“Mr. Fox, where are you going today?”
The man turned around. “To my store, of course.”
A woman unspooled from the alley. She was taller than Mr. Fox, and thinner than Mr. Fox, and dressed in a manner that had not been fashionable for centuries. But she was beautiful enough — witch hazel eyes, razorblade bones, a mouth like a promise — that none of those factors mattered, except in ways that benefited her. The woman cocked her head.
“Ms. Crow.” said Mr. Fox. “It has been a while.”
“Such the gentleman, you are. I’ve almost forgotten. Why have we spent so much time apart?” Ms. Crow sighed as she undulated forward, oil-black hair like a funeral veil over her shoulders.
Mr. Fox said nothing. In his bedroom sat a trunk brimming with old letters from Ms. Crow — wax paper missives tattooed with neat cursive script. Although he had not replied to a single one, he had read them all. Backwards, naturally. While holding the message up against the cold light of a dead man’s candle. Mr. Fox had no love for the worries that Ms. Crow delivered, but he wasn’t, as stated before, unkind, and saw no reason to not liberate the captured anxieties.
Raven wings, ash-heavy sparrow wings; please-please-pleases pouring into the air.
Fear of flying, fear of falling, a snarl of household trepidations.
“Does my hair look okay?” “Can I pay my rent?” “Will-it-can-I-will-he-can-she?”
“Always so enigmatic.” Ms. Crow draped slender fingers over Mr. Fox’s elbow, demanding, challenging. “Will you walk with me, Mr. Fox?”
He shrugged and crooked his arm.
And they walked, a freckled man with hair like a breath of autumn, a woman who wore her strangeness like armor. The fall of their steps and the cadence of their breaths matched perfectly, components in a vast machine. It wasn’t until they reached Mr. Fox’s pop-up cart in that corner of old Savari that Ms. Crow spoke again, her voice a chuckling growl.
“The boys and I were talking. We’ve decided that we have a challenge for you,” said Ms. Crow.
Mr. Fox continued to say nothing, busying himself instead with preparations for a day of quiet commerce. Around them, Savari stirred and blinked in the glare of the morning sun. In minutes, customers would come, drawn by the giggles that Mr. Fox sold in thimbles of jewelled glass.
“We wish to prove to you the irrefutable pointlessness of novelty, Mr. Fox,” said Ms. Crow, as she trailed narrow fingers over a gleaming bottle. “Because we care about you.”
“My business,” said Mr. Fox, in a bassy purr, the words oiled by ritual. “is my business. You know this, Ms. Crow.”
“But your business isn’t as profitable as it could be.”
Mr. Fox shrugged. “Nevertheless.”
“Besides, we could give you what you’ve desired for all these years. “
The quiet Mr. Fox cocked his head in reply, interest stinging the impassiveness of his facade. While he seldom agreed with Ms. Crow, she was one of the few who shared his exacting nature. This was not an idle offer.
“Silence, a reprieve from our good intentions.”
Mr. Fox paused. Ms. Crow smiled jaggedly, eyes halogen-bright. She stalked closer, winding fingers around Mr. Fox’s calm, pale face.
“For how long?” asked Mr. Fox.
And Mr. Fox said, “Tell me about this deal.”