The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 7
The story so far: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6
There are moments in men's lives - and women's too, no doubt - when all that has gone before is called into question and the habits and opinions of a lifetime crumble under the devastating impact of some new and transcendent insight. It may happen at night on a dusty road between the city one has purged of a troublesome new sect and the next city on your clean up list; it may happen in the depths of a south-east asian jungle, when one is shot with a metaphorical diamond that blows away all your pretensions to civilised standards; it may happen the morning you drain half a litre of sulphuric acid from your baldder and most of it misses the bowl; and it may happen when you are standing in the kitchen of a couple of friends, clutching a cheap "Paw of Renown" from Y'ha-nthlei in one hand, while the other rifles through kitchen drawers searching for that toasting fork you enchanted in a protracted fit of pique and gave away as a wedding present. These moments are called epiphanies. They are rarely pleasant.
Petro's epiphany, if such it was, was a slow grinding one. First, there was the realisation that the monkey-corpse light of the Y'ha-nthleian "Paw of Renown" was hopelessly inadequate compared to the full on corpse-light of a well-crafted Hand of Glory. The light from the birthday cake candles tied between the dead monkey's fingers, and the magical concealment it was supposed to provide, weren't going to last much longer. He still had the rest of Claudio and Cossima's house to search. After what he had seen so far, he wasn't enjoying that prospect. If only he'd taken up the six for the price of five offer when he had bought the paw. At least the house was empty so he might be able to risk turning on a few lights. After the blending of their families, it seemed unlikely that Claudio and Cossima had anything in the way of a spare room where they could stack away unwanted gifts - where then would the toasting fork be, if not in the kitchen? Under the house? In a stack of boxes on a couple of planks laid over the rafters in the roof space? One of those self-storage warehouses?
One after another, the errors and follies that had brought him to this last, most desperate folly of all, ground away at his spirits, wearing him down to the realisation my life is totally, completely and just about irredeemably fucked. Maybe I should check the bathroom cabinet for some St John's Wort. With so many kids in the house they're bound to keep in a good supply. Maybe I should have taken that phone call from Ruby instead of letting it slip through to the answering machine. Maybe I should get the hell out of here. Call Ruby when I get home. Find out if she's up for a visitor. Wonder what she's up to tonight. What do civil celebrants do on week nights?
There was no avoiding it - the most recent letter from the seventeenth junior clerk in the office of the King's Chancellor and Chief Busybody was quite clear. For bureaucratese, that is. "Celebrants are reminded that under the laws of the kingdom, marriage is the union of a man and a woman, forsaking all others. This office considers it inappropriate for licenced celebrants to place themselves in situations where they may be seen to be offering either active or passive endorsement to unions which do not conform to the legal definition of marriage. In the light of numerous complaints this office has received on this issue we will have no alternative but to review the licences of celebrants who are reported to have endorsed such unions."
This wasn't aimed at her personally, she assured herself. The fact that the letter had arrived today had nothing to do with the fact that she was invited to celebrate Jadwiga and Jennifer's not-a-marriage-just-a-life-long-commitment on Saturday night. All the same she had no choice but to call Jadwiga - her oldest friend - and tell her she had to cancel. Jadwiga wasn't going to take it well.
"Hello, Jennifer speaking."
"Hi Jen, it's Ruby. Is Jadwiga home?"
"Hi, Rube. You're sounding upbeat as ever. How do you manage that?"
"It's an enchanted princess thing." Ruby said. She had lost count of the number of times she'd had this exchange with Jennifer. "Could I speak to her please?"
"Oh, secret princess business, is it?" Repetition hadn't quite worn the edge of resentful commoner sarcasm off Jennifer's pronunciation off that phrase, "Sure, I'll get her for you."
Ruby heard footsteps then, at a remove from the other telephone, Jennifer said "It's Rube, for you. Wants to talk about princessy stuff again." Jadwiga responded with something indistinct, in a complaining tone. Which, thought Ruby, was typical when you thought about it. Jadwiga had missed out on the whole enchantment thing - lucky cow - so she had no idea what a drag it really was. Ruby doubted that the whole thing with Jennifer would have had a chance to happen if Jadwiga had pricked her finger on a spindle or had any of the other unfortunate accidents that routinely befell princesses and left them dependent on finding - or being found by - a handsome prince if they were to have any chance of a half-way normal life.
"Hi, Ruby. What's up."
Ruby came straight to the point. Despite her best efforts, the vibrancy in her voice could not be completely suppressed. "Bad news, Jadwiga" she said, trying to hold the gush down to a trickle, "I don't think I can make it Saturday."
"I can hear just how much that saddens you, Ruby dear."
"I would, if I could Jadz. You know that."
"Oh bollocks, Rube. You're barely trying to hide how bloody happy you are to be off the hook."
The conversation didn't improve. By it's end Ruby was fairly sure that she and Jadwiga were no longer friends. At least they wouldn't be until Jadwiga apologised for that crack about her vibrant voice being a childish affectation, like a lisp, and all she needed to sort it out was a few hours with a competent speech therapist.
In the end, getting out struck Petro as best idea. He closed up the kitchen drawers and cupboards. In the last dim glow of the Paw's monkey-corpse light he made his way to the front door. As he stepped into the hallway he heard footsteps on the front porch, followed by the scrape of a key entering a lock.