A tangle of gold, p.33
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       A Tangle of Gold, p.33

           Jaclyn Moriarty
 

  Also, had anybody checked them for plague?

  ‘All right,’ Jack said to Belle, ‘keep your trousers on. Anyhow, we did the candle and light thing right where Mads and Holly disappeared, and it worked. We got through. Easy. Then we just asked around for Bonfire, the Farms.’

  ‘People have been friendly,’ Belle added, shooting another defiant look at Keira.

  What? Keira thought.

  ‘They keep telling us we’re lucky we got here this morning instead of any day last week. There’s been a Colour blizzard or something? Wicked.’

  ‘You haven’t been telling people you’re from the World?’ Gabe asked.

  ‘Nah. We just say we’re from out of town. Just Jimmy here, we told. We remembered Madeleine talking about a Sheriff and Deputy who were friends with Elliot. We had to find Madeleine, see? Cause Federico put a letter in his hat.’

  ‘Federico’s his grandfather,’ Belle explained. ‘He lives with his grandfather. I’ve just moved in with a friend named Darshana Charan. So, see, you don’t have to live with your parents.’

  Sure. That made things much clearer.

  ‘He’s been sending us messages in his hat all along,’ Jack smiled. ‘Like, his assignments have been coaxing us towards the truth.’

  ‘Unless Jack’s mother’s a lunatic,’ Belle added. ‘And Federico’s gone along with it.’

  Gabe and Keira glanced quickly at each other, then back to the strangers. Jimmy was scratching his eyebrow, trying to look polite.

  ‘The other day,’ Jack said, ‘my grandfather put a letter from my mother in his hat.’

  ‘As you do,’ Belle put in.

  ‘Well, as Federico does. We just got through that,’ Jack said patiently.

  ‘I know. I was just having a larf.’

  Keira accidentally sighed.

  ‘Sorry,’ Jack said. ‘We’re going on a bit. Anyhow, you want to see the letter? I always thought my parents were killed in a car accident, but looks like they weren’t. Well, she doesn’t mention my dad, but she says she’s my mum.’

  He took a worn and folded paper from his pocket and handed it over. Keira and Gabe read together.

  My dearest Giacamo,

  ‘That’s my name,’ Jack put in, pointing at the paper. ‘My proper name, I mean. But you can call me Jack. Either one, to be honest. Up to you.’

  ‘Thank you,’ Gabe said politely. He and Keira looked back at the letter. Their arms touched. This was comforting, in the madness.

  My dearest Giacamo,

  I am your mother, and I love you. I am about to take a journey, and am writing this in case I don’t return.

  I hope to return. I intend to.

  But there’s a chance that I won’t and, if not, Federico will give this to you when he thinks right.

  I will begin with my story.

  My name is Teresa.

  I was born in Venice, Italy, in 1700. I do not know who my mother was, except that she was most likely young and poor, for she left me and my twin sister at the Ospedale della Pieta as infants. This was a kind of musical orphanage. Each foundling was given a number, and branded with the letter ‘P’. We were divided into groups. The figlie di coro studied music—voice, violin, flute, oboe, cello, bassoon—and performed for the public, hidden from view by a lattice of ironwork. The figlie di commun were those without musical talent. They were given a regular education, and taught to be seamstresses, lace-makers, sail-makers, pharmacists and cooks.

  My twin sister was musical, I was not.

  One day, a friend dared me to creep into the room of the violin master, Don Antonio Vivaldi.

  Unexpectedly, he returned. Hearing his approach, I hid in the corner.

  As I watched, he took a candle, lit it at the fire, lifted a mirror from the wall. He raised both candle and mirror—and disappeared.

  You can imagine my confusion.

  I stood, uncertain. But I was a wilful child. After a moment, I simply did the same—lit a candle, raised the mirror he had dropped—and I found myself somewhere other. That is the only way I can describe it: somewhere other.

  You may find this difficult to believe—for I have asked Federico to raise you as a regular child of the World if I do not return—but there is a place called the Kingdom of Cello which adjoins this world. It is a place of magic and marvels.

  I will not linger on details of this Kingdom. I will only say that, over the next several years, I found every opportunity I could to slip into Don Antonio Vivaldi’s room, and through to the Kingdom of Cello.

  I told nobody of my discovery—not even my sister, although I loved her and did not resent her talent (she was a beautiful cellist)—I kept it as my secret comfort. I was a commoner, awkward and shy, but I knew a fairyland!

  As I grew older, I made friends in Cello, and travelled its provinces. I spent less and less time in the World—I stayed on at the Pieta as a teacher; my twin married a gentleman who had seen her play. She moved away and had children.

  In Cello, they know of the World but contact, or the use of cracks, is forbidden. A ‘World Severance Unit’ (W.S.U.) enforces these laws.

  If anybody had known I was of the World, I would have been arrested. I told nobody.

  Eventually, I settled in a province called Jagged Edge. For some years, I did not return home.

  This was when I discovered something remarkable.

  If you can do basic arithmetic, you may have already guessed at this. At the very least you’ve been perplexed by my casual reference to having been born over 300 years ago? I hope so. You seem very bright to me now, but you never know how children will turn out.

  Here is the remarkable thing.

  If a Worldian stays in Cello, he or she ceases to grow older. For Worldians, Cello is the key to immortality.

  For years, I remained the same age, and I was happy. I made more friends. I moved about to avoid suspicion. Sometimes, I met OTHER visitors from the World.

  One such visitor became my lover. I had a child with him.

  This child, dear Giacamo, was you.

  You were born in 1815.

  I suppose this is shocking to you.

  Don’t be shocked! You’ll get used to it. I did.

  And perhaps you have always felt that you were an ‘old soul’? Perhaps you even have memories of some of your many, many years as a very young child?

  After you were born, I spent a couple of years travelling back and forth between the World and Cello. My Worldian friends showed me other secret cracks, in other parts of Cello. I found my way to different parts of the World through these. Those were wild and wonderful times! You were adorable! You still are, as I write, although I am a little weary of your temper tantrums.

  What happened next was that the W.S.U. found out about me. I avoided arrest but they sealed all the cracks that I knew. I was trapped in Cello.

  You were two years old.

  You still are two, now, all these years later. You may appreciate why I am weary of your temper tantrums?

  Much as I loved Cello myself, I could not keep you there, always a very young child. You needed to live your life, to grow and change. I needed that, too. I searched for the answer to how to cross over to the World again—for the secret to opening the cracks. The difficulty, of course, was that the W.S.U. knew of our existence. I had to change my name, and move about a great deal.

  Eventually, I discovered a secret organisation. These were Worldians who had been in Cello for hundreds of years. They called themselves ‘The Circle’. I joined the organisation. I was elated! It seemed they had a machine which opens cracks! Certain of their members crossed to the World at regular intervals, bringing back news and scientific discoveries, etc. I applied for a position as one of these ‘messengers’.

  There was rigorous training before I would be granted use of one of the machines. I completed this with flying colours. As soon as I was appointed messenger, I intended to take you to the World and never return.

  Only, the day that I re
ceived my appointment, I learned a terrible truth about this organisation. Do not concern yourself with the secret: suffice to say that I felt deeply ashamed of my fellow Worldians, and I knew that the Kingdom of Cello must be informed. The organisation had to be disbanded.

  So, I pretended all was well. I took possession of the crack-making machine. I used it to come to the World. I traced the descendants of my twin sister’s family and discovered Federico, living here—where I now write—at Trinity College, Cambridge.

  (So Federico is not your grandfather. He is your great-great-great-great (etc.) nephew—I’m uncertain of the greats. You should respect him anyway.)

  I told him my story. He seemed delighted. He said that he would keep it in his hat.

  But now I must return briefly to Cello. I am going directly to the offices of the Cellian Herald, to tell them the truth about this organisation.

  Then, at once, I shall return.

  I hope that you will never read this letter.

  With much love,

  Your adoring mother,

  Teresa Lina Ballomabi

  Keira and Gabe reached the end of the letter at the same moment. They looked up, blinking in the sun-glare.

  ‘What’s the terrible secret?’ Keira asked, at the same time as Gabe said: ‘What’s this secret organisation?’

  Jack shrugged. ‘My grandfather told me that I shouldn’t try to go to Cello, cause if my mother hadn’t come back, it meant there was trouble.’

  Keira looked back at the letter.

  ‘Only, he’s not your grandfather,’ she said, ‘and you’re about 200 years old.’

  ‘Not wise, though,’ Belle assured her. ‘He didn’t even realise he had 200 years of memories, he just thought he had past lives.’ Apparently, she found this hilarious.

  ‘Anyhow.’ Jack ignored the hilarity. ‘Our friend Madeleine actually had a hallucination about a big part of this story, so we came to Cello to find her and see if she can help me find my mum.’

  ‘She went on about it,’ Belle said thoughtfully, ‘and we never listened. Should’ve, I guess. Might’ve saved us a trip.’ The laughter started again.

  ‘You know your friend Madeleine is actually Princess Jupiter?’ Gabe asked.

  ‘Oh, yeah, she told us right before she left,’ Jack said. ‘We didn’t believe her.’

  ‘I believed her,’ Belle said, ‘you tosser.’

  Jimmy stepped forward again. ‘Well, if we go on inside, these two can at least meet Madeleine’s mother and sister?’

  ‘Holly’s here?’ Jack said. ‘Brilliant. We know her. She’s wicked.’

  There was another moment of bewilderment.

  ‘Well, you go on in,’ Gabe said eventually. ‘Keira and I were just on our way someplace. We’ll catch you later.’

  ‘Farmwork?’ Jimmy asked.

  ‘More or less,’ Gabe said.

  He and Keira glanced at each other.

  4

  They watched until the farmhouse door closed.

  ‘How about those two?’ Keira said eventually.

  ‘I liked them.’

  She looked up. Gabe was still tall. He was always tall. His face up there against the blue, smiling.

  ‘But you can’t distract me,’ he said. ‘We’ve been interrupted by a Lime Green, a small girl, the guidebook to Cello, the Deputy Sheriff and a couple of kids from the World. I’m starting to think you’ve arranged all this, on account of you suddenly regret agreeing, and you’re thinking I’ll forget. I won’t.’

  That morning, Keira had been up early, before Gabe even, and was at the table eating breakfast when he walked in.

  ‘The Colours have stopped, the thaw’s come and the sky’s blue,’ she’d told him.

  Gabe had studied her a moment.

  ‘I’m thinking this news is cause for celebration,’ he’d said, voice slow and reasonable. ‘And what I’m thinking is, the best way for you to do that celebrating, is to let me take a spin on that bike of yours.’

  Keira had laughed a sudden burst of laughter.

  ‘Sure,’ she’d said, and he’d switched direction mid-stride, so that instead of heading to the coffee pot, he was approaching the back door. He’d opened it, turned back and looked at her.

  She’d shrugged and joined him outside.

  Then the interruptions had begun.

  *

  ‘Come on,’ Keira said now, and started heading to the barn where her motorbike was locked. He walked beside her, silent.

  They reached the barn door. Her hand touched the handle.

  Something hit her shoulder with a soft thud.

  ‘For crying out loud,’ Gabe said.

  They both turned to look.

  It seemed that tiny apples were falling from the sky. Bright little balls of colour.

  ‘That’s a Crimson,’ Keira said. ‘Those are rare.’

  They pressed back under the doorframe for shelter.

  ‘Never seen one before,’ Gabe said.

  ‘Me neither.’

  ‘It won’t last long,’ he continued.

  They looked at each other.

  ‘What’s the story with it?’ Gabe said. ‘If you catch one, everything turns sharper for a moment?’

  ‘I think you see things you already knew,’ Keira explained. ‘But they come together and start to make sense.’

  ‘Ah well,’ Gabe said. ‘If it just tells us what we already know, we oughta ignore it, and go on in for your bike.’ But he stayed where he was.

  ‘Might not ever see one of these again,’ Keira said.

  Gabe sighed. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘I guess it’ll only take a moment.’

  They glanced at each other, then both reached out a hand and caught a Crimson.

  A zigzag flew through Keira’s mind. She closed her eyes to watch it. It shot backwards, forwards, up and down. At the same time there was the sensation of something being wrenched and pulled upward: some heavy, complicated object, an engine maybe. She panicked at that, but the lifting continued, and then there was a sweet sense of weightlessness. She felt herself smiling. The zigzag flew faster in the fresh new space.

  It was over.

  She opened her eyes.

  She was sitting on the step, leaning up against the barn door. Gabe was beside her.

  ‘What did you see?’ he said.

  She turned to him.

  ‘You,’ she said, surprised. ‘I saw your face every time someone asks you about farming. Or about the seasons. They ask you all the time.’

  Gabe chuckled. ‘They do.’

  ‘And I saw your face every time I talk about your parents, and how it’ll be good when they come back.’

  A quiet formed beside her.

  ‘They’re not coming back, are they?’ she said. ‘I’m an idiot. How did I not notice? It’s like you turn into a shadow every time I mention it. And you’re tired of having to do everything on your own, and you want to help people when they ask you about farming and the seasons, but it feels like you’re carrying the farm and the town.’

  Gabe stretched his long legs out and swung his big sneakers from side to side.

  ‘Well, yeah,’ he said. ‘They’re not coming back. I guess nobody likes to admit that. My dad was attacked by a second-level Purple years back now, and he lost most of the movement in his right side. He goes away for rehab a lot. This last time it’s been more than a year.’

  ‘What about your mother?’

  ‘She’s a tough one. She’s from north of the Farms—that’s your industrial region. She always thought we were too soft for her. She went back north and got a job running a factory, couple of years back. She sends money now and then, calls me every month or two. But, no. I’m thinking, why would she come back?’

  A tractor engine started somewhere. Birds made a racket in the trees, excited by the sunshine. From the farmhouse came the distant sound of the Worldians laughing.

  ‘You haven’t asked what I saw.’

  ‘Okay,’ Keira said. ‘What did you
see?’

  ‘I saw you. In particular, your face that day when I told you I’m tangled up in farming. And I saw how keen you are on motocross, and computing machines, and how you got into that history club. I figure, you’ve got all this passion and you want to get tangled up in it, the way I am in farming, only you can’t. And then I saw your face every time someone mentions your mother, and that explained why you can’t. You’re all tangled up with her. Every time you untangle, she tangles you back up. You say she has nothing to do with you, but you don’t actually believe it. Not in here.’ He touched her neck, just beneath her chin, and ran two fingers lightly down her throat.

  She thought about joking, Not in my oesophagus? but didn’t.

  ‘You know that exercise where you imagine something lifting you up from the top of your head?’ she said instead.

  ‘Can’t say I do. But go on.’

  ‘It’s an exercise to stretch out your spine. But I feel the opposite, I feel like there’s something pushing down on the top of my head. It makes me want to creep out of my life. When I think about my mother and the people she’s hurt, I feel like I’m being dragged along a road behind a speeding car.’

  Gabe nodded.

  ‘I used to think,’ Keira continued, ‘that it was good to feel this bad. It’s the Jagged Edge ethos, see? Feeling the extreme. But I don’t know. Maybe it’s not good.’

  ‘It’s not,’ Gabe confirmed. ‘And your mother will never be a patch on what you are. You’re better and brighter than you know.’

  ‘I never told anybody that before,’ Keira said. ‘About how bad I feel.’

  Gabe reached for both her hands, one at a time.

  ‘The other thing I saw,’ he said, ‘was your little fingers.’ He tilted her hands in his. ‘They’ve both been broken.’

  ‘They have.’

  ‘Cause you’re a motocross champion. Little fingers catch on things when you ride fast.’

  Keira took her hands back, but Gabe kept his gaze on them and something crossed his face as he did. Something ran right down his features, as if her crooked little fingers had caught him offguard.

  ‘You still letting me take your bike for a spin?’ he said abruptly.

  ‘From what I hear,’ Keira said, ‘you usually ride a motorscooter, and those don’t even have gears. They’re like lawnmowers. You’re not taking my bike for a spin: what I meant was, I’d take you for a spin.’

 
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