The air hung stagnant over the cemetery. Oleander trilled in the silence while I graced lonely tombs with cosmos and begonias and forget-me-nots. Leonardo offered to pay me to create flower arrangements for the families who won’t visit their loved ones. A flock of ravens watched us soundlessly and I wondered if they were here to guide us away or if they were just murdered souls. I tossed them a white carnation of remembrance.
The low hanging clouds threatened to take us away, so I tucked the rest of the flowers into Oleander’s travel cage and went searching for normalcy. I found myself standing in the pawnshop with that tingling in my fingers that means I’m about to take something. It wasn’t the Graff, but there was bound to be something I wanted. Like the vivid, trilliant-cut padparadscha. The man behind the counter obviously didn't know its worth. I dropped Oleander’s cage, it unlatched and the dove flew immediately out of reach. After about ten seconds of trying to coax him down, the man went in search of a box we could use to capture him.
I slid open the glass case, tucked the pink gem into my sleeve, then held out my hands to Olander as if greeting the sun. He flew to me before the man could throw the box at him or whatever he was planning to with a damn box and a dove. I apologized, feigned embarrassment and rushed out into the streets.
I held the padparadscha up to the weak light of sunset, smiling widely. This is the most normal I’ve felt in days and a song began to play in my head. Lassen uns auf den Straßen nieder. I am back on the streets. Fires flickered all around, as if the falling stars from before finally landed. Holen uns unsere Straßen wieder. This is normal. I reached Dreamwood Terrace and bounded up six flights of stairs, careful not to jostle Oleander as he chirped happily. Petals fell from his cage and danced around my feet with each step I took. Tätowieren uns ein Tier, das zu uns passt - I unlocked the door and froze as still as the air outside.
A storm was brewing.
One of the floor paintings hadn’t dried and she’d smudged it. The woman from the apartment off the lobby stood paralyzed on a stepladder in the act of drilling cameras into my wall. The knife was in my hand before I had the chance to think. I pounced, tackled her off the stepladder, and pressed the cool blade against her throat, “Bengalische Tiger.”
Oleander squawked as I interrogated her, “Who sent you? Vladan or Interpol? How long you have been watching me? How Vladan is plotting seek revenge for my poisoning him? What Interpol has on us? Who are you? Why you not answer me?” But I’m afraid my tongue slipped in and out of the English.
She looked scared, but mostly perplexed and maybe a little amused. I stopped raving and examined her more closely. Not a gangster. Not government. Just an ordinary American.
How does one say, “Sorry for trying to kill you, I just overreacted?”
I didn’t have to apologize, for a bucket spontaneously combusted, giving me an excuse to fall back. Once I was up, staring into the magnificent flames, I realized I had no idea what to do. Fire is not one of the things my father had a protocol for.
“Oh honey, never crumple up your paint rags.” The woman said “oh honey” in that way that means “you dumb shit.” “And next to the space heater and everything,” she shook her head at me and I smiled sheepishly.
I still don’t trust her, but something about her screams, “I’m lonely!” even though she’s surrounded by people. Her cameras are an unrefined version of my careful observation. As she put out the fire, I asked what she used her intel for and if she would help me keep watch for any Slav who passed through. Before she left, I gifted her a sprig of lavender (distrust), rhododendron (beware), and a pink carnation (gratitude).