Jaymi wanders along the railing past the kidney-shaped pool behind the house on Jupiter Drive. He reaches the well-swept but seldom-used flight of ten steps leading down off this terrace to the precipitous slope beneath. He descends the flight, sits on the eighth step and places his feet down on the tenth one, with the ends of his bare toes at the lowest rind of manicured civilisation before that other realm begins—the original realm of untamed earth and scrub, steep and scratchy, where the savage scraping of hidden bugs emanates from spiny clumps of grass, evidencing an alien but atavistically familiar world of mandibled murder, kept at bay by artificial means.
His phone rings. “Hallo?” he answers, gazing down at that circle of hairy-trunked palm trees with the long-ago bonfire traces in the clearing at their centre.
“Jaymi, this is Kim. I’m sure you’re super-busy, so I’ll keep this quick. I just wanted to say that I’ve found myself becoming quite attracted, in a platonic way of course, to a certain quality in Ashley. A quality that I can only describe as a certain blonde seriousness.”
“Oh Jeez,” says Jaymi, resting his head in his hand. He may have to think fast here, to stop something going off the rails. This Beast has clearly become a loose cannon. (Is incarnation making the Beasts too independent?)
“No, hear me out,” says Kim. “I’m a serious-minded blond myself, as you’ll know from creating me, so it was natural for me to give her a call and go round to visit her at the Century Park East apartment. In fact, I’m there now—”
“Oh Jeez. This is all we need. Kim, please. It’ll only make for unforeseen complications. Not to mention loose variables.”
“OK, I’ll hand over to her. Here she comes.”
Jaymi closes his eyes and listens to the muffled sound of the phone being passed from hand to hand, while the farcical idea occurs to him that Kim may, just conceivably, be all alone and on the point of doing a high-camp vocal impersonation of Ms Tweke…
A helpless, hysterical hoot of mirth threatens to force its way up through Jaymi’s body and burst out, but is swiftly defused by the intimation of a headache behind his left eye.
“Hi Jaymi, this is Ashley,” says a tightly-wound female voice into his ear.
He decides this is not Kim, but the genuine article herself. “Ashley. Well well well. Yes indeed. So, er, how are things?”
“Right. Nor me. OK then. Well, are you free to come to my place on Electra Drive tomorrow evening, after dinner time, for drinks?”
“Yes I’d love to, thanks. One question: can Kim come too?”
Jaymi laughs out loud. “Yes, of course. He’s welcome to come over. He is, after all, the embodiment of my own blond seriousness of mind, despite my not even being blond. In fact, what am I saying—Kim even lives there on Electra Drive, with Shigem and Evelyn in the guest wing, so he’ll already be around when you arrive! Though I am careful to allow the three of them their privacy, so I don’t tend to go knocking on the guest wing door to visit them.”
“Oh, what an absurdly exciting-but-cosy arrangement that sounds like!” bubbles Ashley, emitting a high-strung, frisky giggle down the phone line.
“Well, yeah. You know, we all muddle through,” says Jaymi, then without warning he becomes aware that he’s blushing, just as Shigem and he so prominently blushed throughout their teens, almost every time another person stared at them—but this time he’s alone, at the bottom of this furthest flight of steps down and out into the untamed canyon, sitting by himself while his cheeks burn hot and bright and pink beyond control.
“OK then, see you tomorrow night,” says Ashley.
“Great. Let’s say half-past eight. Give me a call from outside the gates, and I’ll let you in.” He terminates the call, then punches the air in triumphal satisfaction, proclaiming aloud to himself, “Yay! Two Dreary Ones converted—two to go. Ace!”
Subsiding from this vocal bravado, he puts the phone away. His gaze melts into the distant haze of the city. He raises both hands to his face, and with the lightest of pressure he lays his fingers against both his cheeks, barely touching the skin … and through all eight fingertips, he can feel the relentless lifelong throb of Shigem’s teenage vulnerability, pressing pink and warm and shy, just beneath the surface.
For more about "The Beasts of Electra Drive" by Rohan Quine, see
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