By Blood We Live Page 94

“That’s nothing,” I said. “That’s just what we put on random shit. That’s just us.”

“Tell her the house in Big Sur is for Mia and Caleb. With her. They’ll be good for each other. She needs a family. So do they.”

“Why are you doing this?”

He pushed the rowboat over onto its keel. The oars were strapped to the little seat. There was a fat, slimy rope tied to the bow. He looked at the eastern skyline. I couldn’t tell how long till the sun came up. But it couldn’t be much longer. Twenty minutes? Half an hour? We could get back to Olek’s in that time. I knew we could.

“Justine tried to keep me away from you,” he said, “because she thought getting close to you made me ill. Even when she left it was because deep down she knew I’d come after her.” He took a moment to absorb the comfort of this fact. It warmed him. A smile without tiredness. “Because she knows I love her. Thank God she knows that.” He looked at his hands, which were shaking. “But it wasn’t you. I was ill anyway.”

“Olek can fix you,” I said. “Yesterday you were fucking unconscious.”

He began unwinding the rope. “Vali made me promise her something, once,” he said. “She made me promise to live as long as I could. How strange that I’ve kept my promise! I never imagined I would. And now here you are, her message, to let me know she holds my oath fulfilled.”

It wasn’t easy for him to dislodge the boat. It took three attempts, and each visibly depleted him. I just stood there, watching, helpless.

“You know what my maker said to me before he died? He said: ‘I’ve seen this place in my dreams. It’s a relief to come to it.’ In my dream of this place I had the profound feeling of knowing that I knew something without knowing what it was. Now I know.”

“Please don’t go.”

He dropped the rope, came to me, took my hands in his. They were full of fluttering blood. “Talulla,” he said. “Such a pretty name. I’m glad you’re here with me.”

“You’re going because you think she’s waiting for you on the other side,” I said. “What if she isn’t? What if there’s nothing on the other side for you or anyone else? There is no other side.” But I thought of the way I’d known what Olek was going to say before he’d said it, the picture I’d had in my head, clear as an enamelled Station of the Cross, of the baby, the stone tablet, the mixed blood running through the hole. Down through darkness that wasn’t earth or space, that had no relation to time at all. Remembering it infuriated me. Because it didn’t prove anything. Of course it didn’t prove anything. Except that our imagination had habits. Except that we were inclined towards things. Get a Jungian on the subject. Get a fucking Structuralist. God—gods—and fairy stories were nothing but disposition plus desire. The desire for the whole bloody mess to be more than a pointless accident, the desire for it to be for something.

“You’ve got nothing,” I said. “Just dreams and coincidences. Just something that makes it look like there’s a … Like there’s some pattern, as if life’s like a stupid fucking movie or a stupid fucking book.”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said. Then smiled, sadly. “I’ve reached the end of my psychology.”

I wasn’t going to help him with the boat. But he fell, halfway to the water’s edge. I suppose I must have looked ridiculous, crying, dragging a boat. Still, I went with him, into the surf up to our knees. In spite of everything the ocean’s raw fresh smell excited a part of me. The big sky and the deserted beach. I wondered if I would ever have had enough. The world, the things that happened. The people you got close to. The honest warmth of flesh and blood. Both kinds. I thought of how much I’d hurt Walker. I thought of how disgusting it was that Jake was gone. Cloquet, Trish, Fergus. Never coming back. The dead can’t come to us. We can only go to them. That’s what life is, after a while, I thought. Choosing not to go to the dead.

“This is wrong,” I said. “This is just stupid and wrong.” It felt stupid and wrong, too, the two of us standing in the wobbling water, the optimistic little boat, the faint line of light on the horizon saying the sun would rise, another day would come, things would keep happening, the fucking world would go on.

But he laughed and took my hands again. “All these years,” he said, then seemed unable to find the words. “Life drops terrible hints. We call it the Beguilement. When we drink …” He looked up. Hardly any stars still visible. “When we drink, we see so many of them, coincidences you’ll say, the connectedness of things. Humans see them, too. It’s our shared curse, that these things won’t leave us alone. Dreams aren’t much. It’s not dreams. It’s beauty. Metaphor. Love. Mainly love. Love’s the big hint life can’t stop dropping, the biggest beguilement of all.” He looked out towards the burgeoning light. “I was going to say I’m tired of not knowing,” he said. “But that’s not right. It’s better than that. I’m ready to find out. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? Being ready to find out? Come on now, don’t cry, please don’t cry.”

But I was crying. Not only for him, but for myself, for the mess I’d made of everything, for all that I’d wasted and all that I’d lost. And of course, of course, because I wasn’t ready to find out, couldn’t imagine ever being.

“They say your life flashes before you when you die,” he said. “That’s going to be some flash. It’ll probably kill me.” He looked at me, smiling, daring me to laugh, and because there’s no end to the opposites we can make meet, the grotesqueries and farces we can find room for, I did, with a sort of anguish, find myself laughing.

“Give me a kiss,” he said. “One last one. For luck.”

I kissed him. Tried to make it last. But you can’t. It ends, sooner or later. You love, you lose. That’s the trade.

He got into the boat and dipped the oars. Lost his balance for a moment. Righted himself, laughing again. “It must be a hundred years since I’ve done this,” he said.

We looked at each other. Whatever it was that had gone into me from him tingled, fanned out in my blood.

“You should go now,” he said. “Please don’t stay.”

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