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.“They’re not all for me.They’re for Niobe and your dad.” He shuffles a bit.“And me.”“If you can get my father to eat one of those slices I will bless you.”He scurries away and I follow at a more sedate pace.Mum is off at another conference in London.I know she’s sought after, but it’s starting to feel like she wants to miss the actual death, too.Maybe we are more alike than I realize.If she does come home I wonder what she’ll make of the guests.Drake is alternating bites of toast with slurping sips of milk when I enter the bedroom.It seems that the counterpane covering my father lies a little flatter each day.Niobe kneels Japanese style on a pillow on the floor.It keeps the tail out of her way.I give her shoulder a grateful squeeze as I move past.My dad lifts his hand.I take it and kiss his forehead.“Thank you, you’ve brought me the most delightful nurse and assistant.”He smiles at Niobe and Drake, revealing crooked teeth, legacy of a lifetime of British dentistry.I wonder how he appears to her.Nothing remarkable, medium height, gray-brown hair, neither handsome nor ugly, a deeply lined face from a lifetime of invalidism, but, like Niobe, he has wonderful eyes.Niobe blushes.She looks rather adorable.“The state nurse is coming,” I say to Dad.“I thought I’d show Niobe and Drake about a little.”“Go, go,” he urges, shoving at me with the back of his hand.It’s stippled with dark bruises from the IV needles.Out in the hall Drake makes a face.“Are you gonna, like, walk around?”“Probably,” I lie because I want to have Niobe to myself.“Can I stay here and use the computer? I could play WoW.”“No! Use the Game Boy, but don’t go online.” Drake looks mulish as only a teenage boy can.Niobe hugs him and ruffles his hair.“Come on, kiddo, I know it feels like we’re safe, but we’re not, not really.”I feel a stab of regret and resentment that I can’t make her feel secure.But reason reasserts itself.In truth they’re not safe.I take her out the back door, across the swale of grass, and through the gate in the hedge.The Cam rolls slowly past, the color of caramel.We keep a punt pulled up onto the muddy bank.I squelch across to the punt.Leaves have gathered in the bottom, and I realize how long it’s been since I’ve had it out on the water.I toss some of them out, and hold out my hand to Niobe.She’s hesitating, staring down at the mud.I realize there is a tear in the side of one of her tennis shoes, and it’s the only pair of shoes she possesses.I need to buy them some changes of clothes.I pick her up and carry her across the mud.There’s a sharp intake of breath as my arms go around her followed by a squeak as I swing her up.Her tail thrashes a bit against my leg as I carry her, the bristly hairs penetrate the fabric of my slacks.“Is this okay?”“Y-yes.”I deposit her in the punt and arrange pillows behind her back.A sharp push and the punt slides into the water.I jump in.Niobe squeaks again as the punt rocks a bit under my weight.“Pardon me, not trying to be fresh,” I say as I reach down next to her leg and pull free the long wooden pole, and step onto the platform at the end of the boat.I like to punt.There is something both relaxing and empowering as you time the push, let the pole slide through your hands, pull it up and thrust again.She leans back, exposing the line of her neck.My eyes linger on the hollow at the base of her throat.She opens her eyes and smiles at me.“You’re a fibber,” she says.“Guilty.”“Drake could have come.”“Yes, but I didn’t want him to come.”She’s blushing again.“Why?” Her color deepens even more.“Oh, I’m sorry, that sounds like I’m angling.”“I wanted to spend time with you.”Her face is almost scarlet, but those amazing eyes fill with delight.“Really?”“Truly.”We’re only gone for an hour, but I’m straining toward the house, feeling like I can’t quite draw in enough air to satisfy my lungs.I realize I’m outdistancing Niobe, the tail makes her clumsy, and I moderate the length and speed of my steps.I feel I owe her an explanation.“I feel guilty when I go away.When it’s just for me, not work.”She catches me by gently touching my arm.“You have to take time for yourself or you can’t be there for him.Not when he’ll really need you there.”“But he may not know I’m there.Not when.” I clear my throat.“The time comes.”“He’ll know.” She lays a hand on her breast.“Souls yearn to each other when people care for each other.”I’m roused by the soft murmur of voices and running water.The glowing green numbers seem suspended in the darkness.Three A.M.Niobe is in Dad’s room.She supports him in one arm while with her free hand she spreads another urine pad beneath him.Our eyes meet over his head.I take the shell of his body in my arms as Niobe straightens the sheet and plumps up the pillows.The mattress dips on one side.I wake, startled, disoriented.My hand is reaching for the pistol suspended on the side of the bed.The heavy aroma of coffee reassures me.Niobe is seated on the edge of my bed, a tray in her hands.A right proper breakfast adorns the plate.The yolks of the eggs look almost orange against the white china, but all I really see is her smile.The first one to go was the Committee’s pager.Next Bahir’s.I called my agent and had him cancel my upcoming performances.Another pager down.The last one to go is the pager from the Silver Helix.As I press and hold down the button and watch the lights dim to darkness I realize I’m not even feeling very guilty.It joins the other four in the desk drawer.A gale off the North Sea moans around the house.It whistles down the chimney and captured sparks whirl away back up the flue.Startled, Niobe looks up from her book, The Nine Tailors—I approve of her taste.She is curled up in a nest of pillows that supports her and keeps her tail from making her too uncomfortable.Her hair falls across one side of her face, polished chestnut.I’m seated in my father’s favorite chair, shoulder pressed into one of the wings, reading.The fabric is redolent with the smell of tobacco and his aftershave.But a new scent is in the room—lilies and jasmine.I had found the unopened bottle in the bathroom.I remembered when I had bought it for my mother at a boutique in Paris while on tour.That had been three years ago.Well, it’s Niobe’s now.The wind shrieks, a sudden, sharp cry.I know why my ancestors created the legend of banshees and lost souls.I picture my father’s soul spinning away into that maelstrom of clouds.I wonder if the souls of all the men I’ve killed are wandering tonight.The close and constant presence of death has made me fanciful.Niobe shivers, and rubs at her arms.Setting aside my book—Three Men in a Boat—I hurry to her side, and rub her upper arms.The skin is pimpled with goose bumps.She’s still in the T-shirt I found her in.I still haven’t bought her [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]