Blackwood farm, p.8

Blackwood Farm, page 8

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "YOU'VE HEARD ME say that Goblin is my double, and let me emphasize it, because the duplication of me is always perfect, and so I've had all my life a mirror held up to me in Goblin in which I could see, if not know, myself.

  "As to Goblin's personality? His wishes? His temper? All this was wholly different in that he could be a perfect devil when it humiliated me and embarrassed me, and I could seldom control him, though I did learn early on that if I ignored him completely, which took an immense act of will, he might fade and disappear.

  "There have been moments when I did nothing but inspect Goblin, the better to know how I myself looked, and when some alteration came in my appearance, such as the trimming of my hair, Goblin would clench his fists, make ugly faces and stomp his noiseless foot. For that reason I often wore my hair bushy. And as the years passed Goblin took an interest in our clothes, and sometimes threw down on the floor the pair of overalls he wanted me to wear, and the shirt as well.

  "But I'm plunging too fast into the condition of things, and not telling memories as they are lodged.

  "My first distinct memory is a third birthday party in the kitchen, with my grandma Sweetheart and Jasmine and her sister, Lolly, and their mother, Little Ida, and her mother, Big Ramona -- and all of them on high stools or chairs at the white-enameled kitchen table, gazing down at me as I sat at my child's table, with Goblin right beside me, talking away with Goblin and telling him how to pick up his fork the way I'd been taught to do and eat his cake.

  "He had his own little chair to the left of me and a place set for him, and milk and cake, the same as me. And at one point he grabbed my left hand -- I'm left-handed and he's right-handed -- and he made me smear my cake all over my plate.

  "I started crying because I'd never known him to be so strong -- he had truly made my hand move, though not perhaps as he wanted it to -- and I didn't want my cake smeared, I wanted to eat it, and right away the kitchen was in a flying commotion, with everybody jumping up from the stools and Sweetheart trying to wipe my tears and at the same time tell me that I was 'making a mess. ¡¯

  "Goblin was as solid as I was, both of us in navy blue sailor suits for the occasion, and I had some vague sense even then that he was at his strongest because of the heavy rain that was falling outside.

  "I loved the kitchen on those rainy days, loved to stand at the back screen door and watch the rain come down in sheets, with the kitchen all warm and full of bright electric light behind me, the radio singing oldies, or Pops playing the harmonica, and all those beloved adults, and the smell of cooking from the stove.

  "But let me return to my third birthday party.

  "Now Goblin had ruined it and I was sobbing. And he, the little idiot, after crossing his eyes and rocking his head from side to side, took his two first fingers and stretched his mouth on both sides wide as he could, which made me scream.

  "I know I would never have stretched my mouth like that, but he did it often with his mouth, just to get a rise out of me.

  "Then he vanished, completely vanished, and I started to bellow his name.

  "My last distinct picture of that event is of all the women trying to comfort me, the four black women who were as gentle as my grandmother Sweetheart, and even Pops coming in, drying the rain off himself with a towel and asking what was wrong.

  "I was hollering, 'Goblin, Goblin,' over and over again, and Goblin wouldn't come back.

  "A terror erupted in me as it always did when he would vanish, and how it was resolved then I don't know.

  "It's dim, this memory, but it's fixed because I remember the giant number three on the birthday cake, and everybody saying so proudly that I was three years old, and then Goblin being so strong and so full of spite.

  "Also Pops gave me a harmonica on that birthday and taught me how to blow in it, and I sat with him and we played together for a little while, and ever after we did that in the evenings right after supper before Pops headed up early to bed.

  "What comes next is a series of memories of Goblin and me playing together alone in my room. Happy, happy memories. We played at blocks, with a marvelous set full of columns and arches, creating buildings of a vague classical bent to be sent crashing down, and for the purpose of crashing and banging we had fine little fire trucks and automobiles, but sometimes we just did the crashing with our hands or feet.

  "Goblin didn't have the strength to do it on his own right away, but over time he acquired it, but before that he would take my left hand to do it, or to roll the fire truck into our marvelous structures, and then he'd smile, and break loose of me, and dance about.

  "My memory of these rooms is pretty clear. Little Ida, Jasmine's mother, slept in the big bed with me, as I was already too old for a crib, and Goblin slept with us, and this room here was the playroom and filled with toys of all kinds.

  "But I was easy with Goblin and he had no reason to be mean.

  "And gradually, in spite of my young age, I began to see that Goblin didn't want to share me with the world, and was happiest, by far, when he had my full attention, which made him strong.

  "Goblin didn't even want me to play the harmonica, because he lost me when I did, even though he loved to dance to the radio or to songs that the women in the kitchen sang. He had me laughing at him or dancing with him at those times. But when I played the harmonica, especially with Pops, I was in another world.

  "Of course, I learned the knack of playing the harmonica especially for Goblin, nodding and winking at him (I could wink really early in life, with either eye) as he danced, and so he started to put up with it as the years passed.

  "Most of the time, Goblin had what he wanted. We had our own table up here for crayons and drawing. And I let him guide me, his right hand on my left hand, but all he'd create was scribble scratch, whereas I wanted to draw stick figures, or figures made of circles, and faces with little circles for eyes. I taught him how to do the stick figures, or the egg people, as Little Ida called them, and how to make pictures of a garden with big round flowers that I liked to do.

  "It was at this little nursery table that he first demonstrated his eternally feeble voice. No one could hear it but me and I caught it as so many bursts of fragmented thought brightening for an instant in my head. I talked out loud to him naturally, and sometimes in whispers which developed into murmurs, and I remember Little Ida and Big Ramona asking me all the time what I was saying, and telling me I wasn't talking right.

  "Sometimes, when we were down in the kitchen and I was talking to Goblin, Pops or Sweetheart asked me the same thing, what on earth was I saying, and didn't I know how to talk better than that, would I please say whole words as I knew well enough how to do.

  "I brought Goblin up to snuff on this, that we had to talk in whole words, but his voice was no more than broken telepathic suggestions, and out of sheer frustration he gave up on this means of speaking to me, and his voice only returned years later.

  "But to continue with his infant development -- he could nod or shake his head at my questions, and smile crazily when I said things or did things that he liked. He was dense when he first appeared to me each day and would become more translucent as his appearances, or lingering, increased. I had a sense of knowing when he was near, even if he was invisible, and during the night I could feel his embrace -- a very light and distinct impression which I never tried, until this very moment, to describe to anyone else.

  "It's more than fair to say that when he wasn't making faces and cavorting he impressed me with an engulfing love. It was stronger perhaps when he wasn't visible, but if he didn't appear to me at short intervals over the day and into the night, I began to cry for him and become severely distressed.

  "Sometimes when I was running on the grass or climbing the oak tree outside, down by the cemetery, I could feel him clinging to me, piggybacking onto me, and I would all the time talk to him, whether he was visible or not.

  "One very bright day, when I was in the kitchen, Sweetheart taught me to write some words -- 'good' and 'bad' and 'happy' and 'sad,' and I taught Goblin, with his hand on mine, to write these words as well. Of course nobody understood that Goblin was doing the writing some of the time, and when I tried to tell them they just laughed, except for Pops, who never liked Goblin and was always worried 'where all this talk of Goblin would lead. ¡¯

  "No doubt Patsy had always been around, but I don't remember her distinctly until I was four or five. And even then I don't think I knew she was my mother. She certainly never came up here to my room, and when I did see her in the kitchen I was already afraid that a screaming fight between her and Pops was going to break out.

  "I loved Pops, and with reason, because he loved me. He was a tall gaunt man with gray hair all the time I knew him, and always working, and most of the time with his hands. He was educated and he spoke very well, as did Sweetheart, but he wanted to be a country man. And just the way the kitchen had swallowed up Sweetheart, who had once been a debutante in New Orleans, so the farm swallowed Pops.

  "Pops kept the books for the Blackwood Manor Bed-and-Breakfast on a computer in his room. And though he did put on a white shirt and suit to conduct the tours of the place now and then, he didn't like that part of things. He preferred to be riding the lawns on his beloved tractor lawn mower or doing any other kind of work outdoors.

  "He was happiest when he had a 'project' and could work side by side with the Shed Men -- Jasmine's great-uncles, brothers and so forth -- until the sun went down, and I never saw him in any vehicle except a pickup truck until Sweetheart died, at which time he rode into town in a limousine like all the rest of us did.

  "But I don't think, and it's hurtful to say it, that Pops loved his daughter, Patsy. I think he loved her as little as Patsy loves me.

  "Patsy was a late child, I know that now, though I didn't then. And when I look back on it as I tell you this story, I realize there was no natural place for her. Had she gone debutante like Sweetheart, well, maybe it would have been a different story. But Patsy had gone country and wild at the same time, and this mixture Pops, for all his country ways, couldn't abide.

  "Pops disapproved of everything about Patsy, from the way she teased her hair and curled it down her back and over her shoulders to the tiny short skirts that she wore. He hated her white cowboy boots and told her so, and said her singing was a bunch of foolishness, she'd never 'make it' with her band. He made her shut the garage doors when she practiced so her 'racket' wouldn't disturb the bed-and-breakfast guests. He couldn't endure her flashy makeup and her fringed leather jackets, and he told her she looked like common trash.

  "She shot right back at him, saying she'd earn the money to get the hell out of here, and she broke a cookie jar once in a fight with him -- a cookie jar full of Sweetheart's chocolate fudge, I might add -- and whenever she left the kitchen, she never forgot to slam the screen door.

  "Patsy was a good singer, I knew that much from the beginning because the Shed Men said it, and so did Jasmine and her mother, Little Ida, and even Big Ramona said it. And I liked the music myself, to tell the truth. But there was an endless procession of young men to the back garage to play guitar and drums for Patsy -- and I knew Pops hated them -- and when I played outside I crept close to the garage stealthily, not wanting Pops to see me, so I could hear Patsy wailing away with the band.

  "Sometimes Goblin would get to dancing to Patsy's music, and, as happens with many spirits, Goblin can be caught up in dancing, and when he was dancing he rocked from side to side and made goofy, funny gestures with his arms, and did tricks with his feet that would have made a flesh-and-blood boy stumble and fall. He'd make like a bowling pin, rolling but never falling, and I would nearly die from laughing to see him carry on.

  "I got to liking this dancing too, and being his partner, and trying to imitate his steps. And when Patsy came out of the shed to smoke a cigarette, and saw me, she'd swoop down and kiss me and call me 'darlin' ' and say I was a 'damned cute little boy. ' She had a strange way of putting that last phrase, as if it were an admission over opposition, but no one would have opposed her in saying it, except her own self.

  "I think I thought she was my cousin, until Patsy's screaming fights with Pops told me a different tale.

  "Money was the cause of Patsy's screaming arguments with Pops because Pops never wanted to give her any, and of course I know now that there was plenty of money, always plenty plenty of money. But Pops made Patsy fight over every nickel; Pops wouldn't invest in Patsy, I see it now, and sometimes their quarreling made me cry.

  "One time, when I was at my little table in the kitchen with Goblin, and one of these fights had broken out between Patsy and Pops, Goblin took my hand and guided my crayon to write the word 'bad. ' I was happy when he did this, because it was right what he wrote, and then he sat real close to me and tried to put his arm around me, but his body was very stiff in those days. I knew that he didn't want me to cry. He tried so hard to comfort me that he became invisible, but I could feel him clinging to my left side.

  "At other times when Patsy was battling for money, Goblin would pull me away, and he didn't have to try very hard. He and I ran up to my room where we couldn't hear them.

  "Sweetheart was far too submissive to oppose Pops at the time of the kitchen quarrels, but Sweetheart did slip money to her daughter. I saw that, and Patsy would cover Sweetheart with kisses and say, 'Mamma, I don't know what I'd do if it weren't for you. ' Then she'd ride off into town on the back of somebody's motorcycle, or in her own van, her much excoriated van which had 'Patsy Blackwood' written in spray paint on both sides of it beneath the windows, and we wouldn't see Patsy or hear any music from the studio for three days.

  "The first time I realized that Patsy was intimately connected to me was a terrible night when she and Pops got to screaming at each other and he said, 'You don't love Quinn,' plain and simple, and 'You don't love your own little boy. There wouldn't be any Goblin in this house, he wouldn't need Goblin, if you'd be the mother you're supposed to be. ¡¯

  "At that moment, I knew it was true, these words; she was my mother. They had an echo for me somewhere, and I felt a potent curiosity about Patsy, and I wanted to ask Pops what he meant. I also felt a hurt, a pain in my chest and stomach at the thought that Patsy didn't love me, whereas before I don't think that I had cared.

  "At that moment, when Pops was saying, 'You're an unnatural mother, that's what you are, and a tramp on top of it,' Patsy grabbed up a big knife. She ran at Pops with it and Pops took ahold of both her wrists in one hand. The knife fell to the floor and Patsy told Pops that she hated him, that if she could she'd kill him, he'd better sleep with one eye open, and he was the one who didn't love his own child.

  "Next thing I knew I was outside with the electric light pouring out of the shed, and Patsy was sitting in a wooden porch rocker before her open garage studio and she was crying, and I went to her and kissed her on the cheek, and she turned to me and hugged me and took me in her arms. I knew Goblin was trying to pull at me, I could feel him, but I wanted to hug Patsy, I didn't want her to be so unhappy. I told Goblin to kiss Patsy.

  " 'Stop talkin' to that thing,' Patsy cried. She changed into a different person -- rather, an all too familiar person -- screaming at me. 'It kills me when you talk to that thing. I can't stand to be around you when you talk to that thing. And then they say I'm a bad mother!' And so I stopped talking to Goblin and gave all my kisses to Patsy for an hour or more. I liked being in her lap. I liked being rocked by her. She smelled good and so did her cigarette. And in my dim childlike mind, I knew it marked a change of sorts.

  "But there was more to it than that. I felt a dark feeling when I clung to Patsy. I felt something like despair. I've been told I couldn't have felt such a thing at that age, but that's not true. I felt it. I clung to Patsy, and I ignored Goblin even though he danced around and tugged on my slee

  "That night Patsy came up to watch television in here with Goblin and me and Little Ida, an unprecedented event, and we had a riot of laughter together, though what we actually watched I don't recall. The impression made upon me was that Patsy was my friend suddenly, and I thought she was very pretty, I always had thought she was very pretty, but I loved Pops too and could never choose between the two.

  "From that day forward, it seemed that Patsy and I had more hugs and kisses for each other, if not anything else. Hugging and kissing have always been big on Blackwood Farm, and now Patsy was in the loop, as far as I was concerned.

  "By age six or so I had the run of the property and knew well enough not to play too near the swamp that borders us to the west and southwest.

  "If it hadn't been for Goblin, my favorite place would have been the old cemetery, which, as I've told you, was once beloved by my great-great-great-grandmother Virginia Lee.

  "As I've described, the guests adored the place, and the tale of how Mad Manfred restored every tombstone just to quiet the conscience of Virginia Lee. The elaborate little cast-iron fence that surrounded the place had all been patched and was kept painted jet-black, and the small stone shell of a pointed-roof church was swept clear of leaves every day. It's an echo chamber, the little church, and I loved to go in there and say 'Goblin!' and hear it come back to me, and have him doubled over with silent giggles.

  "Now the roots of the four oak trees down there have buckled some of the rectangular tombs as well as the little fence, but what can anyone do about an oak tree? No one kin to me would ever chop down any kind of tree, that's for certain, and these trees all had their name.

  "Virginia Lee's Oak was the one on the far side of the cemetery, between it and the swamp, and Manfred's Oak was right beside it, while on this side there was William's Oak, and Ora Lee's Oak, all fantastically thick with huge heavy arms that dip down to the ground.

  "I loved to play down there, until Goblin started his campaign.

  "I must have been about seven years old when I saw the first ghosts in the cemetery, and I can see this very vividly now as I speak. Goblin and I were rollicking down there, and a long way off I could hear the thumping of Patsy's latest band. We had left the cemetery proper and I was struggling up one of the long armlike branches of Ora Lee's Oak that is closest to the house, though not really all that close to the house at all.

  "I turned my head to the right for no apparent reason and I saw a small gathering of people, two women and a boy and a man, all drifting above the buckled and crowded community of graves. I was not frightened at all. In fact, I think I thought, 'Oh, so these are the ghosts that everybody talks about,' and I was silently stunned looking at them, at the way that all of them seemed to be made of the same translucent substance, and the way that they floated as though created mostly of air.

  "Goblin saw them after I did, and for one moment he didn't move but only stared, the same as I was staring, and then he became frantic, gesturing wildly for me to get down out of the tree and come up to the house. I knew all his hand signals by now, so there was no question of it. But I had no intention of leaving.

  "I stared at the cluster of people, wondering at their blank faces, their colorless matter, their simple clothes and the way that they all looked at me.

  "I slid down the branch of the oak and went towards the cast-iron fence. The eyes of the ghostly gathering remained fastened to me, and as I see it now, as I gaze at them again in remembrance, I realize that they changed somewhat in their expression. They became intense and even demanding, though of course I didn't know those words then.

  "Gradually, they began to fade, and to my severe disappointment they were no longer there. I could hear the silence that followed them, and a larger sense of the mysterious stole over me as my eyes moved over the graveyard itself and then the overpowering oaks. I had a peculiar and distinct feeling about the oaks -- that they were watching me and had seen me see the spirits, and that they were sentient and vigilant and had a personality of their own.

  "A real horror of the trees was conceived in me, and as I looked down the slope, towards the encroaching darkness of the swamp, I felt the giant cypress trees were possessed of the same secretive life, witnessing all around them with a deep slow respiration which only the trees themselves could see or hear.

  "I became dizzy. I was almost sick. I saw the branches of the trees moving, and then very slowly there came into view the ghosts again, the very same collection, as pale and wretched as before. Their eyes searched my face, and I remained steadfast, refusing Goblin's frantic gestures, until suddenly I backed up, nearly stumbling, and took off running for the house.

  "I went, as always, straight to the kitchen door, with Goblin skipping and racing beside me, and told Sweetheart all about it, which immediately put her in a state of alarm.

  "Sweetheart was already very stout by that time, and a permanent fixture in the kitchen, as I've described to you, and she took me up in her arms. She told me point-blank that there were no ghosts down there and I should stay away from the place altogether from now on. I found the contradiction in that, young as I was, but I knew what I had seen, and no one could dislodge it from my mind.

  "Pops was busy with the guests in the front part of the house, and I don't remember his ever responding.

  "But Big Ramona, Jasmine's grandmother, who had been working in the kitchen with Sweetheart, was very curious about the ghosts and wanted me to tell everything about them down to the flower design of the women's dresses and that the men had no hats. She believed in the ghosts, I knew she did, and she launched into the famous story of how she saw the ghost of my great-great-grandfather William in the living room, going through the drawers of the Louis XV desk.

  "But to return to the folks of the cemetery, the Lost Souls, as I've come to call them, Sweetheart was frightened at all this and said it was time I went to kindergarten, where I'd meet other children and have lots of fun.

  "And so one morning, Pops took me in the pickup to a private school in Ruby River City. I was kicked out within two days. Much too much talking to Goblin, and mumbling and murmuring in half words, and not being able to cooperate with other kids. Besides, Goblin hated it. Goblin made faces at the teacher. Goblin took my left hand and broke my crayons.

  "Back it was to where I wanted to be -- either spying on Patsy and her music making, or working with Pops as he planted a row of beautiful pansies along the front of the house, or eating the cake icing mix that was left in the bowl in the kitchen, while Sweetheart and Big Ramona and Little Ida sang 'Go Tell Aunt Rodie' or 'I've Been Working on the Railroad' or songs I've long forgotten, songs I've lost, much to my shame.

  "I saw the Lost Souls of the graveyard several times after that, and I've seen them in the past year. They don't change. They linger and they stare and nothing more. They do seem to be locked together, a floating mass from which no one spirit can detach itself. I'm not even certain they have personality, as we know the word. But the way that they follow me with their eyes argues that they do.

  "I must have been asked to leave at least four schools when my Aunt Lorraine McQueen came home.

  "It was the first time that I can remember ever laying eyes on her, though she had been home several times when I was a baby, and told me so with much enthusiasm and sweet embraces and fragrant lipstick kisses and proffering of the most delicious chocolate-covered cherry candies, which she gave to me from a large fancy white box.

  "Her room was the same as it is now, in location, and I have no memory of ever noticing it until I was taken in to see her on that long-ago day and she put me on her lap.

  "Even counting the guests who had passed through Blackwood Manor, Aunt Queen was the prettiest of the women I'd ever beheld. Her spike-heel ankle-strap shoes struck me as very lovely to look at, glamorous is my word now, and I very much enjoyed her heavy perfume and the feel of her soft white hair.

  "I calculate
she must have been near seventy around that time, but she looked younger than Pops, who was her grand nephew, or Sweetheart, and both of them were in their fifties, I think.

  "Aunt Queen was dressed all in tailored white silk, which was her favorite style of dressing, and I remember I dripped some of the chocolate-covered cherry candy on her suit, and she said airily that I mustn't worry, she had a thousand suits of white silk, and she laughed in the most delightful manner and told me I was as 'brilliant' as she had once predicted I would be.

  "Her room was all done in white, with lace and silk decorating the canopy of the bed, and long gossamer high-waisted white ruffle curtains on her windows, and she even had a white fox fur with real heads and tails, which she had tossed over a chair.

  "She told me that she adored for things to be done in white, and showed me her fingernails, which were lacquered in white, and the cameo at the neck of her blouse, which was white on pale pink coral, and said that she had needed all things to be white for the last thirty years, or ever since John McQueen, her husband, had died.

  " 'I think I am just getting tired of it,' she declared in the most dramatic and interesting manner. 'I did so love your Uncle John McQueen. I never loved a man before him. And I never will marry again. But I'm ready to be drenched in color. Surely your Uncle John McQueen would approve. What do you think, Tarquin? Should I buy suits of different colors?¡¯

  "It was a positive landmark in my young life when she spoke these words. No one had ever asked me such a serious adult question before. In fact, she spoke to me entirely as if I were an adult. I adored her from those moments forward with a loyalty that has no limit.

  "Within a week she was showing me swatches of colored damask and satin and asking me which I thought was the happiest and the sweetest color, and I had to confess, of all things, that yellow seemed to me to be the happiest, and I took her hand and led her to the kitchen to see the yellow curtains there, which made her laugh and laugh and say that yellow made her think of butter.

  "But she did the room in yellow! It was all in light summery fabric, airy like the white she had used before, but the whole room was magical in yellow, and frankly I never liked it as much as I did with that first change.

  "Over the years, she has done the room in many different colors, including bed hangings, draperies and chairs, and as for her clothes, she has done the same thing. But on that first day, she seemed a true royal personage of pure whiteness, and I remember reveling in her beauty and what seemed the purity of her manner and her words.

  "As for the cameo, she told me all about it -- that it was the mythical Hebe holding up a cup for Zeus, the king of the gods, who was in the form of an eagle, dipping his beak to drink.

  "Now, Goblin had been sulking all this time by the doorway, hands in his overall pockets, until I turned to him and told him to come over and that I wanted to show him to Aunt Queen. I believe that I did my very best to describe him to her, since no one to my knowledge could ever see Goblin, except me, and I could swear that she looked at the space beside me, and I had an inkling, the barest inkling, that she did see him, at least for a moment, when she narrowed her eyes.

  "She looked sharply to me again, as if snapping back, and demanded very gently, 'Does he make you happy?' and that too caught me off guard, as her earlier question had done.

  "I think I stammered out something to the effect that Goblin was always around except when he was hiding, as if it wasn't a matter of whether he made me happy or not, and then Goblin began to tug on my hand to drag me from the room. I said 'Behave, Goblin!' just as Sweetheart sometimes said to me, 'Behave, Quinn!' and Goblin, pouting and making faces, disappeared.

  "I started to cry. Aunt Queen was very distressed at this and asked the reason, and I told her that now Goblin would not come back for a long time. He'd wait and wait until I was crying and crying, and then he would come.

  "Aunt Queen pondered this for a long time and said that I mustn't cry. 'You know what I think, Quinn?' she asked. 'I think if you remain quiet and pretend you don't need him, Goblin will come back. ¡¯

  "It did the trick. As I was helping her and Big Ramona to unpack suitcases, as I was playing with Aunt Queen's cameos, which she set out on her famous marble table, along came Goblin, peeping around the door and then pouting and sulking and coming in.

  "Aunt Queen didn't mind my murmuring to him as I explained who she was and that everybody called her Miss Queen but we were to call her Aunt Queen, and when Big Ramona went to correct me and tell me to hush, Aunt Queen said, No, let me go on.

  " 'Now, Goblin, don't run off again,' Aunt Queen said, and once more I was certain she could see him, but she said that she couldn't, and was only taking my word for the fact that he was there.

  "For the entirety of Aunt Queen's visit she spoke to me as if I were an adult, and I also slept in her bed with her. She sent into town for some men's white T-shirts, size large, and I wore these as my little white nightshirts. And I snuggled up to her spoon fashion as I did with Little Ida, and I slept so deeply not even Goblin could wake me before I heard Aunt Queen's call to get up.

  "Little Ida was a tiny bit put out over this, as she and I had been bedfellows since I was a baby, but Aunt Queen soothed her so that she let it go. I liked the white canopy over our heads better than the satin-lined baldachin in my own room up here.

  "Let me move to another recollection which must come from the same time. Aunt Queen and I drove into New Orleans in her big stretch limousine. I'd never been in a car like it, but I remember little of it, except that Goblin sat on my right side and Aunt Queen on my left. Goblin tried to stay solid, but he flashed transparent numerous times.

  "What struck me that day most strongly was that we got out on a shady side street with a long brick sidewalk, and all over that sidewalk were pink petals, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. I wish I knew now where that street was. I've asked Aunt Queen but she doesn't recall.

  "I don't know whether those pink petals had fallen from a long flank of crape myrtle trees or from Japanese magnolias. I tend to think it was crape myrtles after a rain. I'll never forget that stretch of sidewalk and that lovely path of flower petals, as though someone had strewn them especially for people to walk on and be transported out of reality and into dreams.

  "Even now, when existence seems unendurable I think of that sidewalk, I remember the drowsy light and the feeling of being unhurried, and the beauty of the pink petals. And I'm able to take a deep breath.

  "It has nothing to do with my story, except perhaps to state that I had eyes to see such things, and a heart to be sensitive to them. But what is germane is that we went to the house of a very affected and artificial lady, much younger than Aunt Queen, who had a whole room full of toys, and the first dollhouse I'd ever seen. Not knowing that boys weren't supposed to like dollhouses, I was of course curious about it and wanted to play with it more than anything else.

  "But the lady wanted to direct things, as I recall, and bombarded me with soft affected questions, in her phony baby voice, mostly pertaining to Goblin, who glared at her the whole while with a sullen and angry face. I didn't like her soft tone when she asked, 'Does Goblin do bad things?' and 'Do you feel sometimes that Goblin is doing something that you would like to do but can't?¡¯

  "Young as I was, I caught her drift, and I wasn't surprised afterwards when Aunt Queen made a phone call to Pops from the limousine and said, quite oblivious to Goblin and me beside her, 'It's just an imaginary playmate, Thomas. He'll outgrow Goblin. He's a brilliant child and he has no playmates. So we have Goblin. There's no point to be worried at all. ¡¯

  "It was very soon after my encounter with the beautiful flower-strewn sidewalk -- and the lady psychologist -- that Pops drove me to a new school. I hated it passionately, as I had the others, talked to Goblin belligerently and without cease and was sent home before noon.

  "The next week Pops made the long drive into New
Orleans to take me to a fancier kindergarten in Uptown, but with the same result. Goblin made faces at the children and I hated them. And the teacher's voice grated on me, as she talked to me as if I were an idiot, and Pops was soon there in the pickup truck to take me back to exactly where I wanted to be.

  "At this point, I have a vivid yet fragmented memory, very distorted and confused, of actually being incarcerated in some sort of hospital, of being in a small cubicle of a room and of sitting in one of those vast playrooms again, complete with a dollhouse, and of knowing that people were watching me through a mirror because Goblin made signs to me that they were. Goblin hated the place. The people who came in to question me talked to me as if they were great friends of mine, which of course they weren't.

  " 'Where did you learn all the big words?' was one prize question, and, 'You talk of being happy to be independent. Do you know what "independent" means?' Of course I knew and I explained it: to be on one's own, to be not in school, to be not in this place; and out of there I soon went, with a sense that I had gotten my liberty through sheer stubbornness and the refusal to be nice. But I had been badly frightened by this experience. And I know that I cried hysterically when I rushed into Sweetheart's arms, and she sobbed and sobbed.

  "It may have been the night of my return home -- I don't know -- but very soon after, Aunt Queen assured me I'd never be left in a place like that 'hospital' again. And in the days that followed I learnt that it was Aunt Queen's doing, because Patsy loudly criticized her for it in my presence and this confused me because I so badly needed to love Aunt Queen.

  "When Aunt Queen shook her head and confirmed that she had done wrong with the hospital, I was very relieved. Aunt Queen saw this and she kissed me and she asked after Goblin, and I told her that he was right at my side.

  "Again, I could have sworn that she saw him, and I even saw Goblin puff himself up and sort of preen for her. But she said only that if I loved Goblin, then she would love Goblin too. I burst into tears of happiness, and Goblin was soon in a paroxysm of tears as well.

  "My next memory of Aunt Queen is of her sharing my little table with me in this room and teaching me more words to write with my crayon -- in fact, a great list of nouns comprising the name of every item in the bedroom -- and that she watched patiently as I taught all these words -- bed, table, chair, window and so forth -- to Goblin.

  " 'Goblin helps you to remember,' she said gravely to me. 'I think Goblin is very clever himself. Does Goblin know a word we don't know, do you think? I mean a word you haven't learned so far?¡¯

  "It was a startling moment. I was about to say no, when Goblin put his hand on mine and wrote in his jagged way the word 'Stop' and the word 'Yield. ' And the word 'School. ¡¯

  "I laughed, I was so proud of him. But Goblin wasn't finished. He then wrote in short jerky movements the words 'Ruby River. ¡¯

  "I heard Aunt Queen gasp. 'Explain each of those words to me, Quinn,' she said. But though I could explain 'stop' and 'yield' as signs we saw on the highway, I couldn't read 'school' or 'Ruby River. ¡¯

  " 'Ask Goblin what they mean,' said Aunt Queen.

  "I did as she asked, and Goblin explained everything silently by putting the thoughts in my head. Stop meant to stop the car, Yield meant to slow down the car, School meant to go slow when we were near the children, bah! ich! and Ruby River was the name of the water over which the car drove when we went to school or shopping.

  "An unforgettable expression of seriousness came over Aunt Queen's face. 'Ask Goblin how he learned these things,' she said to me. But when I did this, Goblin just crossed his eyes, wagged his head from left to right and began dancing.

  " 'I don't think he knows how,' I told her, 'but I think he learned them from watching and listening. ¡¯

  "She seemed very much pleased with this answer, and I was immensely glad. Her solemn expression had frightened me. 'Ah, that makes a good deal of sense,' she said. 'And I'll tell you what. Why don't you have Goblin teach you several new words every day? Maybe he can start now with some more for us. ¡¯

  "I had to explain to her that Goblin was through for the day. He never liked to do anything very long. He ran out of steam.

  "Only now as I tell this do I realize that Goblin was talking coherently in my head. When did that start? I don't know.

  "But in the months to come I did what Aunt Queen asked and Goblin taught me pages of common words. Everyone, even Pops and Sweetheart, thought it was a good thing. And the kitchen crowd watched in awe as this process unfolded.

  "In jerky letters, I spelled out 'Rice,' 'Coca-Cola,' 'Flour,' 'Ice,' 'Rain,' 'Police,' 'Sheriff,' 'City Hall,' 'Post Office,' 'Ruby Town Theater,' 'Grand Hardware,' 'Grodin's Pharmacy,' 'Wal-Mart' -- defining these words as Goblin defined them in my head, and this defining came not only with the pronunciation of the words, which Goblin gave me, but with pictures. I saw the City Hall. I saw the Post Office. I saw the Ruby Town Theater. And I made an immediate and seminal link between the audible syllables of the word and its meaning, and this was Goblin's doing.

  "As I revisit this curious process, I realize what it meant. Goblin, whom I had always treated as grossly inferior to me and devilishly a troublemaker, had learned the phonetic code to written words and was ahead of me in this. And he stayed ahead of me for a long time. The explanation? Just what he had said. He watched and he listened, and given a small amount of indisputable raw material he was able to go quite far.

  "This is what I mean when I say he is a fast learner, and I should add he's an unpredictable and uncontrollable learner because that's true.

  "But let me make it clear that though the Kitchen Gang told me Goblin was a wonder for teaching me all these words, they still didn't believe in him.

  "And one night when I was listening to the adults talk in Aunt Queen's room, I heard the word 'subconscious,' and again I heard it, and finally the third time I interrupted and asked what it meant.

  "Aunt Queen explained that Goblin lived in my subconscious, and that as I grew older he would probably go away. I mustn't worry about it now. But later I wouldn't want so much to have Goblin and the 'situation' would take care of itself.

  "I knew this was wrong, but I loved Aunt Queen too much to contradict her. And besides she was soon going away. Her travels were calling her. Friends of hers were gathered in Madrid at a palace for a special party, and I could only think of this with tears.

  "Aunt Queen soon took her leave, but not before hiring a young lady to 'homeschool' me, which she did, coming up to Blackwood Manor every day.

  "This teacher wasn't really a very effective person, and my conversations with Goblin scared her, and she was soon gone.

  "The next and the next weren't much good either.

  "Goblin hated these teachers as much as I did. They wanted me to color pictures that were boring and to paste strips of paper from magazines onto cardboard. And for the most part they had a dishonest manner of speaking which seems, I think in retrospect, to assume that a child's mind is different from that of adults. I couldn't bear it. I learned quickly how to horrify and frighten them. I did it lustily to break their power. I wanted them gone. With the fury of an only child with a spirit of his own, I wanted them gone.

  "No matter how many came, I was soon alone with Goblin again.

  "We had the run of the farm as always, and we hung out sometimes with the Shed Men, watching boxing on television, a sport I've always loved -- in fact, the only sport that I love to watch and still do watch -- and we saw the ghosts in the old cemetery several times.

  "As for the ghost of William, Manfred's son, I saw him at least three times by the desk in the living room, and he seemed as oblivious to me as Aunt Camille on the attic stairs.

  "Meanwhile Little Ida read lavishly illustrated children's books to me, not minding one bit that Goblin too was listening and looking, all of us crowded on the bed together against the headboard, and I learned to read a little with her, an
d Goblin could actually read a book to me if I had the patience to listen to him, to tune in to his silent voice inside my head. On rainy days, as I've mentioned, he was really strong. He could read a whole poem to me from an adult book. If we were running in the summer rain, he could stay perfectly solid for an hour.

  "Sometime in these early years I realized that I had a treasure in Goblin, that his knack for understanding and spelling words was superior to mine, and I liked it, and I also trusted his opinion of the teachers, of course. Goblin was learning faster than I was. And then the inevitable happened.

  "I must have been nine years old. Goblin, taking my left hand, began to write more sophisticated messages than I could have ever written. In the kitchen, where I sat at the big white-enameled table now with the adults, Goblin scrawled out in crayon on paper something like 'Quinn and I want to go riding in Pops' truck. We'd like to go to the cock fights again. We like to see the roosters go at it. We want to place bets. ¡¯

  "Little Ida witnessed this and so did Jasmine, both of whom said nothing, and Sweetheart just shook her head, and Pops was silent too. Then Pops did a clever thing.

  " 'Now, Quinn,' he said, 'you're telling us Goblin wrote this, but all I see is your left hand moving. Just to get this straight, you copy those words for us. Tell Goblin just to let you copy. I want to see how your hand is different from his. ¡¯

  "Of course I had a difficult time copying, and the printing was much neater and squared off when I did it, the way Little Ida had taught me to print, and Pops drew back and was amazed.

  "Then Goblin grabbed my left hand again and guided it as he wrote in his characteristic spidery scrawl, 'Don't be afraid of me. I love Quinn. ¡¯

  "I became elated with these developments and I remember saying to all assembled that Goblin was the best teacher I had. But nobody was as happy about this as I was, and then Goblin grabbed my hand again, very tight, and scrawled out, nearly breaking the crayon, 'You don't believe in me. Quinn believes in me. ¡¯

  "It seemed utterly plain to me that Goblin was a separate creature and everybody ought to know it, but no one was ready to say it in words.

  "However, Pops and I went to the cock fights the very next weekend, and as we were driving over to Ruby River City, Pops asked if Goblin was with us in the car. I said Yes, Goblin was cleaving to me, invisible, saving his strength to dance around in the aisle at the cock fights, but not to worry, he was right there.

  "Then when we got there, Pops asked, 'What's Goblin up to?' and I told him Goblin was there 'in living color,' by which I meant solid, and that he was running right alongside of me all over the arena to collect the bets that Pops won. Of course we had to pay off a few too that Pops lost.

  "Just in case you've never seen a cock fight, let me briefly describe what happens. It's an air-conditioned building out in the country, with a crude lobby and concession stand in it selling hamburgers, hot dogs and soda. From the lobby you go into an arena that is round except for two entrances, the one through which you came and the one opposite through which the roosters and the handlers come in. In the center of this arena is a big round dirt-floor cage completely protected by chicken wire right up to the ceiling -- where the birds fight.

  "Two men enter the ring with their roosters, set them down on the floor and the roosters go at it, by their very nature, and as soon as one is bested the birds are taken out to continue the fight to the death out back. The handlers do everything they can to help their birds. They'll take them by the throat and suck the blood right out of their mouths to give them a second wind, and I think they blow in their hind ends too.

  "Pops never went out back. It was dirty and dusty back there, which is why most of the people at the cock fights, no matter how well dressed, appear to be covered in dirt. Pops just liked the indoor portion of the battle, and he often stood up and hollered out his bets, and I did the running with the money as I described. There are some women at the cock fights, and lots of children, with a lot of children doing the collecting and the delivering, and it is a kind of American scene which is probably dying out.

  "I personally loved it, and so did Goblin, as I've explained. We thought the cocks were gorgeous with their long colorful plumage, and when they leapt in the air to challenge their opponents, rising up some three feet or more, then dropping and rising again, it was a spectacle to behold.

  "Pops knew everybody there. As I've said, he was a country man, and as I tell you this story I realize that he was deliberately country, throwing in his lot with the rural community when in fact he had a choice.

  "He'd gotten his law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, same as his father, Gravier. He could have been a different type of person. He chose to be who he was.

  "He'd bred fighting cocks before I was born, and he told me all about it, how for two years they were fed on the best grain and let to grow their long plumes for the five minutes of glory in the ring. As for domestic poultry, he said they were miserably bred now and miserably treated and knew nothing of the grass or the fresh air. A fighting cock had a life.

  "Well, that was Pops. He could come home from a cock fight, shower down, dress in his dark suit and go in and make sure that the Royal Doulton china had been properly set for dinner on the table, and call in Little Ida or Lolly to make the sterling silver settings more even and uniform all around. He played tapes of harmonica music in his truck and hired classical quartets and trios for the front rooms.

  "He was a man between worlds, and he gave me the best of both of them, but why he hated Patsy when she had gone so totally country I don't understand. But then my mother did get knocked up at sixteen and refused to divulge the name of the father, if she ever knew it, so maybe that put her in a bad light.

  "Let's fast-forward now to my tenth year when the best of the home teachers came, a nonpareil -- a lovely woman named Lynelle Springer, who played the piano exquisitely and spoke several foreign languages, who 'adored' Goblin and often talked to him quite independently of me, even making me a little jealous.

  "Of course I knew it was a game, but Goblin didn't and he frolicked and did tricks for Lynelle, which I described to her in a whisper. Everything that Lynelle taught me I taught to Goblin, or at least made the motions. And Goblin grew to love Lynelle so much that he jumped up and down when she arrived each evening at the house.

  "Lynelle was tall and slender with long curly brown hair, which she pinned back casually from her face. She wore a perfume named Shalimar and what she called 'romantic' dresses with high waists and flowing skirts, suggestive of the time of King Arthur, she explained to me, and she adored the color sky blue. She was thrilled that my ancestor Virginia Lee, for her portrait in the dining room, had chosen a gorgeous dress of sky blue.

  Lynelle wore very high heels -- Aunt Queen no doubt approved heartily -- and had extremely full breasts and a tiny waist.

  "Lynelle was enchanted by Blackwood Manor. She danced in circles in the big rooms. She explored everything with ebullient interest and was most gracious in her casual meetings with the guests.

  "She pronounced me to be a 'rare intellect' at once. I opened my arms to her -- and my world, as you can see, was very much influenced and punctuated by embraces and kisses, and Lynelle fell into this style with no inhibition at all.

  "Lynelle bewitched me. I feared to lose her the way I'd deliberately lost all the other teachers, and experienced perhaps the greatest change of heart toward an aspect of my world that I'd ever known.

  "Lynelle talked so fast that Pops and Sweetheart privately grumbled that they couldn't understand her. And I remember some deadly kibitzing that Aunt Queen was paying Lynelle three times what the other teachers had been paid, all because they had met in an English castle.

  "So what? Lynelle was unique. Lynelle used Goblin's talents, inviting him to teach me new words and addressing her long cascades of lovely speech to both of us, her two 'elves. ¡¯

  "That Lynelle had six young
children, that she had been a French teacher, that she had returned to college to make up a pre-medical degree, that she was a scientific genius of sorts, as well as a sometime concert pianist -- all this made Pops and Sweetheart all the more suspicious. But I knew Lynelle was a truly unique individual. I couldn't have been fooled.

  "Lynelle came five evenings a week for four hours, and within a matter of a month, she conquered everybody on Blackwood Farm with her energy, her charm, her optimism and her effervescence, and she positively altered the course of my life.

  "It was Lynelle who really taught me the basics -- phonetic reading of big words and diagramming of sentences so I could grasp the scaffolding of grammar, and the only arithmetic I now confess to know.

  "She took me through enough French to understand many of the subtitled movies we watched together, and she loaded me with history and geography, pretty much designing her fluid and wondrous lectures to me around historical personages, but sometimes romping through whole centuries in terms of what had been accomplished in art and war.

  " 'It's all art and war, Quinn,' she said to me once as we were sitting cross-legged on the floor up here together, 'and it's a shocking fact but most great men were insane. ' She was careful to address Goblin by name also as she explained that Alexander the Great was an egomaniac and Napoleon 'obsessive compulsive,' while Henry VIII was a poet, a writer and a despotic fiend.

  "Irrepressibly resourceful, Lynelle came flying in with whole cartons of educational or documentary tapes for us to watch by VHS and also introduced into my head the idea that in the day and age of cable television nobody ought to be uneducated. Even a boy hermit on Blackwood Farm should know everything just from watching TV.

  " 'People in trailer parks are getting these channels, Quinn, think of it -- think of it, waitresses watching the biography of Beethoven and telephone linemen going home to watch documentaries of World War II. ¡¯

  "I wasn't quite as convinced as she was on these points, but I saw the potential, and when she persuaded Pops to give me a giant-size television I was overjoyed.

  "She insisted on the scientific documentaries which I, in the course of things, would have skipped, and she took me through the magnificent film Immortal Beloved, in which Gary Oldman plays Beethoven to such perfection that every time we watched it I cried. Then there was Amadeus with Tom Hulce as Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, a masterpiece of a film that left me breathless, and she reached back into history for Song to Remember with Cornel Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as George Sand, and Tonight We Sing, all about S. Hurok, the great impresario, and there were dozens of other films by which she opened my world.

  "Of course she showed me The Red Shoes, which ignited me with fire to be around people of grace and culture, and then The Tales of Hoffmann, which transformed my dreams. Both of these movies caused real physical pain in me, so vibrant, so lofty, so exalted was their world. Ah, it hurts me now to think about them, to see images in my head from them. It hurts. They were like spells, those two movies.

  "Picture me and Lynelle on the floor in this room with no light except the giant television, and those movies, those enchantments flooding our senses. And Goblin, Goblin staring at the screen, stultified by the patterns he must have been perceiving, Goblin quiet for all his struggle to understand why we were so stricken and so quiet.

  "When I cried in pain, Lynelle said the kindest thing to me:

  " 'Don't you understand, Quinn?' she said. 'You live in a gorgeous house and you're eccentric and gifted like the people in these films. Aunt Queen keeps inviting you to meet her in Europe and you won't do it. And that's wrong, Quinn. Don't make your world small. ¡¯

  "In fact, Aunt Queen had never invited me to meet her in Europe, or, to put it more to the point, I had not known that Aunt Queen had invited me! No doubt Pops and Sweetheart knew. But I didn't confess this.

  " 'You have to keep on teaching me, Lynelle,' I answered. 'Make me into somebody who can travel with Aunt Queen. ¡¯

  " 'I'll do it, Quinn,' she said. 'It will be easy. ¡¯

  "She almost made me believe it. And on she went, running rampant through archaeology and theories of evolution and dizzying lectures on black holes in space.

  "She taught me to play some simple Chopin and a few exercises by Bach. She took me through the entire history of music, quizzing me until I could identify a period and a style and, even in Mozart's case, a composer.

  "I was in heaven with Lynelle.

  "She taught me many Latin words to show me that they were roots for English words. She taught me to waltz, to do the two-step and the tango, though the tango made me laugh so hard that I would fall down every time we tried.

  "Lynelle also brought the first computer into my bedroom, along with the first printer, and though this was long before the days of the World Wide Web or the Internet, I learned to write on this computer and managed to become very fast at typing, using the first three fingers of each hand.

  "Goblin was enthralled by the computer.

  "At once he took my left hand and pecked out the words 'IloveLynelle. ' She was very pleased by this, and then, unable to free my left hand from him, I discovered myself typing all manner of words run together without spaces, and I gave Goblin an elbow in the chest and told him to get away. Of course Lynelle soothed his feelings with some kind words.

  "It would be a long time before Goblin discovered that he could make words appear on the computer without my aid.

  "But let me return to Lynelle. As soon as I could bat out a letter on the computer I wrote to Aunt Queen, who was on a religious pilgrimage of sorts in India, and I told her that Lynelle was a special emissary both from Heaven and from her. Aunt Queen was so pleased to hear from me that we began to exchange letters about twice a month.

  "I had so many adventures with Lynelle.

  "On Saturday, we went into the swamp together in a pirogue with a vow to find Sugar Devil Island, but at the first sight of a deadly snake, Lynelle positively freaked and screamed for us to head back to land. I had a gun and could have shot the snake if it had approached us, which it wasn't doing, but Lynelle was terrified and I did what she said.

  "Neither of us had worn long sleeves, as Pops had told us to do, and we were covered in mosquito bites. So we never made an excursion like that again. But on cool spring evenings we often sat on one of the rectangular slab tombs in the cemetery and looked into the swamp, until full darkness and mosquitoes drove us inside.

  "Of course we were going to venture out there one of these days and find that damned island, but there were always more pressing things to do.

  "When Lynelle discovered I had never been to a museum in my life, we were off in her roaring Mazda sports car, the radio blaring techno-rock, going over the Lake and into New Orleans to see wonderful paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and then on to the new Aquarium, and on to wander the Art District for galleries, and on to the French Quarter just for fun.

  "Now understand, I knew something of New Orleans. We often drove an hour and half to go to Mass at the gorgeous St. Mary's Assumption Church on Josephine and Constance Streets, because this had been Sweetheart's parish and one of the priests stationed there was a cousin of Sweetheart's, and therefore a cousin of mine.

  "And during the Mardi Gras season we sometimes drove in to watch the night parades from the front porch of Sweetheart's sister, Aunt Ruthie. And a few times we even visited Aunt Ruthie on Mardi Gras day.

  "But with Lynelle, I really learned the city as we meandered in the Quarter or prowled about in secondhand bookstores on Magazine Street or visited the St. Louis Cathedral to light a candle and say a prayer.

  "During this time Lynelle also educated me for my First Communion and for my Confirmation, and both these ceremonies took place on Holy Saturday night (the eve of Easter) at St. Mary's Assumption Church. All of Sweetheart's New Orleans people were there, including some fifty that I really didn't know. But I
was very glad to be connected with the Church in a proper way and went through a mild period of fascination with the Church, watching any videos that pertained to the Vatican or Church history or the Lives of the Saints.

  "It particularly intrigued me that saints had had visions, that some saints saw their guardian angels and even talked to them. I wondered if Goblin, not being an angel, had to be from Hell.

  "Lynelle said no. I never had the courage, or the clear urge, to ask a priest about Goblin. I sensed that Goblin would be condemned as morbid imagination, and at times I thought of Goblin that way myself.

  "Lynelle asked me if Goblin put me up to evil. I said no. 'Then you don't have to tell a priest about him,' she explained. 'He has no connection with sin. Use your brain and your conscience. A priest is no more likely to understand Goblin than anyone else. ¡¯

  "That might sound ambiguous now, but it didn't then.

  "I think, all in all, the six years I had with Lynelle were some of the happiest in my life.

  "Naturally, I was drawn away from Pops and Sweetheart, but they were proud and relieved to see me learning things and didn't mind a bit. Besides, I still spent time with Pops, playing the harmonica after lunch and talking about 'old times,' though Pops was hardly an old man. He liked Lynelle.

  "Even Patsy was drawn to Lynelle and joined us for some of our adventures, at which time I had to squeeze into the tiny backseat of the sports car while the two women chatted away up front. My most poignant memory of Patsy's joining us has to do with Goblin, to whom I talked all the time, and the shock of Lynelle when Patsy cursed at me to stop talking to that disgusting ghost.

  "Lynelle softened and intimidated Patsy, and something else happened which I think I only understand now as I look back on those years. It is simply this: that Lynelle's respect for me, not only as Goblin's friend but as little Tarquin Blackwood, had the effect of causing Patsy to respect me and to talk to me more sincerely and often than she had in the past.

  "It was as if my mother never 'saw' the person I was until Lynelle really drew her attention to me, and then a vague interest substituted for the condescending and arrogant pity -- 'You poor sweet darlin' ' -- that Patsy had felt before.

  "Lynelle was a great watcher also of popular movies, particularly those which were 'gothic' or 'romantic,' as she called it, and she brought tapes of everything, from Robocop to Ivanhoe, to watch with me in the evenings, and sometimes this brought Patsy into the room. Patsy enjoyed Dark Man and The Crow, and even Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.

  "More than once we all watched Coal Miner's Daughter, all about Loretta Lynn, the wonderful country-western star whom Patsy so admired. And I observed that Lynelle could talk 'country' pretty easily with Patsy. It made me jealous. I wanted my romantic and mysterious Lynelle to myself.

  "However, I learned something about Patsy during these years, which I should have foreseen. Patsy felt stupid around Lynelle, and for that reason the connection petered away and at one point threatened to break. Patsy wouldn't stay around anyone who made her feel stupid, and she didn't have an open mind with which to learn.

  "This turning away of Patsy didn't surprise me and didn't matter to me. (I think it was Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal that proved the death knell of our little movie-watching triangle. ) But something else good happened as regards to Patsy, and that was that Lynelle liked Patsy's music and asked if we could come in to listen, and then praised Patsy a lot for what she was doing with her one-man band, a 'friend' by the name of Seymour, who played harmonica and drums.

  "(Seymour was an opportunistic jerk, or so I thought at the time. Fate had punishment in store for Seymour. )

  "Patsy was obviously astonished by this, and jubilant, and we sat through quite a few concerts in the garage, which Lynelle enjoyed more than me. Naturally enough Goblin loved them and danced and danced until he flat-out dissolved.

  "As I tell you this, I realize that Lynelle was quite deliberate in this design. She sensed that Patsy was afraid of her and backing off from us -- 'You're a couple of eggheads' -- and so she took me out there to Patsy quite cleverly to forge a new link.

  "In fact, she pushed the matter further. She took me to see Patsy perform at a county jamboree. It was in Mississippi somewhere, right across the border from where we lived, and part of the county fair. I had never seen my mother on the stage, and people hollering for her and clapping for her, and it opened my eyes.

  "With her teased yellow hair and heavy face makeup Patsy looked plastic pretty, and her singing was strong and good. Her songs had a dark bluegrass tone to them, and she herself was playing the banjo, and another guy, whom I didn't know very well, was sawing away on a rapid, mournful violin. Seymour was a pretty stiff backup with the harmonica and drums.

  "That was all very sweet and made a huge impression on me, but when Patsy launched into her next number, a real hard-edged 'You've been mean to me, you bastard!' type of song, the crowd went nuts. They couldn't get enough of my little mother, and people were flocking towards the stage from all over the fair. Patsy upped the ante with the next one, her priceless 'You Poisoned My Well, I'll Poison Yours. ' I don't remember much else except thinking she was a hit, and her life wasn't in vain.

  "But I didn't need Patsy. I'm not sure I've ever needed Patsy. Sure Patsy was a hit with the yokels, but I had Beethoven's Ninth.

  "And I had Lynelle. It was when Lynelle and I drove into New Orleans alone together with Goblin that I was most overjoyed.

  "I have never known a human being who drove faster than Lynelle, but she seemed to possess an instinct for avoiding policemen, and the one time we were stopped she told a tall story about us rushing to the bedside of a woman in labor, and not only did she not get the ticket, the policeman had to be discouraged from giving us a full escort to the fictitious hospital in town.

  "Lynelle was beautiful. There is no more perfect way to say it. She had arrived here at Blackwood Manor to find me a country boy who couldn't write a sentence and left me some six years later, a dramatically well-educated young man.

  "At sixteen I completed all the examinations for high school graduation, and ranked in the top percentile on the college entrance exams as well.

  "In that last year that we would be together, Lynelle also taught me how to drive. Pops fully approved, and I was soon roving with the pickup truck on our land and on the backcountry roads all around. Lynelle took me to get my license, and Pops gave me an old pickup to call my own.

  "I think Lynelle would have left me a real reader of books too if Goblin hadn't been so jealous of my reading, so intent upon being included, so intent upon me sounding every word to him out loud or listening to him sound it to me. But that skill -- the skill of sinking into books -- was to come to me with my second great teacher, Nash.

  "Meanwhile, Goblin seemed to feed off Lynelle, even as he fed off me, though at the time I wouldn't have described it that way, and Goblin was getting physically stronger all the time.

  "Big shocker. A Sunday. It was pouring down rain. I must have been twelve years old. I was working on the computer and Goblin cursed at me and the machine went dead. I checked all the connections, booted my program again, and there came Goblin, switching it off.

  " 'You did that, didn't you?' I said, looking around for him, and there he was near the door, my perfect doppelg?nger in jeans and a red-and-white checkered shirt, except that he had his arms folded and a smug smile on his face.

  "He had my full attention. But I turned the computer back on without taking my eyes off him, and then he pointed to the gasolier. He made it blink.

  " 'All right, that's excellent,' I said. (It was his favorite compliment and had been for years. ) 'But don't you dare turn off the power in this house. Tell me what you want. ' He made the motions to 'Let's go' and of the rain coming down.

  " 'No, I'm too old for that,' I said. 'You come here and work with me. ' At once I got a chair for him, and when he sat down besi
de me I explained that I was writing to Aunt Queen, and I read the letter out loud to him, though that wasn't necessary. I was telling Aunt Queen thank you for her recent offer that Lynelle could always use her bedroom if she needed to freshen up or change clothes or spend the night.

  "When I got to the bottom and went to close, Goblin grabbed my left hand as always and typed without spaces, 'IamGoblinandQuinnisGoblinandGoblinisQuinnandweloveAuntQueen. ' He stopped. He dissolved.

  "I knew without question that he'd exhausted himself in turning off the computer. That made me feel safe. The rest of the day and night was mine.

  "Another time, very soon after, when Lynelle and I were dancing to a Tchaikovsky waltz -- really cutting up in the parlor after all the guests were gone to bed -- Goblin socked me in the stomach, which took the breath out of me, and then dissolved, not as if he wanted to but as if he had to -- gone in a puff, leaving me crying and sick.

  "Lynelle was quite astonished by this, but she never doubted me when I told her Goblin had done it, and then when we were sitting, talking in our intimate way, adult to adult, she confessed to me that she had several times felt Goblin pull her hair. She had tried to ignore it the first couple of times, but now she was certain he did it.

  " 'This is a strong ghost you have,' she said. And no sooner had she spoken those words than the gasolier up above us began to move. I had never seen that trick before, this slight movement of those heavy brass arms and glass cups, but it was damn near undeniable. Lynelle laughed. Then she uttered a startled sound. She said she'd been pinched on her right arm. Again she laughed and then, though he wasn't visible to me, she spoke to Goblin in soothing terms, telling him that she was as fond of him as of me.

  "I saw Goblin -- now fourteen, you understand, because I was fourteen -- standing by the bedroom door and looking proudly at me. I realized keenly that his face had more definition to it than it used to have in the past, principally because that slightly contemptuous expression was new. He was quick to dematerialize, and I was confirmed in my earlier opinion that when he affected matter physically he didn't have energy to 'appear' for very long.

  "But he was getting stronger, no doubt of it.

  "I vowed at once 'to kill' Goblin for hurting Lynelle, and after Lynelle took off in her shining Mazda, I wrote to Aunt Queen that Goblin was doing the 'unthinkable' by hurting other people. I told her about the sharp punch in the stomach as well. I sent the letter off by express so she'd get it in two or three days though she was in India at the time.

  And to keep Goblin amused that weekend I read aloud to him by the hour from Lost Worlds, a wonderful book of archaeology that had been a gift from Aunt Queen.

  "Aunt Queen called as soon as she'd received my letter and she told me that I must control Goblin, that I must find a way to stop him from his behavior by threatening not to look at him or talk to him, and that I had to make these declarations stick.

  " 'You mean to tell me, Aunt Queen, you finally believe in him?' I asked.

  " 'Quinn, I'm across the world from you right now,' she answered. 'I can't argue with you about what Goblin is. What I'm saying is you have to contain him, whether he's real and separate, or simply a part of you. ¡¯

  "I agreed with her and I told her I knew how to control him. But I would concentrate on learning more than I knew.

  "Meanwhile I was to keep her apprised of things.

  "After that she raved about the coherence and style of my letter, which showed a vast improvement over earlier letters, and she attributed my progress correctly to Lynelle.

  "I followed Aunt Queen's directions regarding Goblin, and Lynelle did too. If Goblin did something inappropriate, we lectured him and then refused to acknowledge him until his weak and puny assaults came to a halt. It worked.

  "But Goblin wanted more than ever to write, and he moved into a new level of concentration, spelling out messages on the computer using my left hand.

  "It gave me more than an eerie feeling, this takeover of my left hand, because Goblin didn't move my right hand, and so a strange rhythm of writing with one hand mastering the entire keyboard occurred. Lynelle would watch this with a mixture of trepidation and fascination, but she made an astounding discovery.

  "And this astounding discovery was that she could communicate with me privately and secretly by typing out on the computer what she had to say using very big words. On that day she wrote something on the order of:

  " 'Our gallant and ever vigilant doppelg?nger may not perceive the many perambulations that run through the cerebral organ of his much cherished and sometimes misused Tarquin Blackwood. ¡¯

  "And it was plainly obvious from Goblin's nearby dumb appearance that Lynelle was perfectly right. Goblin, for all his early gains on me, couldn't interpret such messages. Lynelle typed out more, something like this:

  " 'Comprehend, beloved Tarquin, that your doppelg?nger, though once he absorbed all that you absorbed, may have reached the limits of his power to master fine distinctions, and this allows you a luxurious measure of freedom from his demands and intentions when it is desired. ¡¯

  "I took over the keyboard and, as Goblin watched suspiciously, being very solid and curious, I wrote that I comprehended all of this, and that we now had the computer for very rapid communication of two kinds.

  "It could be used for Goblin's tapping out simple messages to me using my hand, and by Lynelle and me communicating with a larger vocabulary than Goblin could grasp.

  "About this time in my adventures with Lynelle, she tried to explain these mechanisms to Patsy but met with a flat-out 'You're crazier than Quinn is, Lynelle; both of you ought to be locked up. ' And when Lynelle approached Pops and Sweetheart they appeared not to understand the significance of Goblin not knowing everything that was in my mind.

  "Because that was it: Goblin didn't necessarily read my thoughts! When I look back on it now it seems an earthshaking discovery, but one that I should have made a long time before.

  "As for Pops and Sweetheart, I think they caught on that Lynelle believed in Goblin, which we'd withheld from them before, and they issued a couple of warnings that this 'side of my personality' oughtn't to be encouraged, and surely a high-quality teacher like Lynelle ought to agree. Pops got tough about it and Sweetheart started to cry.

  "I took time alone with Sweetheart in the kitchen, helping her dry her tears on her apron and assuring her that I was not insane.

  "The moment is deeply inscribed in my memory because Sweetheart, who was always pure kindness, said softly to me that 'things went terribly wrong with Patsy' and she didn't want for things to go badly for me.

  " 'My daughter could have had a Sweet Sixteen Party in New Orleans,' Sweetheart said. 'She could have made her debut. She could have been a maid in the Mardi Gras krewes. She could have had all that -- Ruthie and I could have managed everything -- and instead she chose to be what she is. ¡¯

  " 'Nothing's going wrong with me, Sweetheart,' I said. 'Don't misjudge Lynelle or me either. ' I kissed her and kissed her. I lapped her tears and kissed her.

  "I might have pointed out to her that she herself had abandoned all the refinements of New Orleans for the spell of Blackwood Manor, that she had spent her whole life in the kitchen, only leaving it for paid guests. But that would have been mean of me. And so I left it with assurances to her that Lynelle was teaching me more than anybody ever had.

  "Lynelle and I gave up on the question of insight or commiseration with others as to Goblin -- except for Aunt Queen -- and Lynelle believed me when I complained of how difficult it was sometimes to stop Goblin's assaults.

  "For instance, if I wanted to read for any length of time, I had to read aloud to Goblin. And that, I think, is why I am a slow reader to this day. I never learned how to speed through a text. I pronounce every word aloud or in my head. And in those times I shied away from what I couldn't pronounce.

  "I got through Shakespeare thanks to Lynelle bringing the fi
lms of the plays for me to see -- I particularly loved the films with the actor and director Kenneth Branagh -- and she took me through a little Chaucer in the original Middle English, but I found it extremely hard all around and insisted we give it up.

  "There are gaps in my education which no one could ever get me to fill. But they don't matter to me. I don't need to know science or algebra or geometry. Literature and music, painting and history -- these are my passions. These are the things that still, somehow, in hours of quiet and lonesomeness, keep me alive.

  "But let me close out the history of my love of Lynelle.

  "A great high point came right before the end.

  "Aunt Queen called from New York on one of her rare visits to the States and asked if Lynelle could bring me there, and both of us -- along with Goblin -- were delirious with joy. Sweetheart and Pops were glad for us and had no desire themselves to be away from the farm. They understood Aunt Queen's wishes not to come home just now, but they wanted her to know that they were having her room entirely redone, as she had requested, in Lynelle's favorite color blue.

  "I explained to Goblin that we were going away, much farther away than New Orleans, and he had to cleave to me more closely than ever before. Of course I hoped that he'd stay at Blackwood Manor but I knew that wouldn't happen. How I knew I can't say. Perhaps because he was always with us in New Orleans. I don't know for sure.

  "No matter what my hopes, I insisted that Goblin have his own seat beside me on my left on the plane. We flew first class -- the three of us, with the stewardesses serving Goblin graciously -- to join Aunt Queen at the Plaza on Central Park, and for a great ten days saw all that we could of wondrous sights, museums and the like. Though we had suites as big as Aunt Queen's, eternally filled with fresh flowers and boxes of Aunt Queen's beloved chocolate-covered cherries, Goblin and I bunked in with Aunt Queen as we had in the past.

  "I was sixteen by this time, but it doesn't much matter to people like my people whether or not a teenager or even a grown man bunks in with his great-aunt or his granny; those are our ways. In fact, to be utterly frank, I was still sleeping with Jasmine's mother, Little Ida, at home, though she was now very old and feeble and sometimes dribbled a bit of urine in the bed.

  "But where was I? Yes, in New York with my great-aunt, at the Plaza Hotel, cuddled in her arms as I slept.

  "Goblin was with us for the entire trip, but something peculiar happened to Goblin. He became more and more transparent as the trip progressed. He seemed unable to be anything else. He lacked strength to move my hand, too. I learned this when I asked him to write for me how he liked New York. He could not. And this meant that there could be no pinching and no hair pulling either, though I had pretty much punished him -- by silence and scorn -- for those acts in the past.

  "I pondered this, this uncommon transparency in a spirit who has always appeared to me to be three-dimensional and flesh and blood, but in truth I didn't want much to worry about Goblin. I wanted to see New York.

  "The high point of our trip for me was the Metropolitan Museum, and I will never forget no matter how long I live Lynelle taking Goblin and me from painting to painting and explaining the relevant history, the relevant biography, and commenting on the wonders we beheld.

  "After three days in the museum, Lynelle sat me down on a bench in a room full of the Impressionist paintings and asked me what I thought I'd learned from all I'd seen. I thought for a long time and then I told her that I thought color had died out in modern painting due to World War I and II. I told her that maybe now, and only now, since we had not had a Third World War, could color come back to painting. Lynelle was very surprised and thought this over and said perhaps it was true.

  "There are many other things I remember from that trip -- our visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral, in which I cried, our long walk through Central Park, our roaming Greenwich Village and SoHo, our little trek to obtain my passport just in case I might soon be drawn off to Europe -- but they don't press in on this narrative, except in one respect. And that is that Goblin was utterly manageable all the time, and in spite of his transparency seemed to be as wildly stimulated as I was, appearing wide-eyed and happy, and of course New York is so crowded that when I talked to Goblin in midtown restaurants or on the street, no one even noticed.

  "I half expected to have him show up beside me in my passport photo but he did not.

  "When we returned, Goblin appeared solid again, and could make mischief, and danced himself into exhaustion and invisibility out of sheer joy.

  "I felt an overwhelming relief. I had thought the trip to New York mortally wounded him -- that my inattention to him had been the specific cause of his fading severely and perhaps approaching death. And now I had him back with me. And there were moments when I wanted to be with no one else.

  "Just after I passed my seventeenth birthday, my days with Lynelle came to a close.

  "She had been hired to work in research at Mayfair Medical in New Orleans. And it would henceforth be impossible to keep up with her work, and with tutoring me.

  "I was in tears, but I knew what Mayfair Medical meant to Lynelle. It was a brand-new facility, endowed by the powerful Mayfair family of New Orleans -- of which you know at least one member -- and its laboratories and equipment were already the stuff of legend.

  "Lynelle had dreamed of studying human growth hormone directly under the famous Dr. Rowan Mayfair and being accepted by the revolutionary Mayfair Medical was a triumph for her. But she couldn't be my teacher and boon companion anymore, it was simply impossible. I'd been lucky to have her as long as I did.

  "The last time I saw Lynelle I told her I loved her. And I meant it with all my heart. I hope and pray that she understood how grateful I was for everything.

  "She was on her way to Florida that day with two fellow female scientists, headed to Key West for a week of childless and husbandless relaxation.

  "Lynelle died on the road.

  "She, the speed demon, was not even at the wheel of the car. It was one of the others who was driving, and they were in a blinding rainstorm on Highway 10 when the car hydroplaned into an eighteen-wheeler truck. The driver was decapitated. Lynelle was pronounced dead at the scene, only to be revived and linger on life support for two weeks without ever regaining consciousness. Most of Lynelle's face had been crushed.

  "I only learned of the accident when Lynelle's family called to tell us about the Memorial Mass that would be said for her in New Orleans. Lynelle had already been buried in Baton Rouge, where her parents lived.

  "I walked up and down for hours, saying 'Lynelle' over and over. I was out of my mind. Goblin stared at me, obviously bewildered. I had no words. Just her name: 'Lynelle. ¡¯

  "Pops and Sweetheart took me to the Mass -- it was in a modern church in Metairie -- and Goblin became very solid for the event, and I made space for him in the pew beside me, but he agitated me considerably, demanding to know what was going on. I could hear his voice in my head and he kept gesturing. He shrugged, turned his palms up, shook his head and kept mouthing the words 'Where is Lynelle?¡¯

  "The Mass was said by a very elderly priest and had a certain elegance to it, but for me it was a nightmare. When people went to the microphone to speak about Lynelle, I knew that I should step up, I should say all that she'd meant to me, but I couldn't overcome my fear that I would stumble or cry. All my mortal life I have regretted that I didn't speak at that Mass!

  "I went to Communion, and as I always did after receiving Communion, I told Goblin flatly and furiously to shut up.

  "Then came a frightening moment. As you might not expect, I believe strongly in the Catholic Church and in the miracle of the Transubstantiation -- that the Priest in the Mass turns the wafers and the wine into the true Body and Blood of Christ.

  "Well, as I knelt in the pew after having received Communion, and after telling Goblin to shut up, I turned and saw him kneeling right beside me, his shoulder not
an inch from my shoulder, his face as vivid and ruddy as my face and his eyes sharply glaring at me; and for the first time in all my life, he frightened me.

  "He appeared quickened and cunning, and he gave me the creeps.

  "I turned away from him, trying not to feel the obvious press of his shoulder against mine and his right hand slinking over my left. I prayed. I wandered in my mind, and then, when I opened my eyes, I saw him again -- dazzlingly solid -- and I felt the coldest escalating fear.

  "The fear did not pass. On the contrary, I became vividly aware of all the other people in the church, seeing those in the pews in front of me with extraordinary peculiarity, and even glancing to the sides at others and then turning boldly to look over my shoulder at all those behind. I had a sense of their normality. And then again I looked at this solid specter beside me; I looked into his brilliant eyes and at his sly smile, and a desperate panic seized me.

  "I wanted to banish him. I wanted him dead. I wished that the journey to New York had killed him. And who could I tell this to? Who would understand? I felt murderous and abnormal. And Lynelle was dead.

  "I sat in the pew. My heart went quiet. He continued his efforts to get my attention. He was just Goblin, and when he cleaved to me, when he gave up the solid image and wrapped his invisible self around me I felt myself relax in his embrace.

  "Aunt Queen flew home for the Memorial, but, as she was coming from St. Petersburg, Russia, and there was a delay out of Newark, New Jersey, she did not make it in time. When she saw her room decorated in Lynelle's favorite blue, she cried. She threw herself on the blue satin comforter, turned over and stared up at the canopy, and looked like nothing so much as one of her own many slender flopping boudoir dolls, with her high heels and her cloche hat and her wet vacant weeping stare.

  "I was so devastated by Lynelle's death that I fell into a state of silence, and though I knew that as the days passed those around me were concerned about me, I couldn't speak a single syllable to anyone. I sat in my room, in my reading chair by the fireplace, and I did nothing but think of Lynelle.

  "Goblin went sort of mad on account of my state. He began to pinch me incessantly, and trying to lift my left hand, and rushing towards the computer and making gestures that he wanted to write.

  "I remember staring at him as he stood over there at the desk, beckoning to me, and realizing for what it's worth that his pinches weren't any worse than they had ever been, and that he couldn't make the lights blink more than very little, and that when he pulled my hair I hardly felt it, and that I could ignore him without consequence if I chose.

  "But I loved him. I didn't want to kill him. No, I didn't. And the moment had come to tell him what had happened. I dragged myself out of the chair and I went to the computer and I tapped out:

  " 'Lynelle is dead. ¡¯

  "For a long moment he read this message and then I said it out loud to him, but I received no response.

  " 'Come on, Goblin, think. She's dead. ' I said. 'You're a spirit and now she's a spirit. ¡¯

  "But there was no response.

  "Suddenly I felt the old pressure on my left hand, with the tight sensation of fingers curling around it, and then he tapped out:

  " 'Lynelle. Lynelle is gone?¡¯

  "I nodded. I was crying and I wanted now to be left alone. I told him aloud that she was dead. But Goblin took my left hand again and I watched it claw the keyboard:

  " 'What is dead?¡¯"

  "In a fit of annoyance and heightened grief, I hammered out:

  " 'No longer here. Gone. Dead. Body has no Life. No Spirit in her body. Body left over. Body buried in the ground. Her Spirit is gone. ¡¯

  "But he simply couldn't understand. He grabbed my hand again and tapped out, 'Where is Lynelle dead?' and 'Where is Lynelle gone?' and then finally, 'Why are you crying for Lynelle?¡¯

  "A cold apprehension came over me, a cold form of concentration.

  "I typed in 'Sad. No more Lynelle. Sad. Crying. Yes. ' But other thoughts were brewing in my mind.

  "He snatched for my hand again, but he was weaker on account of his earlier efforts, and all he could type was her name.

  "At that moment, as I stared at the black monitor and the green letters, I saw what looked like the reflection of a pinpoint of light in the monitor, and, wondering what it could be, I moved my head from side to side to block the light or get a clearer look at it. For one second it became distinctly the light of a candle. I saw the wick as well as the flame.

  "At once I turned around and looked behind me. I saw nothing in my room that could have produced this reflection. Absolutely nothing. Needless to say, I had no candles. The only candles were on a hallway altar downstairs.

  "I turned back to the monitor. There was no pinpoint of light. There was no candle flame. Again I moved my head from side to side and turned my eyes at every possible angle. No light. No reflected candle flame.

  "I was astonished. I sat quiet for a long time, distrusting my senses, and then, unable to deny what I saw, I tapped out to Goblin the question, 'Did you see the candle flame?' Again there came his monotonous and panicky answers: 'Where Lynelle?' 'Lynelle gone. ' 'What is gone?¡¯

  "I went back to my chair. Goblin appeared for a moment, in a vague flash, and there came the pinches and the hair pulling, but I lay indifferent to him thinking only, praying only in a bizarre way of praying backwards, that Lynelle had never really known how badly she was injured, that she hadn't suffered in her coma, that she hadn't known pain. What if she had seen the car careening into the truck? What if she had heard some insensitive person at her bedside saying that her face, her beautiful face, had been crushed?

  "She never suffered. That was the story.

  "She never suffered. Or so they said.

  "I knew I had seen the light of that candle! I had seen it plainly in the monitor.

  "I murmured to Goblin, 'You tell me where she is, Goblin. Tell me if her spirit went into the light. ' There came no answer. He couldn't grasp it. He didn't know.

  "I hammered at him. 'You're a spirit. You ought to know. We are made of bodies and souls. I am body and soul. Lynelle was body and soul. Soul is spirit. Where did Lynelle's spirit go?¡¯

  "He gave nothing back but his infantile answers. It was all he could do.

  "Finally, I went to the computer. I wrote it out: 'I am body and soul. The body is what you pinch. The soul is what speaks to you, what thinks, what looks at you through my eyes. ¡¯

  "Silence. Then came the vague formation of the apparition again, translucent, face without detail; then it dissolved.

  "I went on typing on the computer keyboard: 'The soul -- that part of me which speaks to you and loves you and knows you -- that part is sometimes called spirit. And when my body dies my spirit or my soul will leave my body. Do you understand?¡¯

  "I felt his hand clamp onto my left hand.

  " 'Don't leave your body,' he wrote. 'Don't die. I will cry. ¡¯

  "For a long moment I pondered. He had made the connection. Yes. But I wanted more from him, and a terrifying urgency gripped me, a feeling very near panic.

  " 'You are a spirit,' I wrote. 'You have no body. You are pure spirit. Don't you know where Lynelle's spirit has gone? You must know. You should know. There must be a place where spirits live. A place where spirits are. You do know. ¡¯

  "There was a long silence, but I knew he was right beside me.

  "I felt him grip my hand. 'Don't leave your body,' he wrote again. 'I will cry and cry. ¡¯

  " 'But where is the home of the spirits?' I wrote. 'Where is the place where spirits live, like I live in this house?¡¯

  "It was useless. I typed it out in two dozen different ways. He couldn't grasp it. And it was not long before he began to ask, 'Why did Lynelle's spirit leave her body?¡¯

  "I wrote out the description of the accident. Silence. And finally, his store of energy being exhausted and there being no rainfall
to help him, he was absent.

  "And alone, cold and frightened, I curled up in my chair and went to sleep.

  "A great gulf had opened between me and Goblin.

  "It had been widening for all the years that I knew Lynelle, and it was now immeasurable. My doppelg?nger loved me and was as ever fastened to me but no longer knew my soul. And what was all the more ghastly to me was that he didn't know what he was himself. He couldn't speak of himself as a spirit. He would have done so if he could. He could not.

  "As the days dragged on, Aunt Queen made plans to go off again to St. Petersburg, Russia, to rejoin two cousins she had left waiting there at the Grand Hotel. She prevailed upon me to go with her.

  "I was amazed. St. Petersburg, Russia.

  "She said in a very sweet and winning way that it was either go to college or see the world.

  "I told her plainly I wasn't ready for either. I was still hurt by Lynelle's death.

  "I said that I wanted to go, and in the future I would go with her if she called me, but for now I couldn't leave home. I needed a year off. I needed to read and absorb more fully many of the lessons that Lynelle had taught me (that really won the day for me!), and to hang around the house. I wanted to help Pops and Sweetheart with the guests. Mardi Gras was coming. I'd go with Sweetheart into New Orleans to see the parades from the house of her sister. And we always had a crowd at Blackwood Farm after that. And then there was the Azalea Festival, and the Easter crowd. And I needed to be home for the Christmas banquet. I couldn't think of seeing the world.

  "When I look back on that time I realize now that I had slipped into a state of profound anxiety in which the simplest comforts seemed beyond reach. The gaiety of the guests seemed foreign. I felt afraid at twilight. Large vases of flowers frightened me. Goblin seemed accidental and unmysterious, an ignoramus of a spirit who could deliver me nothing of consolation or companionship. I was apprehensive on those inevitable gray days when there was no sun to be seen.

  "Perhaps I had a premonition that there were terrible times to come. "

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