“We are always the same age inside.”
“Comfortable?” he asked, and she nodded, her eyes closed. Jonas squeezed cleansing lotion onto the clean sponge at the edge of the tub and began to wash her frail body.
Last night he had watched his father bathed the newchild. This was much the same: the fragile skin, the soothing water, the gentle motion of his hand, slippery with soap. The relaxed, peaceful smile on the woman’s face reminded him of Gabriel being bathed.
And the nakedness, too. It was against the rules for children or adults to look at another’s nakedness; but the rule did not apply to newchildren or the Old. Jonas was glad. It was a nuisance to keep oneself covered while changing for games, and the required apology if one had by mistake glimpsed another’s body was always awkward.
He couldn’t see why it was necessary.
He liked the feeling of safety here in this warm and quiet room; he liked the expression of trust on the woman’s face as she lay in the water unprotected, exposed, and free.
Through the thorny roses, between swaying bushes, down the dusty lawn, I run. I run like I’ve never run. The sun’s in my face and the wall’s not far. Halfway there, when I get to the trellis thing, I look back; he’s not running after me, like I dreaded, just standing there, a few steps from Ian and Heidi, who’re still lying dead so he’s letting me go–why who cares why he’s a mental psycho so run run run run run run, but, run, but, but, run, but . . . But I’m slowing, slowing, how, why, what, my heart’s straining like crazy, but it’s like the brake and accelerator are being pressed at the same time but whatever’s slowing down isn’t inside me, it’s not poison, it’s outside me, it’s time slowing up or gravity pulling harder, or air changing to water, or sand, or treacle . . . I have dreams like this–but I’m awake, it’s daytime, I know I’m awake . . . But, impossibly, I’ve stopped, like a statue of a runner, one foot raised for the next stride that’ll never come. This is mad. Infeckingsane. It occurs to me I ought to try to scream for help, it’s what people do, but all that comes out is this grunt spasm noise . . .
. . . and the world starts shrinking back towards the bungalow, hauling me along with it, helplessly.
Mom was also in the kitchen, rinsing a colander of broccoli under the faucet.
I looked at her when he was off and back.
Nice boy, she said
Not a desert, I said.
What do you mean? She put the broccoli aside, to drip into the sink.
You said Joseph was the desert?
She ran her hands under the tap. Nah, not the desert, she said, as if that conversation had never happened. Joseph, she said, is like a geode—plain on the outside, gorgeous on the inside.
I watched her dry her hands. My mother’s lithe, able fingers. I felt such a clash inside, even then, when she praised Joseph. Jealous, that he got to be a geode—a geode!—but also relieved, that he soaked up most of her super-attention, which on occasion made me feel like I was drowning in light. The same light he took and folded into rock walls to hide in the beveled sharp edges of topaz crystal and schorl.
He has facets and prisms, she said. He is an intricate geological surprise.
I stayed at the counter. I still held the Lego train in my hands.
And what’s Dad? I said.
Oh, your father, she said, leaning her hip against the counter. Your father is a big strong stubborn gray boulder. She laughed.
And me? I asked, grasping, for the last time.
You? Baby, you’re—
I stood still. Waiting.
She smiled at me, as she folded the blue-and-white-checked dish towel. You’re seaglass, she said. The pretty green kind. Everybody loves you, and wants to take you home.
He thought this over, then gave a mild snort. “I’d like to see him do it, the bastard.” He took a drag on his cigar. “Everybody in this family gets his goddam religion in a different package,” he commented, with a notable absence of awe in his tone. “Walt was a hot one. Walt and Boo Boo had the hottest religious philosophies in the family.” He dragged on his cigar, as if to offset being amused when he didn’t care to be.
“Walt once told Walker that everybody in the family must have piled up one helluva lot of bad karma in his past incarnations. He had a theory, Walt, that the religious life, and all the agony that goes with it, is just something God sicks on people who have the gall to accuse Him of having created an ugly world.”
Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement. At any rate, that is how it seemed to young George Webber, who was never so assured of his purpose as when he was going somewhere on a train. And he never had the sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was only when he got there that his homelessness began.
:: Thomas Wolfe