Quebec, part one: I could just buy Reuters

Published 2023.08.29

"I can hear everything
It's everything time."
Glass Jar, Lizzi Bougatsos, 2011

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Have you ever seen a princess do a Christ Air, on no longer snowed in ramps cleared of the elements by herself and a shovel in the maddening stasis blackened and sparsely headlit hours before dawn, on a board the color of which is so black as to appear as if it is interrupting the transition from those static hours into the morning, a sundial that mistook a black cloth overlaid on top of it for repairs and cleanup as forecasting total nuclear winter? You haven't, because she was practicing in solitude, and maybe entirely to vestedly impress another girl.
And was she free of winterwear entirely, and was she uncloaked by hydrophobic plastic so that the molting snow in its final metamorphic danse macabre may take its resting place as water as it slides off her, and did she soar like a bird of prey about to dropkick a canary? Yes, sure, and precisely. This was the night of the second day of forty. The ice cream shop was still open at this hour, perhaps due to the lack of leave taken by the owner, who flashes the bilingual anglophone and francophone CLOSED sign but still toils at the transference of scoop into cone, and may let you in if you flash cash through the window of the storefront at a rate far pricier than the most extravagant wedding cake parfait on the menu, although this may have been a special exception.
And did she return with one scoop of vanilla, one chocolate and lastly strawberry, the time-worn Neapolitan pattern, to unlock the door of a former mayoral residence whose ring-handled door was enmarqueed in a gilded rendering of the SATOR square? Yes. She had had an argument, a popular and current word for 'polite discussion but with weapons clutched behind back', regarding whether this palindrome first sighted in Pompeii, thus dating it to the pre-Christian age, was occult Grecian magical incantations meant to be buried by the grave of your enemy's father or your love's consumptive passed on mother or the Christian assertion of 'pater nostor', and a settlement was reached that we may never know until we hold the first person to draw the square at combined knife and gunpoint and hopefully intimidate them enough with the sensorial assault of explosive gunpowder as to have them state their intentions clearly as if any wrong word is causation to be bled, possibly capable of being suspicious of the flares, but still recognizant of the shape of the miniaturized pocket sabre.
This was her mother's house, my mother's house, a nine-foot tall tentacle monster who was likely hibernating somewhere in the provinces, appearing as the extraterrestial beached whale carcass, the never-mythical unidentified 'globster', to the bear that tried to claw at her, and instilling such fear in the bear that it may have learned how to speak and been strong-armed into a proper position of employment and a mandatory uniform and rifle carry by the nearest national park ranger. This is all purely speculative. What's true is that this begins in the two-thousand-and-tenth year of the Current Era, and the month is March, and Hell is cold, or Hell is warm, I can't tell. Never was able to. Sorry.

Res Jino, narrating

In the days of Bureau Hotel, the concept of romance, closely linked to a set of ardent, oversaturated shades of red, experienced perpetual waterings-down and constricting compressions intended to stuff the much broader concept of love into a box, from which it was any half-decent, half-clever person's job to exit equally ardently as the aforementioned shades of red burn in the heart. From the first ollie to even the most ambitious, potentially collarbone-destroying handstanding rail grinds, so to speak, the amorous development of a typical citizen in a BH-controlled territory would be miffled by risk mitigation and boredom with popular media, pigeonholed into anti-fun territories. Tropes abounded with little reflection of lived reality: appearances and superficial impressions would be found nullified by the contrived happy ending of the hitherto-unreceptive 'more beautiful' party's long-awaited statement of the girl's beauty once she took off her glasses, but only then; a heterosexual couple would have the rights to bury their gays not with dirt, but with a narrative sense of forget; a difference in socioeconomic status would fail to tear a couple apart as much as it would conveniently fail to characterize or color any of their interactions, reduced to a simple narrative fact never commented upon except with "but you're" and "you're not right for"; everything was in essence a teen movie, immature in storytelling and deliberately coordinated with the intention of reconstructing romance in a domain of inconsequentiality; films about family life always had all the drama, all the complex morals (as complex as a reprobate totalitarian government can make out morals to be), all the true twist endings, whereas romance cinema was slop they fed us under the assumption everyone was a tiresome het to quell us and normalize not only settling for whatever, but also settling reasonlessly, mindlessly, in accordance with the flows of statebuilding. So what kind of alternatives did we turn to? We turned the other cheek and dismissed the played-out bullshit, then turned to just about everything we could during the full reign of Bureau Hotel and its domination of the Incipient for entertainment. Usually, I was entertained by my personal pursuits, my studies of the books describing everything Ari had referenced that fateful night many months ago, my private writings, my attempts to collect media I enjoyed, my playing of the cello, my private compositions for cello, et cetera, but on this day, March 18, 2010, I was finally entertained interpersonally for once. We called the romantic garbage 'oddly Shakespearean,' but I would call this 'oddly Nietzschean,' much higher praise in my opinion. The interpersonal entertainment in question consisted of texting Ari Augustenburg, out of the blue, that I wanted to see her and receiving a response.

"Come to Quebec."

Right after the SMS hit, I likewise found myself oppressed by the apparent impossibility of going - at least in the immediate moment - what I soon figured out was over three-hundred painstaking miles to meet Ari, and I wondered why the hell she wouldn't bother meeting me, but I wasn't mad in any way, for I knew her reasoning fit into a broader framework, fixed into the mechanical kinetics of the soon-to-obsolesce-within-the-next-decade handcrafted wristwatch by a professional who'd been doing this for decades, a finishing touch for something she had already thought of many weeks or even months ago. Still coming to terms with this, I fished a laptop out of my bag with an immediacy, practically slammed into my desk and approaching the limit of breakage like there weren't already missing keycaps on the inexpensive lower panel from an absolute excess of intercommunicative typing with an uneven mixture composed secondarily of people I cared about and primarily of those about whom I couldn't have given less of a fuck even with a boiling vat of UTI piss underneath me into which I was being lowered at a changing rate - perhaps it was better to think of these things as hypotheticals, word problems, I reason. I have never treated keyboards with the same sense of delicacy I extend to the neck, bow, and strings of my cello when playing compositions for Ari today, for mashing into them was a hard habit to break, and the noise of my typing in public was a surprisingly excellent conversation-starter, kindling for assuring others I was not a nuisance and instead had a sophisticated perspective to offer. Opening the laptop, I ascertained the aforementioned distance from Providence to Montreal (which I later learned was not the destination to begin with), searched for the prices of plane tickets through a strict VPN running through the hopefully-not-wiretapped apartment wireless network and the router Goni had poorly configured for it, gawked at the prices of plane tickets and the hurdles I would have to go through as someone below the age of majority to fly solo without good ol' granddaddy's company, realized that train tickets were also mostly out of the question for similar reasons, and closed my computer, more carefully placing it back in the cluttered bag.
Having read about the impossibility of teleportation except for the most powerful immortals, I, a mere human, could hope for essentially nothing. My ancestor, Taj Jino, founder of the Jino clan we know today, was known for her - I realized by now that Taj was a woman despite the revisionism - swiftness in negotiations, not her swiftness in travel: her insistence upon riding solo horseback reportedly prevented her, a recluse in the present, from getting out of her residence and facing the consequences of her actions towards the young woman I had fallen in love with, but I didn't care right now. It was just a rumor, and I wasn't even thinking about Taj. I'd heard that Taj was the kind of woman to feel unsatisfied with a film she'd just seen because the flashbacks to the protagonist's childhood didn't explain every last thing, the type to complain online under some anonymous handle, too pussy to draw out her point that Tarkovsky never gets shit done and that David Lynch makes fuckall sense. Igitur, Taj is someone I didn't want to speak to for a long time, for the way in which things make sense in her mind, as sane as she is, is too sane, too sanitary, as her final outpouring of creativity was the Jino Code. I moved fast; my ancestor didn't. Ari texted me a followup, seeing that I hadn't responded in my little private spiral, which was automatically separated at 140-character boundaries into uneven portions:
"I'll meet you outside your apartment complex in approximately seventeen minutes, margin of error being one. Be punctual and be ready to be dragged places unceremoniously and at my discretion, though I know that's not going to be a problem. See you soon, Jino."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

I was there in sixteen minutes, having in fact not egressed or been voluntarily extracted or extradited as part of a prisoner swap from Rhode Island. I consider it a great disturbance that I arrived within precisely sixteen minutes, an exact nine hundred sixty seconds, but perhaps a girl's heart is aflutter and her legs travel shakily as if they are a theatre set rolling from one backdrop to the next. I ran there. Not that this would ever be known to Jino, who assumes that I live both in Thalassa's house and within every bush Res sees twitch slightly in wind.

Myself: "Good day. You still look like an inkjet printer, Jino."
Jino: "What?"
Me: "Take it as a compliment. Your hair is a light-suffocating true black. Almost as if washed in the liquefied absence of color."
Res: "I see. You're calling me pretty. I'm flattered."
I: "This is a matter of romance, is that not so?"
My wife: "An all expenses paid vacation, I take it. And one paid centuries ago because we're going to be staying at a property you inherited. And to boot, one that's deliberately been destined to host our outing today."
Myself: "I quite wish my parents' prior consideration was as forethought."
Jino: "And I take that remark about the absence of light was a hint."
Me: "If you take sharing a bed as the great darkened unknown."
Res: "I do, actually. If I try sleep with Rico in tow, I get the worst migraine anyone's ever dreaded since the first recorded headache. It's like the Global Headache Society's worst case scenario event is playing out in my skull."
I: "A white paper that states 'lovelorn teenage girl apocalypse scenario.'"
My wife: "Lovelorn teenage girl apocalypse scenario: every bed she has so much breathed on will give the occupants debilitating pain. Soon the streets are filled with the unslept undead. Language goes extinct as sleep deprived mumbling becomes the primary type of communication."
Myself: "Meanwhile, the headache drowns out the decision making capacity of the afflicted and they cannot even so much as retrieve a glass of water."
Jino: "Meal preparation is limited to what you can throw into the perpetual indoor fire. Many burn their arms and legs on the flames, depending on where they dropped the incipient match after soaking the whole place in grease or fuel."
Me: "Dyskinesia sets in and the physical properties of space fall away due to the global psychic status of the world, all attempting to beg for the end of it but unforming of coherent thought."
Res: "That marks the end of section 1 of the Global Headache Society's worst case scenario. Wow folks, wasn't that scary? But nothing like that'll ever happen to us French-Canadians. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming on CTV News Montreal."
I: "Quebec City, actually."
My wife: "What?"
Myself: "We're going to Quebec City."
Jino: "You're not one for metonyms, I see. I concur. If I have to call the United States government 'Washington' one more time in a Red Swan polisci essay that demands I sound like Reuters, I'll snap. The disinformation classes are honestly subpar."
Me: "Polisci, polizei. Same difference. I could just buy Reuters."
Res: "To help me cheat on my homework."
I: "You don't sound like you want to do it."
My wife: "But there would be a stylistic shift, and they'll notice it. Oh wait. Shit, you're a genius. They would give me higher grades for lack of individual identity and sounding as if I am just another correspondent, and there's the trick. It was an actual correspondent writing it. When can we make this happen?"
Myself: "I could make some phone calls. But before that, I would have to volley through the woes of making another phone call to know where it is that I am to call. It is a gated community with infinite tacky imitation cast iron roses.
Jino: "Gates, gates."
Me: "You sound like you're about to arrive at a conclusion."
Res: "Do you guys do portals?"
I: "Who's 'you guys'? You're supposed to not be human last I heard."
My wife: "I'm adamant about being a human."

Don't get her started on that.

Myself: "Fine. We do do portals. There's a set of gateways that are facilitated by the slight bleedthrough regions of spacetime between the three Earths. Due to the global positioning grids these portals operate on, there is an exploit we can render advantageous and arrive in Quebec City on this planet." Jino: "Okay. If you go to Quebec on... whatever the second Earth is..."
Me: "The Deep, or The Dark. Former is more common."
Res: "Right. And if you go to Quebec on The Dark..."
I: "Contrarian."
My wife: "Stop interrupting me, and it sounds cooler. So fuck you. Okay, if you go to Quebec on the Deep or the Dark, the 'portal' will forget where you came from beside your origin Earth and send you to the nearest equivalent location on the planet we stand on right now."
Myself: "Astonishingly, that is exactly what I was going to say."
Jino: "I'm quite sure your wording would have been much more beautiful and much more educational in its historicity."
Me: "Why, thank you. Yes, I would have mentioned that the geospatial mapping system on this planet was created before plate tectonics by the Bronze Agers, rendering teleportation impossible to most as only the most powerful can perform the adequate 'corrective' measures that facilitate travel from point A to point B, since the point B that is known to the 'common potential' has long moved to higher or lower ground or has been merged into another continent entirely."
Res: "And can I speak firmly and sternly to those Bronze Agers?"
I: "Do you have a death wish, Res Jino?"
My wife: "Okay, I don't. But in what language would I speak to them in? I'm sure I could figure out a common interest and persuade them that these improvements are overdue. Oration never died, you know."
Myself: "Basque."
Jino: "Basque? But I don't have time to learn Euskara!"
Me: "Which is precisely why the exploit you just figured is what we are going to be relying on. Be proud of your accomplishments."

A few inadequacies emerged in the process. Upon reaching Quebec of The Deep and then immediately bidding adieu to it, we had to repeat the process three times. First we landed on the Ile d'Orleans, an island fifteen miles out, where the orchards had not yet borne their first flowers. It is March and it is bare and grass is patchy. We stand atop a pastorality that struggles. Second attempt. Baie St-Paul, Charlevoix. Quaint. I had to enjoy some lectures on the gastronomic particulars of this specific locale, which provided sufficient entertainment. Third try, a busy intersection. Imagine myself in that moment, skeleton flexible as a cat in forty story fall, kneeing my own wife to launch her onto the pavement and for a moment immobilizing the wheels of a car with a shoot of acidic goo that exists coating my hair as the thick not yet figurative or decorative foam of a coffee cup, Jino with actual death in her eyes, having actually been hit, but somehow unpained and now on the pavement, and quickly healed. Taking long strides in the spans of seconds, unable to stop time, an ability certifiably no one has in all upper echelons of magical society, I stand beside her. We both trudge to find a bench. "I told you it was faulty, okay."
"Honestly, that was cool as hell."
"Who are you, me?"
"I'm too pissed about the American style sprawl to be upset about that right now."
"You're speaking my language, Jino."
Hey, at least it was Quebec City.

Res Jino, narrating

Quebec City, ordinarily spelled with an accent on the third overall letter, which I have conveniently ignored in my storytelling to express my pervasive inability to pronounce French - which was present then and continues to plague me to this day, much to Ari's apparent adoration - and its fortified walls proved to have been a significant distance, but in the moment, it was difficult to care, given that I no longer stood in Providence, had abruptly entered the night, where I had momentarily witnessed the astronomical beauty the Deep, that other version of Earth connected to us by a mesh, and the glistening of what I had presumed was a combined Milkdromeda gazing down with apparent indifference to the spiring architectural marvels ascending towards it with seeming unawareness of the sheer degree of distance separating their world from the celestiality of the combined galaxy, nothing at all of importance there, and been greeted mere moments later by the Incipient's equivalent, uglier city, nightmarishly sticking out from the landscape amidst a cloudy day's mundane appearances. Overall, I couldn't stand it.
"Excuse me," I beckoned to Ari, "I'm going to need to speak to the presidents of the various architectural companies the people here have contracted. I can't quite explain it, but this place looks no good. It feigns Europeanness from time to time as your gaze encounters the occasional monumental historical piece, but that does nothing to conceal this city's twisted nature as the site at which most of North America was split in two by bourgeois revolutionaries who had grit their teeth and undergone a difficult trek to this place in the winter to liberate it. I would be embarrassed to have to want this pile of shit in the Continental Congress, even if only for geopolitical reasons. Jesus fucking Christ." Thus I began a dialog.
Ari: "Keep going, keep going. Continue to detest, build your anticipation for something beautiful to appear in this city withour any prior notice. All of a sudden, as it is said." She seemed so certain that I thought there could be anything beautiful in this place.
Me: "What might you mean, anticipation for something beautiful?"
Ari Augustenburg: "Unless you've already seen something that fits the description, in which case you better tell me. My mother would be pleased to hear such a thing."
Me: "Which mother are you referring to? That could mean a whole gamut of things."
My wife: "The mother under whose mayoralty this city was briefly in the later 20th century, albeit before either of our births. I thought myself to have mentioned it by now."
Me: "...not even once. I'm quite surprised it never came up in conversation, to be quite honest. Seems like it'd be at least a bit important." I added, "By the way, you haven't given even a single hint as to which one of them did this."
My wife: "First of all, 'important' would vastly...overstate the duties of the mayor of Quebec. Secondly, Saturn Thebes. Must we continue with the boilerplate?"
Me: "Take me to the mayoral building. Let's loiter there."
Ari: "Sure, Jino. We can loiter all you wish. There's no issue."
Thus we began walking in a paused degree of anticipatory silence. The sun gradually reemerged from the cloud cover, and no rain was to grace us, perhaps knowing that the interruption would force us to seek shelter in a less important location, somewhere we would experience the phenomena in question too indirectly to truly understand them. Police officers seemed to appear and disappear with every passing glance, summoned by arcane organizations - or perhaps simply Bureau - to monitor us, but we took no notice of them, and they seemed to do a poor job of monitoring us despite a broad awareness of our presence. Overall, not once were were stopped that day. Ari bothered placing several pieces of already-been-chewed gum summoned from her hair into several pigs' walking paths, distracting them through simple ires. I took surprise that a place formerly under Augustenburg rule would make itself so hostile towards us, even if indirectly. "Nothing too bothersome in my life," Ari interjected into the surrounding silence.
For a moment, I considered what she had said rather carefully, my footsteps subtly reflecting with barely audible echoes throughout our surroundings, all things progressing smoothly but without a doubt curiously. She, the young woman who had been jailed without trial among chauvinist vampires for the majority of her life and spoke now to a descendant - albeit distant - of one of her original captors, she who dared negotiate the one-sided hostage exchange, alienated indefinitely from her in-turn-estranged parents, ready to write epic catalogs of everything vexing about her existence from the looks of it all, instead quips about nothing too bothersome. What could her definition of 'bothersome' possibly be? Presuming the semantics of the matter were utterly deadly, I decided not to bring it up. She was better off taking refuge with me; I didn't want to shine light onto something requiring a perpetuum of dramatic revelations over the course of our entire relationship. All my satire, I decided, had to be Menippean for the time being, brutalizing the concept rather than the person, the individual, the idiot, the bastard, the captor, the molester. Vomiting out words to fulfill phantom word-count quotas wouldn't work. Nonetheless, I asked her a loaded question: "Pardon this being off-topic" - if there even was a topic - "but what do you want to be remembered for?"
"Remembered for? For a vicious drug trafficker and career delinquent, you're so absentminded," Ari began, twirling a stray strand of hair, seemingly twisting it into infinity and back as she spoke. I made a mock pout, but my face quickly returned to the usual slight resting-bitch because turning back had ceased to be an option. I had to take this seriously as I did everything else, right? "The sixteen cores of the cephalopod brain filling this cranium and extending out into locks is acutely aware that your front of mindfulness is an act. I request that you either drop it or state your intentions."
"Oh, I just slipped up a bit. Maybe a better, more clear question would be this. What are your plans for the future?"
"Factor yourself in. The standalone question is insufficiently narcissistic. Incorporate yourself already, considering that you're in love with me." I did think about her almost every day, even with so many other things in the way. "The Alarie family, or more properly the Aleatoric Empire, listens and incorporates throughout its process of intermarriage and expansion. I reckon you separately from the broader context of the current vast intermarriage event" - the existence of such a thing was definitely news to me - "yet I do not reckon the Center as a collaborative of South American dictatorships gone awry." She looked like she intended to add 'No offense to South American dictatorships.' as an afterthought during the subsequent pause, but she didn't say such a thing. My later mental commentary: she was attempting to hide Bathysine influence. My mental commentary at the time: already stated. "This is what will set my living legacy apart from the immortals who shall eventually fall into obscurity with reckless abandon as they make nationalistic final stands for their respective Independent States Of Me And Also People I Like, for I am both inside and outside. I have found midpoints between what the Center reckons as progress and achievement and what its opponents do. More importantly, when it comes to last stands, I don't remember anyone's Alamo."
"What I'm gathering here is that you find it wise to plan things out with respect to multiple sources. Would that make you the embodiment of syncretics, then? Like, I know for certain that you're not much of a people pleaser, so that leaves a sincere respect for syncretism as the only option. Every universalizing religion's syncretic branches mean the most to me, for they add specificity to the genericized and restore far more 'original faith' to dogma and teachings than any fundamentalist movement ever will. To me, you're like a divergent Sufi order...and like, uh, you definitely have me in a state of ecstasy when you're, like, around. That's-"
"You're such a terrible flirt, Res Jino." For whatever reason, I totaled my losses and nodded in agreement. This wasn't the time to be defensive; I was, in fact, a very intelligent idiot after all. She continued, "I'd like to request that you don't even try for the next few years if you must make yourself appear so pitifully adorable with every attempt. I'm not going to put up with it, and you *will* face rhetorical consequences whenever your eloquence slips for the sake of an advance."
"In other words, you want me to be more smooth. What I'm getting is that you want the image of Res Jino in your mind to be something more refined than her immediate appearances. I can oblige."
"I never said you should change your behavior."
"Ah. Well, like-"
"No saying whatever you're about to say until it's the right time for both of us to hear it come out of your mouth. I know that, regardless of what it was, you were saving it." Truth be told, I wasn't exactly saving anything, and indeed I had come up with something on the spot, but alas, it would have to wait to maintain discursive order. Shame, because I thought it was a damn good one, too, but alas, later it would have to be. I pressed onward. "How much more walking do we have to do before we arrive? Like, I'm getting a little weary working out my legs like this, and it's not that I one-hundred percent want to sit down, but it sure would be nice to take a break. I mean, do you ever take breaks?"

"To both of those questions I say: why don't you take a guess?"

A question posed as an answer. I had every opportunity to speak my heart, but I almost didn't, as Ari was looking at me with something between the beaming enthusiasm of a professor who had just been approached by a pupil with an intense interest in her particular field of expertise and the glare of a falcon setting an aerial speed record dive-bombing its prey, and it felt impossible to just say everything I could to answer the question. I could even recall the exact moment at which this instinct had manifested months prior, shortly after meeting Ari and formulating my theses: in May 2009, I had been asked by my grandfather (or should I simply disown him and say 'Goni'), having begrudgingly entered a conversation with him, whether I believed in magic. Albeit a stupid question if there ever was one, I had decided to answer and I had told him, "I think that magic is love and love is magic. I can only see things by the way I love them or do not love them or something in between. My answer is yes for that reason." Goni had simply laughed and told me to fuck off, and I thought to myself, 'I will lie as necessary to avoid things like this. Such I had done very often, even in the company of Rico Eisenberg, until now.
"I think you are the sum of more parts than you could possibly contain. You are a network of continuities, but to a much greater extent than anyone else is. In the Jino Code, the book of practicalities governing daily life and extraneous events alike for me and all my relatives however distant who bear the name, there is a clause - right below the clause dictating that the parent who is a Jino by blood must direct the cultural transmission of the marry-in's foreign customs to the couple's children, in fact - which states that the person begins when their form is imagined. Goni may claim this was a clause against abortion, but truly, a person may not necessarily be imagined - or more properly 'conceptualized' - until they are born." I left out the part where this clause made Jinos very cagey about chicken eggs, because even the unfertilized ovum was considered preconceptualized by the hen, therefore requiring that special care be taken when cracking an egg to ensure its 'death' was a dignified end. At any rate, I continued. "But your mother, Bathys Augustenburg, has the ability to change the function or form of an object without altering its appearance, does she not? If she conceived you, conceptualized you, then your continuous network is more nebulous and changing than most could possibly imagine, because there's a layer of mental shapeshifting built into you. That must be what splits your personage into three subpersons as you mentioned once" - she seemed surprised that I even remembered such a then-small detail - "but I don't know that for a fact. What I do know is that this nature is so much what's made me fall in love with you. I love that your function is so limitless."
Despite my longwindedness, I noticed a knowing blush blossoming on her face. I smiled and we continued down the path wordlessly until the building in question appeared on the horizon. Excellent.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

Three levels. Mansard-roofed. Left and right sides of the facade, those which are partitioned into rooms not so stately and not vying to make an impression (i.e. not the absolutist extremest sightseen commemorated foyer), a gelatinous structure, as if each level is glued on, third level of the facade half-height to accommodate for the anti-height limit roof. Streetlights that appear cheese-yellow when photographed in twilight. Central, and entrant part of the facade is one of a wall and two towers and an attic, all weathervaned, a metal bird perching, no crosses.
It is spring noon. We are two intruders. That is a lie. She is an intruder and I am the landlord. Barren trees cast barbed, chain-shaped shadows onto the pavement.
"Nice place. Pretty European."
"I forgot the keys."
"You? Forgetting keys? Surely you jest."
"I did."

I did not. I just want to climb over the fence.

"Grab onto my back."

I close in on her, tip her balance with a push, skate crossing pavement (dash) as if on wings for her falling back to become the direction of my standing there, facing away, unaware of any collision potentiated, conceptualizing the state of my standing there previously which never occurred, perform tentacular extension as she leans in finality against it and entrap her in unfurled hair, affixing her onto myself as if a rucksack. She squirms minimally.

"Sorry if I'm heavy."
"I literally can lift this entire building."
"Did you have to do all that?"
"My hair hurts if it is stretched."
"Even you have your limits, huh."
"I am limitless, Jino."

Whilst my mane is burdened with the all the indignity and malpurpose of a straitjacket, and both of my hands are behind prison bars (holding onto two equidistant tubes of perimeter lining), I am discovering my sense of romantic solitude at higher and higher altitude. Or something.
Our dialogic asides become sparser, owing to the fact that Jino is almost babbling, and in shock at my recklessness, or in reality the perfection with which my propensity towards things which quicken the heart and pump adrenaline at the pace of fracking caving in building foundations is actualized in that moment. There are slight spikes at the suicide summit, the height of the fence, and the price of entry.

"Jino, give me something you don't mind losing if it is in your heart to not let me stand on spikes."

The thing she produces out of her miserly nineteenth-in-line-to-throne caftans (a suit) is a pocket pen, one whose ink capacity she will come to miss, she says. It has never failed her a day in her life for the three years she has had it, and she considers it a wonder of pre-Bureau engineering. I am swayed by her case for the pen, and I begin to almost feel guilty about contributing towards the diminishing of an age before planned obsolescence.

"Throw it in the air."
"Throw it."

My hands are occupied, owing to the fact that I am still clinging onto the bars centimeters below the suicide summit.

"Nevermind, don't."

Owing to the fact that she is not hanging onto my lower back, and her head is slightly above mine.

"Put it up to my hair."

Her arms are still free, and she stretches them out, attempting to poke with the capped end to make black ink meet black hairdye. With each poke a drop of an acidic substance falls, and her free hand, just up to the level of my face and within impact range, gets burnt. She pulls away, instinctually, and yelps "What the hell", but not so much pained but as if she could get used to it.

"You didn't tell me your hair produces turbo-pineapple juice."
"It's skin-melting acid."
"Love doesn't judge nor differentiate."
"That's smooth but a little too fatalist for my liking."

As litterings and droppings of specks in history assault the summit, mountaineers on K2, the spiked peaks begin to fall away, not enough to drill down into the bars onto which I still hold, but enough to eliminate that which would be viewed by the smallest satellite in the world from the millimeters of oxymoronic oxygenated vacuum. Finally, I slump my palms onto the flattened land, the absolute conclusion of a tectonic cycle reversed, wherein mountain rages are bulldozed and not birthed.

Anyway, in my impatience, I thrust, and tumble.

You thought!

I land on all fours, feline. And I give credence to the March of Progress as my skeleton melts into uprightness, Jino still on my back, and tugging on my hair with the inflexibility of the regions that support her, which prompts a continuous groan as I am reminded of the connectivity of this unliberated region to those where revolutions took and continue to take place. I choose to view this as the only taste I will get of being human and suffering backpain, the essential component of the tradeoff that came with the upright gait. This is what is known as 'positive thinking', I think. I release her, and she's on her knees, brushing off her pantleg. I then dangle the keys to the gate in front of her. She does not appear to be made seething purple by this.

"Honestly, I can't be mad. You've impressed upon me." This is the key to the gates that I dangle in front of her, but there in fact is a second key to the rung-handled door which I claw around in search of, waving and not drowning in the confines of the goo sea which suspends and floats it, buried within whatever they call the wool that grows on your head. I curse the necessity for limitless storage space to be contained not within one's heart, or under their feet, or everywhere all around them, a weapon appearing out of thin air, but within the cancer-molding replication oven of that which is not yet a wig. The argument about the SATOR square on the door has been condensed into nothing for brevity and incision.
Both of my parents are fanatical about the planting of evergreens in holdings more provincial, and a grove of fir is to the right of the entire building complex. Who will govern the outskirts when the fruit and flowering trees in the winter have no needles nor crown for the walking spoils to fear torture by and have a civilizational understanding of? Sound logic, I thought. It might have been that the mighty time-agnostics are the only people stationed here, and there is nobody who will so much as bow and wave. It was not.
Hi Organum.

"Organum, are you tracking my every single move?"
"Is that what I am in your employ for, Lady Arianna?"
"My family's employ, but yes. I concede."
Jino butts in.
"So, do you guys do maids?"
"We don't. We are forbidden from having servants. Hence why she's banging my Mother, and is having intimate relations with Mother, and sleeping in Mother's bed, and eating Mother's cooking, and is Chief Operative Officer at the company."
"Lady Arianna, I will have you know that Lady Bathys is a lonely, destructive woman and I am doing the world good by keeping her occupied."
"Choose semen over napalm, is it."
"It is, and fortunate for me, Lady Arianna."
"I appreciate your utmost honesty."

"Jino." Organum addresses her. "You've seen Thalassa around, am I correct?"
"I have."
"I am told by Lady Bathys that she, as a non-Augustenburg, had five maids in simultaneity, and they now govern Croatia. I am told they do it governed by amorphous, Nostradamian prophecies that Thalassa imparted, which she mumbled drunkenly before vanishing into the night. They perform exegesis every single day to determine what move is best for the welfare of the Croatian state and best for the Croatian state not becoming a vassal. I take this to be flimsy, and a good argument for not having maidservants."
"I would say that they've maneuvered around Bureau influence is admirable, no?" Jino asks. Organum gives up this line of inquiry.

Res Jino, narrating

My question regarding Republika Hrvatska, as it has been called for some time, would've been commonplace in any geopolitically-oriented classroom filled with students whose prior educators had all but glossed over the country of Croatia's existence, pointing it out on a map as necessary but neglecting to note that it was among the few non-Bureau strongholds which remained living in freedom - no, remained living in *reality.* I say 'living in reality' now specifically, for the overemphasis of 'freedom' is an ignorant choice for a critic of a system to make. In choosing freedom, we ignore the need for silent, informal negotiations of unspoken, unwritten rules, pens never lifted except within unconnected minds. Freedom being the fight would undercut my actual desire, which was to be bound to Ari Augustenburg in marriage rather than to unbind myself from everything, to disconnect myself entirely from the relationships which defined me. The only thing I truly needed no binding to was Bureau Hotel, the chain then weighing us down with the lie of Earth Standstill, the idea that the metaphysical forces of neoliberalism had stabilized our geopolitics when most revolutions on The Incipient were intentionally staged to fail as examples to anyone making further considerations of resistance. Freedom is wonderful, don't try to misinterpret what I say here, but I mention 'living in reality' as a positive thing, for the earth's malaise stemmed from a series of white lies fantastically stacked up high enough into the sky to scrape the surface of the moon. I digress; the point is, Croatia happened to have been one of a few regions lucky enough to escape Bureau's diplomatic conquests, to have held onto its white lies tightly enough that they were not incorporated. I listened to Claribel Organum as she - briefly - explained the complexities of the matter:

"More or less, Thalassa is an explorer of Bureau rather than an active force of resistance, Jino. I think that is of importance to understand. She and the organ farmer-cum-murderer are among many superficial, exploratory relationships she's indulged in over the years, but this one seems to last longer than the others. We judge, but we do not intervene because, well, there's no danger in the current dynamic. Her understandings are intensely powerful yet underutilized."
"Danger?" I asked. "You say that like they pose a threat. Are they not, as you said, powerful and potentially of use?"
"Were you to employ her, you wouldn't remember a thing about her the next day. All you would remember is that something happened yesterday, but that you forgot. You'd be stuck infuriated, trying to piece things together, only to become hungover in a drunkenness for filling in the gaps. Such is the power of Thalassa: she can bring this upon anyone, this and any other type of immemory. Take that as you will; make your own judgment, Jino." Such, as well, were the words of Claribel Organum regarding Thalassa Alarie.
"She makes people forget things and is therefore something of a...I'll say cognitive risk. Cognitive risk sounds like it describes her."
"Know more," Ari contributed. "Her selfishness in inflicting this curse and the immediacy of her ulterior motives breeds a need to curate her own memories, and, were you to bring her towards our cause, she would do as she does often whenever hardship strikes upon the appearance of even a slight difficulty and promptly wipe her brain of anything but an exhaustive mental list of every worthwhile hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the contiguous United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. Her priorities are, for lack of a better word..."
My response: "...out of wack. I understand that she's an undesirable, unpleasant person, Ari, despite being very powerful. Misuser, abuser, et cetera. But I'll admit, I need to check her list of restaurants. Any way to get her to write it down for me?"
Ari's: "Listen carefully, Jino. I will be your most valuable asset in all possible regards, and you already know this deep down. People will weave in and out, but I will faithfully remain, as will you. If a choice comes between family and yourself, I will make a compromise slightly in your favor, even if one or both of us is unsound of mind."
Me, quickly: "I'm flattered."

Me, immediately after the previous utterance, without pause: "I mean that, but don't I need more context on the rest of the magic world so that my interpretations can be, well, better? I've read all about the games of Cards played between Thalassa Alarie and Veiksme Eisenberg, how Clementine Arenberg was witness thereto, but I feel I do not understand them fully, for I have never played myself."
Ari: "Would you like to meet my mother?"
Me: "That still begs the question of which one."
Ari: "In this case, Saturn Thebes. I can arrange for her arrival, but it will be mutually exclusive with that of Bathys Augustenburg for the time being. Bathys Augustenburg would not march into this building at this exact moment even if the entire Sicilian military accompanied her here and she had personally been guaranteed her safety by the appearance of an archangel. She is not unprepared to see this place again; rather, this place is unpreparable for her."
Me: "Sure. Go ahead and make the call."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

So I did, and it went unanswered.
"That was not a statement of literal intent. What necessitates this clarification is that she is likely hibernating in some forest, and we will not be expecting surreptitious company. By the way, I meant Organum."
Organum seems to hop a bit in celebration. When Jino asks about this, I tell her I did say not that.
Except we were expecting surreptitious company, and I could not predict it.
Some days later, enter de Mentira Eko. Childhood friend. Girlfriend. I am technically two-timing her. I am unambiguously two-timing her.
Before that, enter Fabergé, and Window too.
A public relations nightmare and a history schoolteacher.
Cousin and third wheel.
Independent poverty cosplayer and freelance photojournalist.
We spend forty days in this city and history does not leave us alone.