Gerard Manley Hobgoblin shared a room with his older brother. It stank. His brother’s chest heaved up and down with each breath. Gerard put on a yellowed shirt and his brown vest and went into the kitchen. After he got the bacon sizzling, he sprinkled some brown sugar on it. That smelt much better.
Bacon and milk, a good breakfast for once, he thought. Usually they ate oats, but Mrs. Kilts had given Gerard a pound of bacon for the recent holiday. He knew that both generosity and pity spurred Mrs. Kilts to give such a gift. That didn’t bother him one bit. He did not feel self-conscious about needing a little help. His brother Ozzy, though, did. He did not like asking anyone for help. Ozzy worked, got paid, and went home. If he needed more money, he’d work more. He was not bitter. Instead he was quiet. That was one of many reasons Gerard had reverence for his brother. Despite his loud breathing while he slept, Ozzy had quiet grit.
Ozzy stepped into the kitchen, grunted a good morning, and began to eat. In the back room, their mom was speaking softly with their little sister. Ozzy finished, stepped into the back room bringing a plate of food with him, and kissed mother and sister goodbye. He ducked under the doorway and stepped outside, a few tools on his belt and a few knives hidden on his person. Later that evening, Ozzy would meet Gerard at Kilts’ Quilts, where Gerard would make sure Ozzy was in good enough condition to come home.
“Gerard! Thank you for making breakfast,” their mom called.
Gerard walked out toward work. Small, cramped houses sandwiched a few small, cramped shops. The street curbs were high, nearly a foot high so that pedestrians would not have to step in street sludge. The sludge was nasty. And no one was paid to remove it. Kids told each other rumors about the terrifying things which happened to people who stood in the street for too long: rot-foot, paralysis, zombiefication.
Gerard crossed the street by hopping across elevated stepping stones. The stones blocked transport down side streets but were important for pedestrians. He turned a corner and made it to Kilts’ Quilts. He worked for a few hours organizing, sewing, and cleaning for the Kilts. Sure, kids his own age laughed, and customers raised eyebrows that this large 14 year-old boy was patching their clothes and sewing their quilts, but he had a job. And after five hours of diligent work, Mrs. Kilts would let him leave for two hours—two blissful hours.
When his break came, Gerard scrambled out the door, made his way through some alleys to a neighborhood with many trees. Passers-by thought he was in a panic, a lunatic. He ducked behind a single-family house and immediately climbed a tree—obviously a lunatic. But hidden among these trees was a small platform with low walls. Via was sitting up there with a book in her hand. Gerard climbed to the tree-platform, but did not see her.
“Up here, Reverb!”
Gerard looked. Book in her right hand, he saw too late her left hand flick a nut. It popped Gerard right beneath the eye.
“How do you expect me to read, when you are trying to poke my eyes out?” He shouted back. “And ‘Reverb?’ You’ve come up with better nicknames than that.”
Via jumped from where she was and landed on the platform. Gerard heard a minor cracking sound in the wooden boards. They sat. The book today was a new one, Tales of a Shapeshifter. Gerard read aloud. Occasionally she’d interrupt to ask him if he understood what was happening. Little did he know, she loved to hear him read. Via always chose books with lots of conversation so that Gerard would change his voice to match the characters. His voice was his great talent. He could parrot at any accent, ape any tone, mirror any gesture. Sometimes he would even throw it, making it sound like it was coming from different directions. She interrupted to ask him what he thought about different story elements. It was her way—her contribution. Eventually, the interruptions turned into conversation, and they set the book aside. After about an hour, they jumped down and ran to the central square where David Lamb performed at this time. His songs always told stories about storms, grit, and hardened people. Everyone gave David a few coins, and then he began. The crowd in the square hung on his tune, transported to the realm of thought and memory. They tapped their feet to the beat, looked into the sky, enjoyed the breeze more than ever. When David finished, he thanked them and went back to work, and they sighed.
No one in this neighborhood knew that David was immensely influential in the city and did not need their little coppers. But he took the coins all the same to later give away. David just came, played his tunes, helped the Construction Guild for a few hours, and then left.
“Via, I think I should become a bard like David Lamb,” Gerard said as they walked toward Kilts’ Quilts.
“What type of performance would you want to do?” Via laughed.
“The type… which requires… voice throwing…” Gerard said, and his voice bounced from place to place, coming from one direction to another.
Via laughed again. “Okay, wise guy. I’ve been telling you we should do puppet shows forever.”
“I think you are right. I think I have stories I want to tell.”