Bird on a wire
Theo sat with one leg tucked underneath her, the other swinging free off the edge of the scaffolding. There was a thin plywood plank supporting her, and metal framing her on all sides, but it was still remarkably freeing up there, separate from the crowds below, their voices turned to white noise by the distance. Over that layer of static was the sound of acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos - the music of the monthly public radio street festival. Blurred lyrics floated up to her, murmured secrets and tender nonsense. She was too high up to hear properly, but was content to sit atop her roost rather than brave the packed streets below.
Her gold lamÃƒÂ© ballet flat slipped off her heel, perhaps knowing it was unfamiliar, unwelcome on her dainty foot. Theo wiggled her toes until the shoe dangled by just the pinky, then extended her leg as though examining a pedicure. Another wiggle of her toes and the slipper was free, falling down onto the crowd.
She loved music. There was almost always music about when she had lived at home and now with her new home, that seemed to hold true as well. Although Ambrose had some odd ideas about music sometimes. Marie shrugged to herself; it wasn't for her to explain him. He made Ysabel happy and that was enough for her to accept him. Too many strange people could make her nervous though, especially when in the thick of the crowd they always seemed to be touching her.
Fighting back panic she'd made her way to the edges of the crowd. Then, almost as if it were a nervous habit she started to look for a pocket or two to pick. It wasn't as if she needed the money, not like she had when she'd been on the streets but it was a sense of control. Marie was extremely cautions about it and knowing that she had no good reason for doing so she'd only nicked two wallets. She'd only take the case, she'd destroy the credit cards, or if they had ID in them she'd mail the wallet back. She just hoped her vampire didn't find out. It wasn't very ladylike to steal.
While debating pushing her luck and trying for a third a shoe fell out of the sky. At least she thought it was a shoe, she'd only caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. Walking over to where it dropped confirmed it was indeed a shoe, a very gold shoe. Looking up to see where it came from she spotted a girl, probably about her age. Marie smiled up at her and waved the shoe.
"Is this yours?"Â?
Theo supposed that it wouldn’t be nice to drop shoes on unsuspecting human heads. Funny, yes, but unkind.
Once the shoe reached the ground she lost interest in it and went on to study the pattern of her skirt while kicking her free leg in the air – that is, until she noticed a petite girl with dark hair holding up the very same slipper she had rid herself of moments ago with a look of inquiry. A second later what she said registered. Theo’s mouth made a little ‘o’ of mock surprise, but the expression quickly turned to a rueful grin as she reached underneath her and pulled off the other shoe, holding it up in illustration to the girl below.
“I guess so!” she called, not certain if her voice would carry over the music and the people. “Do you like it?”
It was a bit hard to hear the other girl but Marie managed. Although she was perplexed by the question. Did she like it? Well it wasn’t really her style it was very shiny. Marie wasn’t much on shiny, but she had been living with her vampire for some time now and knew it would be rude to say she didn’t like it. After a second she called back, raising her voice a bit.
“It’s very nice. Did you need it back?”
It wouldn’t be hard to climb up to deliver it, but she’d never be able to throw it that high.
It never occurred to her that most people didn’t have much use for a single shoe, especially one that had fallen off what to all appearances was some urchin girl’s foot.
It was clear to Theo now, though, that while the girl had said that the shoe was nice, she didn’t want it for herself. That was okay too - she herself had no shortage of uses for shoes, especially ones that did not involve actually wearing them. Or she could return them to Dani – but only as a last resort.
Even so, she couldn’t say she really –needed- it back, and so she hesitated a moment before answering with another question.
“Do you want to come up? It’s not scary, it’s pretty.”
She flashed a toothy grin and swung both legs in the air in swift little kicks that made the plywood board underneath her shake.
The invitation to come up gave Marie pause. She didn’t like being around too many strangers. Although, it would be only one stranger up there as opposed to the crowds down here. She sized up both the scaffolding and the girl and quickly decided they were the lesser of two evils. She quickly and agilely made her way up to the plywood seat where the other girl was sitting and looked around.
“It’s a bit hard to hear but the view is good and its cooler.”
The east coast version of hot was very much different than what Marie was used to but she appreciated that away from the press of bodies there was a breeze, airflow. It was very easy to enjoy being out on a night like this.
“And you’re not getting stepped on every thirty seconds.”
She offered a tentative smile. Marie was out of practice making friends and didn’t quite know how to start, or even if she should.
She wasn’t sure what to say when the girl mentioned some of the pros and cons of their location; did she mean cooler temperature or cooler…cooler? She thought it was the latter (after all, she was ‘cool’ so just being in her presence made everything cooler – not to mention the interesting view) but it was hard to know. When the girl mentioned getting stepped on, though, she knew she was in familiar territory.
“That’s why I came up here. Too many people.”
A swing of her leg, and then she added, hastily, “But a little company is nice. Thanks for coming up, I really didn’t want to climb down yet.” She was ignoring the real reason for the girl’s visit – to return a shoe she had accidentally-on-purpose dropped (a task which would have been easier were there fewer nagging voices in her head) – in favor of having a nice chat. It felt good to be outside, free of shoes, humidity soaking into her skin and a friendly stranger at her side.
“We could take over the whole city – everyone looks so small from here.” She turned and waved an imperious hand toward the crowd. “Bow down, puny mortals, before Theodosia the Barefoot and…” Sputtering, her flight of fancy left her, and her tone went sheepish. “Goodness, I don’t know your name.”
At first the other girl’s words startled her. But then she recognized them as humor and giggled shyly. From their vantage point the rest of the festivalgoers did look rather like Lilliputians and it was a fun idea to play with.
“Marie.” She hesitated trying to come up with something to match Theodosia’s title. “Marie Mighty Scaler of Towers.”
It wasn’t very good but she was out of practice being frivolous with people her own age.
There was an extended applause when the song was complete, and cheering when the group on stage thanked them all for coming out. After that it appeared they were getting ready for the next band to play, and the crowd went back to their wandering. Some were trying to make their way to a tee shirt stand, where a girl with bright pink hair was holding a fistful of money in one hand and flinging out merchandise with the other. Somewhere, a lone guitar was picked and strummed, but up there Theo could only hear the occasional twang. She could see the top of a police officer’s hat, and tensed until she saw him get into his car that blocked off one end of the street. It would have been nice if he drove away but she supposed he was guarding that intersection to make sure no one bothered the pedestrians.
Theo didn’t care for cops. They tended to ask rude questions and try to order her around. She was sure they were lying when they told her their made-up rules and ‘laws’. And if you didn’t do what they wanted, they got mean.
The scaffolding shook a little and Theo looked down, frowning. Below, a young man was stumbling along, occasionally grabbing onto the supports to keep from tipping over. He happened to look up just as she was looking down, and leered.
‘Heeeeey girrrrls! Heeeeey!’
Theo rolled her eyes and turned to Marie.
“Gross. He’s probably pickled by now, he’s so drunk.”
Marie said vaguely. She’d heard Ambrose practice with the blues rock fusion band and had developed a fondness for the sound. Although she didn’t like the band’s female drummer and she stayed well out of range of the other members. Truthfully she preferred listening to the band when Ysabelle was about, it felt safer. She wondered a bit why the Moochers weren’t playing here and couldn’t come up with a reason. Maybe she’d ask Ambrose later. Maybe not.
Theodosia seemed content to people watch, which was good for Marie who wasn’t very good at small talk. She probably would have eventually said something but the lush at the base of the scaffolding saved her from that. She’d been feeling semi safe up here and his words and the leer made her jump and back away from the edge. She still harbored a distrust of strange men.
“It’s disgusting. I’ve never understood why people do that to themselves.”
He rattled the scaffolding, just a bit not enough to even seriously shake it. It was a bit scary, what if he decided to come up? Without thinking about it Marie picked up the shoe Theodosia had dropped and she’d returned and threw it at him with great force hitting him in the head.
She might be young but she could put a fair amount of confidence and the tone of command into her voice. She only hoped he’d take the hint. It was that or throw another shoe at him.
Theo wasn’t familiar, but she thought the name was fun, and grinned. The unpleasantness of the drunk man distracted her from further inquiry, though. She heartily agreed with Marie’s assessment; it was such a waste of healthy human blood, tainting it like that.
“He ought to be ashamed.”
Theo knew she could make him feel terrible burning shame with the right glamour, but before she could respond, Marie took a more direct approach. Theo gasped in gleeful surprise as the shoe struck home with a slap. The man staggered backward with a bark of pain and alarm – she thought she heard cursing as he cradled his right eye. It would have been funny if not for the fact that Marie had been sincerely concerned. That made Theo angry and she wished he’d been hurt worse – even thrown hard at a good distance, there wasn’t much chance the light slipper could do any real harm. He was continuing to stumble backward, apparently taking Marie’s words to heart (as anyone with sense would, Theo thought), but then he looked down and saw what had struck him. It looked like he was considering picking the shoe up, but bending over apparently proved too daunting in his current condition. Instead, he rubbed his head and looked up at the two girls high in the air. To Theo’s eye, he looked amused more than angry – his face broke into the sudden grin of one who just got the punch line of a joke.
“Honestly!” he exclaimed, in a sloppy fake British accent, “Who throws a shoe?”
Theo, in spite of being rendered speechless only a second ago, had a response at the ready, which she flung down at him with not a small dose of richly deserved shame.
“The Mighty and Barefoot, you great smelly pig! Now go!”
The glamour worked, or else some small amount of sobriety had come at last; the drunkard slumped in sudden embarrassment and shuffled away, still stumbling and muttering. Theo thought an apology would have been nice, but supposed it was too much to expect after Marie had thrown a shoe and she had called him names and made him feel humiliated.
Then it really sunk in – Marie had actually thrown a shoe at him, -hard-, and then told him off. A look of rapturous delight filled her face; she turned to Marie and said, with feeling, “I strongly believe you are a kindred spirit, Marie.”
It would have been nice to have a partner like this when she was still on the streets. Still Marie looked slightly embarrassed at what sounded like praise. She managed a shy smile.
“I don’t know about that. I just don’t like drunks very much, the always seem to cause trouble.”
Her uncle wasn’t exactly a drunk, but he was always more forward after he’d had a beer or two. On the other hand, Ambrose never seemed to be all that out of control when he’d had something to drink. Maybe it wasn’t the alcohol maybe it was the person or maybe it was that Ambrose was a vampire.
While considering this it hit Marie what she’d done.
“Oh! I’m so sorry I threw your shoe way… again. He didn’t take it did he?”
She tried to peer down and look for it but with out much luck.
She wondered a bit about the kindred spirit remark. How many shoes did Theodosia throw? Regardless unlaced her own sneaker and set it down where it could be easily grabbed.
“You can throw my shoe at the next person to try and take our tower though. Fair is fair.”
“How they can cause such a mess when they can barely stand up is beyond me.”
She didn’t see the drunk pick up the shoe, but she could no longer find it on the ground, either. She craned her neck in an attempt to spot a flash of gold, then gave a philosophical shrug when she failed to see anything but people down below.
“Maybe we’ll see it later, when people start going home. It’s no big deal,” she added, sticking out her bare foot as evidence, “I don’t really like to wear shoes anyway.”
Yes, she definitely liked the way this girl thought; she gave a firm nod to the ‘fair is fair’ remark and quipped, "But who would -dare-?," then peered curiously at the shoe. Having no idea of when people learned to tie and untie laces in this day and age, she thought it was impressive that Marie had managed the feat so neatly.
“Very nice. Wow, I bet you could really clunk a guy with this. Better than that flimsy thing - guess next time I should think about ammunition more.”
She giggled a little at the thought of climbing up the scaffolding with an armload of oranges, ready to pelt passersby who interfered with her royal doings. She might have shared that mental image, but then the music started up again. The next band was a bluegrass group with fiddles and banjos and even a tiny little guitar. There was a lot of sound coming together at once, now, making for a busy effect, less smooth than what had come before but what it lacked in cool it made up for in frantic energy.
“Look at that,” she stage-whispered, pointing. “It’s a baby guitar. For…for hobbits!”
Marie made a little face indicating the truth of it. Either nasty or painful was generally the case. She’d managed to step on a scorpion once back home. Well her first home, she did have a new one now. Some times that seemed a bit disloyal to her parents, but she didn’t think they’d want her to stay with her uncle if they’d known.
She giggled a bit as well at Theodosia’s comment about clunking people.
“If I’d have known what the night would bring I would have worn boots. But it would have been much harder to climb up here.”
The next band took the stage and she tried to objectively consider the music. It wasn’t up to her standards but there was something about it.
The idea of a hobbit guitar made her smile quite broadly. That was the best way she could think to describe the instrument, its proper name escaped her for the moment. Marie countered Theodosia’s stage whisper with a thoughtful frown and a whisper of her own.
“But he doesn’t look like a hobbit. You don’t suppose he stole it do you?”
She was thrilled to find a girl with some imagination – someone who didn’t give her funny looks or call her weird when she delivered her creative and obviously brilliant comments. Her face lit up in vindication and good cheer as Marie offered her suggestion.
“Oooh, lifted it off some poor hobbit, I bet, then forced all the little folk to teach him how to play.” She shook her head. “And he looked so innocent, who would have guessed that he was a guitar-napper?” She tilted her head to one side. “Yeah, he looks like a nice guy…maybe he didn’t steal it after all, maybe the hobbits gave it to him as a gift – no, a reward – for rescuing them from…ah…”
Not sure how to finish the tale, she turned to Marie, hoping she might have an idea.
“Hmmmm you’re right he does look nice doesn’t he. Sort of honest too…”
Studying the crowd, she looked for inspiration. It came in rather an odd form, a life size cardboard cut out of a knight in armor. The sign at the bottom made it clear it was the logo for a small local record label.
“You’re right he didn’t steal it. It was a reward for going on a quest. He had to protect the whole village from…”
Marie faltered for a second, but soon enough grinned wickedly.
“A drunken ogre.”
“A drunken ogre who was harrassing the beautiful, intelligent, fabulous, brilliant...” Theo hesitated, forgetting whether she had mentioned 'beautiful' in her growing list of adjectives, then plowed bravely on, “and wise and excellent princesses. And also, he was trying to steal their shoe...no, hobbits don't wear shoes.” She slowed down, thinking for a moment, then completed her thought in a rush. “He tried to break into the tower to steal the princesses! What a nasty, evil, smelly, rude, appalling ogre!”
Theo's eyes widened and she gestured dramatically as she spoke, growing more and more oblivious to her surroundings as she went on. She barely noticed when the group began to play their next song, and completely missed the rumble of thunder in the distance.
“It was quite uncalled for as the princesses had never done anything to the ogre. But being drunk and not very smart he tried to storm the tower pounding at the door and shaking the stone.”
She caught a flash of lightening out of the corner of her eye and heard more thunder but it wasn’t too close yet. Not enough that she was worried and she didn’t think Ysabel would be worried about her just yet either. If the lightening got closer though they’d have to get down out of the scaffolding, it would be dangerous.
“But he had no idea that the princesses were not only more or less amazing they were armed and brave as well.”
Marie frowned a bit trying to figure out the next bit.
“But if hobbits don’t wear shoes what were they armed with?”
“Wit, charm, and two golden gravy boats.”
With a firm nod, she went on to explain. “Of course, to a stinky stupid ogre, the golden gravy boats might have –looked- like shoes…after all, how often does such a beast use a gravy boat?”
When she thought about it, though – how often did *she* use a gravy boat? The irony made her giggle, and it was a few seconds before she could continue, still oblivious to the gradually changing weather.
“Princess Marie, Mighty Scaler of Towers, hurled the golden gravy boat down from on high, smiting the horrible ogre with her devastating aim and causing him to fall to the ground and look very foolish and ridiculous and smelly and stupid.”
A ball of heat lightening lit up the eastern sky; there were several ‘oohs’ in the audience below as the clouds turned sepia and purple in the light. Even Theo noticed, caught up as she was in the story, but she remained unconcerned.
From over the ocean, the thunder rumbled.
“How often do they even use forks?”
She embellished quickly and unobtrusively.
Marie also appreciated getting to be the hero here but quickly returned the favor.
“But then the ogre stumbled to his feet and tried to intimidate the princesses. But they were made of sterner stuff. As Marie the Mighty considered throwing there last gravy boat at him our barefooted heroine unleashed an indefensible barrage of wit at him.”
Marie was grateful for all those vocabulary lessons she’d had from Ysabelle in addition to her school work.
“And everyone knows ogres can’t handle wit so her words were the last leaving the princesses safe in the tower.”
Turning to see the lightening Marie made a little face. Part of her wondered if Ysabelle would be looking for her or not. Probably not yet. She wondered who Theodosia had come with and if they would be looking for her.
“I think it might rain.”