THE SHEEP IN WOLF'S CLOTHING
The airship hurtles through space at great speed. A strange contraption, its body is smooth and cold and the din within is almost unbearable.
You’ll never know how nice it seems
Or just how much it really means.
Louis Armstrong singing Basin Street Blues plays in Kitty’s headphones. Her eyes flicker open and closed as if in sleep. Her seat is the usual impossibly uncomfortable airline affair and yet the arms, like the airship’s body are cool, brassy. Her fingers tap absentmindedly as a trumpet solos. Beneath them lie the same sort of keys one would find on any brass instrument. They make a hollow sounding ‘clack, clack’ noise as she taps.
‘Kitty. KITTY!’ a voice beside her yells.
She’s finding it extremely difficult to focus, her eyes dull as if trapped behind the veil of sleep.
The voice breaks through Armstrong’s scat as a headphone is yanked from her ear and a scene snaps to life before her.
The plane is, indeed brass, but more than that - its body is constructed of trombones. The armrests are trumpets and looking out along the wing, great sousaphones power the thing. And the sound! A mighty, blaring wall of sound roars from each one of the ship’s components; a wall that is only broken by –
‘Kitty, look at me. Look at my face, Kitty.’
Suddenly, all faces aboard the curious vessel turn simultaneously in the girl’s direction and freeze.
The heads of bears, lions, wallabies and great, plumed birds sit upon human shoulders. They blink together in a sudden silence so thorough; the delicate landing of lash upon lower lid is audible. Clack - like a camera shutter.
That voice again.
This time it cues a cacophony of noise. If she thought the engines were loud, this was another audial level entirely. Squawks, shrieks, howls and roars join the impossible symphony – and that’s when it hits her. Wolf. The voice she’s hearing is Wolf’s.
‘Baby,’ Kitty murmurs through the din. ‘Why do you sound so…’
The plane disappears, the noise recedes. ‘…Strange.’
Kitty wakes up to an empty bed. The warm, familiar mass that usually inhabits the neighbouring pillow is gone. In its place, lies a note:
Gone to find myself… xx Wolf
Kitty and William first met at the old bookstore. Hidden in the midst of a maze of alleyways that climbed through one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs, the shop was a haven for scrappy artisans who fancied themselves escapees of the real world.
Esther, a round-faced eccentric with large, purple glasses, cabbage patch doll lips and brightly coloured ginger hair (not her natural shade) ran the place with the same air and authority of a Japanese geisha madam. She hated shoes and the only tell she gave of her existence between those towering shelves of art alums was the swish of one of many garishly patterned kimonos and the occasional whiff of cigar. Her voice was deep, husky and when she found something amusing (often) her laugh would escape in a bellowing bark - a throaty creature released from somewhere deep within. Kitty had loved her immediately.
Fine limbed and awkward, Kitty was just one of the many artisan escapees. With the school of fine art just a few blocks away, the young student preferred the towers of large books - solid, hard backed journals - to the company of friends in nearby cafés - bustling scenarios rammed with delicate cups and saucers easily broken, stray chair legs lying in wait to trip a clumsy passerby. And so the bookshop, along with its eccentric owner, became her haven.
She slowly came to know every nook and cranny of the place. Within the walls of that shop she studied Matisse, Rembrandt and Malevich. She poured over Picasso and sailed through Rothko’s layer-upon-layers of light. Sometimes, at night, her dreams seemed devoid of figures - in their place a blue so startling it swallowed her whole; Klein.
Frequently, a curious browser would lose themselves in those shelves. More often than not, they’d stumble upon Kitty, tucked in a corner or squatting on a footstool, her nose buried in a book. And Kitty was a useful person to find, for she knew the location of practically everything.
‘Gauguin. Third row on the left.’
‘Klimt? Take the second aisle and look just above your right shoulder.’
‘Mondrian is four paces past the cat sleeping near the back of the shop and for Dali you’ll have to climb the second ladder by the windows. No, the books will be sitting on top of the ladder - you can’t put Dali on a shelf.’
‘Munch. Hiding under the fourth bookshelf at the back with Bacon. Yes, she thinks it’s funny.’
Before the eccentric owner knew it, customers were approaching her counter, attributing their purchases to the ‘helpful girl in the corner’. So it was only natural that Esther hire her - and sometimes Kitty thought that she learnt more from Esther’s philosophical abstractions than she ever did in class.
‘Shrigley. Now that’s a name you won’t forget in a hurry,’ Esther would bark through clouds of smoke, the pair seated atop makeshift, padded milk crates on the pavement. ‘That bird… Ha! I’m flying to London to shit on the Government. It’s hilarious! I mean, who else could stuff a dog, put it on its hind legs with a sign that says, I’M DEAD and stick it right there, loud and proud and out of place, right in the in the middle of the Hayward? I say,’ she would laugh, removing her glasses and wiping glee fuelled tears from the corners of her crinkled eyes. ‘That man may not have class, but he sure has balls!’
It was in the midst of one of these sidewalk lectures that William first entered the shop. Esther had paused mid-puff to eye the tall young man as he opened the front door. ‘I think that one’s yours, Kitty,’ she said. ‘You may want to see if he needs any help.’ Entranced in Esther, Kitty hadn’t noticed the young man, but she stood anyway, quickly brushing down the creases of her coloured skirt. Turning, she opened the door of the shop, cowbell above announcing her arrival to the cats at the back - and the young man... wherever he was.
‘Hello?’ she called softly. ‘Can I help you?’
Getting no reply, the young girl started toward the window. It was a low-set bay window that acted both as a shopfront display and reading bench - it was also one of the few places that provided any natural light. Books lined sliding ladders on either side and Kitty thought it a good, visible place to hover in case the young man needed her help.
Plus, it was so pretty there. Old, warped windows cast a green hue, making the shop’s ever-present dust particles dance in rainbow shards of light. Sometimes, Kitty thought, it was like you could see each and every molecule shining in the space between outside and in and if she relaxed her eyes, just enough, she could see it - an energetic mesh that joined all things in the known universe...
‘Excuse me- ’
The voice, right by Kitty’s ear jolted her out of her reverie. Startled, she turned towards the source (which turned out to be very much closer than she was expecting) and accidentally banged her forehead on the source’s nose. ‘Ouch!’ said the source and ‘Oh sorry!’ said Kitty as she stumbled backward. Kitty caught momentarily on one of the book-laden sliding ladders, which did what sliding ladders are wont to do and slid. She tried to hold on; grasping fingers knocking books to the floor, while her feet scooted along the ground behind her, and finally, in what appeared to be one preposterous finale, those scooting feet got caught in one of Esther’s ratty, Persian floor runners. Kitty landed on the floor with an ‘Oomph,’ whereby she sat in a flustered heap of skirts and dust and floating books.
Looking up from her pile on the ground, Kitty saw, for the first time, the young man she was meant to be assisting. Tall and broad, he had tanned skin and a thick flop of near black hair that stuck up from his head in some sort of wild, lopsided mohawk. His face was strong and angular and a broad grin revealed slightly askew teeth that pushed his little incisors out in front of the others. The effect was almost cubist - an unpredictable smash of angles that served to highlight a pair of deep-set green eyes, twinkling outlandishly.
The young man suddenly put one hand to up his mouth, stifling an astonished laugh. With the other, out he reached to help the girl up...
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This project is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.