Blackwood farm, p.16

Blackwood Farm, page 16

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "THERE ARE two sets of gates to Blackwood Farm -- the formal gates that lead to the lane of pecan trees which come up to the front porch, and the other larger gates, way off to the east, for the caterer trucks, deliveries and tractors.

  "It was out there, beside the big gates, that Pops had planted two big oak trees in memory of Sweetheart.

  "He had apparently driven out there, sometime in the afternoon, with a flat of multicolored impatiens to plant around the trees, a project he'd mentioned on and off for a while now. And the Shed Men said later that he seemed confused and strangely unconcerned about the goings on at Sugar Devil Island. One side of his face had not looked right, and they had meant to go check on him.

  "Patsy had gone out there, in her new truck, to talk to Pops, cursing to the Shed Men that she had to ask Pops for money again and she hated it, it wasn't fair and all that. She'd left Seymour behind because he didn't want to see any more scenes. And he'd been drinking beer with the Shed Men.

  "It was Patsy who came screaming back, having already called for emergency help on her car phone, and the Shed Men drove out with Patsy to find Pops dead right by the flower bed. His hands were caked with earth.

  "Big Ramona and Jasmine and Aunt Queen and I got there about the same time as the medical team. They couldn't bring him around, and we all piled into our assorted vehicles, Aunt Queen in the ambulance with Pops, and headed for the small hospital in Ruby River City.

  "But it was all up for Pops. We'd known that when we first saw him by the oak tree. Sobbing uncontrollably, Aunt Queen ordered an autopsy, saying she just had to know the cause, and we went on to make the funeral arrangements.

  "Aunt Queen proved utterly incapable of doing it.

  "So, quivering and incoherent, I went with Jasmine to McNeil's Funeral Parlor and arranged for the pickup of the body, the night of the wake, and the directions for the drive into New Orleans for the funeral Mass at St. Mary's Assumption Church and the burial at Metairie Cemetery.

  "The nice people at the funeral home said I could put off all the rest -- the autopsy would take two days -- but I thought why not get it over now? And so I picked a beautiful dark hardwood coffin that I thought Pops would like, being the handyman that he was, and I chose a Biblical quotation for the program from the Book of Psalms, and I arranged for a singer to sing Pops' favorite hymns, some of which were Catholic and some of which were Protestant.

  "When I reached home I found Aunt Queen broken and unable to do anything but sob, and I didn't blame her. She said over and over that a woman shouldn't have to bury her great-nephew, that it was all wrong, terribly wrong.

  "We called her favorite nurse, Cindy, who said she'd come right over. Aunt Queen wasn't really sick, but she often had Cindy to do her blood pressure and collect her bloodwork before trips abroad, and so Cindy was the loving person to whom we turned now.

  "As for myself I was in a cold panic, the same cold panic that had been coming over me since Lynelle's death, but I hadn't reached the worst stage of it yet. I was still in the elation state that immediately follows the miracle of death, and, in my ignorant youth, I had a 'take charge' attitude.

  "I went into Pops' room and picked out his best Sunday suit, a good shirt, belt and a tie, and gave these to Clem to drive over to Ruby River City. I sent underwear too because I didn't know if it was needed. And I had the strange idea that Pops might want his underwear.

  "After Clem had left me, and I was standing alone in Pops' room, Goblin appeared, and without a prompt he put his arms tight around me. He felt as real as I felt real. And I kissed his cheek, and I saw his tears. A rush of the most intimate love passed out of me into him.

  "This was an extraordinary moment, a moment of confusion and contrition. And in the dark corners of my subconscious I knew it was a dangerous moment. But my heart was leading the band.

  " 'Goblin, I loved Pops,' I said. 'You understand, you understand everything. ¡¯

  " 'Patsy. Bad,' he responded in the telepathic voice. I could feel his kisses on my cheek and my neck. For a split second, I felt his hand on my cock.

  "I reached down and gently moved his hand away. But the damage had been done. I had to nail down hard on myself. Then I spoke to him:

  " 'No, it's not Patsy's fault,' I said out loud. 'She was just being Patsy, that's all. Now, you go and leave me alone now, Goblin. I have to go downstairs. I have to see to things. ¡¯

  "He gave me a final hug and I was amazed at his strength. I could see nothing in him that appeared spectral or ephemeral. But he vanished as I had asked him to, and the baubles of the chandeliers moved as if he had evacuated the room at his departure.

  "I stood staring at the chandelier. It hadn't hit me yet that nobody alive inhabited this back bedroom anymore. But it was trying to hit me. Things were trying to get through. Goblin had been the image of my weeping soul. Oh, I had so misjudged Goblin, but who would ever understand?

  "When I came down to the kitchen, Patsy was sitting at the table just staring at me and Big Ramona was on one of the stools by the stove just staring at her. Lolly was there too, all dressed up for a date, her copper skin and rippling yellow hair just gorgeous, and there was Jasmine in her apron in the far corner by the back door.

  "I could hear Aunt Queen crying in her bedroom. Her nurse, Cindy, had arrived, and I could hear Cindy's sympathetic tones as she tried to comfort her.

  "Patsy's eyes were glassy and hard and she was chewing a piece of gum that made her jaw look hard. She put a cigarette on her lip and snapped her lighter. She had her huge poofed-up stage hairstyle, and her lips were thickly made-up with frosted pink lipstick.

  " 'So everybody's going to want to know what we were talking about,' she said. There was a little tremor in her voice, a note I'd never heard before, but I wasn't sure anybody else heard it.

  " 'Seymour says you wanted some money,' Jasmine said.

  " 'Yeah, I wanted money,' said Patsy, in her hard voice, 'and it's not like he didn't have it to give. He had it. Just wait till they read his will. He was loaded, and what did he ever do with it? But that's not what set him off to cursing and shouting at me and then grabbing for his chest and throwing up and dying. ¡¯

  " 'So what did?' asked Jasmine.

  " 'I told him I was sick,' said Patsy. 'I told him I was HIV-positive. ¡¯

  "Silence. Then Big Ramona looked at me.

  " 'What's she talking about?' she asked.

  " 'AIDS, Ramona,' I said. 'She's HIV-positive. It means she's contracted the AIDS virus. She could come down with full-blown AIDS any time. ¡¯

  " 'I'm the one that's sick,' Patsy said, 'and he's the one that up and dies because he was mad at me, mad that I got it. You ask me, he died of grief. Grief for Sweetheart. ' She broke off and looked from one to the other of all of us.

  " 'Grief's what killed him,' she went on. She shrugged. 'I didn't kill him. You should have seen what he was doing out there. He'd rolled over one row of pansies with his truck, and there he was laying another bed of them, like he didn't even know what he'd done with his truck. I said, "Look at what you've done, you sniveling crazy old man. " He started in on all that, "You sold her wedding dress!" like that wasn't so over, sniveling crazy old fool, and he said he wasn't giving me a red cent, and then I told him. I told him I had medical bills to pay. ¡¯

  "I was too stunned to think, but I heard myself ask her, 'How did you get it?¡¯

  " 'How should I know?' she replied, looking at me with those brittle glossy eyes. 'From some bastard who had it, probably a user, I don't know, I've got an idea and then I don't. It wasn't Seymour, don't you go blaming him. And don't you go telling him either. Don't you none of you tell anybody what I'm telling you. Don't you go telling Aunt Queen. Seymour and I have a gig tonight. But the thing is, I can't pay the rest of the pickers unless I have some money. ¡¯

  "By pickers, she meant the guitar players who'd be backing her up.

  " '
You expect one of us to go in there and ask Aunt Queen for money?' asked Big Ramona. 'Cancel your goddamned gig. You got no business playing music tonight when your father is stone dead at the mortuary in Ruby River City. ¡¯

  "Patsy shook her head. 'I'm flat broke,' she said. 'Quinn, go in there and get some money for me. ¡¯

  "I swallowed, I remember that, but I don't remember how long it was before I could answer her. Then I remembered that I had Pops' money clip in my jeans. They'd given it to me, along with his keys and his handkerchief, at the hospital.

  "I took it out and I looked at it. It was a wad of twenty-dollar bills, but there were also more than several hundreds. He always saved those hundred-dollar bills just in case something came up. I counted it all out-one thousand dollars-and I gave it to her.

  " 'You telling the truth about being HIV?' Jasmine asked.

  " 'Yeah, and I see you're all crying buckets,' said Patsy. 'He blew his stack when he heard. You're just one big sympathetic family. ¡¯

  " 'Anybody know outside of us?' Jasmine asked.

  " 'No,' Patsy said. 'I just told you not to tell anybody, didn't I? And why are you asking me, you worried about your precious bed-and-breakfast? There's nobody left to run it, case you haven't noticed. Unless you all are taking over. ' She shot a mean glance at each of us in turn. 'I guess Little Lord Tarquin here could become the youngest bed-and-breakfast owner in the South, now, couldn't he?¡¯

  " 'I'm very sorry, Patsy,' I said. 'But it's not a death sentence anymore, being HIV. There are drugs, lots of drugs. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, save it, Little Lord Tarquin!' she shot at me.

  " 'Is that going to be my name from now on? I don't like it,' I fired at her. 'I was trying to tell you about medicine, advances, hopes. They have a special clinic for research at Mayfair Medical, that's all I'm trying to say. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, yeah, research, fine with your wonderful education, you know all about those things,' she hammered. 'Lynelle's little genius. You haven't seen her ghost lately, have you?¡¯

  " 'Patsy, you're not working any gig tonight,' declared Big Ramona.

  " 'Are you getting decent treatment?' Jasmine asked. 'Just tell us that much. ¡¯

  " 'Oh, yeah yeah, I know all about decent treatment,' Patsy said. 'I'm a musician, remember. You don't think I never shot up? That's probably how I got it, needles, not being tacked to the mattress. And all it takes is one time and all that, and I never shoot up except when I'm drunk, and so there we are, Miss Patsy Blackwood's not long for this world, 'cause she got drunk and shot up with somebody else's needle, but so far she's not symptomatic. ¡¯

  "She shoved the money in her shoulder bag and stood up.

  " 'Where are you going, girl!' Big Ramona said, standing up to block Patsy from the back door. 'You're not working a gig with your father dead. ¡¯

  " 'The hell I'm not, and I'm working it in Tennessee so I got to get on the road. Seymour's waiting. ¡¯

  " 'You can't leave here,' I said. 'You can't not come to the funeral!¡¯

  " 'Watch me not come to it,' she sneered.

  "The screen door banged shut behind her. I ran after her.

  " 'Patsy, you'll regret this all your life,' I said. I ran along beside her to her van. 'Patsy, you're not thinking. It hasn't sunk in. You have to go through with this. Everybody will expect you to care enough to be there. Patsy, listen to me. ¡¯

  " 'Like my life is going to be long, Quinn! My life? That old man. I told him I was HIV and he went crazy! You should have heard him cursing me and the crowd I run with; you wanna know what his final words were to me? "Damn the day you were born," and then he went down, gasping and throwing up his guts. I wouldn't come to his funeral if he was going to rise from the dead. If you see his ghost, you tell him I hate him. Now get away from me. ¡¯

  "She and Seymour were off, screeching tires and all, and I just stood there, feeling the panic again, and within seconds the cold thought came over me that I didn't care whether Patsy came or not. It would do nothing to lessen the pain in me. Probably, it didn't matter to anyone.

  "It would just be one of those things that people would talk about all over the parish.

  "Only being near to my Jasmine or Big Ramona or Aunt Queen would help me.

  "I made my way back inside. I could smell the pancakes Big Ramona was cooking up for me, and hunger seemed a reason to be alive, to put off for a little while telling Aunt Queen that Patsy would not be there for the funeral. In fact, maybe I'd never even mention it.

  "The autopsy took only a day.

  "Pops had suffered a massive heart attack.

  "The funeral was enormous. It began with a long evening wake in Ruby River City to which all manner of people came, including shop owners, repairmen, carpenters, woodworkers -- in summary, the many, many people in all walks of life whom Pops had known and who were devoted to him.

  "I was staggered by the sheer number of young boys and young men who looked up to Pops and said he'd been like a father or uncle to them. It seemed that everyone respected Pops and he was much more well known than I had ever imagined.

  "Ugly Henderson and his whole clan were there, and so were the Dirty Hodges, all cleaned up, which had never happened before, their only bathtub being full of greasy auto parts. Sheriff Jeanfreau was crying.

  "As for Patsy's absence, it was a total scandal. And the excuse that she had a show she had to work in Tennessee didn't cut her any slack with anybody. People had not only expected her to be at the funeral, they had expected her to sing.

  "As it was, we hired an elderly woman who all but worshiped Pops for the handyman favors he'd done for her over the years, and she did just fine.

  "Next morning when the procession set out for St. Mary's Assumption Church in New Orleans, the church in which Sweetheart and Pops had been married, people everywhere on the sidewalks of Ruby River City stopped out of respect.

  "There was an old workman in a straw hat up on a ladder fixing something on the side of his house, and he stopped and took off his hat and held it to his chest as we passed. That single gesture will remain in my mind forever.

  "Then to the Requiem Mass in St. Mary's there came another horde, many of them the country people who'd been at the wake, and hundreds of them being Sweetheart's side of the family, the New Orleans Mardi Gras crowd, and the procession had more cars than I could count when it went to the Metairie Cemetery to leave Pops' coffin with all the appropriate prayers at the open chapel vault.

  "The sun was pounding down on us out there, in spite of the few lovely oaks that gave a little shade, but mercifully Fr. Kevin Mayfair was brief, and everything that he said, both at the church and at the cemetery, was heartfelt and fresh. I think when I heard him speak of it I believed again in eternal life, and I felt my panic was a sin against God, a sin of atheism.

  "Optimism was a virtue; and the despair, the terror I often felt -- it was a sin. As for the ghosts I saw, maybe that was somehow a gift from God. Maybe there would be a use for it.

  "As for the mysterious stranger, he would be apprehended. Or he would move on, away from Sugar Devil Island to some other out-of-the-way place.

  "I know how melodramatic that sounds, but I didn't fully understand my panic, and I don't now.

  "Of course, Goblin was at the funeral -- just as he had been at Sweetheart's funeral -- he knelt beside me in church and he stood right at my side when others would permit, but I came to realize something as we stood before the little family mortuary chapel.

  "What I came to understand was that Goblin's face was becoming more and more reflective of complex emotions. He had always made faces of sorts, but in general he looked blank and amazed. Only now, this was changing.

  "What I remember from the funeral was that he seemed to have the face of a distinct character, a mingled confusion and wonder and a sharp attention to others present, his eyes roaming the crowd and frequently settling on Fr. Kevin Mayfair.

  "Watching Goblin's eyes move, watching him
take the measure of the crypt, all this had a hypnotic fascination for me. And when he looked back at me, to see that I watched, he smiled in a rather sad and sophisticated fashion.

  "That's what it was -- a sophisticated fashion. And when had Goblin ever seemed more than a clown? Out there in the Metairie Cemetery he didn't look like a clown at all, and he seemed also rather detached from me and my emotions.

  "I didn't think too much more about it.

  "But before we leave the funeral, let me dwell on Fr. Kevin Mayfair. Fr. Kevin Mayfair was superb. He was an inspiration. He looked too young to be a priest, as I've more or less already noted, and on that day he didn't look any older.

  "And for the first time I noticed how really handsome he was. I felt awakened to his red hair and green eyes and his good build. I'd say he's six feet tall about. And his manner of speaking was utterly convincing. That he believed Pops had gone to Heaven was beyond doubt.

  "And a young priest that strong -- well, it's an inspiration. I felt drawn to him, I felt I could go to Confession to him and tell him some of the things that were wrong with me.

  "After the funeral we returned to Blackwood Manor for a huge reception to which dozens of the country folk came. The buffets overflowed with casserole dishes of food which the neighbors had brought, and fabulous dishes which Big Ramona and Jasmine had cooked up, and the two paying guests we had on the premises were honored to be asked to join in with us.

  "Big Ramona's two sons, who had gone out into the world, as we always said -- George, a dentist in Shreveport, and Yancy, a lawyer in New Orleans -- were there with their wives, lending us all a hand with the food. And there were some half dozen or more of the black cousins there too.

  "The security guards were everywhere, unobtrusively eyeing anyone or everyone and conferring with me repeatedly as to the 'mysterious stranger,' but I saw no one whom I could connect to that being.

  "Repeatedly throughout the long ordeal Aunt Queen broke down and sobbed and said that nobody should have to bury a great-nephew and she didn't know why she had lived so long. I'd never seen her so broken. She made me think of a lily trod underfoot.

  "At one point it seemed that everybody was talking about Patsy's absence but I was probably imagining it. I had just said too many times that Patsy couldn't possibly make it, and each time I found myself saying it I felt myself disliking Patsy a little more.

  "As for the confession of her being HIV, I didn't know whether or not I believed her.

  "At last the long funeral day was over.

  "The paying guests checked out early, insisting that they were more than happy to do it and wanted to go off to gamble at the casinos on the Gulf Coast anyway.

  "A quiet fell over Blackwood Manor. The armed guards took their positions, but the house and the land seem to swallow them.

  "The dusk came on, with the grinding song of the cicadas in the oak trees and the rising of the evening star.

  "Aunt Queen lay crying on her bed. Cindy, her nurse, sat beside her holding her hand. Jasmine lay behind her, rubbing her back.

  "Big Ramona packed up food into the refrigerator in the kitchen.

  "I went upstairs alone. I sat down in my reading chair, there, by the fireplace, and I fell into a doze. The panic was never bad enough to stop a doze. And hard as it had been, I was deliciously tired now and elated to be alone.

  "At once, as sleep came down over me, Rebecca was with me and she said in my ear, 'I know how bad you feel. ' Then the scene dissolved and I saw her being dragged by a shadowy figure towards the chains, I saw her lace-up shoe bouncing on the bare floorboards and I heard her scream.

  "I woke with a start.

  "The computer keys were clicking.

  "I stared at the computer desk. The gooseneck lamp was on! I could see my double sitting there -- see his back, the back of his head and his shoulders and arms as he worked, and there persisted: the clicking.

  "Before I could rise the sound stopped, and he turned, turned as a human couldn't turn, and looked at me over his right shoulder. He wore no grin or mournful expression, only a vaguely startled look.

  "As I rose from my chair he vanished.

  "The message on the computer screen was long:

  " 'I know all the words you know, words you type. Pops dead like Lynelle and Sweetheart. Dead, gone, not in the body. Sadness. Spirit gone. Body left. Body washed. Body painted. Body empty. Spirit is life. This life. Life gone. Why does life leave body? People say don't know. I don't know. Quinn sad. Quinn cry. Aunt Queen cry. I am sad. But danger is coming. Danger on island. I see danger. Don't forget. Rebecca is bad. Danger to Quinn. Quinn will leave Goblin. ¡¯

  "Immediately I typed out the answer. 'Listen to me,' I said aloud as I wrote. 'I will never leave you. The only thing that could part us is for me to die, and then, yes, my spirit would leave my body and I would be gone, I don't know where. Now ask yourself again, Where did the spirit of Lynelle go? Where did the spirit of Sweetheart go? Where did the spirit of Pops go?¡¯

  "I sat waiting and there was no answer.

  "Then the keys before me began to move. He typed out: 'Where did these spirits come from?¡¯

  "I felt a tightening, a keen sense that I had to be careful. I wrote: 'Bodies are born into the world. Remember when I was a newborn? A baby? Bodies are born into the world with the spirit in them, and when those bodies die the spirit leaves. ¡¯


  "Then the keys moved again: 'Where did I come from?¡¯

  "I felt a dull fear. It was the panic breaking through, but it was something more as well. I typed out:

  " 'Don't you know where you came from? Don't you know who you were before you became my Goblin?¡¯

  " 'No. ¡¯

  " 'You must remember something,' I typed. 'You must have been somewhere. ¡¯

  " 'Were you somewhere?' he asked. 'Before you were Quinn?¡¯

  " 'No. I had my beginnings when I was born,' I wrote. 'But you are a spirit. Where were you? Were you with somebody else? Why did you come to me?¡¯

  "There was a long pause, very long, so long that I almost rose from the desk and moved off, but then the clicking keys came again:

  " 'I love Quinn,' the writing said. 'Quinn and Goblin one together. ¡¯

  " 'Yes,' I said out loud. 'We are, one together. ¡¯

  "The machine was clicked off. The gooseneck lamp flicked on and off twice and then went dark.

  "My heart was pounding. What was happening to Goblin? And how could I confide to anyone in this world about him, what with Pops dead and everything at Blackwood Farm hanging in the balance? To whom could I go to say this spirit is taking on new strength?

  "For some period of time I sat there, and then I turned on the machine and asked:

  " 'Danger, this danger you speak of, is it from the stranger who came into this room?¡¯

  "No answer.

  " 'What did you see when you saw the stranger? What did he look like to you? You must remember that to my eyes he was only a dark shape. Goblin, listen. Tell me. ¡¯

  "A breeze sifted through the room, something chilling against my cheek -- but no answer. He didn't have the strength. He had done enough for one day. Or he didn't want to answer. Whatever the case, there was only the silence now.

  "I was no longer sleepy, only tired, and a deep sweet exhaustion swallowed up my grief and my panic. I wanted to fold down into my wing chair by the fireplace and sleep again, safe in the knowledge that there were armed guards around the property and the mysterious stranger couldn't harm me. But I couldn't do that.

  "No, Little Lord Tarquin was the man of Blackwood Manor now.

  "I went downstairs to see to Aunt Queen.

  "Fr. Kevin Mayfair was in her room, seated by the bed, talking softly to her. He was wearing his severe and spotless clerical black along with his white Roman collar.

  "And when I watched him from the door, I knew for the first time that I found both men and women erotically beautiful. R
ebecca in the lace-trimmed bed, Goblin in the warm steamy thunderstorm of the shower. Fr. Kevin Mayfair with that dark curly red hair and those green eyes and not a freckle on his pale face. Men and women.

  "I went out back and walked way over to the right to the bungalow in which Jasmine, Ramona, Clem and Lolly lived. Jasmine was in her green-painted rocking chair, just rocking and smoking.

  "I was in a daze. I tried not to notice Jasmine's breasts in her tight shirt. I tried not to look at the front seam of her jeans. When she turned away from me to exhale I saw the light down the line of her throat to her breasts. Beautiful woman. Aged thirty-five. What were my chances? Like, maybe if I sold her a bill of goods that I doubted my manhood???

  "Oh, that was a lovely thought. Wonderfully comforting. And where could we do it? Just go over to the shed, go up the steps and do it in Patsy's bed? I rolled that dream around for a moment. You don't get HIV from a bed. What if -- and then -- and so -- and I felt the panic when I looked at the dim house -- they had forgotten the four o'clock lights.

  " 'What's going to happen now?' I asked.

  " 'Come sit with me, little boy lost,' she said. 'I've been asking myself that very question. ' "
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