Jane unlimited, p.30
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.30

           Kristin Cashore
 

  A phone bursts into song, Lucy’s phone. “My phone!” Lucy cries, then begins patting her body until she finds it. “Hello!” she cries. “Dad!” she cries. “No. Not yet. Don’t worry! It’s safe! It’s behind—”

  “Lucy!” says Colin, interrupting hastily. “No one wants to hear you yelling at Uncle Buckley.”

  “Never mind!” Lucy cries into the phone. “I’m not telling you where I’m keeping it! I’m not telling Colin, either!”

  “All right,” says Colin, shooting to his feet. He shuffles Lucy toward the doorway urgently, shushing her like she’s a child, or a dog.

  “Well,” says Phoebe. “We can’t play without Colin and I have things I could be doing.” She stands slowly, as if she’s not entirely sure her limbs are going to behave as usual. But then she crosses the room and strides out.

  Jane is left alone with Kiran. Kiran’s not staring at the library ceiling anymore, which is a vast relief, because Jane has no intention of looking at the ceiling again. She wants to pretend there is no ceiling, which is difficult, because she can feel it above her, pressing down. It’s humming some note that makes her own nerves jangle discordantly and she feels that if she looks up, it will sound infinitely worse. Aunt Magnolia? Aunt . . . what?

  “Kiran,” she says. “Let’s get out of here.”

  “Okay,” says Kiran, still holding her cards, but not really looking at them.

  Lucy has left The House of Mirth behind; it’s sitting, facedown, on the seat of her armchair.

  With a sudden, certain compulsion, Jane grabs The House of Mirth, carries it to the French doors overlooking the terrace, opens the doors, and flings it as far as she can into the yard. When she returns to Kiran, Kiran raises quizzical eyebrows at her.

  “That was weird,” Kiran says. “What do you have against Lucy?”

  “I don’t have anything against Lucy,” Jane says firmly. “Quite the opposite. I’m trying to help Lucy. That book felt bad to me.”

  “You’re an oddball,” Kiran says, “did you know that?”

  The dog is whimpering softly at Jane’s feet. “Yeah,” Jane says. “I know. Let’s go, okay?”

  “Okay.”

  She’s thrown Lucy’s book into the great outdoors, but without a second thought, she picks up her own book and carries it back to her rooms.

  * * *

  Ivy has kindly returned the jailbird umbrella to Jane’s worktable. When Jane walks into her morning room, Glitter Lucy catches the hot light in a pleasant, humming sort of way.

  The umbrella wants Jane to go to it. It’s singing to her. She feels this, and she wants this too. She goes and presses her palm flat over Glitter Lucy’s image. Song shoots up her arm to the top of her spine. The glue is dry, but when Jane looks into her palm, small particles of glitter stick to her skin like jewels.

  She lifts the umbrella by its handle and carries it to the sofa where Ravi slept only this morning. Propping the umbrella up, Jane sits under it and opens her book. Jasper whines, so she lifts him onto the sofa, where he nestles against her leg, still whining.

  This time, Jane opens to the story “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One.” Eeyore, the gray donkey, misplaces his tail in the forest. Pooh goes to Owl for help brainstorming what to do. As usual, Owl turns out to have little to contribute besides bluster, but he does have a new bellpull, which captures Pooh’s attention. Oh, that? I came across it in the Forest, Owl says. In a moment of cleverness, Pooh realizes that Owl’s new bellpull is Eeyore’s missing tail.

  In the story Jane remembers reading with Aunt Magnolia, Pooh brings Eeyore’s tail victoriously back to Eeyore. Christopher Robin, with great gentleness, fixes it back in place on Eeyore’s rump. End of story.

  In the story Jane is reading, Owl pops Pooh’s nose off his face and hangs it up as a doorbell. Then he takes Rabbit’s ears and makes sashes for the curtains. Then he takes Piglet’s head and hangs it on his wall and instructs it to call out the time regularly like a cuckoo clock, though mostly Piglet just cries, because he’s frightened and wants his body back. This story fascinates Jane. But Jasper keeps trying to climb into her lap and knock the book out of her hands or knock the umbrella out from behind her. He’s flailing around like a basset hound who’s drowning, actually, and when he starts trying to close his teeth around Jane’s arm, she shouts his name. “Jasper! If you make any more holes in me, I’m going to lock you in the closet!”

  Jasper keeps his mouth wrapped around Jane’s arm, but doesn’t bite. He stares up at her with reproachful eyes. Then, with an expression of tremulous hurt, he plunks down, goes into the bedroom, and finds some corner in which to whimper in solitude.

  Something about this pricks Jane. She’s just spoken cruelly to the dog. Shame, she thinks. Pushing to her feet, she sways, unbalanced. She can hear the dog crying. My goodness, how sleepy she is.

  She manages to make it to her bed, still clutching her book. Patches of the pale red paint on the wall behind the headboard are peeling, the wall beneath it, purple and wounded-looking. “Gross,” says Jane. Jasper comes out of his corner and dances around her feet, wanting to be picked up. She reaches down, scoops the dog up, and deposits him on the blankets.

  “I’m sorry I said that thing about the closet, fuzzball,” she says.

  Then her head touches the pillows and she’s asleep.

  * * *

  She’s dreaming of a house with an internal gash, like a circus performer who’s swallowed a sword and punctured his own stomach. The gash is an opening to another world. Whenever anyone passes through, stretching the opening, tearing its edges, the house screams in agony.

  The screams of the house wake her. There are words to the screams, but she’s sweating and shaking and too trapped in the space between sleeping and waking to make them out. She kicks Jasper by accident—he’s under the covers at her feet. He grumbles and crawls up to where she can hold him.

  “Jasper,” she whispers, having a moment of pure clarity. “I don’t like this house.”

  Well. She’s awake now. The clock reads 5:08 a.m., but there’s no point trying to fall back to sleep. Lying in bed shivering until the sun rises doesn’t strike her as an appealing alternative, because the house is laughing all around her. Someone, somewhere, is laughing in the walls, and something needs to be done.

  “I hate this house,” Jane tells Jasper, steel in her voice. Damn Aunt Magnolia and the promise she’d exacted from Jane to come to this house. Why would she do that? Jane wonders. Damn Aunt Magnolia for her easy courage, for the things that had never scared her. Not bull sharks, not poisonous squids, not giant clams. Not the weight of the ocean’s water pressing down on her, not the numbing cold. Damn Aunt Magnolia for going out into the cold, for not knowing, for not being more scared. Who in their right mind ever goes to Antarctica? Jane scrabbles around in the bed for Aunt Magnolia’s scratchy wool hat and holds it to her face, willing herself not to cry. Her knee touches the awful book. She pushes it over the edge so it thuds to the floor.

  After a number of deep, jellyfish breaths, Jane pulls Aunt Magnolia’s hat onto her own head. “Jasper?” she says. “Come for a walk?”

  Jane steps into the cold corridor, wearing a hoodie over her Doctor Who pajamas, happy for her slippers and Aunt Magnolia’s hat. She clutches its long tassels for security. The tiny lights on the walls that illuminate each painting flash on and off again as she walks, throwing Jasper and her into grotesque, shifting shadow. Of course she forgets Captain Polepants and almost breaks her neck.

  She wishes the house would stop making breathy noises. Then she questions her logic and wishes it were easier to tell where the breathy noises are coming from. She expects they’re coming from herself.

  Jasper gives Jane anxious, exhausted looks, but she doesn’t notice. Her feet take her down to the second story, then around the atrium and through an entrance that leads strai
ght onto the library’s second-story level.

  Jane is startled to hear the quiet voices of Octavian and Ravi just below. She can’t see them, because they’re under the balcony she’s on, but she can tell from their easy tone that they’ve stopped arguing. She breathes the smell of Octavian’s pipe. A strange, scratchy noise is hard to place, until Jane realizes it’s the record player, which has finished its record and been left to turn, endlessly playing nothing.

  “I think the books change color while I’m not looking,” Octavian is saying.

  “I think you need to get out of this house once a day and take a walk in the sun while breathing fresh air,” Ravi says, trying to sound amused, but only sounding tired, Jane thinks. “Remember when you used to travel, Dad? You loved to travel.”

  “I’ll ask Ivy-bean to take pictures of the books from hour to hour,” says Octavian. “I’ll show you. You’ll see. The shapes on the ceiling change too.”

  “Yeah, okay,” says Ravi. “I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but right now I feel like Mum is the only member of the family with a grip on reality.”

  “Shall we listen to it again?”

  “Are you trying to kill me?”

  “I’m trying to bring Charlotte back,” says Octavian.

  “Explain to me how playing her favorite music will bring her back.”

  “I can’t explain it,” says Octavian. “Haven’t you ever felt something in your gut?”

  “Kiran’s friend Janie makes me feel something in my gut.”

  “That’s not your gut,” Octavian says sharply. “And don’t be crude, boy.”

  “Jesus, Dad,” says Ravi, sighing. “You always were a sanctimonious asshole.”

  “Language!”

  “Mm-hm. Sanctimonious.”

  The scratchy noise stops. A moment later, Jane hears the guitar intro to the Beatles song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”

  Soundlessly, Phoebe Okada appears at Jane’s side. Jane’s body flies into a panic. She spends thirty seconds gripping the banister and trying to catch her breath.

  “Did I scare you?” Phoebe whispers. “Sorry.”

  Her face, free of makeup, is tired, unguarded, pretty. She’s wearing a silk robe tied tightly at the middle and is barefoot. Her toenails are turquoise and cute.

  “Why are you here?” Jane whispers back.

  “I heard the music,” Phoebe whispers.

  “Charlotte’s music?” Jane whispers. “You heard Charlotte’s music all the way from your room?”

  “Charlotte’s music,” Phoebe says. “I was walking and I heard Charlotte’s music. I sleep badly when my husband’s away. I worry about him.”

  Jane remembers that one night, a long time ago—no! It was only last night, which seems amazing—Jane saw Phoebe and her husband, Philip, who’s a doctor, sneaking around with Patrick and a gun. Then Philip left the house. “Why do you worry?” says Jane. “Is your husband’s medical practice dangerous?”

  “I program ciphers normally,” Phoebe says. “For Britain. Ciphers are my specialty. I’m a bit of a genius. God save the queen.”

  Jane is pretty sure she hasn’t asked Phoebe anything about her profession, her level of intelligence, or the queen, but she can’t really remember. After “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” Octavian switches records and plays “I’m Looking Through You,” then “Norwegian Wood.” Then he mutters something about Charlotte and Abbey Road and Jane hears the opening strains of “Come Together.”

  Jane pulls on the tassels of her hat. “I think I was meaning to go back to bed, but I can’t remember,” she whispers to Phoebe.

  Phoebe also seems to be thinking hard. “My husband and I are British, but we’re helping keep the missing children safe. Remember? The little kid with Cook?” she says, then looks confused. “I mean, no. Never mind.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  Before Phoebe can go on, Octavian speaks again. His voice comes rough and raspy through the music.

  “Charlotte was reading Frankenstein when she left,” says Octavian. “I’m keeping it here, still marking her place.”

  “I know,” says Ravi.

  “I’ve read Charlotte’s journals back to front,” Octavian says. “I can’t find any explanation for where she went.”

  “I know, Dad,” says Ravi gently. “You’ve told me.”

  “Charlotte wrote here that the house, with the unmatching origins of its parts, is a microcosm of the world. Do you think living on an island, in this big old house, made Charlotte pine for the world?”

  “I don’t know, Dad. Could we talk about Kiran? She’s here. We can do something about her. She seems depressed. I’m worried.”

  “I’d never have held Charlotte here if she wanted to travel,” Octavian says. “We could’ve traveled anywhere.”

  Their voices go silent again. A good many songs go by. Jane thinks about the house being a microcosm of the world. She turns it over and over in her mind, she flips it back and forth, because it reminds her of something. It takes her a long time to place the memory.

  “My aunt used to say,” she whispers to Phoebe, “that my body was a microcosm of the sea.”

  “My massage therapist always says,” Phoebe whispers back, “that my body is a microcosm of the universe.”

  “Or the multiverse,” whispers Lucy St. George, appearing beside them and causing Jane to jump a foot in the air. “Sorry,” she whispers. “Did I scare you? I was out walking. When I came in, I heard the music.”

  “Charlotte’s music,” Jane whispers. “Charlotte. Oh, fuck,” she whispers, rubbing her ears hard, because now she notices that it’s happening again, that weird compulsion to say Charlotte’s name. Lucy St. George is dressed all in black, from her black knit hat down to her black sneakers, and smells like the cold. She’s tight and pale and ready as a bullet in the chamber of a gun; Jane can feel it. Jane studies Lucy, trying to focus on Lucy instead of on the choking colors of the library, instead of on Charlotte. Trying to process what Lucy said. Jane realizes Lucy has just come in from outside. Lucy is less muddled and bumbling than she, because Lucy’s been outside the house, breathing fresh air.

  “What’s a multiverse?” Jane asks her.

  “Oh,” Lucy whispers, pulling off her hat. Her smooth hair tumbles down around her shoulders. “It’s this theory Ravi likes to talk about. His mom is a theoretical physicist, you know. His real mom, not Charlotte.”

  “Charlotte,” whispers Phoebe.

  “Yes,” Lucy whispers, “Charlotte.”

  “Multiverse?” Jane whispers, stubbornly not saying “Charlotte.” It makes her head ache, sharply.

  “The concept of the multiverse,” Lucy whispers, “comes from the idea that every time something happens, everything else that could have happened in that moment also happens, causing new universes to break off from the old universe and come into being. So there are multiple versions of us, living different lives than the ones we live, across multiple universes, making every decision we could possibly make. There are versions of us we wouldn’t even like, and some we’d barely recognize.”

  This stirs at something in Jane’s memory, but she can’t place it. Conversations about various realities and versions of lives. Things Kiran has said, and Ravi. It didn’t make sense then and it’s very confusing now. Jane feels like her own muddled and overstretched brain could be a microcosm of the multiverse. The ceiling is pressing down.

  “God, I feel all over the place,” whispers Phoebe. “Like all my parts are spinning away.”

  “Yes,” Jane says passionately.

  “I’m dying to talk to Mr. Vanders,” says Phoebe. “He could help.”

  “I talked to him today,” Jane says, remembering. “He says that the more we embrace our lack of cohesion, the better off we are.”

  “That sound
s like Mr. Vanders,” says Phoebe wistfully.

  “But this is different, isn’t it?” Jane says. “This weird feeling? Don’t you feel like it’s coming from outside us? Like, from the walls and the ceiling?”

  Lucy St. George is winding and unwinding the bandage around her hand. “You know,” she whispers, “I get the feeling this house doesn’t like me.”

  “Hm,” says Phoebe. “Do you get the feeling it can see everything we do?”

  Lucy pauses. “If that’s true,” she says quietly, “I’m in trouble.”

  “Why?” says Phoebe. “Did you do something the house wouldn’t like?”

  Making no answer, Lucy continues to wind and unwind her bandage. Perhaps Octavian has reached the end of his playlist, because the next song Jane hears is the first song she heard, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”

  “Listen, Dad,” says Ravi, in a voice that’s patient, but pleading. “I know you love her, and it’s awful she left. I get it, and I’m sorry. But I’m done talking about it. I want to talk about finding some way to get through to Kiran. Some work she might like that we could hook her up with, maybe?”

  “What about your own problems, son?” says Octavian. “Why aren’t you in the bed of your supposed girlfriend right now?”

  Ravi releases a short sigh. “Lucy broke it off with me again,” he says, “and anyway, how’ll I ever see my father if I sleep at night? I’m worried about you too, you know. I wish you’d get dressed, go outside, go for a walk. Will you come for one now?”

  “You’re a good boy, Ravi,” says Octavian. “You’re always trying to hide it. I’m sorry about Lucy.”

  “Well,” says Ravi glumly. “I’m sure I’m too young to be in a serious relationship anyway.”

  “Have you learned anything about the missing Brancusi?”

  “No, and Vanny’s being so aggravating,” says Ravi. “It’s all ‘the gala’ this, ‘the gala’ that. I’m not even sure she’s notified the police.”

  “Then notify them yourself,” Octavian says, “in the morning. It’s your house, and Kiran’s.”

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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