?Sure,? she said. ?You?re all bone as it is. You made it farther than I thought you would. And in the daylight no less.?
?What does that have to do with it??
Risa took a seat on Val?s left and crossed her legs. She reclined and gazed upwards thinly. ?The girl who worked the desk downstairs, as well as several of the interns, had a bet going: Just what are you? Vampire was an easy first pick, even though you seemed to do well in sunlight. Guess it was your skin and sunny attitude.?
?Was that your pick?? Val asked.
Risa shook her head. She said, ?No. Because I worked for you directly I tried to stay away from the betting as long as possible?not because you scared me, I?m sorry to say, but because it was unprofessional?my involvement was limited to slaying strange theories. I told them I didn?t believe you were a Vamp. I told them in-fact that I didn?t believe you were anything contemporary in the least. I actually thought there was a possibility that you were a man and nothing more, but strange stories kept surfacing. Then your sister showed and everything changed.?
?I can imagine. She refer to any of you as, ?Brides???
?Yes, yes,? Risa said, nodding; grinning. ?Elaborate on that??
?Too long a story to tell, and by the time I finished I?d have divulged my origins. I?m curious if you had any strange theories yourself.?
?Of course I did. I thought you were undead.?
?Like a zombie,? she said. ?An animated corpse.?
?Mm. Smell that bad, did I.?
?Not in the least,? Risa said. ?It was the?? She indicated her neck and chest with motions of hand. ??what-have-you: the black bruises and eaten skin you?d occasionally show up with. But, I promise it wasn?t an unflattering assumption. My idea was more of a?King. Like, The Lord of Necropolis, something just-so. Understand??
?So, King of The Dead, mm?? As he spoke the silver cigarette case was produced and raided; Risa declined by presenting her palm. While flame ate the tip of the cigarette; mumbling around it, he said, ?You?re not too far off.?
Risa clapped a single time in excitement. ?Two-hundred,? she cried. ?The jackpot! I?m going to stop by the old building and collect on my way home.?
??Similar? does not mean ?correct?,? he said. ?Seems you scamps erected pretty lax betting guidelines. I?ve played games of cards with men so rich and fickle they had rules, niches, guidelines and rituals for everything. People of Extremes. A little bit of compromising can go a far, far way: a good way. But knocking people off their platforms is impossible because we?ve yet to find any other way to do it. Because you can?t help or ease people off their platforms,? he said, taking a slouched but ready and excited pose, both of his hands in front of him, fingertips nearly touching as if they held an orb or ball smoked or inflated by the irrevocable sin bundled-up in his sermon. ?Because then it?s patronization or humiliation by way of the procedure and not the opposing point or ideal: The procedure. How idiotic. To refuse sense or teaching because the method of transition does not do brutal-enough-justice to the defensible point. All guilty. All, me especially, guilty. The number of times I?ve put myself at risk of bodily harm because I was too stubborn to happily accept opposition is unacceptable: I, like so many others, prefer to be beaten off my points so that I can pay homage to my paper constitution with memories of anguish and, when really lucky, scars.?
??Really lucky?,? she repeated in a deep, teasing voice. ?You're drunk, Mr. Val. Mostly an idiot, though. You know that??
?I don't,? he said. ?Doesn't mean I haven't been told that more times than I care to admit, though.?
?And by your theory,? she said. ?not very lucky. Only the one scar, right? So many precious points done injustice.?
?Tell me then,? he said while straightening himself out, that cigarette still burning, unaided by hand, in the corner of his mouth. ?Your scars?they don?t bring forth a sense of pride? That you endured the pain; that you go on rather well??
Risa stood. ?A sense of pride,? she cried. ?In what! ?Go on?? There was no lesson.?
?We?re not all the same,? she interrupted. ?Just because you talk yourself to exhaustion and talk prettily doesn?t mean it?s all that. Do you want to know what these taught me?? Risa turned her head sidelong, presenting her right cheek and the snuffed ear with its even, wrinkled slice. She began to curl a tassel of hair behind the lobe. ?This taught me that getting your ears cut-off hurts like ****ing hell, Val. I was eleven, I wasn?t standing up for anything or anyone or even myself. I was in the way of wrath and it threw me on the ground and mutilated me. Tell me, how many times have you been the wrath? How many times have you been the affront without pause or care or purpose: How many have died or been maimed in your name??
He said, ?A few.?
Swiftly and angrily the woman fell back down to the bench. She kept her eyes trained ahead and between the pair a silence was nursed. Val smoked. When the ember crawled into the filter an immediate replacement was produced, but the minute the fresh pin was lit between his lips Risa snatched it away and stole several quick, powerful pulls. Chest rising, nose venting dual streaks: The woman repeated this intake-and-release until around her now-messy hair, vacant-eyes, painted mouth and clipped ears persisted a smog, the cigarette halved in maybe a minute?s time. When she passed the cigarette back Val stared a moment before accepting it. There was a moment when both his fingers and hers were wrapped around the cigarette as it moved from she to he, and during that moment Val?s mouth opened. Risa?s tongue was quicker, however: ?Outbursts aren?t really my thing. I?m sorry, they make me look ugly. I was lying too, because my viewpoint of the world was shaped that day, so there was a lesson of course. I learned that day, while the young hunter?s knee was jammed in my chest and his paring knife, one he?d probably used to skin innumerable beasts, was harshly severing the pretty tips of my elven ears, that there really isn?t a reason for anything in this world. He was a boy not much older than me, maybe by two or three years. And what really hurts the most is that he didn?t even want to do it. It was for no reason. It?s not some ?practice? or ?ritual? to slice the tips off of eachother?s ears where I?m from?it was a heinous act that the men this boy was with thought-up on the spot. I remember the pain of it. I remember the sunlight cracked between the canopy, as I was attacked in the forest outside my village, but most of all I remember the stupid, weak, scared face of the boy as he cut me. I remember that it was an expression so pathetic and absent that, while his knife was hooked in my flesh and I could feel the traces of blood on my cheek by the heat alone, I actually felt bad or sorry for him. That stuck with me. For years I thought about it, about how absurd and random it was. Sometimes I would think, ?I must?ve felt bad for him because I?m such a great person?. Sometimes I hated myself for feeling it. I?m not the brightest bulb, Mr. Val, so I couldn?t come up with some outstanding philosophical contemporary to balance my anguish with value. I?m a simple girl so I can only take things at face-value: I was beaten and thrown to the ground by a young man who was egged-on by three of his elders then scarred by the same boy because he sought to impress them. Wrath ran into me, nothing more. It?s not always wrath, though,? she said while rising. A little bit of straightening got her hair and clothes in order and in a minute?s time she looked as she had when first they?d entered the bar they?d left almost an hour ago. One last time she settled her haloes over the man. She said, ?Sometimes something wonderful runs into us. The shame is we treat the good and bad the same. We ponder on why bad things happen to us and curse the world for allowing it, and we ponder on the good and curse ourselves for accepting it knowing we deserve none of it.?
?You?re leaving me here?? Val asked through a half-lit, mostly drowned and drowsed grin.
?Have to,? Risa said. ?Bringing this all up has reminded me that I don?t know if it?s the wrath or the wonderful with you. I need to go home and decide whether to curse the world for you or curse myself for having you.?