By Blood We Live Page 47

Don’t let the heart stop, angel! If the heart stops you’ll go with it!

From somewhere. Maybe I remembered him telling me or maybe he was in my head right then but I knew I had to stop and the hearts were close and only in the last moment before I pulled my mouth away did I see the final image of the little boy, four or five years old, and the man with his trousers down and his cock exposed and I felt Leath always trying to get away from it and it always dragged him back and I knew it had happened to him. It had happened to him, too.

I thought I was getting to my feet, but I found I’d fallen, crashed to the floor. For a moment everything went black again. I could feel the room swinging. The blood was heavy on my chest and in my limbs, but as soon as I started to move, started to get to my knees, I could feel it changing, dissolving into an energy I’d never, ever run out of. I ran for the door—but found I’d got there in one huge high stride, as if the invisible soft arms had lifted me there. All I could think of was getting as far away from his body as fast as possible.

The house seemed to shrink behind me. A dog barked three times somewhere close. A mile away a truck downshifted. My hands were hot and wet with blood. There was blood all over me. I was soaked with it.

I got to the Jeep, got in, slammed the door. I’d left the keys in the ignition. Stupid. So stupid. But in those moments my stupidity and the risks I’d taken seemed like small things. Little objects far away.

Ten miles from Boulder City I realised I’d left the gun in the house, and fingerprints—in his blood—everywhere.

44

Remshi

I KNEW SHE’D gone before I opened my eyes. A rip in the newly visceral fabric, a hole in the weave of shared blood.

Fear for her went through me like a delirious disease. I promise I’ll never leave you. As far as she was concerned I already had. The lines of the note she’d left me like grit in my blood:

Go and find her. I’m sorry for what I said. I’m sorry for everything.

Go and find her. Talulla. Vali reborn. The prophecy awaiting fulfilment. All reduced, as I stood in the study with the note in my hand, to the risible American pop ethic: Follow your dream. Naturally I’d had the dream, again. The twilit beach, the boat, the someone walking behind me. Naturally He lied in every word had woken me with its tongue in my ear. Naturally I’d sat up in the basement bed sickened and thrilled by the feeling of knowing something without knowing what it was.

Go and find her. Go and find the werewolf you believe to be the reincarnation of your lover of seventeen thousand years ago? Go and find her. Because after all, you’ve had a couple of dreams and scribbled down a prophecy or two, stoned out of your mind in a witch-doctor’s hut. Because after all you’ve had the beginnings of a hard-on after millennia of your dick being as much use as tits on a boar.

The full absurdity of it hit me, settled on me like a giant … Like a giant vampire bat. (Why not?) I saw myself for what I was: a confused fool. A pitiful fool. And there’s no fool like an old fool, the saying goes. Which made me the biggest fool in history. Only God could be a bigger one.

Not, of course, that the full giant vampire-bat weight of absurdity was the whole story. (Nothing is the whole story. The self’s curse—and the writer’s.) Yes, there was the concession to the pitiful old fool and his dreams—but there remained, whether I liked it or not, the prickle of meaning on the ether, the design-wink of the world, the story-glimmer that wouldn’t be denied. There remained, stubbornly smiling, the beguilement.

Go after Talulla.

Go after Justine.

There was an old philosophical chestnut, Buridan’s Ass. Faced with two identically appealing haystacks—and therefore unable to prefer one to the other—the donkey starves to death.

But donkeys, of course, lack whim and intuition. More importantly, they don’t smoke. I reached for the almost empty pack of American Spirits on the desk (one left, slightly crumpled) and found that they were right next to Justine’s laptop.

I opened it and powered-up. Justine’s desktop image is the Apple logo. She doesn’t feel entitled to the personalisation of her technology. Even the former recorded Bette Davis greeting on her phone had been my doing.

Finder.

Documents.

File.

Encryption.

Password.

I rummaged in the blood. Dissolved myself internally and swam in the red dark. It’s not the same ease of access as when the other person’s nearby. It’s like holding your breath underwater. Sooner or later you have to come up.

I came up. The external world shivered back into authority.

My fingers didn’t hesitate.

The document opened.

Blank.

She’d deleted everything.

I loved her for her precautions, her stubbornness, her decision to be strong enough to do it all on her own. That was Justine: she decided how much strength she would have, then acted as if she had it. And in doing so, had it.

I took a deep drag on the cigarette, exhaled. Try again. Browning’s Collected Works, I noticed, was still lying where it had fallen the other night. I ignored it—though the act of ignoring it made the ether shudder for a moment. I ignored that, too.

Tougher this time. Facts occluded by feelings. Heavier water choked with weeds. It began to hurt.

I surfaced a second time.

Not much. Karl Leath was still in North Vegas. The other man, the one they called “Pinch” (his actual name eluded me, but I knew it sounded odd … I struggled … Dale … Wayne … Schrutt) had won $814,000 in the Texas state lottery. Retired early. Gone to live in Thailand.

That was all. The house addresses were beyond me—though Leath’s and Pinch’s faces were in her like bloated twin suns, her system’s colossal binary star.

She’d go after Leath first, closest to home.

I looked at the clock; it was just after midnight. I’d slept so late again. A little portion of consciousness like a lone schoolboy at a solitary desk had been busy fretting about these lie-ins, this pissing away of darkness I’d been guilty of. I ignored it. In the VanHome I could make North Vegas in three and a half hours. If she was there, I’d find her.

45

Justine

IN THE BOULDER City apartment I lay on the bathroom floor in the dark, the door locked with all its locks, the little gap at the bottom blocked with a rolled-up towel. Leath’s life going into mine was like flashes of fire and sudden sheer drops and a sick feeling of certainty that it was in me forever now and what happens is that inside you make room somehow you have to make room and it hurts but you know that one day it won’t, one day it’ll be totally familiar the way like I said before you know driving a car will be. I didn’t want it. The image of the little boy pressing himself awkwardly into the corner of a big green velour couch and the sudden switch to his point of view seeing the big pale penis and snuff-coloured pubic hair and a tiny yellow-headed pimple buried in the hair on a man’s thigh. And like a reflex to it all the video-game footage and the peace of the intricacy of muscle car engines the peace of the cold grease smell of the workshop and the tools in your hands like friends. But the peace never lasted because you went back and those first pictures were when he was fifteen and he thought it was buried but the pictures when he saw them were like a warmth going through him and it was like the warmth of coming home and his face had felt so full and tender with this feeling of ashamed homecoming that even then he’d known would never be free of rage and boredom and sadness and he’d never be anything except alone and what he was.

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