Judy Blue Eyes slipped out of my apartment around dawn. Normally I sleep slightly heavier than a hibernating grizzly, particularly on weekends when The Marquis knows the alarm isn’t set, and especially particularly when I’ve been up late and/or drinking the night before. But the click of the latch woke me up, and I decided as long as I was awake I might as well take a leak so I wouldn’t have to get up again before noon. While I was up, I spent another minute swallowing a couple of aspirins and brushing the taste of overindulgence out of my mouth. Then I dove back in bed, dedicating this fine Saturday morning to the noble endeavor of sleeping in.
The trouble was, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I should have been exhausted by a late night of scotch, champagne, dope, and sexual excess. But I simply felt too great to waste the morning in the rack. So I gave up, laced my hands behind my head, and watched the streaks of light and shadows playing on the wall while I smugly evaluated my sexual performance the night before. Which led to reminiscing about my oratory prowess as well.
Then I spotted the cup, abandoned on the bedside table. My attention diverted, I picked it up to continue the examination that Judy Blue Eyes had interrupted with her grand entrance. There was one swallow of lukewarm champagne left in the bottom, which I drank rather than getting back up to pour out.
This time, however, instead of a seductive lingerie show, it was a voice that interrupted my reverie. A husky, sort of disembodied voice right behind me. “I’m so glad you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for hours to talk to you.”
I jumped high enough to scare the ceiling, then sat up and looked around without seeing who the hell had said that.
“It’s been so long since I had anyone to talk to, and I certainly didn’t want to risk disturbing your eloquent ardor last night. I really have a lot of catching up to do.”
The sudden blast of adrenalin chased the last of the cobwebs out of my cranial command center and left Major Marquis firmly in control. He categorized the situation a full-fledged emergency, declared martial law, and called out the National Guard. Non-military traffic was kicked off the synapse switchboard, allowing Intelligence to report in with the provisional evaluation that someone had been stalking us last night, then slipped into the apartment this morning after Judy Blue Eyes let herself out. Probably not a friendly, since friendlies didn’t normally act that way. So an enemy. To sum it all up, there was now a demented maniac in here with me, talking nonsense to me as calmly as if we were old friends meeting in our favorite bar. An escaped convict, judging by his remark about having a lot of catching up to do. Even worse, most likely an axe murderer escaped from serving a life sentence, and the catching up that he had to do was hacking me into roasts and steaks.
I eased my legs off the bed and reached for my jeans. I mean, it might be a stupid priority, but a man feels so helpless and vulnerable when he’s all hanging out. Despite my sense of urgency to cover up, however, I moved very slowly, not wanting to make any sudden moves and maybe upset whoever this was that might be hiding behind the door, watching me through the crack, holding his axe or maybe even a gun and licking his lips.
“Now, there’s no reason for those crazy thoughts. I promise I have no interest in harming you, much less chopping you to pieces. I just want to have a nice chat.”
Now I know, yes, it’s definitely a psychopath. Worse, a psychopath with ESP. He wouldn’t be talking in these calm, measured tones after having just broken in if he were just a thief, and besides, he wouldn’t be looking for riches in my apartment unless he was a really stupid thief. Maybe it was somebody from my history tutorial who had finally cracked up from the stress and come looking for me as a symbol of the university’s repression. Shit, maybe The Vulture had hired her cousin to come over and hack me into cat food to pay me back for what Jimbo Bond and I had done to her house (would that make it The Day of the Condor? ).
The Vulture. Jimbo Bond. Jimbo Bond’s gun. Thought associations raced through my uncluttered mental exchanges and I realized that I still had Jimbo Bond’s gun. I’d tossed it in the drawer of the bedside table—which was right there on the opposite side of the bed from where I had my legs.
“You’re getting way too emotional about this, hon. You need to calm down before you hurt yourself.”
Hon? That did it. Dropping the cup and scooping up my pants in one smooth motion that would have made James Bond proud (the original, not his distant and less urbane cousin Jimbo), I dove and rolled over the bed. Unlike James Bond ever did, however, I landed ungracefully in the space between the bed and the wall, simultaneously bashing my head on the baseboard and my knuckles against the bedside table. Fortunately, The Marquis was too hopped up on adrenalin to react to mere pain, and despite the blow actually managed to grab the drawer pull and snatch the drawer out, dumping books of matches, nail clippers, condoms, a candle stub, an old bill or two, and whatnot down around my head. Along with the gun.
I hardly cared. Even if my pulse was racing and my mouth was dry as the dust bunnies settling back down, I had the gun. The maniac with the calm voice wasn’t going to take me without a fight.
The minuscule part of my brain that The Marquis wasn’t in control of at the moment noted how ludicrous the thing looked in my hand with a silencer almost as long as the gun itself sticking out from its nose. After a moment’s thought I unscrewed the suppressor—if I got to the point where I actually had to shoot the damned thing, I wanted the neighborhood to know about it. Then I took a moment to pull my pants on before I snapped the safety off with a loud click and chambered a round.
So far, so good. Now, where was he? I suddenly realized that I had no idea which direction he had been speaking from. Since the head of my bed was up against a wall, he couldn’t have been behind me, as I had first thought. When you really got down to it, I didn’t even know if he was in the next room or outside the window. Under interrogation by The Marquis, my anxious imagination remembered that his voice had sounded sort of disembodied. Pondering on that little tactical problem like the good ROTC cadet that I had never been, I decided that I needed to get him to speak one more time to pin down his hiding place.
“I’ve got a gun!” I shouted bravely. “You better get out of here.”
He hadn’t seemed a bit hesitant about talking before, but this time I got no answer. Hell, maybe the threat of my popgun had made him run away. Unfortunately, if he was still there but had decided to clam up, I still didn’t know where he was. My imagination offered the suggestion that if he had been in the room I would have known it from the location of the sound, even in my confusion, so he must in be another room.
I slowly stood up, holding the gun in front of me with both hands like all good agents do in the movies. When no bullets came flying my way, I moved slowly toward the door.
Thinking back on that brief interlude in my life, the first time I’d held a weapon in my hand with the willingness to use it on another human being, I am amazed that I actually got up off the floor and went hunting for the lunatic in my apartment. I mean, when you’re a kid you always imagine all kinds of scenes where you courageously save the day from bad people with guns while everyone around you is terrorized into inactivity. But those are kid fantasies, just like the ones featuring exotic Asian women with long fingernails and trained vaginal musculature. Adults are supposed to grow out of those fantasies. In fact, you might very well define adulthood as the stage where your doubts about your own immortality are well-defined enough that you would never do something foolish around a person with a gun except as a last resort. People who don’t recognize their own mortality are the scary ones, the Doberman Pinchers of the human species. And most Congressional Medals of Honor are awarded posthumously.
But I had to apologize to Jimbo Bond for some of the ridicule I’d heaped on him. Despite how screwed up his vision of the world was, he’d stumbled onto a great truth: you are a different person with a gun in your hand. It might not actually make your penis larger or cause buxom babes to swoon at your feet, but damned if this peashooter I was holding wasn’t allowing me to do the dumbest things without my knees even knocking. Shit, I found The Marquis actually hoping that the demented intruder would jump out from behind the couch (holding a knife, of course—it didn’t make either of us stupid enough to wish that my apartment would magically turn into the OK Corral) so I could plug him and be a hero and rid the earth of his ass and most important of all, get my revenge for his breaking into my castle and scaring the shit out of me and reminding me all too vividly of my own transience.
Anyway, I began searching the apartment—the big places at first, then closets and the shower and finally ridiculous places like way back inside the cupboards. No intruder.
In the absence of additional stimulation, the adrenalin was starting to leave the party, draining back out of my blood stream to conserve itself in case of a real emergency. For the first time, other emotions began to compete with the will to survive. Frustration, for one. Anger, for another.
“Where the fuck are you?” I screamed. Stupidly I ran over and slammed open the front door—exposing myself to anyone out there with a gun or an axe—and looked around. Nothing. Same thing out my back window.
Could this whole thing have been a hallucination? I wondered, doubting my senses for the first time. A quasi-dream flashback from the dope the night before? I walked back over to the bed and sat down, automatically picking up the cup from where I had dropped it.
“Boys and their toys. Are you finished playing cowboy yet?” he taunted me again. “Can we talk now?”
The bed. I hadn’t checked under the bed. I resisted the temptation to jump up and fire a few rounds down through the mattress, instead quietly lying on the floor with the gun out in front of me and suddenly throwing back the covers. Nothing there, either.
Without warning, The Marquis abdicated and I was back in charge. Without him egging me on, the situation didn’t seem as dangerous as waving a gun around was, so I snapped the safety back on before I hurt myself and laid the pistol on the bedside table. Then I sat down on the bed, laced my fingers around the stem of the goblet, placed my hands in my lap, and sat with head bowed, meekly waiting for the axe. “OK, you win. Let’s talk.”
“Much better, dear. I was afraid you were going to shoot me. I don’t know if it would have damaged me or not, but I wasn’t really eager to take the chance.”
“I know this might seem like a lot to ask, whoever you are, but would you mind terribly coming out where I can see you? I’ve put the gun down, and I’m not going to hurt you.” My state of mind at this point can only be described as blown. I didn’t have any idea what was going on, but I had submitted to the point of actually going along with it.
“Why, you’re looking at me right now.”
Understanding finally crept into my brain despite the adrenalin and the excess testosterone generated by the gun as well as all of the stupefying factors that I had woken up with. There was no intruder. I was sitting on my own bed in my own apartment having a conversation with a beat-up old cup.
Let me stop a moment to raise my right hand and solemnly swear, at that point of my life, I simply did not believe in metaphysical things. I respected The Boomer a lot, more than anyone in the whole world with the possible exception of my Dad, and I had nothing but admiration for his mental prowess. But I believed his fascination with ghosts to be an aberration in an otherwise brilliant, consistent, logical mind. My skepticism had grown steadily from about the time that I quit believing in Santa Claus until it had gotten to the point that if you can’t measure it, don’t present it to me as a working hypothesis.
Sure, I recognized that there might be things out there we can’t measure yet, but I regarded that as the adolescence of science rather than justification of the metaphysical. I might have tolerated a discussion of ESP because they do measure it in a way, with those funny cards with five suits rather than with a Clairvoyance-O-Meter; but I was pretty dubious about even those fringes of scientific exploration.
About as close as I came to a religious philosophy was a general, loosely-formed belief in a cosmic sense of humor. I know that things such as the duck-billed platypus or how ridiculous humans look when they are mating are all just accidents of evolution, the random scatter that balance out the grace of the ocelot and the miracle of the bat’s radar. But sometimes they seem so deliberate that it’s hard not to see humor as a major guiding principle in the design of the universe. Sort of a force, like gravity, that you can tell is there but don’t know anything about. Take humanity, for example, considered by most religions to be God’s greatest creation. Just to warm up, let’s give us all appendices and wisdom teeth. Then give the male half of the species a hard penis and an irrepressible sex drive, give the female half all of the best places to stick it. And then make male and female brains alien and incompatible. If that doesn’t demonstrate cosmic buffoonery, I don’t know what does.
So anyway, when faced with fairly unavoidable evidence that a cup was talking to me, I was speechless. Totally dumbfounded.
“Let me tell you a few things about myself as a sort of introduction. First, I was born on Atlantis.”
Atlantis. The Boomer was fascinated with Atlantis, too. The Boomer. Suddenly the whole thing became clear. ‘Boys and their toys,’ my ass—I was looking at the second generation of The Boomer’s Barbie Doll.
“Boomer, you dickhead!” I shouted. I mean, I should have been furious at the sorry son of a bitch. He had scared me shitless, gotten me to parade around my own apartment waving a pistol, and made serious inroads into my self image. But you’ll have to admit, it was a pretty good stunt. And who could be mad at The Boomer? He has a real knack for practical jokes that push the envelope of safety and good taste, but they’re never really harmful.
“Now, don’t get all manly on me, dear. Just stay calm and leave the pistol alone,” the cup responded.
Then it hit me. This wasn’t an overnight installation. The Boomer must have had the goblet in his possession for some time. Just how long has he known? Did he let me spend a whole week in agony for the sake of this joke? Was it possible my good buddy The Boomer had let Jimbo Bond and me shoot up The Vulture’s Lair while having the cup the whole time but not letting me know so the joke wouldn’t be spoiled? Is that why he had cancelled my debts: because he’d set me up? Now I was a little angry, and getting madder by the minute.
“OK, the joke’s over. Come on in here and tell me how long you’ve made me suffer. Come make me believe that you didn’t even know Judy Blue Eyes had the cup when I risked my future by committing felony burglary for the sake of your demented sense of humor.”
“My creator was not The Boomer, as you have mistakenly decided, but rather an extraordinarily talented, remarkably amoral psio-artisan named Razuni.”
I held the goblet up to my mouth like a microphone and started singing to the tune of Hendrix’s Hey, Joe, “Hey, Brad, where’re you going with that gun in your hand, dum dum dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum. I’m gonna shoot my best buddy, you know I caught him messin’ with my head, and you gotta understand, dum dum dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum.”
“Bradley Schuster, will you relax! I’m not The Boomer. Why don’t we sit down and try a nice simple conversation together. Make a cup of tea, maybe.”
“Shut up!” I screamed right into the cup as loudly as I could, hoping to blow his machine out or at least rupture his eardrums. Someone started pounding on the wall and yelling in the apartment next door.
“Dear boy, you’ve got to get a grip. I sincerely hope that we’re going to spend a lot of time together, but you’re starting this relationship off on a really bad note.”
“Boomer, if you don’t stop this charade right now and come in here, you can kiss your electronic goodies goodbye. I’m not kidding anymore. I’ve had it.”
“Look, I can prove it.”
I grabbed my pillow and wrapped it around the goblet. Wailing “Hey Joe” (the real words, not the ones I was singing before) at the top of my lungs so I didn’t have to hear any more of his bullshit, I carried the cup straight into the bathroom, ignoring any protestations of innocence that might be filtering through the pillow and my high-volume singing, and dumped it ceremoniously in the toilet. Then I closed the lid, put the pillow on top, went back into the bedroom, scooped up all of the covers, and piled them on top of the toilet as well. After another verse I quit singing and listened, but I didn’t hear anything except my rapid breathing and the pounding of my heart.
I didn’t fish it out right away. First I put my sneakers on, then went outside and took a walk around the area. Checked the parking lot, the laundry room, every place I could think of. No sign of The Boomer; he’d obviously driven off after I damaged his eardrums or when I dunked his gadgetry. I went back inside, made a cup of instant coffee—I didn’t even own any tea!—and drank half of it. No phone call, no knock, no nothing. I even picked up the roach from the night before and sniffed it, but put it back in the ash tray, not really in the mood.
Finally I rescued my suitably subdued cup from the toilet bowl and took it back to the kitchen table. Examining it closely, I expected to find a plug in the bottom that I’d missed, but couldn’t see any sign to show how The Boomer had stuck his apparatus inside. I thought that maybe the whole thing unscrewed at the two bands in the stem, but twisting as hard as could didn’t seem to loosen it any. I rapped it on the table and shook it, but couldn’t hear anything rattle inside.
Boomer, how the hell did you do this? My anger began to cool a tiny bit as I admired the expert job that he’d done. One of the legacies from my father is an appreciation for fine craftsmanship. I’ve seen him take more time sanding a drawer front than I would have been willing to spend making the whole damned cabinet. The extra care and effort necessary for true artistry is something I’ve never been capable of, but I admire it nonetheless. And The Boomer had really gone out of his way for this stunt. Or possibly he’d spent the extra effort because he understood just how strongly I had been drawn to the cup and didn’t want to mar it.
Then I got a little chill as the first seed of doubt slowly crept under the door. Suppose this hadn’t been The Boomer?
“That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you,” came the voice, right on cue.
Perhaps deep down inside I hadn’t believed The Boomer to be capable of putting me through the pain and—let’s face it—danger that I had experienced. The stunt was too good to be true, even larger than life like The Boomer is. And besides, the voice didn’t sound a bit like his, once I calmed down enough to think about it: a husky alto, nothing like his booming bass. Maybe whatever it was that I was dealing with—pixie or poltergeist, divine being or the onset of dementia—had planted the seed of belief (rather than the seed of doubt referenced above) that fatal day in Erma’s, and it had been lying there sleeping peacefully, waiting to be watered by eau de toilet water before germinating. Now a mere two weeks later the seed had sprouted, grown tall, blossomed, and produced a crop of wheat that when harvested and processed could easily provide bread for the population of Bangladesh.
“Here’s an easy test. Think of a number.”
What do you do when asked to think of a number? You think of a number, right? Without conscious thought, six came to mind.
“Six, but that was too easy. Think of a tough one like Avogadro’s number or the square root of minus three.”
OK, I wasn’t completely buying this yet, but I was definitely in the bidding. The cup had managed to get my undivided attention and shut me up, as it had apparently been trying unsuccessfully to do since I had woken up. I conjured up -3. 69369.
“What an imaginative number. Such balance, coupled with such perfect asymmetry. Have you considered becoming an artist? Your number is minus three and sixty-nine hundredths, three-hundred and sixty nine hundred thousandths.”
“How did you do that?”
“By telepathy, of course. As long as you’re holding me, I can communicate directly with your thoughts, so knowing what you’re thinking isn’t really that tough. Also, if you’ll notice, there isn’t actually any sound when I’m talking. You can talk to me that way as well, but most beginners have a hard time not speaking out loud. Don’t worry, it’ll come.”
Well, you know me. Taking even less on faith than normal, which at the best of times isn’t much of anything, I put on my headphones and cranked up the stereo. “OK, say something brilliant now.”
“Will you settle for the most useful piece of philosophy to come out of your culture? Buy low, sell high.”
I heard the words loud and clear over the scream of the guitars. I thought of another number: the cube root of 467. 85.
“I’m sorry, but you don’t know the cube root of 467. 85.”
I heard that answer distinctly, if not clearly. But it was getting to be a little tough to concentrate over the background noise, so I took the headphones off and sat back down. What had started off as a fairly innocuous if somewhat smug and self-satisfied Sunday morning had become one of the defining moments of my life, right up there with getting laid the first time. How often do your entire systems of beliefs come face to face with irrefutable evidence that they’re wrong? I mean, this was much more dramatic than catching your dad putting toys under the Christmas tree or even discovering that he and your mom still have sex. I was an adult, sort of, and I had a lot invested in these beliefs. An investment that was suddenly as worthless as an armload of stock certificates the afternoon of the Wall Street crash of ’29.
Doubts were replaced by tentative belief that was quickly replaced by doubts of a different sort. I mean, what is a spirit? I kept seeing the little girl in The Exorcist turning her head all the way around and saying in that gravelly voice, “Your mother sucks cocks in hell.” Was this thing a refugee from an exorcism who had patiently hung around since the Inquisition, waiting for me to come along? Could it be friendly? Could I get away if I wanted to? Was it somehow permanently tied to the cup, and if so could I get rid of it if I got rid of the cup?
I played it casual while my mind is racing. “OK, say I believe you. You’re some kind of spirit that somehow got stuck in a wine goblet, sort of a genie in a modern day Aladdin’s lamp, and you’re here to grant me three wishes. So now what?”
“I’m not a spirit stuck in the goblet. I am the goblet. Sorry, I can’t grant wishes. And to answer your unspoken question, you can get rid of me by just throwing me out or giving me to Judy Blue Eyes or whatever. All I ask—no, recommend would be a better word—is that you don’t do anything rash that you’ll regret later until you know more about me.”
OK, so you can’t hide your devious thoughts from a mind reader. Might turn out to be a real problem, but when you’re draining the alligator-infested swamp of unbelievable facts and amazing stories that my life had suddenly become, you don’t sweat a snapping turtle.
Meanwhile, Brad old boy, just go with it. If a spaceship full of extraterrestrials landed in front of you and offered to show you their ship, would you waste time asking if you needed a passport and should you pack a lunch? Let’s go see the ship.
“OK, first question. How come you’re talking to me this morning but didn’t say a word that day in Erma’s. Why the change of heart?”
“Actually, the explanation is quite simple. I am sentient for only a certain amount of time after I have held wine, and capable of telepathy for an even shorter time. Then I start to lose consciousness and gradually I’m completely unaware of everything. I have only the vaguest memory of you finding me in Erma’s. By the way, thanks for the fine wine; I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I had such an excellent vintage.”
“So how do you know about Erma’s at all?”
“Two ways. The first is because of a fortuitous accident that I’ll tell you about later; the details aren’t important. But when you’re holding me I also know much of what you know. However, that way of knowing is the same as knowing who the third President of the United States was or when the Battle of Hastings was fought, like the learned facts that you tediously instill in your History 101 tutorial students. My own memories are rich in color and texture; memories that I get second hand from you are just facts, no matter how deeply you experienced them. Incidentally, that’s why I don’t know the cube root of 467. 85. You don’t know it, nor is it a fact that I have stored up from any of my previous associations.”
“So if you’re not a spirit, what exactly are you? Are you a biological creature? Were talking cups a common species on Atlantis? Were your parents and grandparents also talking cups? You know, I’m having a hard time with this.”
“I understand, but believe me: acceptance will come easily with a little time. To answer your questions, though: first, I don’t talk, I telepath. Uttering a single word is as impossible for me as flying would be for you. Second, I am not a creature as you understand the term. I was created, not born. And third, as far as I know, I am the only telepathic cup in existence, not only from Atlantis but from anywhere. Razuni certainly never created another one.”
“So exactly what is the mechanism for your telepathy, then?”
There was a long period of silence. It was like all of a sudden the conversation ended. Had her dose of wine run out and she wouldn’t be able to speak until I gave her another drink? Here was a real dilemma: if that was the explanation, was I going to give her more? Although as soon as I formed that thought I knew I was kidding myself. There was no way that I would leave a mystery like this alone. I would get to the bottom of it, even if I had to stuff everything that I believed in a big black garbage bag, put it out for the garbage truck along with all my earthly possessions, shave my head, don orange robes, and chant my mantra, “Ohwa tagoo Siam.”
I also noted that, in framing the questions, I had begun to think of the cup as ‘her’ rather than ‘him’ or ‘it.’ Perhaps responding to some combination of the voice and my subconscious reaction to being called ‘hon’ and ‘dear.’
“Hold on a minute, I’m searching for a word.”
When I realized where she was searching, I became a tiny bit vexed that she was finding my mind to be a less-than-adequate thesaurus.
Finally she answered. “As far as I can tell, you have no word in your language for the concept. And it’s tough to explain something without any words to start with, like describing snow to the Ubangi tribesmen. The closest word that I can find, although it isn’t really a very good description, is ‘Magic.’
“Bullshit,” I replied with the only comment that seemed both pithy and appropriate.
“Not an unexpected response, I assure you. You 20th century humans are dubious of anything that defies your understanding of science. If you don’t like the word, how about ‘psionics.’ It doesn’t mean anything, of course, but it sounds Greek and therefore scientific and thus more believable. Expressed either way, it’s still a force that you don’t understand. It’s power. Power that I have and therefore power that you have, whether you understand it or not.”
“So now that you are mine to command, and knowing that you don’t grant wishes, what does this magic do for me? Besides allowing me to carry on a conversation with you without moving my lips.”
“Well, when you can make suggestions to people, they will usually do their very best to carry out.”
You’re probably believing this. After all, it’s in a book, and strange and wonderful things happen in books all the time. But I was living it, and the night before with Judy Blue Eyes was about as strange and wonderful as it ever got. Even so, had I had a chance to think about it a little, to assimilate the evidence for this assault on my canons and creeds gradually, I might have bought it—considering how unlikely the alternative explanations were. But that last bit was just too much to take in a hung-over Sunday morning avalanche. Instead of acting rationally I reacted emotionally, something I did more often than I’d like to admit (still do on occasion).
So I picked up the goblet, shook it, and held it right in front of my face, a captive audience for my loud monologue. “Well, here’s what I think. You’re some sort of wraith trapped in a beat-up old cup. The spirit of a witch sacrificed by her coven, maybe. Probably caught your blood in the cup, that’s why you’re stuck there.”
In retrospect, it is easy to see that what I was doing was damage control. Even admitting the possibility that spirits existed was a Girl Scout Thin Mint compared with the brontosaurus-sized crow I was going to have to eat if I bought what the cup was selling. As I warmed to the task of convincing myself, I got louder. “I think you have just enough life remaining to communicate, and the only joy left to you is harassing those unlucky enough to own you. I think this story about magic and Atlantis is something you’ve developed over the years to string your owner along so that he doesn’t pitch you on the trash heap once and for all.” I was practically yelling now. “Well, I’m not buying a bit of it. If you want to stay around, you better take your best shot and possess me or something, because I’m going to get a hack saw and set you free.”
The Marquis heard the front door open and tried to warn me, but my conscious mind was busy and didn’t heed him until it was too late. All of a sudden someone touched my shoulder and I turned to discover Judy Blue Eyes with a look of worried concern, sort of like your dog’s face when you’re holding him over the bathtub.
“Judy Blue Eyes. Um, hi,” I said, still too loudly.
“Brad, what on earth are you doing?”
“Well, I, uh. . .” The Marquis very neatly stepped in at this point, as he often does when stress or emergency gives him an opening. “I was dramatizing Louis XIV.V’s address to his army during the battle of Austerloo. I found a partial text that seemed to indicate what a motivational speaker he was and was experimenting reading it out loud.”
I was astonished to see her eyes actually mist a little. “Well, that was one of the most inspirational speeches that I ever heard. He must have been a truly great man to have delivered such an oration.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just stopped by to pick up a few things I left in your bathroom this morning.” She turned a little shy, or at least coy. “For some reason, my head was a touch addled.”
She kissed me on the cheek a little absent-mindedly and went back to the bathroom, leaving me standing with my mouth open. I look the cup squarely in the eye, or at least approximately where her eyes would have been if she’d had eyes, but she didn’t say anything.
“Did you have anything to do with that?” I whispered.
Silence. Except for maybe the faintest smug whisper, “I told you so.”
Judy Blue Eyes came waltzing back through. “Well, lover, let me get out of your hair so you can get back to your research. If the excitement in your voice is any indication, you’ve made a stunning breakthrough.”
She kissed me, on the lips this time but just a peck, and left, waving shyly. For a long minute I didn’t say a word. Then I sat down at my old electric typewriter and fished out a stack of paper.
“Go slow, now,” I told the cup as I threaded a sheet into the rollers. “I want to make sure that I get it all down, and I’m not a very speedy typist.”