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16 July 2008 @ 11:44 pm
Fic: The Backs Of Their Heads 2/2  


The woman who had greeted us when we first came in walked over to our table as the other woman, with the baby, stood up.  "Would you like me to make you up a bottle?"


"Thank you, but I think I'll walk with her a bit as well."   


The two of them left together.


"You shouldn't be disrespectful of Gods," the bearded man told the cowboy after a slight pause.


"I ain't disrespectful," he said.  "I'm just sceptical, is all."  He raised his tankard to his mouth and lowered it again with a frown.  "Empty.  Well, I'll need a refill and then some if I'm to start believin' the tales told around these parts."  Then he left too, heading for the bar.


"There's truth somewhere in all stories," said Luna dreamily.  "How awfully narrow-minded of him to think otherwise."


"Men of the sea know better," said the bearded man, now our only table companion.  He sighed.  "I've sailed, as man and boy, and heard more tales than I don't know what, but if I don't believe all of them it's not that I don't believe any of them or any of all of them."


Luna nodded and started combing out her windswept hair with her fingers. 


"Why, this one time I was aboard the Greenwitch and we'd docked in Liverpool - lovely docks they have in Liverpool and some mighty fine public houses.  I met a fellow with an Irish accent and a full head of hair who bought me a pint and we got to talking.


Now this man knew a man back home in his old country who had a cousin whose village had a man with a hump on his back.  It weighed him down so that he was forced to walk bent double and he walked with a kind of limp, all weighted to one side and out of balance.  He was a kind man, by all accounts, but awful sick from the weight of this hump.  His mother, bless her soul, took him to some doctors, but the men in white coats couldn't heal him nor help him, yet she never stopped looking for something that might.


There came a rumour of some little folk, the fair ones, who'd been singing on a road to town and she took her son and left him on the bridge by this place one summer's night, her last hope being maybe them that as never help but bargain might take pity on him, since she had no other hope.


The moon rose and the stars came out and these little voices start singing, a beautiful tune that brought tears to the eyes of the man with a hump.  He listened and he listened carefully and after some hours of this he thought that maybe there was a pause in the song where he might add but one note and make it even more beautiful than it already was.  He opened his mouth, took a deep breath and sang out as and when he meant to, and all those fey voices went quiet.


'Who dares to interrupt our song?' they cried out and the man with a hump confessed that it were he, but they were so delighted with his addition to their tune that he need not have feared his confession.  They took him down with them beneath the bridge to their summer palace where they bid him cast off his hump and dance with them to this new tune of theirs.  He stood up and found that he could do as they said, and he danced until the sun came up.  He danced and he danced, and when they morning came they left him clothed as a rich man with pockets full of gold and a smile upon his face.


His mother was mighty pleased and she told all she met of how her son had gained his health, aye, and his wealth too.


Now, word came to a lesser man of a larger village who also had a hump – things in Ireland being such as was they were back then, I reckon – and he thought to stay at this bridge himself for a night.  To lose his hump and gain such riches for the price of a song seemed more than fair to him.


The moon came up and the fair ones started their singing with their new song.  Not one time through did this humped man hear it before he opened his mouth and let loose a note of his own.


'Who dares to interrupt our song?' they cried out and the man with a hump took no time in declaring that it were he, but he had spoilt their tune and they were far from pleased.   When the sun rose up the next morning there was the humped man on the bridge, but not one hump did he have but two – his own and the hump of the man before atop of that.  They say his health suffered and he didn't live long after.


Men ought not to anger the Gods, or eldritch-type beings either."


The sailor nodded at Luna and she nodded back, and I felt like I'd missed something.


The inn sounded noisier now that I'd stopped listening to a story and when I turned around to look I couldn't help but notice that there were even more people in the inn then than there had been when we had arrived.  I wondered where they had all come from, and not just because there were so many of them.


One table had a bunch of mice wearing little green robes sat on top of it, one of them with a sword strapped to its back, but when I looked again they were as big as human beings and sat on benches at either side of it.  In a large armchair sat a huge polar bear wearing armour talking to a raven perched on a curtain rail.  A skeleton was juggling small fireballs for the entertainment of young, maybe four-years-old, triplets, who were looking less than entertained, and behind him (or her or it) was a woman with blue skin and scales knitting a very ugly scarf.


The inn worker with the sari returned bringing a tall glass of milk with ice cubes floating in it for Luna and another firewhisky for me.  She also brought more people, who settled themselves around our table on a few chairs someone conjured up. 


A skinny man with dirty red robes and a battered pointy hat that declared him to be a 'wizzard' sat down next to the bearded man and the inn worker sat down next to him with a tired sigh.  The cowboy had come back, his tankard refilled.  There was also a muscular man that invited us to call him 'the Shang Bear', a fat man with a velvet top hat and a little girl, who had green tea in a white china cup with blue flowers painted in a pattern around the rim and on the handle. 


I wondered if she was drinking tea because she was too young for alcohol, didn't like alcohol, or was against alcohol, or because it was morning and time for drinks like tea and I just hadn't noticed.  She caught me staring and stuck her tongue out at me.


"And what people of interest have you met on your travels, Captain?" the inn worker asked the cowboy.


He smiled, without showing any teeth.  "I don't rightly know about 'interest', but I do know a man who spent six weeks on a moon where people juggled baby geese for entertainment."


"The man in the moon came down too soon," sang the girl under her breath.


"That's your story?" said the sailor doubtfully.  "People who juggle geese on a moon?"


"The only stories I have are war stories," said the Cowboy Captain, "and they're not for company," he added, glancing at Luna and the girl, and then fixed his eyes on his drink.


It was quiet for a minute and I tried not to think about war.


Luna had three ice cubes on the table top and was moving them around and around each other, one at a time, with the tips of the fingers of her right hand, leaving wet swirls shining on the wood.  "Do you think the storm will be over soon?"


"It isn't a storm, as such," said the inn worker, a little snappishly, like it was something she'd had to say a lot recently and she was tired of repeating it.  "It's a reality storm.  Something big has happened and this is the result."


"Butterflies and their bloody wings," the wizzard said miserably.  I wanted to ask him if he knew that he'd spelt 'wizard' wrong or if where he came from that was what they were called, but I didn't.


"Cause and effect, yes, but a much bigger cause than that I'm afraid."  She glared at the Shang Bear when he opened his mouth.  "No, I don't know what that cause is and I don't know when the storm will end.  Whilst we're waiting," she said, turning to address the wizzard, "perhaps you might grace us with the next tale."


He stared at our host as if she was mad and then his eyes flickered around the rest of us before fixing themselves firmly on the tabletop.  "I had a dream about potatoes once," he said.  "I liked that dream."


It was quiet again whilst we all paused to see if he was going to say anything else, but he was finished. 


The inn woman turned to me.  "And you?  What's your story?"


I thought about telling them something about the war, but that didn’t seem right, like it wasn't really my story.  I mean, I might have been a member of Dumbledore's Army, but I hadn't even gone to school that year, just lived rough, got caught and ended up being this wandless kid grateful to some almost-strangers for letting me stay in their house.  I hadn't had anything to do with the big things or anything that really mattered.


Besides, in that place there wasn't any war; nothing but stories.


"Do you know what football is?" I said instead. 


Luna folded her arms on the table and leaned forward to rest her head on them, watching me and hardly blinking.


"It’s a game," said the man in the top hat.


I nodded, opened my mouth and explained about football.  I told them about the matches I used to go to with my dad and my brothers.  I told them about our youngest sister and how annoyed she got that she couldn't come with us because she was a girl, so we told her it was because she was too little, only then she grew up and we had to let her come.  (We couldn't let her know we'd lied.)  I told them how she was an even bigger fan than me and about the time she lost her red bobble hat when she threw it up in the air after a win.


It wasn't a proper story, with a real beginning and a definite end, and it wasn't even a very interesting one, but they all listened until I ran out of words and nobody said that Quidditch was better.


"I went to Sweden with my dad, but I don't think I lost any hats," said Luna.  "In fact, I don't think we lost anything at all.  We didn't find what we were looking for either, but we found other things.  Not hats."


"You have to have your hat," muttered the wizzard and the man in the top hat nodded his agreement.


"Look!" the girl said abruptly.  She flung her arm out, pointing at a commotion by the windows along one side of the room, and knocked her cup over.  Luckily it was empty, but the delicate china broke into pieces.  "Sorry," she said.  "Sorry, but you have to look at that!"


The Shang Bear stood up to see what was going on and the girl stood up on top of her chair to get a better view.  Then she jumped down and both of them made their way over to the crowd gathering in front of the windows.  The others followed, Luna skipping cheerfully and the wizzard bringing up the rear with a worried expression, as if he didn't want to be left behind, even when everyone else was only on the other side of the room.


"Did someone say the storm was over?" a voice shouted.  "Is that what it is?"


"Up where?" said another.


I stayed sat at the table watching them all, my head filled with bobble hats and goals.


(That's what I do.  I watch.  I'm an artist.  I watch the world and then I try to make an image of it so that people can see the world the way I see it.)


The chatter, questions and exclamations died down quickly and then there was this awed kind of quiet; breathing and the soft sound of some people crying.


I just stayed sitting.


It sounds stupid, that I just sat there when everyone else was looking at something that must have been terribly great – or greatly terrible, but something they couldn't tear their eyes away from at any rate – but instead of joining the crowd staring out the window I just sat there staring at the back of the crowd itself.


I could see all kinds of hair colours, natural and not, but then there was fur, feathers, horns, spikes, tentacles, scales and textures I had no name for.  The collected skin tones covered every colour of the spectrum.  The clothing coloured every era and style and then some, besides the people who were naked.  I don't know if animals and skeletons and the other, well, things there counted as people, but I could the backs of them too. 


I'd thought that I hadn't seen anything so bizarrely magical as the storm clouds rolling in before the storm that had brought us to the inn, but this was certainly far more bizarre.


I could have been dreaming.  (Maybe I was.)


I stayed sitting there until Luna came back to the table, on her own, her face grave.  "People have to mourn the old before they accept the new," she said.  "Apparently people who aren't people are the same."


I nodded, although I didn't understand why she'd said that.  (I guess it was enough that I think I understand what she meant.  I don't think anyone will ever know all the 'whys' of Luna.)


"Anyway," she said.  "It's finished now.  The storm's over."


The inn was emptying and it seemed to shrink as people left, but not unless you thought about it hard and that gave me a headache.  I finished off the last of my firewhisky, left the empty glass on the table and joined the queue for the door.  Luna followed me.


People were putting on coats, adjusting hats, pulling gloves out of pockets, wrapping scarves tighter and generally preparing themselves for the outdoors as the queue moved steadily forwards.  I wondered if the blue, scaled woman had finished the scarf I'd seen her knitting so that she could wear it on her way home.  She'd been naked except for the scales though, so perhaps she didn't feel the cold.


"I didn't get to tell a story," Luna said, sadly, but then she put her hand on my arm and smiled.  "It was lovely hearing all of those other stories though, and yours too."


"Thanks," I told her.


We walked out of the inn and into April drizzle.


The wind was blowing from the sea towards us, making the air taste like salt, and there was a small pile of damp driftwood in the grass at my feet that I picked up to take back to the cottage.


"Do you think it's warmer?"  Luna held her arms outstretched, palms up, and tilted her head back with her eyes closed.  "People generally ask if it's colder when they go back outside after being in the warm, but I think that if you ask if it's warmer instead then sometimes you actually do feel warmer outside than you did before, even if it isn't."


"It's not raining as hard," I said and Luna beamed at me.


She chatted all the way back to the cottage, still gathering driftwood, and she was talking about Crumple-Horned Snorkaks again when we walked in through the back door, which apparently have "tiny little ears, a bit like a hippo's, Daddy says, only purple and hairy.  And if you want to call them, you have to hum; they prefer a waltz, nothing too fast…"


I tried to be interested, but with wood digging in my ribs, cold wet clothes sticking to my skin and the muddy bottoms of my jeans slapping my ankles as I walked all I could be was uncomfortable. 


Then Harry walked past and I felt even worse.  Being in a kitchen with Harry Potter during a war after nearly being caught and killed was unbelievable, but that was my reality.  This was as strange as my life could get.  Everything else, then, including strange inns and freak storms, couldn't be real.


I was almost convinced that it had to have been some sort of a dream, or a hallucination brought on by stress or something, and the 'almost' was because I knew that if I asked Luna about it she'd tell me differently.


So I didn't ask.  I'm not a chatty person anyway, so she probably doesn't think that it's strange that we've never talked about it.  But then what is 'strange', especially to Luna?


Hannah slides a firewhisky towards me across the wooden surface of the Leaky's bar, worn smooth with time, and I reach out a hand to pull it closer to me and stare at the amber.  It's dimmer than the colour of the whisky served at the opening of my latest exhibition last week.  Stronger too, but then I'd needed my wits about me for all those questions, and most of them about that one painting.


'Why did you only show the backs of their heads?  What are they looking at?  What does it mean?'


I'm a paid artist these days, famous almost, and even Hannah Abbot has seen my work.


So there you go, I tell her, finally answering.  I know some critics have said that I was 'giving social commentary' in a painting, but really it was just something I saw that I can't get out of my head: the backs of people staring at something I couldn't see, and didn't really want to see, with different hair and skin tones and clothes and all, but no faces.  Not looking at me.


I don't talk about when I saw it.  And, you know, it's probably not even real.


Back To Part One
feeling: relaxedrelaxed
ceirdwenfcceirdwenfc on July 17th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this, but I can't explain why, which is probably appropriate. I do love that it's from Dean's POV, and that he views everything as an artist. Thanks.
inkvoices: PL:carrying booksinkvoices on July 17th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
Ha, yes, the lack of 'whys'. *grins* I'm glad you liked it!

(Have you read any of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, or anything by Gaiman at all? *advertises lol*)
ceirdwenfcceirdwenfc on July 17th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
I've read his blog (which is extremely humorous) and he did a card for Waterstone's (the same place JKR did her prequel) that was fantastic. My husband's a big Sandman fan, though.
inkvoices: girl readinginkvoices on July 17th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
I've read a few of his blog posts, but I haven't read his waterstone's card yet - I want to though! I read his books before I read Sandman, and I only finished Sandman recently. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are two authors where I'll read anything they write. :o)