Slip Stitch

by Kat Weaver

Summer, 1899

 

 

I WAS KNEELING among my maps when I heard laughter from the room next door.

 

“Don’t you mind them, miss,” said Eileen, which meant she knew it was already too late.

 

I closed my journal and sat very still, stewing. Even if my concentration had not been broken, I had few notes to record. Today’s progress was scarcely significant. The city felt that I was an annoyance, a little English gadfly probing for a vein. A pulse. A way in. If Paris and I did not reach some sort of understanding before I left, this visit would be a waste.

 

At another peal of laughter, Eileen’s lips tightened into a grim line. “Did you finish your post-cards?” I nodded. “Let me see, then. We can send them off tomorrow.”

 

I handed them to her. “Dear Vladimir,” she read from the back of a tinted picture of Notre-Dame, “Having an awful time. So glad you aren’t here. Love, Aloysia.” She looked up. Sighed, “Miss.”

 

“He will know I’ve been thinking of him.”

 

“Yes.” Hence Eileen’s disapproval. Selecting another card, this one a view of Versailles, she read, “Dear Nikolai, Eileen threw your last letter into the Seine. Sorry. Love, Aloysia.

 

“You did,” I pointed out.

 

“Those young men shouldn’t be writing letters to you.”

 

Nor I to them, I heard. Picture post-cards were the limit. Had I wanted to send the brothers Koldunov a novel’s worth of my worst thoughts, no one could have stopped me. I had my ways, and the boys knew it. I leaned on my lack of permission as a thin excuse. Of course I was allowed to write proper letters to my family, but I had nothing to say, not to them. Aunt Ava and my father were the ones who decided I ought to spend several months abroad. For my own good, they said. For the experience. For the culture. They were so desperate to be rid of me, or so determined to punish my mother, they had deluded themselves about the culture to which I would be exposed.

 

It was nothing new to me.

 

Eileen and I fell silent when my mother and one of her handsome monsieurs emerged from her room. “Ah, Fernand, c’est inutile, je dors toujours chez moi.” She made a show of patting her coiffure as she pouted into one of the suite’s many gilt looking glasses. “Comment tu me trouves?

 

Sylvia Stirling, the errant Countess Barrowbeck, was as beautiful as Helen of Troy and as unashamed as Salome. Her curls were redder than mine, her cheeks less freckled, her lips more frequently bowed with smiles. Tonight she wore a pale blue gown fringed with hundreds of beads, whose facets captured and cut up all the light.

 

C’est parfait.” Monsieur Fernand swept a creamy silk cape over her shoulders.

 

She turned around with an expert flourish. “Aloysia, ma chérie, que penses-tu?

 

“I think my opinion matters less to you than monsieur’s.”

 

My mother gave a pleading look to Eileen, without luck; Eileen had developed a sudden interest in the ceiling. 

 

Bowing to me, monsieur said that he would, alas, be depriving la petite magicienne of her maman’s company this fine evening. He hoped I would not begrudge him the honour.

 

“I have done without her for half my life,” I replied. “Why should tonight be any different?”

 

My mother’s softening mistranslation came with an apology, a laugh. 

 

I ignored Eileen’s creased brow. Her reproval meant nothing. Though I had given up pretending I was anything but horrible, my mother simply would not let me spoil her peace.

 

Having hardly spared me a glance, she shifted back to her reflection. “Don’t wait up for me, dearest. I will try not to wake you when I return, I promise I’ll try. We ladies do need our beauty rest. And then you and I can have a nice, late luncheon tomorrow.”

 

“We will be out,” I said.

 

“Yes—yes, of course. Dinner, perhaps? I suppose we shall have to see how the day goes.” My mother took Monsieur Fernand’s proffered arm. “Have a good night, dear.” She paused for an awkward nod. “And good night to you, Eileen.”

 

The nod was returned. “Ma’am.”

 

After another round of au revoirs, my mother and her man took their leave. Their scent lingered. If it settled into the drapes, I would have to smell it for the remainder of our stay in this modern paean to eighteenth-century excess. Eileen resented the luxury of the electric lights; I fixated upon the ensuite bath; and both of us hesitated to contaminate the furniture with our dismal corporeality.

 

My mother did not live in an hôtel particulier, no, but an hotel as we understood it. Her various lovers disagreed about where her new flat ought to be, who ought to contribute how much to its upkeep, and how it ought to be furnished. At first I had thought Messieurs Voisin and Boissieu were fighting over my mother, so I watched in silence and wondered how I was supposed to feel. When I realised the men were in tears over an hypothetical Louis XIV sofa, I decided I did not care.

 

Eileen and I were currently occupying the suite’s spacious salon, which separated my mother’s room from ours. Voices carried throughout at inopportune times. My mother often returned late. As she had told Monsieur Fernand: she always slept at home.

 

“That man,” Eileen murmured, “was no person you should know.”

 

I bent my head over my journal. Ugly as the diagrams were, they were mine. My language. No lies. One of my maps gave a salutatory crackle as I adjusted my feet.

 

“So, miss,” said Eileen, louder, as if brushing the past five minutes from her hands. “Do you have a route in mind for tomorrow?”

* * *

EVERY DAY, EILEEN would walk with me while I attempted to make Paris mine. The little magicienne was, in fact, quite serious about her work. 

 

Every day, Eileen dressed me in my new clothes, buttoned my tight new shoes, and dosed me with a careful three drops of laudanum. I always sucked on a slice of lemon, after.

 

Though my head held an entire gladiatorial arena of violence and futility, routine helped me to live in the world.

 

If Eileen had ever objected to our walking everywhere, or given any indication that she suffered for it, I would have been sorry—but she never did. I supposed she was determined to go on being my pillar of strength.

 

She was a tall Irish woman of about thirty, broad-shouldered and big-boned, with a hawkish nose and hollow cheeks. Her hair was thin and pale, pulled tight against her skull. Her eyes were pale, too, and startling against her freckled tan. She hid her large, square hands in undersized gloves. She chewed on her lips. She smelled strongly of soap. She owned no jewelry except a gold cross necklace, which she wore every day with either black, brown, or grey serge. When my mother had offered to purchase her a new dress or two, she replied with such a tight “no thank you, ma’am” that I took contrary pride in how plain she was.

 

I was just as plain, albeit better dressed. Instead of making me look prettier by comparison, Eileen ensured I was never mistaken for a young Parisienne.

 

Even in my summer linens, I was sweating by the time we arrived at the Jardin des Tuileries. “Are you well, miss?” asked Eileen, having already escorted me to a bench.

 

I unpinned my hat and wafted it in front of my face.

 

“We can find you a fan.”

 

“I don’t need one.” I reflected on her previous question. “I am well enough. The city hates me.” An exaggeration: the city was merely ignoring my efforts.

 

Eileen surveyed the garden. “I can’t say as I like it much, either.”

 

Once I had recovered my breath, we followed the wide, dusty paths alongside couples, families, young men and lovely young ladies. Here the beauty was mathematical: the lawns cut in patterns like silk, the fountain pools seemingly carved from the sky. The symmetry appealed to me. It repelled me, too, contained as it was within itself. But I was stubborn.

 

Beside one of the pools was the necessary sculpture. A centaur, shot with an arrow in the midst of carrying off a very uncomfortable and very unclothed marble nymph. Such was art.

 

I gazed up at the nymph’s outflung arm. “The pins, please.”

 

Eileen withdrew the first case. It contained not the hat pins I so admired, long and wicked and decorated at their ends—I had stabbed mine into my hair again—but the small steel pins used for sewing. I removed my glove and selected one of them.

 

Yesterday’s offering was still evident on the corner of the sculpture’s base. I pricked my middle finger and squeezed until I had a nice, fat bead of blood. Silently, I told the city: I am here, damn you. I am alive. And I pressed my finger to the stone.

 

Eileen was ready with the empty second case. We would fill it throughout the day, and wash the used pins in carbolic acid when we returned to l’hôtel Ritz. I then accepted my journal and pen, with which I recorded the temperature and time that Eileen read out; she kept hold of the thermometer and the watch for me. 

 

If anyone were intrusive enough to ask the reason for all this, I would have had none to give. Because, that was why. I had to, even though I did nothing with the data. The act of recording it was the important part, whatever important meant. I was not fooling myself. Magician or not, no one actually mattered. The universe would forever and always remain beyond human understanding. Every ritual was ultimately useless. These useless rituals belonged to me.

 

Eileen tolerated them with her usual grace. “Are we going on, then, miss?”

 

I replaced my glove, its white lace damp. The first of the perpetual red stains—no amount of washing could fully remove them—bloomed anew.

We progressed from the Tuileries to the Palais-Royal and the neighbouring streets. Had our pauses been less frequent, I would not have lasted the entire two hours of our morning walk.

 

Back in London, Eileen had maintained that the exercise was good for me. Back in London, perhaps it was. Back in London, I could do things. Small things, yet, but I had a certain command. When I needed them to, servants and guests and family alike would suddenly remember tasks elsewhere, or forget I was sitting in plain view. They would lock doors—and open them, too—without questioning why. And all of them would untie their tongues as I saw fit.

 

Practise was imperative for a magician among magicians. The Koldunov boys had but to breathe, and we all conformed beautifully to their expectations. How could anyone refuse a kiss? They were enchanting in every sense of the word, confident. Magic was their birthright. I fought for my share, blood to blood. Back in London, I was winning.

 

Here I was reduced to begging my mother’s hotel suite for the chance, please, just one chance to walk alone. Let the doors sigh open without a sound. Let Eileen remain asleep as I eased out of the bed we shared.

 

Eileen naturally disapproved of the café I chose for our rest. I had made offerings there before. It often wanted to be charming, and today it spoke to me. A whisper, finally. More than words, a thread within me pulled taut and plucked. I had to respond.

 

After Eileen fixed my hat—declaring herself my protector to all of the deeply uninterested passers-by, no one was paying attention to us, I promised—we had our lemonade and pastries on the walk outside the building. The only Parisian foods Eileen could stomach were the sweets.

 

“So you won’t deny yourself every earthly pleasure,” I remarked.

 

She huffed. “I’m not a Protestant.”

 

“They are Catholic in this country, you know.”

 

“They’re French,” she said. “It doesn’t count.”

 

Past the lace, I picked open one of the scabs on my fingers. Eileen laid a hand on my elbow. I shrugged her away. I tapped the blood onto my napkin, one-two-three, and listened for the corresponding thrum. ‘Listened’ was not exactly right. I did not know what sense I used.

 

I asked Eileen, “Do you like me?”

 

“Of course I do, miss.”

 

“Would you like me if my family weren’t paying your wages?”

 

Eileen swallowed a heavy sigh. “You shouldn’t be asking these questions.”

 

“But I am.” I tapped the napkin again. “Do I deserve your friendship?”

 

“Now, miss. I’ll not give you the answer you’re after.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Her jaw set. “Because I’ll not help you think that way. It’s not good for you. Drink your lemonade and decide where we’re going next.”

 

If the magic were working, she would have told me the truth. Damn. I picked at another scab. “Vladimir is my friend,” I said. “He likes me very much.”

 

“Does he, then.”

 

Unhygienically, I sucked on the wound. “Nikolai loves me.”

 

This she could not let stand. “I’ll say it again, miss. He may believe he loves you, but his love is nothing you want. Please put your hand down.” I did not. “That boy shouldn’t be speaking with you.”

 

I pushed away from the table. “I’m finished. We’re going to the Rue Saint-Honoré.”

 

Though I would not have blamed Eileen if she had wanted to strangle me, or at least give me a good shake, all she did was press my hand. I allowed it. She understood how much I missed the small power on which I relied.

 

* * *

I SPENT THE next day in bed. It happened not infrequently. I was compelled, without any choice or control. I would have to curl up in the quiet, the dark, and spend hours convincing myself that my filthy organs weren’t rotting into soup, for instance, just because I was incapable of performing the rituals meant to stop this from happening in the first place. I would have to do nothing, and Eileen would have to let me. She made me eat, still, and said not a word when I boiled myself in five successive baths. 

 

I was sorry. I was being a wretched brat, I knew, oh, I knew very well that I was overreacting to absolutely nothing, no stimulus at all apart from the carnage in my own head, but I could not escape.

 

“—HOPED ALOYSIA WOULD enjoy her time away from those people—Ava included, good intentions are never enough—foolish of me, to expect a pleasant visit with my daughter—”

 

“I’m sorry, ma’am, best leave her be—”

 

Though my mother had dragged Eileen into the salon, their conversation crept through our door, slightly ajar. Even while my brain was eating itself, I was alert to this sort of thing. Whenever my father mentioned sending me away again, he did not mean to school. I had been released from the hospital once Aunt Ava convinced him to bring on Eileen.

 

“—should have grown out of it by now, don’t you think?”

 

“I don’t know, ma’am.” Unlike my mother, Eileen kept her voice low. “It’s not her fault she’s unwell. She can’t help but be herself.”

 

My mother sighed. “She might at least try to—” A pause. “Never mind. A young lady her age ought to have a nice time abroad, so a nice time we shall have. You’ll not mention this little tête-à-tête to her? Please.”

 

“I’ll keep my peace, ma’am.”

 

And Eileen would, if only because she never underestimated me. I was always learning things I was not supposed to know.

 

* * *

MY MOTHER's PRINCIPAL occupation, besides attending to her various men, was acquiring clothes. Another reason my family sent me to Paris: I was to have a wardrobe for the next two years. It was de rigueur. It was a waste. Gowns had but few nights to live, and I could not exhibit them to their best effect. My magic was no more akin to the famous Koldunov glamour than a spider to a butterfly.

 

After our abbreviated morning rounds, Eileen and I met my mother at the studio. I stared past her as she pinched some pink into my cheeks. “That’s better, dear.” She released me with a pat. “Come along.”

 

The head modiste was great friends with Madame la comtesse. The two of them kept up a steady dialogue en français—not interesting enough for me to think through the translations—as Eileen helped me to strip down to my underclothes. There were fittings to be done. I rather hoped the assistant would accidentally stick me with a pin.

 

She was adjusting a seam along my side. “You are patient, mademoiselle,” she said in English, polite and amiable. “The positioning, it can be dull, no?”

 

I met Eileen’s eyes. “I am accustomed to it.”

 

Eileen gave an almost imperceptible nod. Seated on such a delicate chair in so light and elegant a room, she looked even more like a hulking, sullen crow.

 

“This silk is lovely,” the assistant said. “A nice colour on you, turquoise.”

 

“My mother has good taste.”

 

She must have dealt with quite a few English clients, for she went on to ask, “You are excited for your début?” 

 

Eileen folded her arms. I answered, still truthfully, “It won’t be for another year.” Enough time for English fashions to plod along in their imitation of the French, my mother had explained. Best to purchase things now, especially since I was unlikely to grow.

 

My mother and the head modiste, a spry grey-haired woman, were talking over the book of samples open between them. When I caught my name said the French way, an elaborate ‘Louisa,’ I began listening for the lies with which my mother soothed herself.

 

According to her, I was a sweet girl, though oversensitive. I felt things deeply, that was all. It was to my credit! I was clever but not smart, not worldly-wise. I would be pretty if, if, if. I would find a husband if, if, if. If I took advantage of my connections! Had Madame Gaudry heard of the Koldunov family? So interesting, the magic in that line. They were great friends of my father, and I was apparently quite intimate with the young men—

 

I stopped paying attention.

 

“Ah, mademoiselle!” The assistant paused, her pin poised above the sleeve she was fixing, her fingers warm on my outstretched arm. “May I ask what happened to your poor hands?”

 

“No,” I said.

 

Eileen sighed.

 

Very well, but I did not know what I was supposed to have said. Magic would have taken too long to explain, besides which, no one but my fellow magicians wanted to hear about it. The art of polite excuses eluded me. And my hands were only this way because Paris refused to co-operate.

 

The assistant lapsed into merciful silence, first, and then joined my mother’s conversation with the modiste. The cascade of French put Eileen on her guard, but so far as I could tell, there was nothing in it to pollute my ears. I would not have told her if there were. I had poured the whole of my concentration into the deft dip of the needle as Madame Gaudry’s assistant sewed.

* * *

THAT EVENING WE dined on the garden terrace at l’hôtel Ritz. The chairs were painted green. I dabbed my bleeding thumb on the spindles, relishing the sensation of it, the sweaty tack. My neck prickled. My pulse beat in time with—something. When I imagined a thread of my blood connecting the Tuileries statue to the little café, the café to the hotel, it seemed to me that by thinking of a thread I made one exist. I wrote this down. The time, too, and the temperature. Perhaps Paris had begun to relent. I tapped thumbprints into my journal, thinking: Listen. Écoutez. Speak.

 

“Must she?” my mother asked, glancing at Eileen. She was in the midst of a courageous bite of pâté de foie gras.

 

“Yes,” I said.

 

“Lady Ava and I agreed, ma’am, that I’m to let Lady Aloysia go on doing her magic,” said Eileen after she had swallowed. “It’s important to her.”

 

“You could not stop me, anyhow.” No one could. If they tried, I would simply have to be quieter about magic, more clever.

 

Doubtless picturing the inevitable annihilation of my enemies, myself, and anyone who stood in my way, should I enact magic without her benevolent oversight, Eileen tipped her chin towards me. “Just so, miss.”

 

“But—at the table?” My mother was darting none-too-subtle looks at the other diners.

 

She belonged here, with them. They and she were beautiful, their gowns as soft as roses beneath the glow of the lanterns above. The sun was only just beginning to set; my mother’s already magnificent red hair caught its gold. People saw her, easily. She was hoping they did not see me.

 

I ground my bloody thumb into the table linens. “Am I an embarrassment to you?”

 

“Oh, darling,” my mother said, “no, of course not. I only worry about you, your future. I want you to be happy.”

 

Impossible. “As happy as you were with my father?”

 

Eileen’s boot touched my ankle. I kicked it aside.

 

Now that my mother had gone blank and cold, the resemblance between the two of us was clear. “I don’t think we will continue with this subject, Aloysia,” she said.

 

“Why not? You are trying to—to—” I dug my nails into my palms. “To push me into the life from which you ran away.”

 

“Miss,” said Eileen, gently.

 

My mother downed a long sip of wine. Either it was the Merlot that hardened her voice, or the guilt. “You needn’t be a countess. You needn’t marry, though if I were you, I should hate to confront your father with that decision. He’d not welcome yet another spinster relation in his house. Where else would you go?” She finished the glass. “Unmarried women aren’t spoiled for choice. Your inheritance is hardly grand. You have no practical skills. You are evidently unable to care for yourself. You hate to be pitied, my dear, but pitied is all you would ever be.”

 

“Miss,” Eileen insisted.

 

I did not want to live for always and ever with my father and aunt in that mausoleum they called an estate. I did not want to marry Nikolai or even Vladimir, the only men who would have me—and oh, hadn’t they made certain of that. I was fit for no one else. I did not want anyone else. I wanted to enact magic, that was all. To be a magician.

 

If magic had made my mother say these things, it had played a cruel trick. Worse, tasting blood where I had bitten the inside of my lip, I was compelled to reply.

 

“You already pity me. You think you love me, you tell yourself you ought to love me. You don’t and can’t. How could you, when you scarcely look at me? I don’t fit.” I tried to swallow, but I had a needle in my tongue. “No man who’d marry me could have decent intentions. He would care for me. He would not be careful. Very well. I will be married or I will be shut away. It makes no difference to my father. I’m not certain it makes a difference to me.” 

 

Movement caught my eye: Eileen, flexing her hands. My fingers hurt as I unclenched them. My strings fell slack.

 

The colour was high in my mother’s cheeks. Did we still look alike? “Well, you never said—”

 

I had said more than enough. “You will be here in Paris with your gowns and your hotels and your lovers. You needn’t think of where you left me.”

Stricken, my mother snapped, “You haven’t any idea what my life is like.”

 

“Nor you mine.” I stood and—I was not proud, even as I did it, but better this than my unspeakable first impulse—threw my fork to the ground. It clattered, and I left. Eileen immediately followed. Very few people turned to look.

* * *

BUT YOU HATE my mother,” I said.

 

Eileen and I stood outside the hotel’s main entrance, watching carriages rattle past as the sun finally sank below the rooftops.

 

“I don’t hate her.” Eileen sounded weary. “You’ve a right to feel the way you do. You’ve a right to feel any way at all, and you’ve a right to say anything you like. Sure, and no one can stop you.” She raised her hand as if to tuck my hair behind my ear, and then paused.

 

“I am tired of being touched,” I said.

 

She withdrew. “I’m going to ask you a question. Think on your answer. When you say unkind things—that you know are unkind—do you feel in your heart that you’ve done good?”

 

“There is no good. No evil, either.”

 

“Well, miss, I don’t believe that’s true. And I suspect you’re being contrary because it’s easy.” Eileen fixed me with her pale, grave eyes. “I’ll put it a different way. Do you feel better when you’ve been unkind? Be honest. Do you feel like you’ve done something worth doing?”

“Don’t patronise me.”

 

We stared at each other, Eileen and I, in the growing dark. She broke away first.

 

“I’m sorry, miss,” she said. “I’m only doing my best.”

 

* * *

I WAS HAVING a bath, my third one of the night. Eileen, meanwhile, had agreed to help my mother with her evening toilette. Another excuse to draw Eileen into her confidences.

 

I held my hands beneath the scalding tap water, opened a scab and let my offering stream down the drain. I waited, glared. The hotel gave in. Through what then seemed to be no more than a paper wall, I listened.

 

“Was she truly that unhappy without me?” my mother wondered.

 

“I can’t say, ma’am.”

 

“Or you won’t say, which is prudent of you.” She spoke with a slight, dreamy detachment, as though she were absorbed in smoothing a curl. “What could I have done for her if I had stayed? You know Thomas. He refuses to petition for divorce. He’d never have let me take Aloysia with me when I left, and I had to leave. You understand. I couldn’t have raised her, not alone. Not as she is. I don’t know what she wants from me.”

 

There was a long silence. A deep exhale. Then: “I think, ma’am, Lady Aloysia wants someone who’s looking out for her.”

 

Eh bien,” said my mother. “She has you.”

 

I turned off the tap.

 

* * *

THE WALK WOULD take approximately thirty minutes. We had gone before, during one of the endless hot days. This attempt, I hoped, would yield far more satisfaction. I did not suppose many people toured the sights at two o’clock in the morning.

 

The magic held. I was able to slip out of bed without disturbing Eileen, the lightest of light sleepers, my loyal Cerberus lulled. I put on my stockings and shoes beneath my night dress as it was—I had no use for a corset or even clothes at this hour—and donned a coat meant for an English summer. Just in case, I skewered my hat with the first long pin I found among Eileen’s things.

 

Past the crowd of socialites returning from their parties and operas and salons, my mother perhaps among them, I left unseen from the hotel.

 

Never had I heard Paris so quiet. Never had it smelled so freshly of air. Never had I experienced the city at peace, its rhythms there, still, but as steady as the breath of sleep. I closed my eyes and tipped my face to the stars. For once, the universe was with me.

 

I followed my head, my feet, my hands and beating heart—or whatever indescribable non-location whence I derived my magical instinct. Blood. Thread. I knew what I was about. The city and I were due for a reckoning. There was only one proper place.

 

Politely if begrudgingly, not to mention impossibly, a door beneath the west rose window was open for me. It heaved, a wooden creak. I entered the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

 

My footsteps echoed in a silence so profound it overwhelmed all conscious thought. I was a fly, an insect. A spider to be crushed. I was caught alone in some vast darkness—none of the ponderous chandeliers were lit—of a world beyond the world. The stained glass windows hung above me like huge, watery moons. The columns held up a vaulted sky. The nave went on for miles, towards an altar of dim gold. I removed my hat.

 

Je suis ici,” I said. Softly, but my voice carried. “Je vis quand même.”

 

I am here. I am alive.

 

I sat among the rows of chairs, folded my hands. If I prayed, it was not a prayer any church would condone. No one was listening. Magic was nothing so restrictive as an entity. Magic was absolutely everything, whatever one wanted it to be. Magic was mine.

 

How much time passed, I would never know. I brought neither the watch nor the thermometer. The data I collected never mattered—unless I chose to let it. My notes had helped me to stitch the pattern, to pull the strings. Now I needed only to sit, to simply be.

 

I was not surprised when I heard someone else enter the cathedral. The authorities were likely to escort me out, some half-asleep bishop or annoyed gendarme, but no unexpected consequences would befall me. I was an obviously privileged, obviously ill English girl, je suis très désolée, so sorry, right out of the guide book, je ne parle pas bien français. And I was armed with a hat pin, come to that.

 

Instead, Eileen eased into the row beside me. The seat shifted with her weight. She, too, was in her night dress and coat, her plait mussed beneath her straw hat. Her breathing had not yet slowed.

 

“You found me,” I said.

 

She huffed. “Oh, I’d have searched the entire city, my dear miss, never you doubt. But somehow,” pointedly, “I’d a feeling you were here.”

 

“You did not have to come.”

 

“I surely did.”

 

Thanking magic was useless. It did not care for my particular wellbeing, or anyone’s. But it did feel right when I silently acknowledged what it had done, bringing Eileen to me. The city scarcely recognised the one of us without the other, I supposed. A balance restored. If we were but two mere people sitting quiet and small in this universe of a cathedral, at least we could be insignificant together.

 

“I’m sorry,” I said. “For making you walk here at this hour, and the rest.”

Eileen bit back the usual below-stairs protest, that I needn’t apologise and so on, deciding instead on a temperate, “Thank you, miss.” Then she, too, removed her hat, and reflexively crossed herself. “Did you find what you were after?”

 

I looked to the ceiling far above and said, “I don’t know.”

 

Mirroring me, Eileen tilted back her head. “That’s all right, then,” she said. “We can stay as long as you like.”

 

________________________

 

Kat Weaver is a writer and illustrator whose written work has previously appeared in Apex Magazine, Lackington’s, and Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Minneapolis with her wife and their two birds. Her portfolio can be found at kathrynmweaver.com.

© 2019 Kat Weaver