O'ER THE PAVEMENT WHITE
A deep Southern voice was singing about the shelter of a lover's eyes. The voice's origin was a CD player lying on the floor of an apartment. Boxes surrounded the player. A woman was kneeling before one of the boxes, sorting through the contents. She wore jeans and an unbuttoned flannel shirt over a white T-shirt.
"Still listening to that shit-kicking music, I see."
She spun toward me, clutching a hardbound book and ready to throw it. She relaxed when she saw me.
"Don't ever sneak up on me like that," Diana Bennett told me with a smile. "And don't ever, ever speak badly of Don Williams."
"I promise nothing," I said, then opened my arms. She stood up and embraced me. After hugging each other for a long time, we stepped back, her free hand wrapped in my grasp.
"How did you get so tall?" she wondered.
"Three years is plenty of time to grow."
Her smile shrank, but she nodded.
"So..." I spread out my arms to indicate her apartment and the surrounding city. "...welcome back."
"Where rent is certainly higher than it is in Montreal, I'll tell you that much."
"Well, at least you were out of town on 9/11."
"I've been wondering how the Tunnels reacted to that."
"Pretty much the same as everybody else -- scared shitless. We were also scared that in all the tightened security and heightened surveillance, somebody might finally notice that there's a whole friggin' medieval community living underground."
"That didn't happen, obviously."
"Joe helped out there. But we were lucky."
"I'm glad," she said, her smile growing. When I was a child, I thought that Diana Bennett was the most beautiful woman in the world. I see no reason to change that opinion. (Well, there is another woman, but that's for later.) As she stood before me in her new apartment, I saw the first strands of gray mixed in her red hair and the start of lines on her face, but they had done nothing to change her beauty in my eyes.
"I'm also glad," she told me, "that I have someone to help me unpack."
"Oh, look at the time. I need to..."
She raised an eyebrow. I grinned and said, "You're unpacking the books first, of course." I gently pulled the hardbound book from her hand. I recognized the gold lettering and rough patches in the binding.
"Wordsworth. Father gave you this."
"Yes. He did." Her voice was reserved, but I didn't miss the undertone of regret.
I closed my eyes and recited, "'For nature then/ (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days/ And their glad animal movements all gone by)/ To me was all in all.'"
"'I cannot paint what then I was,'" Diana said softly.
I opened my eyes and looked at her for a moment. Then I declared in a pseudo-smug voice, "Of course I don't read that poetry crap anymore."
"What do you read?"
"James Ellroy, Joe Lansdale, Ed McBain..."
"Ah. My evil influence."
"And you've returned to spread more evil."
"I guess so." She returned to the box, picked it up, and set it down next to an empty shelf. I sauntered over to her, hands in the pockets of my jeans. As she shelved books, I said, "Any other reason why you've come back?"
"I could give you reasons. Some good, some questionable. But the fact is -- I'm not sure."
"So the psychological profiler doesn't understand herself."
"Real psychological profilers would probably scoff to hear me called that. I've always relied more on intuition than any exact science."
"Can't make it through this world any other way."
"Well, I think you should apply some kind of disciplined thought instead of...I don't know...jumping through windows."
I stood up straight. "You caught up on local news quick."
She looked at me in confusion. "Excuse me?"
"Well, you heard about..." Then I understood her confused expression. "Oh. You didn't know."
She briefly studied me, then nodded. "So you've been having some adventures."
I squirmed before her eyes. "Sort of. But that comment you made about jumping through windows..."
"Just something that popped in my head. I wasn't sure why. Now I know."
"Your intuition again. Yikes, that's creepy."
"Intuition and a bit of science. You have a lot of your father's strength and even more agility, not to mention his need for justice. And you're a fifteen-year-old male with the standard energy and impetuousness of that age."
I squirmed some more. "You know, Father pretty much said the same things to me last night. Why does it hurt me more when you say it?"
She stopped shelving books. "Are you and Vincent getting along?"
I shrugged. "We get along as well as any fifteen-year-old male and his father."
"Most fathers aren't lion-men who live underground. Nor do they have empathic bonds with their children which can..."
She saw the pained look on my face. "I see," she commented. She turned back to the shelf, placing books in her desired order. "When did you lose the Bond?"
"Soon after you left."
She paused before she pushed back another book. "I hope it's not self-important to wonder if there was a cause-and-effect."
"Look..." I raised my hands and made chopping motions to emphasize my words. "...Father and I have already gone over this. We don't know why it happened. It just did. And frankly I'm glad the Bond is gone. Do you know what's it like to share emotions without even asking for them? It gets uncomfortable."
"If you say so," Diana said without conviction.
I growled. (I'm not as good a growler as my father, but I'm not too shabby, either.) I paced toward the center of the apartment, then turned to Diana who had stopped shelving books and started watching me.
"You...you and Grandfather," I sputtered. "You act like I'm in denial. But you know what the real problem is?"
"You have this idea...this storybook idea, this concept of tragic romance which you try to shove on me. I'm supposed to be as enraptured with the Bond as you are, just as I'm meant to be enraptured with the whole story of my parents. And, and I'm not saying it wasn't tragic or romantic. But it's over. Catherine Chandler is gone, but Father keeps...clinging to her ghost. That's why you and Father couldn't make it work. Because you couldn't live up to the One Twu Luv. Because you didn't have the Bond."
"Is that what you think?"
"That's what I know. And here's something else I know -- Missus Chandler, she dead. She's not pining; she's passed on. She's not only merely dead; she's really most sincerely dead. Ding, dong..."
"I understand that you deal with the burdens of a strained father-son relationship, stories of a mother you never knew and an unusual biological heritage," Diana said, "which is why I'm not whacking you with one of my larger books."
That shut me up. Diana took a few moments to swallow her anger. Her angry face was a lot subtler that most people's, but I knew when it was there and knew not to get her more angry.
When she spoke, she said, "I told you that I don't know why I came back. I do know why I left. It's...complicated. I also knew back then that -- at the risk of being self-important again -- you wouldn't take it well."
Not take it well? I thought. How else was I supposed to take it? Why shouldn't I have missed the woman who had laughed as I dived into the pond of Central Park? Why shouldn't I have missed the woman who had carried me on her shoulders, read me stories, and guided me through the World Above? For me Diana Bennett had been sunlight.
She had been the woman I wanted to call Mother.
"I'll try to make up for any hurt I caused," she continued. "But if staying here will cause more problems than solutions...then I'll go back to Montreal."
"But I am here."
We embraced again. As I held her, though, I feared that she would leave for a second and final time.
And I cursed Father for it.
After I helped Diana unpack and ate lunch with her, I wandered the streets of New York City. I had been tempted to spend the whole day with her, but I had sensed that she was not ready to see that much of me yet. After all, she had arrived in town without telling me. I didn't take that as an affront...
Well, maybe a little bit. As Diana said, it's complicated.
So is New York City. How can a place take in so many different things at once? Here I've seen many moments of kindness and just as much brutality. Some of its citizens have lives untouched by the troubles of the world; others face degradation everywhere they turn. There are buildings as tall and magnificent as the world has ever seen, and there are places where a rat wouldn't live. You can taste the most exotic foods or the average hotdog.
I joined the flow of people, walked among the stockbrokers, the street vendors, the police officers, the construction workers, the tourists, college students, bearded rabbis talking in Hebrew, young men speaking street slang, homeless men muttering their own impenetrable language. I passed the stores selling video equipment, expensive fabrics, second-hand clothing, the new toys, the old ones shined with nostalgia. I also saw brochures for mud wrestling as well as for Broadway shows. In the corner of my eye I witnessed packets of white powder being exchanged for money and heard the whispers of forbidden corporate information.
Feeling a bit Whitmanesque there, Jacob? Not really. For once all that diversity -- all that conventional behavior bumping into lawlessness -- seemed without meaning to me. If a city could be viewed as a living being, then the constant activity of New York City was like the desperate behavior of a man not willing to face his own soul. Two planes had knocked a hole in the man's head, and all he could do was work, eat, run, fuck and shit some more.
All right, Jacob, who are we talking about here? Yes, yes, I know. If New York City was a state of mind, then it was in a funk. The rush of last night's 'escapades' was fading from memory, leaving Grandfather's question -- "Why the hell do you keep coming back here?" New York City could have asked me the same question. Why did I keep coming up to enjoy a quick bang in a smelly bathroom before running back to Below?
No, not to Below. To Father. Bond or no Bond, he was the central figure of my life. Whatever choices I would make in the future, they would have to be about him. Did I want to stay with him? Did he want me to stay? If I left, where would...
The questions to myself were lost in the darkness of a window. I was looking at a limosine. I had seen a lot of limos in New York City and never given a second's thought to them. If there's anything Father, Grandfather and Diana had taught me, it's that wealth and fame don't count for a handful of pus in the end. If you want to be rich, you have to deal with pathetic schmucks like Elliot Burch or big bastards like Gabriel.
I watched this limo. And its passenger was watching me. My heightened senses showed me nothing beyond the dark-tinted window, but I just knew that I was being watched. I stared back at my unseen spectator until the limo turned its bulk around a corner.
I kept still on the sidewalk, wondering what had happened or if anything had happened. I debated myself over whether to go chasing after the limo.
No, no, no, I eventually decided. I've got enough on my mind without chasing after cars for no apparent reason. I'm part-lion, not part-dog.
I chose to think about something else. Thanks to my upbringing, my thoughts turned to books. I headed in the direction of one particular bookstore.
And that's what changed my life. If I had chosen to do something else or gone to some other bookstore, maybe things would have turned out differently
Or not. I don't know. "If a man doesn't seek his destiny," Father once told me, "it will come looking for him when he least expects it." I used to roll my eyes when he said things like that.
Yet Destiny did come looking for me on that day --- with a net and a gun.