Chapter One: Mother's Son
"No, Mr Covenant," she repeated for the third time. "I can't do that."
Ever since he had entered her office, she had wished that he would go away.
He gazed at her as if he had not heard a word. "I don't see the problem, Dr Avery." His voice cast echoes of his father through her, flashes of memory like spangles off a surface of troubled water. "I'm her son. I have the right. And it's my responsibility." Despite the differences, even his features dragged a tangled net across her heart, dredging up aches and longing. "She's nothing to you, just a problem you can't solve. A burden on the taxpayers. A waste of resources you could use to help someone else." His eyes were too wide-set, his whole face too broad. The flesh of his cheeks and jaw hinted at self-indulgence.
If he were clay, only a slice or two with the sculptor's tool, only a line of severity on either side of his mouth, and his cheeks would look as strict as commandments. A squint of old suffering at the corners of his eyes: a little grey dust to add years to his hair. His eyes themselves were exactly the right color, a disturbed hue like the shade of madness or prophecy. Oh, he could have been his father, if he had not been so young and unmarked. If he had paid any price as extravagant as his father's--
He was certainly insistent enough to be Thomas Covenant.
He seemed to face her through a haze of recall, reminding her of the man she had loved. The man who had risen in fear and fury to meet his harsh fate.
Avoiding the young man's gaze, she looked around the walls of her office without seeing them. At another time, the strict professionalism of this space might have eased her. Her displayed diplomas, like her tidy desk and heavy filing cabinets, served to vouch for her. She had found comfort among them on other occasions. But today they had no effect.
How many times had she held Thomas Covenant in her arms? Too few: not enough to satisfy her hunger for them.
She still wore his white gold wedding ring on a silver chain around her neck. It was all that she had left of him.
"I can reach her, Dr Avery," the son continued in a voice which was too bland to be his father's. "You can't. You've been trying for years. I'm sure you've done your best. But if you could have reached her, she would be sane by now. It's time to let her go. Let me have her."
"Mr Covenant," she insisted, "I'll say it again. I can't do that. The law in this state won't allow it. Professional ethics won't allow it."
I won't allow it.
Joan Covenant was as unreachable as her son claimed. She might as well have been catatonic, in spite of every conceivable drug and therapy. In fact, she would have died long ago without constant care. But she was not "nothing" to Linden Avery. If Roger Covenant believed that, he would never understand the woman who stood in his way.
His mother was Thomas Covenant's ex-wife. Ten years ago, Linden had watched Covenant trade his life for Joan's--and smile to reassure her. That smile had ripped Linden's heart from its hiding place, rent away its protective lies and commitments. Sometimes she believed that everything which she had now done and become had started then. Covenant's smile had triggered a detonation which had blown her free of her own parents' hunger for death. The new woman who had emerged from that explosion loved Thomas Covenant from the bottom of her soul.
For his sake, she would not abandon Joan.
Yet now Roger Covenant sat across her desk from her, demanding his mother's release. If she had been the kind of woman who found the folly of the misguided amusing, she would have laughed in his face. Where did he get the nerve?
From The Runes of Earth: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Book 1 by Stephen R. Donaldson. Copyright Stephen R. Donaldson 2004. All rights reserved.
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