Jane unlimited, p.31
Jane, Unlimited, p.31Kristin Cashore
“It’s your house, Dad.”
“It’ll be yours,” says Octavian, “after I disappear.”
Ravi groans. “You depressed people are so melodramatic. It’s tedious. Come for a walk.”
Lucy is staring at her bare hand. What Jane sees when she follows Lucy’s gaze makes the back of her throat thrum. The splinter, or whatever injury she sustained earlier, is bruised and festering, green, yellow, gray, and it’s taken on a vague shape. In the dim light, at Jane’s indirect angle, it’s a shape that evokes a familiar scene: an abstract sort of person, sitting on what looks like a cot. Thin veins stand out blackly across the person, like the bars of a prison cell. The person has strange, bruise-colored hair, oversized shoes, and a fresh drop of blood for a nose.
Lucy turns her face to Jane. Her expression is a mask of sadness. She sings along to the song playing below: “Gather round, all you clowns.”
* * *
Jane returns to her rooms in search of the Lucy umbrella.
Dawn has broken. She walks past her bed, hearing the hum of Winnie-the-Pooh lying on the floor. The peeling paint on her bedroom wall has spread, continuing to uncover patches of something red and moist underneath. She pushes on to the morning room and stops in the room’s hot center, contemplating the Lucy umbrella, still propped on the sofa.
The canopy is angled away from Jane, so she can’t see sparkly Lucy sitting behind bars. The umbrella is asking Jane to come to it. She can feel the pull. The umbrella wants her to pick it up and appreciate its artistry, which is interesting, because it’s her artistry, really, isn’t it? Jane made the umbrella what it is. It came from some part of her. Jane wonders: If she’s admiring it, isn’t she really admiring herself? She wonders: Might it even be a kind of mirror? If she looks at it, will she see a version of herself?
When Jane begins to move toward the umbrella, Jasper pushes against her legs, whining. “Jasper,” she says, “remember what I said about the closet.” Jasper sits down and stops pushing.
Jane lifts the umbrella gently by the canopy and gazes at her own work. It’s beautiful. It’s exquisite. Lucy must have done something very bad, she thinks.
Then a flicker of doubt touches Jane. The thought seems wrong somehow, it seems uncharitable. She likes Lucy. She threw Lucy’s book into the yard to protect her from her weird book that was making her sleepy, like Lily Bart. Jane likes the dog too, she loves Jasper, and now, when she looks at the poor little guy, he’s shivering and miserable and pleading at Jane with his eyes.
“Jasper,” she says cheerfully, “want to come with me while I bring this umbrella to Lucy?”
* * *
By some instinct she doesn’t examine, Jane knows which rooms in the west corridor of the second story are Lucy’s. To her astonishment, directly on the wall outside Lucy’s rooms hangs a blown-up and framed photo, taken by Aunt Magnolia.
Immediately, the photo raises Jane to a higher state of wakefulness. It isn’t just the surprise. It’s Jane’s pride, that Aunt Magnolia’s art hangs with the other masterpieces on the walls of this house.
A small yellow fish peeks out from inside the open mouth of a huge gray fish. Aunt Magnolia took this photo in Japan. It’s exactly the impossible-seeming sort of photograph Aunt Magnolia was known for taking, because she had an extraordinary patience and a kind of natural serendipity when she was underwater with her camera. She would, very simply, wait for the amazing thing to happen. And it would.
Jane backs away to the opposite wall to get a better view, breathing slow and deep, the way a jellyfish moves. Someone has framed this photograph badly, or else there’s some other, smaller piece of art in the frame too, behind Aunt Magnolia’s print. Jane can see its rectangular outline. She’ll have to say something to Mrs. Vanders. It’s liable to create creases in Aunt Magnolia’s print.
Jane’s head rests against the wall behind her and she clasps Lucy’s open umbrella at her side. Gradually she notices that on the other side of that wall, a conversation is taking place. She rests her ear against the wall like a stethoscope. It’s a muffled conversation between two voices she recognizes. Two cousins: Lucy St. George and Colin Mack. The yellow fish and the big gray fish stare at Jane as she spies.
“It’s exactly the sort of thing you would do,” says Lucy.
“It’s not,” says Colin.
“Then why was the first word out of Dad’s mouth when I told him about it, Colin?”
“Because you’re both assholes,” Colin says.
“Oh, trust me,” says Lucy. “Dad can be an epic asshole, but I, as an asshole, am legendary. I’m sick to death of how hard you make my job. It’s over now.”
“Over?” says Colin. “What exactly do you imagine you’re going to do?”
“Oh, give it up, Luce.”
“And when you realize I’m not the one who took the damn sculpture? Will your little rebellion have been worth it?”
“Oh,” Lucy says with her familiar laughter. “Dear Colin. This rebellion will be worth more than you can possibly imagine.”
“That can only mean the Vermeer,” Colin says. “What’ve you done with the Vermeer?”
“Nothing you need to know about.”
“Mm-hm,” says Colin. “You’re bluffing. You wouldn’t turn against the family.”
“You’re leaving my rooms right now. Go be fake and insincere to your girlfriend. Not to me.”
“Ha,” says Colin. “What I’m doing with that stupid bitch is no different from what you’re doing with Ravi. We’re exactly the same.”
“Fuck off, Colin,” says Lucy with sudden passion. “Stay away from me.”
“I love you too, fair cuz,” says Colin.
A door opens and shuts. Colin comes into the corridor and sees Jane, standing there, staring dazedly at the photograph, accompanied by the world’s most haggard dog.
“Oh. Hello,” he says, trying to find a natural tone for his voice, but looking distinctly alarmed. “Why are you lurking in the hallway?”
“I fixed Lucy’s umbrella,” says Jane.
“Oh, right,” Colin says, barely glancing at it. “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.” He marches away.
A moment later, Lucy St. George steps into the corridor, then starts in surprise at the sight of Jane. She looks terrible. She holds her bandaged hand to her side. Her eyes shoot anxiously to Aunt Magnolia’s photograph, then back to Jane.
“It’s just me,” Jane says, “and Jasper. Sorry to startle you. I brought your umbrella.” She holds the umbrella out to Lucy, like a gentle offering.
The glitter drawing faces Lucy so that she can see it. Lucy’s lips part in wonder, then in a sort of revulsion. “You made that just now?” she says.
“I made it yesterday.”
“You can’t have.”
“That’s true,” Jane says, “but I did. It’s for you. You’re meant to take it.”
“Yes,” Lucy says. “I know.”
Such a strange, resigned voice Lucy speaks with. She holds out both hands, reaches for the umbrella’s handle, and takes it gently from Jane. Then she carries the umbrella away, down the corridor, holding it firmly, but far removed from her body.
She will fall in. Somewhere, out of Jane’s sight, Lucy will fall into the scene in the umbrella, enter that story, and become that umbrella’s soul. And Charlotte will have had her revenge on Lucy. Part of Jane knows this somehow, and wonders, with a morbid curiosity, what it will look like, because really, it doesn’t make sense. How can a person fall into a story?
Feeding someone to Charlotte, personally delivering someone the way Jane has, bonds Jane to Charlotte in a whole new way. Jane feels it. It’s probably why, when she gets back to her rooms, she loses patience with the whining dog and closes him in the closet.
All day long, currents and waves of people move through the house, preparing it for the gala. Cleaners, decorators, caterers, musicians. Occasionally Jane sees Ivy, or Patrick, or one or another Vanders, from a distance, doing what she supposes are any number of Important Gala Things.
She glides down to the receiving hall at one point, weeds among the people, and picks up the photo of Charlotte. Charlotte seems bigger than she did before; the other people in the photo are cast into shadow. Her face gleams with triumph, which Jane knows is about Lucy. It aches with hunger, which Jane knows is about anybody, everybody.
A wave of warmth rushes through Jane suddenly and she knows, without looking, that Ivy is touching her. She also knows Charlotte doesn’t like it, Charlotte wants her to lie to Ivy and get away from her.
“Janie? Are you okay?” says Ivy. “You’ve got the weirdest expression on your face.”
“I’m fine,” Jane lies, turning to face Ivy, who’s holding her tattooed arm. She’s all light and color, dark hair and blue eyes, jasmine and chlorine, and some part of Jane shakes into clarity. She hugs Ivy unhesitatingly, body to body, startling Ivy, who hugs her back with awkward surprise.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ivy says in her ear.
“Yes,” Jane says, meaning it, for she is okay in Ivy’s arms.
But then, before too long, Ivy disentangles herself apologetically, explaining that Mrs. Vanders is calling her name, but that she’s worried about Janie, she’s going to come check on her later, as soon as she can, okay?
As Jane watches Ivy disappear into the throngs of gala workers, she’s touched by a sense of having lost her chance at something. She lost it when Ivy left. Ivy is a sorceress, a good witch, a priest, Jane thinks. But Ivy is gone.
Jane seeks out the room with the indoor pool and sits in a deck chair across from the shark tank, inhaling the smell of chlorine.
Eventually, Kiran joins her, then, shortly thereafter, Phoebe. Jane, Kiran, and Phoebe sit together, for hours. It’s warm and moist. There’s little to say. They all understand, on some level, that they’re having a different experience of gala day than the others in the house, but part of that experience is a lack of curiosity. The bull shark swims steadily back and forth, back and forth. It’s mesmerizing. Bull sharks will eat anything they see, so Jane wonders at the other, colorful fish darting about. Is that their purpose? To be eaten? The eel, lime-green and horrible, leers at Jane, stretched along the tank’s bottom, barely moving. Jane understands that Charlotte can embody any part of her house, she can look through that eel’s eyes. The eel grins, slightly flicking its tail.
Jane’s book rests on her knee, unopened, but humming to her pleasantly.
“I’m worried about Octavian,” says Kiran.
“Why?” asks Jane.
“He’s being so weird and mopey,” Kiran says. “I told him he needs to go see his doctor. Maybe he should also see a psychologist.”
“He could talk to Mr. Vanders,” says Phoebe. “Mr. Vanders could give him therapy.”
“Mr. Vanders?” Kiran says.
Phoebe sits up straight in her deck chair, a confused sort of expression on her face. “Wait,” she says. “Holy crap. I have to go.” She slides her legs onto the gold tiles and pushes herself to her feet, then runs out of the pool room.
Jane and Kiran remain together, silent and sitting.
Sometime later, Ravi sticks his head into the room.
“There you are!” he says. “Sweetheart, are you paying any attention to the time?”
Kiran turns her face numbly to him. “Huh?”
“The gala’s started,” Ravi says. “You need to get ready! Twin,” he says, standing before Kiran’s deck chair and peering at her, then crouching, scrunching his eyes in concern. He’s dressed all in black. As usual, he sweeps and moves like a storm of light. The streaks in his hair shine. Interested, Jane stirs.
“Are you okay?” Ravi says. “People are asking after you.”
“I’m worried about Octavian,” says Kiran.
“Yeah,” says Ravi. “Tell me about it. Come on, I’ll walk with you up to your rooms. Do you know what you’re going to wear? Wait till you meet the hot FBI agents.”
“FBI agents?” says Kiran vaguely as her brother practically lifts her to her feet.
“FBI special agents,” says Ravi. “Special means they’re armed, apparently. I invited all kinds of cops to the party, to investigate the Brancusi theft. Vanny is furious with me and you have to help me keep everyone else entertained so it doesn’t feel like a party full of cops.”
“Okay,” says Kiran doubtfully.
Ravi chatters as he pulls Kiran out of the room. “You’re being weird,” he says. “Like you’re half-asleep. Come on, let’s go outside and look at the water first.”
“Outside?” says Kiran in puzzlement.
“It’s cold, and spitting rain,” Ravi says. “The waves are high. You won’t like it, but it’ll wake you up.” He’s always trying to get his depressed people outside, isn’t he? Jane senses that Ravi doesn’t have the first idea about Charlotte; he merely has the instincts of a person who’s more alive than everyone else. Maybe Jane just missed another chance there, with Ravi. Unfortunately, Ravi has chosen his twin.
Jane is left alone, staring into the eyes of the lime-green eel. She wants her underwater world, where she feels close to Aunt Magnolia. Eventually, she gets up, walks to the west end of the room, and enters the changing room that leads to the library.
* * *
Someone, presumably Octavian, has set more rope barriers and private signs up at every library entrance. Sounds filter from the other parts of the house, musical, tinkling, joy-and-laughter sounds, party sounds. The library is empty, dimly lit, glowing softly with color. Humming with energy. Jane steps over a rope.
The library has a few plush armchairs, a few hard-backed chairs around the card table, but the most comfortable-looking seat, and the one from which Jane can best observe the ceiling, is Octavian’s divan. The blankets are rumpled and smell like pipe smoke. Jane smoothes them out and lies down. The ceiling feels closer than it did before and she can better make out the designs running across its “pages.” They are—bird cages? Some of them look like bird cages. Jane can see Hansel, trapped in a cage while the witch fattens him up. Nana, the dog from Peter Pan, in her kennel. A rat in a cage that’s attached to a man’s face: 1984, by Orwell. Juliet, waking on a stone bed, behind the bars of a tomb. A man walling up another man alive: That’s an Edgar Allan Poe story. A wild woman behind a barred window, in an attic: Jane Eyre.
There are also scenes of freedom. In fact, there’s Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and all the others walking together alongside a stream.
Jane opens her book.
It’s the story “In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole.” Jane remembers reading this one with Aunt Magnolia. It was one of Aunt Magnolia’s personal favorites, fond as she was of expotitions of her own. In it, the group sets out to discover the North Pole, but then little Roo falls into the stream. Pooh finds a long pole, drapes it across the stream, and rescues Roo. Afterward, Christopher Robin considers Pooh’s pole thoughtfully. “The Expedition is over,” he tells Pooh solemnly. “You have found the North Pole!”
By now Jane knows to expect, of course, that Charlotte is telling the story.
The group sets out, walking in a line. First comes Christopher Robin and Rabbit, then Piglet and Pooh; then Kanga, with Roo in her pocket, and Owl; then Eeyore; and, at the end, in a long line, Rabbit’s friends-and-relations. Behind them, someone else.
“I didn’t want to come on this Expotition,” says Eeyore. “I only came to oblige. My tail’s getting cold. I don’t want to complain but there it is. My tail’s cold.”
Rabbit’s ears are
“Cold can burn,” says the person at the end of the line. “But don’t worry.”
“Why shouldn’t we worry?” asks Piglet.
“After you burn,” says the person at the end of the line, “you’ll shake. After you shake, you’ll stop shaking, and then you’ll start to feel warm and sleepy and wonderful.”
“How do you know that?” chatters Piglet, who is beginning to shake.
“It happened to my aunt Magnolia,” says the person at the end of the line.
“Did Aunt Magnolia come back and tell you about it?” chatters Piglet, who’s shaking harder now.
“Not exactly,” says Jane.
“How did you learn about it, then?” asks Piglet, who yawns.
“It’s called hypothermia,” says Jane. “It happens to people who set out for the North Pole without the appropriate supplies.”
“Did Aunt Magnolia do that?” asks Piglet.
“No,” says Jane. “She set out for the South Pole, with the appropriate supplies. Isn’t it nice to be doing the parallel and opposite thing? Just like Aunt Magnolia, but different.”
“But, why did she get hypothermia if she had the appropriate supplies?” asks Piglet.
“She got caught in a blizzard.”
It begins to snow, steadily. The wind picks up and the snow blows harder. The snow looks an awful lot like cherry blossoms, soft and delicate and sweet-smelling, but when it hits Jane’s skin, it’s like being poked with pins.
“Ow!” cries Piglet. “Ow! Ow! It stings!”
“Hold on, Piglet,” says Jane as the stinging snow piles around Jane’s feet, her ankles, her shins. Her jellyfish tattoo begins to burn, a jellyfish-shaped fire stinging her arm. “This is how it’s supposed to happen,” says Jane, beginning to be alarmed. “Soon you’ll feel warm and sleepy and wonderful.”
The cherry-blossom snow has a way of finding the crevices in Jane’s clothing, and sticking to her skin. There, it’s like acid; it eats her top layer away. It lays her bare. It happens very fast. Christopher Robin is screaming. How strange, Jane thinks, watching him as he screams. He’s skinless. The cherry-blossom snow has eaten the skin of his face and arms and of the legs above his expedition boots. He’s red and oozing, his outside is visceral, he is the scene in the movie we turn away from because it’s horrible. But it’s how our bodies look, under our skin. Pooh is screaming. Piglet is screaming. Rabbit is screaming.
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore / Fantasy / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes