The gist of the story is that even when all else is lost and gone forever, there is yearning. One of the few welcome lessons age teaches is that only desire trumps time.
A bedtime drink would be helpful. At some point in life, everybody needs medication to get by. A little something to ease the pain, smooth the path forward. But my doctor prohibits liquor, and so my own home has become as strict as if it were run by hard-shell Baptists. Memory is about the only intoxicant left.
I read on into the night until the house falls quiet. Lancelot is hopeless. I am dream-stricken to think he will ever choose better.
At some point, I put the book down and hold my right palm to the light. The silver scar running diagonal across all the deep lines seems to itch, but scratching does not help.
Late in the night, the door opens again. Scalding metallic light pours in from the hallway. May enters and walks to my bed. Her skin is the color of tanned deerhide, a mixture of several bloodswhite and red and blackcomplex enough to confound those legislators who insist on naming every shade down to the thirty-second fraction. Whatever the precise formula is for May, it worked out beautifully. Shes too pretty to be real.
I knew her grandfather back in slavery days. Knew him and also owned him, if Im to tell the truth. I still wonder why he didnt cut my throat some night while I was asleep. Id have had it coming. All us big men would have. But through some unaccountable generosity, May is as kind and protective as her grandfather was.
May takes the book as from a sleepy child, flaps it face down on the nightstand, blows out the candle with a moist breath, full lips pursed and shaped like a bow. I hear a hint of rattle in the lungs as the breath expires. I worry for her, though my doctor says she is fine. Consumption, though, is a long way to die. Ive seen it happen more than once. May steps back to the door and is a black spirit shape against the light, like a messenger in a significant dream.
Sleep, Colonel. Youve read late.
Funny thing is, I actually try. I lie flat on my back in the dark with my arms on my chest. But I cant sleep. It is a bitter-cold night and the fire has burnt down to hissing coals. I dont ever sleep well anymore. I lie in bed in the dark and let the past sweep over me like stinging sheets of windblown rain. My future is behind me. I let gravity take me into the bed and before long Im barely breathing. Practicing for the Nightland.
Survive long enough and you get to a far point in life where nothing else of particular interest is going to happen. After that, if you dont watch out, you can spend all your time tallying your losses and gains in endless narrative. All you love has fled or been taken away. Everything fallen from you except the possibility of jolting and unforewarned memory springing out of the dark, rushing over you with the velocity of heartbreak. May walking down the hall humming an old songThe Girl I Left Behind Meor the mere fragrance of clove in spiced tea can set you weeping and howling when all youve been for weeks on end is numb.
At least that last one is explainable. Back in green youth, Claire became an advocate for flavored kisses. She would break off new spring growth at the end of a birch twig, peel the dark bark to the wet green pulp, and fray the fibers with her thumbnailthen put the twig in her mouth and hold it there like a cheroot. After a minute shed toss it away and say, Now kiss me. And her mouth had the sweet sharp taste of birch. In summer, she did the same with the clear drop of liquid at the tip of honeysuckle blossoms, and in the fall with the white pulp of honey-locust pods. And in winter with a dried clove and a broken stick of cinnamon. Now kiss me.
Excerpted from Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2006 by Charles Frazier. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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