I got to tell you—he wasn’t a good man, your brother. He tried things. He was movin to take unsolicited liberties with me.
Moses Todd lowered his head and looked sadly into his lap for a moment. Then he raised his eyes and spoke softly to her.
To be honest, he said, I sort of figured that might be the case. He shouldn’t of done it. And you have my right sympathies about that. Abraham and me, we were cut from different cloth.
He took a deep breath and looked straight in her eyes again, but differently this time.
But the fact is, you and me, we ain’t in control of the fates remitted us. We just got to discharge them the best way we can, according to whatever frail laws we got. Who made Abraham Todd my brother? Who delivered you into his mitts? It ain’t me, and it ain’t you, girl. That boy was my flesh and blood, idiot or no. Yeah, he wasn’t a good man. But that don’t make no difference. And you know it.
She sighs and sits back on the couch.
Yeah, I guess I do.
We’re just playin the parts written down and put before us.
I know it, she concedes.
Yeah, I can see you do know it. You got a sense of these things, same as me. You understand there’s an order to the world—a set of rules, same for men and gods. See, a lot of people think the planet’s out of whack because of the creepers—they think everything’s up for grabs, blood and mind and soul. You and me, we dwell on the land, not just behind the walls. We know the look of God is still on us. I respect you for havin such clear vision, just bein a girl and all.
She scratches an itch on her knee.
You’re a talker, she says, ain’t you?
You gonna say my talk is false?
No, I ain’t. I’m just gonna say it’s a big thought for a small evenin. I don’t know what to do with that kind of palaver.
It is for sure a deep well to descend—and you and me, girl, we’re two meager intellects. So what are we gonna do now?
Well, she says, leaning forward again, I got a few ideas about that.
I’m eager to hear em.
I reckon you’re gonna stay tied to this chair for a while. And me, I’m gonna go out to my car and get in it and drive on outta here and get some good distance between you and me. And tomorrow morning these nice people will untie you and let you go on your way. You ain’t got any projections on hurting these people, do you?
They ain’t done anything to me. Apart from tying me to a chair—and I believe I’ll hold you accountable for that.
I’m putting you down for an honest man, Mose.
As you can see, girl, we live in a world that don’t ask or need dishonesty. You got my word.
But I reckon you oughta shoot me now, he says, still smiling and licking his lips beneath the scraggly beard.
You ain’t done nothing to me.
Not yet. But I give you another guarantee—my word as a man under the gray heaven of death. The next time I see you, I sure am gonna kill you.
His eyes, again, catch on the inside of her head and go hunting around in there—and it feels like someone is watching her through a dark window of night. He sits there, tied down, like an Egyptian statue at the entrance of some ancient underworld cave.
She doesn’t want her secrets to be his secrets. She stands and takes the gun from the coffee table.
Well, she says, you ain’t done nothin yet but be a pest to me. And I don’t reckon I can kill you for that.
You got a righteous honor to you, girl. You and me, we’ll sweep a little more of the dust away from the earth before we settle down to cuttin throats.
UPSTAIRS SHE sits on the bed next to the man with the slow gray eyes and the pan-shaped face. She thinks about how similar in stature he is to Moses Todd, except this man paws at the air and drifts without thought of creation or the hand of God. She rubs her hand back and forth over his shaved head and feels the bristly hair coming in. He cranes his neck and looks questioningly at her hand, and she shows it to him, palm up, fingers splayed. He covers it with his own giant mitt.
All right, dummy, she says. I guess this is where we part ways.
He plays gently with her fingers.
Be good now. They gonna be surprised to find you still here in the morning and me gone, but they’ll treat you good. Just don’t let em feed you to that daddy of theirs, and you’ll be okay.
She smiles at him, and he continues to toy with her fingers.
Just kiddin with you, dummy. They ain’t gonna hurt you, they’re good folk.
Her plan is to tell James Grierson to watch over Moses Todd while she makes her getaway. He’ll be too distracted to notice what she left behind.
The Griersons, they’ll take care of the dummy. Better than she can. She’s no wet nurse, no righteous savior of meek men. She knows where she belongs—with the cannibals and the madmen, with the eaters of flesh and the walkers of a blight land, with the abominations. She’s done things that mark her forever, as good as a brand on her forehead—and her denial of them would be fruitless. It would be vanity.
WHERE ARE you going to go? James Grierson asks.
North, I was thinkin. She shrugs.
They are in the library on the second floor. There are French-style doors that open onto a balcony in the front of the house and bookshelves piled high with colorful volumes. She wonders, as she sometimes does, about what it would have been like to have grown up a hundred years before she did. She pictures herself sitting at a desk, learning her letters, some gray-haired woman in a spiffy dress at the front of the room using a long stick to point at a map of the world, taking tests hunched over at a little wooden desk, chewing on the end of a pencil. But it’s hard to keep that world in focus, and her imagination gets away with her and she imagines a meatskin bursting into the room and all the children fleeing and her taking her gurkha from her bookbag and planting it solidly in the meatskin’s skull, feeling the thick, catching resistance as the blade sinks home. And then all the other children cheering her, and her gray-haired teacher nodding in approval. It makes her grin to think of such scenes.
He’ll follow you, James Grierson is saying.
I guess he will. But he ain’t so good a tracker as he says. Besides, with half a day’s head start there ain’t no way he’ll be able to find me.
I’ll keep him longer.
Nah—half a day is enough. He’ll beat on outta here quick if he still thinks he might be able to catch me. You keep him longer than that and you’ll risk him doin some damage before he goes.
I can take care of him.
Sure you can, but your granny don’t want no fuss—and neither does your brother or Johns or Maisie for that matter. They all do a pretty fair job of keepin the world at a distance. I guess there ain’t no need in bringin a war into their parlor now.