By Blood We Live Page 15

Half an hour after the call I sat on the bottom stair, smoking a Camel, alone. The Jiffy bag remained where it had dropped on the doormat. The hallway was still and cool and delicately conscious: white floorboards; round convex mirror; hat stand. I’d sent the household—Cloquet, Lucy, Trish and the twins (Lorcan protesting, violently rejecting every adult’s helping hands)—out to what I judged safe distance at the bottom of the back garden seventy metres away. Walker had tried to stay with me. A calm argument, same outcome every time: No. It’s got my name on it. Whatever it is I’m not exposing anyone else. Certainly not you. And besides … No need to complete the sentence. And besides, if I get blown up, who else will take care of the kids? He wasn’t their father (that would be the late Jake Marlowe) but he was the closest thing they had to one. That love had knit easily, even if ours hadn’t. It was a deep pleasure to me to watch them with him, clambering, pestering, yanking his hand to come and look at something. They didn’t call him Dad. They called him—as everyone did, including me—Walker.

I’m a vampire—but please try not to hold that against me.

Species enmity. Mutually Assured Detestation at the cellular level. To the werewolf the vampire smells, as Jake was wont to put it, like a vat of pigshit and rotten meat. God only knows what our kind smells like to theirs. But circumstances had forced me to spend time close to them. Two years ago a lunatic vampire religious sect kidnapped my son for use in an idiotic ritual. In the struggle to get him back I was captured, incarcerated and tortured, not by vamps, but by the all too human WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena); one of my fellow inmates was a vampire boy, Caleb, Turned when he was twelve years old. For the first twenty-four hours in prison the stink of each other had made us both violently sick. But over time the effect had lessened.

And then of course there was the other vampire. Yes. The one who’d been watching me in Alaska the night I gave birth to the twins. The one who’d come to see me, briefly, two years ago, then disappeared. The one who’d been alive, allegedly (hard to think this with a straight face; to think it was to more or less dismiss it), for twenty thousand years. The one who, according to (his own) ancient prophecy, would reach apotheosis when—and I quote, kidding you not—“he joined the blood of the werewolf.”

The one I couldn’t get out of my head.

Remshi.

I’d dreamed about him last night. Again. Always the same dream: Impossible protracted transcendent sex that morphed into the two of us walking on a beach at twilight. With a feeling of seeing the dismal punchline of a long-winded joke.

For a moment on the phone I’d thought it was him. But the voice was different. I remembered his voice very clearly. I remembered all of him very clearly, skin the colour of milky coffee, dark eyes and unkempt hair, an expression of chimpish mischief, battered clothes, the look of having just done five thousand miles on a motorbike. Beautiful hands and filthy fingernails. (What are you thinking about? Walker still annoyingly asked. Too easy lately to lie. A couple of times, fascinated by my knack for casual bankruptcy, I’d answered, “Jake.” Which did its job. Closed the subject. For a while. Walker loves me but the in-awe days are over. Sooner or later he’ll get tired of ghosts. Or shadows. Or secrets. Or the growing conviction that not all of me belongs to him, and never will. The lover’s tragedy and triumph, Jake wrote, is that he is always bigger than love. So is she, Jacob. So is she.)

The hallway held its portion of light and silence very still.

Cognitive dissonance because a Jiffy bag on the doormat in the old life meant a gift, an Amazon order, Greek sweets from my dad.

I’ll finish this cigarette, then I’ll open it.

I finished the cigarette.

There was no decision. In the abstracted way of these things I found myself getting to my bare feet (toenails last night painted L’Oreal “Scarlet Vamp,” since there’s no end to one’s tawdry acts of self-collusion), walking the dozen paces, bending, and, with only the slightest delirium in my fingertips, picking up the packet.

Not heavy.

A book?

In a few seconds of near complete blankness I tore it open.

A book.

Diary, rather. Old-fashioned. And in fact old. Soft pale calfskin stained and scratched, damp-buckled pages with green marbling. A gap between the last sheet and the back cover said some were missing. Exposed binding where the excision had been made. My nose expected mould, the sour of old leather. Instead got pharmacy. Medicine. Chemical.

A document Jake would have wanted you to see.

For a few moments I stood there on mindless pause.

Then all my abstractedness shrank back to sudden, tight, bristling consciousness. My skin livened. I was very aware of the dimensions my body occupied, standing in the hall, the villa, the town, the hills, boot-shaped Italy, the big aching curve of the planet, space and time that used to dissolve into God but now went eventually via the Large Hadron Collider into a pointless looped nowhere and nothingness. I was very aware of stilled, wide-eyed wulf’s for once almost perfect fit inside me.

Because in an intuitive leap I’d realised (plot-addicted Life hopped from foot to foot with excitement) whose diary this was.

13

QUINN’S.

Impossible.

I wanted to sit down. Didn’t. Just stood there, holding it in both hands as if I were about to make a presentation of it to an invisible dignitary.

It’s a ridiculous story, Jake had written, but history’s full of ridiculous stories.

The story of Alexander Quinn, an amateur archeologist who went to Mesopotamia in 1863 and discovered, by accident, the oldest account of the origin of a near worldwide myth—the men who became wolves. Told to him by a dying man, translated by Quinn’s guide, recorded by Quinn in his journal. But Quinn had been killed by bandits in the desert and his journal lost. Jake had spent forty years searching for it. In the end gave up. In the end told himself finding it wouldn’t make any difference: Suppose I found it and it said werewolves came on a silver ship out of the sky five thousand years ago, he wrote in his own journal, or were magicked up out of a burning hole in the ground by a Sumerian wizard, or were bred by impregnating women with lupine seed—so what? Whatever the origin of my species it would make no more cosmic sense than the origin of any other. The days of making sense, cosmic or otherwise, are long over. For the monster as for the earthworm as for the man the world hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain, and we are here as on a darkling plain …

Prev Next