thewolfeinwillowell: (girl against sky)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell posting in [community profile] dearcousin
Dear Emma,

One thing I do not miss about school—one of many on my very long list, that is—is homework. It takes all the enjoyment out of learning. My sympathies, dear cousin. As for Dana and this what's-his-face Jake (more like what's-his-face jerk), you know I would sock each of them in the face, don't you? I might not even get suspended for the second one, since boys have their stupid masculine pride.

I do have another brief anecdote about Christophe that occurred early on. It does not seem strange to me anymore, but you may still find it curious. One day, as I was returning home from the bookstore (which is actually a library but everybody calls it a bookstore), I had just laid a hand on my front door when Christophe's swung open, and he stood in the doorway in an olive and crimson cape and said, "Ilyana, would you like to join me for a stick of butter?"

"Sorry, what?" I said, for I was sure I had misheard him.

"I have, once again, prepared enough dinner for two. Alas, ever since my beloved Victoria was lost to me, I all too often forget I am but one man who can eat but one stick of butter—" Again, I was sure I had misheard him. "—and yet, to prepare just one feels wrong, for living alone is a habit my hands are loathe to recall."

This was the first I had heard of Victoria, and Christophe seemed so lonely that I humored him and agreed to joined him for dinner.

Sure enough, when I entered his apartment, I found two settings at his dining table by the window, each consisting of a plate, a fork, a knife, a crimson napkin to match the crimson lining of his cape, and atop each plate, a stick of butter.

Do not attempt to eat a stick of butter, Emma, even to be polite. Do not do it. Do not.

As the two of us ate our butter in neat slices, with Christophe obviously enjoying it far more than I, I tried to naturally slow the pace of my eating through conversation. I asked him about Victoria.

"Victoria. Lovely, sweet Victoria. She was my wife, my sun and moon, the star around which revolved my existence. We met one summer evening, when the red fog was rolling in from the coast, blanketing the elder trees in a sparkling ruby dew. We fell in love instantly and made our home together right here in Willowell. When we wed, Ygritte wailed and Miss Bell clanged louder than they ever had, and even Old Man Tango who lives across the way gave us his congratulations.

"But over the past few years, instead of, Would you like an extra slice of cheese, polar bear?, she would ask, Can you not leave the living room lights on all night? Thanks, or Are you done with this week-old food that has been sitting out on the counter? Thanks. Then one day, I came home, and she had packed her things and left."

He sighed and picked at his butter. "I'm sorry for being such a glum chum, Ilyana. Why don't I wrap that butter up for you to take home? I–I think I'd like to be alone right now."

I nodded, told him I was sorry about Victoria and hoped he would feel better, and we shared an awkward hug before he sent me home with my butter wrapped in foil.

On the bright side, I then had most of a stick of butter, which I used to make raspberry cookies.

As for Azra, I am sure he has many stories that he keeps in his head, but he does not offer them, and so I do not ask. I've realized that while he is neither talkative nor silent, I do not know much about him and cannot easily tell what he is thinking. Partially because face is always half-hidden in that impressive tangle of hair.

After our first meeting, I actually did not see him again for a few weeks. When I did, I was walking by the park on my way home from the silent movie theater that only shows German expressionist films, and he was sitting on a play structure, holding a radio in his lap. I walked closer, and I realized it was playing white noise.

"I know you," I said.

Without looking at me, he said, "Do you?"

"You pulled me out of my grave."

"I pull everybody out of their graves." He seemed more interested in the static from his radio than in me.

"So you don't remember me?"

"I didn't say that." He paused. "I'm not good with faces, but I am good with names."

"Ilyana Wolfe," I offered.

He turned off and set down his radio. "Fourteen years old. Drowning. Willowell Apartments, Number Two," he recited. "Yes, Ilyana Wolfe. I remember you. I am Azra the Death Boy." He hopped to the ground and did a little bow. I halfway returned one when he said, "Do you like pizza?"

He led me into a shopping center of short, rectangular concrete blocks, the middle one of which boasted a flashing neon sign that read Pfilman's and an orange glow from inside the windows. All the other buildings were dark and lifeless, as if Pfilman's alone had forgotten to die.

A tiny bell chimed when we entered the restaurant, which was cozy and cheerful on the inside, with posters of cartoon pizzas on the walls. The proprietor was a sharp-boned demon with an epidermis the color of a bruise and a face stretched on like a mask. I say epidermis because I am not sure what covers him is skin. It looks rough to the touch, though of course I have never reached out to poke him. He wore a nametag that read Pfilman, and he greeted us with a toothy grin.

I followed Azra when he went straight up to Pfilman and ordered, "Anchovies, please." I noticed that through the wide window behind Pfilman, there were only shadows where the kitchen should be.

"Will do," said Pfilman, chewing on his gum. He turned toward the shadows and yelled, "HEY, ANCHOVIES, ONE SLICE TIMES TWO!" and was met with an answering groan. "So, Azra the Death Boy. Who's your friend?"

"I'm Ilyana," I said. I held out a hand, and Pfilman placed a peppermint candy in it.

"Ilyana Wolfe," Azra said. "Fourteen years old. Drowning."

"Yeah, I'll bet," the demon said. "Tell me, did you, heh, pull her out of her grave?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"I pull everybody out of their graves," said Azra.

Pfilman rolled his eyes and looked at me. "'I pull everybody out of their graves,' he says. Can you believe this guy?"

"Does he not?" I asked, somewhat garbled by the peppermint in my mouth.

"Oh, no, he does, the ones who are buried six feet under anyway, but he only takes the pretty ones out for pizza. Speak of the devil." Pfilman turned around again, reached his hands deep into the shadows, and pulled out two plates, each with a slice of anchovy pizza. Azra and I each took one, and we sat ourselves at a table near the back of the shop. "Hey, where you goin'?" Pfilman called after us. "Oh, fine, leave me here all alone with these spooks."

"I apologize if Pfilman made you uncomfortable," Azra said, taking his seat. "He mistakenly equates beauty with youth. All whom I have treated to pizza had, like you, died before reaching adulthood."

"Does that mean you don't find me pretty?" I teased.

"As I said, I'm bad with faces," and he shoved half his pizza slice in his mouth.

We talked about ordinary things, such as how I'm settling into my new apartment, movies we had recently seen, and so on. At one point I asked, "So how did you get your job?"

"What job?" he asked.

"You know, pulling people out of their graves."

"It isn't a job," he said. "It's what I do and what I have always done."

He's pretty weird.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Love,
Ilyana

May 2015

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