Wednesday Nibbles

“How dry I am, how dry I am,” burbled from the aquarium closest to Dr. Custler’s desk. He covered his eyes with one hand. Not what he needed right now, not at all.

“Gus, knock it off. The boss of the Sea Song Foundation’s going to be here in a minute or two, and I really do not need you messing this up. I’m on the dean’s bad list as it is.”

“Sea Song? So more like,” Gus launched into a chanty about a mermaid with a most impressive—

“Shut it!” the oceanic geologist hissed as the door to the lab opened. For once Gus listened and the obscene lyrics stopped mid-measure.

Gus (real name is Octavian) is an octopus. The above is the opening of “This, That, and the Orca”

“Have you called Donnie yet?” Lady Fatima demanded as he slid his debit card into the reader.

“Yes, sir,” Lelia Chan replied, watching the transaction cues. She hit the magic button and the green approved light appeared. “I left a message. He’s out of town this week, or so his voice mail said.”

“Physically, not just mentally,” Tay, Lelia’s lemur Familiar, giggled. Lelia gave him a dirty look, which he gleefully ignored.

Lady Fatima collected his bag and nodded. “I think he went to that big costume and design meeting in New York, the one at the Met Museum? No, wait, that was last year. New Orleans, that’s it, the meeting’s in New Orleans.”

Lelia reached over and put her hand over Tay’s muzzle, stifling whatever it was he’d been about to say, at least until Lady Fatima departed. Lady Fatima was one of their best customers, but if he felt slighted, woe unto whoever had screwed up. “Poil port,” emerged from under her hand. She removed her hand, wiped it on the rag she’d been using to wipe down the counter, and replaced the rag in the box. “I wasn’t going to be rude,” he protested, then scratched, releasing a tuft or two of grey fur.

“Your definition of rude and the rest of the world’s definitions of rude do not always coincide,” she enunciated. Tay saw nothing wrong with shedding pale grey fur all over her black and dark navy wardrobe. Neither did he have to worry about offending the people who made his pay-check possible. “You might be able to survive on magic and good looks alone, but the rest of us have bills to pay.”

“Thppppth,” came the reply. He hopped down from the counter and sauntered to the back of the shop. Lelia took advantage of his departure to clean the nose and paw prints off the glass top of the new display case. What had Arthur been thinking when he bought that, Lelia wondered again. He was thinking that it was on sale, deep sale, almost by-the-pound sale, and that having a case for more jewelry as well as Shoshana’s small prints and original sketches would stop them from walking off. Arthur had been right, but keeping the case clean had fallen to Lelia.

She bounced a little as “Blitzkreig Bop” by the Ramones came over the shop stereo. The DJ must be feeling good, she grinned to herself. That was one big advantage to working at Belle, Book, and Blacklight, the main non-mall goth-shop in the state—good music. Arthur had sworn that he’d rather close the shop and sell stuffed teddy bears and puffy pastel unicorns by mail before he bought the “soothing, uplifting” stuff they played in far too many stores and offices. “Goddess bless, everyone would run screaming the first time ‘Muskrat Love’ came on,” he’d declared. Well, Lelia giggled, not if it was that re-mix she’d heard, the one by Bat Seeking Belfry. It hadn’t been quite as dark as the black-metal version of “I love you, you love me,” but somewhere the Captain and Tennille had probably wondered what in the seven hells had hit their poor song.

As if thought summoned being, Arthur Saldovado emerged from behind the beaded curtain separating the office and work area from the main store. “I need to reboot the register and card reader. The bank,” he groaned. “They updated the software.”

“Oh no,” Lelia groaned back, covering her eyes with black-lace mitted hands. The last time, it had broken everything for two days right before Halloween. Arthur had been snarling about reenacting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with the bank’s IT contractor as Ichabod Crane. “I’ll go unpack that shipment from yesterday and check the invoices.”

“Good choice.” He fluffed the little tuft of black hair in the middle of his forehead and eased past her to take her place behind the counter. She liked his black trousers and leather cuff protectors, but wasn’t sure about the dark pink shirt. Granted, it was a very dark shade, and with his coloring he could carry the look off really well, but pink? Now, purple? Purple was good. She coveted that one purple shirt of his. Not that he needed to worry about her poaching his laundry. Her dishwater blond hair and paler complexion just did not go with dark pink. And dying her hair black, well, she’d done that once. The less said, the better.

I must be the only goth in the country who can’t look at least decent with black hair, Lelia sighed for the umpteenth time. At least I can wear black. One of the guys at the club wore whites and pastels, just for the shock value. And because he was dang near an albino, so black made him look really, really, um… Lelia tried to find a good word that wasn’t unkind, and couldn’t. She liked Cotton, as he called himself, and black just wasn’t him. Most blonds could wear black really well, but not Cotton. So he wore white, even white punk boots with black studs. And Uncle Leopard would be invisible if he went to the clubs. Nah, Lelia corrected as she got a bottle of water from the fridge. He’d stand out just by force of personality. Sorcerers tended to be like that. Mages faded into the background as much as their Familiars permitted, but sorcerers and sorceresses flaunted it. Witches were just weird. Or was that wyrd?

Tay had found the heating register and hogged the warm air, letting it waft loose fur off of him. He’d started spitting out his oil pills again, Lelia just knew. She turned her back, found the boxes that she wanted, and cut the first one open, carefully. The top flaps sprang out at her, and a mound of fabric pushed up. She found the invoice and skimmed it as she put her knife back into the sheath hanging from her belt. Four skirts, five shawls, four sets of cuffs, and two men’s hats. Which of course would be on the bottom, and probably crushed, she sniffed, silently. People just did not know how to pack clothing. She set the invoice aside and lifted the first skirt out of the box. Rayon and cotton, dark blue with darkened glass mirrors, size medium, check. She pulled a little bit of material out of the plastic and rubbed it hard between her fingers. The fingers did not turn blue this time. Very check. Some of that rayon from India and Pakistan… Had people never heard of using a mordant?


Lelia, Tay perched on her shoulder, knocked on the door. A muffled voice called, “Mm im, mm im.” Mage and Familiar shared a puzzled look, then eased through the door. Lelia extended what she thought of as magic-vision but did not sense anything strange. Or did she? No, probably not, so she shielded again and picked her way past two sewing machines and easily half a dozen bolts of cloth. A light shone from the back of the room and she went that direction.

“Come to the light,” Tay intoned into her ear, mimicking the TV preacher who had been on the news last week. Lelia bit her cheek trying not to laugh.

“There,” a man said. He sounded a little exasperated. “Now stay, dang it! I am so tired of tulle, I swear.” Lelia peered around the corner and beheld Donnie, master tailor and costume designer, on his knees beside a dress-maker’s dummy. A veritable cloud, nay fog, of pastel tulle surrounded the lower half of the mannequin in pale yellow and light pink fabric froth. “It never stays pinned.” He rocked back onto his heels then stood in one graceful motion. “Lelia Chan?”

“Yes, sir. And Tay, my Familiar. He promised not to touch anything or make a mess.” And she’d made certain that she could see his forefeet when he promised, so he couldn’t cross his digits or whatever they were called on lemurs.

Donnie couldn’t have been more than Lelia’s height, maybe a little shorter. He had a heavy build and wore a white shirt with dark cuffs, tailored brown trousers, and a dark waistcoat with a watch chain draped across it. Tiny silver scissors and thimbles served as fob charms on the chain. “Come into the light, please, ma’am.” Tay giggled and Lelia could have thumped him. She did as asked and the designer walked around her twice, looking at her clothes and figure. “Lovely tailoring, ma’am.”

Lelia blushed under her make up. “Thank you, sir.” She’d worn one of her favorite skirts and the peplum jacket that she’d found at the Community Thrift and had cut down to fit. She’d managed to preserve the soutache trim on the jacket, and really liked the neo-Victorian style, even if it had taken the better part of a month to get everything set, re-fitted, and reassembled. The lining had almost defeated her.

From another pending short story.

(C) 2019 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


23 thoughts on “Wednesday Nibbles

  1. So many new words to learn. Of course there are words for each of the different things in a tailor’s shop, and for each different style.
    Lovely word-smithing in the tailor’s shop. “A veritable cloud, nay fog, of pastel tulle surrounded the lower half of the mannequin in pale yellow and light pink fabric froth. “

  2. It is looking interesting. I was wondering about this line “black-lace mitted hands” would it be better to say mittened or gloved? Or have you used yet another word I have to look up? (haha)

    • Mitts (not counting those used in baseball) are loosely crocheted or lace-made finger-less gloves. Women were supposed to wear gloves, but mitts were an acceptable alternative if you still needed to use your finger tips (sewing, other crafts).

  3. “This, That, and the Orca” sounds far, far better than “This, That, and the Okra”

  4. The title sounds like the third short story, after “A Bowl Full of Arms” and “For a Few Arms More”. Octavian, who wants to be Gus, and singing like a drunken sailor? The comedic results look to be … legion.

    I like the Lelia/Tay snippet. Another ‘fun” minor character appears, with some interesting wardrobe complications to occur. I can see, against protestations of losing half her points, being sent to model something that began as late Victorian but finished as tulle, maybe with a royal blue taffeta bodice. Andre’s triple-take will be epic. “Muskrat Love”: that still give me saccharine shudders, uh, ‘broadcast band’ years later. I will neither confirm nor deny AM radio. The DJ does have the option of a twisted tune version called “Hamster, Hamster” – this will appeal to the goth crowd, but will make them check their chicken nuggets very closely.

  5. Nice before dinner snacks.

    So when’s dinner (ie the book)? 😀

      • Your Day Job must take priority over our reading pleasure. 😉

      • Not that we won’t stop wishing or muttering (here or elsewhere) for more. 😀

  6. Interesting. It seems like every Familiar is a snark lord, but they also know when it’s really truly time to stow the snark and behave.

    (An octopus Familiar. Wow. And I was just reading Sy Montgomery’s book about octopodes and how unnervingly intelligent they seem to be…)

    Minor proofreading gripe: several lines read like Leila’s internal thoughts, but they aren’t italicized. Not a serious thing – first you gotta get the words out before you think about prettifying them. Just thought I’d mention it.

    • I couldn’t recall if I italicize thoughts in the Familiar books or don’t. I’ve been revising something where I don’t, so…

  7. A mermaid with a most impressive … backstroke?

    I read a year or two back that in spite of their apparent symmetry, octopuses have four arms they prefer to use for locomotion and four they prefer to use for manipulation.

    But how does a water-bound familiar walk up and introduce itself? Now there’s a story that deserves to be told!

    • Unlike fish, octopuses are perfectly happy out of water as long as they remain wet and can breathe. Their ability to survive for several minutes out of water is one of the things that makes them such a difficult aquarium animal. A spell to keep it damp, another one to supply it with oxygen, and an octopus could ride on a person’s shoulder, or in a waist pouch, or in a large pocket…

    • Poor George A. Custler [he hates his parents] was sitting on the dock, grumbling about core samples coming out wrong, and a voice that he thought was a colleague informed him that’s what happens when you use bits from [company]. And the rest is history…

      • If George also writes thrillers on the side about Dave Pratt and NUMC, it’ll raise a titanic amount of literary, author, and character jokes.

        What bugs me is that I’ve been in similar conversations that started the same way, and turned into significant work. Life is Good, but it’s also very odd.

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