Twilight Eyes Page 36

A faint melancholy air, like the distant strains of a sad though only half-heard song, colored all of our days now, which is not to say that we were sad (which we were not) or that we had seen too much and learned too much of darkness to be happy. We were often—even usually—happy. In moderate doses melancholy can be strangely comforting, darkly sweet; it can, by providing contrast, give an exquisitely sharp edge to happiness, especially to pleasures of the flesh. That balmy Monday afternoon we basked in the sun and in our mildly melancholy mood, knowing that upon returning to our trailer we would make love and that our joining would be almost unbearably intense.

Every hour on the hour, the radio news told us of Kitty Genovese, who had been killed in New York two days ago. Thirty-eight of her Kew Gardens neighbors had heard her terrified calls for help and had watched from their windows as an attacker had repeatedly stabbed her, crept away, then returned to stab her again, finally killing her on her own doorstep. None of the thirty-eight had gone to her aid. None called the police until half an hour after Kitty was dead. Two days later the story was still at the top of the news, and the whole country was trying to understand what the nightmarish events in Kew Gardens said about the inhumanity, callousness, and isolation of modern, urban man and woman. “We just didn’t want to get involved,” the thirty-eight onlookers said, as if being of the same species and age and society as Kitty Genovese was not involvement enough to elicit mercy and compassion. Of course, as Rya and I knew, some of those thirty-eight were almost certainly not human but were goblins that thrived on the dying woman’s pain and on the emotional turmoil and guilt of the spineless onlookers.

As the news ended, Rya switched off the radio and said, “Not all the evil in the world comes from the goblins.”


“We’re capable of our own atrocities.”

“Very capable,” I agreed.

She was silent for a moment, listening to distant cries of sea gulls and to the gentle waves breaking softly on the shore.

At last she said, “Year by year, through the death and suffering and cruelty that the goblins produce, they force goodness and honesty and truth into an ever smaller corner. We live in a world that grows colder and meaner all the time, mostly—though not entirely—because of them, a world in which most of the examples of behavior for younger generations are increasingly bad examples. Which guarantees that each new generation will be less compassionate than the one before it. Each new generation will have a greater tolerance for lies and murder and cruelty. We’re less than twenty years removed from Hitler’s mass murders, but do most people seem to remember or care what happened? Stalin killed at least three times as many as Hitler, but no one speaks of it. Now, in China, Mao Tse-tung is killing millions and grinding millions more to dust in slave-labor camps, but do you hear many cries of outrage? The trend won’t be reversed until...”


“Until we do something about the goblins.”



“You and me?”

“For a start, yes, you and me.”

I remained flat on my back, eyes closed.

Until Rya spoke, I’d felt as if the sun were streaming straight through me and into the earth, as if I were utterly transparent. In that imagined transparency I found a measure of release and relief, a freedom from responsibility and from the grimmer implications of the latest news on the radio.

Suddenly, however, contemplating what Rya said, I felt pinned by the rays of the sun, unable to move, trapped.

“There’s nothing we can do,” I said uneasily. “At least nothing that can make a truly major difference. We can try to isolate and kill the goblins we encounter, but there’re probably tens of millions of them. Killing a few dozen or a few hundred will have no real effect.”

“We can do more than kill the ones who come to us,” she said. “There’s something else we can do.”

I did not respond.

Two hundred yards to the north, gulls were working the beach for bits of food—small dead fish, scraps of hot-dog buns left behind by yesterday’s crowd. Their distant cries, which had sounded shrill and greedy, now struck me as cold, mournful, and forlorn.

Rya said, “We can go to them.”

I willed her to stop, silently pleaded with her not to continue, but her will was far stronger than mine, and my unvoiced pleas were without effect.

“They’re concentrated in Yontsdown,” she said. “They’ve got some sort of nest there, some hideous, stinking nest. And there must be other places like Yontsdown. They’re at war with us, but they wage all the battles entirely on their own terms. We could change that, Slim. We could take the battle to them.”

I opened my eyes.

She was sitting up, leaning over me, looking down at me. She was incredibly beautiful and sensuous, but there was fierce determination and steely strength beneath her radiant femininity, as if she were the incarnation of an ancient goddess of war.

The gently breaking surf sounded like far-off cannonades, echoes of distant strife, and the warm breeze made a sorrowful sound in the feathery palm fronds.

“We could take the battle to them,” she repeated.

I thought of my mother and sisters, lost to me now because of my inability to tuck my head down and stay out of the war, lost to me because I had taken the battle to Uncle Denton instead of letting him wage war on his own terms.

I reached up and touched Rya’s smooth brow, touched her elegantly sculpted temple and cheek, her lips.

She kissed my hand.

Her gaze was locked on mine.

She said, “In each other we’ve found joy and a reason to live, more than we ever thought we’d have. Now there’s a temptation to play turtle, to pull our heads into our shells, to ignore the rest of the world. There’s a temptation to enjoy what we have together and to say to hell with everyone else. And for a while . . . maybe we’d be happy like that. But only for a while. Sooner or later, because of our cowardice and selfishness, we’d be overcome with shame, with guilt. I know what I’m talking about, Slim. Remember, until recently, I lived like that: interested only in myself, in my own survival. And day by dreary day I was being eaten alive by guilt. You’ve never been like that; you’ve always had a sense of responsibility, and you won’t be able to shed it, no matter what you think. And now that I’ve acquired a sense of responsibility, I’m not going to be able to give it up. We aren’t like those people in New York who watched Kitty Genovese being stabbed to death and did nothing about it. We just aren’t, Slim. If we try to be like that, we’ll eventually loathe ourselves, and we’ll start blaming each other for our cowardice, and we’ll turn bitter, and in time we won’t love each other anymore, not the way we love each other now. Everything we have together—and everything we hope to have—depends upon our staying involved, making good use of our ability to see the goblins, and meeting our responsibilities.”

I lowered my hand to her knee. So warm, it was . . . so warm. Finally I said, “And if we die?”

“At least it wouldn’t be a useless death.”

“And if only one of us dies?”

“The other remains to take vengeance.”

“Cold comfort,” I observed.

“But we won’t die,” she said.

“You sound so sure of that.”

“I am. Positive.”

“I wish I could be so sure.”

“You can.”

“How?” I asked.


“That’s all?”

“Yes. Just believe in the triumph of right over wrong.”

“Like believing in Tinkerbell,” I said.

“No,” Rya said. “Tinkerbell was a fantasy creature sustained only by faith. But what we’re talking about here is goodness, mercy, and justice—and those are not fantasies. They’ll exist whether you believe in them or not. However, if you believe, then you will put your beliefs into action; and if you act, you will help insure that evil doesn’t triumph. But only if you act.”

“That’s quite a line you’ve got,” I said.

She said nothing more.

“You could sell refrigerators to Eskimos.”

She only stared.

“Fur coats to Hawaiians.”

She waited.

“Reading lamps to the blind.”

She would not smile for me.

“Even used cars,” I said.

Her eyes were deeper than the sea.

Later, back at the trailer, we made love. In the amber light of the bedside lamp, her tanned body seemed to be made of honey- and cinnamon-colored velvet, except where her skimpy two-piece bathing suit had shielded her from the sun, and there the flawless fabric of her was paler and even softer. When, deep within her, my silken se**n suddenly began to unravel in swift liquid threads, it seemed that those filaments were sewing us together, stitching body to body and soul to soul.

When at last I softened and shrank and slipped from her, I said, “When will we leave for Yontsdown?”

“Tomorrow?” she whispered.

“All right,” I said.

Outside, the descending twilight had pulled with it a hot wind that came in from the west, across the Gulf, whipping the palms and rattling the bamboo and soughing in the Australian pines. The metal walls and roof of the trailer creaked. She switched off the light, and we lay together in the gloom, her back to my belly, listening to the wind, perhaps pleased by our decision and the courage we were displaying, perhaps proud of ourselves but also afraid, definitely afraid.

Chapter twenty


Joel Tuck was opposed. Opposed to our noble attitude. “Witless idealism,” he called it. Opposed to the trip to Yontsdown. “More foolhardy than courageous.” Opposed to the escalation of the war that we were planning. “Doomed to fail,” he said.

That night we had dinner with Joel and his wife, Laura, in their permanently placed, double-wide house trailer on one of the largest lots in Gibtown. The property was lushly landscaped—banana palms, half a dozen colorful varieties of impatiens, ferns, bougainvillaea, even some star jasmine—and the elaborate banks of shrubs and flowers led one to expect that the interior of the Tuck home would be over-furnished and overdecorated, perhaps in some heavy European style. However, that expectation was not fulfilled. Their home was distinctly modern: simple, clean-lined, almost stark contemporary furniture; two bold abstract paintings, a few pieces of art glass, but no knickknacks, no clutter; and the colors were all earth tones—beige and sand-white and brown—with turquoise as the only accent.

I suspected that this minimalist decor was a conscious attempt to avoid accentuating Joel’s facial deformities. After all, considering his great size and his nightmarish visage, a house full of beautifully carved and highly polished ornate European furniture—whether French or Italian or English, and regardless of period—surely would have been transformed by his presence and would have seemed less elegant than Gothic, calling to mind the old dark houses and haunted castles of countless movies. By contrast, in this contemporary ambience, the impact of his mutant countenance was curiously softened, as if he were a piece of ultramodern, surrealistic sculpture that belonged in such clean, spare rooms as these.

Yet the Tuck home was not cold or the least forbidding. One long wall of the big living room was covered with off-white wooden shelves crammed full of hardcover books, which lent considerable warmth to the place, though Joel and Laura themselves were primarily responsible for the friendly and comfortable atmosphere that immediately enveloped visitors. Nearly all the carnies I’d ever met had welcomed me without reservation and had accepted me as one of their own; but even among carnies Joel and Laura had a special talent for friendship.

Last August, on the bloody night when Joel and I had killed and beheaded and buried six goblins on the dark midway of the Yontsdown County Fairgrounds, I had been surprised to hear him refer to his wife, as I had not known he was married. Thereafter, until I met her, I had been curious about what kind of woman would wed such a man as Joel. I had imagined all sorts of mates for him, though I had pictured no one quite like Laura.

For one thing, she was very pretty, slim, and graceful. Not breathtaking (as Rya was), not a woman to make men tremble at the very sight of her, but decidedly pretty and desirable: auburn hair, clear gray eyes, an open face with well-proportioned features, a lovely smile. She possessed the self-assurance of a woman in her forties but looked no older than thirty, so I figured her age fell somewhere between. For another thing, there was nothing of the wounded bird about her, no shyness, no timidity that would have made it difficult for her to meet and to charm men more physically attractive and more socially acceptable than Joel. And there was no air of frigidity, nothing to suggest that she had married Joel merely because he would be grateful to her and would therefore demand less frequent carnal relations than other men. Indeed she was enormously affectionate by nature—a toucher, a hugger, a kisser-of-cheeks—and there was every reason to believe that her demonstrative manner with friends was but a pale shadow of the deep passion she brought to the marriage bed.

One evening in the week before Christmas, while Rya and Laura were shopping, while Joel and I drank beer and ate cheese-flavored popcorn and played two-hand pinochle, Joel had consumed enough bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon to induce a sentimental mood so thick and sweet that he would have been at risk of falling into a coma if he had been diabetic. In that condition he could speak of nothing but his much-loved wife. Laura was so gentle (he said), so kind and loving and generous, and she was bright, too, and witty, and she could charm a cold candle into lighting without need of a match. Perhaps she was no saint (he said), but if anyone closer to sainthood walked the earth in our time, he damn well wanted to be told who it was. He assured me that the key to understanding Laura—and to understanding why she had chosen him—was to realize that she was one of those rare people who was never impressed by surfaces—appearances, reputations—or first impressions. She had a knack for seeing deeper into people—nothing psychic like my or Joel’s talent for seeing through the goblins’ disguises but simply good old-fashioned insight. In Joel, she had seen a man whose love and respect for her was almost boundless and who, in spite of his monstrous face, was gentler and more capable of making a deep commitment than most men.

Anyway, that Monday night, March 16, when Rya and I revealed our intention of carrying the war to the goblins, Laura and Joel responded as we expected. She frowned, and her gray eyes darkened with worry, and she touched us and hugged us more than usual, as if each physical contact was an additional filament in a web of affection that might bind us to Gibtown and prevent us from embarking upon our dangerous mission. Joel paced nervously, his malformed head pulled down, his massive shoulders hunched; then he sat on the couch and fidgeted, but jumped up again and paced some more—all the while arguing against our plan and trying to reason with us. But we would not be swayed by either Laura’s affection or Joel’s logic, for we were young and bold and full of righteousness.

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