Temple waits, but the woman says nothing more, and the shadow crawls farther away.
Maury is in the distance, looking into the eyes of a painted dragon.
Temple speaks. She explains to the woman that she has traveled a long way, and that for knowing all the names of the places she has been she still feels lost even though she knows that’s impossible because God is a slick god and wherever you are is where He wants you to be. She tells the woman that she has done bad things—things God would not like—and that sometimes she wonders if God could be angry at her, and if she would know the difference between a blessing and a punishment because the world is wondrous even when your stomach is empty and there is dried blood in your hair.
She tells the woman that she has been traveling all her life that’s worth remembering, and that her mind feels almost filled up already, with people and sights and words and sins and redemptions.
She tells of how you have a special amazement for all the beauty in the world when you are evil like she is—probably because beauty and evil are on the opposite sides of a wall like lovers who can never really touch.
She tells of the people she has killed, she lists the names for the ones she knows and describes the others, but she can’t remember them all, and she knows she shouldn’t forget things like that and she would write them down except that she can’t read or write because when she was supposed to be learning her letters she was busy hiding in a drainage ditch because her foster home got eaten up by meatskins.
And she tells of her biggest sin of all, the thing that turned her from one thing to another, from a human into an abomination. She tells of a boy named Malcolm, whom she killed—and how it happened at the feet of an iron giant because God wanted to remind her of her smallness. How she got itchy to explore the factory warehouse behind the iron giant because of what marvels might be hidden there and how she told the boy Malcolm to wait in case there was a nest of meatskins inside. How she only intended to pop in and pop back out when she saw it was safe, but she found a little office up an iron stairway overlooking the warehouse, and in the office there were blueprints on the walls, covering all the walls, that blue not quite like any other blue she had ever seen. She tells of how magical they were, those white lines like chalk fibers against that blue, the figures and numbers and arrows like the very nomenclature of man’s grandeur, the objects they described like artifacts lost and gone and hinted at in undecipherable etchings for future races smarter than herself to puzzle over. And they were a wonder, those mortal imaginations splayed wide on paper, testaments to vision far beyond her own weary head, testimonials to the faith in the power of human ingenuity to shape something out of nothing and to stand back and behold it and to nod and to say, Yes, this is what I have made, this is a thing that did not exist before in the history of the world.
And she tells how her mind went after those imaginings so far that she got lost in them and did not notice how dim and red the light filtering through the murky windows had become, how much time had passed. And that when she did become aware of herself again, running panicked back outside where she had told Malcolm to wait, she saw there a whole cluster of meatskins, fifteen or twenty, moving toward him and one of them already there. One already gotten to him. Already gotten him, the boy, Malcolm, her given charge. They could have come from anywhere. She had not heard his screams because she had become deaf to all but the throb of her own pixied brain.
And that’s when she laid hell upon them, the slugs, slaughtering them, one at a time, every which way, without thought or reason or heedfulness. And she tells that while she was doing it her blood went crazy—the blood in all her veins boiled and beat like a drum and made her see black hell everywhere she looked, and made her monstrous with the sin of vanity, the sin of thinking herself immortal like the iron giant. She tells of bringing the gurkha blade down and relishing the thunk of it getting buried in a skull, the wicked enjoyment of it, the heinous illusion that her death-mongering was righteous, that her touch was a sword of light—and the passion, the deep down lust that drove her to strike out to the right and left, as though her body were hungry for death—as though she had become one of them and would consume black death and eat the very souls of the living if she knew where to find them. Such is the demon in her.
And when it was finished, her clothes soaked through in blood and bile and crusted with graying tissue, she wiped from her face the gore she had ripped from the bodies of the dead—the issue of her own feral cannibalism—and only then was she able to open her eyes full to the stinging, punishing orange light of the failing day.
It was too late. The boy Malcolm was torn open, neck to navel, and it was as good as if her own vicious claws had done the ripping.
She tells the old woman how she held the body of the boy, rocking it and trying to close with gory fingers the zipper seam down his middle. She tells how she sat so long with the boy in her arms that the sky rained down its tears and baptized him and washed him clean for the grave, and how she dug the grave with her hands in the mud at the base of the iron giant and laid him in it, and how she prepared him for heaven by cutting off his head with the gurkha knife so that he wouldn’t get lost and wander back to the surface of the earth like so many had done—and how the brutal task caused her no suffering because she knew by then there was evil in her and that no action however grotesque or unholy could be ill-suited for the thing she had become.
She tells then of wandering lost, of isolating herself from the eyes and hearts of good men, of shutting herself away in abandoned houses and, when she was discovered by the generous of spirit who came to save her, escaping even farther into the evacuated wildernesses of the country. Weeks at a time without seeing another living person. Exercising her voice with raspy song so as not to go mute.
She tells of moments when she would forget, when her own simmering evil would seem to dissipate and let through the clear spectacle of life. One had to be careful of those moments, because they were fleeting and intended not for her but instead for the delectation of other children of God. Or, if they were meant for her, they could break her heart as easily as mend it, because all that beauty in the suffered world was the same kind of beauty that had gotten her lost and made her forget her charge and held up for her loathing gaze her own selfish soul.
She tells of the island, the lighthouse, the moon, and the Miracle of the Fish.
She tells the old woman these things while those ancient fingers work the clattering needles against each other, but Temple leaves her there in the outspreading shade—because the only common language between them is the argot of desolation, whose words are really just meant for the deafness of the wide, wide sky.