Doc holds in his hand the little gray piece they removed from the woman’s brain and takes it to the table, where he looks at it under a lamp with a big magnifying glass. Then he puts it into a little machine with some kind of chemical and turns it into a thick liquid that can be poured into a beaker and lights a bunsen burner underneath it.
Through much of the procedure, Temple sits on the ground with her back against the bars of the cell looking up at the broken rectangular window and the tiny shaft of sunlight illuminating a stream of dust motes in the stale air of the basement. She remembers again the Miracle of the Fish—the silver-gold bodies darting in circles around her ankles as though she were standing in the middle of another moon—the way things could be perfect like that on occasion—a clear god, a god of messages and raptures—a moment when you knew what you were given a stomach for, for it to feel that way, all tense with magic meaning.
It has become something to her, that memory—something she can take out in dismal times and stare into like a crystal ball disclosing not presages but reminders. She holds it in her palm like a captured ladybug and thinks, Well ain’t I been some places, ain’t I partook in some glorious happenings wanderin my way between heaven and earth. And if I ain’t seen everything there is to see, it wasn’t for lack of lookin.
Blind is the real dead.
Through the tiny broken-out place in the window above, she sees a touch of movement. She focuses on it, watching it inch along, little more than a finger shadow against the daylight. It’s a green caterpillar, and it pokes its way through the hole in the glass and along the sill of the window.
And she thinks:
Ain’t no hell deep enough to keep heaven out.
THE MIXTURE on the lab table makes its way through various pipettes and spiral tubes and beakers where Doc adds teardroppers full of other ingredients and then boils those and stirs them and checks their color against the light of the lamp until finally a valve is opened at the far right and a clear distilled liquid begins drop by drop to empty into the bottle from which they had filled their syringes the day before.
Royal unstraps the immobile corpse and slings it over his shoulder and carries it off. When he comes back, he and Bodie sit in two folding metal chairs and wait for Doc to finish the process.
How’s it goin, Doc? Royal asks.
Goin fine. That was a juicy one you got there. We gon get plenty product outta that one.
Royal slaps his knee.
I knowed it, he says. I tole Bodie when we found her she was gonna be a ripe one. Didn’t I say just those words, Bodie? Didn’t I say she was gonna be a ripe one?
Bodie doesn’t answer. He is leaning over the lab table, and his eyes are fixed on the bottle filling slowly with the clear distillate.
Royal’s lidless eye rolls back in his head and he chuckles to himself and mumbles again, Sho enough, those is the words I said.
Finally Bodie stands at his full height, and he points to Maury.
All right, then, he says. Get the retard outta his cage. Lord knows why, but Mama took a likin to him, wants to see him jacked up.
Royal goes to the cell door and opens it and says, Come on, Mr. Buffalo, you gonna get a shot of the high life.
Temple wants to stay back. She wants to watch the shaft of light coming through the broken window. She wants to watch the progress of the caterpillar as it makes its way across the windowsill. She wants to shut down her mind to so many things. But she can feel the panic blooming in her like something that had been planted a long time ago. She feels it blooming in her stomach and chest, and there ain’t nothing that ever bloomed so fast and so forceful.
Hey, she says and grabs the bars of her cell. What you wanna go and do that for? That dummy never hurt you.
Shut up, girl, Royal says. Stop bein a pest.
Yeah, she says. I get it. Inheritors of the earth, and you spend your time beatin up on dead people and dummies.
Royal’s lidless eye quivers in its socket in an absurd mimicry of anger.
You best shut your mouth, girl.
What you gonna do, eyeball me to death? You got me beat in a staring contest, I’ll give you that.
Moses Todd chuckles in the cell next to hers, stroking his beard.
You shut up too, Royal says, looking back and forth between the two.
I promise you one thing, Mr. Royal, Moses Todd announces, she ain’t easy to kill, that one.
Royal begins to breathe heavily, clenching and unclenching his fists. His eyes move back and forth between Moses Todd and Temple.
Goddamn you both—goddamn you straight to hell. You ain’t part of this family. You got nothin like what we got. There’s the holy and then there’s what you are, and you don’t watch out I’d just as soon pop your little heads like—
Royal! Bodie shouts. Royal!
Royal checks himself but doesn’t take his eyes off them.
I got the retard, Bodie says and leads Maury over to the chair. Whyn’t you get the girl out and we’ll do her next. Just for kicks. After she sees up close what her doggie does under the needle.
Royal smiles and runs his tongue along his teeth. He opens the door of her cell and says, Come on, sweetness, we gonna have some fun.
You best not touch me, she says, going rigid all over.
But he throws his huge form through the door and grabs her by the hair and turns her head around so that it’s either go with him or get her head twisted off like a bottle cap.
Do what you want, Moses Todd calls from his cell, but you kill her and I’m gonna rain hell on you.
Royal pulls her by the hair to the other side of the room and turns her around to face the chair where Maury sits gazing at her with his blank, uncomprehending eyes and moaning loudly.
Hush up, Maury, she says. I’m all right. They ain’t hurtin me.
Royal is behind her, pulling her back against his body with one hand gripped around her left wrist, pulling it up behind her back so hard she expects her shoulder to pop out any second—and the other hand still seized on a thick twist of her hair, which he uses to manipulate her head on the bearing of her neck like a marionette. He pulls her face close to his and laughs, and she can smell his breath, rancid, and she can see the little red tears at the perimeter of his skin where it’s peeled back from his skull, and she can hear his eyeball rolling around in its gelatinous cavity.
You the monster, he hisses at her. You the monster. And I’m gonna eat off your eyelids and then we gonna gaze on each other and you gonna see who the monster is.
He tugs at her hair again and turns her head to face the chair where Maury continues his long low wail—a spectacular and feeble lament like a creature grousing at the brightness of the inviolable moon.