Blackwood Farm, page 45part #9 of The Vampire Chronicles Series
AT SUNSET I rose hungry and miserable, but I understood that Lestat had to leave me to my mortal commitments so that he could contact Merrick Mayfair and see if she would render me support.
As soon as I reached the big house I realized that Nash and Tommy were both there. Tommy had flown all day and some of the evening to get home from England, and Nash had just arrived much earlier from the West Coast. The look of grief on both their faces was dreadful, and I could scarcely hold back my tears.
In truth, I didn't want to hold them back but the fear of the blood made it absolutely essential, so I gave myself up to hugs and kisses and saw to it that I had at least three linen handkerchiefs, and, saying next to nothing, for what was there to say, we all piled into Aunt Queen's luxurious limousine and headed into New Orleans for Lonigan and Sons in the Irish Channel -- back to the turf where Manfred Blackwood had owned his first saloon.
The crowd at the wake was already enormous when we arrived. Patsy was at the open door and very soberly dressed in black -- which amazed me, as she was a great one for skipping funerals -- and it was plain that she'd been crying.
She flashed a small square of folded pages at me.
"Photocopy of her will," she said in a tremulous voice. "She instructed Grady a long time ago not to keep us in suspense. She left me plenty. It was a damn nice thing for her to do. He has a copy in his pocket for you. "
I merely nodded. It was all too typical of Aunt Queen to have done this last little generous gesture, and over the evening I was to see Grady passing the little folded photocopy packets to Terry Sue and Nash, among others.
Patsy went on out to smoke a cigarette and didn't seem to want to talk.
Jasmine, lovely in her blue suit and signature white blouse, and lamentably exhausted from the long day of picking out the coffin, the vault and the dress for Aunt Queen, was near to collapse.
"I brought her fingernail polish," she repeated to me three times. "They did a nice job. I told them to wipe off some of the rouge, but it was nice. A nice job. You want to bury her with the pearls? Those are her pearls. " Over and over she asked.
I said Yes.
Nash finally collected Jasmine and escorted her to one of the many little French chairs that lined the walls of the front parlor. Big Ramona was sitting in a chair simply crying, and Clem, having parked the limo, came in to stand over his mother and looked perfectly wretched.
Terry Sue was crying too as she held on to Tommy, who was sobbing. I wanted to comfort Tommy but I was so rattled by my own grief, and, holding back the blood tears, I couldn't do it. Brittany was white-faced and miserable.
Rowan Mayfair was there, which amazed me, looking softly delicate in her tailored suit with her carefully bobbed hair flattering her high cheekbones as always, and there was Michael Curry at her side, with a little more gray in his curly hair than I remembered, the two of them sharing a common radiance which alarmed me. Witches, yes. The Blood told me and they both nodded respectfully at me, suspecting nothing, and I veered away from them, wary of their power, with only a nod, as if I was too stricken to talk, which in fact was true.
There was no avoiding it: I had to approach the coffin. I had to look into it. I had to do it. And so I did.
There lay Aunt Queen in satin splendor, with ropes of pearls on her breast and a large rectangular cameo at her throat which I had never seen in her collection, and which for the moment I couldn't place. Then I recalled it. I had seen it on Petronia. Petronia had worn it when last I saw her at the Hermitage. And when last I saw her in Naples.
How did it get here? I had only to look up to see. There stood Petronia at the foot of the coffin, dressed all in dark blue with her glorious hair pulled back, looking sad and forlorn. In a swift motion that seemed no more than a blink of my eye she was beside me, and, curling her fingers gently around my upper arm, she whispered into my ear that Jasmine had allowed her to place the cameo on Aunt Queen and she had done it, and if I would allow it, it should remain.
"That way, you can keep her special treasures," she said, "yet know she was buried with something worthy of her, something she would have admired. "
"Very well and good," I said. Then Petronia was gone. I knew it without looking. I felt it. I felt it and I felt a strangeness at having seen her among so many mortals, and I felt a new confidence in my own abilities to dissemble, but more than anything I felt an overwhelming misery as I looked down at my beloved Aunt Queen.
Lonigan was an undertaker par excellence as everybody knew, but he had really outdone himself in capturing the pleasant, almost gay expression of Aunt Queen. She was almost smiling. And her gray hair was in perfect soft curls around her face. The rouge on her cheeks was subtle and the coral lipstick on her lips was perfect. She would have been most happy with all that had been done. Of course Jasmine had helped. But Lonigan had wrought the masterpiece, and Aunt Queen's generosity shone forth from his work.
As to the salmon-colored dress and the pearls which Jasmine had chosen, they were lovely, and the rosary in Aunt Queen's hands -- it was the crystal rosary from her First Communion, which she had carried with her all through the great world.
I was so stricken with anguish that I couldn't move or speak. In desperation I wished that Petronia had lingered, and I found myself staring at the large rectangular cameo, with its little mythological figures -- Hebe, Zeus, the raised cup -- and the blood tears started to fill my eyes. I wiped furiously with the linen handkerchief.
Then quickly I withdrew. I went hurriedly through the crowded parlors and out into the hot evening and stood alone at the curb of the corner, looking up at the stars. Nothing would ever assuage the grief I felt now. I knew it. I would carry it with me all my nights until whatever I was now had disintegrated, until Quinn Blackwood had become somebody or something other than what he was now.
My time of privacy lasted only a few seconds. Jasmine came to me and told me that many people wanted to express their condolences and were hesitant because I seemed so upset.
"I can't talk to them, Jasmine, you have to do it for me," I told her. "I have to go now. I know it seems hard and I seem the coward to you. But it's what I have to do. "
"Is it Goblin?" she asked.
"It's the fear of him, yes," I said, lying just a little, more to console her than to cover my own shame. "When is the Mass? When is the interment?"
"The Mass is at eight p. m. tomorrow at St. Mary's, and then we go to Metairie Cemetery. "
I kissed her. I told her I would see her at the church, and then I turned to go.
But as I glanced back at the crowd leaking out of the doorways onto the street, I saw yet another figure who astonished me -- the figure of Julien Mayfair, in his fine gray suit, the suit he had worn the day he so regally entertained me with hot cocoa, standing as if he was merely taking the warm air with all the others, his eyes fixed casually on me.
He seemed as solid as every other person present, except that he was a faintly different color than everyone else, as though he had been painted in by another artist, and all the tones of his clothes and skin and hair were done in darker hues. Oh, such a fine and elegant ghost, come from who knows where, and who in the world thought that as a Blood Drinker I wouldn't see my spirits?
"Ah, yes, she was your daughter, of course," I said, and though there was a great distance between us, and Jasmine was looking up at me uncomprehending, he nodded and he made a very sad little smile.
"What are you saying, you crazy Little Boss?" said Jasmine. "You punchy as I am?"
"I don't know, darling," I answered. "I just see things, always have. Seems the living and the dead have turned out for Aunt Queen. Don't expect me to explain it. But it's fitting, all things considered, don't you think?"
As I watched him, Julien's expression gradually changed, sharpening and strengthening and then becoming almost bitter. I felt the chills coming up my neck. He shook his head in a subtle but stern ne
I drew in my breath. A flood of assurances came from that part of me which could reach him without words.
"Come around, Little Boss," said Jasmine. I felt her lips on my cheek and the hard press of her vigilant fingers.
I couldn't take my eyes off Julien, but his face was softening. It went blank.
He began to fade. And then dissolve just as Rowan and Michael, along with Dr. Winn Mayfair, came out of the nearest doorway. And who should be with them now but Stirling Oliver, Stirling who knew what I was, Stirling whom I had almost killed the night before, Stirling -- gazing at me as if he accepted me when that was utterly morally impossible, Stirling whom I had so loved as my friend. I couldn't bear their scrutiny -- any of them. I couldn't talk common talk of Mona, as if my soul didn't hunger for her, as if I didn't know that I could never see her again, even if they thought that I could, as if Julien's ghost hadn't just threatened me. I had to make a hasty exit.
And I did.
It was a night for a special killing. I pounded the hot pavements. I left the great trees of the Garden District behind me. I crossed the Avenue. I knew where to go.
I wanted a drug dealer, a wanton killer, a fine repast, and I knew where to find one; I had passed his door on gentler nights. I knew his habits. I had saved him for a time of vengeance. I had saved him for now.
It was a big two-story house on Carondolet Street, shabby to the world and rich inside with his electronic gadgets and wall-to-wall carpets, a padded cell from which he ordered executions and purchases and even put the mark on children who refused to run deliveries for him, having their tennis shoes tied together and thrown up over the electric wires to let others know that they had been killed.
I didn't care what the world thought; I broke in on him and slaughtered his two drugged-up stumbling companions with rapid blows to the head. He scrambled for his gun. I had him by the throat, broke him open like a stem. At once I had the sweet sap of his monstrous self-love, poison plant in the garden of hate, lifting his symbolic fist against any assassin, believing to the last drop of blood that he would triumph, that somehow consciousness wouldn't betray him, until finally he was just spilling out the child soul, the early prayers, the images of mother and kindergarten, sunshine, and his heart stopped, and I drew back, licking my lips, glutted, angry, full.
I took his gun, the gun he had reached for to shoot me, and, taking the pillow from off his couch, I pressed pillow and gun to his head and put two bullets in him, and then I did the same to each of his companions. That would give the Coroner something he could understand. I wiped off the gun and left it there.
In a flash I saw Goblin, eyes full of blood, hands red with blood, then he shot towards me as if to grab my throat.
Burn, you devil, burn! I sent the fire into him as he surrounded me, as he sought to merge with me, and I felt the heat singe me, singe my hair, my clothes. You murdered Aunt Queen, you devil, burn! Burn if I have to burn with you. I fell to the floor, or rather the floor came up to take me, full of dust and filth, and I was sprawled out flat on the stinking carpet with him inside me, his heart thudding against my heart, and then the swoon -- we were children, we were infants, we were in the cradle and someone was singing, and Little Ida said, Doesn't that baby have the most beautiful curly hair, oh so sweet to be with Little Ida, to hear her voice again, so sweet, so safe. Aunt Queen let the screen door bang behind her. "Ida, you darling, help me with this clasp. I swear I'm going to lose these pearls!" You devil, you murdering spirit, I won't look at her, I won't feel it; I won't know it. And I was with Goblin and loved Goblin and nothing else mattered -- not even the tiny wounds all over me and the tug on my heart. "Get off me, you devil! I swear it, I'll put an end to you. I'll take you into the fire with me. Don't count me a liar!"
I rose to my hands and knees.
A gust of wind wrapped itself around me and then swept past the broken door. The panes of glass in the window shattered and clattered.
I was so full of hate I could taste it and it didn't taste like blood.
He was gone.
I was in the lair of the drug king, amid the rotting bodies. I had to get out.
And Aunt Queen was dead. She was absolutely dead. She was laid out on cream-colored satin with ropes of pearls. Someone remembered her little eyeglasses with their sterling silver chain. And her Chantilly perfume. Just a little Chantilly perfume.
She is dead.
And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I can do about it.