23. No Mask

The townhouse squatted amongst its similar brethren in this university town as though it should have been completely unremarkable. For the most part, it was. The morning had arrived and the researchers who were already working feverishly on trying to discover as much about magic as they could, now that there was an abundance of the stuff to research. Students had stayed home, for the most part, and some of the people who simply were lucky enough to live in the area near public transport, and with reasonable rates and jobs, had thought the same idea held true. Magic was making half the world rush to someplace to do something and the other half to hunker down in their homes and hope someone did something.

The only remarkable thing, however, about the townhouse from the outside, was the way that it looked. Particularly, the way that the first storey and the third storey seemed to exist, but between the two was a blank, empty space, through which you could see the trees and sky behind the building. Step to the side, and you could even see the underside of the third storey, with pipes and wires moving down, connecting to nowhere. Same if you looked down. If one stood in the hall inside, they didn’t see out – but they did walk up stairs and find themselves on the third floor, by Ms Stall’s place.

Beat looked at the building from the outside. The client had called her, just a few nights ago, to talk to her about another loss. He and his wife had lost another ferret – only six months after the previous one – and she’d heard him notsaying as he offered to let her come around and talk about him, this isn’t fair, this is bullshit, why now, why when he was so happy and fat and cuddly why. The problem with seeing the world through a lens of art that wanted to recognise what was really there was that you heard those questions so much that they stopped meaning anything. They weren’t questions to be answered, they just were background chatter of the human brain.

Why me? Well, why fucking not? It only didn’t make sense if you thought the world was unfair and that cartoons were reality.

Bea’s notebook, tucked under her arm, was almost all she’d brought today. No book bag. She’d come out to get the picture of the soul, to talk to Thomas, and to head back home, and collate them all, wondering why she of all people had not been impacted by the immense wave of crazy that was turning parts of the world into loonyville. Why schoolkids in Palestine were opposing supernaturally-powered spiritual racists merged from two different races, and yet here, in her university town, her crazy room full of drawings of people’s pets, nothing had happened.

The problem came in that Thomas’ flat was now, apparently, nowhere.

She’d walked around the building like, twelve times, and still seen nothing. There was no trick, she’d gone inside, she’d walked up and down. She’d called the landlord, who had ignored her, and she’d talked to the neighbours, who professed never talking to Thomas or his wife. She’d even gone so far as to try and clamber up to the point where the building disappeared, and press her hands against the gap, though that plan had been thwarted by her not being as tall as everyone seemed to think she was.

Giving up wasn’t something she normally wanted to do. Bea flipped through her notebook and sighed, heading down the path towards the bus station and hoping that nobody on it was going to hide from her and wish to be turned into a newt. That’s what the thoughts had been on the bus in – all those people looking at her and notsaying that she was a witch. Right now, magical things were scary – even here, in the famously pragmatic and disbelieving parts of Australia.

Bea shook her head again and tried to put that thought out of her head. Ever since the return of magic, notsaying had felt a lot less like psychologically deducing body language and popular opinion – ie, guessing well – and more like…

Mind reading, she notsaid to herself.

Hoping that Thomas was okay, but not sparing the time to prove it one way or another, Bea adjusted the collar on her shirt, and picked up the pace. The bus would be here soon. And on the bus, she’d hear all sorts of questions notsaid,

Are you Sue Perkins had to be the most interesting thing that was notsaid to her all day on the trip home. When she’d stepped in to the crazy room, all the pictures remained still, and nothing diabolical or magical burst out around her.

It was boring.

It was safe.

Briefly, Bea reflected on that. Was there something about boring that had an inherent appeal, now? Was that what made her feel safe, when the rest of the world was crazy? Maybe. But she had a room full of pictures of people’s pets, and she spoke to them from time to time. Maybe she wasn’t the woman to talk to about ‘crazy.’

*

Thomas and his wife didn’t even remember the appointment. They’d left the house and visited her mother, to use her garden, to bury their pet, down deep, so deep that the dogs wouldn’t try for him. Deep enough that he rested near tree roots and the stones that held the earth up. Prone, yellow form had laid there in the quiet, with his blankets and his treats, as they had cried, and cried, and cried.

They covered him, they came home. And then they had sat on the couch, hugging each other.

Some patterns in magic took generations to establish, and could only do a little. Some were so easy because they didn’t seem to matter at all. Some were pure and natural, though – and the circuits worn so deep in human minds, that they were instinctual.

Thomas and his wife were sad, but they were safe. The power of grief, when coupled with love, is to draw a wall so high no force can climb it. Sadness is an armour: whether grief for someone you love, with someone you love, maybe the sadness that comes from hating oneself, maybe the sadness that comes from knowing you cannot do more. The feeling is human, and is good, because it contains within it, its own reflection, an opportunity for joy of equal height, and a protection. Sadness can be worn like an armour; in those moments, one feels that nothing from outside can possibly hurt more.

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