Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Market Street, Day 2: the Waitress

Gisella Peliak is a waitress at the Krolem Hmuytebit, a restaurant on Market Street. Its name means "the Affable Troglodyte." In SuyMaTmakk, it's called a yanyanitlekka, which means something like, "sunrise, sunset, all night long." It never closes. In other parts of the world, it would be called a diner.

There was some sort of festival today - just a minor one, I think. Crowds of people lined up along the docks and threw weeds into the lake, which sucked them down into itself (except where people had brought bladderwort or floatweed. I'm not sure whether or not this counts as cheating). The festival is called the Eating of the Weeds, or something of the sort; it has something to do with farming. A few people tried to explain it to me, but I couldn't hear them very well. I'm fairly sure at least half of them were drunk.

The crowds got to be too much for me after a while, so I ducked down a few alleyways to find a more peaceful spot. Alleys in SuyMaTmakk are even more like crooked birds' nests than the rest of the city. No one bothers to weave neatly on the back of a building. I eventually came out on the quieter end of Market Street. There was hardly anyone there; they were all at the festival. A tall person in a striped cloak - male or female, I couldn't tell - was poring over a bookseller's stall, running a slow finger along the spine of each book, as if reading an unfamiliar language one letter at a time. It looked as if this had been going on for a while. The bookseller was snoring. Other than the two of them, and a couple of construction workers napping on a half-woven building, there was no one on the street.

I stopped for lunch at the nearest restaurant, which turned out to be the Affable Troglodyte. It was nearly deserted as well. There were a few people reading at solitary tables, a couple who appeared to be quietly celebrating an anniversary, and an insect mother and child playing some sort of pencil-and-paper game between crumb-scattered plates. That was all.

I stayed there for most of the afternoon, sitting in a back corner and sketching the other customers. Not many came in. The ones who did usually stayed a while, sitting still, which made them easy to sketch.

Ms. Peliak noticed what I was doing when she brought me lunch. (I forget what it was. Something made of locusts.) Her nails were painted bright pink; so were the tips of her tusks.

"Hmm," she said. "Not bad. Have you been here after dark?"

I hadn't.

"You might want to come back then," she said, and moved on to refill someone's coffee without another word.

The sun was hot and the crowds were noisy, so I decided to simply stay there. It wasn't as if I was taking up needed space; not even half the tables were full.

At about midnight, someone turned the lamps down, and the diner became a dim cave. The customers were stranger after that.

It started with the usual mix of troglodytes and nocturnals - people with pale skin and large eyes, snakes and ferrets, the kinds of miners who never leave the house without a pickaxe. Many of them wore dark glasses and wide-brimmed hats. A bat-woman came in wearing a waistcoat fastened with magnets. There were so many rings in her ears that she jingled when she turned her head. A group of werewolves came in soon after midnight, on two legs or four or something in between. They were laughing and talking among themselves as they ordered meat and green tea. The topic of conversation always seemed to be the moons.

A steady procession of fishy people went in and out all night, dripping with lacy fins and clear lake water. Most of them were wearing weeds, the same little stalks and flowers that had been thrown from the docks that afternoon, tucked into their pockets or gills. They ordered soup and ate it with great slurping gusto.

The person in the striped cloak came in carrying a single book. It was small, but obviously carefully selected. The person sat down at a table and unwrapped the cloth from its head to reveal more cloth. This layer was in a dark gray houndstooth pattern. There was a horizontal tear near the bottom of what I'm assuming was the person's head, into which it tucked tiny slices of potato for almost three hours.

At a table in the back, a man with four ears sat and muttered to himself while he made painstaking repairs to what looked like a disembodied hand. I assumed he was either a shapeshifter or an expert on clockwork. He crunched peanuts from a bowl as he worked. After an hour or two, he unfolded a third arm from his coat and attached the hand to its wrist. He grinned in satisfaction as he flexed the fingers. I'm still not sure whether it was real or clockwork, but whichever it was, he seemed to have gotten it to work.

Vague upright shadows flitted across the floor to lurk under tables, as if even the dim lamp light was too much for them. They gave their orders in flickering sign language. What they got was either ink or the blackest coffee I've ever seen.

Two men sat down on opposite sides of a small table. "It is time," said one of them.

The other man nodded. "Have you the Tome?"

The first man pulled an enormous book out of his coat - I have no idea how it fit - and thumped it onto the table. It was bound in green leather, singed at the corners. The two of them stared at it for a while.

Eventually, the other one reached into his own coat and pulled out one of the little booklets of crossword puzzles that you can buy at the market, three for a Packle.

"Ah. The Tome," said the first man.

"What dreadful checkered mysteries it contains." The other nodded solemnly.

"This night shall see their unraveling."

"Indeed. Let us begin."

They spent the rest of the night doing crossword puzzles with the solemnity of a burial. They were still there when I left.

Ms. Peliak served everyone with equal cheer, pink nails shining in the dim lanterns. Apparently, she's used to them all by now, or professional enough not to show it if she isn't. She asked several of them about their families.

"I visited my parents at their home last night. Then I woke up."

"My sister has been dead for ten years now. She said to thank you for the flowers you sent last week."

"My aunt is downstairs, my uncle is upstairs, my grandfather is on the roof. When it rains, he is the first to know."

"Fam'ly? Whazzat?"

"My children number in the hundreds. They knit me socks to make me proud. Whatever shall I do with so many socks? I have only three feet."

A drifting, diaphanous thing came up through the floor at three o'clock, wreathed in smoke. I'm fairly sure it came through the cracks between the tiles. It sat slightly above a table and drank the smoke from a bowl of incense as if it was a fine wine.

That was when I left. I was too exhausted to tell if the thing was real or a sleep-deprived hallucination. In fact, I wonder the same thing about most of the people I saw last night. Ms. Peliak is the only one I'm sure was real. She was there all night, solid among shadows and phantoms, serving eggs and pouring coffee. I don't know when she sleeps.

This, as you may have guessed, is the reason my letter was late yesterday; I was up all night at the diner. I think it was worth it - for this picture, if nothing else.

I haven't included any of my other sketches. I'm not sure I believe them.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter