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datatime: 2022-09-25 15:29:52 Author:YGXSmHqL

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.

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

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.

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.'

'Rowan, let me get you away from here,' he said. 'We should have left before. This is my fault.'

'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?'

'I love you, Michael,' she whispered. 'I do. I love you.'

This long day in the balmy tropical city of old-fashioned courtesies and rituals had merely been the first unfolding. Even the secrets of the old woman were the mere beginning.

'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?'

The shrubs closed out the kitchen light behind them as they climbed the low flagstone steps. Dark it was here, dark as the rural dark.

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.

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

She pressed herself more closely against Michael. She locked her hands behind his back, resting her weight against him.

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

'Stella built this,' he said. 'She built it over fifty years ago. It wasn't meant to be like this at all. It was a swimming pool. And now the garden's got it. The earth has taken it back.'

And it draws its strength, this big secret, from the same root from which I draw my strength, both the good and the bad, because in the end, they cannot be separated.

'I love you, Michael,' she whispered. 'I do. I love you.'

She pressed herself more closely against Michael. She locked her hands behind his back, resting her weight against him.

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.

'I've loved it ever since I was a kid,' he said. 'I loved it when I saw it two nights ago. I love it now even though I know all kinds of things that happened in it, even what happened to that guy in the attic. I love it because it's your house. And because... because it's beautiful no matter what anybody has done in it, or to it. It was beautiful when it was built. It will be beautiful a hundred years from now.'

He put his arm around her again, and she clung to him, nestling against him, and feeling him kiss her hair again. His gloved fingers touched her cheek. She wanted to rip off the gloves. But she didn't say so.

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

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.

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.

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