It’s All in the Name
It’s All in the Name
Abernathy Greene cruised along a downtown avenue behind the wheel of a ’79 Coupe de Ville.
The suspension had been dropped by nearly four inches and the roof by six, forcing her to lean back in her seat. It was painted Mexican-skin-tone overlaid with gold flake, but it had belonged to a black gangster from the east side, so it was only accidentally la raza; or he might have bought it used. Then she’d stolen it from him, but it was too light for her skin too.
She slowed to take the turn on Sixth, and saw a skinny hooker stepping out of the Big Noodle on the corner. Abernathy thought of Jack, the gaping hole in his chest, and the way his pet skank had just left him there. The Big Noodle had been one of his haunts. This wasn’t the same hooker, but heroin tends to make all its devotees look like blood relatives.
It was the first time Abernathy had been out of the house since finding Jack dead, and the first time in years she’d left home without her makeup, except for church.
Finding Jack dead had seemed to take the fun out of her job. She hadn’t realized they were friends until she’d seen him lying there.
She continued on Sixth, and then down a little side street. She watched the houses get smaller, the grass in the yards grow taller, and the pastel colors grow brighter.
She pulled into the cracked concrete driveway of a small ranch, the home to a pair of light targets. Though most of the little houses on that street were painted in Easter colors, this house was in stripes and polka-dots like an Easter egg.
Abernathy checked the rolls of quarters in the pockets of her bluejeans and the lead pipe in the back of her belt, confirming it was hidden under her jacket.
She climbed out, trying to look like an office girl seeking love advice, her cover. This was the first work she’d done in weeks, and she was easing into it, hoping to get her feet wet again. She hadn’t tried cover work before, but it was starting to feel like fun.
The lawn was neatly clipped, lined with purple flowers. She took the flat stone walkway, and the front door swung open before she got to it.
A woman stood in the doorway wearing one of those cloth things the Hindu women wear, but she was white, gray haired, and looked more like a librarian than the spirit medium she was supposed to be.
“Hello, Abernathy,” the woman said, smiling, crows feet forming as her eyes squinted behind thick glasses.
Abernathy thought about who she might have told she was coming here, nobody, then her car, which had fake dealer plates registered to a fake ID in the name Jolinda Blake, the same name she’d used to make the appointment. The woman might have seen her photo in the paper, but in every one of those photos she’d been in her face paint, and the photos had been blurry. Cold reading pissed Abi off in concept, but this was more creepy than she’d expected.
“Or would you prefer Glass Virgin?” the woman asked, and Abi reached her hands into her pockets, the quarters cold against her palms.
The woman stepped back, holding the door for her, and Abernathy stepped in.
It was an extremely normal living room, pumpkin-orange shag carpet, lots of little tables covered in flower patterns and lace. It smelled like myrrh and maybe violets.
One table, surrounded by a few chairs, held a stack of old books, a crystal ball, and a china tea set. The woman took a seat at that table, and held out her hand, offering Abi the seat opposite.
“Are you going to introduce yourself?” Abernathy asked, sitting across from her.
“I thought you knew,” she said, still smiling.
Abi did know who they were, both their pseudonyms and real names, but she wasn’t sure which of the pair she was speaking to.
“I’m Elisabeth, and that’s Berylanne,” she said, turning to a woman who’d just walked in carrying a baby in her arms.
Neither were aliases Abi had heard. She hoped she was at the right house.
“Hi,” Berylanne said, waving one of the baby’s tiny arms, “and this is Dumuzid.” She was just as pedestrian as Elisabeth and wearing a long dress rather than a wrap. The baby was black, and dressed in a tiny north African style tunic covered in gold thread.
“How do you know me? And what’s with the baby?” Those two were supposed to be perpetually single, and Abi wouldn’t have brought weapons if she’d known there was going to be a child present.
“We were close friends with Mel,” Elisabeth said. “She told us about you.”
Mel was Jack’s friend. He’d talked to her often, but she was an invisible friend, and the real Mel, if she’d ever existed, was dead long before Abi had met Jack.
“And the baby?” Abi asked.
“We bought him,” Berylanne said.
“For forty-three dollars,” Elisabeth said.
“And fifteen cents.”
“His mother is dead now.”
“That doesn’t sound legal,” Abi said.
“No,” Elisabeth said, “It probably wasn’t, but nobody thinks about black babies.”
Abi stood up from her seat. It wasn’t the racism, which could just as easily been the careless words of a bleeding heart, it was something in Elisabeth’s tone. Abernathy thought of Tommy, like Elisabeth had just shown her a photograph. She thought of his little face pocked with bits of windshield, his eyes open but matte like ground glass.
“He is the king of Earth,” Berylanne said.
“And of Heaven,” Elisabeth added.
“The baby?” Abi asked, sitting down again.
“Yes,” they said.
Abernathy thought about telling them there was already a king of heaven, and some street whore’s kid wasn’t likely to be the second coming, but it seemed pointless. “So… you know who I am?” she asked, though that now seemed to be a fact.
“We do,” Elisabeth said.
“And that I came to stop you-”
“From reading cards and scrying girls’ love lives?”
“Yeah…” Abi said, but it was more about the cash they’d conned out of those girls.
“The tea’s ready,” Berylanne said.
“Ah.” Elisabeth lifted the teapot from the table, and poured three cups of steaming honey colored liquid.
“I’m fine,” Abi said.
“That’s impolite, Abernathy,” Elisabeth said, staring at her, and seeming very much like a librarian.
Abi picked up the cup from Elisabeth’s side of the table and waited while Elisabeth brought Berylanne her tea, and until both of them took more than a few sips.
It was the tea she’d smelled when she first walked in. It tasted oddly pleasant, though very herbal, a bit like lemongrass, or chewing tobacco. It seemed to be numbing her tongue.
“What is this?” Abi asked, out of politeness, because, even if it was alright, she preferred coffee.
“It doesn’t have a name in English, really, but it’s something like the last words from a dying mother, but, for their tribe, dying mother carries a religious connotation,” Elisabeth said.
“You could say earth mother, but that would sound too New Age,” Berylanne added.
Abi looked at the stack of books on the table in front of her, and felt like she’d read them before. “Tribe?” she asked.
“I had to bring it back from Uruguay… hidden,” Berylanne said, blushing.
“Did you just drug me?” Abi asked. She was sure there was a kitten standing on her shoulder, but she didn’t want to turn for confirmation.
“Not just you,” Elisabeth said with a chuckle.
Abi wasn’t sure if Jack would have killed them then, probably not, because they didn’t seem the types to make his list. That masked asshole would have given them a beating anyway, but Abi looked over at their baby, Dumuzid. He seemed to be suckling at a corpse, or the breast of a dead woman, but she was moving.
She thought of Tommy again, rotting in the ground at St. John’s on Twenty-Ninth, and Thomas, his name sake, in the veteran’s hospital where she’d put him, dead from the neck down.
They seemed exactly the same, perfect except for everything else. They were both alive and dead, and suckling at her breasts.
“Do you understand?” Elisabeth asked, and Abi heard Berylanne giggling somewhere in the distance.
“I think so,” Abernathy said.
“The wave is always coming.”
“And I’m a tremor?”
“Or a levee,” Berylanne said. “That’s what Jack seems to think.”
“What are you, then?”
“A corpse under silt or floating on the surface is still a corpse,” Elisabeth said, and Berylanne giggled again.