By blood we live, p.33
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       By Blood We Live, p.33

           Glen Duncan
 

  For all its beauty the sliver of light cut off my route to the stairs, but three other doors were accessible without roasting myself, so I went to them and peeked into the rooms beyond, one by one. A kitchen with a big window giving onto a lush—and manifestly not Western—back garden. A lounge, with three huge couches and a wall-mounted flatscreen plus a small walnut coffee table bearing a half-finished game of chess. A Persian rug–strewn library with one boarded-up window and several books scattered on the floor. The books, naturally, called to me. There was an early edition of Swann’s Way. A Don Quixote. A Northanger Abbey. An Arden paperback King Lear—O, let me not be mad, not mad sweet heaven—and (the ether winked) an early hardback—If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me—of Bellow’s Herzog.

  The delighted contraries called to me, but I didn’t go. As with Justine, there would be time. There would always be time. The upset volumes reminded me of the night we were attacked at Las Rosas. Browning’s Collected Works would still be lying face-down where it had fallen. It would be a small, distinct pleasure, when we got back there, to replace it on the shelf. I hadn’t read Browning in years. But there would be time.

  I thought I’d only been standing there a few seconds, but when I went back into the hall the last of the light had vanished from the floor, liberating my passage to the stairs. Time—why not?—to have a poke around the upper storeys. Let the others sleep. I felt such love for them I sent it as an imperative: Sleep. Sleep, my darlings. The world—so various, so beautiful, so new—will still be here when you awake. I was deeply happy. Happy in the blood. Happier than … than I could remember being for a long time. An unaccountably long time. Not since I was very young.

  Not since Vali.

  Whose scent I caught, three steps up.

  82

  I WILL COME BACK to you. And you will come back to me.

  I stopped. Held on to the bannister. Felt the world dip and momentarily fall away. Was it …? Was I dreaming? It wasn’t …

  The years imploded and the blood in my cock stirred. Oh God. (Only with her. Only with her …) Oh, you forgot, you forgot how good it was, the sweetness and urgency, the monolithic need … Two years since the tug on this leash. Two years for the blood-fish to thaw and flash into life. Two years since the night I’d seen her in the woods at Big Sur—but before that, how many thousands? How many millennia (that epic comedy of impotence) of having to find the sad, forced sufficiency in Everything Else? It comes back and makes a joyful mockery of the supposed enoughness of Everything Else, of the sexless, the unfuckable world. It comes back and the thought of death is terrible. It comes back.

  I still didn’t know where I was. But what (I could feel my own smile, the warmth spreading in my face and hands and chest and legs) what could it matter where I was, since she was here, since every subatomic particle affirmed in silent song the absolute inevitability of the place? This place, this moment, this joy.

  The miles and days fell away from me like a rotten harness as I leaped up the stairs to her room.

  I knocked, heart bobbing in my chest like a trapped helium balloon. (I knocked. There are doors to be knocked on, no matter your heights. Drinks to spill. Ringing phones to ignore. Keys in a pocket to be fished out and fumbled with. The world grants you the heights, but only to remind you you’re never too high for the intractable mundane.)

  No reply.

  I knocked a little louder. I will come back to you. And you will come back to me. Wait for me.

  The sound of her getting out of bed. Barefoot footsteps that testified to her exact weight. Vali’s weight.

  She opened the door.

  “I’m not who you think I am,” she said.

  83

  Talulla

  “I’M NOT WHO you think I am,” I said.

  But that was the last thing I said for a little while.

  I knew it would be. The words leaving my mouth were like a magical formula that let the spell of heavy, alive silence loose. It was as if the rushing mob of questions got to me just as my own doors closed to keep them out. They got so close. Details and specifics (individual faces in the crowd): Are you better? Are you really that old? I’ve been dreaming about you. What is this between us? How is any of this possible? But the doors, in slow-motion, closed, and the floor seemed to soften and tilt under me, and I was overcome by a great willingness to not speak, to let whatever happened happen.

  There was more to it than that. Of course.

  I’d been dreaming when his knock woke me. The dream. Mercurial sex with him that alternately bloomed and went into darkness, sharpening at moments into distinct images that had the feel of archetypes—my fingers wrapping themselves around his cock; his dark head working between my legs; his hands (the two of us reflected in an oval mirror) coming around from behind me, one caressing my breasts, the other sliding down over my belly to my cunt—but bled into and superimposed on by the image of the twilit beach, the dark sea and scatter of stars, him a few paces ahead, the little rowboat, barnacled and half-buried … Strands of the dream had still cobwebbily clung as I’d crossed the blue and silver rug to the door, until I was at the door, and opening it, and (knowing it would be him) seeing him standing right there in front of me.

  Superficially he was as I’d remembered him. No taller than me, longish dark hair and light brown skin. A black-eyed face full of the ability to stand back from everything—himself included—and smile. Superficially, he was the same.

  The difference was he looked absurdly healthy. His skin had a new glister, as unreal as a woman’s in a suntan lotion ad. His fingernails shone. But it was the eyes. They had a rinsed, delighted look, a fresh, excited presentness, as if a faint, ancient glaucoma had been removed. I thought of the Johnny Nash song, “I Can See Clearly Now.”

  For what felt like a long, long time we stood looking at each other. Letting what was happening happen, until the silence between us became a solid, seductive, coercive third person. One that would have its way. He stepped close to me and put his hands on my waist, and in what felt like infinitely slow increments leaned towards me and—the increment that stopped time altogether—kissed me.

  What I felt—above or beyond or burning deep in the heat that flooded me (one frail filament of self-consciousness like a veil or ghost floating alongside me, negligibly, noted that my cunt was wet and aching, aching)—was joy, his joy, pounding out of him, solar, overwhelming, unarguable with. What I felt was that I’d never—not even with Jake—been wanted like this, with a force that was beyond him. It was as if something the size of a universe opened out behind him, that he’d been carrying its weight—that he was bringing all its weight to bear—on this moment, here, now, with me, that I was an inevitable end-point. And that I’d been waiting all my life (All my life? It felt older than that, made my life seem a blink, a heartbeat, a breath, surely there was a time before it?) for exactly this, for his hands and mouth on me and the mass of darkness flowing out from his back like an endless black cloak.

  The kiss was an immediately addictive certainty.

  Never let me go. Never let me go.

  I don’t know if that was him or me. Whichever of us it was it wasn’t spoken aloud. My negligible filament-ghost was scrambling to re-gather the threads of the negligibly real world—wait, wait … But we were moving, not, apparently, with our feet on the ground, in accordance with the deep gravity that demanded something to lie down on, demanded him inside me, close, close, as close as it was possible to be, and his body fit mine perfectly, a shape I’d known before birth and forgotten, that defined and perfected my own. The room blurred. From what felt like a long way away I heard myself say Oh God … Oh God … Reaching in the insistent prosaic realm through clothes and buttons that at every touch threatened to rupture the blur and break the fall into darkness until I felt my bare flesh on his and how was it possible for everything to fall away so fast, so completely my life even my children a million miles away and at the same time the sound Oh God Oh God the soun
d of someone in the room the sound of someone—

  “Oh—I’m … I’m sorry.”

  I’d never known anything uglier and more desolate than the wrenching away at that moment, the all but unbearable reality of having to lift my head and look over his shoulder (already starting to push him from me though my legs were wrapped around him) to see Olek standing in the doorway, his hair still mussed from sleep, his hands patting the air in front of him in apology, a gesture which made me want to kill him.

  “I’m so sorry,” he said, the cheeky schoolboy smile for once deserting him, leaving a nude, alarming version of his face I’d never seen before. “I was just—”

  He didn’t get to finish. Remshi had him by the throat in mid-air for a split-second (while I was still registering the loss of his warmth and weight on me) then Olek crashed into the wall.

  “Varmu!” Olek shouted. “Varmu va mor! Remshi! Varmu!”

  Remshi was standing over him, hands raised, dark cock still absurdly standing proud from his undone flies. Energy poured off him, packed the room, forced me up against a confused memory of the dream I’d had here, of lifting my arms and seeing instead of my hands two amputee stumps.

  “Manyek da gorgim,” Olek said, his hands wildly placating the air. “Manyek va fennu da gorgim. Enyuchin, Remshi, enyuchin.”

  For a moment I was sure whatever that meant it wasn’t going to make a difference. Violence was right there at the edge of him. If Olek says another word, I thought, he’ll rip his fucking head off. (I wondered if there was something between them—a betrayal, a long-held grudge. Then knew there wasn’t. It was just my lover’s fury at being interrupted. A rage with the same force as the desire. It was nothing more nor less than how badly he wanted me.) Maybe Olek intuited the same thing, since he kept his mouth shut, although his face went erratically through its calculus of submissive expressions, unable to settle on one.

  “Leave us alone,” I said to him, getting to my feet. I was dressed only in what I’d slept in: panties and the black cotton t-shirt. My panties were soaked, but I didn’t care. Superficially there was the detail-sharpening desolation of interrupted passion, of passion’s rug being pulled from under it, but at a deeper frequency the knowledge—utterly beyond question—that we were going back there. My whole body screamed to go back there, the known place, the remembered place, the place out of time.

  “Leave him,” I said. “He took care of you. He probably saved your life.”

  We knew—we would always know—when we were speaking to each other. I felt his rage drop a little. There were sounds of movement from downstairs. The sun had been down for … I had no idea. Time had gone dreamily AWOL. But in any case some of the nocturnal household was up. There would be questions, petitions, explanations, recaps. We’d have no peace.

  “Olek,” I said. “Get the fuck out. Right now.”

  He didn’t say a word. Just pushed himself upright against the wood panelling, turned and walked out the door. Remshi closed it behind him. His power thudded in my blood. I loved it. In one of Jake’s journals it said: Some men desire weak women. No women desire weak men. Hardly any men understand this, though it’s the most useful truth they could possess.

  I pulled on my jeans and boots.

  Without a word he came to me and scooped me up in his arms. (The filament-ghost, strengthened by Olek’s interruption and the memory of Jake’s observation, flashed An Officer and a Gentleman, but that was all right. There was room for laughter. There was room for the real. There was room for everything. That came off him, too, that living was the attempt to find room for everything.) All our movements were revelled in by the space around us. The window was open. It was a twenty-five-foot drop from the ledge to the garden. It was nothing.

  84

  WE TOOK THE BMW 4×4 he and the others had arrived in. He drove. Randomly, as far as I could tell. The tarmac road that led to Olek’s, then lefts and rights on narrower lanes and tracks that took us into a series of tough-grassed, low-lying hills. We passed a plantation of some sort, though I couldn’t make out the odour of the crop. “Tea” my idiot American assumed. In the same way she assumed “jungle” every time the trees and undergrowth thickened. We couldn’t have seen more than a dozen buildings, all small dwellings with orange fire or blueish TV light framed in their doors and windows. There was nothing of the sunset left. One thin, rucked band of cloud lay close to the horizon, but above it the stars were out, the big diagram of remote delight.

  I think he knew. That I wasn’t her. Or that I wasn’t straightforwardly her. Not the way he’d imagined. It was why we couldn’t speak to each other. The reality now was that there was a momentum at work whether I was her or not.

  It was there, between us, that either way this was happening, this was going to happen. He was fascinated, compelled, uncertain of everything except that there was no turning away from this, whatever its ambiguities. I had internal clamour. The crowd of shut-out questions were pounding on the doors. But the expanding moment held them shut. When we looked at each other we smiled. There was still something—the confusion of my identity in his head—preventing him coming to me, fully. It was as if I were surrounded by a skin of soundproof glass. But when we touched—he put his hand on mine, once, while he drove, then had to whip it back to the wheel to compensate for a pothole jolt—the memory of the blurred moments in the room was live and warm in both of us. I felt my life—my children, Walker, the pack, even the ghost of Jake—curving down and away from me, like a planet seen from a spacecraft, shrinking in the wake of terrible acceleration. But there was dark joy in the loss, too, an appalling glimpse of the genuine transience of lives, tiny scraps of paper igniting for a split-second in the void’s cold invisible flame—then gone. Millions. Billions. It was his sense of time. It radiated from him. I thought: He can’t live like this all the time—can he? With this perspective? He can’t, surely, live with all he’s seen?

  Twenty thousand years, you think you’ve seen it all.

  They’d been his first words to me, in Alaska, the night I gave birth.

  Olek’s judgement of the cure for the Curse came back, too: but really … I mean, really—it’s risible. Exactly risible.

  And yet here we were. He’d been in my dreams for two years. He’d eaten away at the thing for Walker that was so close to being love. He’d reopened the question of whether there wasn’t, after all, a story at work. Don’t bother looking for the meaning of it all, Lu. There isn’t one. When I tried to see forward, past this night, this now, it was impossible, produced instead of any vision of the future (going home, abandoning home, killing myself, curing my children, raising a werewolf army) a pleasant feeling of indifference, a darkness you could lean against like a fevered child leans against a cool surface. Being like this, close to him, was a koan of deep calm and near grotesque excitement. The excitement went beyond sex, though there was no arguing with my cunt, which was still wet, which still ached. (For him. Specifically for him.) It was the excitement of being part of an inevitability. It was knowing there was no other way than to let this become whatever it was going to become. It was a liberation.

  We stopped.

  The invisible coercive choreographer took us out of the car and fifty paces up a gentle hill of dry grass crowned with neem and peepal trees. Even the very slight movement of the air was enough to make them simmer. The constellations were huge and benignly indifferent. They’d smile in the same way (who knew if not me?) had we come up here for murder instead of love.

  85

  WHEREOF ONE CANNOT speak, thereof one must remain silent.

  Except we can’t remain silent. That’s the real curse.

  I remember—I distinctly remember—taking our clothes off. Not each other’s. I remember undressing myself and every action feeling like …

  Like what?

  Like it wasn’t happening in time. That it had always been happening. That it would always be happening.

  I remember—not distinctly—spreading the
clothes to lie on.

  I remember—this is the last thing I can be sure of—his mouth and the weight of him on me. And thinking: Where’s the ground?

  After that there’s only the going into and coming out of darkness. Like a slow heartbeat. Systole and diastole.

  In the darkness there’s nothing.

  Out of it there’s only joy.

  No. That’s not right.

  I remember something else.

  I remember that at the end—an end that every time we approached it gave us the gift of moving a little further away, so that the pleasure had to keep growing into it, until any further would have been a kind of grief, at which point it yielded itself, and my body came back to me bringing all the bliss the universe had been saving for just this moment, just this one point where the finite met the infinite—at this paradoxical end of unbearable sweetness something went from him into me, and I knew I would never be the same again.

  86

  Justine

  I SLEPT LATE. Hours late. God only knows why. The feed when I shouldn’t have, maybe. I knew as soon as I opened my eyes he wasn’t here, though I checked the lab anyway. Mia and Caleb were gone, too. I raced upstairs.

  The house was quiet, but I found Olek in the study, reading. The lamps were lit and the wall-mounted TV was on with the sound down, showing a sunlit cricket match.

 
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