The puppy leaped about a corner of the hut trapped by Skavian gravity. Hope stepped forward to her daddy.
“I wanna puppy.”
Ivy had been coaching her. She was irresistible when she spoke in complete sentences.
“We don’t need a dog,” Mutt pleaded.
“But the mice get lonely,” Ivy pleaded back.
Hope held the puppy in her arms and uttered another complete sentence.
“It’s my birfday.”
Mutt had been completely outfoxed on this one.
“What shall we name it?” he relented.
“It’s a he,” said Ivy.
“Kippers,” said the little girl. Her mother had been showing her a picture book about a dog living in a cannery in Dark Harbor that ate only kippers and accompanied a lifeboat crew on rescues.
It was her second birthday.
Ivy knew she faced berating for not consulting her husband on the new addition so she took him aside, cradling the licking puppy in her arms, and told him they were going to kill the poor creature if nobody took him. Kippers apparently kept wandering over the edge from Skava until the gendarmerie gave up on returning him. Mutt wanted to argue on principle but decided he could not be a spoilsport on his daughter’s birthday. The celebration had taken place the day before – he thought a rocking ox was a sufficient gift – and the puppy, a common fetcher, pounced about party debris Ivy had tossed into a corner. Mutt set to work nailing plywood into the corner to give him a flat surface to romp on, much like the rotating wall panels in the church. Now began a crash course in puppy gravity conversion. For all his disorientation Kippers handled it quite well, recovering quickly from the frequent bouts of retching.
Mutt took a certain satisfaction in knowing there were now two boys in the house. He might stand a chance in future battles. For Ivy the puppy was a substitute for a second child. This had become a bone of contention in the household. Mutt absolutely did not think children should be spaced more than three years apart and the whole issue was coming to a head. Ivy mollified him as best she could, accommodating him as thoroughly as a wife could who did not want to get pregnant, but she was going to have to explain herself sooner rather than later. She had no idea how he would take it.
The young family took a stroll through a park full of tethered and rotating gravity sculptures toward the Skavian overlook. They walked along the railing peering into the lush greenery of sideland, Mutt pausing to snicker at a no-urinating sign that managed to convey its message through pictures alone. Apart from his brief rappel into Skava during Ivy’s escape, he had never set foot in this exotic country in conscious memory, and it still retained its hold on his imagination. The overlook was a pier jutting out from the plane of the Notches at a forty-five degree angle over the surface of Skava until terminating in a stepped descent parallel to the canopy. From here one could survey miles of the country’s territory although there was not much to see beyond the expanse of forests and occasional church spires. Through a telescope affixed to a railing one could barely make out the Stairway to the Sun in Leri Deri and the nearby basin of Lake Looda. Mutt was more interested in paths below the overlook leading inland from the Edge, wondering where they led and who, or what, created them. He felt a pang of nostalgia for his old haunts in Shivaree, and in his mind he was wandering the trail from the Edge back to his family home. He would arrive without the passage of time with one day left to prepare for the muster, bidding his parents and sisters farewell and lowering his head into a pack of family dogs for a tongue bath, departing for Poddle the next day wondering what might have happened if only Moonflower had met him at the Edge. He struggled not to think about alternative scenarios in life but this was one he could not suppress. He had lost so much; he had gained so much; he would be forever torn by the difference. Hope tugged on his sleeve and pointed to a chipmunk scurrying in the grass below. Ivy held the girl securely because the gaps in the railing were just the right size for a small child to squeeze through.
When Mutt thought of Shivaree, he often imagined himself alone in the converted tractor shed pining for Ivy. That made it easier to transport himself back to his new reality, for now he was living a conjugal dream he could only fantasize about in Shivaree. If he really wanted to get complicated, he would imagine himself reclining on the haysack in the old shed in Shivaree dreaming of himself with Ivy in the Notches fantasizing about being back in Shivaree. Usually by this time the nostalgia had worn off and something would happen to bring him back to reality, like the tug of a small child on a sleeve. The more he questioned Ivy’s motivations the more he dreamed of Shivaree. She was a wonderful, loving, caring wife, none of that he could dispute. But he could not rid himself of the nagging suspicion she had Hope to trap him. If she loved him as a wife loves a husband, would not she want another child? It was humiliating to beg now for what she had given with such abandon in the beginning. He could not understand it. He did not want to doubt their relationship but his wounded pride found this the most logical explanation.
One day he decided to force the issue.
“I want another child.”
He was frustrated. She was fertile, he knew her cycle, and he was tired of being denied. It was not the most seductive of lines but indirect approaches had no effect. Ivy had an odd view of their bodies, as if they were a single physical organism deciding whether to bud, not sexual beings with potentially conflicting agendas. But Mutt’s desire for further procreation was drawing their differences into relief. Ivy had developed Posy’s cosmic conflict in The Sphere much to Mutt’s chagrin. He perceived it as her attempt to explain obliquely what happened in Harmour and to justify her calendar timing. Posy would not agree even to a first child with her lover for fear of creating life in a world doomed to destruction. But Mutt did not care for this melodrama. To his eyes Ivy was investing her life with fictional meaning through grandiose delusions for which he was paying the price. She was vain and needed to place herself at the center of elaborate fabulism. Ivy was coming to accept he would get his way. The desire for a brood was too strong for a Hutman and a boy of Shivaree and he would withdraw from her emotionally if she were not fully his mate, an abandonment she could not survive. A family had to be a unit in mind and body, and with Mutt the mind would follow the body.
She began to wonder about the timing. The Second of Skitton was six months away. On that date she would receive instructions from a higher power mediated through the Arland weather reports. She could be called upon to commit murder and would have no choice but to comply. Could she carry out such a task six months pregnant? Would the stress of such drastic action threaten the life of her unborn child? On the other hand, if she conceived after the Second of Skitton, that child could be eternally doomed if her plans failed. Hope was blessed to be born before the next reading and could be saved, potentially, even if the world as they knew it were lost. The thought of bringing another child into the world struck her as immoral with the knowledge she obtained from the Oopsah. But she was subsumed within a larger organism that wanted to bud, and now was better than later. If her husband could not wait until the Fifteenth of Tarpin in one year, four months, and twenty-nine days, she would have to give Hope a sibling now. Mutt had no idea how crazy his wife actually was. His statement still hung in the air.
“Can we go out?” Ivy responded. “The mood is not right.”
Mutt was put off by her evasion. This was a conversation she would never finish, but perhaps her comment was loaded. Perhaps the mood she wanted to create signaled a change of heart. She slipped into a tunic with rope sash and sandals, an outfit Mutt always found attractive, as lavender as the pulp of an angoo, and gathered her hair in a stalk that arced upward to one side before descending in a dangling bulb of silky charcoal. He ditched his fatigues in favor of a rainbow jumpsuit she purchased for him at a rummage sale. He found it spectacularly goofy but figured her opinion mattered more than his. On the way to the canteen, the only public place in the Notches for a social outing, she plucked a sprig of delphinium from a flower box and tucked it behind her ear on the side opposite the stalk. The action reminded Mutt of an expression in Shivaree for young women, ripe for the plucking, and he found himself imagining plucking her in some detail. They stopped at various dwellings seeking someone to take care of Hope. Eventually they reached the cottage of Glon and Glon, banishees from Arland who coincidentally shared the same name, who agreed to look after the little girl. Ivy found them the model of a loving established couple, something she strove to emulate with Mutt, and she was always happy to accept their help. Deep down inside Mutt condemned their unnatural love but he had to admit they were excellent babysitters. Ivy asked for a couple of hours and they said take all the time they needed, Mutt could thank them later.
At the canteen blind shrewn fired up the boiler and was performing on his steam-driven contraption. Mutt first heard of this character shortly after arriving in the Notches when a stranger told him in hushed tones that blind shrewn had been banished from Arland for public indecency with an aardvark. It was an image Mutt could never fully purge from his mind, frequently wondering exactly what one might do with an aardvark that would be indecent. He later learned that blind shrewn, who insisted his name remain in lower case, served time in a Skavian labor camp for lifting fifty pounds of palladium from the central repository in Leri Deri. He then heard that blind shrewn visited the colony on Moon-ra in a special electric spacesuit and that the Chronicles were actually a veiled autobiography. Eventually he figured out that rumors about blind shrewn were a running joke in the Notches spread by the man himself for the joy of slandering his own name and to gauge the gullibility of newcomers. He was not blind at all but wore glasses painted over with tar and meandered aimlessly about the Notches with a spiral striped cane. Supposedly his brother had been blinded in a Skavian torture session years before and the glasses were a symbol of solidarity, although it was impossible to know the truth with him.
He dyed his hair platinum blond and liked to curl it with a hot iron, and wore a silver metallic glitter robe with detachable sleeves that changed colors depending on his mood. His contraption was powered by steam pipes penetrating the canteen wall from an outside boiler with an interface consisting primarily of broad keys and foot pedals, backed by an array of vent pipes and a hammer box, with cowbells of varying dimensions strategically suspended within striking distance, plus a foot-operated tambo drum and ocarina on a boom within the kiss radius. Various other percussive instruments that were not clearly functional surrounded the contraption. Although the device was called the contraption by everyone else, blind shrewn called it his accretion. Despite the proliferating components it was essentially a combination steam calliope and electronically modulated piano with percussive accessories. He made it a point to involve all four limbs, preferably at once, in any performance along with occasional ocarina jolts. He was fond of declaring his talent proportional to your stupor. Across the face of the tambo drum were emblazoned the words “God hates pets.” Mutt never understood this expression but canteen-goers often found it hilarious after the third or fourth round of mead.
Ivy insisted Mutt ply her with alcohol. Her plan was to drink herself into oblivion and let him have his way, whether on a bench in the canteen or back in the hut. He had never seen her drink before and indeed she had never tasted mead. Despite Volp’s best efforts, no one had perfected a method for brewing mead with the gravity of the Notches. As a result the offerings were oriented either to Arland or to Skava, and most commonly a mug was filled with liquid equally divided, resulting in a dip in the surface from one side of the mug down to a center crease then back up to the other side. The mugs were two-handled so that upon finishing the mead from one side, the patron could turn the mug around and polish off the other side. Ivy found the taste of mead atrocious. She would have expected goat urine to taste no worse. But she was committed to an episode of debauchery and wanted an excuse in case she woke up pregnant.
Mutt watched with alarm as she became inebriated off a single mug before even switching sides. He pulled it away and suggested they dance which she declared an excellent idea. Blind shrewn however was performing something entirely undanceable, what he called a flatulence piece, and then followed it up with a detailed recounting of how he lost an arm on a krill boat on the Silent Sea only to have it grow back under the influence of medicinal salts from the limbo levels of Oresh, which had since been closed to further mining after a rash of unexplained desiccation deaths accompanied by mysterious bite marks, and he was not supposed to say this but scientists had concluded that the salts restored missing limbs by sucking flesh out of hapless miners through blood funnels in the fourth dimension, and strange tattoos had appeared on his new arm. Ivy told him to shut up and play something she could dance to by damn she was going to make a baby today. Such impudence, he loved it, and he launched into a highly syncopated two-four calliope and cowbell instrumental which was well beyond Mutt’s rhythmic abilities, the dance halls of Shivaree being comparatively subdued. Ivy was too drunk to worry about appearances and peeled off from Mutt into a bizarre form of Skavian exotic dance she had taught herself on long boring days in the den on Lane Navachi. He sat down and watched the arm twirls and seductive swaying not sure if he should be embarrassed or proud or jealous. Mainly he just wanted to take her back to the hut and pluck her.
Back at the table she ordered another mug which he again felt compelled to help her with. She looked at him with the same inquisitive expression he first saw at the Edge and took his hands, raising and lowering them like a drawbridge. She had a weird vibe about her. She often had a weird vibe, he realized. She had liked other men watching her when she danced. She imagined what they saw and desired herself through their eyes. She realized how constrained her body was, tied to one man, to fertility rhythms, to permanent vows, to constant self-denial. She wanted to have sex with a stranger for pleasure, without worry of a calendar, without worry of a child, for the raw sensation of being had, for the ecstasy of giving herself to a rack of muscle divorced from a mind, for the transgression of feeling another man inside of her, filling her up, without restraint, without regret. She wanted to fulfill her natural function without the complication of emotional ties. She wanted to be the man having sex with her body, consuming her physical beauty, melding into her flesh, seeding her grass, coming inside of her. Her desire for a stranger was desire for herself, for the pleasure her body could give, an erotic projection of a man’s lust for her. Why must the price of marriage be fidelity? Mutt was a gorgeous man but why the relentless sameness? Why not satiate desires of the flesh with strangers and then come home to loved ones? Her head was swirling and she felt guilty for the images swimming in the stew.
Mutt sensed from her roving eyes that her thoughts were transgressive and started flirting with the woman next to him who made a snide remark about Ivy’s dancing. They were laughing about possible enhancements from magic salt and Mutt was about to read her palm lines when Ivy’s mind flipped. She had been fantasizing of strangers because she felt secure in his desire but now she had to seduce him back in the face of a rival. She moved him away to a sofa and bore her head into his chest imagining his rack of muscle, his body, his intimate embrace. She had been resenting his manipulation of her body for another child, his invocation of wifely duty to get her pregnant, her sense that his love was conditioned on his Hutman needs. But now she desperately wanted to take him back to the hut and throw the calendar away, to claim him as her own, to carry his child again in her womb. She turned her face to his and began to kiss deeply, delving to elicit the response of the stranger she imagined desiring her body. Mutt was an easy mark and his thoughts quickly turned to the carnal joy that awaited in the hut, if not right here on the sofa in the canteen. Their fondling grew intense and he lifted her to her feet, imagining unstrapping her sandals, untying her sash, pulling her tunic to the floor, removing all cloth, basking in her naked perfection, and diving into fleshly paradise never to return.
In the hut he helped her up the ladder to the parents’ nest in her drunken state, then descended to close the curtains and blot out the prying sun. He mounted the ladder as she was already disrobing, stumbling into the nest, not having to beckon knowing he could not resist the fecund perfection she was vividly imagining. Mutt saw sprawled before his eyes a drunken virgin scantily clad awaiting his deflowering in a haysack. This was how he had always imagined meeting a wife in Shivaree. She fell all over him, fitting her body to his like the solution to a packing problem, feeling liberated from calendars and higher duties. She no longer cared when the world would end, who would die, who could be saved, the pressure was too much and it all melted away in the desire of the moment. There was such a thing as not caring regardless of consequence and she was tired of the burdens of destiny. She wanted to have his child and that desire was transcendent. Mutt had assumed he would waste no time seizing the moment. If Ivy was this aroused he would be a fool not to take full advantage. But he found himself caressing and exploring as innocently as they had the first days in the angle, in no hurry for a shortcut to paradise. She did not want to wait and tried herself to do the man’s job, to join their bodies intimately, to envelop if he would not penetrate. He pulled back. Something was bothering him. Mutt Ogga would never say no to her slit. But he was also the child of Outin and Paxa, and that man wanted to know something. Why had she been so afraid to have another child? Why did she have to drink to conceive? What was she trying to forget? He had the annoying habit of reconsidering whatever he wanted, whenever he got it. And now that she wanted to have another child he had to know.
“What are you so afraid of?”
Ivy’s eyes were rolling in her head.
“I am in no state to talk.”
Mutt thought this was all the better. The alcohol would be truth serum.
“Something terrible is going to happen,” she slurred. She was so drunk Mutt could not take her seriously.
“The Fifteenth of Tarpin?” He remembered the date.
“You think the world will end.” This was what Posy thought, and Ivy was using Posy to voice her own fears.
“No,” she replied, trying to stop her eyes from rolling.
Mutt remained silent.
“The Fifteenth of Tarpin is the beginning.” She made an effort to sound sober.
“The end times.”
The Oopsah, the published portions, were full of references to the end times. It was a concept designed to instill mortal fear in the faithful and by resonance in apostates. When the end times arrived, humanity would face trials and tribulations of unimaginable terror ending in complete destruction of all creation as punishment for their wickedness, with the Controller the only hope of salvation. Mutt was not willing to entertain the possibility that she was correct. This was just further proof of her insanity.
Ivy did not like being manipulated, first to have another child, now to spill her secrets, and she decided to demonstrate her powers. She had rehearsed a statement from her satchel.
“In three days, Muglair will give a speech on the sandstone plaza, on the sacred ground where our parents were murdered. A viewing platform erected for the occasion will collapse onto the crowd below, and one hundred and twenty-six people will die. Muglair will accuse Arland of sabotage, and he will deliver a message to the Mothers, and I quote: ‘We will bury our children in a common grave.’”
They sat in silence.
“Mutt, I will no longer resist. I am sorry for not giving you what you want. It is not for lack of desire. If you wish to give Hope siblings, it will be my joy to receive.”
“I am going to fetch Hope.”
Ivy lay there desolate, her head still spinning. When Mutt returned she was snoring. He watched her sleeping, as disheveled and vulnerable as a woman could be, like a partly opened gift. He knew he could no longer insist on another child. He knew what he was going to learn in three days. She had been exposed to something beyond the realm of earthly experience. He would have to accept the wisdom of her calendar. There were other ways to relieve the pressure. He held her while Hope toddled free range on the lower level so she would know when she awoke that she was loved.
“You cannot tell me how you know these things, can you,” Mutt asked when she stirred.
“If the world is ending, why did you have Hope?”
“Because I wanted your baby.”
“We may still have a future. We will know on the Fifteenth of Tarpin.”
“And if nothing happens?”
“We grow our family.”
He could wait. It was not that far away.
“How many children can we have?”
“Three, counting Hope.” She had thought about this.
“Four.” He had thought about it too. “Perhaps we can compromise.”
“Mutt, children come in integers.”
“Yes, but we can have three, then play Shivaree roulette for the fourth.”
Ivy had never heard of this game but had no problem divining its meaning. She suspected the wives usually lost.
“Let’s talk about the fourth,” she suggested, “after we’ve had the third.”
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