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datatime: 2022-09-26 21:15:15 Author:xwJpPipc

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

He looked down at her, struggling to make out her face, it seemed. 'Rowan, whatever happens, don't let this house go. Even if you have to go away from it and never see it again, even if you come to hate it. Don't let it go. Don't let it ever fall into the hands of anyone who wouldn't love it. It's too beautiful. It has to survive all this, just as we do.'

'Ah, do you smell it, Michael?' She looked at the white water lilies glowing in the dark.

'What is it, darlin'?' he asked. A low rumble from his chest.

She didn't answer. She didn't confess this dark fear that they weren't going to survive, that somehow everything that had ever given her consolation would be lost. And then she remembered the old woman's face, upstairs in the death room where the man had died years and years ago, and the old woman saying to her, 'You can choose. You can break the chain' The old woman, trying to break through her own crust of malice and viciousness and coldness. Trying to offer Rowan something which she herself perceived to be shining and pure. And in the same room with that man who had died, bound helplessly in that rug, while life went on in the rooms below.

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

A rank green smell rose, like the smell of a swamp, and Rowan realized that she was looking out at a long pool of water. They stood on the flagstone lip of this great black pool. It was so heavily overgrown that the surface of the water showed only in dim flashes. The water lilies gleamed boldly in the faintest light from the far-off sky. Insects hummed thickly and invisibly. The frogs sang, and things stirred the water so that the light skittered on the surface suddenly, even deep among the high weeds. There came a busy trickling sound as though the pond were fed by fountains, and when she narrowed her eyes, she saw the spouts, pouring forth their thin sparkling streams.

'What is it, darlin'?' he asked. A low rumble from his chest.

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

'That's the smell of summer nights in New Orleans,' he answered. 'Of walking alone, and whistling, and beating the iron pickets with a twig.' She loved the deep vibration of his voice coming from his chest. 'That's the smell of walking all through these streets.'

'You know, it's a funny thing,' he said. 'In all my years in California, I worked on many a house. And I loved them all. But none of them ever made me feel my mortality. They never made me feel small. This house makes me feel that. It makes me feel it because it is going to be here when I'm gone.'

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

But she couldn't shake the evil spell. It seemed to be part of the sky and the giant tree looming over her head, and the glittering water down deep in the rank and wild grass. But it was not part of any one place. It was in her, part of her. And she realized, her head lying still against his chest, that this wasn't only the remembrance of the old woman and her brittle and personal malice, but a foreboding. Ellie's efforts had been in vain, for Rowan had known this foreboding long ago. Maybe even all her life, she'd known that a dread and dark secret lay ahead, and that it was a great and immense and greedy and multilayered secret, which once opened would continue to unfold forever. It was a secret that would become the world, its revelations crowding out the very light of ordinary life.

'What is it, darlin'?' he asked. A low rumble from his chest.

How sad he sounded. It was as if he had seen something confirmed that he did not quite believe. And to think how that name had struck her when Ellie said it in the final weeks of fever and delirium. 'Stella in the coffin.'

She didn't answer. She didn't confess this dark fear that they weren't going to survive, that somehow everything that had ever given her consolation would be lost. And then she remembered the old woman's face, upstairs in the death room where the man had died years and years ago, and the old woman saying to her, 'You can choose. You can break the chain' The old woman, trying to break through her own crust of malice and viciousness and coldness. Trying to offer Rowan something which she herself perceived to be shining and pure. And in the same room with that man who had died, bound helplessly in that rug, while life went on in the rooms below.

The soft heavy smell of that flower came again, the one the old woman had called the night jasmine.

The frogs were singing here, that loud grinding woodland song, and far away a bird cried in the night. Impossible to believe that streets lay near at hand, and that people lived beyond the trees, that the distant tiny yellow lights twinkling here and there through the glossy leaves were the lights of other people's houses.

She looked straight up at the pale sky and its few scattered yet vivid stars, and then the memory of the old woman came back again, and it was like the evil cloud wouldn't let go of her. She thought of the look on the old woman's face as she'd died. She thought of the words. And the face of her mother in the casket, slumbering forever on white satin.

She pressed her face against his shirt. She started to shiver as she had been doing on and off all night, and when she felt his arms come down tighter and almost hard, she loved it.

She looked straight up at the pale sky and its few scattered yet vivid stars, and then the memory of the old woman came back again, and it was like the evil cloud wouldn't let go of her. She thought of the look on the old woman's face as she'd died. She thought of the words. And the face of her mother in the casket, slumbering forever on white satin.

They turned and walked deeper into the garden, finding the flags in spite of the weeds that pressed against them, and the bananas that grew so thick and low that the great bladelike leaves brushed their faces.

'Ah, do you smell it, Michael?' She looked at the white water lilies glowing in the dark.

'No, it doesn't matter, leaving here,' she whispered. 'I like it here. It doesn't matter where I go, so why not stay here where it's dark and quiet and beautiful?'

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