Mordecai slept in on Sigurd’s Day.
This was perfectly normal, accepted sleeping in. This was financially-sound sleeping in. He played violin on street-corners for a living and people were out late drinking and screwing around on Sigurd’s Day. People were out pretty much all day and all night, but he tried to split the difference. Families with cute kids who gave him Mom and Dad’s money with permission in the afternoons, drunk people giggling and throwing handfuls of notes and change at night. He tried to get home before the men started taking their dicks out or the women started propositioning him or anyone threw up in the violin case. Usually eleven or twelve. The buses didn’t stop until two.
Anyway, it was perfectly okay being in bed until almost lunchtime and nobody poked him about it and even if he felt slightly guilty about it he did not need to because he didn’t want to fall asleep on the bus and walk half a mile home and get mugged — okay?
(All those coins really, really annoyed muggers. You would think they’d have some idea from the jingling and the violin case.)
There was nobody in the kitchen and nobody was in the least bit upset with him and he proceeded to get himself some kind of breakfasty-lunchy meal together. (Do I want canned soup? Cereal? Sandwich?) He refused to call it ‘brunch.’ That was for wealthy people who had eggs benedict and toast points and mimosas. That was for people who had doors on their kitchen cabinets.
There was a blue plate stacked with with neat square-cut brownies resting on the kitchen counter.
Mordecai gave a gasp and took two small — but nonetheless joyfully-intended — steps in place. Their new housemate was a baker!
It had to be Calliope, of course. No one else would have done it. Hyacinth never produced anything more complicated than boxed noodles, and no one else produced anything at all. If it wasn’t Calliope, someone had broken in to make brownies, and that just wasn’t logical.
Now there were not only brownies, but implications! Help in the kitchen! Recipes to trade! Another human being in the house who actually liked cooking! Okay, he didn’t really like it that much, he just did it because it needed doing — but now there might be someone who understood the difference between unsweet and semisweet chocolate and why he was annoyed when there was one and he wanted the other!
Humming blissfully to himself, he dished out one brownie on a paper towel and put another one directly into his mouth. He noted a handwritten missive that had been creased in the middle and propped up next to the plate like a tiny tent, and that the brownie he was holding in his mouth had a peculiar and familiar aroma at about the same time.
The note advised him, in spidery and rather unfeminine printing: One at a time.
Mordecai removed the brownie from his mouth and put it on top of the one he was holding on the paper towel. He lifted both to eye level and stared at them.
He put both brownies and paper towel on top of the brownies on the plate and he had a real good sniff of the whole thing.
He removed all brownies, and paper towel, and plate, from the kitchen, via the dining room, and he pounded on the door to Calliope’s room.
She answered wearing somewhat-smudged rimless spectacles and holding a dripping green paintbrush. She was not wearing the sweater at the moment, making the pregnancy a bit more evident, and also the surreal resemblance to Milo. “Yuh-huh?”
“Calliope, what are these?” Mordecai asked gently. He believed he might actually be smiling.
“Brownies?” she offered him. She pulled off the spectacles and stowed them in her shirt pocket.
“Are we missing a descriptor, dear?”
She had to think about that for a moment. It was possible — nay, inevitable! — that she had had a brownie. “Hash brownies?”
He pointed at her and smiled and nodded. “Ah! There it is. Yes.” He shoved the blue plate with the hash brownies through the door and into her chest, as if putting angry letters to the editor into the post. “Take it. Take it. Put your hand on it. Take it.”
Wobbling slightly, mystified, she took it.
“You and your hash brownies are confined to your room,” he said. “We are going to have a conversation, and then maybe one of you is going to be allowed out. Right now, I am going to do damage control. You are going to do whatever the hell it is you do in there and wait patiently. Do you have that?”
“Right.” He paused with his hand on the doorknob. “And for gods’ sakes, do not eat any more of them!”
She appeared indignant. “I didn’t want any m…”
“Great!” he said. He slammed her own door in her face.
“Erik!” he cried. His first immediate concern was Erik. Erik was not in the kitchen or the dining room or the front room. He had not been in the bedroom. He was not hanging out doing crayons at the top of the stairs. He did not appear to be within earshot.
Mordecai checked the front window and then ran out the front door and checked the porch and the yard. Nope. He also ran down the porch steps and looked up at the roof.
He was absolutely certain that people did not take drugs and then decide to hurt themselves or jump off the roof. Certainly not drugs like marijuana, not even if they were seven years old and didn’t know what they were taking. That was something stupid people said to get you to not take drugs. That was something people who wanted to hurt themselves said as an excuse. They decided they wanted to hurt themselves, then they took some drugs so they’d be less bothered about hurting themselves. He had dealt with people who had taken some truly heroic amounts of drugs, and it was not so much the getting high part that hurt you as the part where some of them stopped your heart or your kidneys, or you were trying to cope with whatever the god had been doing to you, or you were having to get used to no drugs again. He was at once perfectly aware of this and angry and terrified because Calliope might’ve given Erik drugs.
Anyway, you could really scare yourself with drugs, especially if you didn’t want them or know what you were taking. If, for example, they were in a goddamn brownie.
Erik was around the back of the house in the alley bouncing a red rubber ball against the wall. He did not appear scared or altered in any other way.
“Erik, did you have a brownie?” Mordecai demanded from the top of the stairs.
“Uh-uh,” said Erik, without missing a beat. “The General said brownies aren’t breakfast. She said you must be dumb. I was going to have one anyway, because she’s not the boss of me, but they smelled funny and I looked and there were green things in them. I thought they might not be good. Did you sub something weird in them?”
Mordecai caught him and hugged him. Erik caught his ball and regarded him oddly.
“They were absolutely not good. I didn’t make them, and I’m glad you didn’t have any. You’re very smart.”
“Oh,” said Erik. “Um. Maggie couldn’t have any, but when the General said that about no brownies for breakfast Auntie Hyacinth took two and had them right away.”
Hyacinth answered the door of Room 203, smiling. “Okay. Hey. What’s up?”
Mordecai did not mince words, “There was marijuana in the brownies.”
Hyacinth nodded and pointed at him. “Yeah. That makes sense. I was beginning to wonder if Barnaby was right about the wallpaper. I was gonna do laundry. Then I didn’t. Was it a prank?” She didn’t seem to be at all upset about it, just curious.
He shook his head. “I have no idea what it was. I didn’t do it. It was Calliope.”
“Yeah. This doesn’t really seem like your sense of humor. You wouldn’t prank Erik.” She frowned. “You know, it’s a damn good thing you got me before lunch. I wouldn’t like to do this to Barnaby. He’s got a real weak grasp of reality as it is. And Room 101. I mean, I don’t know what’s in Room 101, but I don’t go giving it drugs. Vitamins, is all.”
Mordecai breathed a grateful sigh. “Then they haven’t had any?”
“Brownies aren’t breakfast,” Hyacinth said. “I mean, they’re not. I was just proving a point.” She flung a gesture. “Which is that ‘fuck you, this is my house, I do what I want.’ But you know that.”
“I am aware, yes,” he said.
“I’m gonna go to the movies,” she said. She pushed past him and out of the room.
He caught her gently around the waist. He did not think she would go over the railing and fall into the front room, not like a drunk person. He really didn’t. It just seemed to go along with his intention of preventing her from going to the movies. “Uh, no. I think you’re not.”
She laughed at him. “Oh my gods, Mordecai. It’s only pot. Marijuana is like a vegetable. I am perfectly capable of getting on a bus and working my way into a movie theater. Present me with an authority figure and I’ll straighten right out. Watch me.” She closed her eyes for a moment and attempted to picture Mordecai in some kind of a uniform. Something respectable. “Officer,” she said evenly, “these two gentlemen are my guardians. I am under age and I really cannot get home on my own. I promise you, we will get into a taxi and they will make no attempt to drive. They will put the gorilla back.”
Mordecai considered her with a hand to his mouth. “It was very well said. But I’m concerned that you seem to think it makes sense.”
She grinned. “It makes perfect sense! You merely lack context. Listen, if I successfully negotiate all the stairs and find my purse and present you with exact change for the bus and the price of a matinee ticket, will I be allowed out of the house?”
He nodded doubtfully.
“Most excellent!” Hyacinth replied. “Why, I shall even make an attempt to sort out all the damned vitamins so you can feed whatever manner of man or beast is in Room 101!” One hand on the railing, she began to make her way towards the stairs. Mordecai followed her up quite closely.
“This is nothing!” she assured him with a vast gesture. “You should see me maintain on liquor and pills!”
“I do hope they’re showing some music reels,” she said wistfully. “There won’t be anybody to play piano.”
Hyacinth demonstrated sufficient cognitive ability to be allowed to go to the movies. Maggie and the General were having lessons in their room (he nodded and left them to it). Milo had a shift, and he always got out of the house absurdly early for those, so he was safe. Before dealing with Calliope, he went ahead and made lunch for Barnaby and Room 101.
From Room 101 there was the sound of screaming and dropped dishes, then Mordecai dazedly emerged with broken dishes and made a second lunch for Room 101 — after which there was again screaming but no dropped dishes — but he didn’t remember any of that and nobody remembered hearing him, so it didn’t interfere with his plans for dealing with Calliope.
He brought a tray with tea and sandwiches with him. Not that he felt Calliope deserved any tea and sandwiches, but he was hungry and he didn’t think he was going to be able to eat in front of a pregnant lady unless she was having something. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to do the eating and the yelling at the same time in any case, but he didn’t want to hold off on either. He tried to make angry sandwiches. Cream cheese and olives. Like cutting open a bunch of jealous green eyeballs with mad red pupils in the center. He also trimmed the crusts off.
It was possible he was a stupid person.
Mordecai knocked on the door to Room 103 and then opened it. Calliope and the brownies were sitting next to each other on the bed like two bunkmates sharing a cell. One of them should have been playing a harmonica. Calliope was kicking her bare feet back and forth a few inches above the ground to entertain herself. She was sitting back on the bed to facilitate this, but she was small and young and she wore large clothes because of her belly and the combined effect left her looking about four years old.
She looked up at him, frowning.
No. Did I really just make angry sandwiches at this little girl?
He made himself look at the plate of brownies instead.
Did this little girl just try to poison the whole house with only a little note saying ‘One at a time.’ to warn them?
“All right, Calliope.” He did not offer sandwiches or sit down, not yet. There was no place to sit but the bed and he did not want to be that friendly just now. “Why in the hell did you leave a plate of hash brownies sitting out in the kitchen?”
“They were for the house,” she said.
“Did it occur to you that people might like a little warning that the brownies had drugs in them?”
“I left a note.”
“The note said, ‘One at a time!'”
“You should have one at a time.”
“Yes, but that’s because of the drugs!”
She nodded agreement.
“The part about the drugs is the important part, Calliope. If there was going to be a note, it should have said, ‘These brownies have drugs in them!’ ‘One at a time’ is absolutely meaningless!”
She frowned at him. “It means you should have one at a time, Em.”
Em. One corner of his mouth twisted. The tray of tea and sandwiches clinked slightly. Calliope had picked up Ann’s names for people and she wasn’t putting them down. “The children could’ve eaten those, Calliope,” he said
“I cut them small,” she said.
“I don’t care if you cut them microscopic!” he cried. “You think two kids are going to see a plate of brownies and have one at a time? I don’t care if the sign is a hundred feet tall in blinking fey lights!”
Oh, gods, no. Wait. How did this turn into an argument about the sign?
She considered that. “I guess they would learn something real important about following directions.”
“You wanted Erik to learn a lesson about following directions by getting sick from brownies with drugs?” His voice had got very faint and a little bit shrieky.
It was a very good thing he had this tray with the sandwiches because he hadn’t wanted to hit a woman this badly since Cathy. And Cathy had hit him.
This was… this was possibly worse. Calliope had almost hit Erik. By accident, it seemed like, but she didn’t get it and she didn’t care.
“Calliope,” he said carefully. His hands were very tight on the tray. “Are you high right now? Are you on drugs right now?”
“I am very, very angry with you. Are you understanding that? Is that getting through to your brain?”
“Would you like to give me a real quick summary of why you think that is so I can tailor my next response to fit your needs?”
She paused for a moment, but she did not need it rephrased, she just needed to file through all he had said previously. “It wasn’t a good sign.”
“Okay.” He nudged the brownies aside and put the tray on the bed. “Oh, by all means, have a sandwich.”
She took one. “These sandwiches seem angry.”
“Like they’re judging me.”
“Calliope, the brownies…”
“They have red eyes.”
“I made angry sandwiches because of the brownies! Can we please focus on the brownies?”
“Okay.” She had a bite.
“You cannot make brownies with drugs in them and just leave them out!” No, obviously you could, she had. He needed to get a lot more literal, here, and he thought maybe he needed to keep it to one concept per statement and keep checking back to see if they landed. “I’m sorry. What I mean to say is that if you leave brownies with drugs in them in the kitchen, people will eat them.” He stopped and waited.
“I meant for people to eat them.”
Okay! Literal. Predictable. Reasonable. What would this get him: “Did you mean for people to eat them without knowing there were drugs in them?”
“No.” She frowned and shook her head. “But it wasn’t gonna hurt them if they did. I cut them small, and it’s only hash. And I left a note.”
Aha. She took precautions. An attempt was made. “That wouldn’t keep people from getting hurt,” he said. “We have kids in the house… and we have adults like kids who don’t always understand about things.” He wasn’t sure Milo would be able to parse a sign that explicitly warned Chocolate Cake with Heroin!! for example, and after her earlier comments about liquor and pills, he didn’t think Hyacinth would even bother to take one under advisement. “Being on drugs feels different and weird and scary, especially when you don’t know what it is and you didn’t ask for it. You do get that, Calliope, right? It’s not just like a fun surprise.”
“I guess,” Calliope allowed.
“It isn’t,” he said. “What makes me very angry is you almost hurt Erik that way. I don’t want you to do that. I will not let you do that. I will have Hyacinth kick you out of this house if it ever looks like you are going to do that, you and your baby, do you get that?”
“Wow. Yeah. All right,” she said, blinking. “What do you want me to do about the brownies, then?”
“Don’t ever leave them out,” he said. “If you’re going to make hash brownies, keep them in your room. If you want to share them with the house, leave a note in the kitchen that says that. ‘There are hash brownies in my room.’ No. Say, ‘There are brownies with drugs in them in my room.’ Say that exactly. I am worried about Milo. I may have to explain things to him.”
She shrugged. “I guess that’s okay.” She shook her head and regarded her judgmental sandwich. “I’m sorry I almost hurt Erik, Em. He’s really little. I didn’t think he might get scared.”
Mordecai breathed a sigh and slumped. Oh, gods, it was exhausting being that mad at someone and keeping a lid on it. It was so much easier just… not.
His hands were shaking a little.
“Okay,” he said. “Please give me those two on the top with the paper towel. I had that one in my mouth anyway. I can maybe send Erik to the movies later or something. And, um, hand me an angry sandwich. I’m starving.”
She gave him the brownies and a sandwich. He sat down beside her on the bed. Wrapped in the paper towel, the brownies went nicely in his vest pocket, she had cut them considerately small. “When did you make these, anyway?” he asked, acquainting himself with the sandwich (it didn’t taste angry). “I didn’t smell any baking.” And she had done all the dishes. That was nice of her.
“Oh,” she said. She shrugged and took another sandwich. “About three, I guess. I feel pretty sick sometimes. It helps. Cin said we’re not supposed to smoke anything because you’ll die, so I didn’t want to do that. I don’t want a lot, though, so I thought I’d share.”
Mordecai had abruptly ceased eating his sandwich, and all sandwich-related thoughts. “Three o’clock in the morning?”
“Yeah. It’s supposed to be worse in the morning, but it’s not always. I think it’s supposed to be over by now. I guess it’s less…”
“There was a plate of hash brownies sitting unattended in the kitchen at five?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mordecai stood and dropped his sandwich on the floor. “I have to go now,” he said vaguely.