Bathsheba took me possessively by the hand once we reached the Roma Street Parklands.
My captress had not needed words or physical restraints to bring me here, even if our journey had been somewhat delayed due to mutual satisfaction. She had unfurled her wings after a night of slow-dancing to an improbable Bollywood-rockabilly mash-up band, and that had been enough.
Afterwards, Bathsheba told me that the Faerie Queen wanted to see me. I followed her like a lamb. If you know anything about me, you’d know how unnatural it was for me to be this docile, even without the supernatural element, or the rope-burns around my wrists and ankles. By then, I was too curious, and perhaps more than a little too smitten to think straight.
We moved past the Lake Precinct where moonlight danced on the surface of the water and onto the sleeping ducks, past the extravagant lilies into the heart of the gardens. Bathsheba’s fingers were smooth and clammy on mine, evoking comparisons with aquatic creatures if they possessed fingers, and were stripped of their scales. During the day, sunlight rippled into elaborately-laced leaves. Myriad petals of exotic hues blended together in clusters of colour and shapes. In moonlight, the plants acquired a different colour palette altogether: blue, silver and sometimes even green.
We entered a narrow, dark passageway that opened out into a clearing where figures congregated, some with glittering wings and neo-Victorian garb, others looking like they had just stepped off the streets of Brisbane. Some of them sat on giant arachnids encased in armour glowing with livid light. The brightest figure was ensconced on a moving throne made of diamonds that irradiated a hard brilliance that assailed the eyes. This throne was pulled by three arachnids.
The brightest one on the throne had a presence that hurt the mind. I could not see her face but I could hear her voice inside my skull. That did not horrify me as much as my business partner’s presence beside her, dressed in a silver kurta and with a band of silver around his high forehead.
“Arjun! You were supposed to be doing the books tonight!”
My words sounded weak, even to me. He looked away, electing not to answer me.
The shimmering woman spoke, “Tuatha De Danaan earrings. Sanskrit Faerie Charms. Unseelie chokers. Rings for Kelpies. Apsara pendants. Egyptian masks for invoking our presence. You dare call yourself the jeweller for the Faeries? You dare claim to be a Faerie-Maker?”
“It…it was just a name, a–”
“Human marketing ploy?” It was impossible to read the expression on the Faerie Queen’s face. Her incandescence was such that she seemed shrouded in the shadows created in my vision by the afterimages of that light. Nor did her mood register in her voice, which remained even and almost reasonable in tone.
I could feel the concentration of her attention upon me. It was an almost constant static at the periphery of all of my senses. It hurt. Arjun’s apparent betrayal should have hurt as much, but our business partnership always had an uneasy quality about it.
We had come together out of a shared grief, but I had never been able to let my guard down. I had ducked every debonair smile, every overture of warmth and togetherness like they were incoming missiles.
The many-faceted eyes of the giant arachnids seemed to be focused on me. They did not scare me as much. The Faerie Queen was a tangible presence in my mind. I somehow managed to force out words, in-between gulps of air.
“No, Your Majesty. It was not merely a ploy. In my heart I always wished I was good enough, wanted to be good enough to create.”
“To make us? Your insolence here is criminal. Dare you suggest that faeries can actually be made?”
Something nagged at me. I have enough street smarts to know when a major defensive was being launched as an offensive. Also, Arjun’s presence by the Faerie Queen’s side was pretty suspicious, considering the fact that he instigated the name for our shared business. His studied indifference to my presence was a little too studied.
Angered, my voice was harsh as I addressed the Faerie Queen, “Do you mean they’re not made, Your Majesty?”
Almost instantly I was surrounded by armoured faeries. One yanked my hair back. Hard, armoured arms grabbed at mine. My ears rang as a backhanded slap threw me off-balance into the grip of other, more careful hands.
“Careful. Your delicious bluntness might result in death. Gilda delights in annihilation. I’d hate that,” Bathsheba murmured.
Her arm locked around my midriff, her breath warming the nape of my neck. I took in a deep breath, ignoring the pain and spoke again, hoping my voice was as level as Gilda’s.
“I could only aspire, as mortals can, to be good enough for mortals who wish to be–”
Here, I paused. I feared what would happen if I were to say the wrong words.
“Like us?” The Faerie Queen’s eyes fixed on mine with an unsettling regard.
“Never like you. Merely to have the hope you exist. Merely to help others believe in you again.”
Her silence had the flavour of scepticism. I didn’t blame her. I found it hard to buy my own words. It was the panic talking, really.
“And did it work, do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
She laughed. The sound was melodious, and not at all threatening. Still, I shivered, because a Faerie Queen was laughing and she was displeased with me.
“Well, that’s honest enough. And it appears to have worked enough to bring us to our new Court.”
I looked around the Roma Street Parklands.
“Here? You’re settling here?”
“Here indeed. So, tell me. Should you go unpunished for your insolence?”
I knew that my advertisement was insolence. There were a lot of faerie businesses around on the internet, and in the flea market circuit, but no one had ever claimed to turn people into faeries.
“Do you wish me to do penance, Your Majesty?”
“Penance? Do I look like a priest to you? I suppose you have fantasies of dying in the act of trying to make the perfect earrings for me. What if I chose to strip from you instead, one of your senses? What if I chose to strip from you, your creativity? Would you like that as much, I wonder.”
I was silent. I could not even begin to process my emotions at her words. I could not think beyond her cruel beauty that threatened to overshadow them. I hated how disempowered I felt. I resented that I was being induced to grovel.
“Your talent is not too bad in the world of humans, but you could hardly imagine you were good enough to engage our interests that way. There are a million little businesses like yours all around the world. There are a million others with similar longings. Did you think you were unique?”
“Well then,” A stubborn part of me made me answer. “If I am so ordinary, why did you call me here?”
“Perhaps it was pity.”
“Pity? Nowhere in the stories–”
The Faerie Queen’s eyes kindled with an indecipherable light. I could not be sure if it was anger or amusement that fueled her words as she spoke, “Of course, how could we have been so wayward as to disregard the stories? How could we have diverted from the script? We are merciless. We have no comprehension of human feelings like compassion, or love. Or, we are all sweetness and light, the embodiment of good. Naturally, there can never be an in-between.”
A new voice broke in, sounding warm and harsh at the same time. “There’s more than one kind of in-between, Gilda, and not all of them good. Release our kin now!”
The court rustled. Bathsheba released me immediately. We turned towards the sound of approaching feet. The men and women were slick and gorgeous, dressed in a mixture of Romani garb, street fashion and the most gorgeously embroidered kurtas and sarees. Some of them had wings that were rich and gemlike in hue. They looked like they could star in a Tony Gatlif movie, if he ever made a flick about both Romani and desi faeries who looked like they had come from either the set of Dhoom 2 or Om Shanti Om.
They looked badass enough to waste the faeries of Gilda’s court. If I wasn’t so pissed off at her royal sparkly-face, I would have been in heaven right about then. How many nights in my teen-hood had I read stories about the faeries and wept bitterly because I was not like them, and could never be like them, because I was too brown, and too queer, and too me? I had always felt like a pretender because of my chosen craft, and Gilda’s faeries had only exacerbated that emotion, a pain far deeper than what had been inflicted by her knights.
I was raised partly Ceylonese Tamil, and wholly Australian, but my Romani grandmother made sure I never forgot my other heritage, long after the rest of my family had. Despite their various disguises, these desi and Romani faeries could have walked straight out of the stories my Nana used to tell me about the Romani equivalent of faerie land. Their presence here made me feel like for the first time in my life, I was alright.
“I did not expect to see you here, Guaril,” the Queen said.
“You’re on my turf, Gilda.”
“Who died and made you Faerie King?”
Guaril laughed and said, “I was already a Roma King, so it wasn’t that big of a leap, Gilda. You’ve landed on my turf. Sorry, not allowed. Brisbane is mine. And this woman is family. Come over here now, Ranjini.”
I turned to look at the man, noting the strong features of his face, and his slicked-back shoulder-length hair, dark, the colour indistinct in the strange half-glow of the Gardens at night. There was something familiar about him. He gave me an indecipherable look.
“Come with us. You shouldn’t be here. It’s late.”
And then I realised where I had seen him before: the follow-up news articles concerning the brawl that led to my sister’s death.
I recognized him from the background shots of the crowded gig scenes and the eyewitness accounts. He had not been named as a suspect, but something about his face and his glib explanation at the time had stuck in my memory.
I felt Gilda gloating at my rising anger. Her pleasure gave me pause.
“You instigated that fight that killed my sister, didn’t you?” I shot at him.
He shrugged, his eyes fixed on me with a different kind of intensity than earlier displayed by the Queen, “That is a remarkably clever deduction. However, it is rather more involved than that.”
The Faerie Queen’s voice broke into our silent assessment of each other. I felt drawn to Guaril, the kind of pull you feel when something familiar looks at you in a strange place. I could feel anger rising in me as I stared at his face, but his face was so like my Nana’s. The resemblance tugged at me and perplexed me. I stared at him as the Queen spoke to him.
“It almost always is more involved than that, Guaril. But you’re a little too late. I’ve claimed the girl first, and your turf is just Brunswick Street and the Valley. You’re in the Parklands now and we’ve already claimed and consecrated this circle.”
Her voice was finally filled with an emotion I could clearly decipher. She was gloating. I could not help but bristle.
“So, it is war now, is it, Gilda?” Guaril asked in clipped tones.
“War as always, Guaril. Ironically, it was your act of involving her sister that has brought us here. You drew her to us.”
I thought of the earring designs I had made, the ones that had attracted their attention. It was as though something precious, something I had thought was random, whimsical, and even bittersweet had been tainted. For the first time in a decade, my bereavement was replaced by the deep envy and competitiveness which had marked our relationship. My sister always attracted people’s attention first. I would always play second-fiddle, always.
Some of Gilda’s men were moving towards the Romani faeries, switchblades in their hands. Bathsheba pulled me away from the battle, pushing me towards the bushes.
“Stay here,” she said before moving to join the battle. I was too dazed to argue.
The faeries fought with a hypnotizing grace. Soon, I realized that it really was a full-hearted dance and half-hearted fight. They didn’t seem willing to draw blood.
Sometime around five o clock, when the sun began to lighten the sky, the fighting shapes became indistinguishable. I don’t remember when I lost consciousness, but I do remember arms reaching out to keep me from falling to the ground.
I grew up with all the silent resentments stifled by middle children everywhere. Kavitri was the first in every way in our household. She had been the first artist, the first poet, the first one to get wasted, the first one to go all the way with someone. She was the first to make earrings and also the first to die.
Making earrings helped me feel as if I was going somewhere. I didn’t know exactly where or how. But I was doing something. I was giving hope, both to myself and to the people who bought my designs. Perhaps I wanted to create a connection, the same way the earrings that Kavitri had made me that night had bonded us, for one tenuous moment. Amber light seemed to be trapped within the semi-precious stones of those earrings. They were strung together with tiny silver links, and a drooping chain adorned with little silver stars which looped around the ear. The delicate strength of Kavitri’s making filled me with a strange, quivery impulse. At first sight, the imagined light evoked to me how lights would glisten in some fey, otherworldly forest.
“It’s like making earrings for the faeries,” I remembered whispering to myself.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I was born a middle child in a brood of five, I had spent a lot of time on my own. By high school, Kavitri and I had already gone our separate ways, more out of my desire than hers. I never understood those who seem destined to attain celebrity no matter where they were. I suppose they are all Faerie Kings and Queens in their own right. She was always surrounded by people: friends, admirers, fans. Right up until the last week I had with her. I pestered Kavitri to teach me, she promised me she would, the next day. She went out to Fortitude Valley with her entourage.
There was a fight, random, short and violent. Kavitri had never been the sort to stay in the sidelines and watch; she was too much of a hero for that. I don’t really recall much of the details or the cause for the fight; merely that everyone involved was drunk. She wasn’t supposed to die. Internal bleeding. Days spent in the hospital, waiting, praying.
I had her gear: her jewelry making books, her spools of wire, and plenty of cheap stones that she had gathered from flea markets and thrift stores or backpacking vacations to Bali, Bangkok, Samoa, Kuala Lumpur. My first attempts were laughable, but it didn’t take long before the kind of mood, or feeling I wanted to evoke in the earrings caught people’s attention. I began taking requests and commissions.
Arjun, who had been my sister’s boyfriend, persuaded me to open a store at one of the flea markets. I ended up doing a circuit on a weekly basis — Eagle Street Pier on one day, Southbank on another, New Farm every two weeks and The Valley most Saturdays. It didn’t leave me for much time for university, so I dropped out. What I really wanted was to be apprenticed to a master jeweler, but at the same time I didn’t want to lose the freedom and autonomy I now had. I put it off.
“The Faerie-Maker” became the tagline for my business, with poster sized stories about how my jewelry transformed us beyond flesh. I have to admit, it was all rather pretentious but it did the job. My customers were of various subcultures, as well as wispy and dreamy bookish types, bohemian grad students and more well-heeled eccentrics who bought my more ornate and expensive pieces. As is usual in faeries stories, my fame got me into trouble.
I can’t deny it was a calculated trouble, even if I could not deal with the actuality of that trouble. Well, would you be able to deal with it? If you’re going to be so bold as to boast that your earrings were made for the otherworld, the otherworld is definitely going to pay attention and interest in you. They never tell you things like this, that maybe that some of the Goth folk frequenting your stalls or eBay auctions are actually the fair folk in disguise. Perhaps I was not as clever as I thought I was, or I would have realized that I was allowing myself to be a pawn.
Yesterday, the faerie I would later know as Bathsheba had appeared at my booth as late afternoon approached. She was a steam-punk goddess in a striped corset, wearing stylish clockwork inspired jewellery and with her hair done up in elaborate falls. I had briefly admired the fabric of her top hat. Her bare arms and neck had glistened with both good health and some expensive body shimmer. She had picked up some of my newer wire-sculpture earrings, perusing them with a critical eye, before turning her gaze on me. I had my shop-face on, even though I had been ready to close up.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” I asked.
She shook her head and turned to leave, and then said, “Not for tonight, not yet,” with a flirtatious glint in her eyes.
I found myself feeling both threatened and rather invigorated by the brief exchange. I watched her swaying hips as she left. I willed myself to look away.
Moments later, Arjun turned up, bringing with him a masala dosa for both of us. My eyes panned over his face, not really wanting to linger on features, as usual.
“You doing okay?” He grabbed a paper plate before placing the large dosa filled with spiced potatoes and fresh coriander on the plate.
“I’m fine, just tired,” I had replied, before passing him the knife.
Our conversations have never been really exemplary. I keep my emotions guarded around him. It’s a habit that has never left me, not since the time he went from being my sister’s best friend to being her boyfriend. Arjun’s off-limits; he always was, and he always will be. We split the dosa and the tall cappuccino before discussing the takings for the day. I chose not to tell him about my last customer; the way something about her made the skin between my shoulder-blades crawl. You could say I have trust issues, but he dated my sister a long time, and in all that time, I never felt comfortable with him.
Arjun was strange enough in his own, spaced-out way, but he’d given me enough ideas to help me start my business, even helping with some designs. He’d given me hints along the way, hints that I’d expanded into designs I was proud of. Some days I wondered why he cared, or took too much interest in my affairs, but I thought it was perhaps the fact that we were both grieving and it helped us both get over the death of Kavitri.
I woke up on my own bed, above the covers, shoes still on. The day after the fight was a blur until mid-afternoon.
I returned to my craft. My jewelry making tools were set out on two long and narrow work tables, along with the wire and wood racks I had made to hang the earrings, pendants and bracelets I created on a daily basis. I had a brief urge to smash everything. Instead, I started picking out tear-shaped moonstones, and tinier bits of lapis. I took out a sheet of paper. I drew patterns on them, patterns that I had seen in books of Egyptian and Romani jewellery.
I took the Egyptian symbol of the lotus, and decided to make a bronze wirework version of it, studded with lapis lazuli. Reverently, I crafted miniatures of the Romani wheel out of copper wire. These were earrings for — not quite myself, nor for faeries, but for something bigger than all of us. Faeries, humans, and the in-betweens like me who could never figure out where they fit in. Lapis in sesen, my own homage to that country that lies beyond death; I wanted so badly to believe in its existence.
You would think that the existence of faeries as I had experienced them last night would have helped me deal with it. But how could the rational mind deal with it? The irrational part of us always hopes for something more but then reason comes, and finds excuses for things. I closed my eyes, grappling with my own ambiguous convictions. It was easier to focus on crafting. This is how artisans cope. We’re always in-between reason and fancy, we need both elements to be good. In the act of creation we find ourselves poised in a perfect borderland.
I worked quickly. I constructed a set out of silver, and then another out of copper wire. I fixed chalcedony beads in the middle of each copper flower, linking them to create a bracelet and choker set. With the silver, I strung little lapis beads, alternating them with flowers I had made out of moonstone. These I turned into earrings and a long necklace. I made copper and bronze rings, measured to fit my own fingers. Finally, satisfied, I stopped working, stretching a little. I was filled with a deep sense of contentment as I hung the new designs up on a rack.
Dusk was approaching. The light of the dying afternoon silvered the reflections on the Brisbane River. I placed some of the trinkets into the pockets of the windbreaker I wore over a skull-and-bones tank top and black skinny jeans. I slipped the rings I had made onto my fingers, before sliding open the glass doors that led to the balcony. Taking a deep breath, I swung myself over the railings, slowly climbing down the side of the building, landing on the jacaranda tree that just brushed the side of the apartment block.
My feet, encased in running shoes made a soft, crunching sound on the grass around the tree as I landed. I ran the length of Orleigh Street before reaching the tiny West End ferry terminal. There was nothing behind me, not underneath the trees, nor the street lamps apart from random passers-by. Just shadows, I whispered to myself.
Tasting the approach of the shadows, I advanced upon the gangplank as the City Cat glided towards the terminal. It was well-lit inside. Revellers streamed in and out from the Regatta, then North Quay, and then South Bank, the diverse assortment of humans, the mingling of various diasporas almost a lesson in socio-economics. I suppose I blended in. I had ambiguous features.
My facial piercings and tattooed arms made it easier for people to focus on my obvious subculture and orientation rather than on my ethnicity. I’d been mistaken for various identities because of my tanned mocha skin, but I spoke in a distinctive Queensland accent. I was pensive as I fingered the wheel charms, thinking of the Romani culture we’d left behind.
Finally, I got out at the New Farm Parklands. I was heading into the territory of the Brunswick Street Gang and their King. I wanted answers. I craved them, even if they came at the cost of annihilation. But it was more than that. It was a call, a pull, a memory of my grandmother. I had nothing of her, nothing to keep me warm, and nothing tangible of my Romani heritage that I could hold on to except for the crafted Romani wheel charms which dangled from the sesen bracelets around my wrists making me wince every time they nudged against the rope burns that were Bathsheba’s gift to me.
The autumn wind shivered my skin, making little patterns. I cut across the park and reached the open road.
A sleek limousine was parked there, reflecting the dull orange of the streetlights. Guaril, and his band of faeries were leaning against it, their conversation intense. They were dressed in black, obviously outfitted for battle. A broad grin broke across Guaril’s lean features as I approached.
“No need to gloat,” I dripped the sour tones of the resigned, and my words were pre-emptive. “I came here to meet you before Gilda’s people got me.”
“And that is not a reason for gloating? Clearly, you’ve chosen us! Come on then, your ignoble chariot awaits you,” he said with an ironic flourish.
“Hah! It looks like a hearse. Let’s get this clear — I’m only coming with you because I want answers.”
Guaril’s teeth flashed in the partially-illuminated gloom of the Parklands.
“Good enough, brave one. Come along, then.”
Guaril was sucking on a clove cigarette while Tom Waits rasped his way to oblivion on the limousine’s built-in sound system. The Roma King’s hair was slicked back and he wore golden rings on his fingers. He looked vaguely like a cross between a younger Nick Cave before he lost his mane, and Shah Rukh Khan. I eyed the various galbi hanging around his neck with covetous greed — I cannot stop being a jewelery-maker, apparently. My fingers clutched the sesen earring I had been crafting a few hours earlier, sculpted out of copper wire that wrapped glittering lapis lazuli.
“Go ahead, ask it, you know you want to,” Guaril said.
“If you already know what I want to ask, why don’t you just say it?”
“Heh. That’s what I like about you. You’ve got the fight in you.”
“Every middle child has that somewhere inside her,” I replied before I asked. “Why did you kill my sister?”
His eyes were sombre as he trained them on me.
“You instigated that fight.”
“That’s just something I do. Kavitri knew what was happening. She knew it was the only way.”
“The only way for what?” I asked. My eyes were hard upon him. He mumbled something, and looked slightly less bad-ass. Guilt was on his face, and the realisation hit me. Of course. Arjun. A stupid love-triangle. Hah!
I was on the other seat before my brain finished processing that information. My angry brown fists pummelled him as I screamed in his face, “When you like a girl you don’t get her killed so you can be together forever! The fuck is this? You listen to way too many Nick Cave songs? She was my sister!”
I cut his lip, probably with one of my rings. That made me feel good a split-second before I started feeling bad.
“That honestly was not what happened, Ranjini. Do you think I’m some kind of sicko creep? Also, you swear too much.”
“Do you blame me?”
“Not at all, but there’s a time and a place for cussing. But I’m not going to go all big brother on you. Too late for that, anyway. You’re all grown up.”
I threw him a look. His lip was still bleeding. I didn’t have the heart to sass him.
“You didn’t kill her, then.”
“No, but I was responsible all the same, there’s no excusing that,” he said finally, with a sigh.
I could think of nothing else to say to that, the pain in his eyes was almost embarrassing in its intensity. Fortunately, he changed the subject. With his eyes intent on me, he asked,
“What made you choose the title of Faerie-Maker?”
“I inversed ‘Making Earrings for Faeries’ to ‘Making Faeries for Earrings’. It was just meant to be cheeky wordplay. How was I to know faeries could actually be made?”
Guaril pursed his lips. “Did Arjun have anything to do with it?” He asked while grabbing ice from the mini-bar. I watched him drop cubes into his handkerchief.
My eyes fixed on his hand that clutched the makeshift ice-pack. It was easier than looking at his face. “Well, he was the one who suggested we take one step from the inversion to ‘The Faerie-Maker’. He made the posters too.”
He started applying the ice to his swollen lip. His words, as he nursed himself were somewhat distorted but still legible. “I want your help. But you also need protection, and you’re family. Gilda’s the one you should worry about. We’re used to you.”
After my fury wore off, I realised I had hit a man who had not resisted my attacks at all. I covered up belated remorse with a customary glare.
“I don’t think I can trust either one of you. What do you both want with me anyway? It’s not like I knew. And what does Arjun have to do with this? Next you’ll be telling me he’s faerie too.”
“Arjun is another strange thing, altogether. But he is not a faerie yet, to his dismay. As for you, you’re not just any mortal with fancy wordplay. You’re Kavitri’s sister.”
“Fuck that. I haven’t been a fucking middle child in a very long time. I’m Ranjini. I’m me. And I’m a damn good artisan. Better than she ever was.”
Guaril applied the ice to his lips. I don’t understand this whole Faerie deal yet. How is it that a Faerie can be bruised, anyway?
“I wasn’t trying to put you down. It’s a fact. Kavitri’s one of those humans ripe to lead their own court. You see them everywhere. And there‘s no shame in being a sister or someone who comes after the fact. There‘s no shame in being the middle child.”
“Save me the platitudes. You‘re talking about bloody socialites. High school goddesses. Fucking poseurs the lot of them.”
“Correct, but your sister had all that and something else. You know she’s no poseur. You know what it is, don’t you?”
I stared at him as the street lights outside pick up the inhuman luminescence of his skin and the look in his eyes. I considered my next words with some care, “The inner core of goodness inside her?”
His hands smoothed the creases of his jacket in a nervous movement. His face turned away from me, the shadows exposing only the swoop of his left cheek and the movement of his throat as he gulped down air.
“She and you both belong with us, Ranjini. You should be with our band.”
I shook my head, not wanting to hear more. “I just want to see my sister!”
“We’re almost there,” His voice was reassuring.
It was as though we were never antagonists. Outside, the street lights illuminate the quieter part of Toowong. The hearse drove past colonial-age Queenslanders and fig trees that cast shadows on the road. When we got out of the car I discovered that we were at her burial plot at the Toowong Cemetery near Mount Coot-tha.
It was the day we buried her all over again. I had started to hope that somehow she was still alive, that we could talk. That I could tell her all the things I had not told her because I resented being the middle sister. But I guess dead’s dead. What right did I have to hope, anyway?
“You can try now, Ranjini.”
“Try what? She’s dead.”
“She was to be a Faerie Queen. And you’re the Faerie-Maker.”
“Advertising jargon you stupid piece of …,”
“Language please, Ranjini. And it’s not about the advertising, it’s about hope.”
His eyes were so incredibly kind that I ceased my half-hearted diatribe. “That’s what you’re after? Hope?”
He twitched, his head hanging in a position I’d identified as bad-ass but now looked like a kind of defensive guilt. I had to ask, even though I already knew.
“What really happened that night?”
“Arjun found out about us. It was an accident, really. Kavitri was trying to stop stuff from getting bad. She knew we weren’t exactly human. Then, she died. I’m sorry.”
I shrugged at his apology, asking, “How’d you get turned into a Faerie?”
“I don’t really know. It’s a mystery to me — to all of us. We become corporeal after the sun sets, so I know we’re not ghosts. The process of becoming Faerie however, I don’t know too much about that.”
“You guys think I have the answer? Because I’m Kavitri’s sister? She’s dead. Doesn’t that answer your question?”
“No, she’s not supposed to be dead. Gilda and the rest believe that Kavitri has something to do with why I’m the Faerie King here.”
“They think she’s this supposed Faerie-Maker?”
“A Faerie-Maker. Descended from other Faerie-Makers. It is an otherworldly gift, but every family has its tradition, even those who have forgotten theirs.” He threw me a thoughtful look. I looked away, blinking rapidly as I asked,
“How can humans be Faerie-Makers?”
“You tell me. You sell stories, and dreams, but you still can’t see? Arjun’s job was to watch over Kavitri. My job was to protect her. We’re very distant cousins. You’re Romani, but your mother didn’t want to have anything more to do with us. She raised you all as Australians. She wanted you assimilated into the dominant culture and successful.”
I shook my head. My feelings for my mother’s choices were not something I felt like discussing.
“Did Kavitri know what Arjun was doing?”
“Only towards the later part. Arjun’s working for Gilda. Kavitri was supposed to be the one to pull Gilda here. But she died. So he got you instead.”
“This does not stop the fact that she’s dead. Nothing we do is going to bring my sister back, Guaril.”
“We can try, Ranjini. Is there nothing that you can think of that will work?”
I frowned, but took out the remaining wheel-and-lotus jewellery from my pocket. His eyes were appreciative but sceptical as he fingered the Romani wheels, and the delicate lotuses.
“That’s beautiful, Ranjini. But I’m not sure that is what we’re looking for.”
The air and atmosphere around us seemed to condense. It was the same quality of reality shifting, the same sudden fear that filled me back at West End. I know well enough now to know that the feeling should be associated with Gilda’s court. Bathsheba was present, a top hat on her ringlets, and a monocle that intensified the effect of her gaze upon me.
Gilda shone in that kind of way that will always hurt the eyes and the fibre of your being. I looked away from her and at Bathsheba, who winked. I tried not to be too interested in the look she was throwing me.
“Come over here now, Ranjini. You belong to my court.”
“I do not.”
“Do as she says, Ranjini.” Arjun’s voice startled and hurt me. His eyes assessed me with calculation. His presence felt like a wound inside me.
“No. If I have to cast my luck with either of you goons, I would rather cast my luck with the home team,” I moved closer towards Guaril as I spoke.
“Too late. You already pledged yourself last night,” rasped Gilda’s voice inside my head. I did not give in. I can be mulish.
“Did not, that was coercion, intimidation.” I stare all of them down.
“Deal was forged.” She sounded annoyed. Each word was a baby migraine in my skull.
“Was not, I said no words.” I shot back.
“Your thoughts did.”
This sounded almost petulant. I could not help myself, I laughed. “You know, that’s all very nice but I know you’re bluffing. I didn’t just build a business around creating faerie jewelry without doing extensive research. Compacts between faeries and humans cannot exist without some form of binding oral or written manifestation.”
I could tell even before I finished speaking that Gilda had given up trying to persuade me. And so, when she finally said, “Fine that. Arjun, grab her,” I was already behind Guaril’s people, who lunged forward with switchblades.
Guaril was in the thick of the battle, duking it out with Arjun. Urgency hit me, along with sadness, and a strange, preternatural awareness.
This was probably a recreation of how it was before Kavitri flung herself in-between them to protect Guaril. This awareness crystallized into a certainty. This was how it had happened.
Perhaps I had known it all along, had known from Arjun’s silences and his evasions when asked about that night. Perhaps it was evident from Guaril’s embarrassed reticence on the matter.
“Was he really worth it, Kavitri?” I asked the tense air. Seriously Kavitri, is any man worth dying for?
The awareness of what was required of me was ridiculous. I entered the fray, dodging fists and switchblades, getting wounded in the process. I pushed myself in-between Arjun and Guaril. Arjun’s switchblade raised itself in an arc above me. I was not going to die, just like Kavitri had died. I was just going to push one motherfucker to the right, like so. And trip the other motherfucker to the left, like so.
Later, I would marvel at how fast I moved and how mean I was able to be. My feeling of triumph was almost holy. So holy, that it felt like the air was thickening. Sounds seemed to magnify. Everything seemed clearer, and more beautiful.
I clutched my jewelery, the everyday magic I had crafted with wishes and callused hands. I closed my eyes. Unbidden, the song pulled its way out of the deep soil of memory in my head. I didn’t sing it, but I could hear every note in my head despite the mannered violence around me. Bless the propensity for earworms. Sometimes they can be a blessing instead of a curse.
No, I can’t recreate it for you, it’s in Romani and I’ve known it all my life. About the only Romani thing I have that my Nana taught me. It makes me feel a bit like a fraud, trying to stake a claim on a culture on the strength of a song — given that most of my inherited culture has everything to do with Bollywood and nothing to do with Romani lore. But I have something else too. I have desperate hope. And I have my craft. Every artist believes that a piece of magic, of something bigger than themselves is imbued in their work. I am stillness. I am the song inside my head that is a memory of a woman who loved me best.
Reality slowed down. A very different scene, one from the past, opened in the middle of the fight. From the threshold between our worlds, I saw vardos from several generations back, along with some campervans. The music that reached us from within was the same music in my head. The music led me back not just to the Romani drom, but to that great intersection between my inherited cultures.
I walked closer towards the threshold towards my Nana. Her face was unchanged since the last time I saw her healthy, way back in the 1990s. Kavitri stood beside her. Both of them peered at me with some surprise. If I could reach through, I could pull her back — if I could pull her back, she would be an in-between too. Faeries are in-betweens. Like artisans. We knew about the in-between. We created them.
As I reached into the doorway, Kavitri looked straight at me, smiling, and shaking her head. It was a familiar gesture, it sufficed for comprehension.
She didn’t want to be an in-between. She was happier there. Everyone seemed so happy. Longing drew me closer to the threshold, but before I could do a thing, reality stopped being thick and gooey, and I was bereft again.
Day breaks and a cock crows, somewhere out there in a Toowong garden. Right on cue, the faeries are gone. Sunlight slowly creeps its way out as the kookaburras compete with the crickets.
All that is left is me and Arjun.
“You killed my sister, you motherfucker.” My voice is weary, my epithet half-hearted. Arjun’s face is scratched and bloody. I feel smug that he no longer looks precisely like Hrithik Roshan. Perhaps Kavitri is laughing somewhere. He shrugs at me.
“It was an accident,” he says, evasive as he has always been.
My words are clipped, but soft, as though I have been screaming for hours. Rage is exhausting. “Doesn’t change the fact that it was your knife and you didn’t even bother to tell me. You used me and her.”
“Would telling you bring her back, or would it have caused even more pain?” He tried to come closer to me. I look at his face. My eyes don’t avert when I look at him anymore. My gaze on him is fixed, and hard.
“The fuck you care. You used me.”
“Gilda said she could teach you how to bring her back,” he says.
“She doesn’t want to come back, Arjun. She doesn’t want to be an in-between.”
He looks at me now, and says softly. “I know, Ranjini. I know.” He gives me a look, the look of someone who wants to be understood. I do not think he deserves that luxury.
I do not answer him. I turn my back on him and walk out of the cemetery. The battle is not over. The gangs will fight again when night falls.
And I think my business partnership has just dissolved. I do not know if I want to be anywhere around here when the fighting resumes but I also know that Guaril will be looking for me again. I am the Faerie-Maker after all. But perhaps, more importantly, I am family.
Copyright 2015 Nin Harris
About the Author
Nin Harris is a Malaysian poet, writer and Gothic scholar. Nin writes Gothic fiction, cyberpunk, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction, planetary romances and various other hyphenated weird fiction. Nin’s publishing credits include: The Harrow, Jabberwocky 3, Goblin Fruit, Strange Horizons, Lackington’s Magazine, and Alphabet of Embers. Nin is also the founding editor of Delinquent’s Spice & Truancy.