17. Isolation Suits Me

Inglorion watches as Tereus mixes the second batch of sangria with the deft touch and manifest enjoyment of a musician improvising. He whisks in the honey, tastes it, cocking his head thoughtfully, then gives a brisk nod. He pours in the final half-bottle of seltzer water.

Just as he’s about to refill their glasses, he stops suddenly. “I can’t believe I forgot! Are you sworn to the Bringer of Light?”

“Among other things, yes.”

“Then we should pour out a libation for him.”

“Do what?”

“It’s an ancient practice. Roman, perhaps even Greek. It was considered quite the thing among classicists on the Continent, at least where I went to school. I don’t know that it ever became common in Liamelia, but anyone in my command was forced to observe the tradition.” As he says this, he measures out a half-glass, and gestures for Inglorion to follow him outside. The rain has settled into a steady downpour. “We could just do it off the edge of the porch, I suppose,” says Tereus, peering out with catlike distaste. “The point is just to wet the earth with it.”

“Oh, here. Give me that,” says Inglorion. He snatches the glass away, clatters down the steps and into ankle-deep mud, where he stands in his bare feet. He’s quickly drenched: untidy queue, shirt and pants, face and bare chest. He lifts the glass high and pours it out slowly, intoning, “To the eternal glory of the Bringer of Light.” He looks up at Tereus, who’s still standing on the porch. “Anything else?”

“Nope, that’s good. Get in here! You’ll catch your death, and I don’t have any dry clothes that will fit you,” he scolds.

He forces Inglorion to get out of his wet clothes, towel off, and put on one of his shirts. Inglorion frowns down at the tails, which are so long on him that they provide more coverage than his shorts did. “I don’t think of myself as tiny until I’m confronted with objective proof,” he says sadly.

“You are tiny,” says Tereus flatly.

“I’m small, but I’m fast and mean, and I can kick your ass.”

“Oh, probably,” says Tereus. “I don’t kick ass. I have people who do that for me.” He’s ladling out two more glasses of sangria. They settle in, sated from a good meal. Inglorion closes his eyes for a moment, feels the ebb and flow of the storm — the occasional crack of thunder, cold rain hissing and slapping against the windows. It was almost painfully stimulating to stand in the rain; he’s warm now, and relaxed, and ready to be perfectly idle.

In his mind’s eye Inglorion sees them reclining there like two lions, absorbed in sensual pleasure. He asks, “Do you ever worry about intruders? Lucius warns me about gangs coming up from Sonora, breaking into pharmacies and liquor stores.”

“I don’t. People stockpile weapons and ammunition because it’s pleasurable to imagine that one’s day-to-day troubles will be resolved in a grand battle. In fact, life here consists of planting and weeding and mulching and barter.

“Did I tell you what this place was like when I found it?” Inglorion shakes his head. “It was practically a stockade. There were man-traps all around the perimeter made of rebar and barbed wire. There were solar panels and batteries installed for one purpose: Running a surveillance system. Lights, cameras, alarms. The shed out back was outfitted as a panic room. It was eerie. For awhile I thought that the people who lived here must have known something — that I should keep it and add to it, get a stash of weapons, start making biofuel.

“You know what happened? I got the turntable and speakers.” He gestures to the far side of the room. “They hog electricity. I play an album per night, a bit more on special days. I couldn’t have both. The batteries and panels won’t last forever, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. So I ripped out all the surveillance gear and the man-traps, and everything else.” He smiles over at Inglorion. “I spent a lifetime trying to get into an enemy’s head, planning moves and counter-moves. Fuck that. I’m done with that shit. I’m done.”

He checks his glass, sees that it’s empty. Inglorion’s a little closer to the punch bowl, so he refills both their glasses with exaggerated, frowning focus. Tereus asks him, “You don’t worry about it?”

“I think of it in terms of risk and mitigation. We have weapons. The house is defensible. We’re two young men, with no real valuables stockpiled.” As he says this, he realizes that Tereus has quite a bit stockpiled: Food, tools, tobacco. “Will you play me a record? I’ve never heard one.”

They spend the next several hours singing along with the various records in Tereus’s collection. They linger over Johnny Cash, and a recording of the Hallelujah Chorus. Tereus’s voice is as beautiful as Inglorion remembers: Pure, unforced, soaring. He’s well-trained, and has exceptional range, singing up to mezzo-soprano without strain. More than anything, though, he commits to the music, singing with charm, pathos and delicacy, and entirely without reserve or self-consciousness.

Towards the very end of the evening, when dawn is just an hour away, Tereus asks, “What do you miss most from your old life?”

“My wife,” Inglorion replies without hesitation. “She was everything to me, my salvation. It’s a bitter, bitter loss. At first, Lucius seemed to think that he could bring her here, that we could somehow…. He’s given to wishful thinking.” He’s silent for a moment, then shakes his head, dismissing the thought, and asks, “What do you miss?”

“I don’t miss anything. I’m happy here.” He’s sees Inglorion’s wondering look. “It’s true, you know. I broke everything I touched. Isolation suits me.”

They’re both almost too tired to keep their eyes open. “I’m going to bed,” says Tereus. “You’ll stay, of course.”

“Well, I’m certainly not leaving,” Inglorion says. He looks very small and chilled curled up on the couch.

Because Inglorion is drowsy and a bit drunk, Tereus brings him a pillow and a quilt, then tucks him in and leaves a glass of water on the coffee table, warning him to finish it and drink another. “Though I don’t think you’ll wake with a hangover, it can’t hurt.”

Tereus turns out the oil lamp. The house falls dark except for the vague nimbus of Tereus’s body heat, the flicker of a candle in the next room.

Inglorion’s perceptions are blurred by drink and exhaustion. Almost without intending it, he says softly, “Bonne nuit, mon pére,” then waits, vibrating with anxiety and shame.

Bonne nuit, mon fils,” Tereus replies. His voice sounds amused and tender. Inglorion is certain of this, and will remember it.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

 

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