No Rest for the Weary
Indra played her torch along a slender steel bar, waiting for the moment when exactly the right length of it was exactly the right shade of red. When the moment arrived, she grabbed the bar and hauled on it with all her might. Her welding gloves began to smoke as it finally got to the right curvature, and she hissed with pain as the heat finally penetrated the gloves.
She let go of the bar, but her gloves were too hot now, so for an agonizing second or two there was no change in the feeling of searing heat. She whipped her hands back and forth to throw the gloves off. There were angry red welts across the fingers.
Damn. She was going to have blisters, but at least the curve was right. She put her cooling gloves back on, then picked up a pair of tongs and pulled the bar further through the hole in her anvil. Then she put the tongs down, studied a smudged reference photo of Philo holding a bullwhip, and picked up the torch again. This bit would be a more gentle bend in a slightly different direction; she could do it with the tongs once the bar was hot enough.
Behind her, the armatures for the major figures of Cruelty stood like angular steel skeletons. A broad-shouldered stick figure about eight feet tall with its left arm held high menaced a tiny, cowering stick figure curled into a ball. Indra could already see it; the left arm would be holding the whip. This bar, bent into the right shape, would serve as the core of a vicious whip braided of steel cable. The larger figure’s right foot, or the bar around which it would be built, rested on startlingly realistic human bones. These were ceramic; Indra had cast and fired them all during the previous week and her kilns were still ticking.
On her workbench, a resin study of Cruelty had joined the resin studies of the other gargoyles; a tall man standing on broken bones brandished the whip over the bloodied figure of a little girl. Crushed under the girl’s own feet as she cowered in terror, her forgotten rag doll echoed both her father’s feet upon the bones of her brother, and her own features and colors as though it were a daughter she herself might one day have borne.
But, for now, Indra was making the whip. Heat the bar, pull, push or beat the right curve for that section into it with the tongs or the hammer, pull it further through the hole in the anvil, heat the next section of bar. On the wall hung five tapered strands of steel cable. Indra had braided these herself, wire by wire. She’d cut her hands up pretty badly already on that task; she hated to think of the next part, where she’d be braiding the cables around the bar she was now bending.
Maybe she’d do the hands first. The whip’s handle had to fit into a hand, the hand had to fit on the armature, it should be next. She had a few good plaster casts of hands in that position, but she wanted to make a few adjustments to bring out sinews and tendons that, for her models, had not been particularly prominent. The figure of Cruelty itself was to be a gaunt figure, a figure of incompleteness.
When she finished the bar, she placed it carefully into the armature and stepped back, checking its curve and proportion. It would do. She popped up her torch goggles, pulled off her gloves, and inspected her raw, burned hands. Definitely the cable braiding should wait until she’d had some time to heal. Her shoulders hurt from all the hammer and tongs work. Sweat, free to run down her face now that the goggles were off, was stinging her eyes. It was time to take a break.
She hung up the torch and put away her hammers and tongs by the anvil. Stopping just outside the door of her studio, she stripped down to tank-top and shorts, leaving her welding leathers in a stinking heap on the floor.
Walking out into the crane bay, she felt the dull throbbing in her legs and shoulders. J.D. wasn’t around, so Indra sank down on the couch by herself and thought for a while. She missed J.D. Such a sweet girl, but no self-confidence, and hardly any self-will. Too bad J.D. was straight. Indra heaved a sigh. Oh well, at least she got to know her as a friend.
Rising from the couch was hard; in the few minutes she’d been sitting there her aching muscles had stiffened. Limping over to the fridge, she popped open the freezer compartment and got her ice bottle, then opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of chilled water.
Sitting back down, she sipped from the water bottle and used the ice bottle like a rolling pin on the tired muscles in her legs. She wished J.D. was around to do her back, but you can’t have everything.
“Herro, Indra,” said Alex from the doorway.
Indra smiled a lazy smile. “Hey, guys. J.D’s gone, could I get you to do my back?”
“J.D. broggen defnoto,” said Axel, wandering over and giving her a concerned smile. The brothers set to work on her back and shoulders for a while, as Indra relaxed, with her face sinking into the ancient couch.
Indra drifted momentarily near sleep, as Alex and Axel worked on her. They were perfectly coordinated, these two; She couldn’t even tell which hands belonged to which twin, because they worked so well together. And, having given good measure to the muscles of her upper back, and shoulders, they started down her lower back, then her arms. Her abused hands throbbed in time with the rubbing.
“To kerro toch,” one of them said, when he turned her left wrist and saw the burns on her hand. Quickly, the other turned her right wrist. “Indra! Krempf haggen drav!” they said together.
“Look, guys,” she responded. “I just got into too much of a hurry, that’s all. I’m not destroying myself over this.”
“To kerro Indra,” said Alex, “Kerro Axelax drowen,” and here he pointed at his brother’s hands. Like his own, Indra could see, they were red – both of them had a sympathy burn.
“Oh, jeez, guys, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you too.”
“To dremph kerro toch, Indra,” said Axel reprovingly. “Genexen kerro toch de — krag!” and here he gestured with disgust at her studio.
“It’s art, okay?” she snarled. “It’s not supposed to be pretty, it’s – it’s something I had to do to get it outside of me. I don’t always get to do pretty things, I have to do what’s – what’s true, okay?”
“Stech krag,” Alex said with a shrug. And then he pointed at her raw, burned hands. “Ne to kerro de krag.”
“Gods damnit,” Indra swore, “I don’t have to defend myself to you two. I’m doing what I have to do here.”
She sat up and drained the last of her water bottle, then, heavily, headed for her room, leaving the twins and their disapproval behind her.
In her room, she stripped off her remaining clothes and threw them into her laundry basket so they wouldn’t get all mixed up with the rugs on the floor. Grabbing a towel, she stalked down the hall naked, dragging it behind, and stepped into the bathroom for a shower. It had originally been just a tiny washroom with a toilet and a sink. To make room for a shower they’d had to knock out the back wall and extend it into the area that fronted the loading docks. The partition door they’d installed was a stained glass window she’d rescued from a church that was being demolished. It showed some saint or other with his intestines wound around a stick. Indra slid it aside and stepped into the shower for a long, hot soak.
Damnit, the twins were right. She was hurting herself too much for these damn gargoyles. She was doing what she had to do … but she needed a break.
Under the shower, the sweat and grime washed off her body. She scrubbed her face, then after a moment’s thought, she ducked her head under the water to wash the food coloring out of her hair. It went down the drain with her shampoo, leaving her short mop gleaming its seldom-seen bleached white. Climbing out of the shower she opened her cabinet behind the mirror. There were so many colors to choose from. What next? Her fingers picked up a bottle of orange dye…. Orange might be good. But then again…. She frowned, and put it back down. White would be good too. She hardly ever went out with her hair white.
She could not have told anyone exactly what she was thinking when she headed back to her room and sat down in front of her mirror, but she stared for a long time at Laura Houang’s ring, which sat next to her jewelry box. I-am-Rose was mixed up in the whole thing somehow. Agony. Laura. The Hook. Rose. Moving as though in a dream, she took from a drawer the big jar of cover cream she hadn’t used since she and Philo had applied for the lease here. Slowly, she dipped into it and rolled some onto her fingers. Staring at herself in the mirror over her dresser, she smudged it on her cheek. The snarling kitten and the torch tan that showed the outline of her goggles disappeared. Carefully, she worked it around her eye; the double sunburst pattern and more torch tan faded away. She gauged how much she had left. It would take most of the rest of the pot. That was okay; she could get more.
A half-hour later, a platinum blonde girl with an oddly even, pale skin tone and no tattoos gazed back at her from the mirror. It was somebody else, somebody who didn’t have to deal with all the stuff Indra had to deal with. She smiled at herself in the mirror, and, for just a minute, just a few moments, began to forget. Forgetting was … good, somehow.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.