Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 49

The heart knows what the mind denies

Three months passed.

Milada found an empty seat in the baggage claim area of the Salt Lake airport. Through the plate-glass windows, she watched the snow swirling through the headlight beams of the cabs and shuttle buses in front of the terminal.

The skies had been dark and the air freezing cold and filled with ice that late afternoon in London as well. The Little Ice Age had begun, she imagined, the day she was born and plumbed its depths the day Rakosi died.

White snow fell on her shoulders. Her heart was black as coal. Fear weighed heavily upon her as the guards escorted her through the catacombs of Newgate Prison to the Master’s cell. Rakosi’s desiccated body lay on a dirty straw mattress. The fetid air smelled of rotting flesh. He had the cell to himself. No one would get anywhere near him. The way his skin sloughed off in sallow flakes, the way the air itself ate away at his tissues until there was hardly anything left of him but powder on bones—the guards imagined he must be dying of leprosy or plague or some even more terrible disease.

And yet he was somehow still alive. His eyes focused on her. “I have missed you, Milada.”

“I betrayed you.”

“You had the right.”

She turned away and wept. Her last moment of true human sorrow in four hundred years, and for this man of all men. “You must not die, not like this.”

His voice rose in a disjointed monotone, quoting the seventeenth chapter of Leviticus: “Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood, I will cut him off from among his people.” He said, “It is so lonely.” His voice spent, he expelled his last breath. His chest collapsed in a cloud of gritty ash.

Ashes to ashes.

The guards—no, the prisoners, commanded and threatened and forced by the guards—burned the mattress, scorched the stone with oil of vitriol, and washed the remains into the dank sewers, into the mud, into the sea.

We all fall down.

For Kammy, the moving finger, having written, moved on. She couldn’t stand to hear Milada say it, but children did become their parents. The image of the man who sired them was imprinted on Milada’s mind and soul. For all her exasperation, Kammy never really denied Milada’s culpability. Deep down in her subconscious, she knew it was true: Milada wanted a family, companions to share the long night of eternity with. Yet it was their time with him that she clung to as the ideal.

And like her sire, not all of her desires lent her their abilities. She was in no way prepared to be a parent, a job that would fit Kamilla like a glove.

You met the wrong sister, Milada had told Rachel Forsythe, and she was right.

The squawk of the warning bell shook Milada out of her reverie. The luggage carrel began to revolve. A minute later, the suitcases and backpacks and skiing paraphernalia started arriving, spilling off the end of the conveyor belt and tumbling down into the stainless-steel carousel.

Jennifer planted herself in front of the conveyer. Her pink knapsack was strapped to her back, the bright green tail of the Dilbert dragon poking incongruously out of the top. Kamilla hovered over her, hands resting lightly on her shoulders, as they took turns guessing which of the suitcases crawling up the ramp would be theirs.

“There’s mine!” Jennifer shouted. And then, “We missed!”

Kammy laughed. “C’mon,” she said, taking Jennifer’s hand and skipping around the carousel in the opposite direction. “We’ll sneak up on it.”

Milada had thought that giving Kammy a company in which she could invest her intellectual passions would make her happy. But nothing like this. Nothing like this. Kammy only needed to be reminded about what she was capable of, and she could do it. She’d always been that way, and her older sister was the person to provide the motivation.

This was not a responsibility Milada could shoulder. The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering. Rachel had promised her forgiveness. But Milada had left off the last word of that verse: forever. She had eaten from the tree of life and would live forever in her sins.

The taste of that bitter fruit had grown almost palatable. It might grow sweet in time. She harbored no expectations. This was simply the way the world was. Some truths about herself were not difficult to accept. In any event, she made a good aunt.

“Miss Daranyi.”

“Oh, Steven.” Milada glanced up with a tired smile. “Your service wasn’t sure you’d be available.”

“School doesn’t start until the middle of January,” he explained. He picked up her garment bag and looped the strap over his shoulder.

“You’re still on holiday, then?”

“We didn’t go anywhere this Christmas. Cynthia’s parents invited us to their place, but I guess there comes a point when your family is who you go home to every night. I’m sorry, did you have any other luggage?”

“Milly!” Kammy called out on cue. Jennifer chimed in, “Come and get your stuff!”

“Yes,” Milada said. “And speaking of which, you’ve got a few more passengers this time around.”

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