Back into the sinister sugarglass and lovely hummingbird skull city limits, Florentin slipped a hand into an inside coat pocket to count his money while he walked. The ripple of rose petals on his fingertips felt like the burr of bookleaves he was about to purchase from a small shop on Beefeater Lane. Above the door, a little bell jingled, causing the bookseller to look up.
"I'm Vanity Florentin," he said, then felt naiveté a little like his first drink. "I called earlier about a book."
"Mm, yes, come in." The bookseller said, "Follow me, sir."
They took angels' trumpets on the verandah, each hearing the host of celeste in the rushing of blood in his ears. Florentin had barely finished his when a servant arrived with a parcel. The bookseller saw Florentin reach into his coat and said, "I'm afraid this can't be a business transaction, sir. It would put me at a liability." He shrugged his hands. "But I would be grateful if you compensated for the trumpets, times being what they are."
Florentin said good-bye and left the rose petals on the empty serving tray.
It was in Florentin's character to read banned books, and it would have pleased him to bump into a friend downtown and have the opportunity to quickly shift the book underarm, but not too quickly for the friend to glimpse the bold title Cookbook across the spine.
He didn't see anybody he knew.
But he did nearly walk straight into a matching set of police. They were standing on his front stoop, about to ring the bell. He covered his face with one hand and passed, turning to watch them from a safe distance. Both had monarch butterfly badges, which were convulsing at the scent of stolen anthemon. Like hounds, the insects played hot-and-cold with the inspectors, following the nectar trail from a flower (Florentin guessed it was one of the graveyard heists) to his front door.
Instead of pressing the bell, they each took a petunia and left. Ven opened the door an inch to watch them leave the street, spotted Vanity, held it wide for him. "That's the third patrol today," she said.
"Don't worry. I'll take care of that."
She followed him upstairs saying, "How? Those are police." Ven craned her neck. "Is that something illegal?" But he put the book on a high shelf where she couldn't reach and wouldn't say anything more about it.
Instead, as dusk spread across the high room, he said, "I'd like to see you in full sunlight again, one of these days. I never get to do that anymore."
Tears clustered up in both of her eyes and she answered, "You never will, you bastard, if the police get you." From their home, the Florentins could see fires burning in the violet fields, linking together to surround the crystal city. It was the nightly harvesters' celebration of a good day's work. A heavy feast of cabbage or turnip, dancing, sex. The night-lights for a city of children. Their scythes were stacked, once so easily used to throw down totalitarian governments, now used to sustain and supply others.
"I'm going to shatter this illusion," he said, hoping it would stop her from crying.
"What illusion? Why do you have to be so cryptic? I can never understand you anymore."
"The illusion that this world is right, is fine. That all of human progress and evolution is supposed to stop here, that it's natural for us to live forever if we have enough money. That money grows on trees. That trees and plants are commodities to be put in cages and guarded with guns instead of covering the earth. We are slaves to the things we cage."
"Vanity, love, what's the world supposed to be like?"
He grabbed her shoulders and spun her to a mirror. "See that piece of glass on the wall? It's not reflecting you. You're reflecting it! When the world raises an arm," he lifted hers, "then you do in imitation. You're not in or through the looking glass, you are the looking glass. That's not a mirror, it's the world bouncing off of you."
She stood a moment, then (of course!) asked a practical question. "What if I'm not in a room with a mirror?"
"Well then what do you look like?
"And how do you know?"