The bullet hail had been falling for forty-eight hours. The wine was nearly gone. Esmé took clandestine nips from the small bottle of brandy Tyson had slipped into her coat pocket after the party a few nights ago. She didn’t want to share the brandy with Paige, who tended toward gluttony when it came to mood alterations. And anyway, Paige had plenty of state-sanctioned and medically approved assistance with which to maintain any illusion she wished during this storm. (The storm was supposed to be the most severe bullet hailstorm the world had ever known, not that that’s saying much, since they’d only been occurring for a decade, since 2050.)
Esmé knew that silly hour was quickly approaching, the time during a siege by Mother Nature when hostages became loopy, contracted cabin fever, grew restless. Silly hour was when truths got approached, when secrets say to themselves, “Fuck it,” when those who never sing out loud decide to give ol’ Bruce Springsteen a try, or Gloria Gaynor, or Janis Joplin. In certain company, silly hour can precede fight time or crying session.
But hopefully not for Esmé, as her and her housemate Paige still had some distractions in stock: the aforementioned wine and brandy, and also some terrible beer Paige’s cousin had distilled too-long ago, before Florida had gone soft.
Paige slow-wiggled a snake dance above a completed jigsaw puzzle, sang terribly, sang to drown out the hail that sounded like pebbles raining on tin drums, then opened her eyes and yelled, “Fashion!”
“Yes! Long live fashion!” Esmé responded with a fist in the air, then a trot back to her bedroom. She flung herself into the task of putting on a fashion show for Paige of her favorite new rags that she recently scored on an ill-advised trip upstate to Beacon’s military drilling grounds (ill-advised because she was in search of her younger brother who had just turned twenty-one, even though he himself advised her to forget him, as he had a past to avenge, counties and companies to defend, an ego to supersize, a myth to restore). She didn’t find her brother. Her information about him training to be part of the guard had been old. He was all-trained now, all systems go to be dispatched for the protection of power’s existence, and maybe was even in her general vicinity discharging orderly havoc. That was the tip she picked up from the party, a tip that brought a false relief.
But! The journey upstate wasn’t a complete wash, because across the Hudson, in the crumbling mansions of Newburgh’s riverbed, of all places, had been some abandoned closets of pretty spectacular clothing.
Esmé pulled out a dress from the mass on the floor, a red ankle-length number that had beading hang from the cuffs like a lamp in an old-timey brothel. She catwalked out to show Paige, who clapped with glee. Esmé outstretched her arms and shimmied her wrists, the beads doing the twist, and she imagined the glass sounded like a dance hall or speakeasy, but couldn’t say for sure over the hail. Paige continued to demonstrate appreciation through gestures and facial expression. Esmé went back to her room and rummaged through an as-yet-undisturbed pile of wardrobe and pulled out a jumpsuit, a catsuit really, and squeezed herself into it. She draped herself in a crocheted poncho decorated with hot-pink daisies and primary-green leaves.
Esmé strolled out for the entertainment of Paige, whose eyes were closed even though she was standing, like a sleepwalker who forgot to walk. “Attention!” Esmé yelled, and Paige’s eyes opened and focused. “Do not sleep during my procession of fabled garments! Do not ignore my parade of greedy fabric!” Esmé posed like a waitress holding a full tray of meat loaf and tomato soup and stiffly turned like a mannequin, then walked and worked it. Paige smiled, glassy-eyed now, and more than usual. She slurred, “Where did you get all the new clothes?”
Esmé stood normal. For her this meant: defiant, petulant. “From the fallen!”
Paige said, “It’s wrong to take from the dead.”
“Everyone does it. You do it.”
“But what if we’re cursed now?”
That didn’t make any sense, but sense wasn’t what Paige was seeking. Esmé said, “It’s
better than violence.”
Paige laughed and twirled. Esmé figured she must have flicked a synapse in Paige’s
brain that caused her to remember an old joke. “I have more,” Esmé declared.
Back in her room, amid her piles, she pulled out what she had taken from a convent, a white habit with a black veil. Esmé had previously gone to town on the uniform during an insomniac dream state, and it twinkled from the gold rhinestones she had sewn through the piping and the seams, along with a McQueen-style skull on the back of the veil. She whistled her own runway music and stomped out of her room, hands on hips, eyes daring Paige, “Are you ready for this?”
Alas, Paige was not. Paige was folding on the couch now, fading into prescribed oblivion. Esmé tucked a blanket around her and Paige nodded. When the nod got too violent, Paige opened her eyes wide, smiled at Esmé as if saying, “I was here all along,” and then nodded again, and finally slept, her head weighing down her back so she was doubled over her knees. Esmé had found Paige sleeping in this position a few times before. It was each time alarming.
Esmé went back to her room, stripped out of her habit and draped on nightgowns of the silkiest silk, layering and layering. When she couldn’t comfortably put on any more nightgowns, she hung them over the boarded up windows, then draped scarves over that. She sunk down into another pile and yelled out. The hail was torture. Esmé wondered, What is the sky trying to get out of me? What intelligence could I possibly provide? She put on headphones and listened to music that was the heaviest she knew, five guitars, countless pedals. She sipped some more brandy. It was measurably diminishing now, like the face of the man who had given it to her. This made her sob, once. She lay on her back, rocked her head. She tapped her fingers on her chest, exhausted against the need to see the storm through. Her right foot waved to the drums. Finally she fell asleep, dreamt of nothing.
When Esmé woke she took out her earplugs. The storm was lessening, trickling, only sniper fire now. She folded satin blouses, cotton blazers, beaded skirts, and bedazzled bras, piled them neatly up the walls, like her neighbors had done with their thousands of books, and her friend Daisy had done with endless columns of pillows, and Tyson had done with his secret seashells in disarray around doorways and bathtubs. Everyone had something piled up, some civilized object scavenged as their own. Paige had the frames of other people’s photos that she hardly looked at anymore.
Esmé had dresses of dead women, entire social circles.
The hail stopped. Esmé’s shoulders relaxed. Paige shuffled around the kitchen, aimless. Esmé let the tea kettle sing uninterrupted to cleanse the palate, which really only time could do, so when a knock came upon Esmé’s window just then, she didn’t hear it, the sounds of storm and beckoning, of headache and heartbeat, bending into a corkscrew of memory and time.
Jane Liddle is a reader and writer living in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Wigleaf, and Cactus Heart. “Wave to the Drums” is part of a larger work. You can find her at walnutcabin.tumblr.com or on Twitter @janeriddle.