“So food just shows up?” I ask again.
“Food just shows up.”
“Well, it’s always been that way. Ever since they hired me. They leave me some food and stuff, but I still have to pretend to grow my own. And consult the stars and the scrolls and whatnot. But yeah.”
“Wait, you’re working for someone? Who? There’s nobody else here!”
She mulls a minute.
“It’s true that I haven’t actually seen anyone in quite a while. And there’s a lot of… of…”
“Yes, eternal blackness. Plenty of that about. I can predict the weather for you if you like.”
I step to the door, gazing out at nothing. It’s unsettling, and very tiring for my eyes.
“Yeah? Is it going to be sunny?” I ask under my breath.
“How is the business job going?”
“Quite well, thank you. Business is jobby.”
“That's the truth and a half!”
“More like one point three truths, according to studies. How are your aimless artistic misadventures?”
“Today I thought about making a thing. Tomorrow I might make it. Then I will face the fact that I have no way to cause strangers to watch, hear, or read it.”
“Isn’t that always the way?”
“Isn’t it just?”
See? How hard is that? There’s a formula. There’s a formula to human conversation. You pour the tea, you act interested. It’s stupid, it’s superficial, and god how I miss it.
Me? I’m just sitting with this stranger in the void. Drinking her tea. Listening to her give me weird love advice that I didn’t ask for.
I want to demand where she thinks we are, who she thinks I am.
I want to tell her that once she’s done giving me love advice, she may as well give me suntan lotion.
But I don’t want to argue, because I’ve been raised to do the stupid thing. The polite thing. To drink tea and act interested.
And, sadly, it’s just nice to hear another voice.
“Are you here for potions?” she asks.
“Uh, no. I’m Gabriel, I – ”
“Because I don’t have any potions!”
“Got to make them on the full moon, and, well, there isn’t really a moon anymore. I could read your tea! Or maybe you’d like relationship advice.”
“Yes! You look like a young man in love! But love that comes easily leaves just so! And when time withers the fruit, what remains? Only a reputation and one’s good name. Trust your father!”
I look over her shoulder to the room behind. It looks rustic and old-fashioned, but – somehow – wrong. I can’t quite figure it out.
“I don’t really – I mean, I’m just here to – ”
My eyes wander to the doorway she blocks. The wood, there’s something – yes, I can make it out in the dim light. Every inch of the wooden door has tiny letters carved into it.
I feel light-headed.
“Did you – did you – ” I begin.
“What, more advice? I know a little phrenology…”
“Did you say …tea?”