?” Marciana asked.
“He got old and died,” Mansuetus said.
“Oh, that’s too bad. I like cats a lot.”
“Maybe you’re not used to dogs. Dogs wag their tails when pleased and growl when they’re angry. Cats growl when pleased and wag their tails when angry. They’re mad, you see.”
Marciana’s response was “It’s purring, not growling.”

“Oh, little miss virtuous is getting fucking sloshed,” Ava mocked. We sat on the dusty floor in the narrow hallway. An oil painting of a nymph surrounded by lotuses rested against the opposite wall.
“Hey, Cecilia did worse,” Marciana retorted. “Besides, this is one scotch. And since when was I little miss virtuous?”
“You’ll stop. When you fuck up like I do, you will,” I said.
“And when you need a new liver.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“You’re right. Don’t ask for my organs,” Ava said. “I miss Cec,” she sighed. “I love how she took absolutely nothing seriously, or maybe she did but she managed to be weird about it at the same time. That Nim-Wit guy, or whatever the hell his name was would love her.”
“What do you want?” Veridiana asked, melodic-voiced. She looked more subdued and elegant than exotic, in a white wool shirt with hanging beads and bared shoulders, plastic buttons, tight black pants, bare feet.
“Pomegranate and strawberry juice.”
“Ah. And what about the kid?”
“I’ll give her some of what I’m having,” Ava responded. Veridiana opened the door, giving a glimpse of the kitchen, very small and cramped with a floor that looked like it was supposed to be redone years ago. “So, pomegranate and orange, good or ghastly? I’ve been thinking of it but I’m kind of afraid to try it.”
“Does the kid speak?”
“She’s quiet. She didn’t speak a lick of Selinian when I adopted her, but I taught her some words, and she’s doing pretty well, aside from really wonky grammar.”
“Oh, Ava, before I forget, I have something you might find, ahem, interesting. It’s from Annunciation, I think that’s the National Party’s rag, or maybe it’s Heritage Front’s. I don’t know, I don’t read any of them. Stick with Truth, White Orchids, and The Spark.”
“Good thing I’m so clearly labeled. Do I really look like that?” The cartoon of her had pasty skin and narrow eyes that tilted at strange angles, buck teeth and big lips.
“I don’t get it.”
“I think they’re trying to say ‘We have absolute power! We don’t need cohesion!’”
“I’ve been in there too. They put a big emphasis on Bratianu. And they throw around terms like tinker.”
“It’s still the in thing to hate us, I guess. A pity we couldn’t end up like the Jews. You’re Roma?”
“Half-Roma. My mother is.”
“I’m a quarter at most.”
“It’s a class thing. They’re afraid of another Bratianu in positions of power. My great-uncle is Juventius Bratianu.”
“Is Islamist a word?”
“I don’t think so. It shouldn’t be.”
“I’ve seen jihadist before. Jihadist Soup, that band.”
“It’s not the most insulting thing I’ve seen from them.”
“What was, Marciana?”
“The way they see Bharukans and Nevdashti. They think they’ll just vanish without Selinian assistance, like they needed Maxentius to come riding on his white horse and save them from themselves. But it’s not only insulting to the people of Nevdasht, this guy was saying that easterners and Archipelagians and Equatorial Union are totally self-centered.”
“It’s the same shit they said about the lower classes during the first Civil War. And it’s the same Selinians who sterilized any Nevdashti who committed even the smallest crime fifty years ago, even having more than two children.”
A cursory glance at Annunciation was all I needed. The article on the front page had Meneleus Theodoropoulos lamenting Selinia’s lack of courage in expelling the Chenlans from Tarentum, the Nevdashti from Celeia and Phaselis, the Reef Islanders from Nicopolis, before descending into a morass of invented terminology and misused words from my biologist’s perspective.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Wipe my ass with it when they start rationing off toilet paper. Scan it and send it to anyone thinking of joining the Freedom Party with a warning that they’ll turn into another Meneleus. Send it to anyone thinking of marrying a Freedom Party member with the warning that she’ll be trapped in a loveless marriage with someone who only sees her as a baby factory, tell her to pick up a paintbrush or a ney or anything.”
“Where does he live?”
“He lived in Caralis for a while, and he’s always eager to point that out. It’s this dumb can’t be a saint unless you live amongst the lepers mentality, or Nevdashti as it may be. They all live in places like Caralis or Celeia. Either that, or in some rural town out in the ass end of nowhere. I think he’s an expatriate in Aleria or Palmyra now.”
“Caralis is segregated as fuck,” Ava said. “I don’t think he’s ever interacted with a Nevdashti.”

“You play?” Mansuetus asked. It was warm enough in here to forget the cold outside; he was dressed in only skinny jeans, socks, and a Pannonian Revolutionary Front t-shirt. Ava was strumming on Mansuetus’ guitar.
“Yeah. As cliché as it sounds, it’s the first time I felt happy since I came to Selinia.”
“Have you ever thought about playing for loose change in the subway stations?”
“Better than prostitution or fishing for coins in the fountains at the Concourse,” she laughed.
“Maybe not better than prostitution; you’re exotic enough that people will hand over more than just a pittance for your, ahem, services. You’d be a strictly high class courtesan.”
“I just don’t like it, ok? It’s sex without love. It’s worse than sex without love, it’s sex reduced to a fucking commodity,” Ava snapped. “And I know all too fucking well what sex without love’s like.”
“I’m sorry, I meant, about everything I said. I agree with you about sex. That was really dumb of me. It was a joke. A really tasteless and insensitive joke. So, electric?”
“Usually, I play acoustic. I left it in the living room, actually. And, um, I forgive you. It makes up for anything dumb I say.”
“Does he have recording equipment?” Marciana asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Cecilia made a great suggestion,” Marciana said. “How about some impromptu guitar noodling to some poetry? As long as you keep Eric or whatever his name is out.”
Marciana recited a poem about angels, to Ava’s willowy and bittersweet melody and wordless song.
“How was it?”
“I wish someone had a violin with them. Or an overdriven electric vina.”

He took us upstairs, to his room, lit by strings of white lights, floor covered in Aredvian carpets, a window overlooking the snowy forests. We sat on the the couch, Mansuetus and I on each side of Ava, while Marciana reclined on the bed with a glass of cherry wine.
“What’s this logo?”
“It’s the Knights of the Cross emblem as an amphisbaena, eating itself. I thought it was cool. But I’d imagine it gives me lots of weird looks.”
“I’d love to create something that’s just feedback.”
“Can I ask you how you two met?”
“Ava dragged Veridiana to a protest in Mediolanum. I was singing about the war in the Aredvi, and she struck up a conversation with me. Then we were tear gassed, that stuff hurts like fuck, you know, and we had to bail Ava out of jail because she threw her shoes at one of the magistrates.”
“He didn’t like me at first, thought I was too fucking reckless and he had to pay some of the bail and shit because Ver couldn’t afford all of it. But Ver told him not to be upset with me, because, hey, they’d never have met if it wasn’t for me. And if they didn’t arrest me for throwing my shoes, they’d have arrested us for taking off our clothes, as if they expected us to just stew in tear gas soaked clothes.”
Marciana giggled. “You were arrested for public nudity? I’ll never be able to let that one go.”
“I think we should leave.”
“It’s nice to talk to you, Ava.”

We went back to the train station, where time seems to stand still. It was evening and fucking freezing, the winter constellations had not yet revealed themselves and the gibbous moon and Sukra were alone in a vast and empty cerulean.
“Nervous about singing tonight?” I said when I got back on the train.
“Yeah,” she said, unraveling her scarf. “I’m afraid I’ll be a little late, but it’s a small part and it’s only in the third act.”
“This isn’t that tragicomic romance in three acts thing, is it? You know, twelve people are locked in a house one fine summer’s day, and one person goes apeshit when the house is attacked by five pirates and one steals her sandwich. After losing half of the people in the house to random axe murders, a third of the antique porcelain and a potted plant to random plate-throwings, and all of the music collection, the rebellion begins. The battle rages on for three weeks until a peace treaty is signed allowing the killer tribute in the form of one sandwich a week.” Ava asked.
“No, it’s not that. I play Kate. I feel more like Cio Cio sometimes. She’s Japoneza, but not the World’s Only Japoneza Partisan like in some other thing. I think. I don’t know. That? Did you perform in that? As one of the random victims of plate-throwings or a pirate, I mean? You don’t strike me as a crazed killer or a man.”
“No, I’ve only performed in public once. Cec told me about it.”
“Are you sure Cecilia didn’t hallucinate it while on a combination of absinthe and peyote?”
“It’s real. Well, the performance is. I don’t think anyone is fucking stupid enough to go apeshit because somebody stole their food. In fact, if you do, I daresay you deserve to have your fucking sandwich stolen from you. Besides, if Cec hallucinated it, there would be green-haired people. Or someone would have the part of one of the random plates. Or a potted plant.”
“That was a mistake in translation. The goddess of the harvest is in it, though, and she was from a faraway planet that orbited a small sun that orbited a large sun and had really long winters, so she was pissed off all the time. If you ask me, her daughter was probably happier in the underworld. And a guy in a bear suit, which is another mistake in translation, I think,” Ava said.
We stopped at home; Ava put on a black dress, knee length with detailed lace trim and lace over her navel, sequins and prints of tiny flowers, her hair spilling on her shoulders, posed for me.
“You’re beautiful. You’ll be warm enough?”
“Yeah, I think so. It’s not like I have to wait outside.” She was silent for a few seconds, put on a light blue sweater as an afterthought and then her coat, and we went back out to the subway station.

“Marciana, this thing came for you.”
“A Cleisourarch? Why would he want to talk to me?”
“Lepidus isn’t exactly Domnul Popular amongst the nobles. I’m guessing Daubresse is an ambitious minor house.”
Eric is a reference to the Fish Licence sketch from Monty Python, of course. Remember, anyone who names their pets Eric either appreciates Monty Python or needs the Looney Detector Van to come and pick them up.

The Cheshire Cat said that thing about cats being mad because they do the opposite of what dogs do.

Jihadist Soup is by Campbell's. The fascistic blogopshere made a stink about that back in 2010 (I'd say a few months back, but for the benefit of those of you who are reading this from THE FUTURE, I put the date). The article she reads is inspired by Vox Day, just replacing real life nationalities with fictional ones.

I wondered about songs made entirely with feedback before hearing Flying Saucer Attack

Marciana performs in Madama Butterfly. And she recites Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies earlier.

Ava refers to something like Helliconia.
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