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Crowned

Rebecca Fraimow is a digital archivist by day, a rogue video preservation expert by night, and a writer in whatever time she manages to get in around the edges. Her work has previously been published in the anthologies Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories and The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.
"So they did take it down," I said. Tanisha could see perfectly well for herself, but I said it again anyway: "The mural's finally gone."
First the spot on the corner had been a bodega. Then for a while it was a promising construction site; then it was The Hole. You came up out of the subway, and saw a rotten fence of ugly wooden boards, and knew you were in Crown Heights. Then the mural had shown up--probably not overnight, but it had seemed that way at the time. My favorite was the panel with the octopus, but I also liked the pigeon and squirrel wearing crowns. If there ever was a king of Crown Heights, it was probably a pigeon. Tanisha liked the Spay And Neuter Your Pets panel, with the gray and orange cats on it. She said it was practical. Neither of us understood the significance of the panel with tree-sprouting eyeballs, but we both agreed it had a certain creepy panache.
Now The Hole had somehow devolved and become a construction site again. It was probably going to be a highrise. People were paying good money for apartments on Franklin Avenue now.
I stood there, looking at the blank space that used to say "CROWN HEIGHTS IS MAGNIFICENT AND SO ARE YOU." I almost didn't hear Tanisha say, "Well, it's not all gone gone. I mean, not exactly."
I turned to look at her. "What do you mean?"
"I saved some of it," she said. "Want to see?"
So we went up to her apartment on the corner of Rogers and Prospect, which wasn't as expensive yet--too far away from the subway and the coffee shops. I wouldn't have liked walking there by myself at night, but that was why I paid one-and-a-half times her rent to live four blocks closer to the 3 train.
As soon as I walked in, the crowned squirrel hurled a nut at me. I ducked and almost tripped over a pair of cats, who sprang yowling into opposite corners of the room.
I looked at the cats. They were different colors: one gray, one orange. "Spay And Neuter Your Pets," I said.
"Right," she said. "Which is nice, because I know that's taken care of. Not so sure about the squirrel and the pigeon. Or the eyeball tree."
The eyeball tree sat in a pot in the corner and stared at me. "That is so creepy in person," I said, and she shrugged.
"I grabbed what I could get. The octopus is in the bathtub. I don't know how I'm going to shower."
I wanted to go see the octopus. Instead I sat down on one arm of the ragged old couch. It was already showing signs of scratchmarks. "Do you have to feed them?" I asked, without much hope. They had been cut wood and paint, but that was yesterday.
"I think so," Tanisha said. "I mean, they all seem to get cranky when they don't eat. No one wants a cranky octopus in their bathtub."
I wondered what an eyeball tree ate. Probably plant food. Hopefully not souls. "Does your apartment even allow pets?"
Tanisha shrugged again. "It's Crown Heights. No one cares."
That wasn't going to be true for much longer. I said, "You can't keep them here forever."
Tanisha didn't want to talk about that. "Whatever," she said. "Admit it. It's fucking magnificent."
It smelled like wet fur and litter box and salt sea. The crowned pigeon and squirrel gave me twin regal glares from where they perched on a branch of the eyeball tree. I couldn't tell what the crowns were made out of--tin, maybe. In paint, they'd only been an incorporeal yellow.
"It is," I agreed. "It's fucking magnificent."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 12th, 2015

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