By Blood We Live Page 84

Don’t bother looking for the meaning of it all, Lu. There isn’t one.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Finish the story.”

Olek smiled. I wondered, suddenly, if Devaz was still in his cell. Lingering wulf nose reported human presence not too far away, but it didn’t smell like him.

“So,” Olek continued, “Ghena-Anule begins by petitioning the Upper Realm. These would be the good guys of the cosmogony. This would be, in the moral economy, the appeal to mercy.”

He paused. I wasn’t looking at him. I was looking at the floor. It was one of those moments—one of those situations—wherein the absurdity of the content vivifies the mundanity of the context, refreshes the humble molecules of walls, floor, table, light. These and the blameless pounding continuity of your own body. Yes, this is really happening, and here you still obscenely are. I was very conscious of the weights of my hands at the ends of my wrists. A vision flashed: Myself, in a cave, transformed—but with my hands missing. Amputated. For a moment I felt the cellular fizz of regrowth—with such convincing intensity that I actually looked at my hands to check it was an illusion.

It was. But it brought the dream back, the vampire’s face. I’m coming for you.

Olek’s pause, I knew, was to acknowledge our shared understanding of where appeals to Divine mercy got you. Nowhere.

“So,” he went on, “Ghena-Anule turned the other way, and began to petition the Lower Realm. Not for mercy, but for a transaction, for a deal. Eventually, apparently, he succeeded.” He raised his voice a little: “Muni?” he called.

An elderly Indian woman in thick dark-rimmed spectacles entered, smiling, with a baby-carrier strapped to her front. In the carrier, obviously, a baby. Very small. Weeks old, I guessed. The one that I hadn’t imagined hearing the other night. The one I’d dismissed. The woman, in baggy jeans, brand-new Nikes and a blue-and-white floral print smock, had grey hair in a plait that reached her coccyx. Grey-green eyes and deep lines from the curve of each nostril to the corners of her mouth. She smelled of jasmine oil and tobacco—but the baby’s odour, of clean diapers and Sudocrem and talc—had the bulk of my attention. The woman seemed wholly at ease. She stood just inside the vault doorway gently moving her hips from side to side, both thin-skinned elegant hands cradling the carrier, smiling.

“Muni doesn’t speak English,” Olek said. “Not, frankly, that it would make a difference if she did.”

The baby’s smell had detonated memories of Zoë and Lorcan as newborns, erased the three years between then and now. Three years. Impossible. I thought of Zoë saying to Cloquet one morning: “Your ears look like bacon.” It gave me a moment of vertigo. At the same time the vault’s subsonic hum went up a notch. The air was warm and pliable. My breathing wasn’t clean. I felt crowded. My face prickled. I knew what was coming. The dirty, disappointing things are always a little ahead of themselves, always make themselves known by the opening your brain makes to receive them, a neural pathway that’s always been there waiting for the shape that fits. I thought of Christ in Gethsemane, beads of blood on his brow, asking for this cup to be taken from him. Knowing already that it wouldn’t be. Couldn’t be. The Divine Chomskyan grammar in him had already guaranteed its necessity. I thought of Devaz, lying curled on his bunk, so obviously empty, so obviously at the end of himself.

“A child born on a full moon,” Olek said. “Less than three months old. There is a ritual, there are words, which sound, I’ll grant you, nonsensical, and which are written on the page I’m holding on to until you’ve done your part. In any case you speak the words … You place the stone on bare earth, you see …”

And shed a little of your blood on it, and slaughter the child, and the blood mingles and runs through the hole in the centre of the stone and carries the soul down to Amaz in the Lower Realm, who takes it in exchange for freeing you from the Curse.

Wittgenstein said we don’t really ever discover anything. We just remember it.

Which was what this felt like. A drearily dredged-up memory.

Olek laughed, having observed me intuiting it. “Ridiculous, isn’t it?” he said. “After all, what is one supposed to believe? That deities—which for starters one doesn’t believe in—deities from the ancient world are still knocking around up there or down there or wherever in some metaphysical fashion? I suppose there’s the notion that these things are outside time, as we understand it, but really … I mean, really—it’s risible. Exactly risible.” He was, if his face was any indicator, tickled immensely by how risible it was. “Believe me, you can’t possibly hold this in greater contempt than I do. But here’s the remarkable thing. It works. Look at Devaz. I can only say to you: Look, please, at Devaz.”

Yes, I thought, look at Devaz.

There was something still missing. There was something the room was trying to tell me. Or rather the room was trying—with the stone as its little centre of intelligence—to savour withholding.

At a gesture from Olek the old woman, still smiling, still gently rocking the baby, exited. I heard her Nikes squeaking down the corridor.

“What’s the catch?” I said. My voice sounded slightly slowed down. Tape running just barely below speed. “I mean, it’s hardly a head-scratcher, is it? We kill and eat a human being every month. Babies are …” I was thinking of the night, transformed, I held a human baby in my hands, waiting for something inside myself to say: You can’t do this. This is too much. Her little head was silhouetted against the moon. I’d waited and waited. “Babies are no exception,” I finished.

Olek was watching me. Separate from what he needed out of this his disinterested clinician—his scientist—was fascinated.

Again his answer arrived in me fractionally ahead of him giving it. And I understood how Devaz had ended up in his state.

“You cannot perform the ritual on full moon,” Olek said. “You have to be human to do it.”

The room’s atmosphere emptied. All my muscles relaxed.

And, upstairs, something big crashed through a window.

77

I WAS AHEAD of Olek until the second flight of stairs—in spite of the alarm he didn’t neglect to lock the case and the vault door behind him—but on the landing he went past me without his feet on the ground. I could hear raised voices, objects being hurled and broken. It sounded like people throwing furniture around.

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