Books on Tape (Edited Version)

Books on Tape
Jason Royal Hart

You have stolen a book on tape, and you get in your bath to listen to it. I’m stuck at the post office.

The book is about a dark elf. The candles around you flicker. I’ll be home soon. It starts to rain.

The tape player opens and a little man made of tape gets out. The tape man sits on the side of the bath, leaning against your shoulder. He is shiny and smells like drying glue.

He gets into the water. Underneath, he is a dolphin, blue around your legs like hail driving sideways.

In Venice, the dolphins were blinded so they could not flee. The Doges were not kind. Their eyes were everywhere.

We placed a golden note in the open mouth of a winged lion and it was brought down to the King.

You will be the Duchess of Manhattan. I will be the Duke, when the King returns. This is the message we receive.

Now, in New York, ten years later, the tape man reaches the drain and there he turns oyster, open. Inside is a ring.

You reach for the ring but you remember the infamous treachery of the dark elves. The oyster snaps shut, turns tape now, and swirls everywhere. You are a lobster wrapped in tape and you close your eyes.

When you look up, the tape is gone, and the ring is on your finger. I enter the bathroom. I am wearing a ring also.

“It came today,” I said. I am holding another book. The Yellow Sign is engraved on the cover. The book is hard-bound, ancient. It is closed with a lock, but the key is on a red ribbon, tied to the book.

I light a candle. You ring a bell. We cut the ribbon. We read.

He comes to build of the world an ordered monarchy. You will be a Duchess. I will be a Duke. This is the deal we have struck.

We read on.

When all the little men are throned in ordered pens, he will drown them until the world is naught but dead Dukes and Duchesses.

Now a torrent begins outside. A tornado is coming.

Tin can hail falls. I run to the bedroom.

My socks slide and I slip. The window blares plasmic water. Everything is slick and wet. I slide to the window on my back. I close it.

We move to the kitchen. Now, enclosed: you, me, a candle, a bell, and a guide to enchanting.

I enchant up some tea. The tea floats in a ball in the air.

It’s hard to hear over the thunder. I cough.

You say, “Try making a cup from the candle.”

I enchant up a cup from the candle. We put the tea in the cup. We share the tea.

The little tape man returns. He whines. I tell him to help.

He picks up the candle, carefully. He is immortal, if he does not burn.

He follows us into the bedroom. We sit on the bed.

He puts the candle on the dresser.

He sits in the tape player and we listen to the stories of the Dark Elves of Menzoberranzan. We pray to Lloth. It is a joke. Lloth is not real.

The King calls. He is drowning the world. You are a Duchess. I am a Duke. We are to drown.

The little tape man screeches as a pole smashes through the window. Power lines whip him and he is burned.

He was immortal, if he did not die.

“Let’s make a boat from the bathtub,” I say.

We enchant the bathtub. We set sail with the candle and the bell.

We will bury what remains of the little tape man when we reach land.

We bob on the water.

“It’s dry in the bathtub,” you say.

I smile. I cough. I’m sick.

We met in Prague before we went on to Venice. I remember college. I remember baseball. I remember food. We ring the bell. The bathtub rises.

It is dawn but we are in the stars, cold, not breathing, not dead, traveling. We reach Formalhaut. We see a comet off in the distant sky.

Our bathtub lands in the red dirt. Ours is the only candle. There isn’t much oxygen here. We bury the tape man.

“Shall we start again,” I ask.

You get out of the bathtub. And you look at the sky.

“You can really see the stars out here,” you say.

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