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Radiostation Berlin (Part 5) 

As they pass St. Matthew's he points to the steeple and talks of his old congregations. As they pass Concordia, he stares for a moment and squints at the sun.

I've read a few things about her, says Edward. You didn't believe that patriotic nonsense, did you? That she put on a Charlie Chaplin moustache and paraded off to Vimy Ridge. You must remember, it was war time. I recall hearing the story starting with the rumour of a female soldier found in battle. Then someone's memory of a quiet Mennonite in the 118th. Disconnected facts massaged and strung together into a story. Unconscious of its own gaps.

In the morning, half-asleep, Edward hears laughter from the back of the house. Loud shrieks that border on cries of agony. Elizabeth has pulled Vera from the verandah and hauled her out into the rainfall. Vera, falling past the point of resistance, pulls Elizabeth down beside her. Then Edward sees them scamper across the tall grass behind the lilacs, entwined in the needlework of the morning as it weaves around their bodies. Vera calls to him, standing in the window. When he refuses, the women bring the weather inside to him.

They kiss his cheeks, painting him with streaks of water. Elizabeth rings her hair out on a towel she's thrown on the floor at the side of the bed.

Come on! She grabs one arm and Vera grabs the other. Before he knows it, he's running barefoot through town, screaming at the top of his lungs, ready to keel over in exhaustion. Vera runs beside him, kicking water up toward him from a pool in the avenue, as Elizabeth floats through the air on her tip-toes, moaning like a ghost. He sees them through a cellophane curtain: a girl who exists to him in tiny glimpses and her best friend, the singer, whom he fears he loves.

He falls in a bed of leaves behind an oak tree. The showers turn to thunder. The weight of Elizabeth is balanced against his sternum and down across his body. Vera continues along a twisting path toward the lake.

Listen, Elizabeth whispers.

She touches her finger wet to his lips and lays her head against him. His breathing is heavy. His heart thumping in his chest. At the right moment she slides up higher against him and slips her tongue inside his mouth.

He's been dreaming. Despite the motion of the train. He only awakes when it comes to a standstill. His face pressed up against the window, leaving a cloud of breath condensed on the glass. No one came to see him off at the station. He'd avoided giving out his exact time of departure. He enjoyed his new friends in Kitchener, but hopes in a few days they'll be off his mind. Only with Walter does he plan on keeping in touch.

He shifts and attempts to open the window, but it's been locked for the winter. When he leans back he tries to erase the lingering sentiments left behind by the dream. He doesn't hate dreaming, but wishes they had less of a hold on him. When he awakes he attempts to pull together every scattered thought he can remember and assign each one some secondary meaning, tries to sort out the symbolic significance of the people and places to distance himself.


On weekends, Elizabeth works at the Theatre Lindon in Stratford. She does an assortment of odd jobs, from taking tickets to hanging scenery from the steel grid suspended thirty feet above the stage. Vaudeville sweeps through from London. American groups, already devastated by the great depression, come on their last tours of southern Ontario before radio, and eventually television, lead to such performances' rapid decline.

From the proscenium, Elizabeth stares up at the ornate boxes where, later that evening, men in top hats will smoke cigars and look down over a crowded theatre. Women will shimmer in plastic sequins and glass beads on metallic lamee. During the show itself, it's not the audience that attracts her, and though she loves the dancers and comedians, the acrobats and trained animals, she sometimes counts the seconds until the last tightrope has been crossed, the last hula hoop spun, the last Russian kazatski kicked and the stage becomes suddenly quiet. When the coloured woman comes on, Elizabeth stands alone, peeking through a heavy curtain. Every evening they finale with a blues act. Not hollered, she tells Elizabeth backstage, but like Ethel Waters says, "God has very big ears. He can hear you even when you whisper." Sometimes her voice gets so soft, the audience has to hold its breath to hear, as though a voice itself has the power to freeze a certain sliver of the world into the shape of a winged insect, hold it still for the briefest of seconds, and then set it free again. For that is the shape of the theatre itself, not one fat row of seats, but a slender body with tier upon tier, and two lateral upper balconies, flanked by six ornate boxes, three on each side. Like crystal, she thinks, or the wings of dragonflies.

On her way back, it's morning. She stays the nights with the family of a stagehand and leaves on the Sunday train. She touches her nose against the cold window. The hay fields are frosted over. It amazes her that anything can survive. She remembers when her cat died and she found it on the lawn in the neighbours' backyard. It had been there for two days. Her father had looked everywhere except the exact location where she'd found it. The neighbours had gone to Florida to escape the cruelty of the Canadian winter and meanwhile a black cat had climbed onto their second-story awning and plummeted to its death. Her name was Tyra. She'd always been fleet-footed, looking down from high places, leaving one puzzling how she'd ever managed to get up there in the first place. There was no ladder or railing, no overhanging branches which could have led to the neighbouring rooftop. If she hadn't been up there, then how did she fall? If she didn't fall then why did they find her rock-hard body velcroed to the neighbours' frozen lawn? Perhaps she'd been poisoned. Elizabeth believed she'd been lying on her back, daydreaming, staring up at the afternoon sky, and had frozen there. She imagined her death as peaceful, pondering the cloud forms, believing that spring would come and rescue her, that all things that freeze eventually thaw.

Elizabeth watched her father, unaware of his daughter's presence, as he hauled up Tyra's lifeless body. A horrible sound of ripping filled the silence around them. Some caused by the unearthed lawn and some by tearing skin. There was no smell. No sight either, as Elizabeth had closed her eyes up tight enough to induce a month of sleeplessness. All that existed was sound, like an old rug being ripped up from a corner of the basement, and the sober realization that some things don't return after winter. That some things stay dead.

Vera met him in the prop closet after the grand opening of an anti-war drama. She could always feel a man's eyes on her, as though they gave off heat in the direction they were looking. As she moved across the stage, she could feel them on the sleeves of her blouse, at her bare ankles, along the curves of her pointed breasts. She saw him backstage and needed no words to be spoken. Wanted nothing but some other part of him to walk the trail his eyes had drawn.

Elizabeth met him at the Theatre Lindon three weeks later. It was her twenty-first birthday. June 2nd, 1933. Vera, acting part-time in Saturday matinees, had made her a two-tier chocolate cake and Elizabeth asked a man backstage for a light. His turquoise eyes smiled back at her. He moved over toward their small crowd and lit the circle of candles.

This is the birthday girl, Elizabeth, said Vera, recognizing him as the man whom she'd befriended in the closet.

He looked from one to the other.

Wendle Ernst, he said. Vera Feldman.

He nodded and kissed the back of Elizabeth's hand.

Two weeks later, on the train to Kitchener, Wendle told Elizabeth he loved her. Though he lived with his sister across from the theatre in Stratford, he spent Sunday in Kitchener with Elizabeth. He'd rush to the station and catch the night train back.

This city is disgusting, he said. Thank you. She punched his shoulder.

Hey, I speak my mind.

He was always in a hurry, running out to attend meetings the Schulverein held in the basement of Concordia, an hour late because the annual Pan-German dinner ran long. He told her of the atrocious acts committed against German-Canadians in Waterloo County. It was the first time she'd heard of them, and she believed him without question. Like believing your cousin was an axe-murderer. Atop a downtown apartment building that overlooked the city, they sat, not looking back as much as forward. Imagining their lives together. Imagining the revival of Germany after over a decade of poverty and persecution. The meetings held on the fourth floor were sponsored by the Pan-German League, of which Wendle was a regional representative. Elizabeth and Wendle lay on their backs, pressed to the black tar rooftop. At first, sitting up, facing one another, and eventually conceding to the will of their bodies. Elizabeth's head by her companion's feet, her fingers clutching his knees.

How old are you again? Twenty-five? she asked. Twenty-seven. And you're the regional representative? I've been at it since I was eleven. My father was a victim. He was beaten with a tire-iron. His skull fractured. Seven broken ribs. For nothing. She'd never witnessed such passion. No one she'd grown up around ever cared about anything. But Wendle was in love with the theatre. He attended the weekend vaudeville in Stratford and then attended the Sunday matinees in Kitchener with Elizabeth. He organized an annual event dedicated to German art. Last week he read from Ecce Homo at the official opening. When he paused to clear his throat he was given a standing applause. That's what we need, he said. Orators, rhetoricians. To convince the people to ban together. I want to go somewhere with you, said Elizabeth. Let's take a trip. Just the two of us. Your parents would let you? I'm twenty-one years old.

He laughed.

Where would we go? Not far. Stratford? Very funny. Let's do it. I'll go anywhere you want to go.

Wendle was an endless highway. He kissed, but never tried touching her. He spoke in fluent German, hardly a word of which she could yet understand. She could trust him, because he kept no secrets. Within two weeks, she knew that his father abused alcohol and that Wendle, himself, had been beaten by his uncle as a child.

I love him, Vera. Don't be crazy. What do you mean? I love him. I do. You've only known him for two weeks. That's what excites me. The journey ahead. The intimacy of walking through his every incarnation. The bad days as much as the good.

They were backstage. Elizabeth in her uniform and Vera in thespian tights. Wendle was sitting in the audience. In the same place Vera had first felt him watching. They could see him if they pressed an eye up to one of a thousand small holes in the backdrop designed for tiny white lights that simulated stars.

He's leaving in three months. So I'll go to Ottawa. Or he'll stay here. Either way, it doesn't matter.

Elizabeth replaced a star and looked down to find Wendle in the seventh row where she'd left him. His jacket was tight around his lean upper body. He always wore browns and reds with black. She even wished there were more of him. More men like Wendle Ernst to go around.

Wendle had a knack for romance. He could find locations around the city that no one else knew of. Views of the river, small openings in the forest, a secret passage to the bell tower at St. Matthew's that looked down over everything. Her favorite, though, was the rooftop with her head against the dried tar. She stared up into a sea of night silence and imagined the gossamer tracings that invisibly connected the stars.

They aren't randomly strewn about, thought Elizabeth. Each sun was meticulously set in place. Entire worlds rotating around them, connected only by this language of light.

I did astrology. I worked for a newspaper.

Elizabeth raised her head up, surprised.

You tell people's fortunes? I'm good with tarot cards, but for the paper I just copied them over from an American source used the previous week. You lied? It was a job.

He smirked.

Yes, I lied.

If she had a pillow, she would have hit him with it, but there was nothing. She'd never felt compelled to strike another person as often as she felt with him. In frustration, in play, she found herself engaging in this new means of utterance.

I can't believe it. A lie put to good use isn't that bad. She smiled and slapped the upper part of his leg. She sat up and looked him over, pretending she had no idea who he was.

Do you lie to me? Never. You weren't angry when I tickled you until you spilled your weizen beer? See? An appropriate occasion. Elizabeth heard voices from the floor beneath them. Men with briefcases and long dark suits.

What are you doing tonight? What are all these meetings about? Tonight, we have another guest speaker. They're motivational. It's an exciting time for Germans. After so many years of suffering, we're putting our heads together. Fighting for some common goal.

Elizabeth nodded and turned her head back to the sky.

Vera loves the bearded dragon we got.

Wendle held his focus. He was quiet when talk shifted to Vera.

I don't like her. Once you get to know her ... No. I'll never like her.

Elizabeth's heart fell. Her stomach felt heavy.

Couldn't you...? No. Wendle was resolute on the simplest occasions. The lizard he bought, he insisted she keep. Elizabeth had never had a pet, let alone a bearded dragon.

What do I feed it? Vegetables. Mostly callops and coriander. And maybe a cricket or two now and again. And I'll bring him with me to Ottawa when I visit? He's yours. And we're going to get married? Soon.

Wendle smiled and clutched hold of her hand. His grip was too firm. His demeanor too abrupt. But she was being overly critical. Isn't that what we do, she thought, find faults in others who seem too pure of heart?

On her trip to Ottawa to visit Wendle, he'd already missed two scheduled visits. A month has passed but it seemed longer. He promised marriage, but found her a nuisance he could pass off to somebody else. Something had come up. Niklaus met her at the station. He was Wendle but smaller. More serious. More German. He even swore in German when he stubbed his toe.

Where are we going? she asked. Dinner. Where's Wendle? Meeting. Okay. Well, this should be fun.

Like Wendle had created a clone of himself to take care of smaller details. A clone who hardly spoke. Who'd spent twelve years in Ottawa and never been skating on the Rideau Canal.

That night, Wendle's apology came with gerberas and a present, wrapped and tied with a bow.

What is it?

She shook it, her ear to the soft blue wrapping she was sure somebody else had done.

Don't break it. What is it? Open it.

She picked the flowers out of the vase and sniffed them.

Wow. Niklaus got them for you. Niklaus? I asked him to get you some flowers. If you like them, Niklaus picked them out.

She set them down beside her on the living room sofa. Watched them. Ottawa, she was quickly realizing, was a place she didn't trust. She peered across to the table where the tall, thin box of baby blue dared her to enter. The red bow a ticking time bomb. What else had Niklaus picked out?

What is it? she said. Open it. It just looks so nice there. I don't want to disturb it.

Wendle tugged at the bow and it peeled off in his hand. He passed her the box.

Let me see when you get it opened. There, she said, the wrapping sliding down its sharp edges like a dress.

He took it and stared admiringly.

It's a painting.I see that. Hands. They're Richard Gatling's. The Richard Gatling, said Elizabeth mockingly. One of the greatest inventors of the nineteenth century. You don't like it. No. I do. I thought if I love it then¬Ö I wanted to share it with someone.

He went to the closet for his toolbox and hung it in the spare bedroom. Hands a bit like Edward's. The first thing she saw when she awoke.

It was on these mornings, staring at the long slender digits of the great gunmaker that she'd realized the extent to which she'd become imbued with a tenderness for Edward. As though her life had spun in full circle and now hung between two opposing points of light. She thought of the faux stars in the backdrop at the Theatre Lindon. How beautiful the night looked in its simulation from the balcony. Each star an endless future that excluded all the rest.

When Vera told her about what happened with Edward, it was like the show ending. The realization of dreaming. The recollection that there was no sky, no endless love, but just a bunch of synthetic lights.

The first time she wakes up screaming, it's Vera she finds beside her.

I could hear you from down the hall. Is everything all right?

Elizabeth is shaking. Sweat running down from the hairs at the back of her neck. She's unsure who's speaking to her at first, and then remembers her parents have gone for the weekend and Vera is staying the night.

I'll get you a drink of water.

Elizabeth sits up, wipes her face on the sleeve of the gown that feels too tight around her body. She won't hate him. She refuses to accept it. She's not someone who allows hatred into her heart.

I don't hate him, she whispers as Vera re-enters the room. Who? No one. Was it a nightmare? I think so. Yes. Her arm quivers as she brings the water to her lips. A drink from the enemy. She thinks, shouldn't it be me poisoning you? But Vera wasn't in the dream. Nor was Wendle. Elizabeth hands the glass of water, half-empty, back to Vera who puts it on the night table beside her.

What was it about?

Your new lover, she wants to say, but fights the urge.

My cat, she says. It's nothing. You're all right then? She nods, pulls at her sleeves, allows Vera to curl up in the space beside her. She remembers the night when Edward almost kissed her. She should have mocked him. A grown man who'd come looking for his mother. She'd heard of men as old as twenty getting goodnight kisses from their mothers or suffering from poorly-timed wet dreams. She turns over onto her stomach, her eyes closed, thinking now about their last encounter. They'd been playing with a jigsaw puzzle that Friedrich had given Vera at the wrap party of her last performance. The face of Marlene Dietrich was slowly being assembled. She glanced across the table at Edward, who was mesmerized by some unidentifiable brown piece held between his fingers. He hoarded them in a little pile, guarding over them, as though he were the only one who could reconfigure their lost order. It irritated her, the way he had to turn everything into a competition. Everything was a race to complete himself. He was always grumbling about feeling like a partial person. Always looking to gain and never willing to give.

Marie Magdelene Dietrich von Losch, he said.

His eyes fixed on the puzzle's ragged perimeter and then shifted to a cancer in the middle.

The girl with bedroom eyes. Supposedly one of her professors was terminated after an affair they had together.

Vera smiled and placed a piece of Dietrich's left ear into its proper position.

Von Sternberg found her in a cabaret, she said. Don't go thinking you've got all the gossip.

Elizabeth watched as Edward dragged another black-brown fragment towards him. She would have added something about Dietrich that her mother had made her learn, but then Edward would have spit out another series of facts to outdo her. Fabricated for all anyone would know. This is his game, she thought. There's no sense in trying.

Instead, before he hoarded them all, she found one and then another. Thick dark hair misplaced in the pile assigned to sections of skin. Elizabeth held the fragments a moment in her hand, as though she could squeeze them and watch him wriggle. He fit a portion of the clavicle to the manubrium of her sternum. He recited the names of the body as he patched their pieces together. The nasal septum. The zygomatic arch. Marching his way towards the locks of brown he'd strewn in a half-circle around him. Elizabeth bent forward and pushed through the overturned slabs of thick wallboard in the box that held the Tuco puzzle. He was handsome. Unshaven. When he spoke he put his hand on Elizabeth's shoulder, or more privately, brushed the hair from her forehead and cheek. She'd fallen in love with his callused fingers. The ridiculousness of his love for binding posts.

Levi came in, breaking the monotony of the puzzle party, talking to the woman he met the evening before in the lobby of the Walper Hotel. She was blond-haired and petite, but her voice was like sandpaper.

Helen is as much of a cynic as you Edward. She claims we should share nothing of ourselves. That we should desire nothing. That we should all become Buddhist monks.

Edward turned from the tiny labyrinth toward the stranger and reached out to shake her hand.

Finally, someone I can relate to, he said, half-joking. What's that supposed to mean? said Elizabeth, doing her best to sound light-hearted. You're as possessive as anyone.

Edward jumped up and walked across the room to open another bottle of cabernet. Elizabeth wanted to crack the bottle open and hold a broken shard to the skin of his neck. Ever since she'd returned from Ottawa he'd become this other person she could hardly recognize. He was loud and abrasive. His self-confidence was pathetically transparent. It wasn't just the fact that he and Vera had slept together, but the long roads he walked to try to hide it.

You see? This is the problem. No one understands me. When you grow up without parents you learn to do without extra little bothers. I don't want the burden of having to worry about hurting other people. I'm still too young to have to struggle along, tied to someone else. There's too much expectation. My grandfather, Helen inserted, says that expectation is our only enemy. What kind of grandparents do you people have? said Elizabeth. Mine just says he wants to fight another war, said Helen. He was heartbroken when they wouldn't send him to Germany. My grandmother says he grunted, Too old, and did nothing but scoff for ten years.

Helen paused for a moment, and Edward passed her a glass of wine.

My dad, said Vera, fought in Ypres where the Germans attacked with chlorine gas.

It was true. Elizabeth remembered hearing how he'd been transferred from Berlin to another regiment somewhere up north before he'd crossed the Atlantic. She raked her hand through the overturned fragments of wallboard.

He's never said a word about it, Vera continued.

Elizabeth was still holding the pieces, scrunched up in the palm of her hand. There were other open jigsaw boxes around them. They were more of the vintage Tuco kind where the sections don't slot one into another, but rather lay side by side, each piece held only by its own weight.

It's early Wednesday morning. Four days before his departure. Edward is standing at the opposite side of her screen door. In the light from the street she sees only his shadow. They walk out onto the porch and he stares for a moment at the curvature of her neck and spine, and then down to the hemline of her organdy skirt. She's holding her bearded dragon in her arms. It's smaller than he'd expected. He sees it as a relic from the dark ages of her past. Not a pre-historic shape-shifter, but something constant. The symbol of her love for another man. He scrunches his forehead as though he has no idea what she's saying. They stand for a moment beneath the overhang in silence. Elizabeth feels the mist wetting her forehead, and Edward takes a step back.

I didn't mean what I said last night. That you were a distraction. Elizabeth nods, but doesn't answer. Edward has his hair slicked back off his forehead. His right hand fiddles with his right suspender and then his left beneath his Glen Plaid. He's always clutching at something. Elizabeth has seen him on perfectly lit days, running his fingers along fences and factory walls. She's witnessed him handling sections of radios as though they were almost human.

She can hear the sound of his hand rubbing lengthwise against the fabric. A smooth and peaceful sound, his means of communication. She listens to a short space of silence and then the soft scraping of his feet.

You're right, she says. I have no idea what you're about. You know I'm possessive. About jigsaw puzzles at least. You're not possessive, really. In some ways you're completely opposite.

She sits down parallel to the top step and speaks without looking toward him.

Is possession always evil? she asks. I don't know. Must we do away with it? A world without jealousy. I'm not jealous, he says.

Edward sees only the dark side of her face. He imagines living on the dark side of the moon, never knowing of the other half's existence. You're leaving tomorrow? On Sunday. Back to Hamilton and then maybe on to Toronto for a while. Things haven't really turned out as I'd expected. I feel I might know less now than when I came. I kind of lost focus.

He turns and stares out into the rain.

What exactly did you expect to find? I guess I had too many romantic notions. Like there would be a book with her name on it that I could make sense of in one read. My mother's simple. Predictable. Lately anyway. When I was younger I think she was less so. All her hopes she filtered through me, and now I've probably disappointed her. She's unhappy with who I've become. At least when I was younger, I didn't already know the next word out of her mouth.

She looks over toward him, his lapels heavy with the weight of the rain. She runs her fingers along the rough back of her reptile.

How much do we ever know another person though? With my father, I have an unspoken agreement. An invisible bond. He growls about my music, but I see him sometimes standing at the back of the theatre. When we speak it's in three or four-word phrases. When he leaves in the morning, he always pecks me on the cheek.

Edward closes his eyes, envisioning her father in a brown cheviot coat at the back of the theatre. He has traces of snow still on his sleeves.

You see. This is what I mean. I envy you. What? You have a story. I have absence. What about your grandfather? There're a million miles between us. You have your father now. And everything can't come suddenly together. I have absences too.

Elizabeth sees a battle being fought inside him. It's the same battle she sees in Vera. In some ways, it's the same battle she sees in herself. One's own history is stunted by such things. Chunks of time are lost, like time stands still for a season and then leaps forward when the war diminishes. The space in between is lost. She wants to say something to ensure he'll think of her, not when his own war is over, but rather when he recognizes that the war can never completely end.

What is that? asks Edward, pointing to the tiny flap of skin around the reptile's neck. It's called the dewlap. The males raise it to intimidate predators or impress the opposite sex.

Edward reaches in and runs his hand along the soft scales and intricate folds of the lizard's body, as though finding a foreign language in the complexities of its skin.

I read once, says Elizabeth, that they used to think all reptiles lived together in one area, all members of each species formed distinct colonies and only came together to battle for food. It's not true though. Evolution itself is a result of cross-breeding, families with other families, even species with other species. What was his name again? Rex. Remember, like T-Rex. Right. He's stubbornly resilient. I've tried to get rid of him a hundred times. What would I want with a reptile, let alone a walking time capsule of bad memories? I tried choking him once. Do you believe me? There are no pet stores around here that take reptiles. I tried a special store for lizards in Cambridge, but apparently he has some strange deformity. One day I woke up and he was staring at me from the end of my bed. I have no idea how he got up there. I swear he was taunting me, like he knew I'd tried and failed and was stuck with him forever. How long do these things live? I don't know. So I reached out and wrapped my fingers around his scrawny little neck. He never budged. He never made a peep. I think if he would have fought more, I would have done it. If he would have struggled to pry himself forever into my life, I would have used that little bit of power that I had to rid myself of him. But he just sat there, staring at me.

She looks down at him sitting silently between them.

I think ever since then, we've gotten along okay.

She doesn't expect him to come find her before his train leaves. She's started to grow an edge of her own. To expect less of people. She's even considered acting out the pain she feels on the surface of her body. Such things should be traceable. Lost love should leave an odor or a scar.

Elizabeth bends for a lantern on the floor in the kitchen and carries it down through the main room. A ghost moving through the empty hallways. Out the front door, Vera is piling her belongings into one corner on the step.

Where do you want this? Anywhere there is fine. Levi will bring it over. He can't be much longer though. It's freezing out here.

Vera's decided to make the move to Scarborough with her aunt and uncle. She's found part-time work at a theatre in Toronto, and Elizabeth has been encouraging her to take it.

It's what you need. Get out of this town for a while. I don't know how long I can handle my aunt and uncle. Have you ever met them? You can move out if you don't like it.

The possibility of failure haunts Vera, though Elizabeth has no available answers. She doesn't know what she's doing herself, singing against the will of her mother, who says she spends too much time in front of a small crowd of nobodies. She stays out alone too late at night in a smoke-filled hall.

What do you think of Edward? asks Vera. Edward?

Elizabeth looks up, and then returns to what she's doing.

I don't know. What do you think?He's ordinary.

Vera, eyeing Elizabeth, sorts through a pile of dresses and skirts, then blows on her hands to warm them.

But a decent dresser.

Elizabeth, without looking up, nods and keeps her eyes on the box she fills up in front of her.

It's so obvious. What? That you like him.

Elizabeth pauses.

I'm engaged. He likes you.

Elizabeth pulls a handful of cutlery from a teacup and begins to arrange them.

I'm sorry, says Vera. For what? I've upset you. No. Forget the ass in Ottawa. Or you going to lose them both. Elizabeth stares for a moment, allowing the night air to soak through her.

This is a celebration, she says, shaking her head and forcing a smile. We should be celebrating. Right.

Elizabeth nods and walks to a box by the window. She digs through a mass of unidentifiable junk. For a woman who begs to exist in the present only, Vera has an abundance of heirlooms and knickknacks.

What is this? Elizabeth holds up an odd-shaped majolica dish and flips it over.

It's an asparagus server, says Vera, as though it's the most obvious thing in the world. To serve asparagus? Or whatever? It's made of majolica. Are those asparagus on the side there? Yes.

Vera, at last, breaks down and smiles.

You should see this.

She turns and digs through another crate behind her and pulls out a small dagger with a wooden handle and matching wooden sheath. She hands it to Elizabeth and giggles.

It's called an elephant bone sex sword. Elizabeth pushes her tongue to the inside of her cheek and studies it more closely.

The men look like women.

Vera glances over.

I'd say there's at least one clear distinction.

Elizabeth touches her finger to the blade.

At first, I thought you meant the sword itself was used.

Vera cringes.

And elephants?

Vera grabs the sword and hands her back the majolica dish.

Maybe we should stick to asparagus, says Vera blushing. I like asparagus.

They both stop and smile, almost mirror images of each other in the dark, though Elizabeth is slightly taller and has a smaller, flatter face.

What else have you got in there? A candelabrum.


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