Eileen Gunn

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Eileen Gunn

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The Collector of Neckties

For David Hartwell, on the occasion of his 70th birthday

The collector surveyed his most recent acquisitions. On his last trip he had picked up some prizes, some genuine rarities, and his wife had stitched them up in her spare time. With everything she had to do – raising a family, culling the orchard, editing anthologies, all those other things – he sometimes suspected she subcontracted the sewing, but never mind: what a woman.

That necktie made out of a discarded rag from the Bayeux Tapestry, for instance. Nice job. He might wear it to Readercon: they’d understand it there. The quality of the original couching was not up to par, he thought, but that was probably why the image of Harold the Saxon striking down William of Normandy had never made it into the finished work. Made a nice tie, though.

The face from that shroud he found in Torino also made a handsome tie. Very modern looking – co-ordinated well with a brown suit – but it could have been more colorful. He would have liked to see it done in electric green, brilliant orange, pink, indigo. That would have made it great. But he understood the limitations of medieval transfer techniques: Kathryn had read him the Wikipedia page. And whoever that fellow had been, he’d seemed a nice-enough chap. The collector had even bought a brown suit, special, so he’d have something to wear with the tie.

And the Fourth of July tie: brilliant, brilliant. He’d managed to get one of the early prototypes, with a circle of stars, instead of those damned polka-dots. He had always hated the polka dots. There seemed to be something very wrong there.

And right then, as he was thinking about stars and polka dots, there was knock at the door. The collector opened it. A stern-looking man with a moustache and an attitude pushed his way into the living room, waving a leatherette ID wallet that displayed a big silver polka dot. The collector didn’t try to stop him. He knew the game was up.

“Time Police, sir!” the officer said loftily. “Stand aside,” he added brusquely. “Don’t give us no trouble.” The last he said kindly, more like a request than a warning. He’s doing different voices, thought the collector, mindful of Langford, Eliot, Dickens…. He offered no resistance to the Time Police, and a dozen burly policemen barged past him, seizing control of his neckties.

They bagged them and they tagged them. Each tie had its special memory, its historic associations. There was one made from a piece of linen he’d snipped from Julius Caesar’s toga on the Ides of March. Caesar had been irritated at having to return home to change instead of arriving on time at the Senate. The police took that tie, and they took the one that Kathryn had whipped up from a hand-painted silk scarf Isadora Duncan had handed him one evening in Nice, as she was leaving a party. Lovely lady, and quite a minx, even later, in her old age.

They boxed up all his ties, except the one he was wearing. “Evidence,” the officer said sternly, as though the collector had already been convicted. “You’ve been let off easily in the past,” he added, “but you won’t win this one. Seen it with my own eyes.”

Well, the collector had seen it too. Using the Device, he had already attended his own future trial, and yes, he was convicted of aggravated historical tampering, but he was sanguine about his prospects in other time-streams.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to antagonize the fellow, didn’t want to make him suspicious. Because there was one treasure left that the officer clearly had not noticed, although it was right there in front of him.

And then the officer glanced at it: the tie the collector was wearing. “Well, we’re not taking everything,” he growled. “You can keep that cheap macramé tie, anyway. I used to have one of them, souvenir of the Grand Canyon, it was. So I know that a little piece of knotted string like that isn’t going to hold any important information about human history, and your wearing it won’t change things for the better or the worse.” He smiled grimly. “Okay, boys. Let’s head out.”

They were gone. The collector relaxed, and fingered his quipu tie. Then he booted up the Device and entered the co-ordinates: Cusco, Peru, 1531. He had a message for Atahualpa.

– End –

What I Write

I write short stories, and I try not to do the same thing twice.



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I taught a week of Clarion West in 2015 and loved every minute of it. My stories can be found online on Tor.com, Lightspeed, Flurb, and elsewhere. My recent collection, Questionable Practices (Small Beer Press, 2014), received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. My previous collection, Stable Strategies and Others (Tachyon Publications, 2004), was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award and the World Fantasy Award, and was shortlisted for the James Tiptree, Jr. award. The Japanese translation (2006, Hayakawa) received the Sense of Gender award in 2007.

Write-a-thon Goals

Writing Goals

I’ll write 250 words a day on a story or on my novel. Maybe I’ll even do both!