“For months, Andre had imagined what the apple would look like and now as he crested the mountain ridge, he was about to find out. He doubted it would be truly white, the “pearl” Nes had described. He guessed yellow with hints of cream. That would be more realistic. Then again, what was realistic about a white apple that healed people in a matter of hours? He dragged his aching body through the rain, his heart beating with an excited tic as he followed Samal, the team guide. She seemed unaffected by her tall bulging backpack and heavy wool coat, ambling up the slope like a dragonfly zooming over grass. In Kazakh, she said, “This way, soon, I think.”
“The cabin is dark, way past resting hour. I stand in my bed gown listening to the heavy wagon roll against the gravel outside and come to a stop. I’m supposed to be asleep, resting for daybreak when I’ll feed the chickens, grab the eggs, and run like crazy before those pink thorny feet chase me out the coup. I always sneak a few extra for Oleen, carefully tucking the eggs under the hay for later. The rest of the basket goes ot the Holt house. I feed the hogs too while Papa Sap stands close by, watching with a keen eye, his good eye. He lost the other when he was a boy.”
“What I never told him was that after Mom died, Frank tried parenting me on his own and failed miserably. One scorching August afternoon I came home from school to find a note on the kitchen table. Stella will pick you up tomorrow morning. I promise I’ll send for you. Love, Dad. I knew where he’d gone. Lately that was all he’d talked about. Moving out west and starting a new life in Arizona on his friend Devan’s ranch. In between the deep sobs shaking my pillow that night, I had tried to listen to the voice in my head saying he was thinking of me when he made his decision to go it alone. That it would have been selfish to pull me out of school just a year short of graduating junior high and drag me into the unknown. That he’d never desert me.”
“Here’s the thing about Charleston women- the true-bluebloods: They are not dramatic. They do not scream or sob or faint. They do not cry tears of joy when their children marry, and they don’t squawk like chickens over gossip about a friend’s divorce. They don’t fall to pieces in public at a funeral. They act with decorum. They respond politely. They do not draw attention to themselves. Instead, they focus on the moment- the marriage, or maybe news of an accident. And members of the tribe, these women read themselves as support troops, to celebrate the wins and to collect the fragments of loss to help put a member’s life back together.”
“A loud pop startled her and she jumped. Handish had clapped a mosquito between his big hands. He wiped a spot of blood off onto his trousers. Those paws looked as if they could crush a human skull, let alone a windpipe. Quinn wasn’t afraid. She kept a loaded derringer in her desk drawaer and had no compunction about using it if need be. Still and all, she wouldn’t mind seeing Garnick drift back to the office.
Handish said, “You need to put cheesecloth over those windows.”
“I’ll mention it to Mr. Garnick. Would you like a fan?”
“Elsie sat in theology class listening to Sister Raphael expound on the different types of grace, but she found it hard to pay attention. It wasn’t that the material wasn’t interesting-it was, actually—but Elsie’s mind was unfortunately on other things at the moment. It had been, truth be told, ever since her rather unexpected discovery of a small girl named Anna apparently living in Gunther’s hut behind Piper Hall.”
“For a long time, I was not aware that I lived on a narrow ledge on top of a very high wall. I thought, mistakenly, that I lived on an endless, flat canvas and that I was illustrating and adding color where I wanted, creating my own design. But a wind that began very far away, I don’t know when or where, was blowing toward me. Invisible and unprovoked. Pray, live well, or not. Sin. Whatever. It is indifferent. Nothing that I did or thought created it. The wind did not exist because of me. And one day it arrived where I was.
“From the time I was three months old until I was nearly fifteen, my father photographed me every afternoon at precisely three o’clock. When I was an infant, my cousin Karelia held me up for the camera. In later years, I walked on my own to my father’s portrait studio, tossed my cap onto the hat rack, shook hands with customers, and waited for my father. In school, I was known as a strange fellow, daydreaming and bookish, terrible at throwing balls, overly theatrical. But in my father’s studio, I was part of a grand scientific experiment.”
“I assure you, I am perfectly capable of identifying a phallus when I see one,” Stoker informed me, clipping the words sharply. “And that is no such thing.”
He pointed to the artifact I had just extracted from a packing crate. It was perhaps three feet in length, carved of some sort of exotic hardwood, and buffed to a smooth sheen. It was oddly festive.