|The Seven Sleepers||6|
Carmen’s pere received one arg each week: the stipend paid to all workers. Carmen’s mere earned the same stipend cleaning cells at Bedlam Prison. If his output began to flag, Joe Carmichael would be shunted along to a different job: cleaning chimneys, building roads, digging sewers. To lose his trade would be the ultimate humiliation. So he worked fourteen hours a day to keep it.
To supplement this income Joe made toys, which he sold on the black market. Trading illicit objects was a crime that could get you a ticket to hang at the Derricks, but when the alternative was grinding poverty many chose to take the risk. The irony was that these toys would often end up in the homes of government officials. Few others had the money for such luxuries. The more successful criminals did, but criminals are generally practical people who have no interest in toys – or for that matter, families. The merchants and sailors who passed through Bareheep would sometimes buy them: the merchants to sell at faraway ports, the sailors because they were often superstitious men, who considered unusual objects lucky. And the toys of Joseph Carmichael were unusual indeed.
One of these toys was sitting on her pere’s workbench when Carmen came into the room. What it was exactly, she couldn’t say. Her pere sat in an overstuffed armchair nearby, lit his baccus, and watched his daughter examine the toy. Around him unfinished statuary, men and women and children, stood like ghosts. They seemed to watch her too. There was something sad about them.
It was clearly an animal of some sort. It was carved from a single chunk of wood the size of a child’s head. Carmen ran a finger down its spine; it was raised in an arch, the skin hanging on it like torpin over a tent-frame, and her pere had done something to the wood to make the skin look and feel leathery. It had four thick legs and no feet. There were great flapping ears on each side of the head, and tiny eyes that seemed somehow wise and patient. Strangest of all, a curling proboscis like a rubber hose protruded from the face, raised up in the air like a hook – if it was a nose it was the strangest one Carmen had ever seen. The animal had a sagging mouth with a hollow protuberance at each corner. Two curved, yellowish sticks lay on the workbench beside the toy; she guessed that these were designed to slot into the hollows, so picked one up and pushed its stubby end into the hole beside the creature’s mouth. It seemed a horn of some sort, though why the creature would need horns under its nose she couldn’t guess.