The lavender and the mallow sat watered in the sunny windowsill, looking out at the cracked stone plaza. Tendrils of ivy and honeysuckle swept into the window, trailing into the suds in the sink at each heavy, hot breeze. From somewhere in her house came touches of jazz and breaths of some heavy beast moving about on the floor.
February’s house was in the middle of the Thistle Wasteland, now in the most cunning heat wave of sun and surety in a dozen years, and she had never had a visitor. She lived alone, in her house that looks like someone stepped on it, washing and Wishing and singing away. She washed the teacups for Weeping Teacup Day.
The house was built like a Spanish mosque, with screened, latticed windows and soft clay orange bricks. It was called the Rabbit Heart House. It glowed and steamed, crushed in the morning heat and coming afternoon wave.
February, the young fairy woman with tangled brown hair and wings like a butterfly’s, had lived there for as long as she could remember. She sang jazz and swept the floors of the Rabbit Heart House and washed teacups one day a year.
Until someone came, in the wiliest heat wave of the last twelve years.
A knock sounded at the Rabbit Heart House door on the last day of July.
February started up from her seat on the rafters. It was her favorite place to sit. She could look through the stained-glass window out to the Thistle Wasteland and its Heartblood Thistles and the wrenching hot winds that scoured the purple plains. February took a book and a ceramic teapot with rabbit heart designs and flew up to the rafters and settled back for a nice evening. It was cool up in the rafters, and heavy-hot down below, for in the Thistle Wasteland, inside a house, it is cold that rises, not heat.
But then she came.
“Uh, hello?” called a voice, a young voice, a melted voice. “Can you let me in, please?”
February had not moved. Finally, grumbling, she slid off the rafter and fell slowly down to the ground. She left her book up there but brought her teapot down with her to throw at the intruder.
She opened the door.
On the doorstop, with a small leather suitcase, stood a small sweating Goblin child. The girl’s hair was red and spotty, as though someone had pulled handfuls out, and her shoes were made of gold. Her stubby hands were flushed pale pink and her face was a galaxy of freckles.
She was too hot to smile.
February blocked the door with her body. “Who are you and what do you want?”
The girl smiled pitifully through cracked lips and mumbled, “I am Luck and I am really hot.”
February sighed and rolled her eyes. “I don’t make a habit of this, Luck, but fine. Come in and then I can kick you out again.”
Luck stepped inside and dropped her bag onto the floor. February sighed again.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
The little Goblin child was short and stocky, and struggled to take a seat at February’s table. February put her hand to her head and wiped away a teaspoon of sweat.
February finally put her hands to her hips and said, “Why’s your hair pulled out?”
Luck smiled, a little cooler now. “Your front-yard wasteland with its weird thistles did it.”
“Oh yes, I forgot the Heartbloods did that.”
February was slightly pleased. Her defense mechanism of carnivorous Heartblood Thistles had never been tried before and apparently worked. She flew up to the rafter, fetched her book, and sat back down at the table with it and her teapot to hide her smile. Their breathing, together shallow in the heat, began to round out, and smooth, and quiet.
“So,” said Luck conversationally, “When are the teacups arriving?”
February slammed her book down and demanded, “How did you know about the teacups? Only Queen Iachima knows about my job.”
“Oh, I figured it out. But I don’t know what you do with the teacups, or why you do it.”
February opened her door again and looked out at the dark wasteland, breathing the heat in deeply, looking one way and then the other, as if looking for Luck’s parent or guardian. The sun was gone and Fairyland’s two red moons were rising inexorably into the indigo sky, filled with humming stars. February could only see to her tall silver gate, shimmering in the night. The night was cooler, barely cooler in the night winds.
A low humming warm wind rose from the Thistle Wastelands and threw itself against February. She backed up into her door, then spun on her heel back inside.
February rolled her eyes and said, “Have you come alone?”
“Yes,” Luck replied. “I used to live with Ballast Downbound the Minotaur but then I stole her Rivet Gun and she threw me out. I heard of you and I came here.”
“I suppose I can’t turn you out tonight, but Luck, this was the worst possible day for you to come.”
February picked her up lightly and started walking toward the extra bedroom. “Teacups coming tomorrow,” she said shortly.
Luck squealed. “Oh, goody! Can I help?”
February set her on the tired old quilt on the silver bed in the yellow room. She drew the curtains and motioned to the bathroom. The heat shimmered in the house, falling slowly, dissipating slowly in the cool of night.
Luck asked again.
February turned off the light. “No.”
The next morning February stumbled downstairs. Luck was sitting at the table, playing pretend tea party with the Queen’s enormous teacup.
“No!” February screamed at her.
“What? I’m only playing.”
February took her by the ear and set her firmly outside. The day was freshly hot and the air glimmered with moisture. “You will sit out here until I am done with the teacups. Then we will figure out how to get you out of my hair.”
She took them one by one to her huge porcelain sink in the washroom. The room was dark navy and had a wall of windows facing the garden. February lifted each teacup into the sink, full of soapy hot water, and started washing. She began singing as she scrubbed. The Rabbit Heart House sang with her, creaking and groaning and swaying to the warm wind and to the music. February looked up and there was Luck, sitting on the inside of the windowsill.
She put her hands on the edge of the sink. “How did you get in here?” she asked loudly.
Luck shrugged and said, “I wanted to ask you why you wash teacups.”
February ran her fingers through her gnarled hair, forgetting the suds. “Go away.”
“Tell me first,”
February sighed. “I wash them for Iachima the Ironmonger. She uses a Wish magic coin and magickes them to me. I Wish them back. She takes them in three days and sets them on her long iron table for the Tain banquets, in her palace.”
“I know what Tain is,” Luck said irritably.
“Don’t interrupt. She invites her courtiers and fills their cups with the drink that soothes their soul—it is different for everyone. It could be Quiltdragon Tea or Firecider or Wombat Elixir. And they drink it to the dregs and see their future in the swills. It is a smart governmental choice, I think, because it makes sure everyone knows not to make stupid decisions. Because they see it on Weeping Teacup Day.”
Luck was not listening. She had taken a cleaned teacup—waiting to be holystoned—and was again playing that infuriating game of pretend-teaparty. Stupid Goblin child. All Goblins are stupid.
February pushed her out of the window again and shut it. “Stay away,” she mouthed through the glass.
“No,” Luck mouthed back.
February forgot about her as she was holystoning the teacups. Turning a sunset-splattered cartwheeling teacup in her hands, singing and Wishing, February suddenly heard that loud scraping noise that she’d heard night before last, in dark starry hotness of the night, like a heavy beast’s swinging stomach on the ground.
It was Luck. Luck's imminent arrival, moving through the house, getting ready.
“What are you doing!” yelled February.
“Playing!” Luck yelled back.
February grumbled and sighed. This child was going to ruin Weeping Teacup Day for the entire kingdom if she kept distracting February. And what if she broke a teacup?
February piled high the rest of the completed teacups and brought them to the weathered kitchen table. Luck sat there, basking in the chilly sunlight, saying, ‘Oh how do you do Mr. Smith,’ and ‘Why thank you, Mrs. Pennytock,’ and pouring the tea from the rabbit heart teapot straight into her mouth. February’s favorite tea.
“Don’t you understand, Luck, the teacups are for those of Iachima’s court! They are not for you! Don’t you understand how vital my job is?”
Luck shrugged. February knew she did not.
Sighing again, February broke a Wish in half and magicked away the cleaned teacups. They would arrive on time to Queen Iachima the Ironmonger’s doorstep, cleaned and holystoned and hopefully not chipped.
Meanwhile February would drink her Rabbit Heart tea alone with Luck, sitting up in the rafters to avoid the hugging crafty heat, looking outside at the wavering purple Heartblood stalks in a slow and gentle celebration of the hottest Weeping Teacup Day the Wasteland had seen in a dozen years.