Cornflakes and Blue Serge (6)

Milo with anxiety behind him. Captioned The Engineer.

She said ‘breakfast.’ Something. He looked down but it wasn’t. Breakfast was… long… lap… in a bowl. There. Not.

She said ‘upstairs.’

Up… Stairs? There were stairs. They went up.

She said, ‘table.’

He said, “I’m sorry.”

“No, Erik, it’s all right,” Hyacinth said. “Look at me. Try to focus.”

“Mm-hm.” He didn’t nod. He didn’t like to nod. It didn’t hurt so much anymore, but it made him dizzy.

“We are going to have breakfast upstairs at the table.”

We’re going to have breakfast… something… something. Not here. Up the stairs.

“We are?”

She nodded. “We are. You and I, and your uncle…”

“Uncle,” he said. That was good.

“And Maggie…”

“Maggie.” That was even better. He smiled.

“And Milo.”

“My… My…? I don’t know…”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to remember everything right now. You just woke up.”

I woke up? Did I?

“Can you walk?”

He remembered that. “Yes.”

There were… Stairs. That was… He didn’t know if he did stairs before. Then…

“Oh!”

It was bright. It was cold. It hurt.

He sat down. The floor was… white… and black… and broken.

Where was he?

“Erik? Are you all right? Is it too bright?”

“It’s cold,” he said. He wanted to put his hand where… the metal… but he was afraid.

“Ahh,” said Hyacinth, painfully. She touched her hand to the side of her head. “It’s exposed. Erik, let’s go in the kitchen. It’s warm there. The oven’s lit. It’s close.”

What…? Warm…?

She helped him up. She helped him walk. There were some stairs, little stairs, then… better.

Glass. The wall all glass. Sink. Chairs. Flat… with cloth…

There were so many words he needed!

There were people at the… that flat thing. It was too many to remember all at once. He stumbled back a pace. One of them got up right away to help him. He was red. He had white hair.

Like me.

“Uncle…”

The man picked him up and held him. Erik hid his face against his shoulder. It was warm and it felt good against the metal place.

“We don’t have to do this if it’s too hard, okay? We’ll do whatever you want. You just have to say.”

“Mordecai…” said Hyacinth

He only frowned at her and held the child.

“I want to try,” Erik said.

They said that was okay. And he had a chair. And he had… flat place in front of him.

Maggie was there and Maggie said, ‘cornflakes?’

He remembered. He liked those. He didn’t have cornflakes in forever. “Yes, please. And rice.”

“Rice?” said Hyacinth.

“Yes.”

“I don’t think rice goes with cornflakes, honey.”

“But, there.” He pointed to the bowl. It was on the flat place.

Sugar, Erik.”

Sugar,” he replied. “Please sugar.” He had forgotten what with. He only knew what it looked like.

They made a sound in his bowl like ringing. The milk was cold. They didn’t get milk delivered, but there was a place downstairs to keep it. They couldn’t have a… a… electric. Box. Everyone was sitting around. They were looking at him. Except the man with glasses. He was looking down. He had cornflakes also.

Cornflakes, that was it.

The white girl — what was her name? — kept saying they needed to get the good cereal with marshmallows.

What was he doing?

“Erik, eat your breakfast,” Hyacinth said gently.

Oh, yeah.

He had to think about the spoon for a minute, but he got it right. He’d been doing his own spoon for ages. It was sweet, and then…

Oh! Loud!

He dropped his spoon on the table and he pressed both hands to the side of his head. He swallowed, he didn’t spit it back out, but only just. It was too sharp and it scraped and it was like metal.

“Oh, no. It’s crunchy. He’s only had soft things… Erik, is it loud? Is it too loud?”

“Mm-hm,” he said.

“Okay. That’s okay. We won’t have cereal.” She took the bowl away from him. “How about… An egg? What about a soft-boiled egg?”

Soft?

“Yes.”

That was… a little while. He sat with his eye closed. It was good that it was warm. It was cool where he used to be. He’d liked that, he was hot a lot, but now not so much anymore. The warm felt good on the metal.

She took the top off the egg for him and she gave him a new spoon. It was soft and warm. It still tasted funny, but he could tell it was supposed to be an egg. “Thank you. It’s good.”

“You’re very welcome, Erik,” said Hyacinth. She shot Mordecai a smug look. See? I told you he could handle it.

Why did you give him cereal?” the red man hissed at her.

“I didn’t just give it to him, he asked for it. We’ll wait awhile before we try it again, or we’ll let it get soggy or something.”

“I said cereal,” Magnificent broke in. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s all right. He did say he wanted it…”

“I’m glad it’s not a cat,” Erik said softly. He remembered they used to eat cats. He would say that they weren’t… but they were.

“Honey?” said Hyacinth. “What is it about a cat?” Maybe he just meant something like a cat. “Can you point to it?”

“You always said it was a rabbit,” Erik told his uncle.

Mordecai lay his fork down beside his plate very carefully. His hands folded up in each other. “You mean something else,” he said. “You’re just tired.”

“You played ‘Nights in White Satin,'” Erik said. His voice was vague, his gaze, distant. He was tired. But he was talking somehow. “How come you don’t wear the locket anymore?”

Mordecai got up from the table and walked out the kitchen door. Hyacinth stood and tried to stop him, but he held up his hand and he snarled at her and she let him go. It only took him a moment to get the door open enough, and when he got out he left it where it was.

Milo got up and, after a brief, helpless glance around the room, he ran out, too.

Erik put both hands over his mouth. “I’m sorry! Was it bad?”

“No.” Hyacinth put both her arms around him, then she pulled his hands down. “I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t bad. Are you tired, honey?”

“Yes.” He sobbed.

“It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I’m going to put you to bed, and Milo’s going to look after your uncle. Is that all right?”

He nodded, the once, then he remembered he didn’t like it. He pressed his hands to his head, “Ow.” It didn’t really hurt but he didn’t like it. He didn’t like anything. He wanted his uncle. What happened?

Hyacinth was walking him out of the room. She paused in the kitchen doorway. The front room was colder, and so was the basement.

“Erik, do you want to go back downstairs or would you like to have your own bed again?”

“Radio downstairs,” the boy said weakly.

“No, sweetheart. Ann killed the radio.”

He blinked up at her and rubbed the tears from his eye. “Cinephone killed the radio.”

She smiled. “That’s right. You like that song. Do you remember?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s okay. I think we’ll have you in your own bed, but you tell me if it’s not okay. Here, walk fast, we’ll get out of the cold.”

It hurt, but only for a little. Then there was…

I remember. That’s my bed.

It was on the floor. It was cool, but the blanket was fuzzy and warm. It was blue, the blanket. He had a quilt sometimes when it was extra cold, but he didn’t see it. (That was okay. He didn’t think he’d like all the colors right now.) It was soft. She sat him on it and she took a tissue and wiped his face.

He was sad. He had said… something. Then bad things happened, but now there was bed. He rubbed his eye.

“You know, your uncle was going to teach you that song when you got big enough for Julia.”

Julia?

“Julia isn’t a person,” he said.

“That’s right.”

“Julia is…” He was so tired. “I can’t.”

“Julia was a violoncello. It’s all right, Erik.”

“It’s not.”

“It’s not, but you need to sleep.”

“Is my uncle?”

“He’ll be fine.”

———

He was not fine. He was pacing back and forth in Green Dragon Alley and shouting at the ground.

“He doesn’t know those things. He doesn’t know any of those things! He shouldn’t know those things!

Milo was walking next to him and occasionally putting up a hand to stop him. But whenever he did that, Mordecai would walk farther and faster.

Leave me alone!

Milo shook his head.

Mordecai turned and addressed him. Milo did not look up at him. Milo looked at his shoes. Mordecai had a good eye for shoes, though he bought them second hand. These were black wingtip oxfords, worn, but with a lot of wearing left in them.

“It’s not her, you know,” said Mordecai, above the shoes. “It’s not like he almost died and he saw her. When I played ‘Nights in White Satin,’ she was already gone. It’s them. They used her, and they threw her away, and now they’re after him!”

Milo shook his head. The shoes continued to pace.

“Of course it is! And there isn’t anything I can do about it…” His voice was thick with stifled tears. The shoes stumbled as if lost, or perhaps untied. “So don’t… don’t talk to me… Don’t touch me! Stop following me!” He took off down the alley in the direction of Strawberry Square, walking fast with his head down.

Milo opened his mouth, said nothing, and walked after him. We need to go back. He reached out and touched something, a piece of some fabric, but Mordecai pushed him off. Okay, but we really need to go back… Mordecai shoved him away and sped up. Hey, I don’t really know what you’re talking about, but you sound crazy and you’re not even looking where you’re going. You’re gonna get hit by a bus… But all he could do was put out a hand and try to stop him again.

Mordecai turned and shoved him back with both hands. “What the hell are you doing?” He advanced and he did it again. Milo focused on his vest. It was gray. Herringbone. It matched the pants. That was a nice tie.

“You’re completely useless! You know that, don’t you? Are you gonna say something? Are you gonna say something that makes all of this better? Go on, then!”

Milo opened his mouth, closed it, shook his head. His eyes were pained. I can’t… Even if I could, I can’t…

The shoes advanced upon him, “Why don’t you go home and put on a dress?

There were other shoes approaching. Black patent leather with a worn rubber sole. Laces, but he couldn’t see the tie because they went up over the ankle. They were boots. Police boots. They had been too loud. Well, Mordecai had been too loud, anyway.

Milo stumbled a step backwards, hands up and shaking his head. He didn’t look up. He looked away. Oh, no, they’re gonna try to talk to me, and then they’ll arrest me or take me home…

And that would leave Mordecai out here all by himself.

“Excuse me, sir. Is this man bothering you?” To Milo.

Milo rapidly shook his head. Mordecai’s shoes took a half-step away and stopped. Milo glanced up and saw a gloved hand clamped on his arm. Black leather glove on white cotton fabric. The fabric bunched and wrinkled. Mordecai’s sleeves were slightly bloused. It was an older-style shirt. Cufflinks, not buttons.

Uh… thought Milo. Uh… He put his hand in his pocket and urgently presented a card.

The police boots turned their toes in his direction. “Violena Street? It’s that way. Go down Green Dragon Alley and turn right.”

Milo nodded miserably.

The boots turned back to Mordecai’s shoes. Mordecai’s shoes turned toward the boots, taking small, unsteady steps as if he had been pulled. When Milo checked, the gloved hand was still on his arm. “Why are you harassing this gentleman?”

Mordecai didn’t answer him.

But Mordecai could say things! Why didn’t he?

“Just a minute!” A gloved hand went into a pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper. It was worn and creased and yellowing. There was a sketch of an older gentleman who was not dissimilar to Mordecai. Milo saw the words ‘wanted’ and ‘red.’

Milo opened his mouth to cry out — didn’t, of course — and snatched the paper.

The police boots staggered. “Excuse me!” Not asking to be excused. Asking, instead, What the hell is the matter with you?

Milo attempted both eye-contact and a smile, hoping to project an attitude of great normalcy. He did not do either of these things terribly well and managed only an impression of mild derangement. He latched onto Mordecai’s other arm and pulled him in the opposite direction while nodding vigorously. Hey, I’m just gonna take my friend here and go now. No problems!

“Are you complicit in this matter?” said the policeman. He had… eyes…

He had a blue uniform with brass buttons. He had a badge. It was a silver star with six points. It said ‘504’ on it. There were decorative brass buttons on the sleeves of the jacket. They looked like lions’ heads. The pants were pleated but not cuffed. Looked like serge. Dark blue serge.

He was putting handcuffs on Mordecai.

Milo stumbled back a pace, shaking his head, No-no-no. Don’t do that! You don’t need to do that!

He didn’t need to do that. Mordecai couldn’t magic his way out of a paper bag!

“Clear off, then! Or I’ll bring you in as well!”

Bring me in? Brilliant! He stepped forward, nodding. Yes! Arrest me, too! Then I can…

Sit in a cell next to him and no one will know we are there.

He put up both hands and backed off again. The police boots took a step towards him.

Mordecai finally said something, “I don’t know that man. I think he’s some kind of a nut.”

Milo looked up, stricken. You hate me, don’t you? I thought you just didn’t like me, but you really do hate me.

Mordecai mouthed words at him over the police jacket’s blue serge shoulder, Go home.

Milo nodded, looking down. Sure. Go away. Leave me alone. Go home.

Go home?

Oh, wait, go home! Milo straightened and nodded a lot more. Yes! Go home and tell someone. And if he was just some random crazy person then the police boots wouldn’t turn and follow him, would they?

Would they?

He took two paces backwards and that seemed to hold true.

The policeman began to tell Mordecai that he didn’t have to say anything, but if he didn’t mention something that he later relied upon in court, that could hurt his case.

Milo turned and ran like hell.

———

He fell through the kitchen door and collapsed on the tile floor and they attempted to collect him. He found himself critiquing the cut and fabric of Hyacinth’s dress.

“Milo, what happened? Where’s Mordecai?”

Dull, utilitarian cotton duck in blue-gray. She wouldn’t wear jewelry, and those cheap shoes were for the same reason — no metal — but that didn’t mean she had to go around wearing upholstery. And that neckline was not doing her chest any favors.

Milo!” She shook him.

He handed her the police flier.

“I saw these up,” she said, “but not for weeks. Milo, did somebody take him?”

Milo nodded.

“Police or real people?”

Milo traced a six-pointed star at chest height with one finger.

“Mordecai’s in jail,” said Hyacinth.

“Splendid!” said the General.

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