Imp spun into Spree's back door, a small keg of Schlegenskarben over his shoulder.
"What's everyone so gloomy for?"
They told him about Iridella. He thought for a second. "Has anyone seen to her cat?"
Ivylynne stared at him,"What cat?"
"Well, she certainly seems like the sort to have a cat..."
"You've never met her,"said Iris.
"Well, then, someone better find out, hadn't they?"
Spree got into her anorak, looking like a homeless circus tent, and gathered her keys and purse. "I've got her address. How will I get into her place?"
Beth shrugged her shoes back on. "I'll come, I know a few tricks."
They bustled through the door.
Iris turned back to Imp. "Anything else?"
"Did she leave anything here? Is there anything she touched, specifically?"
"Why? You gonna pull a seance?"
"You got any better ideas?"
"Uh,"said Ivylynne. "She was playing with this statue last night. Held it for a while. Said it reminded her of something her mother had at her house." She indicated a polychrome plaster statuette of a clown with a puppy, both wearing those ruffled grotesque collars and red noses and tiny hats.
"Don't touch it," said Imp. He put down the keg, which he had been drinking directly from, and went to the shelves and gently waved his hands on either side of the statuette. "Good," he said.
"This is getting freaky," said Iris.
"Freakier than having an expectant woman in an almost coma? Anyway, I need a baggie. A big one. We need to get this statue to the hospital for testing. It looks like an older Chinese export thingie and the paint could be irradiated and lead based. Iridella might have rubbed her eyes or around her mouth after handling it. The worst thing is that she could have gone to the loo and wiped..."
"Nah, she said she had sat here for five hours without getting up."
"But she had to be up to touch the figurine, didn't she?"
"Oh, s**t, you're right. Could it be that simple?"
"Probably not. But whatever triggered the event wasn't at her work or home. She's been around both since the beginning of her pregnancy. Last night she was here and today she's in distress."
"But if she has a problem with something she was exposed to in this apartment, then the rest of us might, too, right?"
"Not necessarily. You might not have the same set of sensitivities or you might not have touched the same things. Besides, she's a bit further along in her pregnancy, from your account, about seven months, than any of you were when you first visited. Anybody got Dr. Spleen's number?"
Iridella was tasting things. She couldn't see where they were coming from, but they filled her mouth. Her arms were outspread as if she was flying, but she couldn't feel her legs. Her toes were bare, though, as she could feel cool air and some sort of cloth brushing against them. She liked her toes. She rarely painted her nails. She like to see her clean feet. She had special soaps, not to soften them, but keep them ready for anything. Sometimes she liked to go over to the local college track and run a bit barefooted. It made her feel free and tough and fleet and real.
She felt about two inches thick, with a cool chocolatey filling. Her hair was alive and gently caressed her face and her pubes. She could feel the bare spot on her arm where her watch was supposed to be. She wondered what time it was.
She remembered her cat, Fog, sleeping across her face, his tail down the decolletage of her Chanel gown. She remembered his cat foody breath on her ear. The grind of his purr and the rhythm of his flanks breathing.
She loved that cat. It was an anniversary present from God. A rainy night and a damp bundle of indignant fur that boiled over the door frame into her foyer. It took her and Scrod hours to get it out from under the art deco sideboard. They finally succeeded with a mixture of M and Ms and Wheat Chex. She grabbed him and Scrod toweled him, both of them wearing oven mitts. Fog hated oven mitts forever after and tore them to bits whenever he discovered them.
She could hear talking somewhere. She could hear her supervisor's bitchy voice. For some reason she was talking about orgasms... with Dr. Spleen... how fascinating...
It was Sandy who jumped into her Rover and whizzed the figurine to the hospital. Iris had gotten ahold of Dr. Spleen and told her of it's possible significance.
Dr. Spleen made no promises. She was as baffled as anyone and ready to grasp at straws. The conversation with the company doctor, an older fellow looking forward to his second retirement, had elicited information that he had had to treat a series of allergic reactions in the building during the last month. The examination of the nail beds and scholera were to compare Iridella's case with a half a dozen others. He was close to the source of the trigger element, but the cleaning crews would not cooperate in helping isolate it. They were afraid that they would get blamed. So he and the various company nurses had been keeping an eye and a nose out.
Dr. Spleen and Iridella's GP, DR. Flourner, didn't think that patch tests were a good idea in her current state. They did blood tests and finger nail and mucous residue tests and even took clippings of her hair, nails and eye lashes. They did tongue scrapings and and urine tests. They vacuumed her clothes and emptied her purse. They checked around her desk and vacuumed her blotter and her keyboard and her personal coffee maker and her desk chair...
Then she had this odd vision of a hand reaching out of her abdomen, then a foot...
the top of a tiny head and then two beady little eyes followed by a flat nose and a laughing mouth...
The baby sang to her:
"Mommy, mommy, moomy, moomy,
don't have a clue, clue, clue.
She lays there, all spread out,
thinner than drying glue, glue, glue."
From somewhere, a drummer kicked in with a shuffle.
A bass thrummed a minor scale before settling in to walk with the drums.
"Mommy, mommy, moomy, my!
How long there are you gonna lie?
If you don't lift your lazy head,
I think that soon you will be dead!"
Then the guitar player rose up just beyond her feet, playing an ancient hollowbody with three single coil pickups. He began to solo with an ehoey wail, the midrange punched just a little on the amp and his fleet fingers working overtime on both hands. The drummer began to celebrate every eighth note with a cymballic whack and the bassest began to wander off on a solo of his own, in the same key range, but a slightly different scale.
Then she heard the screech of nursing shoes on a freshly-waxed floor. The music faded. The baby crawled away, toward her feet.
She heard the cacophonous racket of a fork being dropped on the floor.
She opened her eyes, then the other set, then her fists and she saw J.L. and Dr. Spleen looking down at her.
"Hi, J.L.. I didn't know you were nipple orgasmic..."
"I'm about to become fist orgasmic. How long have you been laying there faking?"
"Not as long as Dr. Spleen has."
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Infinite Improbability Drive
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