Because of a Greatcoat: The Coffee Stain (79)

Milo had a brownie and coffee. This was an experiment. The quality of the brownie was vastly improved. He picked an expensive one with nuts and marshmallows and chocolate shavings on top, from a patisserie. It was not possible to improve on the most perfect coffee, but he was trying it from a different shop that was closer to the house and also had syruped coffee. (It remained perfect.) He had brought everything back to the kitchen for maximal similarity, but it was late Sun’s Day afternoon due to the time constraints of having to find an excellent brownie and coffee and not wanting anyone to walk in and scare the hell out of him. Hyacinth was in the basement with the radio on, going over his notes on the record-player, and Mordecai had taken Calliope and the kids to the beach.

Not that he necessarily would’ve minded if Calliope came in. She was still pretty scary, but not in a bad way. Like a rollercoaster. If he were one of those crazy people who liked rollercoasters. Whee!

Probably he shouldn’t try putting his hands up and screaming. She wouldn’t get it. Maybe she might if he drew it. Could he draw screaming and make it look fun?

A brownie and coffee was a nice way to spend an afternoon (he might try to incorporate a park bench at some point) but it wasn’t the same as yesterday. He sighed. There was a quality of spontaneity he was missing, even if he could perfectly reproduce every component. He guessed he found some new stuff he liked doing and he’d do it again, but if he wanted another awesome day it was going to have to sneak up on him. He’d just have to try not to ruin it by overthinking and worrying about stuff.

I wonder if I ruin a lot of really good days doing that…?

The General came into the kitchen and said, “Mr. Rose.”

Milo’s mouth gaped open like he was screaming. It definitely did not look fun. He dropped his brownie, he crushed his paper coffee cup in his hand and he fell out of his chair. Sticky, milky coffee was running all over his right hand and down his arm and onto the floor. It was cold.

“Are you quite finished or do you also intend an escape attempt?” the General said.

Where would I go? Milo thought helplessly. He shook his head.

“It pains me to ask this,” the General said, not appearing much pained, “but pension day is this coming Frig’s Day and I find myself embarrassed. You are the only other person in this household who is halfway competent at magic, and it is possible you are aware of some solution that I…” She paused and carefully considered her words. “…have neglected. What I am trying to say, Mr. Rose, is that I require your… hhhelp.”

This is a prank, thought Milo. She is going to get me alone and then kill me. It’s payback for the singing raincoat.

He glanced nervously around the kitchen. But I’m already alone so she can kill me…

“I wonder if you would consent to accompanying me to my room?”

This was terrifyingly similar to how gentlemen used to negotiate for Ann’s company.

“…After you have made some effort at mitigating the coffee damage, of course.”

You ought to do it. Milo thought, frowning. It’s your fault. Nevertheless, he nodded and picked himself up.

He mopped the floor and he dried the wet spot so no one would slip and he pitched out the paper coffee cup. He made a cursory attempt at his sleeve with a wet rag, but the stains could wait until he took the shirt off later. He wasn’t going to do that now, with that woman hovering over him. She didn’t even have the decency to go stand somewhere else while he was trying to function. He hung the rags he’d used over the back stairs, then he permitted himself to be dragged into hell.

Hell had a small window (but it was still larger than his). There were also mage lights, but these had shades so they looked like regular lamps. They popped on one at a time, proving that they were not automatic but she was hitting each individually with magic. (He thought she could’ve got them all at once, if she didn’t want him to know that.)

The uniform was in a big cloth bag like a corpse. She took it out of the closet and laid it over the dresser before undoing the enchantments that kept the bag sealed and dust-free. There were shoes in the bottom that thudded against the wooden drawers like real feet. The greatcoat was unbuttoned, dissected. Inside it lay the shredded thorax of a blazer and blouse, and a long riding skirt with white marks and holes. Milo made a reluctant surgeon and he poked at the blouse with the tip of his smallest finger.

“There was an accident involving a cup of coffee and various food items,” the General said. “In attempting to remove the…”

Milo held up a hand and waved it once. No, no. Please. Don’t patronize me.

Milo had spent the ages from approximately seven to ‘nervous breakdown’ washing clothes in the workhouse laundry. Mostly donated items that would be resold to support the indigent. He had a wide experience of fabric and damage of all kinds. Of course, due to the nervous breakdown, he had never shared this information with anyone in the house, but why wouldn’t everyone already know how to do laundry? Everyone had clothes. He assumed Hyacinth didn’t bother to get the oil stains out of Erik’s shirt pockets because she didn’t care. (And this was very much true.)

The General had obviously attempted to remove the material components of the stains and widely overshot the mark, catching the dye and the fabric itself in the process. He shook his head at the results. And this is why sane people do not bring a bomb to a knife fight. He had the kitchen pad with him, for all the good it would do, and he wrote out the mechanics for a useful spell and showed it to her with a sigh.

The General dismissed it with a roll of her eyes. “That is far too imprecise. It would fail to remove all the components of any stain.”

Milo sighed again and shook his head. He drew a box of soap flakes (with soap flakes spilling out of it, to make it more clear) and crossed it out. Soap doesn’t do that, either.

The General pushed the ridiculous drawing away from her and continued the subject at hand, “If you do not remove the stain, there is still a stain, you imbecile! This was an act of the purest desperation,” she plowed on, “I can see now that there is no point to requesting your assistance on any matters of precision and skill.”

Okay, you do not get away with saying I can’t do precision. That is my favorite! Milo grit his teeth and displayed his coffee-stained shirtsleeve, pulling out the fabric. Do you see this, lady-who-doesn’t-understand-drawings-so-I-have-to-point-and-drag-her-around-like-the-goddamned-nuns-at-the-workhouse? He did the spell, slowly, so she could see the marks fading in real time. It was his gray shirt, too, so she could tell he wasn’t screwing up the dye. He pulled the fabric taut and flipped his arm around so she could get a real good look at both sides. Oh, wow. Look at that. The stains, of which some material components nevertheless remain, have become invisible to the naked eye! Because the human brain and eyeballs do not work at an infinite resolution! Why, it’s almost like magic!

With a snarling expression, the General grabbed his arm and had a look at the sleeve. “There is still coffee there!”

Milo nodded. Yes! But you sure as hell can’t see it, can you?

“Take off the shirt,” the General said.

Milo crossed both arms over his chest and backed up to the wall.

“I am not going to assault your virtue,” she snapped. “I wish to examine it more closely!”

There was no way to get this across with her. Or, none but one. He put out both his hands to keep her away and rotated around them at the farthest possible distance, like a pencil in a compass. He made the door and ran into his own room, which he merged shut. She probably could have undone the spell and come after him anyway, but after a few minutes of terrified waiting, she did not.

Milo emerged from his room thirty minutes later, with great reluctance, to find her standing right fucking there! He dropped the kitchen pad and the pencil and his gray shirt and fell backwards onto the floor.

“I had hoped you were changing into a dress so I could take advantage of your delusion,” the General said, looking down at him.

He shut his eyes painfully. Oh, gods, lady, don’t think I didn’t want to! But it would only have prolonged matters. Ann didn’t know anything about laundry, only pretty dresses, which the General had precisely none of.

He held up the kitchen pad and his gray shirt. He was wearing the white one. It had not taken terribly long to change, most of the time was needed to calm himself down enough to write stuff. Ann in the mirror had not been exactly helpful, she thought he ought to change into a dress, too.

This is not a fair test, was printed neatly on the kitchen pad. Even if you do see some stains, no one is going to bully you out of your uniform and stare at it from three inches away. All-purpose emulsifiers, such as this spell and laundry detergent, are excellent for stain removal and do not damage colorfast dyes and fabric like obliterating things from reality.

He had added a second paragraph, due to her stubborn lack of comprehension, Do you want me to patch the greatcoat and the riding skirt? You will have to sacrifice the blazer, but I can’t fix that or the blouse with mergers and blends anyway. You need new ones.

“What manner of magical application have you misnamed as ‘blends,’ Mr. Rose?” the General said.

Milo sighed and tipped back his head. He got up and he pointed both hands at the door to Room 202. You want me to show you? I’ll show you. Let’s get it over with! He bowed and gestured, After you.

“I suppose you are not liable to make it less usable,” the General muttered.

Basic fabric repair required scissors and a sewing needle, both of which Milo happened to have at the moment. (Sometimes Hyacinth came after the scissors, and she’d grab the pincushion while she was in there, but she rarely stole individual needles so he usually had one or two of those.) The General did not remark on the lack of thread. He did mention he was going to do mergers.

Milo considered himself brilliant with scissors. Not so much with a needle, needles of any kind made him nervous. Before attacking the blazer, he removed the blouse altogether and dropped it in the wastebasket. After a moment’s consideration, he saluted it.

“Your sarcasm is noted,” the General said. “Get on with it.”

Milo put a fakey lamp on the dresser, pushed his glasses up to his forehead and had a real good look at the fabric from approximately nose-distance. He was not going to bring a magnifying glass into this. It wasn’t like silk or anything, anyway. Broadcloth had lines like graph paper. The color and the material already matched, which was excellent. He just needed to line up the weave and decide where to cut. He needed about two dozen patches, he thought, so he’d like to allow space for at least thirty, including ten big ones. He did not do anything to bind the edges when he cut, he wanted loose threads. Some of the holes also required fraying and enlarging, for which he employed both scissors and sewing needle, cutting and scratching.

“You are ruining my garment bag,” the General noted, but she did not tell him to stop.

He set the patches so that the frayed edges overlapped and he merged each down for structural integrity. When he had covered every hole (he held up the coat and the skirt to the light and made sure) he began to blend the edges. (Or whatever the hell she wanted to call it, but he was pretty sure he made it up.) He employed the sewing needle again, scratching the threads into the proper direction, following the weave of the fabric. It was impossible to line up every thread (or it would be stupid to bother, at least), but if you just merged down the edges there would be a little border of thickness all around the patch, like a castle wall. It would be obvious the coat had a hole in it and you’d have to charge less for it. But, if you went all along the wall knocking off bricks to either side, you got this kind of a smooth slope going that you could almost overlook. And it wasn’t obviously a hole. Maybe some kind of imperfection in the fabric.

“I have never seen such a thing, Mr. Rose,” the General said. “I don’t suppose you will deign to articulate what it is?”

Milo sighed. He diverted briefly and wrote down the spell for her. He also returned to his earlier missive at the top of the page, circled blends and put little lines shooting out of it like it was glowing.

“I believe it to be a species of merger,” the General said, after a few moments of study. “If you will forgive the biological term.”

Milo waved a hand. It was close enough, and not stupid like using ‘implosion’ wrong.

“Speciation, of course, requires that there be nothing else like it. I will need to do research.”

Lady, you can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t involve me. He wanted to get back to his damn brownie. He hoped it was still there. Cin would eat it if she saw it, she didn’t mind about teeth marks. She took half a candy bar out of his hand one time. She gave him a sinq for it.

Honestly, he would rather have had the rest of the candy bar, but in Hyacinth’s house, you learned to put up with some things.

See Example (Fig. A): Me fixing this horrible woman’s coat.

He guessed it was easier than not doing it. When he had finished the coat, he handed it to her to get it out of the way and started blending the skirt.

The General suspiciously examined her coat. She would not admit to having favorite pieces of clothing, but the greatcoat did have the insignia of her rank on the collar, which… Which she valued. Yes. ‘Valued.’ She could feel the imperfections of Mr. Rose’s work with her fingertips, but not see them at a reasonable distance. It was much finer work than the patched hobo suit she had been envisioning. She might conceivably have picked up a new coat at a surplus store, even of the correct rank, but anyone could do that. Mordecai was walking around with an assumed rank of ‘corporal.’ This was the original article, assigned and delivered in a brown-paper-wrapped package, held in supply rooms and the bellies of ships. Replaced only with written permission and proof. True. Right.

She slipped into it and spun gleefully around, just the once. Milo did not glance over, but she might not have cared if he did. This was well worth the loss of the blazer and the blouse. (She did not intend to buy ‘new ones.’ There was no such article.)

A moment later, she had regained control of her dignity and was examining one of the invisible patches on the sleeve. Could this be useful? she wondered. Which was code for, Can I repurpose this to kill people?

Camouflage, perhaps…? Something on a larger scale…?

She observed Mr. Rose repairing the remainder of her skirt quite closely, causing him to hyperventilate.

She had her face mere inches away from his when he turned around, and she was grinning.

Milo thought she smelled like a butcher’s shop. Raw meat and industrial cleaner.

She addressed his horrified expression, “Mr. Rose, I wonder if you might have a look at this rosette from my hat?”

Milo put a hand over his eyes and pressed his mouth closed with the other one. He was unable to do anything to deafen himself, or to remove the knowledge that he was not going to be done with this ordeal until she damn well said he was. He sighed. Again. And nodded.

I am going to make you buy me a brownie, he thought, though he knew he wouldn’t. I want the one with the raspberries this time. We can get it on the way to the fabric store!


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