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Sister Mine

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Nalo Hopkinson—winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy award (among others), and lauded as one of our "most inventive and brilliant writers" (New York Post)—returns with a new work exploring the relationship between two sisters in this richly textured and deeply moving novel.

We'd had to be cut free of our mother's womb. She'd never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby's head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here's the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn't. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things—a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby's magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.

Today, Makeda has decided it's high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans—after all, she's one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she's been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There's even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.

But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent—and reconcile with Abby—if she's to have a hope of saving him . . .

ISBN-13: 9781455528400

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: 11-05-2013

Pages: 320

Product Dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica and has lived in Guyana, Trinidad, and Canada. The daughter of a poet/playwright and a library technician, she has won numerous awards including the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, and Canada's Sunburst Award for literature of the fantastic. Her award-winning short fiction collection Skin Folk was selected for the 2002 New York Times Summer Reading List and was one of the New York Times Best Books of the Year. Hopkinson is also the author of The New Moon's Arms, The Salt Roads, Midnight Robber, and Brown Girl in the Ring. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and splits her time between California, USA, and Toronto, Canada.

Read an Excerpt

Sister Mine

By Nalo Hopkinson

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Nalo Hopkinson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446576925


“Good folk, I have no coin;

To take were to purloin:

I have no copper in my purse,

I have no silver either.”

SCORE!” I SAID to the scruffy grey cat sitting on the building’s loading dock. “She’d never even think to look for me here!”

The cat replied with a near-silent mew, and set about cleaning its face. One ear was ragged from a long-healed injury.

I double-checked the scrap of paper I’d torn out of the Classifieds section of the Toronto Star. Yup, this was the place that was looking for tenants. It didn’t look like much, sitting there on a downtown corner. It was a blocky, crumbling cube of a warehouse. Looked like it had a basement below, two storeys above. It was wedged between upscale high-rise condos and low-rise co-op town houses.

There were buildings in this city that went to hundreds of floors. Your ears’d pop from the altitude change just going up in the elevator. But those sparkly new structures, they needed the reflected gleam of sunlight off their chromed and mirrored surfaces in order to shine. This building, it sucked in light, and the glow it gave back couldn’t be seen in daylight or in Toronto’s overlit night; not by purely claypicken eyes, that is. I could see it, though. One of the few perqs of being a crippled deity half-breed; although I had no mojo of my own, I could sometimes get a glimpse of the glow-on that some things and people had. Not as strongly as Abby could. Still, if I squinted exactly the right way, for just a split second, I’d see a flash bounce off Shiny people and things. Like the green flash on the horizon just as the sun sinks into Lake Ontario. That warehouse had some Shine to it. Inanimate objects can get that way when they’ve rubbed up against the ineffable for a long time. The building’s faint burr of Shininess was my first clue that I might like living there.

The exterior paint job was something else, in a wacky way that I liked. Probably years before, someone had slopped teal green paint onto the raw brick. They’d used a dark, muddy purple for the exterior window rims and sills and the edging around the roof. Then, for good measure, they’d lined the inner surfaces of the windows’ rims with dark yellow, kind of a mango colour. Made the windows look like the insides of baby birds’ beaks when they gaped them wide and demanded food from their exhausted parents.

When he’d realized he was slipping, our dad had signed our childhood home over to me and my sister. Since Abby and I had to live in the world, it was best if we had claypicken legal documents to prove that the place was ours. But I’d had it with living under Abby’s wing. She could have my share in the house. I was going to go it alone from now on. My pulse leapt at the thought.

“I think a tree talked to me today,” I told Abby, hating myself for doing this again, for coveting mojo so badly that I kept trying to talk myself into believing I had it. I’d never been able to read trees before, so why would I suddenly now have developed a knack for it? I waited, toying with the food on my plate, sitting at Abby’s expensive mahogany table, eating off her handmade plates from some artists’ studio over in the Distillery District, staring at the graceful young oak tree in Abby’s front yard through the leaded panes of Abby’s antique stained glass living room window. In my own house, I cotched like a boarder.

Teal with purple edging and yellow accents; Abby would hate the place. She would especially hate that it was crass enough to have a name. Hand-painted in toppling white letters over the entrance were the words “CHEERFUL REST.” Abby’s lips would curl at the inept lettering, the building that looked like a squat for homeless people. Me, I thought it was neat. Plus it would intimidate her. Even low and funny-looking as it was, even in broad daylight, Cheerful Rest managed to loom. Abby would be able to see that, probably more clearly than I could.

The old cat had finished its ablutions. It sphinx-sat on the loading dock in the springtime sun, watching me through half-closed eyes. I could hear it purring though I was a good few feet away. Its body swayed a little to the rhythm of the vibrations.

Abby didn’t reply right away. I looked across the table at her. She was staring out the window, slowly and carefully chewing. I’d made us an excellent dinner: stewed guinea hen and manioc with batata dumplings, and an arugula salad with crumbled blue cheese. No wonder Burger Delite wouldn’t let me do anything but bus tables and wash dishes; I was too good for them.

The building’s Shine wasn’t a flash, but kind of an aura. But it felt like mojo, or tasted like it, or something. How had it come by that Shine? Would it somehow spell trouble for me if I moved in there? I had a bad track record of not getting along well with the Shiny, the Family on my dad’s side, my haint. Abby.

“Abby, I’d swear it really did talk. A crab apple tree in that park at Queen and Sherbourne. I think it asked me where Dad was. Said it hadn’t seen him in a long time.”

Abby whipped her head around from the window to glare at me. “Stop it. Just stop it. Why are you always saying things like this? You’re embarrassing yourself. And me.”

“But—” Why did I say things like that? Because I couldn’t help myself. Because I craved more than anything else to have a little mojo of my own.

“Makeda, I don’t care whether it’s desperate wishful thinking or a stupid little trick you play to impress, but it’s really cruel of you to play it with Dad lying helpless in palliative care.”

Oh, gods, why couldn’t I ever stop doing this? Abby was right. I was only shaming myself.

A lean black guy came round the corner. He was wearing faded black jeans rubbed thin at the knees and a black Revolting Cocks T-shirt so worn that it was almost grey. The left shoulder seam had split open. He had a big, wild ’fro. His left foot was shod in an orange high-topped canvas sneaker, his right foot in a purple one. He smiled at me before unlocking and yanking open the heavy back door that led inside the building, letting out a grungy roar of miked rock drumming. Sounded live, too, like a practice. The guy made an apologetic shrug. He spied the piece of torn classifieds in my hand. He smiled. Over the racket, he shouted, “It’s only this noisy on the weekend!”

If I moved in here, there would be music, and musicians. Plus there was a brother, apparently living here, who liked punk. So it wouldn’t be like I was trying to single-handedly desegregate the place, either. Nice. I smiled back at him and relaxed a bit. Music was the most fun part of living with Abby.

He said, “Hey, Yoplait!”


The cat twitched one ear in his direction.

The guy jerked his chin towards the open door. “Come on!”

The cat looked over its shoulder at him. Stood. Went over to him. The door was hydraulic, and took a few seconds to shut behind the guy and his cat; long enough for me to hear the drumming clang to a halt, someone saying something muffled into the mike, a laugh, the drumming starting up again. Looked like the guy had gone up a short flight of stairs. I’d gotten a brief whiff of stale beer from the open door. There were empty two-fours stacked outside. Some kind of club space in the building?

The door closed completely, and I was left with only the endless Toronto traffic sounds.

Longing tapped me on the shoulder and enclosed me in its arms. I wanted to live here, be fully independent of Abby and Uncle, start learning how to exist as the mortal I was. I bet Cheerful Rest was some kind of claypicken artists’ space, where people used scavenged milk crates and bricks and wooden flats to customize their units. There’d be flyers stapled to the walls, advertising bands and readings and gallery openings and dance performances. Would they even let me into a place like that? I wasn’t really an artist. I was just an artist’s hanger-on who liked to tinker. I’d always wanted to live in a warehouse. A real warehouse, with high ceilings and exposed brick and pipes. And best of all, Abby wouldn’t know where I was if I didn’t tell her. We’d quarrelled last night, and again this morning. I’d told her I was moving when I stormed out a few hours ago, but I always said that when we fought. Today, though, I meant it. Standing outside Cheerful Rest that warm spring afternoon, sensing its warm-blooded Shine and waiting for the guy who ran it to show up, I meant it. I was finally going to break free of the hold my sister Abby had on me. She could get kinda clingy. We’d always lived together. She lost her shit if I didn’t attend a performance of hers. And to tell the truth, I missed her if I didn’t see her for a few days. But she really got on my freaking nerves all the time! Today, I was cutting the tie that bound us, locked together like the conjoined twins we used to be. I’d get my own place, tell Abby in a few months where I was living, and by then, she and I would have gotten used to being a little less intertwined in each other’s affairs. I could begin to figure out how to live my own life.

It was partly my own fault. Abby’d been so dependent on me in the first years of our life, and I’d gotten used to it. They’d separated us physically, but emotionally, Abs and I couldn’t seem to let each other go.

“Abs, can’t you even give me the benefit of the doubt? Why in hell can’t you accept that maybe you’re not the only special one?”

Abby slid her cane off the back of her chair and pulled herself to her feet. “Because you don’t hear trees talk. You never did. You started pretending you could after you overheard Cousin Flash calling you that silly name.”

“The donkey. Yeah. But that’s not when I started doing it.”

“When you started to make believe you could do it.”

“I started it after you called me the same name to my face.” Too late, I realized I’d just practically admitted I was talking shit about speaking to trees. My cheeks flaring with embarrassment, I pressed on, “The sister I shared all my secrets with. The sister I looked after until she could do it herself.”

She swallowed. Took a breath. “Children can be cruel. They say mean things to each other, play nasty tricks. How about that time you shortened one of my crutches?”

“That’s not fair!”

“Just a half inch. And me so used to being uncomfortable in my skin that I didn’t notice it for a while. My shoulder ached that whole day and the next, and I couldn’t figure out why.”

“It was just a prank. A stupid kid prank.”

“And me calling you ‘donkey’ was just a stupid kid thing. Get over it, Makeda.”

I folded my arms, looked out the window. “That tree could have been talking to me,” I muttered. I sounded about five years old. I detested myself for it. I hated my compulsion to go on about this stuff. The wind in that tree, it had sounded almost like words in a different language. I just figured maybe that’s what Dad heard when plants talked to him. Maybe it was just like a different language, and I could learn it. Or maybe I was just being an ass. I knew how to do that.

A grey-beige hatchback, new, pulled into the building’s three-car gravel parking lot. I moved out of the way. The door whispered open. The man who rolled out of the car was a big guy, white-looking, with straight, light brown hair that stopped just short of his jawline. He was wearing a two-piece suit the same colour as his hair, white shirt underneath. Brown dress shoes, their leather creased across the toe box. He was sweating even though it was a cool spring day. He gave me a distracted glance. “You Mak… Makky…?”

“Makeda,” I said, moving forward and extending my hand to shake his. “And you must be Milo?” He was about as Shiny as day-old bread. So he wasn’t the source of the building’s glow.

“Yeah.” His hand was cool and meaty. “Come inside,” he said.

As I turned to follow him into the building, I fretted. Didn’t have any references to give him except Abby, and I didn’t want to bring her into this. I’d been fired from or left the last four jobs I’d had. They hadn’t felt real to me at the time. Even Burger Delite was just something I did to prove to myself that I could, until today. Abby made money from music-related gigs here and there, I knew that. I’d never been too clear on the specific details of everything she did. Me, Dad, and Abby, we’d never been wealthy, but if things were getting too lean, Uncle would glean some valuables from the dead for us. Never anything that next of kin might be needing. Lots of people died in ways that made the cash in their pockets or purses inaccessible to claypickens. Today, though, my ignorance could bite me in the ass. When Milo did his credit check on me, it’d reveal a tendency towards bouncing cheques—not all the time, just a lot of the time—low earnings, and a spotty work history. It’d never been a problem before. I did some quick math in my head. Paying my own way was going to be tight. The rent on a run-down place like this would be low, wouldn’t it? Fact was, I hadn’t really thought my grand storm-out through.

Milo walked me around to the front of the building and unlocked that door. From here, the drumming was muffled. He frowned. “You won’t have that noise all the time,” he said. “If they have a weeknight show, they stop by eleven p.m.”

Weeknights, too, huh? That could get a little rigorous. “That’s fine,” I lied. “I’m sure it’ll be okay.” Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

“They practise during the days a lot, but most people are out at work then.”

“I usually work the evening shift. But I’m used to sleeping through the sounds of music practice.”

“Yeah? You know some folks in the biz, then?”

“A few.”

Milo led me into a tiny, stuffy office on the main floor. One scuffed desk, dark brown Formica with a fake wood grain. No chairs; Milo perched on the edge of the desk while I bent over it to fill out the application form with the chewed ballpoint pen he lent me. “It’s a good place,” he said absently. “I gotta get another super, but that won’t take long.”

“A super what?” I was only half listening. Three references?

He laughed. “Superintendent. I’m not here every day, so if you need anything, just ask Brian or one of the other tenants. They’ll help you. Only not the chick in 213. She’s a little crazy. Nothing to worry about! She gets nervous around strangers, is all. If she stays on her medication, she’s just fine. I’m giving her a break on her rent till she’s back on her feet. In any case, Welfare sends her rent cheque right to me, so no worries there. Anybody else can give you a hand if you need anything, and you have my number.”

Yeah, sure he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart. Sweet deal for him, guaranteed rent.

Whatever. He was talking as though I already had the place. That was a good sign. Nervously, I handed him the completed application form. He glanced at the badly photocopied sheet of paper. “No references?”

I guessed I could use Aunt Suze as a reference. I took the form back from him and scribbled down her name and contact information. Thought about it some more, then added the name and phone number of my boss at Burger Delite, even though I’d already written that in the employment section. I couldn’t put my uncle’s name down; Death didn’t exactly have a physical home address or phone number. Or a reliably corporeal body, for that matter.

Maybe Milo would be satisfied with two references. I slid the form back across the table to him. He started reading it again. He said, “You have any pets? No pets allowed in here.”

So did he not know about the grey cat I’d just seen? “No pets.”

“You don’t throw loud parties, do you? Or have loud hobbies, like woodworking? Had a guy in here once with a table saw. Disturbed the other tenants.”

I laughed. “No, nothing like that.” He was worried about one person having a party, but he had a rock band practising on the main floor? “I make little windup toys. You know, from discarded nuts and bolts. Just something I do to pass the time. Give them to people as gifts. It’s not noisy. Mostly I use glue and a screwdriver.”

“No soldering? Can’t do anything in here that’s a fire hazard. You won’t even have a stove in your unit.”

“What? How do people cook, then?”

He frowned irritably, as though I’d asked him something bothersome and insignificant. “I think there’s a microwave in that vacant unit. And there’s a kitchen down the hall, with a shared fridge and stove. It can get a little skanky in there, but it’s okay.”

I bit my lower lip. Store my meds in a communal fridge, where anyone could walk in and help themselves to them? I didn’t think so.

“And by the way,” said Milo, “the unit doesn’t have bathroom facilities, either. You’d have to use the shared shower and toilet down the hall.” He saw my face. “Most of the units don’t have bathrooms. Only the supers’ units do. This is warehouse living, remember? It’s pretty bare-bones. But you can fix your unit up any way you like. Paint it, whatever. Brian, he built an honest-to-God loft in his. It’s like he has a two-storey apartment. Has these heavy stage curtains running along rods he put in the ceiling. Uses them as movable room dividers. It’s the darnedest thing. Girl downstairs is a dancer. She built a sprung wood floor in hers, so she can practise.”

“Okay,” I said doubtfully. This was the experience I’d wanted, but now it wasn’t sounding so hot.

In my pocket, my cell phone buzzed. Probably Abby, calling for the umpteenth time today. I ignored it. Let her fret. “And how much is the rent?” I asked Milo.

He named a figure. I swallowed. It was decidedly more than I’d been contributing to the joint household fund that Abs and I split between us. “That’s fine,” I said, lying through my teeth. I’d have to see about picking up another shift at the restaurant. And about trying to subsist on the free food I got there when I was working. In a pinch, there was always Uncle.

Milo was still peering at the sheet. “What do you do at Burger Delite?”

“Dishwasher.” I looked down at my feet. I’d been so proud about holding down a claypicken job, but today, in the face of how inadequate my salary was going to be for just the basics, it felt as though I were confessing to some sort of character failing. I made myself meet Milo’s eyes. “But they say they’re going to move me up to waiting tables soon. I’ll get tips then.” Gods, that was even worse. Like I was begging him for shelter.

He pursed his lips, studied the sheet once more. “You’ve been living at your last place of residence since you were… what? Sixteen?”

“Yes, but—” All my twenty-four years on this Earth, actually, but I’d fudged that part of the form.

“And the owner has the same surname as you? Who is that, your mother? You still living at home?”

“No! Not exactly. Abby’s my sister. We’re co-owners.”

He raised an eloquent eyebrow. “So why are you leaving your own home? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“She and I, well, we aren’t getting along. I’d rather she didn’t know where I was living.” Damn. I hadn’t wanted to get into this. I’d hoped he’d think that I’d been renting my previous place and just happened to have the same surname as the owner. Guess that was dumb of me.

“But it’s your house, too? I don’t get that. You walking away from your own property?”

“She can have it.” His prying was starting to make me a little cranky. Was this how it would be, living whole-hog in the claypicken world?

“You don’t owe her money or anything, do you? I don’t want to take on an unreliable tenant.”

I laughed, trying hard to sound like someone who would never, ever “forget” for two months in a row to pay into a household fund. “God, no. That’s not why I’m leaving. She’s just always up in my business. Nosy.”

He frowned. “Can’t have any drugs in here, you know.”

Oh, no, he did not just say that. I growled, “I’m black, so I must be a dealer? That it?”

He laughed an easy, non-defensive laugh. It threw me. “Hell, no. I was one at your age, though. And when my first wife started to get too curious, I told her to stop being so nosy. She didn’t like that one bit, I can tell you. We were divorced within a year. So the word ‘nosy’ kinda sets me off sometimes.”

Nonplussed, I said, “Don’t worry. Dope’s not my thing. Bottle of Guinness with dinner is more my speed. And early to bed when I can. Those shifts at the restaurant are brutal.”

He perked up even more. “You drink Guinness? That’s the good stuff. Not like the dishwater the rest of the guys in here swill. You drink it cold?”

I shook my head. “No. You hide the flavour that way.”

“Good girl.”

The word “girl” made me feel bristly all over again, but I wanted this place. If he wanted to make patronizing small talk, I could play along a little. Milo looked me over, considering. “Mak… Makeda? Listen. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t rent a place to someone…” He put the paper down on the table, pushed it away from himself. “I mean, no references, minimum-wage job. I notice you didn’t put down any previous employment, either.”

“I’ve had other jobs! I just—”

“Here’s the deal.” He sighed, set his shoulders as though he’d just come to a decision. “You seem like a nice girl. I’d like to make you an offer.”

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. “You would, would you?”

He smiled. “Oh no, my dear. Nothing like that. Nothing at all like that. I need a new assistant superintendent to help Brian out, fill in when he’s not around. Sounds like you’re pretty handy? Know one end of a hammer from the other? It’s easy work, doesn’t need more than an hour or two a week, sometimes not even that.”

“So, how would this arrangement go?” This could work out after all. If Milo let me have the unit in return for replacing the occasional washer, I could maybe drop down to one shift at Burger Delite instead of two, still be making enough to get by. Not take handouts from Abby and Uncle for every little thing. Make a real go at having a claypicken life, since I was never going to have the other kind.

“I’d reduce your rent by a couple hundred,” Milo said.

My happy bubble fantasy popped, leaving a sting like liquid soap. “Two hundred? That’s it?” That wasn’t even a quarter of the rent he was asking for the unit. Which, it suddenly occurred to me, he hadn’t shown me yet.

Milo nodded. “One-fifty, two hundred, something like that. You’d have your own bathroom.”

Did the fool think I hadn’t noticed how the “couple hundred” reduction in the rent was turning into one-fifty? “Can I see the unit?” I asked coldly. Might as well, since I was there. But no way was I falling for this guy’s penny-pinching con job. There had to be plenty of apartments in this city, if you weren’t too fussy.

He led me up the flight of stairs to the second floor. Iron railings, painted in peeling black enamel. The stairs were steel-reinforced slabs of concrete, worn down by years of foot traffic, each step canted at a slightly different angle from its neighbours. I liked that. I liked things that had been solidly made and that wore the evidence of hard use, of survival.

The second-floor hallway was cool and dark. The walls were the same colour as the outside of the building. There was a musty, old-building smell. Only to be expected. Not like I was going to be living in the hall, anyway, right? There were doors lining the hallway on one side, an open doorway halfway down on the other side, leading to what looked like some kind of common room. There was a battered couch in there, an old Formica table, a couple of rickety chairs. And sure enough, posters tacked to the walls: some band playing at the Vault last week, old cartoon film fest at the library this weekend. That room was painted a deep pinkish red. The paint on one wall wasn’t just flaking, it was bubbling. Moisture beneath it. Milo noticed me looking at it. “Had a bit of a leak in there last week. Spring rains, you know? I’m having it fixed.”

I’d heard about his kind. He was just your average slum landlord. I kissed my teeth in disdain. Milo blinked at the sound, but clearly didn’t know what it meant. Any one of my relatives would have, on either side of the Family. Hell, any black person pretty much the world over would have known it.

Milo unlocked one of the units on the other side of the hallway. “Just had it painted,” he said proudly. “This is where the previous assistant superintendent lived.”

He pushed the door open and went in ahead of me. “Oh,” he said, “I guess Brian hasn’t gotten around to painting it yet. Looks kinda cool though, right? Artsy.”

A faint scent wafted out of the room. Spices? Was that nutmeg? And some kind of fruit? My mouth watered. I stepped inside. I asked, “Did the previous tenant like to burn incense? I can smell—”

“No incense burning allowed in the units. No burning of anything.” He clearly wasn’t the least bit interested in what the previous tenant used to do in here.

The space was big. The walls were a creamy white, reaching up and up to the high ceiling. A previous tenant had painted curling vines climbing up the corners. Probably the same someone who had painted the Styrofoam ceiling tiles in a sky-scape of blue and massing white clouds. “That colour,” I said to Milo, delighted. I pointed at the ceiling. “It’s haint blue.”

He squinted up at the ceiling. “Is it? I scored a lot of tins of it in a closeout sale a while ago. Don’t think Brian’s used it all up yet.”

I smiled. “No, it’s okay. I kinda like it.” More than that; I felt oddly at home. The blue of the ceiling was the same colour as the porch ceiling of our—of Abby’s house. Dad had done that for me ages ago. Ghosts can’t cross water without help. Plus they’re stupid. Get the right shade of blue, paint your floor or ceiling with it—doesn’t matter which, ’cause ghosts don’t have a right way up—and they’ll mistake it for the glint of light on water and be unable to pass. Paint your porch ceiling that colour, and your door and your window frames, and you have a haint-proof house.

There was more. The nubbly concrete floor had been coated with a semi-gloss St. Julian mango yellow, layered on so thick it was like enamel. The building had looked a bit creepy from the outside, but looks could be deceiving. Now that I’d seen this part of its insides, I loved the place. “It’s cute,” I said, trying for nonchalance. The window in the opposite wall was open a crack, letting in birdsong on a ribbon of cool, sweet air that leavened the unit’s damp, musty smell. The street noises were a distant background rumble. With the vines, it was like a picnic in the park in here. My bed would fit nicely right over by the window, give me a bit of a view of the outside. Abby’d just bought a new microwave. I could take the old one off her hands when I went to pick up my chest of drawers. Hooks on the walls for any clothes that needed hanging, my workbench and chair. Maybe a card table and a couple more chairs once I could afford them. For when guests came over. I could have guests! That was the kind of thing that claypickens did, wasn’t it? But the rent, ouch. Boldly, I asked, “You said three hundred off the rent?”

He frowned. “Two hundred.”

Gotcha. I’d tricked him back up to the full discount he’d promised at first and then tried to welsh on. It was still more than I could afford, but I was enjoying playing with the bastard now. Lead him on, make him think I was going to take the place, then shake my head and walk out of there. “Two hundred. Could I get that in writing?”

“Sure. And there’s a bar fridge around here somewhere you could have. I’d get Brian to put it in here for you.”

That’d solve the problem of where to keep my meds, at least. If I were going to take the place. Which I wasn’t.

“So. You like it? The bar fridge could go over there.” He pointed to a wall with an electrical socket.

“I don’t know about this…”

The hint of fruits stewed in honey and