Exfictious Calby and Pliny’s Cat

“I need to go see someone,” Momma said to me.

I looked down at my work clothes. “Be this okay?”

“Migone,” she said. “No.”

I changed out into a school-worth outfit, got my rucksack, and packed what I needed to survive contingencies.

Momma and I caught the bus on Very Good Road and got off on Broadway next to the College. The cheap bentos, the places the poor people lived, lined both sides of the road. We stopped at the unnamed bento two doors down from the Green Leaf. I had taken to the Green Leaf two of Kev’s passengers, a woman and her daughter, a week or so before. I yanked on the door of the unnamed bento twice before it opened.

The typical bento had three or four stories. This unnamed one had four. For most bentos, the rooms on the first floor had private gray water and black water rooms attached. The second-floor rooms typically shared communal gray room and black rooms on the same level. The third and fourth floors renters, at almost all bentos, used the communal facilities behind the building. The thirty thousand dollars weekly savings in rent of an upper-level room brought inconveniences.

We climbed creaking and groaning narrow stairs to the fourth floor. The dark hallway smelled like urine. Mom checked the doors along the hall until we came to a door with its number scrawled awkwardly across it in black crease pencil.

The door opened, and I saw the woman I had taken to the Green Leaf the week before.

 “Peace,” she said as she smiled at Momma. “I remember not your name. The the church-folk sent you out to me?”

“Tennessee Wa Labba,” Momma answered. “This man be my son, Pierrot Wa Dignac. The church mentioned you be recent in Aoustin. Faye, correct?”

 “Faye Cara Ross.” The woman leaned over to see me better. “You be the best dock chimp!”

“Dock monkey,” I replied, smiling. “Not the best one. I am the dock monkey who did not damage your bags.”

“Dock monkey?” Faye Ross Cara replied. “So, I said.”

“You informed of each other?” Momma asked.

“Yes,” the woman answered.

“Mit Ross Cara and her daughter came down with Kev away from Das Hajima,” I explained.

Dazeem,” Faye Ross Cara corrected me in her upriver lilt. That’s the way they pronounce it up there. “He carried our bags out from the boats. He got much taken over by the girl. I thought so that they would be grabbing, each with each, if I left them alone.”

Faye Ross Cara moved aside to let us in. “Come through. The boy can come through, so too.”

Nothing filled the room we walked into except for a basic table with two chairs, a cabinet, and two pads for sleeping on the floor. Across the wall, a large water stain spread from the ceiling to the floor. The room reeked of mildew. Someone had pulled back the shades on the lone window to let the light in unhindered. The sunlight streamed through and made the room hot and humid inside. Despite the smell and the warmth, no one had opened window. I did not see the daughter.

“What be wrong with the Green Leaf?” I asked. Even though the Green Leaf did not charge much, Hal Tam Ros ran the Green Leaf well. He kept his rooms better than the one she had moved to.

“Peron…,” Faye Ross Cara said. “That be a rude question, so. So now. The girl be in the tellibar across the street. Be out of here and find her.”

I looked at Mom. She shrugged. I turned and left, glad to not be trapped in a nasty room with that woman.

#

I crossed the street and entered the dark and worn-out tellibar.

Walking in from the sunlight, I could not see much inside except for the glow of the tellie. The tellie hung on the far wall and displayed a comedy from the Twenty-forties. I recognized the show. The intelligences created it, a story about three families who traveled together across Canada. This tellibar had bought a coarse and loosely woven telly from Gary Fuchs Osbon. Compared to Colum’s monitors, it looked splotchy and blurred, and it displayed incorrect colors. The sound squeaked from the gritty and weak speakers.

Two people sat at a table, not far from each other. An older man leaned towards his companion, a girl.

The girl glanced to see who came in the door. In the dim light, I could not read her face well enough to tell if it was Faye Ross Cara’s daughter. I didn’t know what to do next.

Pierrot-licious!” she screamed.

I had not expected such enthusiasm in her greeting.

“Peace of God…,” I said. I realized I did not remember her name.

“Also, with you! I pleasured to see you. Why so you here, Pierrot-licious?” She spoke with a syrupy thick, Das Hajima accent.

“My mother came to see your mother and brought me along. Your mom said you were here.”

“How so? You came not to see me? That presses me, so. Now so, go back to your mother.” She shaped her face into a melodramatic frown and turned back towards the tellie. The older man next to her smirked.

“No, oh no. I wanted to come to see you! I want to see you.”

She turned back and smiled again, capturing my eyes with hers. She wore the same yellow shirt she wore from that day at the dock, unbuttoned enough to show much of the smooth, olive skin below her neck. I tried not to stare.

“If so, then Peace.”

“Peace,” I replied, even though we had already greeted one another.

“What so now?” She asked.

“Can I sit?” I asked.

“Must you ask? I much like a fearless man. What you want?”

What do I want? Big question. I paused. “To sit?”

“Such all? Then sit. Easy, so.”

I sat down, next to her, opposite of the older man.

“Peace,” I said, again, forgetting yet again that I had already greeted her.

“And also, with you,” she replied, followed by the coquettish giggle that reminded me too well of Xavi’s affected, sarcastic, imitation.

“Kan, he be a wonderful host.” She nodded to the man who sat next to her with his back straight and arms tightly crossed. He scowled at me from behind a gray beard. “Tell Kan what you need, Pierrot-licious. And get me something, too. A lime frizzy. Kan will fetch-hap.”

“Two lime frizzies,” I told Kan. He muttered as he stood and shuffled off to the kitchen.

“I be glad-hap you here,” she said. “That Kan got too social with me, so.” She reached over and rubbed my leg. I flinched reflexively.

“You not like me?” she asked with a hurt expression.

“Oh, no! Sorry. My wrong. I do. Oh, yes, I like you much. Much.”

“That be good.” She rubbed my leg again. I willed myself not to flinch. I felt a strange flip in my loin that I had never felt before. Those days filled me with many new feelings.

We sat awkwardly until Kan returned with two glasses, each filled with frizzy water.

“Nine kee, five,” he said.

I pulled the coins from my pocket and counted out that amount. The girl observed while I went through my money. She looked at the two small gold coins I had. After I paid Kan, he retreated to a chair next to the kitchen.

“Gold in your pocket, so?” she said. “Those coins belie you. You be more than a dock monkey. Your girl adores the money-spend on her, no?”

My face grew hot. “No…, no… girl,” I stammered. “I have not much to spend money on. Nothing more.”

“Spend your money treating me, then, Pierrot-licious.”

I sat embarrassed as the awkward silence grew between us.

“Well…. you enjoyed traveling on the river?” I asked. Try to get someone to talk about themselves. Momma taught me that social rule. I sipped my drink and discovered Kan left out the lime.

“Your father’s boat-weer be small, so.”

“Really? Small?” That hurt. No one made boats larger than Miss Genius. And if I understood her correctly, boat-weer meant odd boat. She spoke that damn mozit, the impenetrable Das Hajima slang. Upriver people tangled up their words with jolies, little prefixes, and suffixes, to give them more meaning. Or they made things up as they went along to confuse someone from downriver like me. I had a hard time comprehending mozit and missed much of its subtleties.

She looked at me and saw her criticism of Kev’s boat bothered me. “Now so, I joke. Pierrot, you fragile-too.” I winced inside at her upriver grammar. “I joke. Such boat, it a good boat.”

 “It is. So. It be.” I made myself smile.

A quiet stretched out too long as I waited for her to speak.

I once again broke the silence with a question. “What was the most interesting thing about your trip on-river?” I asked.

“I informed not,” she replied. “So much. How people talk, they strange so. We stopped at so many places. People talk lockamanny, such be so. I couldn’t comprehend. People here talk strangely, too. But I can understand you, mostly. You talk the talk on the tellie. But you use strange-mo words. You should talk-norm.”

“I talk the talk on the tellie….” I repeated. I liked how that sounded when she said it. It had a nice rhythm, and all those t’s bounced around in alliteration.

“You taunt me, so now?” she hissed.

“Oh no! I liked how that sounded. That’s all.”

“Don’t taunt me now. All I tried to say…, you speak. You talk as… folk on the tellie. Such tellie speaking, I informed. I understand you, so.”

 “I can understand someone when I know hisser accent,” I said in my imitation of the Das Hajima way of speaking.

“Pierrot-licious talk Dazeem! So now.” Wow. She could flip from irritated to friendly.

 “When I don’t understand a person,” I said, “I enunciate each word slowly and talk louder. It doesn’t take long for it to devolve into shouting. Can! I! Use! Your! Toilet! Please!?”

She laughed. “Pierrot-licious. You funny. And you run big strange words. E-nun-chi-ate. Dee-vove.”

“I can deal with most people between here and Neck,” I said. “only when we get off the main river or get past The Marshes do I have the real trouble understanding people.”

“I understand people in The Marshes so,” she said. “The folk on the river I no-understand.”

Playze mess, deet sture ut may keds. Tha mame und dud ure bweeta und sesta.” I said in the way the farmers on the lower river spoke.

“Yes, so. What did you say?”

“Please miss, don’t stare at my kids,” I said. “Their mom and dad are brother and sister.”

She laughed. “That not-mo nice. No!”

“You laughed,” I said. “Didn’t you?”

She giggled. “So, indeed.”

“You said you understand people in The Marshes. You’ve been there?” I asked. “You visited there too? Like the mat below Das Hajima?”

“Yes, so.” Her eyes lit up, and I could see their beauty. “More so. Several times.”

“Kev… my father… studies the Terrans,” I told her. “Or Beatans…, is that what you yond them? He has written three large books so far. He describes how their different parts look and how they work. We spend too much time on The Marshes.”

“That wonderful-mo place,” she said. “Been there, much.”

People usually do not seek out the Terrans. The only people other than Kev, who often travel within The Marshes, are the ones who go there for religious reasons.

“Do you think the Beatans angels?” I asked. Once again, I tried to get her to talk about herself.

 A look of panic flickered across her face, then she squelched it. “No. No. Mother. She thinks such. Tell me about Pierrot,” she said. “I want to inform about you. Who be you, Pierrot? Pierrot-licious.”

“What more do you want to inform?”

She giggled again. “If I wrote my friends in Dazeem and said, ‘There’s here, in Aoustin, a Pierrot-licous!’ What would I say about him? This Pierrot-licious?”

“He has good personal hygiene?”

“Hi-gen?”

I laughed. “Hygiene. I keep myself clean.”

She frowned. “That presses me. You taunt me. I like no,t at all. I can’t say such.”

“My wrong. I joke. Let me think….”

“Such presses me, mo. Presses-mo. Is it so trialsy? What causes you to be interesting?”

“I have a computer,” I said.

“A computer? Truth? How much it cost?”

“I didn’t buy it. No. A friend gave it to me.”

“Where so I find a find like this?” she asked.

“You don’t. There are not many computers like it. It’s as from the Landing.”

“As from Earth,” she exclaimed. “A computer as from Earth? Oh, Pierrot-licous, not-be you a calby? An exfictious calby! Such interesting, so! Be-mo!”

Was a calby a good thing? If a calby was good, an exfictious calby must be better. Or worse. And was I even a calby, or not?

“A friend gave it to me.” I thought after I said that. I needed to be honest. “No, not really. He lent it to me, that’s all. Xavi got one, too. Colum wants Xavi. That’s why he gave her one.” I should not say that about Colum. His affection for Xavi, if true, was not this girl’s concern. “That’s not why he gave me one, though. I want to be plain about that. He’s just nice to me.”

“So…, it’s not yours, then? You couldn’t sell it?”

“Mine to use.”

“So good, Pierrot-licious. I saddened you not-have-now computer-ya,” she continued. Then she said in clear, mozit-free English, “We could sit close and look at it.”

Oh shit. I had Colum’s computer with me in my rucksack. We could sit close.

I slid the rucksack from my shoulders and pulled the computer out like a magician pulling a bird from a box. “You wished it, so it is.”

She scooted closer and leaned hard against me, her breast against my arm. I lost my ability to think in her smell and softness. She stared at me, locked eyes, and my whole frame dropped.

“Come-so me-to-now?” she said in entirely baffling mozit. I tried to diagram the constituent words of what she had said into a real sentence and couldn’t as the hormonal fog spun through my brain. I sat there with a bewildered look on my face.

“You fool, so? Come close,” she said as she put her hand on my knee again. “Come close. Now.”

I start a favorite movie on the computer. As it played, the sound from the computer competed with the scratchy cacophony screeched by the tellie.

Kan, the tellibar manager, broke his brooding silence. “Take such out from here. Only our tellie here. Now.”

I glance over to the girl. She motioned with her head, towards the door.

“Where to now?” she asked.

I consider all the places I would hide to watch the movies on the computer. Both the tree-covered ditch near the railroad bridges and the entrance to the tunnels seemed too secluded. The girl may think I am trying to get her off alone to a place where no one can come to her aid if I misbehaved. 

“My father’s boat,” I said. “Miss Genius.” We would be in the middle of the bayou with all the workers coming and going. The wheelhouse would be the right mixture of privacy in public.

“Yes! Such be a good thought. Will your father be there?”

“No, not now,” I answered.

“Pierrot-licious! Getting me alone?”

“Let us go, then, you and I,” I said to her.

“So, will do.”

#

I learned about her as we walked toward the bayou. Her family had settled the Old Farms area. The patrician families there never accepted her family. Those families treated her ancestors as newcomers for the past hundred years.

She and her father had been crafters. He made and repaired furniture and taught her those skills.

Once her father died, they had to sell all his tools to survive. No furniture makers in Das Hajima hired her. She and her mother came down to Aoustin after all their money ran out, and they lost their home. Maybe she could get hired downriver? Many crafters made furniture in Aoustin.

She did not like my hands anywhere near her hands. When I reached out and touched her hand with mine, she recoiled.

As we walked together, I stared at her. She would glance over, see my looking, and smile. Her long, straight nose could have been stolen from a Greek statue. Below her nose, she kept her full lips barely parted. Her face rose taller than it was wide. She walked erect with easy steps. But she captured and won me with her eyes. I could not tell where her irises ended, and the pupils began, her eyes were so dark.

Xavi had mimicked the girl’s giggle, but I enjoyed that sound as she reacted to my humor.

The whole time I could not remember her first name. I should have asked when I first saw her in the tellibar. It only became more and more awkward to ask as time went by.

“Tell me, you acquainted with furniture crafters?” she asked.

“Adequately. My family’s corp transactions as with divers.”

“Pierrot-licious speak as with crafters to employ me.”

“My wrong, what?”

“You will get me a job, now so? I need employ. I informed on furniture, not anything other. Yes? By all choices, say yes.”

“If it be, I will,” I replied.

“Oh, why you not aid me, so? Be Aoustin so much as the Old Farms? Those who have much keep all others down. You be such?”

“No,” I said. “I be no such. I’ll ask for you.”

“Pierrot-licious so good. You be. I must pay out for you, I must.”

Not many people lingered around the docks that day. I took her to the end of the far pier. Our family tied a dinghy there.

I climbed down the short ladder to the small boat, then turned to help her down.

She looked confused. “Your father’s boat, weer so,” she said. “You taunt me. It shrunk.”

I laughed. “No. Miss Genius is in the bayou. We row out to it.”

“Pierrot-licious! More private.”

I held out my hand to help her into the dinghy. She stepped back. Damn. That hand thing, again.

“Come here,” I told her. “I won’t grab your hand.”

“I care not if you grab my hand. It be such….” She shuffled closer within my reach. I grasped her and surrounded her waist with my hands. I lifted her and sat her down on her feet in the boat before she could object.

“You be manish-strong.”

I liked that phrase, manish-strong. I loved that phrase despite it being mozit.

I rowed us out to Miss Genius, amid a small fleet of similar boats moored in the middle of the bayou.

The more natural way to help her onto the boat would have been to take her hand and lift her. I scrambled on board and dropped a ladder over the side for her to climb.

Hot air spilled out when I opened the door to the wheelhouse. The girl followed me inside and sauntered over to the benches in the back. I noticed the curves of her physique as she walked. She sat and waited while I opened the windows to let the cooling breeze blow through.

“Feels good-mo. Come close,” the girl said. She leaned back with her legs towards me.

As I sat down, I swung the rucksack from my back and pulled out the computer.

“Wait? What? Why you bring me here for?” she gasped. “You… you so brought me here to watch a computer, now so?”

“What? We agreed such at the tellibar.”

“You’re so…,” she said with a smile. “…treeker.”

Did she insult me by calling me treeker? Did she compliment me? “You don’t want to watch anything? I thought you did.”

She sat up. “Yes, show me your favorite movie. I want to inform of you, Pierrot-licious.”

“Have you seen Pliny’s Cat?” I asked. I ranked Pliny’s Cat as one of my favorite movies. I liked Apocalypse Now the most, but I wouldn’t show her that until I knew her better. I decided to start with a comedy, and Pliny’s Cat would do.

“How so? Have I seen a pleeny cat? You confuse me. What so? A pleeny cat?”

“A movie.”

“Such be so?” she said. She leaned against me. “Let’s get into it, then.”

Pliny’s Cat is the last great human-created movie,” I told her.

“Such be so? Which so of its faces are great?”

“Why is it great?” I asked.

“Yes, so?”

“It’s well written. It has meaning.”

“Meaning?”

“It’s a parable. Or a fable.” I struggled to describe why I liked it so.

“A parable? Like Jesus.”

“No. Not like Jesus. More a fable. It has two main characters. It’s set in ancient Rome. One is an official, and the other is his cat. The cat talks.”

“Like raccoons, yes?”

“Well, yes. But raccoons couldn’t talk when they made the movie. Talking raccoons and elephants came later. So, it be not realistic. That’s what makes it a fable. The cat symbolized people, you understand…, humans. The Roman official symbolized the computers, the Intelligences. The movie commented on how computers replaced people.”

“Sad-mo!”

“Yes, sad,” I replied. “Maybe. But it’s a comedy. The Pliny in the movie is the Roman official Pliny the Younger.”

“Of chance, there’s a Pliny the Young-Not?”

“Yes! He’s in the movie, too. Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Younger’s uncle. The movie takes place during the Roman Empire. A volcano erupted. Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger both watched it from an island called Capri just across the Bay of Naples. Pliny the Younger survives. Pliny the Elder doesn’t.”

“Mount Ba-soo-vee-us? Bay of Navels?” she said.

“Yes. Mount Vesuvius. You’re right. The movie begins a few days before the eruption and ends a couple of days afterward.”

“Again, sad-mo.”

“Maybe. It does have sad things. Yes. But it’s a comedy. Truth. Pliny, the younger one, is famous for his letters.  The cat would say something funny or witty, and Pliny took what the cat said and put it in his letters. The cat is Pliny’s inspiration, but Pliny has all the wealth and power.”

She drew her eyebrows together in an exaggerated thoughtful gesture. She turned her lips down into a fake frown, a cute phony frown. “What happened to the cat?” she asked.

“He sat around all day in Pliny’s house and did nothing.”

“Well, now, I want to be that cat. Pierrot-licious, find me a man to whisper-smart to, and let him work. I’ll stay at home. I so crawl on his lap when he returned.”

I felt a jolt in my pelvis when she said that.

“I see how you mean,” I said, flustered. “Okay…. The movie. The purport of the movie…. Let me tell you of the symbolism part.” I sighed.

“Tell so, Pierrot-licious.”

“Yes. People created artificial intelligence, but artificial intelligence got where they no longer needed people. People did little. The Intelligences had crowded out real, biological, humans away from most meaningful employment. The robot rebellion did not see humanity conquered by overwhelming numbers and fierce weapons. The robots won dominion by being more efficient and cost-effective.”

Again, a thoughtful look. Then the girl looked askance at me with her beautiful eyes. “When you talk about such movie, you talk book English, now. You think much about this. So. How so be people not working bad?”

“The rich, the people who owned corporations, they became richer. The rest, they became poorer. More and more, fewer humans owned the corporations, and the Intelligences owned almost all.”

“Sad-mo.” She gave her coquettish giggle. “What talk-strange. You know-not how to charm-well, computer boy. No more talking. Get close and show me the movie. Now, Pliny and your cat, come out from the computer. Entertain Pierrot-licious and me.”

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