By Blood We Live Page 93

“Hey,” I said, putting my hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”

But he just put the car in gear and eased it forward until we were more or less level with where the old man had been standing. There was a narrow road off to the left. The old man had been pointing it out.

“Is this the way?” I said. The fracture in my chest swelled again. I felt afraid, though I didn’t know of what. “Is this the way back?” The sky definitely wasn’t wholly dark anymore.

“I think it might be,” he said. “Yes.”

The road wound between shaggy, unidentifiable trees for a couple hundred metres, then narrowed into a sandy track not wide enough for the vehicle.

“This isn’t the way back,” I said. There was a searing distance and closeness between us.

“It’s all right,” he said. “It’ll be all right.”

The smell of the ocean hit me as soon as he opened the door. Not just the smell. I had a sickening sense of its size and depth and darkness. Its weight. I thought of a black, rusty container big enough to hold all of it, how big that would be, how awful it would be to climb up and look over the edge into it. All the billions of fish in there, sharks, wrecks. The tiny fleck of Cloquet’s rotting body.

“This isn’t right,” I said. “This is crazy. Look at the sky.” I was full of frantic weakness, legs, wrists, hands. I’d thought the invisible coercive choreographer had drawn off. But it hadn’t.

“We need to turn around,” I said. “Right now.”

But he was already moving.

“Wait. Wait! Fuck.”

I went after him. He was following the track, which broke first into bits of knolly, long-grassed turf, then soft sand dunes that eventually flattened into the beach. It was like entering a vast empty amphitheatre. The water was dark in the twilight, though every time a wave broke on the shore its pale foam ruff morphed out of the gloom.

He took his shoes off. Smiled when his toes gripped the sand. “That’s good,” he said. “One forgets the goodness of these things.”

I looked out over the black water. It was lighter on the horizon.

“Let’s walk a little,” he said. His voice sounded small in the big space of the beach.

“Why are you doing this?” I said, though I thought I knew. Soft invisible weights slipped from me with every step. The lightness when they’d gone would be unbearable. Unbearable. There was a line in one of Jake’s journals: The word “unbearable” makes a liar of you—unless it’s followed by suicide.

“I’ve been dreaming of this place,” he said, after we’d walked a little way. The sound of the waves was a steady, benevolent depletion. Every one subtracted something. Repeated, painful acts of mercy. “Being in this place with someone.”

The breeze blew his hair back a little. His dark eyes were big and bright.

“So have I,” I said, though saying it made my mouth feel defeated.

“I read somewhere that only the dead understand their dreams,” he said.

“Why did you say that about the old man? Why did you call him that?”

He shook his head, smiling again. Happy incredulity. At himself. At how he’d missed something so obvious. “ ‘My first thought was, he lied in every word,’ ” he recited:

That hoary cripple, with malicious eye

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Askance to watch the workings of his lie

On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford

Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored

Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.

“I know that,” I said. Another soft weight dropped from me. Another mouth-defeat. “It’s from ‘Childe Roland.’ I just read it, here at Olek’s.”

He nodded. Smiled again. Unsurprised. I looked east. The twilight was paling.

“ ‘Yet acquiescingly,’ ” he continued,

I did turn as he pointed: neither pride

Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,

So much as gladness that some end might be.

“But of course—”

His legs gave way again. I helped him up. I could feel the warmth of what had gone into me from him in my loins. I wondered if I was pregnant again. The thought hurt me with a stab of premature loss.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Please let’s go back. Please.”

“What I was going to say was: But of course it’s not a lie, is it? ‘The workings of his lie’? Because the old man really does point the way. The road he shows really does lead to the Dark Tower.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“In the dream,” he said, “I always saw this twilight as just after sunset. Didn’t you?”

I didn’t want to answer. Every answer, everything I said or did would shed another of the soft weights. Out of disgust, I forced myself. “Yes,” I said.

“But that was the wrong twilight, wasn’t it? One forgets there are two. One forgets so many obvious things.”

Twenty paces on, the dunes and broken turf on our right gave way to dark rock. Cold came from it. Touched all the exposed parts of me from which the soft weights had gone. And there, of course, adding its own innocent portion to the dreary, deadening déjà vu, was the little rowboat.

He went to it and began pulling away the seaweed.

“You don’t have to do this,” I repeated. Saying it was perverse proof of its own falsehood.

He carried on methodically freeing the boat. “You’re not her,” he said. “Not literally. But you’re the call back to her. That was the part of her message I misunderstood. She said: And you will come back to me. That was the important part. The dead can’t come to us. We can only go to them.”

His calmness made me angry, suddenly. “This is fucking stupid,” I said. “You don’t have to do this. This is just … So you had a dream. So what? Dreams are … Fuck.”

“Dreams are prick-teasers non pareil,” he said. “They promise and promise but never put out. A friend told me that, once. He was right.”

“So don’t do this.”

“Listen,” he said. “Tell Justine …” But his voice faltered a little on her name. “Tell Justine she’ll find a copy of Browning’s Collected Works open face-down on the floor of the library at Las Rosas. Ask her to tell you what poem it’s open at.” He shook his head. Laughed again. Another belated realisation. “Ask Caleb what poem he was reading in the volume of Browning’s Men and Women on the plane.”

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