Elisabeth Hegmann grew up in a musical family in North Vernon, Indiana, and was active in theatre throughout her
childhood. She received her B.A. in English from IUPUI in 2007 and her M.F.A. in fiction from NCSU in 2009. Her
award-winning short stories have appeared in Midnight Times, the Abacot Journal, and other publications. She's currently
working on a novel set in a funny place called the Apogean Islands in the Brimful Puddle.
How I Learned that All the Houses in Survillion Circle Should Be Painted Heliotrope
I guess my big thoughts about villainy started when I was driving back to Survillion Circle and passed the Wickershams standing
in their front yard with paint dripping off their rollers. I just had to laugh. I mean, what were they thinking, to paint their house
heliotrope? Most people associate heliotrope with that eccentric old musical utopia Musette, it being the background color of their
flag and all. And just earlier that day the mayor had ordered big signs to be posted on the Circle gates telling the tourists to turn
back: Renovations were Under Way, exclamation point. For months, the residents and shop owners had drafted plans and signed
contracts. Their cafes, art galleries, and gift shops were all closed now, waiting for a posh and tasteful revamp. Heliotrope and
Musette could not possibly fit into those plans.
I thought of a better joke snailing along at the strict 15 mph speed limit on shady Survillion Lane: what were the Peytons and the
Robersons going to say? And what about the mayor of our little hamlet of Logansville? He was very particular about the Circle,
and I should know because he lived next door to Mom and me. Making the yearly garden tour was very important to him, and he
never hesitated to lean over the fence with a few friendly words if he thought our weeds had grown a little too tall. Our house was
the real centerpiece of the Circle – an example of respectable light yellow and cream Edwardian architecture, purchased nine years
ago with part of my dad’s life insurance.
As I pulled into the driveway, the mayor was on his riding mower with his headphones on. He waved, and as usual I pretended not
to notice him and went inside. Mom was talking in syrupy tones in the parlor. It was her special voice for company. I dropped my
keys to announce that I was back from breaking up with Jacob Woodard, my halfhearted post-high school fling.
“Tulip?” Mom said. “How was your drive?” That was a euphemistic question, meant to check up on my emotional state because
she thought all girls were suicidal after break-ups. Mom never did figure out that I was her daughter and not a girl on one of her
favorite TV sit-coms. Even later when I was on one of her favorite TV sit-coms.
I didn’t bother to answer her and I didn’t go in the other room just yet. I could tell from her tone that a type of company was in
the house that was not right. Maybe she was meeting with a client here at home. She did that sometimes if it was a big account.
People liked to see how Penny Paley applied her decorating skills within her own home.
I decided to test the water and yelled, “Hey, did you see the weird stuff the Wickershams are doing to their house?”
“Come in here,” she said, so I’d know right away that I’d said something wrong. I went. She was in her blue linen ensemble and
looking wrinkled, which was unusual for this early in the afternoon. Sitting across from her, his feet propped up on the coffee
table, was a man in a white suit with a full head of gray hair and a paunch that stuck out over his belt. We stared at each other
without expression, though he seemed a little familiar.
“Not everyone is just crazy about your style either, are they?” Mom plucked at invisible threads on her chair.
“What do you mean? My beret, or what?” I said for the benefit of the man in the white suit, who I supposed would be sympathetic
with my millinery choices since he was holding a wide-brimmed hat in his lap. “Berets never go out of style, just so you know.”
“You remember Mr. P.M.B. McFoyt? You were little at the time, though,” she said casually, knowing damn well that I’d remember
him once I heard the name.
Because it wasn’t like you would ever forget the name of a famous architect and designer your mom worked with back in New York
who had disappeared one night and was gone eight years, and reappeared with people whispering (and the press trumpeting)
that he had been in Musette all that time designing a bunch of structures, a fact which he could neither confirm nor deny to
reporters, which confirmed it. Of course he couldn’t reveal the nature of any of the projects due to the Musettian’s secrecy clause.
But everyone knew he had done it.
Well, now it all came together for me: McFoyt, heliotrope, and Musette. And now I felt shy and stupid about my berets.
“The mayor has decided the Circle needs to have a bold new image, and just an hour ago he asked if Mr. McFoyt and his son
Horatio could stay with us in our guest bedrooms,” Mom continued with what might have been either real or artificial pleasure.
I looked around for Horatio, expecting a 40-ish balding guy with a gut to match his dad’s, but instead this guy with shoulder-
length brown hair walked into the room from the dining room and leaned against the doorjamb. You mean grandson, I thought.
He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me. I stared at his mouth, which had thin lips that turned down at the
corners. He didn’t say hello, but the corners moved up into a smile.
“He’s going to be redesigning the Circle over the next few weeks. Starting with our house,” Mom beamed.
“Horatio or McFoyt?” I asked.
McFoyt laughed way too loud. “Me! Me, of course!” He said. “Your house will be the crown jewel in a round, sparkling tiara.”
Huh. A round, sparkling tiara.
Mom then explained to me that I was to call him P.M.B., and that the letters P.M.B. didn’t stand for anything whatsoever because
naming him P.M.B. was the only avant-garde thing his momma ever did, or so she always said. P.M.B. yawned. This seemed to
conclude the introductions, so I tipped my beret at him, P.M.B. returned his hat to his head in order to tip it at me, Horatio
nodded his head, and I went to my room to feed Jacob’s chameleons, which I had deliberately forgotten to take back to him. Mom
never did let me have anything furry.
And that was that. But I was really thinking now. I’d heard McFoyt was a maverick, always secretly incorporating Musettian
elements in his designs. I couldn’t help thinking he was the villain I’d been waiting for all these years, the one audacious enough to
come in and scare the Circle off its color palette. If someone who had worked in Musette couldn’t do it, then nobody could. It’s
true that on one level Musette was just a utopia filled with musically talented folks. But it was also the one place on earth most
renowned for having a rebellious mystique, turning away almost everyone who rang the bell at its gate. You may wonder why I
don’t say more about the place, describe its climate, break down its demographics, tell you its favorite food. Hell, it’s because I
don’t know. Who does?
By six o’clock the famous Paley party trays were arrayed in the dining room for the big bon voyage party. All the residents of the
Circle, including Mom, were supposed to leave for a few weeks while the intensive renovations took place. P.M.B. wanted them to
be surprised when they got back; and as I saw it, they would definitely be surprised, though maybe not for the reasons they
hoped. They had all agreed to leave readily enough, but I was determined to stay in the Circle and be the very first person to
witness the revelation of Musettian secrets. Before the party I announced to P.M.B. that I wasn’t leaving the Circle during the
renovations, and he couldn’t make me, and neither could Mom since I was over eighteen now. He responded by laughing in his
loud way and tipping his hat in acquiescence. I did a victory dance alone in the kitchen and then had to make a quick escape
because one of the soufflés collapsed and the others might follow.
At seven o’clock sharp everyone from the neighborhood arrived. The Wickershams were so proud of jumpstarting the renovations
by doing their own painting that they walked around with their hands held up in front of them for everyone to see. They laughed
over and over that they had scrubbed the paint spots on their hands for an hour but they just couldn’t get them off, that it was
like the scene with Lady MacBeth except, you know, with heliotrope spots instead of blood. And that spurred a discussion about
Horatio being an actor and his agent getting him a small part on one of Mom’s favorite sit-coms with some vague promise of
bigger roles soon. It delighted the Circle residents, of course, to have both a celebrity and a second-generation soon-to-be
celebrity with us for a while.
Then the mayor of Logansville, otherwise known as our neighbor Larry Hatch, positioned himself in the dining room next to the
trays and announced to everyone who came along that he’d been working for years to revitalize this town. Now McFoyt was here
– McFoyt, he emphasized after a pause. An old friend of the Paleys, and all. He had some interesting plans and hell, a little
increase in the tourism sure wouldn’t hurt. Translation: the recession meant business had been going downhill for a long time and
he was willing to take a risk to turn things around. McFoyt himself was in the process of commandeering the dining room table to
roll out a giant blueprint of the neighborhood. I could tell Mom was pretty stressed out about having to move her trays of quail
pâté and chocolate quince bonbons to the sideboard. Everyone who knew Penny Paley knew that the quail was always arranged to
the left of the quince, but now quince was before quail and both looked like they might slide to the floor.
The guests all crowded into the room and turned empty smiles in McFoyt’s direction like they were brainwashed, and I suddenly
had to escape from the house for some fresh air. As I worked my way toward the door I passed Horatio standing in a corner.
Without a word, he handed me the rest of the bag of potato chips he’d been eating. Weird guy.
“I know what you’re thinking, Tulip,” he said, still crunching. “About Musette. If he gets drunk enough tonight, he might let slip a
few words about it.” He nodded to me abruptly like he had done me a great favor, and went upstairs to his room.
Well, it was kind of a favor, and I felt encouraged by the discovery that he wasn’t mute. So I scrapped plans for my walk and went
upstairs to my own room and listened for the party to die down so I could grab an opportunity to talk to P.M.B. alone.
After I was positive Mom had gone to bed, I went downstairs to find McFoyt and see if he was drinking yet, and because I was
really hungry and wanted to see if there were any leftover hors d’oeuvres. McFoyt had already found them and was sitting at the
dining room table drinking wine from a water glass. The blueprints were serving as a tablecloth. He got another glass from the
sideboard, filled it with the merlot and pushed it toward me. I sat down.
He had a notebook on the table filled with tiny, cramped scribbles. He slapped it closed when he saw me looking.
“What’s that?” I asked, trying to sound innocent. Judging by his reaction I was convinced it contained Musettian secrets.
“I keep a record,” he said, “a thorough record of many things.” He filled up his glass again and leaned toward me to distract me
from the notes and whatever magic they contained. “What do you want to do with your life, girl? What do you really want to do?”
I realized then that he reminded me of some character out of a beat generation book.
“Drive around testing the potholes,” I said, and my voice sounded as flat and dull as I had been feeling for the past two or three
“You know, you can do more than one thing,” he said. “I think it’s dumb how they try to force people into just one career. As if
you can pack up someone’s ambitions and passions into one nice little box.”
I was nodding through all of this because I knew what he meant. “I guess I like some of what you and Mom do. Also, I wish I
could have been an actor. I just didn’t turn out pretty enough.”
P.M.B. didn’t seem to like this at all. He spluttered for a second and couldn’t spit his words out, like he was one of those people
who get offended by self-deprecation.
“No!” He yelled finally. “Wrong, wrong! You’re a beautiful girl with a face that expresses interesting thoughts and passions, damn
it!” He shook his head with what I guess I’d have to call vehemence. He then whispered intensely, “Your face would be luminous
and worth watching on either stage or screen. Make Horatio introduce you to his agent!” He said nothing more, and I couldn’t
argue with that kind of eccentric forcefulness. He must have tired himself out, because he began to nod off at the table before I
could think of anything even remotely worth saying, other than a quiet thank you. I went upstairs to bed confused and a little
disappointed that I had learned nothing about either Musette or P.M.B.’s possible schemes to corrupt the Circle with Musettian
villainy. But I felt happy with the compliments.
“How come you’re so young?” I asked Horatio at the breakfast table the next morning while he ate his chips. “Did P.M.B. have a
late life marriage?”
“Late life fling. Mom dumped me on his doorstep, since he’s got money.” He sighed and his shoulders sagged as though that was
as many words as he could manage at one time.
Through the window, we watched the exodus from the Circle. All the families were loading luggage into their station wagons and
pulling out of their driveways. I couldn’t believe that none of them had realized the heliotrope relation to Musette and the danger it
posed to their normality. I guess they were all just looking at P.M.B.’s fame and thinking that fame always leads to more money.
Mom raced downstairs to catch her plane, pretending not to be concerned when she saw our sideboard leaning precariously in the
middle of the room. P.M.B. had set it there and declared it his command center. It was a Gothic monster from some dead
southern governor’s mansion and didn’t really fit in with the house. I thought it might be fun to see how loud a crash it would
make if it fell over. Mom forced Horatio to carry her bags to her car even though he didn’t offer. He smiled and stuck his tongue
out at me as he walked by, but in the way that meant oh well, why not.
Mom was the last of the residents to drive out the gate, and I felt abandoned in the silence. Then a worker started up a big
machine and proceeded to dig huge gouges in our front flowerbeds. Within a few hours, there were trenches all over the yard,
and my suspicions were confirmed that P.M.B.’s changes would involve more eccentricity than the Circle had bargained for. I asked
Horatio to go outside with me and climb down into the trenches to make sure they were deep enough that a soldier could stand
fully upright without being shot through the head.
“No Man’s Land?” I asked P.M.B. who was running by with his notebook. “World War I reenactments?” I sounded way too
“Canals around all the gardens,” said P.M.B., grinning. “Gondolas and gondaliers. The effect will be serene.” He was some liar – the
effect would be anarchy. And anarchy was perfect for my mood. This was the grand villainy against the Circle that I’d been waiting
More workers arrived with all kinds of machines I’d never seen before. All I knew is that they were tools of destruction. You could
tell just by looking at them. I was reminded of footage I’d seen of towns just after they’d been taken over by troops. The
machines were loud and vulgar and smelled awful after they started them up. It was hard to understand how they could have
anything to do with conveying secrets about a place as sublime as Musette, but it was easy to see them as outright rebellion
against the smooth lawns and hotel landscaping of the Circle.
After all the machines were driving around and it got too dangerous to be in the trenches, Horatio invited me up to his room and
told me that he was going to be in a war film in a few months. We sat cross-legged on his bed, and he showed me the script.
“Can I visit the set?” I asked.
“Only if you help me with my lines over the next few weeks,” he said.
I flipped through the script and the grand total of his lines seemed to be “Unh?... Unh,” when another soldier tried to wake him,
and later on a death gurgle as he died. I looked up, and he grinned and winked at me, looking a little like P.M.B.
“Are there canals in Musette?” I asked.
He gave me one of his shrugs, so I answered myself. “Maybe canals are how people get around, for all I know.” I tried a different
question that had been puzzling me. “How come you’re with P.M.B. right now instead of on movie sets?”
“I try to keep an eye on him when I can,” he said. “Because I’m the only family he has.”
That seemed a reasonable enough answer to me at the time. And since Horatio was done showing me scripts, I showed him the
only thing I had worth looking at, which was the chameleons. Then I kicked him out of my room so I could lie on my bed and think.
I know they say that Musette doesn’t – can’t – technically have a flag since it’s only a little utopia off the coast of the
southeastern United States, not a country. But let’s face it: it has a flag. The celadon two-lined staff and three diamonds on a
field of heliotrope. (Or, translated: a very specific green on a very particular purple.)
And though I know now that it’s ridiculous, I really was looking for the familiar Musettian symbol to appear on the houses P.M.B.
had painted. I actually thought that P.M.B. might make such an obvious declaration of his rebellion against the Circle – fly the flag,
so to speak. But though more houses continued to turn heliotrope, no symbol appeared that day or any of the days that followed.
“What do you want to do, girl? What makes you passionate?” P.M.B. asked over our bottle of wine that night. Horatio was out
poking around in the neighbors’ houses all over the Circle since they had trustingly given their keys to McFoyt.
“Hit the road, maybe,” I suggested. “Go a long, long way. Europe, the west coast, or maybe even… Musette?”
P.M.B. laughed with ferocity as though he absolutely approved of my plan. He talked about lots of different wines from Europe and
the west coast, and the work he’d done in those places, designs and buildings he’d left behind him in his travels. And he even
talked about the rare times that wines had been smuggled out of Musette, and their achingly fine quality. But he didn’t say
anything off the record about the place, nothing that wasn’t open knowledge. I talked about the convicts on the roads around
here and how I felt like I was invisibly chained to the median. Then P.M.B. belched and talked about the cultures where this was
not just acceptable but mandatory. I asked what the case was in Musette, but he only looked at me, his eyes twinkling, and
changed the subject.
“Do you have a good strong handshake?” He asked. “Every woman has got to have a powerful handshake.”
We practiced it, and before P.M.B. passed out we had a long conversation about all the couples living in the Circle whose lives didn’
t seem to mean anything.
“If that’s domestic bliss, then I’ll take anything but,” I said. “What I want is to be with one guy forever with perfect
understanding, like the ultimate team, and we would be friends and partners first and then lovers after that, but the friends and
partners part would anchor us. But it’s probably not possible, huh?”
I looked to P.M.B. for the answer, but he had fallen asleep, so I went to my room and lay there thinking about the vintage
Musettian wines I’d never taste and suspecting that P.M.B. yearned to go back there one day. There was no reason for him to
avoid Musette as a subject so completely, unless it was simply painful for him to talk about. I mean, he didn’t have to be that
Horatio came back from the neighbors’ houses and couldn’t sleep, and knocked on my door at around 2:00 a.m. He had a bag of
chips with him, but threw them away when he got inside my door, saying that his agent told him over the phone that he had to
quit in order to have the kind of physique he needed for the war movie.
For a while he talked about the kind of career he wanted to have – offbeat projects with everything always exciting and changing.
After he had outlined his dream career, he was quiet for a while. I offered to read him a bedtime story, and I meant it as a joke,
but he said yes. I read three or four tales out of Mother Goose and he fell asleep sprawled across the foot of my bed while I lay
there stupidly stroking his hair like he was my little cousin, and wondering what he thought of me. He was weird like his father,
weirder than me even, but he was gorgeous. Although, that might have been more like a later thought. It’s probably closer to the
truth to say that at that particular moment I thought he was okay-looking in an offbeat kind of way.
Over the following days, topiaries shaped like strange birds popped up all over. Pipes from pipe organs became a new fence in our
yard. These were things that I could imagine being in Musette, and I tried to think what its citizens would look like walking (or
floating) among these surroundings, playing their instruments or shopping or whatever it was they did all the time. A truck drove
in one afternoon, interrupting my thoughts, and deposited gondolas in the yard. Horatio and I wanted to go out in the gondolas,
but P.M.B. said filling the moats was the last step. He had started calling them moats now.
P.M.B. charged around the Circle as usual ordering what went where, but I could tell that the workers were pretty frustrated from
the way they whispered during their smoke breaks. They built a bridge, and I figured it was to go over the canal. Instead P.M.B.
told them to attach it to the roof of the mayor’s house, then mumbled something about the observation of the heavens. Later,
the workers brought in a gigantic piece of granite and placed a sculpture on top. I thought it would be something graceful and
shiny, but when I looked at it closer it seemed to be a giant stomach. I couldn’t make any sense of it, no matter how hard I tried
to make my imagination form it into a Musettian musical instrument.
The workers looked even more annoyed during the few days it took them to put in a tiered fountain with wide graduated steps
and a pool to replace the steps leading to our house. P.M.B. said it would be filled with water later, like the moats. We wouldn’t be
able to get in and out of the house without going through the fountain.
The night after the fountain was finished, P.M.B. and I had our usual bottle of wine and he regaled me with nostalgic tales of his
late night adventures in motel rooms, one of which no doubt had resulted in Horatio. But I barely listened. Instead, I examined
the crummy, wine-stained blueprints. And though I was no expert, I could see that P.M.B. wasn’t doing anything according to the
He was telling me the same story over and over about a monument he had designed in Belgium, and the details kept changing. I
interrupted. “P.M.B., it doesn’t seem like you redid Mrs. Roberson’s front garden quite the way it looks here in the plans.” In the
plans it looked tasteful. In reality it was sprouting all kinds of man-eating plants.
“Oh, all taken care of,” said P.M.B. with a dismissive wave of his hand. “All taken care of.” With all my heart I wished that were
true. But I knew Mrs. Roberson wouldn’t see it that way.
I decided just to ask the question straight out, the question I’d been wanting to ask all along. “How much is it like Musette? Or
are these blueprints just a ruse while you improvise your own flourishes?”
I tried to smile, but P.M.B. didn’t. He only looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. That phrase doesn’t quite do
it justice, though. There’s just a feeling you get when you know someone isn’t pretending. And P.M.B. honestly didn’t know what
I meant. Worse than that, I don’t think at that moment he could remember what Musette was, or even a blueprint. That was how
it crashed down on me all at once like the Gothic sideboard that what was really happening in Survillion Circle might be Alzheimer’s
or dementia or something else I didn’t know about, but it wasn’t grand villainy.
P.M.B. looked flustered and tried to change the subject by asking his usual question, “So what do you want to do? With your life,
I had thought it was a game he was playing. We must have talked about acting two hundred times in the past few weeks. Now I
had a sick feeling. He wasn’t kidding. He didn’t know he’d asked me that question every single night. He was repeating himself like
the round in a song, and I was a faceless shadow in his memory that he only pretended to recognize.
“You’ve asked me that, P.M.B., a thousand times before. I guess you don’t remember.” I hadn’t meant to say it, but it was out of
my mouth before I could stop it. I hadn’t wanted to call attention to the fact that things had changed. And I hadn’t meant for the
resentment to come through in my voice. He flipped through his notebook filled with the scrawls of things that were slipping away
in spite of his efforts to keep them remembered and laughed his big booming laugh, but there was fear behind the bigness. Then
he fell silent and looked at me for help, his hands opening and closing on his lap.
I went outside in the starlight to try to get my wits about me. I was far more disappointed than I had any right to be. All the odd
sights of the Circle looked changed to me now. I guess the difference was that accidental villainy was not grand villainy. It was just
helplessness and confusion, and now someone else had to make decisions and be responsible. One of those people was me. The
other one was Horatio. I walked toward the Robersons’ house where I knew he was probably playing with their TV.
It was the evening before the residents of the Circle would arrive back. The first thing P.M.B. had done when the renovations
started was to hang rolls of black plastic on the gates, preventing anyone outside the Circle from guessing what was going on. He
must have thought of it as a pleasant surprise for everyone – not as the means of hiding a crime. As I walked, I tried to imagine
how the Circle might look through P.M.B.’s eyes. Really, it was beautiful in an odd way. But when the residents got back, it would
be the most fireworks the Circle had ever seen, way beyond the Independence Day show in the park. It was obvious they would
put it back like it was before.
Horatio saw me coming and met me outside on the Robersons’ porch. “Well, I guess you’ve figured it out,” he said. “Judging by
the look on your face.”
“You couldn’t get your courage up to put him somewhere, I suppose,” I said with more hostility than I meant to. “You didn’t want
to put him on a leash, and you didn’t know what to do.” And though I was mad at him, I also had to be mad at myself because I
felt the same way. If he was guilty of anything, it was the same thing I was guilty of: not being realistic about things soon enough.
“I would have told you,” he said, looking desperate. “But I was afraid you’d call your Mom or the mayor, and this was kind of like
his last hurrah before I did something, I swear.”
“Just shut up,” I said, hating him for being as weak as me, and hating both of us for having nothing smart to say.
In my fury I started walking toward the cemetery, maybe because a few days ago Horatio had asked to see where my father was
buried. It made no sense, but not much did. Horatio followed me through the flowering pear trees into the fenced graveyard
where all the Survillions were now turning in their graves, several generations of them. It used to be that every house in the Circle
was owned by a Survillion. It was a safe little family enclosure protected by a gate and common ties. Well, no more.
Spring Beauties were growing among all the gravestones. Their petals close up at night, but I always felt bad crushing them under
my feet. I didn’t go to my dad’s grave very often, so it took me a few minutes to find it. Since he wasn’t a Survillion he was in a
darker part of the cemetery further down the hill. I showed the gravestone to Horatio with no particular ceremony. It might as well
have been one of P.M.B.’s abstract sculptures. By now, my father existed only in the phrase “Your father would have been so
proud of you,” which was a greater fiction than anything I’d ever convinced myself about P.M. B. or Musette. Horatio and I stood
on either side of the gravestone for a while in silence.
“I know he’s got to go in a nursing home this time,” Horatio said.
“Maybe he’ll redesign it the same way he did the Circle,” I said, trying to sound humorous, but what came through was still anger.
I shifted my position to a circle of grass several yards away that was free of spring beauties, and Horatio followed me.
They’ll put him on every tranquilizer they can find,” he said. “There won’t be any more designs.”
“Supposedly Musette gives older people a lot of freedom, if you could get him back in there,” I said. “I’ve seen news stories.”
“I already looked into it,” Horatio said, “but you have to camp outside the walls, petition in person, and sometimes it takes
months just for them to say no. And he’s pissed off every friend he ever had. I would do it myself, but this was my last break for
a long time.” He shook his head.
“Then you should have already started the process instead of trespassing in people’s houses in the Circle for the past three
weeks,” I said.
Horatio nodded, but I backed off then because he looked like he was going to cry.
We walked back to the Circle and sat on the edge of the empty fountain. Even though it was past midnight, P.M.B. ran by and
asked us to fill it with the hose, and there was no good reason not to oblige him. When it had formed a thin puddle, we took our
shoes off and stood in it and just looked at each other.
They all arrived back at the Circle, one by one. Mom, the mayor, the Robersons, the Wickershams. The mayor let out an angry
whoop when he noticed the bridge on his roof. As the first star of the evening appeared, I made a secret wish that he would trip
and fall into one of the trenches. I don’t deny that everyone had the right to be mad, but Mom ordered P.M.B. to go inside the
house and stay in the parlor as though he were a naughty child. She ignored Horatio as he tried to talk to her, and she wouldn’t
even grant me the dignity of getting angry with me for not warning anyone what was happening. Instead she acted as though I
didn’t exist. Which I didn’t, really. Horatio walked along beside her trying to tell her he had made a mistake, but she just yelled,
“You knew the addled condition he was in all along, and you let him come in and do this, wasting the Circle’s money.” Then she
got on the phone making arrangements to have P.M.B. put somewhere, even though legally she didn’t have the authority to do it.
P.M.B. had started the water cascading down the tiers of the gigantic fountain. Now that it was getting dark I could see it had
lights in it that slowly changed colors. I wished we had some fireworks to shoot off and reflect in the water. Horatio waded out
into the fountain and sat on the edge, and I followed him.
“Well,” I said, “we have moats here, but the Circle residents came back with siege towers.” I had thought that line up last night
and rehearsed it in my mind, but it didn’t seem funny now. Horatio smiled anyway, and took my hand, right there in front of
everyone. For a while I worked on getting over the shock of that. Then I leaned my head on his shoulder and we watched as more
Circle residents arrived back home. They gathered at the end of the walk to stare at the fountain. Neighbors from outside the
Circle came, too, on foot, on bicycles, on skateboards. Some pulled kids in wagons, stopping and staring at each odd sight in
turn. I laughed at them. They weren’t even looking. Not really. They had only come to display looks of outrage and shake their
heads at one another. At work the next morning they would all be able to say they had seen the Survillion Circle Disaster
I wanted to become a millionaire and hire P.M.B. to transform everything on my estate in his erratic way. I wanted to climb into
one of the gondolas and row someplace where beautiful madness like P.M.B.’s would remain untouched, where it wouldn’t be
bulldozed into a ditch or covered with coats of the old yellow and cream paint. That was impossible, so I had to think of what was
possible. And when it struck me what to do, it was so obvious I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. It was this: the
process to get P.M.B. into Musette was hard and Horatio couldn’t do it right now; nobody else would do it – but I could. I could
stay outside the walls until it was done, and Horatio could be there when possible. I didn’t care anymore about discovering
Musette’s secrets, infiltrating its walls, or dissecting its mystique. What was important now was P.M.B.. The time had come for
comparing different evils and choosing the lesser ones, and now that a villain had arrived and taken my hand I sure wasn’t going
to let go. So I told Horatio my idea, and he nodded the whole time and squeezed my hand, and then we went inside to talk to P.M.
B. about it. After that all I really needed to do was pack a suitcase and take the chameleons back to Jacob.