Elephant in the Room (39)

Erik riding life-sized stuffed elephant

Sanaam edged his wheeled trunk down the bus stairs with difficulty. The trunk, which had lasted him many journeys, did the bigger-on-the-inside thing and the lighter-than-it-should-be thing pretty well. But it barely accomplished the fits-through-the-door-of-a-bus thing (at least on buses in San Rosille) and he had lashed a couple of extra boxes to it with rope. That encompassed the extent of his swag from this trip — which had not gone so great. There had been doldrums and repairs and they had to cut off an entire leg of the planned route due to being delayed until hurricane season. Sorry, boss. No Xinese merchandise until summer.

After subtracting estimated cab fare from his pay, he considered a bus ride home to be more appropriate. Hyacinth would take no rent at all if that was what you could afford, but there was a minimum amount he liked to pay her. She needed money to take care of the house, and cope with whatever horrible emergencies might take place in his absence. Giving money to Hyacinth was like putting it in the bank. (And, he also needed to reserve a certain amount for that. His wife was bound and determined that their daughter would go to a real school after the age of fourteen. Preferably, a military school, but only the best and most militaristic non-military one would do if that should prove impossible. She was considering the Academe St. Honoree, which was in Ansalem. That was six hours away by train with no seaport and Maggie would have to live there! Sanaam was considering kidnapping his daughter for her fourteenth birthday present and teaching her piracy instead.)

On his hike over the uneven planks and cobbles from the docks to the bus stop, he had briefly entertained the fantasy that his wife might appear in a flash of blinding light with some cab fare that she had tucked away for his return, just in case. She was a very clever person and prepared for any eventuality, and if she wasn’t prepared for it, she would get prepared very fast. She could probably boss her way on to a cab for free.

But, she was haughty and cruel and she had a seriously warped sense of justice. If she had happened to wing by in bird form and notice his struggling through the puddles, she probably would’ve considered it a natural consequence of his failing to work hard enough to make money.

Dammit, woman! I can’t change the weather! I’m not you!

And, being aware of that, you should have made a better allowance for it at the beginning of your journey.

Gods, even in his head, she was smug.

He paused at the bus stop and looked up the street. Well, the street was still there. There weren’t any huge holes in it or anything. No one had started a war in his absence.

But, it had been like that last time, and for all that had happened, someone might as well have started a war.

He had another present for Erik that was not made of tin and not consisting of horses and he hoped like hell Erik was going to be in any kind of shape to accept it. Erik had been getting better and Hyacinth had seemed certain of further improvement but that didn’t mean something else couldn’t happen to him. Or Maggie.

Or, hell, even his wife.

He looked over his shoulder at the departing bus. I could just walk off that way. Find a doss house. Get myself declared lost at sea. Find myself an easier wife, an easier life. Go back to Saint Matt’s and be a conch diver for a living.

Yeah, right.

He’d crossed a couple thousand miles of ocean to get back here, he wasn’t going to quit a block up the street.

I’ll find out how horrible it is at home, then I’ll decide if I want to be a conch diver.

He sighed and trundled his way down Violena. The cobbles here were worse, bare mud in places, and of course there were more puddles. His shoes and trousers were all splashed, and even his coat in places.

A short way past Hassan’s Kebabs (He still ate there occasionally, though Hyacinth had told him a gut-wrenching story about a hair, It was wrapped around the stick, Sanaam!) the house became visible, and became a puzzlement. As he drew closer, he had to stop and look both ways, up and down the street, just to orient himself. Yes, I’m in the right place. That’s the house. It just looks like that now.

He smiled. People did not paint their house in such a bouyantly crazy fashion when they were enduring hard times and tragedy. Whatever had happened, he thought it was going to be okay.

His daughter was waiting for him on the porch steps (which had also received the puzzle-piece treatment) and she stood and waved. “Hi, Daddy!”

“Mag-Pirate!” he said. He abandoned his trunk by the plywood gate and swept her up. She giggled and wrapped both arms around his neck. Oh, this was a much better reception than last time. “How’ve you been?”

“Pretty okay,” Maggie said, smiling. “Mordecai almost died and Erik held a god for two weeks!”

Sanaam staggered in through the front door and noted Hyacinth making her way from the basement to the kitchen. “Hyacinth, isn’t there some kind of newsletter you put out that I could subscribe to?”

“Newsletter?” said Hyacinth. “Who’d want to read about us?”

A single piece of white paper with a crayon drawing on it drifted down from above. There were a few more drawings and crayons scattered on the floor behind the stub of railing to the left of the stairs. Erik was standing among them — having just stood up, in fact — and seemed anxious.

He also seemed to have replaced his missing eye with a gold metal one.

Ah, Milo finished it, and it looks like Erik’s feeling well enough to be using it.

And well enough not to be bundled in a blanket looking completely miserable in the kitchen.

“Uh,” Erik said. He clutched his hands around the railing and twisted them. “Uh…”

Maggie grinned. She slipped out of her father’s grasp and folded her arms across her chest. “Go on, ask him.”

“I… uh…” Erik frowned. He fisted both hands and struck himself in the leg with one of them. “I… don’t… talk… like… this…”

“He does when he’s super excited,” Maggie said. She snickered. “I said you were gonna bring him an elephant. He wants a real one.”

“I… know… it’s… not!” Erik said hotly.

“He does when he’s pissed off, too,” Maggie noted, aside.

“Mag-Pirate, it’s not nice to tease people,” Sanaam said.

“We don’t do it because it’s nice, Daddy,” she replied. She thought it was pretty darn funny, though.

“Erik, do you want your present now?” Sanaam asked.

Erik nodded. “…Uh… Uh-huh.”

“It’s outside…”

Erik straightened and wobbled a step back.

“No, it’s not a real elephant!” Sanaam cried. No, Erik thinking for a second that he might really get a real elephant was really funny, but his expression falling when he got outside and there wasn’t one would not be funny at all, and that killed any desire Sanaam might’ve had to laugh or continue the misunderstanding. Teasing was funny, yes. Tormenting a seven-year-old who had just clawed his way back from a terrible head injury (and got done holding a god, and had an uncle who almost died — Gods, he needed to hear the rest of that story!) was beyond unfunny and into sadism. He would punch somebody he caught doing anything like that. “Hang on, Erik. I’ll get it.”

“I’ll… come!” Erik said. He tore down the sweeping staircase with one hand hooked around the banister and ran to the door… which he paused at and then opened with a sheepish expression.

“You sure move fast,” Sanaam said, smiling.

“Oh, I haven’t run into any walls in, like, a week,” Erik said, much faster than he had been, and faster and clearer than on Sanaam’s previous visit.

“Why…” Sanaam said, before he thought better of it. It would be a long story, whatever it was, and Erik wanted his present. It could wait.

“Maybe I better do you a report, Daddy,” Maggie said, patting him.

———

It was in one of the boxes. He didn’t want to cram it in the trunk with the cloth things and hard things that could take endless shoving. It seemed pretty sturdy, but things could get weird in the trunk and he didn’t want to give Erik a flat elephant — whether he was feeling better or not.

“This is for your birthday, not Yule,” Sanaam said, lifting the box. “I don’t have anything for Yule yet, but I’ll figure something out.” He thought he’d ask Maggie to pick whichever one of the toys her grandparents had sent for her that she liked least. His money was on the hoop and stick. (“You used to love playing hoop and stick, Sanaam!” “Yes, Mom, but there didn’t used to be movie theaters!”) There was no way she’d agree to part with the slingshot. He didn’t really want to give her the slingshot, but her grandparents were going to demand photographic evidence of her being adorable and childlike with it. After which point he was certain she would commence being a holy terror with it.

“I had… soldiers for my… birthday,” Erik said.

Sanaam flinched. “Erik, you don’t have to like those, honestly. It won’t hurt my feelings. I didn’t know…”

“I like them a lot,” Erik said seriously. “It’s only pretend horses and I’m not scared of them.”

“They’re tin,” Sanaam said.

Erik smiled and shrugged. He brushed the edge of his socket with one hand. “I kinda like that. Can… I…?” He reached towards the box.

Sanaam dropped it into his arms. “It’s still for your birthday, because that’s what I said it was. I think you can stand to have more than one present.”

Erik nodded. He made an attempt at pulling off the strings, the box was squishy and easily deformed, but he couldn’t quite get them and hold the box, too. He made as if to sit down in the yard, but that was all muddy and it would be cold and messy and not nice. He guessed he’d have to take it all the way back to the porch, but he didn’t want to wait…

Maggie snapped the strings for him with a quick deconstruction spell that scorched the box slightly but did not set it on fire.

“Thanks, Maggie,” he said, smiling. He pulled up the lid. It was sort of like one of those bakery boxes that Ann or Milo brought home sometimes, except brown and not pink. There was a piece of white tissue folded over something reddish inside. He flipped it back.

He gasped.

“It… is!” he cried. He dropped the box and string and tissue and he hugged the object inside.

It was a stuffed elephant about the size of a watermelon, and it seemed nearly as heavy, but a great deal softer. It was made of red and gold fabric. The gold was shiny and the red was all different shades and patterns. Spirals. Flowers. Paisleys. It was wearing a gold headpiece that had coin-sized gold sequins sewn to it. It had its trunk raised in greeting and a tuskless, embroidered smile.

“It’s… a… real… one!” Erik managed, breathlessly slow.

Sanaam laughed. “It’s not, I promise you. The real ones are a lot bigger.”

Erik shook his head, and his entire upper body followed along. “It’s… not… a… picture! I… can… hold… it!”

“Well, you don’t have to feed it or clean up its poop,” Sanaam said.

“I… could… pretend!” Erik said.

“That’s a super weird game, Erik,” Maggie opined. “You gonna give it a coffee mug for a chamber pot?”

Erik held up the elephant and considered it. That was just about the right size, but something about the whole idea of elephant poop in a coffee mug bothered him. He liked coffee.

“Elephants just go wherever, Mag-Pirate,” Sanaam told her. “Like little girls who learned how to walk and undo their diaper pins at about the same age.”

Maggie gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth, then she threw back her head and laughed.

Can’t embarrass you, can I? Sanaam thought with a grin. I can only surprise you for a second. He gave one of her pigtails a tug. “You’re a good girl, Maggie. …but not too good,” he added. She beamed at him.

“Thank you for my elephant,” Erik said. He paused and took a step back. “I’m sorry. I remember your name and everything, I promise. I just don’t remember what I used to call you. Is it ‘sir?'” Maggie’s mom was ‘sir,’ but Sanaam wasn’t like the General at all.

“Well…” Sanaam said, somewhat pained. Last time he’d been here, Erik hadn’t been calling him anything at all. But, before that, “You used to say ‘Uncle Sanaam,’ but just Sanaam is all right, too. You’re getting older.” Ann and Milo, he had noted, had stopped getting the Auntie and Uncle treatment sometime last year, but they were pretty young, more like a big brother and sister. He thought Hyacinth might stay an Auntie for a good while longer and Mordecai was probably permanent — he really was family.

Well, no, he wasn’t really, but close enough.

Erik smiled. “Thank you for my elephant, Sanaam.” He shifted and tried to tuck his elephant under one arm, but it was too big to manage. “I think I have to wait until we’re inside to hug you.”

Sanaam picked up Erik and elephant and hugged both. He trundled up the front porch steps with two trunks in tow — Maggie gave him a bit of an assist with the one with the wheels.

The General was standing by the railing just outside of their room and looking down.

“I see the elephant-related business has been concluded,” she said, noting Erik and his prize.

Sanaam felt Erik shiver. He bounced the child lightly, like a fussy baby. Hey, it’s okay. That’s just my wife.

He could sympathize with the shivering, though. His wife was a broad, short woman, basically a human halfbrick, and equally disposed towards smashing people in the face during a fight. Or she had the option to turn into a giant golden eagle and take out the eyes of the deserving, that too. Now, she usually didn’t, but Sanaam was pretty certain that was because she felt it was inappropriate, not because she didn’t want to. Her ironclad understanding of rude behavior and unforgivable social transgression (basically weighted about the same) was the only thing that stood between her and multiple murder convictions.

Maybe that and the pigeon-killing. The pigeon-killing was like a safety valve, now that she couldn’t puree multiple enemy soldiers at a command.

“Did he manage to ask for it properly without my standing nearby and terrorizing him?” she drawled.

“Sure did!” Magie lied easily.

I am really going to have to keep an eye on that one, Sanaam thought. She could fool a god.

Erik squirmed and clearly desired to be allowed to retreat to a safe space with his elephant, possibly Room 102 or the moon. Sanaam let him down. He heard rapid footsteps vanishing, but did not look after them.

“Then, Captain, I believe we have business of our own,” the General said. She smiled. It was sort of terrifying.

He grinned. “Sir!” he replied, and saluted.

“Oh, gods,” Maggie said, with a roll of her entire head. She departed also.

Sanaam abandoned his things on the uneven tile floor of the front room and mounted the sweeping staircase, still grinning.

It wasn’t that he loved her in spite of her homicidal nature. She didn’t have a soft mushy center that she’d only show around him, she was solid stone all the way through. (Well, she was real stone only in patches, where the medic had healed her wounds.) He loved her because she was a tightly-contained maniac, and she somehow loved him anyway. It was like he was special. Yes, I have a tiger! Oh, no, it’s not a tame tiger. It still eats people. It just likes me. I seem to have impressed it and earned its respect at some point. I’ve got to be really careful I don’t lose that, though, or it’ll take my head off. We have a child together! I think the child is probably going to grow up and be a tiger, too…

He embraced his wife. Beneath the stiff green fabric of her dress, she was not soft, but taut with vibrant potential.

You know, I was never any good at conch diving, anyway, Sanaam thought, closing the bedroom door. I’m too fat. I float!

———

“So, I’ve got something for you,” he said, arms folded behind his head.

She sighed. “Is it stupid?” She still had those damn earrings in a drawer. It amused him to stick her with irritating gifts.

He laughed. “I have something stupid for you, too, but I’m going to wait on that until we do Yule. This is kind of serious. Do you mind?” He brushed lightly at her hair.

She sat up, removing both hand and cheek from his chest. She was frowning. She tended to revert to a frown in any case, and whether it was serious or some kind of prank, the frown was appropriate.

He had it in a pocket. He’d been keeping it there since he bought them, unwilling to trust it to luggage or a box. It wasn’t terribly valuable — it was a bit expensive, because of the range — but it was irreplaceable. These things had been illegal in Marsellia since the war, having been employed to great effect for the gathering of intel.

He was already wearing the other one. He hoped he could convince her to wear hers, but even if she kept it in the sock drawer, at least she’d have it.

They were not really ring or jewelry people. He wore wooden plugs in his ears, but that was more of a culture thing. Men did that. (Well, they did where he came from.) He hadn’t even proposed to her with a ring. When he had expressed an intention to marry her with one, she had called him an idiot. A ring was a fine thing to get stuck in a sword hilt or a trigger, and she wasn’t about to wear one and risk tearing off a finger. She advised him against it also, citing the amount of rope and chain hauling he engaged in.

I could always wear it on a chain around my neck…

Yes, Captain, because strangulation is far more preferable than amputation.

So they didn’t do rings, but he was going to do this one. He considered the peace of mind well worth the potential finger loss. He had a lot of fingers.

He picked up his crumpled pants from beside the bed and searched them until he found it. “Here.”

“More jewelry?” she said wearily, accepting it. It was made of dark, stained wood, so she supposed Hyacinth wouldn’t want it.

“It’s not jewelry,” he said. He held up his hand and showed his own, which was difficult to see because of his dark skin, but you could make it out when he turned his palm forward and pointed. “It’s a wireless telephone.”

“Captain,” she said. “If you are saying what I believe you are saying, such objects were outlawed in the Ghislain Treaty of 1371…”

“And I don’t care,” he replied. “Are you going to call the police on your own husband because he’s worried about you?”

“I’ll call him a fool,” she replied coldly.

“Then I’m a fool,” he said. “Humor me for a little, will you?”

She nodded, but with a suspicious expression.

“You can’t do everything,” he said. “Maggie has to leave the house sometimes, and so do you. If something happens, like what happened to Erik, and you’re not there to stop it, then I want to know about it. You turn that ring around three times and say my name and I’ll hear you, even on the other side of the globe.”

“I am familiar with the concept of a ring of sending,” the General disdained. They were quite popular with lovers when she was a girl. You’d see people walking down the street having intimate, cloying conversations with thin air. No, you ring off first! No, you ring off first! You’re so sweet! It was annoying as hell. “I do not see the point of it. If there is indeed an emergency situation that I cannot handle myself, you are not going to do me a great deal of good on the other side of the globe.”

“Not right away,” he admitted. “But I can come home as quickly as possible and help clean it up. Even if it can’t be cleaned up,” he said miserably, “I just want to know. I don’t want to get home two months later and have Hyacinth meet me at the door and tell me you’re in the hospital or Maggie’s dead.”

“I would never allow such a thing,” she said.

You can’t do everything,” he replied through clenched teeth. “Would you have let Erik get half-killed in the street if you could’ve done something about it? I don’t think you’re that twisted!”

A long pause, too long. She was filtering it through her sense of justice, which was indeed quite twisted and seemed to work a bit like a pachinko machine. It landed in the ‘no’ box, despite the little extra spin that Erik’s fooling around with some horses when he should’ve known not to had put on it. “No, I would not have allowed it,” she said. And those two young men would have been unable to identify Mordecai at the police station due to having no eyes. Which would have solved matters nicely.

“I’m not saying I want to come home and rescue you,” Sanaam said. “I’m not saying I’m smarter or stronger than you, I know I’m not. I just don’t want to come up the walkway scared out of my mind every time. I just want to know when something’s wrong.”

“…Must I wear it?” she said, frowning.

“No.” He smiled weakly. “Only if you want me to be able to call you if something happens to me.”

She put on the ring. “I suppose I rarely shoot nowadays, and I can remove it if necessary. Three times, was it?”

“It’s carved on the band,” he said.

“So it is.” It was rather ornate script, but still legible. She appreciated that he’d picked out a practical design, nothing tacky or sparkly. “You have made certain Hyacinth will not wrest it from me, as well. I trust is is fairly sturdy?”

“It’s ironwood,” he said. “From Adebola.”

“Hm. Ironwood.” She approved of the concept. She extended her arm and examined the band on her finger. It fit well. She supposed Sanaam might have remembered her measurement from when he had the idiotic idea of wedding rings. “If I find it too vexing, I will throw it in the drawer with your earrings.”

He grinned. “Still have them, eh?”

She sighed and slumped, defeated. It was a rare sight. “That damn Hyacinth wouldn’t even take them apart for the wires.”

———

Sanaam was able to hold all his questions, pretty much, until they were sitting down at the table to eat. But he did embrace Mordecai when he saw him and ask if he was okay.

“Yes, it was weeks ago,” the red man replied, urgently stirring a pot of mashed potatoes which did not require stirring.

He was embarrassed. Sanaam had seen this sort of thing before.

Sorry I got washed overboard in that storm, Cap. Didn’t meant to put you out.

Yeah, Hasim. How damned irresponsible of you to get hit by a big goddamn wave while we were trying to trim the sails. You’d better not let it happen again. As if there was anything anyone could have done about it.

But it was easier to pretend that. It only happened because I was screwing around! I was asking for it. I’ll be more careful and it won’t happen again. As if reality couldn’t smack you down whenever it felt like it for no reason at all.

“Skiing accident or something, I suppose?” Sanaam said.

“Or something,” Mordecai replied, but he twitched a vague smile.

Dinner was a pot roast. Erik’s elephant was allowed a seat at the table and a saucer with a small portion of vegetables, but Mordecai refused to pour it any coffee.

“Because I know where that coffee is going to end up, Erik, and I would like you to sleep tonight!”

“Erik, you like coffee?” Sanaam said, and that was enough to get him the whole story. He only had to express disbelief and concern where appropriate, such as, “Erik lived off of coffee and cigarettes for two weeks?” and, “Milo redesigned Mordecai’s lungs?” (Hyacinth tore off a piece of tin foil and showed him the fold.)

“So, this is so it won’t happen again?” Sanaam said, playing with the foil.

“It’s less likely,” Hyacinth said, and after Mordecai shot her a glance, she amended, “It’s a lot less likely.”

“Auntie Enora helped fix me, too,” Erik said. “I can read and write again. I still mess up my letters sometimes, so I guess she couldn’t fix everything.” He gazed down a this hands on the table, no longer eating. “And she almost put me in the hospital, and a lot more bad stuff could’ve happened. I’m not going to call gods again.” He looked up. “But I’m glad I helped my uncle.”

“I’m glad you did, too,” Sanaam said.

Mordecai looked away. “I’m proud of him,” he said. “It was a hard thing to do.”

But, Sanaam noted, he didn’t say “glad.”

“There’s pie,” Mordecai said. He got up from the table.

Sanaam twitched but did not get up. Mordecai did not run off. He came back with a pie. He didn’t look very happy, though.

Well, of course he’s not happy, thought Sanaam. Erik almost killed himself trying to save him. I wouldn’t be happy if Maggie did that. I’d be scared out of my mind.

“When on earth did you find time to paint the house?” Sanaam asked. He didn’t need any more answers about the upsetting stuff. If he came up with more questions later, Maggie or the General could clarify — away from the people who were liable to be upset.

“Oh, that was a couple weeks ago,” Maggie said, availing herself of pie. The General abstained. “This guy brought us paint — you know, for the stuff on the wall — but all different colors. Erik came up with the puzzle pieces. I think it came out real nice.”

The General emitted an audible sigh and rested her head in one hand, “I suppose it goes nicely with the broken tile and the hole in the roof,” she muttered.

Erik snickered. “The paint man tore his coat on our wall and fell over. I hope he comes back again, he’s funny. Auntie Hyacinth, do you remember when you fixed him?”

Hyacinth dropped her fork. Not far, just on to her pie plate. “Uh, I didn’t… I dunno. It was probably a long time ago. I mean, I had ‘paint’ up on the chalkboard for a long time.”

And, why are we lying to Erik about the paint man? Sanaam wondered. Maggie noted it, too, and exchanged a glance with her father. Even Mordecai regarded Hyacinth oddly.

“Hey, Erik, are you gonna name that elephant or what?” said Hyacinth.

“Does it have a name?” Erik asked Sanaam. He patted it. It had eaten its mashed potatoes, but not its carrots. (Erik was not overly fond of carrots.)

“Nope. I think you’ll have to come up with one.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“You’d better look under its tail,” Maggie said with a grin.

Erik did so, perhaps expecting a label.

Sanaam snickered. “No, you don’t need to do that. It’s a Priyati elephant, you can tell by the tusks. In Adebola, the boy and girl elephants have tusks, but in Priyat, only the boy ones do.”

“So it’s a girl,” said Erik.

Sanaam nodded.

“I guess I hafta think about it,” Erik said. He smiled at his Uncle, “Can my elephant have pie?”

“You and your elephant can share,” said Mordecai.

Hyacinth dragged Sanaam and Ann aside while dishes were being done. “So, listen, Sanaam, I know you usually just have dinner for Yule, but I was thinking. Erik didn’t have a whole lot of Yule and he’s doing a lot better, you’ve got two weeks here this time, so we’ve got a little while to get ready. What do you guys think if we go all out? Just take one whole day and do everything? Breakfast, lunch and dinner, presents and a tree, put some lights on the house. Everything.”

“Where are you going to get a tree in the middle of March?” Sanaam said.

Hyacinth shrugged. “Beats me, but I’m sure we can come up with something, even if it’s not a real tree.”

“Just the one day?” Ann said. “Presents and everything?”

“Yeah.”

Ann smiled. “I think that is an excellent idea, Cin.”

“I don’t really have an awful lot of money, Hyacinth,” Sanaam hedged.

“I don’t think they have to be good presents, Sanaam,” Hyacinth said. “You can make him something if you need. An ashtray.”

Sanaam couldn’t help laughing. “Hyacinth, that is terrible!”

“Shh, Sam,” Ann said. “Let’s surprise him. He won’t be expecting Yule in the middle of March.”

“Ann, he’s got invisible people that tell him things,” Hyacinth said.

“Well, then, let’s try to surprise him, Cin, dear,” Ann replied. “We might get away with it, you know. And I suppose it won’t really hurt him if we don’t.”

“All right,” said Hyacinth, “but I’m telling Mordecai so he can do the food.”

“I think if I ask my wife nicely, she might do us some snow,” Sanaam added. Or, if I ask her not-nicely and just keep doing it until she gets annoyed.

“Snow!” said Ann. She clapped her hands, but softly. “How wonderful! When are we going to do it? Tomorrow?”

“Hey, give me a couple of days to convince her,” Sanaam said with a grin.

“What about Sun’s Day, then?” Ann said. “Milo will have the whole day off, and we’ll all have a little time to go shopping.” She smiled. “And make ashtrays, too, if you like.”

“Sun’s Day…” Sanaam enumerated days on his fingers. Today was Woden’s Day. “I think I can probably talk her around by then.” And maybe sell some of my blood to buy presents…

“Your wife,” said Hyacinth. “Am I going to have to buy her a present?”

“I have something for her,” Sanaam said, grinning. “But I think she would prefer no presents at all.”

“This is going to be so much fun!” Ann cried.

“What is?” Erik asked, holding his elephant.

“Leftover pot roast sandwiches for lunch!” Ann declared.

“Oh,” Erik said, somewhat mystified. He wandered off through the dining room to get ready for bed.

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