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Imperfect Copy

A Novel by David Carroll


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Short Stories

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Imperfect Copy: Chapter 13

by David Carroll, 1994

Father and daughter looked across the table at each other. [S]olto had got some hot stew in an island of rice and fried potatoes and impossibly crisp vegetables into him, all washed down with imported wine, and it seemed he could still feel the heat and texture of the meal within him. [G]esemio had had a cold meat sandwich, almost out of courtesy, he thought, as lunch apparently hadn't been too long ago.

They were on a ground floor room in the local inn, not a very large room, mostly table and hard chairs, an almost-conference room. The fire had been built up at his request, and he quelled the urge to go stand at the blackened edge of the floorboards and warm himself properly. He slid the emptied plate aside, and cluttered the knife and fork, and looked up again to meet his daughter's eyes.

She had grown, changed, aged beyond the months since they'd last met. He supposed he had too, or looked it at least. But he also knew that despite his willingness, his eagerness, to be led to food and warmth, and flex his body to show off the exhaustion he now felt, he had changed less than may have been imagined. He was getting old, he thought, and felt every year on his shoulders, and more than anything wanted to be among the familiar surroundings of his plantation. But not to warm himself by the fire, or to lose himself in the old because he couldn't cope with the new. He wanted the command, the men under him, the strength of his stride as he walked through dappled avenues and shaded bowers that were his. The hundred problems that could and would occur, and the two hundred solutions he could muster to fight them. That hadn't changed, not now, not for a long time. He looked at his daughter, remembered them talking in another, larger, sparser, more luxurious room, talking and shouting about responsibility and plans and prospects for the future. He wondered how much she had really changed and, to break the silence, asked her the simplest question he could think of.

'Do you want to come home?' he said.

* * *

She showed him round the village. There wasn't a lot to see, and she didn't try to engage his enthusiasm too deeply, but she told him she liked it, and he nodded.

They managed to find [G]ako Mendelo, and they had a short talk about S-ro Senisto, whom the villages referred to as the Fair-Haired Man. [S]olto had heard the story from [G]esemio, and once again expressed no small surprise that the assassin had been killed. He had had somewhat of a reputation. He asked if there was some way to repay Malvarmo for damages rendered, and [G]ako smiled his normal smile, and said that was all ancient history. There wasn't much else to say after that, and the two men shook hands and parted company.

She introduced him to Elizabeto and showed him the little hut that she now shared. She could tell he wasn't overly happy with the accommodation, but he was polite enough, and he got on with her housemate famously. It was something she had already noticed, his way of getting on with people, but she looked back now and saw that of all the people he charmed, his associates and contacts in [C]inujo, his underlings, her mother, he had never quite charmed her. Not in the same way, not totally, and she thought she knew why. It was one of those strange moments when you realise that you may have been the product of your parent's coupling after all.

He stayed the afternoon at the hut and it was his turn to talk, about what was happening on the plantation, about her brother's promotion through the ranks of the local military, and the recent experiences of the friends she had left behind (or, she thought, what he knew of them). He also spoke about his more recent travels, dismissively almost, but not hiding the care he had taken in the search for his daughter.

In the evening they went back to the Hot Spot, and met Aso and Andreo and the regular crowd they hung around with. [S]olto said he couldn't stay for one of the first of the public performances that was coming up soon, and expressed a regret that perhaps only [G]esemio herself could tell wasn't completely genuine. She knew that he never had a great deal of time for the performing arts. He seemed to like Andreo though, which pleased her, and the two chattered for some time over their respective drinks. Senisto wasn't mentioned during the evening, which also pleased her.

And finally fatigue gave way, and he said he must go up to bed and [G]esemio followed him up.

'I don't think you need my approval,' he said to her once they had sat down in his allocated bedroom, 'but you have it. I, well, I'm not sure how long you will be satisfied with one little town, but this seems as good as any.'

Praise indeed, from him, and she laughed. 'Thank you,' she said and fell quiet.

'Is there anything...?' he said, with genuine concern in his voice, and it finally hurt her, after all that they had been through today, from the first shocking glimpse of his stooped form, this hurt her the most. Tomorrow would be the public goodbye, the offer of love to mother, the promise to write. But now...

I've done something stupid, she wanted to say. Oh daddy, I've done something I never thought I could have done, but I was so scared, can't you see, he was going to tell I was scared the man following me and I didn't know what to, what to do.

She had sneaked through the dark and put a hand up to Vil[c]jo Trasto's chest and when he had spoken she hit him, hit him twice, because he had tried to touch her, earlier, before Andreo found her and hid her, Vil[c]jo had tried to run his dirty hands over her chest and she wasn't going to let him try again.

It had made sense at the time, as she dragged his body towards the Fire (but she had waited, hadn't she, waited to she was sure the Hot Spot had emptied, and she couldn't now remember how long that wait had been). Perhaps it still did make sense, but it hurt.

Oh daddy, she wanted to say. I did it, and I even think I got away with it, and I don't know what to do.

But she didn't say anything, lowered her head to hide whatever expression was in her eyes, and then raised it and met his gaze.

'No,' she said. 'I will come back and see you one day, I can't say when. And Malvarmo is big enough for me at the moment. As for later...' She shrugged.

They leant towards each other, and he kissed her lightly, once on the forehead, once on each eyelid, once on the lips.

'Take care,' he said.

She nodded, and left him. Tomorrow he would start the ride back again, at a more leisurely pace than he had arrived. Tomorrow they would say goodbye, but that had really been their proper farewell.

Not quite knowing how that should make her feel, she went back home feeling both sad and oddly relieved. Elizabeto was still up, but she didn't disturb her, and went straight to bed.

* * *

Elizabeto was indeed still working.

She hadn't gone done to the Hot Spot, not for some time in fact, but after [G]esemio and [S]olto Tanio left she had retrieved a crudely shaped block of wood from beneath her bed and considered it thoughtfully.

It was coming on well. Perhaps she had already taken too much off the back legs, but she thought she could remedy that. With the thought of the fallen cow firmly in her mind, the lie of its head retaining the power felt in those moments of chaos, the sprawled legs showing only vulnerability and defeat, she had taken up a resharpened knife and resumed work.

It would be some time before she went to bed.

* * *

I was doing it for her, said Erico. I was doing it for the village. Too much had happened. Maybe you would have just taken her away, and we could have forgotten, but maybe not. I...

I had to do something.

Except he didn't say that, of course.

He thought of the darkness of his stable, trying to let the smell and the warmth overcome sensation, like he was a child again, and the room was bigger and older and exciting.

He thought of that little spark of expectation that had been planted in him, though it was always fleeting, never fully realised.

He thought of watching the pair by the River last week, Bereo and Evelino, two older kids he didn't know very well. It had been late, and he had slid flat through the longest grass, and had managed to get reasonably close -- but it had all looked slow and clumsy, and all he really saw was a flash of shadowed thigh and Bereo's bum bobbing up and down. And that was the image that remained, later that night and now, emptying sensations that he felt should trouble him more than they did. He had left the pair clumsily hitching their pants and dress, and maybe they just lay there, panting slightly, or maybe they separated and slinked home, and maybe they did it again, only properly this time.

He thought about that, and a lot of other things, even Sofeo la Sor[c]istino and half-dredged memories of inexplicable events.

All to try and stop thinking about his own backside.

[S]olto Tanio had caught up with him this morning, just before noon. The man was leaving the village now, going home to tend his bananas or whatever it was he did. And he tried to think about that, about how it was all over now, finally, and how good that was.

But Erico's father had turned away dismissively, and [S]olto had laid into Erico with a leather strap, across his unprotected buttocks as if to punish a child. Thirty lashes, and fully half of them, he believed, had spattered real blood. Try as he might, that was what he kept coming back to, as he lay face down in his dark stables. But the pain was temporary, he knew that at least, and when it had faded, that last thought would remain. Vil[c]jo Trasto, crying whores, sneaking girls, fires, young death -- the scary watchful disdainful frightening fair-haired man. It was over.

* * *

Ace fired a arrow fifty metres into an archery target. Not centred in the grasping nets, but not too far away.

'Bored,' she said.

Not moving her eyes she reached back to her quiver and an arrow swung up and slipped gracefully into position. She fired again, slightly improving the shot.

'Bored,' she said.

She fired four more times, two bulls-eyes among the set. 'Bored,' she said, after each shot.

'I think we can do something about that,' said the Doctor from behind her.

Ace didn't bother startling. She loaded and fired once more, and the bone-tipped arrow ripped through the nets like confetti.

She smiled.


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