What you laughing at, grandma? she asks. I got your boy. I brought your boy to you—your nephew, your cousin, whatever he is. I brought him.
Jeanie Duchamp says nothing.
He’s a good boy, Temple continues. He don’t talk much, and he ain’t so bright—but he’s a good boy. You would of liked him.
Jeanie Duchamp laughs and laughs.
Yeah, Temple says. Anyway. What am I supposed to do now? I’m tired. I’m tellin it to you straight. I’m worn out.
Jeanie Duchamp is silent.
Look at you, Temple says. What do you know anyway? You ain’t nothin but a big set of teeth.
And then the response, spoken by a voice behind her, a voice she recognizes immediately and realizes only then she has been expecting, since the houses she explores only ever seem to be haunted by one person, the voice of Moses Todd himself:
All the better to eat you with, my dear.
She rises and spins around all in one motion, her hand bringing up the gurkha knife, gleaming dully in the dusty room.
But Moses Todd is out of range of her blade. He stands calmly in the doorway of the bedroom, and he has a pistol pointed at her head.
Steady down now, little girl, he says. We got some business to finish between you and me, but there ain’t no need to make a big mess out of it.
He is different from when she left him in the basement cell in the town where the inheritors of the earth lived. For one thing, he has trimmed his beard shorter than she remembers it. For another, he has a long strip of red paisley fabric, probably an old bandanna, tied at an angle around his head so that it covers his left eye.
I been waiting for you, he says, must be goin on a week now. I was beginnin to think you weren’t comin. I guess you took the scenic route.
How? she manages to say. She can’t figure it, Moses Todd here, alive, here in Point Comfort, Texas. How could he have known she would be coming here?
How? she says again.
How about we go downstairs and sit for a while. I built a fire for you and everything.
She thinks about Maury in the dining room, turning the crystal orb over and over between his fingers.
I ain’t goin downstairs with you, Mose.
Suit yourself, he says. We’ll grim fandango it right here then. Take a seat.
He motions toward an upholstered chair in the corner of the room, and she sits. He takes a wooden chair with a woven cane seat from the other side of the room and sets it in front of the door, straddling it backward and crossing his arms over the top of it. The chair creaks and groans under his weight. The gun remains in his hand, but he uses it now more like a pointing finger than an instrument of violence.
If you’re gonna shoot me, then shoot me, she says, challenging him with an instinctive boldness.
Oh I’m gonna shoot you, little girl. I’m gonna shoot you right in the head.
The sobriety of the words deflate her in an instant. He has no intention of letting her live. It’s a somber truth, even for him apparently.
She leans back in the chair, resting the gurkha knife on her legs. There’s nothing for her to do but wait for his move. In the meantime, she wants to know a few things.
So how? she asks.
Well, he smiles and strokes his beard. Funny thing about that. Your friend Maury told me. Not told me so much as showed me. When we were all locked up. See, after you were knocked out, you spent a lot of time asleep. Your big pal, me and him got friendly. He even showed me a little piece of paper from his pocket.
That’s right. By the way, you caused quite a stir in Mutantville. I guess they were all pretty close, cause they didn’t care much for you killin three of their own. You never seen such ugliness weepin over ugliness. I tried to explain how it wasn’t really your fault—how you just got a problem with killing people’s kin. Like a disease or something. But they just weren’t in the mood to listen, I guess.
Shut up, she says quietly.
He shifts in the chair, and it creaks loudly in the dense air of the room.
Anyhow, he says, I got out of there eventually. The blade you gave me helped, so I do thank you for that. But it still wasn’t easy. They got my eye.
He points casually with the barrel of the pistol to the place where the bandanna covers his left eye.
Yeah, he goes on, it cost me an eye, and I had to take a hostage before they would let me go. Girl named Millie. I guess you met her—you had a run-in with her in the woods? She ain’t too happy with either of us, me for takin her and you for killin three of her brother-cousins. Ain’t it funny how violence breeds violence? I still got her with me. I was gonna dump her on the roadside when I was far enough out of town, but I didn’t.
I don’t know, he says. He shrugs and looks almost embarrassed. Where’s she gonna go, the way she is? Remember how she brought us those vittles all neat and proper? Figure I’ll drop her back near her home on my way back, long as she stays out of my business.
Temple says nothing, and Moses Todd gets suddenly defensive.
You got your charge, he says, and I got mine. Well, anyhow.
They sit quiet, the two of them, for the space of a minute, and many unspoken things hang like snaky vines between them.
Finally she says, I reckoned you was dead.
She says the words without either animosity or relief—but simply as a statement of truth. Throughout all he has said, her mind dwells on the fact that Moses Todd is sitting here before her even though she left him for dead. She is thinking about how he died once in her mind already, and how he came back to life to sit and talk with her here in this abandoned little town in Texas. And that leads her to thinking about the nature of all things, about how dead things have trouble staying dead, and forgotten things have trouble staying forgotten, and about how history isn’t something from an encyclopedia—it’s everywhere you look.
She supposes there’s more past than present in the world today. On the balance.
I was beginning to suspect the same thing about you, Moses Todd says. What took you so long?
We walked some of the way, she says. Then we caught a train, but it moved slow.
A train? He looks bemused.
Hell, he says. I ain’t seen one of those runnin in—must be fifteen, twenty years.
Yeah, it was somethin to see.
She smiles a little in memory, despite herself.
When I was a kid, he said, before all this, there was a station yard near my house. At night I would jump the fence and climb all over the trains. I tried to hide it from my ma—she didn’t like me out there. But my palms gave me away. They were black as anything.