By Blood We Live Page 6

“Do you want me to ask you the questions or not?” she said. Her face was directly parallel to the Grasset first edition of A la recherche du temps perdu in thirteen volumes. Of course it was.

“What is it?” she asked, seeing me registering it.

“Nothing,” I said. I sat down in the armchair again. “It doesn’t matter.”

The dark eyes calculated. “Is it the connection thing?”

“What?”

“You told me when you drink from someone like that you see connections between things.” Then, with a note of disgust: “The meaning of things.” It had annoyed her when I’d first told her about it, the gift of The Lash, and I could see it still annoyed her now. If true it meant that everything that had happened to her had happened for a reason. In accordance with a design. It’s the same thing that makes her furious with me every time the book of prophecies comes up. (Yes. I’m afraid there’s a book of prophecies. I know. I can only apologise.)

“It’s nothing,” I said.

She looked at me. Then away. Then back at me. In those three looks was the pattern of our relationship. Not my daughter, not my sister, not my lover. More than any or all of them. Everything between the two of us rejects all the names for it the world has to offer. This is the strange contract between life and language: language keeps naming and life, like a woman seductively escaping her seducer’s caress, keeps just a little beyond its names.

“Do you want me to ask you the questions?” she repeated.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Where are we?”

“Las Rosas. 2208 Carmine Drive, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California. You’re Justine Cavell. I met you eight—no ten, I suppose it’ll have to be, ten years ago in Manhattan. Your knee was bleeding. You were ready for something extraordinary.”

“What’s the IRIBD?”

“International Research Institute for Blood Disorders. Established and funded by yours truly longer ago than I care to remember. Centres in thirty countries, linked to hospitals, morgues, donor programs, universities. A meal in every port. You see? I’m up to date.”

“A midwinter night’s dream?”

“Midsummer. Procedural and declarative memory’s intact. I can still drive, thank God. I feel multiple musical instruments in my fingertips and too many languages in my tongue.”

And fear in my heart.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“You and me watching A League of Their Own and The Graduate. I’m not sure about this new hairdo, by the way. You’ve lost some of your edge.”

She was already halfway through the bourbon, and now tossed the rest of it back. Rose-gold hoop earrings. The pretty throat I’d never laid a lip on. I’ve always had a talent for random exemption. Except of course they’re never random. On The Lash, nothing’s random.

“Do you remember …” Hesitation. Difficult territory. She was treading carefully. “Do you remember being in Europe?”

“Before Geena and Dustin?”

“After.”

Ah. So the last thing I remembered wasn’t the last thing that happened. Amnesiacs seized on something safe and happy and made it their last memory, the first big breadcrumb on the trail that would lead them home.

“Tell me,” I said.

She mashed the American Spirit in the ashtray, lips like a flautist’s for the downwardly exhaled and always slightly disgusting final lungful. “In a minute,” she said, eyelashes lowered. “It might not …” She shook her head, corrected herself. “Marco Ferrara,” she said. Her little face was warm and full of calculations.

“What?”

“Does the name mean anything to you?”

“No.”

“Vaughn Brock?”

“One of my aliases. God knows what I was thinking.”

“Emilio Rodriguez?”

“Another. Latin was cool in the Eighties. The nineteen Eighties.”

“Carter Marsh?”

“Juss, there’s no need for this. I remember. Seriously. I know who I am. You’d better tell me about Marco Ferrara and Europe. Did I disgrace myself in some way?”

The feed-glow had deepened. The room’s colours thudded. Justine’s microclimate was dense, sunned melanin and Dior Chérie and bitter nail polish, flashed through by the dash of whiskey loucheness on her breath, a little cooled sweat, the sweet-salt tang of her cunt. And of course the blood, young, human, packed with her wounded and racing life. The force that through the red fuse drives the flower.

“Oh God,” she said, tipping her head back. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know whether it’ll …”

“What?”

She thought for a moment. Then her shoulders went slack. A decision.

“Before you fell asleep,” she began—then stopped, reassaulted, I knew, by the bare fact of my being there, real, with her again. “Sorry,” she said. “This is just so fucking bizarre.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“I need another drink,” she said—and oddly, it sounded a false note between us. The Lash gives bright clues to the elusive truth, yes, but vivid flashes when lies are flying too. Her dark eyes flicked away. I didn’t say anything about it. She went to the kitchen and came back with her glass refreshed. I lit us another American Spirit each.

“Before you fell asleep,” she began again, “you got sick. We were in Europe. You don’t remember any of that?”

Well? Did I?

Something. On the periphery, until I tried to focus on it—then it whisked away. The study was live with currents of déjà vu. Shocking recognition was somewhere near, a sheer drop you wouldn’t see until you were falling through it.

“It’s in there somewhere,” I said. “Go on.”

“Okay. We were in England. You left me in London and went to Crete.”

Each place name a recognition test. So far nothing.

Or rather not quite nothing. The faintest synaptic twinge. London. Crete.

“What was I doing on Crete?”

“You were … I don’t even know. You wouldn’t tell me. You left me in London for weeks. You came back from Crete, then we were in England together, but while we were there you got ill. Don’t you remember? I had to get us home.”

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