THERE'S THE SCENT OF BLOOD.
FINN raises the back of his hand to block his nostrils, but it's already too late. The smell twines through him almost lovingly, caressing at first and then spiking deep. His head burns a slick, wet red. He says, "Ah . . ." The next word should be "shit," but he can't quite get it out. Memories surge forward into the center of his skull. A nimbus of rising color and movement tightens, clarifies, and takes form.
It's his wife Danielle on the morning of their twelfth anniversary, naked at the stove, glancing back over her freckled shoulder. She asks, "Pancakes or French toast?" Still moist from his shower he leans in, nuzzling her throat, nipping at the throbbing blue pulse, reaching around her waist to feel the taut smooth belly, and then draws her down to the kitchen floor. He likes the feeling of the cold Italian tile under his back.
The aroma runs down his throat. He coughs and there's another sound there, maybe a chuckle. The experience is strangely pleasant, almost familiar, but it still makes him a little panicky. The surgeons say it's impossible. His psychiatrist says it's unlikely, trying to give the benefit of the doubt as she worries a tissue between her hands. She's getting one-fifty an hour--from his perspective she owes him a fucking doubt or two, even if he does only visit her once every six or eight weeks.
They all admit that the olfactory sense is closely linked to memory, but they tell him that fresh blood has no scent because it hasn't had a chance to oxidize yet. And Finn is always talking about such small amounts. Sometimes only a couple of drops.
He knows it's true. He's been around blood. He's aware of the many ways it's likely to flow, spatter, splash. The way it drifts into cracks, the way it tastes, his own or someone else's. He's been covered in it, he's lost plenty.
Jesse Ellison has cut herself on a rough corner of the metal windowsill and she grunts demurely while trying to snap the lock shut. She's sixteen and clumsy, gangly by the sound of her awkward gait. She drags her feet in the halls, often late for class and bursting through the door a minute or two after Finn's begun his lesson plan.
Despite her lankiness she's got heft, muscle, a kind of earthiness. When she brushes against him--usually by accident but occasionally by confused teenage intention--he senses an innate strength. She plucks at his sleeve in an effort to help him along in the hallways, always trying to mother him.
Finn imagines she has large hands with long, dull fingers. The other girls laugh at her and call out with derision. She seems to handle their jibes with a maturity beyond most of her classmates.
When he pictures her, he sees the daughter of a domestic-dispute vic, one of the last cases he ever worked. Husband and wife radiologists, penthouse on Park Ave. Husband finds out the wife is bopping the doorman and the window cleaner, and does her with a drain cleaner cocktail.
While Finn asked routine questions, the teenage daughter wandered around a living room lined with black-and-white murals of her parents striking semi-nude provocative poses, her elbows knocking photos off the piano. The girl had an open face, empty caramel-colored eyes, and slack lips, and that's what Finn sees when he sees Jesse.
Icy air seeps in the window and wafts across his face. It's going to snow like a bitch tonight.
The sound of students and their families packing up SUVs, wishing each other Merry Christmas, and saying their good-byes floats up to the second floor. He recognizes several of the fathers' voices from various parent-teacher conferences. There's a certain flat annoyance in each of them.
They're working men trying to give their daughters a leg up on the world by sending them to a private institution. Putting in twenty or thirty hours overtime and weekends to afford the tuition, now forced to take a day off to pick up their kids and take them home again for Christmas vacation.
Their colorless speech proves they're part of the same brotherhood of pain and uncertain values, Saturday night bowlers who want their daughters to marry better men than themselves. They shout and honk to one another as they pull away.
Jesse finally manages to clamp down the lock. She hisses at the sight of her own wound. He hears her fidgeting, turning left and right, unsure of what to do next, how to stop the bleeding. A small maiden sound works up her throat.
Finn reaches out to touch the blackboard and steady himself. The rage strikes quickly with the scent, as it always does, threatening to overpower him. He makes a fist with his left hand and tightens it against the head of his cane. He's cracked a lot of them this way. His hands still retain power.
The dark comes to life again, replaying what the investigators called "the incident." He's trapped in the splinters of his own fracturing skull and feels the echoing stab of agony. It takes a second to get ahold of himself and remember where he is now, who he is now.
I am stone in the night, Finn thinks. I will not break.
"Have Nurse Martell look at that, Jesse," he tells her, his smile natural and easy, hiding nothing and hiding everything. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his handkerchief. "Use this. She's still in her office, isn't she?"
He knows she is. He hasn't heard her car drive off yet. Roz's car is a flatulent '58 Comet on its third turn of the odometer. There have been grease fires in the engine block, and it blows enough smoke that he can feel the oily residue on the breeze settling against his skin like a mist. When she stomps the pedal it backfires like a twelve-gauge, often making the younger girls giggle. Back in the city, it made the gangbangers dive to the curb.
Jesse says, "I think so." She plucks his handkerchief from him with a short, fierce action. "How did you know I hurt myself?" she asks with a quiver of a grin in her voice.
Like most people, she's moderately impressed by this sort of carnival trick. It's one of the reasons she has a crush on him. It's the kind of thing that raises him to just above pitiful and makes him almost cute. Sometimes the girls want to hug him, the way people like to coo at babies or pick up midgets.
He swings the cane up to tap at the stack of novels resting on the corner of his desk. "Don't forget to take the Kerouac, Robbins, and Vonnegut."
"Thanks for lending them to me, Mr. Finn."
"I'll be careful."
"You always take such good care of your books. No cracks in the spine, not a single dog-ear anywhere. Some of the girls, during study hall, they're so nasty they spit between the pages. It's uber-disgusting. But your copies look brand-new."
Despite the fact that it's true, Jesse doesn't realize how ludicrous her own comment is. He's grateful for that. She shouldn't always have to worry about making a mistake around him, to be terrified of talking. There are some people who can't even start a sentence with I around him because they think they'll hurt his feelings.
Still, the rage bucks against his sternum, trying to get out, wanting to scream at the kid, I fucking can't see, what do I give a shit about books anymore?
A blind man taking good care of his library. If the comment is silly, the fact is absurd. He used to be a bibliophile. He used to be concerned with the look of words and the structure of sentences. When he was a rookie he'd write up his daily logs with a kind of lyrical zeal until his lieut came down on him for it. He used to frequent secondhand shops in the city and spook the neighborhood when his radio squealed. He used to be a lot of things.
Finn's left plenty behind but there's more he doesn't have the courage to give up. There's no reason to thumb through his favorite hardbacks anymore, even though the urge is still there. They sit on the shelf wasted. They are paper and he is stone.
Jesse's been borrowing novels from him all semester, one of the few students who actually does outside reading. Or even curriculum reading, for that matter. She's hitting that phase where novels that caused a stir in the fifties and sixties hold a great interest for her. "I can't stand how repressive the school library is," she says now. "You know someone erased the word 'fuck' from Catcher in the Rye? And they crossed out all the 'gods' in 'god damn.' Isn't that illegal?"
"It is if it's the librarian doing it."
"I don't know who's doing it. My mother would throw a fit if she knew I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and On the Road."
She's right, Mrs. Ellison would, and without even knowing why. Simply because there are others who've told her that certain fiction shouldn't be read, especially by young girls in private schools. But Finn believes that parents who would send their daughters to the St. Valarian's Academy for Girls are already guilty of living by outdated notions of gentility. This school gives a lot but is ultimately for suckers.
He thinks, Why aren't you reading Judy Blume, kid? Or Jackie Collins? Why aren't you cyber-stalking some jock from across the river? Why do you give a damn about Billy Pilgrim and Sal Paradise and Sissy Hankshaw?
Let the parents throw their fits. He doesn't care. He's learned he can get away with a lot. People feel too ashamed to give him much grief.
"You don't narc on me and I won't on you," he tells her. "Deal, Jesse?"
"Deal, Mr. Finn."
She makes a grab for the novels and nearly drops them. She moves in close, her breath a mixture of fruity gum, mint toothpaste, and Duchess's breakfast of waffles and eggs Benedict. The syrup reeks. "It's going to snow tonight. Your coat, that one you wear when you go for your walks, I don't think it's going to be warm enough for you. I can run back to your cottage and get you something heavier, if you like."
"Thanks anyway, Jesse."
"I really think I should." Her voice is a little sharp, like a mom who's fed up.
"I mean, it's no problem. I don't mind. It'll only take me a few minutes, and I think I should--"
"That won't be necessary," he says, appreciative but annoyed by her careful attention. It would be so easy to allow himself to go with it, to become weak, the way he nearly was with Vi, the way the world wants him to be, so it can decimate him. "I'll be fine."
"You need a hat. You never wear a hat. Maybe Santa will bring you one."
She leaves the room, hesitating in the doorway, watching him for a moment longer before she turns and ambles off down the corridor. She won't visit the nurse. She'll knot his monogrammed handkerchief around her cut flesh and stare at his initials. Maybe she'll buy him a hat. She'll replay their puerile conversation over and again until it takes on a much greater meaning. He was once sixteen too, a bony boy with a bumbling step.
She understands they're two of a kind, in some way. Lonely outsiders, a pair among the handful left behind during winter vacation for lack of families or other reasons. Finn does a quick count. There are ten students and faculty members left on campus. Eleven if Vi has stayed, and he suspects she has.
Of course she has.
Roz's car starts up in the lot out front. It grumbles, falters, and gurgles. She's off with Duchess to pick up extra supplies for Christmas dinner before the snow starts.
The scent of the girl's blood lingers, keeping his head red and sticky.
He reaches into his desk for the bottle of cologne he keeps there. He dabs some on his index finger, covers his top lip, and breathes, and breathes. It doesn't drive away the vision of his dead wife Dani, naked and glaring, sticking the S&W .38 in his face and pulling the trigger.
ST. VALARIAN'S ACADEMY FOR GIRLS IS a small but prestigious school with a relatively meager staff. Four satellite cottages surround three buildings built a century and a half ago, protected by the historical society because a minor Civil War battle occurred on its front steps and Rutherford B. Hayes once slept here back when the school was a hotel. Whenever you told anybody that, you also had to explain that Hayes was the nineteenth president of the United States. They'd ask, Ah yeah, what did he do? And you had to explain, He got the last federal troops out of the South after Reconstruction, he ordered the Panama Canal built, and he reformed a corrupt and bankrupt Civil Service.
Everyone would go, Ah yeah, what's his name again?
An hour and a half north of Manhattan you were in the deep sticks, nearly as off the map as if you'd gotten lost in the Ozarks. When you said "town" you were talking about Three Rivers, which really wasn't much of a town at all. Just a main street five blocks long with a handful of stores that made most of their money off St. Val's. A couple of stoplights, hardly any road signs.
There are truck stops with bad food. There are train tracks but no station. Juke joints with country rockers blaring solid bass tracks and mean harmonizing so the strippers could hump the poles and get nasty enough to make a few bucks. Enough to feed their habits and feed their kids.
A small rural town like most others, except this one's on its way out. To the east is a closed sugar factory. To the north, an abandoned feed mill. A lot of stores are still open but more and more are closing. The nicer houses close to Main Street still look well kept, lawns trimmed, flower beds heavy with new growth in summer. The owners are retirees set with their pensions, with nowhere to go anyway.
Moving out from the center of town through neighborhoods you see cheaper properties going to hell. Huge Victorians that should've been converted years ago now boarded up. There are halfway houses for runaways, dopers, the mentally challenged, abused wives. Nursing homes where the elderly look near-enough dead on the porches that every time you pass by you've got to wonder, He still breathing?
Spiraling out from there you see the effects of inflation and recession more blatantly. Shacks are scattered into the hills as if they were tossed there by hurricanes. They lean, propped in odd directions, pine-board doors hanging from busted hinges, roofs and walls ready to collapse.
The old ways don't die, they persist through poverty, illness, depression, murder. Floods have washed the land into beautiful and strange patterns, boulders and uprooted trees stacked against the rim of the box valley. Cinder-block roadhouses still kick it up each night, more lively now than ever.
All of this Roz has described for him in great detail.
A lot of the land has been sold to developers who are waiting for the economic stimulation promised by the president. Most men of the holler have worked their lives away in the sugar factory and the feed mill. Many of them drifted down to the city or up to the Canadian border towns. Those left can only survive now by cooking and transporting meth.
There's one river nearby, ten minutes to the west, which overflows every couple of decades and takes a number of lives. The diners, bars, and hardware stores have newspaper clippings showing the devastation going back to the 1890s. Mud that reached the third-floor rain gutters, dead children stuck in treetops.
The story goes that three creek beds converged there, giving the area its name, but if you ask why the place isn't called Three Creeks instead you'll get no answer.
St. Val's is south of the holler, situated in its own valley. The land is lush and beautiful in the summer, set off just far enough to always be considered outside of town.
The only other guy currently on campus is Roddy Murphy, an off-the-boat Irishman from the north side of Galway. Chief custodian, electrician, snow-removal expert, groundskeeper, and all around fix-it dude with an attitude. As Finn collects his belongings from the classroom, he hears Murphy downstairs dragging equipment across the front walk in preparation for the blizzard.
Last year around his birthday Murphy got lonely for home and decided to bond with Finn a bit. They spent the night drinking Jameson in Murph's apartment and Finn learned that drunk Irishmen really do sing "Kathleen." As Murphy outpaced Finn three to one he got louder and more physical, pounding on Finn's shoulder and sort of dancing around his living room.
Halfway through the night Murph admitted that he'd fooled around a bit with a couple of the young wans. He called himself a fookin' idjit and tried to sound abashed and contemplative. Finn got the distinct sense that Murphy was lying in order to impress him, maybe get Finn to confess his own sins. The next day, Murphy claimed not to remember most of the night. Maybe it was the truth, but it had left Finn feeling a little cagey ever since.
Carrying his overcoat, Finn makes his way along the empty corridors, the annoying tap of his cane the only sound. He hears it as if someone else is making the noise and finds himself becoming increasingly upset with that person. The silence of the building causes him some anxiety. He relies heavily on noise.
Judith's door is open. Before he can knock she says, "Hello, Finn. You really need to cut back on the cologne, dear."
Her lips are wet. He can tell by the soft snapping of suction when she parts them. She's on her feet near the window, where she twists a knob and lowers the volume on the Mahler CD playing. She smokes menthol 120s and the smell is barely present in the office. She's like a kid hiding her habit from her parents, sneaking a cigarette and blowing smoke out the window.
He knows she wants to talk. She damn near always wants to talk, always did want to talk, even before this thing with Vi.
"Judith. I'm glad I caught you before you left."
"No need to worry about that," she says, and he's convinced she's depressed, and not just because an empty campus makes everybody depressed.
"No? Why not?"
He shouldn't ask, but she wants to be asked. He's got to do his part. Sometimes you play the role and sometimes the role plays you.
Judith Perry is the dean of St. Val's, an administration wizard and a top-notch science teacher. In the Victorian era she would've been called a headmistress and been admired for her hard-edged dignity. The girls think she's overly rigid and demanding because she's repressed and miserable. Finn thinks they're not far off. She has the voice of an exacting, sharp woman that occasionally softens with plaintiveness. She takes tiny but solid steps. He has shaken her hand only once, during their initial meeting when she hired him three years ago.
Since he lost his sight, his mind craves details. If they can't be provided by his other senses, his brain fills them in. The surgeons told him this is normal. The shrinks tell him not to worry, this is normal. It doesn't fuckin' feel normal. When he sees Judith he sees his mother. It's both strange and calming. He has to stay especially focused because it's easy to go along with the fantasy, and he has to stop himself from calling her Mom.
Judith shares other traits and particulars with his mother. She's twice divorced, on the downside of a third marriage, and has an ungrateful adult child. She is probably bipolar. She's had several affairs that she believes to be secret but are common knowledge to anyone paying even a little attention. Judith believes herself to be fat but she's only brawny. Touch her arm and you can feel how physically powerful she is. You wouldn't want to roll around in the mud with her, but you might throw down in the sack.
That strength doesn't seem to mean anything to her. She'd prefer to be dainty and delicate, a starved wisp that men would fawn over. She uses too much perfume and hair spray and bathing oils in an effort to be more feminine. She doesn't know how to laugh. Her sense of humor pretty much sucks ass. She's always on the edge of a world-class sulk.
When they find themselves alone like this without any need for going over reports, they speak honestly and with some real depth.
People open up to him because they can see him and he can't see them. It's like playing the peekaboo game with a baby. If you can't watch them, you can't bear witness. You're not really there.
The snow begins to fall, ice crystals brushing against the glass.
Judith tosses her cigarette out the window, flicking it hard with her fingernail. After the thaw, Murphy and his crew will be out there plucking bits of cotton filters out of the bushes for days. He'll shout up to her, "Shite, can't you smoke unfiltered Camels or get the hang of a good pipe, now?"
She very carefully latches the window shut and fights to keep from sighing. She only partially succeeds. He knows she's pining for Murph. Or at least lusting for him.
Finn sits in the comfortable leather visitor's chair and extends the question. "What are you still doing here, Judith? Why don't you head home to your family?"
"And why would you want to wish that hell on me?"
He can't help but smile. "Troubles again?"
"Troubles, dependable and enduring."
"You'd better leave now or you'll get caught in the storm."
"A ready-made excuse, not that I need one." She shifts her stance, comes down hard on one heel. "There's no one to tell it to." She clears her throat. "I'm maudlin, I know, but bear with me."
"You're not thinking of staying here for the whole two weeks, are you?"
"Why not? It's supposed to be a vacation. If I go home, it'll be anything but relaxing. The tree's still not up. The presents are unwrapped, what few there are. My son has been out of work for the last eight months. I don't have the energy to argue with him, so I'm just as responsible, irresponsible really, as he is. My husband put _twenty-five years into the fire department, retired, and still works in a volunteer capacity every holiday. He hasn't been home for Christmas or New Year's for the last four years, which is eighty percent of our marriage. He doesn't even have the ambition to cheat on me, which would do him a world of good and make him at least a bit happy, and that would be pleasant. No, I really see no reason why I should rush home."
Home is forty minutes away over the Connecticut border in a posh township. Her husband's name is Mike or Mark, but she never addresses him as such. Her son's name is Billy. Or maybe Bobby. Billy-Bob? She refuses to say his name either. Finn wonders what his psychiatrist would think about that. Is it simply detachment or dehumanization?
But he never thinks of his shrink by her name either, she's just his shrink. Maybe he'll broach the subject of replacing names with titles and what the psychological ramifications might be the next time he visits her. If he ever goes back.
"You could always invite the local orphans to your house," Finn says. "Give them the toys your kid won't play with."
"My goddamn kid is thirty-two."
"You could build snowmen, go to church, find the richest mean-hearted bastard in Connecticut and melt his icy exterior. So that everybody learns the true meaning of Christmas? So the angels all get their wings?"
"Fuck that," Judith says. She's naturally foul-mouthed and has a hard time holding it back around the kids. When she gets a chance to cut loose, she lets fly. "My kid also has prescriptions for three antidepressants. He's never held a steady job, never had a girlfriend, and spends all of his time online playing World of Warcraft with people in Senegal and Polynesia."
"Like I would lie about that?"
"I mean, Polynesians stay inside on the computer? When they could go outside and enjoy being in . . . Polynesia?"
"Christ." Finn sees lots of topless brown-skinned ladies in grass skirts dancing, covered in flowers, holding fresh jungle fruit. "Well, we could sit around and get drunk on spiked eggnog."
"The thought has crossed my mind repeatedly, believe me."
"I know you do."
Judith lets out a hiccup of laughter, trying to sound quaint. What she really wants is to get bombedwith Murphy and rip it up. Finn hopes she'll overcome her insecurities long enough to let it happen. He has to force his mind away from imagining it because when he does he sees his mother down in the custodian's apartment doing extremely un-Mom-like things. It makes his stomach churn.
She walks around behind him, staring at the side of his face as she does. He can feel the faint gust of her breath disturbing the air as she goes by. The skin on his cheek tightens. The earpiece on his sunglasses cools a couple of degrees.
Despite the entire floor being empty, she closes her door. This is what he's been waiting for. She only shuts the door when they talk about personal issues. The only personal issue left is Vi. He thought he didn't want to talk about Vi, but he probably does. Otherwise he wouldn't have come to Judith's office in the first place.
"Tell me how things have been with Violet Treato," she says.
"And that status being?"
"She's staying the hell away from me."
That's not going to be forthright enough for Judith. She needs to expound and dig. She tsks and taps her lengthy fingernails lightly at the corner of her desk. It's not all an act. She smells of nervous sweat. The school only has 250 students and the economics for small private institutions are growing worse all the time. She's got a lot to deal with, and now this.
"It's a precarious situation."
"Yes," he admits.
What, like he's going to argue? He's got to take his medicine again, and it's all his own fault. Still, he's got to force himself not to wag his head, everything falling into place step by step, the way it has for months. His fist tightens on his cane and slowly exerts pressure, waiting to hit the exact point when the stress will begin to snap it. He's got to keep himself busy, has to play these sorts of marginal games to constantly keep himself aware that he hasn't vanished.
"I'm not overdramatizing, Finn."
"I know. I've done what I can."
"I know that too, Judith. I offered to resign."
"I don't want your resignation."
"Not yet anyway."
It always comes back to this. He can't help but repeat himself. "Well, when you need it, you'll have it."
"Don't play the martyr, you prick, you know whose fault this is."
"I'm not playing and yes, I do."
That's left out there for a few seconds, the room heavy with expectation. He fills it. "So, there's no chance she's leaving for the holidays, I take it?"
"No. Her parents are spending the chilly months traveling the Mediterranean."
For every working-stiff father putting in overtime, there's a fat-cat blue blood sending his kid through St. Val's. "How very nice for them."
"I would've hoped the lure of the Aegean would have been too tempting to resist."
That's a setup for a nasty comment. She wants to slap him around some more. Finn actually braces himself in his seat. He assumes it will be something like, But presumably you're the greater temptation, the more powerful lure. A young girl's heart wants what it wants. And her body as well. Finn feels guilty over the fact that he doesn't feel as guilty as he should.
Judith says, "I want you to be careful around her."
"I am. I will."
"We can't afford another misstep."
What the hell does he have to say to that? He tries not to incline his head and can't quite do it. His chin drops toward his chest like a dog ready for a beating. He nods to cover. "I know."
"Her grades have been improving all semester."
"That's good to hear."
"Of course she's always been excellent in English."
"She's trying to show off for you. She's hoping to be the woman she thinks you want. Educated. Sophisticated."
"I realize that."
"You don't know shit."
The conversation is little more than a repeat of last week's. Judith is feeling him out, seeing if he'll suddenly be overcome by guilt and admit to greater or ongoing shenanigans. Finn doesn't blame her. Trust is in short supply all around.
She's going to mention Roz now. Only because she wants to hear again that some relationships under the worst kinds of strain still manage to work out. Also because she dislikes Roz, and she wants to remind him of that. Roz is only here because she and Finn were a package deal, and that fact has always annoyed Judith.
"What happens if Roz learns of this?"
"I tell Roz everything."
"She knows about the events with Vi?"
By implication he's already answered, but Judith always needs additional confirmation. She reminds him of DAs he once had to deal with, always worrying the same nugget of information.
He told Judith all of this three months ago when Vi first hit on him. Events. She makes it sound like the Olympics.
"Yes," he says.
"I just said so. Yes."
He wants to ask why but lets it slide.
This isn't Peyton Place, but anytime you throw men and women together in an environment as lonely as St. Valarian's, in an area as rural and declining as Three Rivers, you're going to have to deal with all this movie-of-the-week shit. He knew it would happen, he just didn't know it would happen to him.
He realizes he can't pacify or help Judith, and that he should just keep out of her way for the next two weeks until classes start up again. He stands and expects her to say something about joining him at dinner, but she doesn't. He's relieved and lets it go at that.
"What are your plans for the break?" she asks.
"Roz and I will spend New Year's in the city. We're splurging on the Plaza for three nights. We've got reservations for Tavern on the Green."
"What's the occasion? Are you finally going to pop the question?"
Finn doesn't answer.
But Judith is waiting. She's not quite through with squeezing out as much drama as she can.
The truth is, Finn's terrified of even spending more alone time with Roz. And after all these years he doesn't know why. She's been good for him, as good as anyone could be. Maybe it's the city. Manhattan used to be the hub of his world. The action, the grind, the heat, and the juice. Now they'll just hang around a suite in the Plaza paying two grand a night so they can make love in a bigger, softer bed. The food will be better. The view will be amazing, for her. They'll take in a musical on Broadway. She'll think he'll be able to enjoy it. He won't. But he'll sit there and smile and applaud the way he's supposed to. The other patrons will be glad that he doesn't have a seeing-eye dog with him shedding on their best evening wear.
Finn once rousted a low-level syndicate mook out of the Plaza, wrestled him through the lobby, and threw him in the fountain out front. The guy hadn't been resisting arrest, Finn just wanted to embarrass the prick and really ruin his day. Finn knows that when he and Roz arrive at the hotel, he'll be thinking about that mook and others just like him, spending wads of dirty green on their girlfriends. Roz will want to toss a coin in the fountain, and he'll stand there in the sun while she asks him to make a wish. It's the kind of small romantic gesture that she never used to care for but has now taken on greater meaning. She needs something more from him, and he simply can't give it.
But he's still got to try. That's all this vacation signifies for him. A last ditch effort. Another act of will. To see if he can sit there in a hansom cab while the driver points out picturesque areas in Central Park, and Finn listens to the endless clip-clopping of hooves and smells the horse shit, and children laugh all around them and Roz tightens her hold on his arm, and he grins politely and swallows his screams.
Judith says, "Finn?"
"Let's just say that after hearing your inspiring tales of wedded bliss, I will seriously consider it."
"How are you otherwise?" she asks.
"And how are the nightmares?"
It's what she calls his memory surges that occur when he smells blood. She's a scientist at heart, practical in the extreme when it comes to others. She's done the research, spent hours online looking up info and reading it to him in his office, trying to make him see reason. She thinks he's hallucinating or having waking dreams.
Judith's got texts that practically verify it. She constantly snaps her finger against the pages while rereading selected paragraphs aloud. She walks on thin ice. Considering the fact that her kid plays online games with the Senegalians and her husband prefers watching empty warehouses to her company, he figures she shouldn't feel quite so fucking comfortable hanging around all night long, reading Finn printouts about how crazy he's supposed to be.
He tightens his grip on his cane and says, "I'm handling it."
FINN MOVES DOWN THE ENORMOUS STAIRWAY forgoing the banister, brushing his index and middle fingers against the wall. He's hardwired into the history of the school and can feel the layers of dust and stain beneath his hand, all the trapped ghosts still twitching there.
From the Paperback edition.