Part 34 – Ruing The Day
The coffee was a thick sludge of molten cream and muddy whorls. Estfel sat hunched at his desk, face just inches above the cup’s contents. He stirred the coffee into greater disturbance with his index finger. A remarkable bruise had blossomed in the night, running its watercolour blemish from left temple to collar bone. Estfel cinched his coat a little tighter around his bony shoulders. His naked feet continued to tap out a hungover dance on the wooden floor, nails tapping madly. His fellow editor, Melee Galabrendle lay face down on the floor, using the drafted pages of a forgotten night as mattress and quilt. She was mostly clothed, having not been convinced by Estfel’s protestations that it was a balmy summer evening perfect for swimming.
Estfel leaned back in his absurdly perfect wooden chair, feeling the spars creak along with his knees and shoulders. It would seem that his unwelcome defenestration had left a fine array of bruises down his back. Melee had been kind enough to yank out the shards of glass which had given him a lizard’s frill down one shoulder. They now lay at the bottom of a glass of violet water before him. All in all they had enjoyed a successful night – a few pleasant drinks, a scrap and hours of manic writing and editing. Obviously it remained to be seen whether they had produced the next issue or simply thought they had.
Over time Melee and Estfel had learned to resist the urge to bundle up a night’s work and thrust it straight into the printer’s hands. Issue two hundred and thirty-seven of The Journals Biologinary remained a valued collector’s piece, partly because articles were distributed freely throughout the issue without page numbers or titles, and partly because of Melee’s spectacular rant about Estfel’s inability to spell her surname. Although they absolutely stood by issue two hundred and thirty-seven, they had agreed to lock their office when drunk and throw the keys out of the windows. Later they agreed to open the window first, and gave strict instructions to Almonq at the printers to under no circumstances print anything submitted before midday. This allowed for the inclusion of pictures and the removal of personal attacks – on each other – academics were fair game.
An uncanny keening arose from the floor. Estfel filled the other cleanish cup with thick coffee from the steaming jug on the window sill and slid it to the other side of the desk.
It was a remarkable jug, though it did its best not to show it. Shortly after Melee and Estfel had taken over The Journals Biologinary (at issue two hundred and eleven) they had been presented with it as a thank you gift from the husband of one of the former editors. The thanks were for so utterly defeating the original editors, one Helmin Borescal and Turgen Kislove in a high stakes krocus game. Estfel couldn’t tell you which of the two had had a husband, since krocus involved both vast quantities of whiskey and precision with dicing mirrors. Melee had delivered the master stroke of the game, successfully blinding Kislove for three days in the eighteenth round. The stakes by that point included ownership of The Journals, Estfel’s house, Melee’s (fictitious) collection of Undergrowl pottery, unspecified but suggestive acts on the part of Borescal and Estfel’s left arm.
After a degree of arbitration, Melee and Estfel turned down Borescal and took over The Journals Biologinary. Anyway, the jug arrived at the office a few days after they did. Melee almost threw it in the bin, but Estfel had taken the rare act of reading the note that came with it. Apparently the jug was lined with feathers of the Crystal Finch, which even after separation from the bird retained its extraordinary properties. The innate light within the birds’ crystalline feathers generated an awesome amount of heat, which was cleverly funnelled and controlled within the jug by a series of mirrors and sliding ceramic filters to heat the contents and keep them hot. Perhaps not the noblest use of such a rarity but a damned useful one. Estfel remembered to twist the cone on the jug’s top which would prevent the coffee within from combusting by hiding the feathers from each other. He had no desire to explode the entire office.
Melee hauled herself into the chair opposite, shedding her blanket of paper. Her bruised and bloodied knuckles kept her attached to the desk. Her head lolled alarmingly, each nod bringing her closer to the coffee cup. Estfel let her get halfway through the coffee before bothering her with human interaction.
“Good morning my dear.”
“There is, I trust, something good about it?”
“It looks very much like we wrote the whole next issue last night. There’s certainly enough paper, and I could only count what wasn’t beneath you or clutched like a scarf worm to your bosom.”
Melee peeled a sheet of crumpled paper from her forearm, wincing as she did so. There was a pin through the paper, an envelope with another piece of paper and her arm.
“Is this in it?”
“I’ve no idea. I still can’t read what isn’t in front of my eyes.”
Melee smiled sweetly at Estfel and flung the pin into his coffee. “I think it probably should be.” She flicked the envelope onto the desk. Estfel noted that it was addressed to them both and had what might be his own boot print on it. She turned the note over and held it insultingly close to Estfel’s face. Estfel was impressed by the steadiness of her hand.
“To the… blah blah, it comes to blah blah, honoured editors – I like that bit, maybe we should update the contents page – blah blah… have reason to believe that Meriodonal University has been infiltrated by Chiverly Hermit Beetles and further that a large quantity of restricted materials,” Estfel stared at Melee until she turned the page over, “in the poisons vault have been mysteriously removed for reasons unknown but not through the normal bureaucratic routes. Yours, in anonymity.”
Melee grinned, “it’s a proper story Estfel – a proper story!”
“Shame about the anonymous bit though.”
“Let’s get to work – breakfast, wash, put the pages in order and bang out an editorial on Hermit Beetles. We’ve got a journal to publish!”
Coming Soon: Part 35 – Fools Favour Fortune