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Mercury

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“But this pie,” Myka said with her mouth full.

“Has rendered you ill-mannered and inarticulate,” Helena said. “Interesting.”

“And here I thought demolishing cars was gonna be the entertainment,” Pete added.

They all had to work hard to be heard over the soundtrack provided by the derby: the roar of engines, the sharp bang and crunch of metal colliding with metal at speed, the shouts of extremely invested spectators. Myka had been paying some attention to it before she embarked on this trip to pastry-girded key-lime paradise. She hadn’t had any idea that bliss was in fact a combination of citrus and… whatever other things it was combined with, here in this very-nearly-literal slice-of-heaven pie, but Pete was right: this had been a really educational trip.

Ida said, “This is closer to what I’d call a show.”

“Here in Wisconsin?” Pete asked.

“Anywhere. Is she always like this about pie?”

“I’ve only known her five years,” Pete said, “but I think it’s safe to go with ‘never in her life has she been like this about pie.’ Or maybe anything.”

“Well,” Helena began.

“Don’t say it,” Pete advised.

Ida temporized, “She doesn’t need to. Everyone understands innuendo. And subtext.”

Myka didn’t care, not even a little—not about the kind of show she was putting on, not about how innuendo-y and subtext-y Helena was getting with regard to what Myka might find heavenly in other contexts—as long as nobody took this miracle of a pie away.

She certainly hadn’t expected this to be the outcome when she, Helena, and Pete had taken the lengthy walk—thankfully, in their normal configuration, with Myka reclaiming her “run interference” slot between Helena and Pete—to the site of the demolition derby, some distance away from the fairgrounds proper, accompanied by what had seemed like an additional fair’s worth of people. Were these things really so popular? Maybe Pete was right, maybe “the IRS” should sponsor one in Univille. For purposes of general sociability, because for all Myka didn’t like the place, she did still care what its denizens thought of her, and if—

“Bet these’re cow pastures in real life,” Pete had said, interrupting her speculation. That prompted Myka to start taking careful note of where she was placing her feet during that long walk along not a path as such, but rather through grass that had been marked at irregular intervals with spray-painted arrows.

“You’re so prissy,” Pete said.

Myka shrugged that off. “Maybe. But cows. Or rabbits. Nobody with sense in their head want to walk in anything they leave behind.”

Helena said, to Pete, “Are you as unnerved by bovines as you are by lagomorphs?”

As a dig, it seemed mild, even polite, but Pete reacted as if she’d reached across Myka and slapped him. “Leave me alone! I’m not scared of anything unless it’s freakishly huge!”

They were passing the cars’ inspection area: the same spray paint had been applied to a piece of plywood, leaning against a fence enclosing those cars, to spell “INSP AREA.” It could have meant “inspiration area,” Myka supposed, but people with clipboards had seemed to be inspecting rather than inspiring, or being inspired… she tried to think of another word that began with “insp.” Nothing came to her.

“Size-wise,” she told Pete, “the bumpers on that Sable over there must be giving you nightmares already.”

Pete looked where she’d indicated. He did a cartoon double-take. “Are those even legal? I think I just found my horse.”

“I like the Pinto next to it,” Myka said.

He scoffed, “Nobody likes a Pinto.”

“The ponies enjoyed a brief vogue when I was a girl,” Helena mused, as if to herself. “Would that the car were painted like those…it’s a shame that a pinto—and, in fact, a sable—shouldn’t resemble their namesake animals in some way.”

Myka said, “I guess we can call my Pinto a Palomino, then. The color’s why I like it.”

“That’s not a good reason,” Pete said. “Not for a demo derby.”

“It’s a great reason. Look.” Myka pointed toward a corral ringed with bleachers. “There’s a lot of mud over there, where I assume they’ll do the demolishing, right?”

Pete nodded. “Mud slows ’em down. Safer, plus it’s a better show. Upset it’s gonna be such a messy show, Miss Prissy?”

“My point is, the Pinto’s yellow, so I’ll be able to keep track of it through the muck, while it does its demo-ing. Or gets demo-ed. As I watch it happen, because I’ve got a horse—almost literally—too. Do you want me interested or not?”

He glanced at the Pinto, then looked back at Myka. “Not sure,” he said, like he thought she was trying to trick him.

“You wanted us here so bad you won it,” she reminded him.

“Mostly wanted to make you suffer.”

“Then I think your win is more of a ‘win,’ because I refuse to suffer,” Myka told him. “Not about this.”

She was holding Helena’s hand. She had been, for the entire walk, “because I didn’t get to on the Ferris wheel,” she’d said when she first reached for the contact, her voiced reason in response to Helena’s questioning did-you-not-recently-express-objection-to-public-displays eyebrow, and it was true as far as it went. But what had compelled Myka to make the small display, really, was that she’d needed something, and this was simple. Uncomplicated. Something to bank against whatever was going to happen later, in the hotel room. Which she was, she had to admit to herself, doing some pre-suffering about. Because she didn’t know.

Helena declared, as if to assure Myka that she too felt both the simplicity and the need for it,  “I’m not suffering either. Not about this.”

She gripped Myka’s hand tighter. It did feel good. Myka echoed the pressure, and one corner of Helena’s mouth curved up.

Pete rolled his eyes. “You two are gonna wish so hard that Myka won that duck bet.”

“It was a bet that concerned ducks?” Helena asked.

Myka grimaced. “I’ll tell you later.”

“I wonder,” Helena said, jauntily, “whether the poultry competition might include a Rouen or two.”

“I’m gonna regret this, but: okay. That’s a…?” Pete prompted.

“Giant mallard,” Helena said, with even greater cheer. Pete groaned, and Myka found herself wanting to kiss Helena: for being clever, but also as yet another instance of that bankable, uncomplicated touch. She almost said that out loud—“I want to kiss you,” simple, like that—but she understood that if she did, she’d have to deal with Pete about it. Because of ducks.

“Well, I don’t see any of your probably-made-up freak-ducks around,” Pete said. He added a taunt of, “I do see the two of you practically sittin’ in a tree, though.”

“Mature,” Myka said.

“Water off a Rouen’s back!” Helena announced.

Her insouciance made Myka again want contact, like a kiss, but more than that—but still simple. Basic. The most basic.

Pete must have seen and read that thought as it crossed Myka’s mind, crossed her face, for he said, “Jesus, Mykes, just jump her and get it over with. Get yourselves behind the bleachers and take care of business.”

Nobody had taken care of any behind-the-bleachers business, of course, but Myka had kept on holding Helena’s hand, even as they sat on the uncomfortable aluminum of those bleachers and listened to engines rev in preparation for entering the corral. Pete had taken it upon himself to explain the derby’s rules to Helena: “…and they all go in and they have to hit another car every minute, or maybe it’s every two, but anyway if your engine bonks out you get a little while to try to restart it but if you can’t you’re out, and they break that piece of wood by your window to show that you…”

Myka listened with one ear, but mostly she concentrated on not finding a reason to loosen her clasp. The interlacing of their fingers had moved from “this feels good” to Helena’s barely fleshed bones pressing too solid against Myka’s, giving rise to an uncomfortable ache… but that ache was no reason to let go; rather, it was a reminder not to. Bodies, real ones, felt pain. So Myka sat on aluminum, listening to engines rev, not letting go. Banking it.

She’d been banking it, still, when Ida arrived, asking, “How did we ever live without the ability to text?” (Pete had said, as they sat down, that he would text Ida to join them, “because maybe she’s done with judgy-judge-judge and can bring us some leftovers.”) She’d looked at Myka and Helena—specifically, looked at their joined hands. “Well,” she said. “Another distraction?”

“Maybe,” Myka acknowledged. From something freakishly huge…

“How are you?” Ida asked Helena. “Did it go well, your summit?”

Helena smiled at the word. “As well as such a thing could. I suppose one might call the outcome détente,” she said. Myka, too, had smiled a little at “summit,” but as for “détente”… well, there was a lot to be said for that in the relations between several of her nearest and dearest. But she wasn’t sure how she felt about the idea of any relaxing of tensions between Helena and Emily Lake’s girlfriend. “It’s been a very strange two days,” Helena went on to say.

“That isn’t news to me,” Ida said, which prompted in Myka another Amen, sister. Ida added, “But I’ve got something that will make everything better.”

“Fruit spreads?” Pete asked, with great hope. He pointed at the small hamper she held. “That looks like something.”

Ida nodded. “Something. But better than fruit spreads.” From the hamper, she produced—with a “ta-da!”—the key lime pie. Pete gave a gasp that Myka judged both overdramatic and unwarranted; it was just a pie, albeit one that nearly matched her Pinto for color; if she’d thrown it at the car, no one would have noticed the spatter, not that she was in the habit of throwing pies at cars.

This pie hadn’t been thrown at anything, but it did look a little the worse for having traveled in close quarters: not show quality anymore. Given the crumbled edges of its crust and slightly dented surface, it might have been any pie at all. Ida then handed out plastic forks and paper plates, and if anyone near them in the stands around the fenced patch of mud recognized the picnic as larcenous, they kept it to themselves.

Pete took his fork up with his usual enthusiasm, dug in, took a bite, then closed his eyes. “This pie is freaking awesome. In an ‘I could literally die now’ way.”

“I told you, you literally can’t beat it,” Ida said.

While Myka had respected that particular “literally” when Ida said it yesterday, she wasn’t sure she believed it today in any kind of existential sense. Hence her astonishment when she found her own first bite to be… was “rapturous” outsize, as a word or an idea, to apply to the experience of eating pie? It didn’t matter what word she used, though; she wielded her fork with even more gusto than Pete, and she felt a niggling worry that this was, for her, unseemly, yet the combination of the unprecedented pie and the certainty that it was nutritious was irresistible. The mouthfeel alone was enough to knock her out—unctuous, yet with a sharp slash of lime-presence tanging on the tongue… she’d noticed Helena ignoring her own serving so as to watch Myka. “What?” Myka had asked. “It’s good for me.”

“I am prepared to offer to any and all attending deities,” Helena had said, amusement animating her face, “my prayer that your recently espoused belief does not wear off.”

I’m prepared to livestream it so everybody on the planet can testify later that it happened,” Pete had enthused. “Also so Claud’s head explodes when she sees it.”

And so it was that the only words Myka had managed to come up with in her own defense, “But this pie,” had caused everyone to express even more opinions in the matter.

Fortunately, however, they let her keep eating. “I feel like I’m somebody else, how much I’m enjoying this,” she now said, not bothering to pause before scooping up another forkful.

“Interesting,” Helena said again, and her tone told Myka that something was waiting to be interrogated there… but she was extremely unwilling to turn her attention away from the pie.

Meanwhile, the cars destroyed each other. None of it mattered to pie-intoxicated Myka, except the Pinto, a little, because she could in fact keep track of it in the muck. It was surprisingly agile, “her” Pinto. Or Palomino. And if the derby had engaged only her eyes, that would have been fine, but exhaust and mud and the crowd’s sweaty enthusiasm hung heavy in the air, congesting her nose and clogging her lungs; she resented that it interfered with her experience of the pie. Its rich citrus viscosity on her tongue was similarly condensed, but far more pleasurable… but wait, she thought, thickness… a dictionary-page memory… “fr. L in- + spissus slow, dense”: “Inspissate!” she exclaimed.

Pete and Ida both said “What?” and Myka looked up from her plate, ready to explain about “insp” and areas—but her neon pony caught her eye at just the right, or wrong, instant for her to witness its driver’s failure to recognize a danger for what it was: it received in that moment a dramatic T-boning from a seemingly unthreatening even-more-compact car. Myka yelped and upended her plate, which landed face down on the aluminum at her feet. It had held one last bit of inspissated key lime and… whatever else it was combined with, a last bit that she’d told herself she wanted to savor, but that she’d in all honesty been about to shovel into her mouth with abandon. She made a decision that was really no decision: she lifted the plate, scraped the spattered filling up with her fork, and willed herself not to think about dirt.

“Not one word,” she said, her mouth again full, to Pete and Helena. “Not one word out of either of you.”

Neither said anything. Myka chose to ignore their thunderstruck expressions, because she still had that precious morsel of pie in her mouth.

“Good choices,” Myka told them once she’d swallowed. She licked her fork. She took note of Helena’s expression as it shifted from shock to avid appreciation of her licking her fork.

TBC