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Oh, it was a fabulously punctuated life I had—Mums was a Clarinaut, Papo was a Nowboy, and you never saw a house more like a toybox than the bottle at 15 Portwine Place, chock full of gadgets and nonsense from parts unknown, art that came down off the walls for breakfast, visits from the Ordinary Emperor, and on some precious nights, gorgeous people in lavender suits and sweet potato ice cream gowns giggling through mouthfuls of mulberry schnapps over how much tastier were Orange Country cocktails and how much more belligerent were Green Country cockatiels.
We had piles of carousel horse steaks and mugs of foamy creme de violette on our wide glass table every night. Trouble was, Mums was a Clarinaut and Papa was a Nowboy, so I mostly ate and drank it on my lonesome, or with the Sacred Sparrowbone Mask of the Incarnadine Fisherwomen and the watercolor unicorns from Still Life with Banana Tree, Unicorns, and Murdered Tuba , who came down off the living room wall some mornings in hopes of coffee and cereal with marshmallows.
Mummery brought them back from her expeditions, landing her crystal clarinet, the good ship Eggplant , in the garden in a shower of prismy bubbles, her long arms full of poison darts, portraiture, explosives that look exactly like tea kettles and lollipops that look exactly like explosives.
Watercolor unicorns have hearts like soap operas that never end, and when they gallop it looks like crying. I could ride a pony by the time I got a handle on finger painting—great jeweled beasts escaped from some primeval carousel beyond the walls of time. And in the Country of Purple, the minutes and hours of present-future-happening look an awful lot like overgrown pregnant six-legged mauve squirrels.
When a squirrel comes to term, she just winks out like a squashed cigarette. Plays would close three years before they open, Wednesdays would go on strike, and a century of Halloweens would happen all at once during one poor bedraggled lunch break. I was called Violet and I lived in a purple world and I had ardors for my Papo, my magenta pony Stopwatch even though he bit me several times and once semi-fatally, a bone mask, and a watercolor painting. In the Red Country, when you say you love someone, it means you need them.
You desire them.
Purple - Wikipedia
But in the Country of Purple, when you say you love someone, it means you killed them. I only ever had one friend who was a person. His name was Orchid Harm. He could read faster than anyone I ever met and he kissed as fast as reading. He had hair the color of beetroot and eyes the color of mangosteen and he was a Sunslinger like his Papo before him. They caught sunshine in buckets all over Plum Pudding, mixed it with sugar and lorikeet eggs and fermented it into something not even a little bit legal. Orchid had nothing to do all day while the sun dripped down into his stills.
No more, no less. He liked anything that came in sevens.
I only came in ones, but he liked me anyway. Everyone kept peering at brandy snifters, tea kettles, fire pokers, bracelets, books on our high glass shelves. When—and where—would the Little Man make his entrance? Orchid was only little and so was I. While Mums cooed over the Emperor of Dried Pasta, I sat with my knees up by the hearth, feeding escargot to one of the watercolor unicorns.
This is the first thing Orchid ever said to me:. Pink and green feel good on my eyes. You can pet her but you have to let her smell your hand first. You can say who painted it if you want.
Mums told me when she brought it home from Yellow Country, but I forgot. I never got the hang of forgetting things the way other people do. Jellyfish slurped it up. I took him to my room and made him crawl under my bed. Orchid waited. He was good at waiting.
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I rolled over and pointed to the underside of my bed. After that, Orchid started going out with Papo and me sometimes, out beyond the city walls and onto the dry, flat Past Perfect Plains where the thousand squirrels that are every future and present and past scrabbled and screamed and thrashed their fluffy tails in the air. By the time the worst thing in the world happened, Orchid Harm could play Bury Me on the Prairie with a Squirrel in my Fist on the zanfona box as well as Papo or me.
He helped a blackberry-colored mare named Early-to-Tea get born and she followed him around like a lovesick tiger, biting his shoulders and hopping in circles until he gave up and learned to ride her. Rifle up. The day of the worst thing in the world was long and hot and bright, packed so full of summer autumn seeped out through the stitches. I wanted to give them some real space, something fresh to graze on. Papo stayed behind to see to a doe mewling and foaming at the mouth, trying to pass a chronology stone.
It turned to indigo, the dark, windy borderlands where the desert looks like an ocean and the twisted-up trees are the color of lightning. And then, just when I was about to tell Orchid how much I liked the shadow of his cheekbones by indigo light, the Blue Country happened, right in front of us. Somehow I always thought there would be a wall, or guards with spears and pom-poms on their shoes, or at least a sign.
But it was just a line in the land, and on this side everything was purple and on that side everything was blue. The earth was still thirsty and spidered up with fine cracks like a soft boiled egg just before you stick your spoon in, but instead of the deep indigo night-steppe or the bright purple pampas, long aquamarine salt flats stretched out before us, speckled with blueberry brambles and sapphire tumbleweeds and skittering blue crabs.
The Blue Country smelled like hot corn and cold snow. All the mauve time-squirrels skidded up short, sniffing the blue-indigo line suspiciously.
We let Stopwatch and Early-to-Tea bounce off after the crabs. The sun caromed off the gems on their rump. Orchid and I just watched the blue. Go to all other places that exist in the universe, like your Mummery? Something better than sunshine in a bucket. Off in the distance, I could see a pack of stories slurping at a watering hole, their long spine-plates standing against the setting sun like broken fences.
Orchid always wanted to know secrets. And one time I actually packed a suitcase and went to the train station and bought a ticket to the Yellow Country with money I got from selling all my chess sets. But when I got there and the conductor was showing me to my seat I just knew how proud Mums would be. I could see her stupid face telling her friends about her daughter running off on an adventure.
Well, the point is: fuck her, I guess. I just wanted to go. Which meant I was a little photograph of her, after all. I kissed him, to make it better. We liked kissing. When Orchid and me kissed, we always knew what the other was thinking, and just then we knew that the other was thinking that we had two horses and could go now, right now, across the border and through the crabs and blueberries and stories and hot corn air.
And in the Blue Country, all the cities were electrified, just like us. Orchid and I jumped over the border like a broomstick and when our feet came down the squirrels screeched and rushed forward, biting our heels, slashing our legs with their six clawed feet, spitting bile in our faces. Well, I thought it was our faces, our heels, our legs. I thought they were gunning for both of us.
But it was Orchid they wanted. You might stab the rest of your life.
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You might end the whole world. Papo never said anything. Neither did I. Jellyfish and the other watercolor unicorns each cut off a bit of their tails and stuck them together to make a watercolor orchid in the bottom left corner of the painting.
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It looked like a five-year-old with a head injury drew it with her feet and it ruined the whole composition. Orcheous Wince would have sicced her dogs on it. Because everyone can see. I went up to the eye socket of the opera house and drank and drank but the pot never seemed to dry up. Everything had a shine on it when I drank the sun. Everything had a heart that only I could see. Everything tasted like Orchid Harm, because he always tasted like the whole of the sun. Once, I rode out on Stopwatch across the indigo borderlands again, up to the line in the earth where it all goes blue.
I could see, I thought I could see, the haze of cornflower light over Lizard Tongue, the city that started as a wedding two hundred years ago and the party just never stopped. Stopwatch turned his big magenta head around and bit my hand—but softly. Hardly a bite at all. I looked down. The day the rest of it happened, the squirrels were particularly depraved. They all died anyway, and I got long scratches all up and down my arms for my trouble.
Half of them are rabid and the other half are lousy with regret.
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