Read The Rules of Magic Online

Authors: Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic (29 page)

When I was yours, who was I then?

I heard your voice, but that was when

I had a heart, I had a harp, I had your love, the knife was sharp.

I walked at night, I longed to fight.

Isn't that what betrayed is? Isn't that when fear exists?

When you hide who you are and you take it too far, when you're a man.

I called on angels when I faced a wall,

but just like Joshua's, it began to fall.

I cried blood-red tears, despite my fears.

Isn't that what betrayal is? Isn't that when fear exists?

I walked at night, I had the sight and still I lost despite the call.

I walk at night, without a fight.

I've tried before, I've locked the door, I've done it wrong, I've done it right.

Afterward, there was a moment of silence, then a huge wave of applause. William took Vincent's arm as they ducked behind the stage.

“Man, you cast a spell,” one of the promoters said to him, but Vincent paid no attention. He was looking beyond those crowding around him. A little girl with gray eyes was standing in the yellow grass. Hadn't he seen her before?

He left the business of saying good-bye to William, and went over to the child. “I know you,” he said.

“I know you back,” she piped up.

She was Regina Owens, now six years old. Her mother, April, was behind her, her pale hair so long she could sit on it if she pleased, her skin tanned from her time in the desert. She looked like a creature that couldn't possibly be part of the mortal world.

“My dear cousin,” she said, embracing Vincent. William, never shy, came to introduce himself. April looked at him, then at Vincent. She smiled slyly. “I see who you are now that you're a man. Let me guess. This was the date for which you couldn't be late. You certainly had me fooled.”

“I thought no one could do that,” Vincent remarked.

“You always blocked me,” April said with a measure of sadness.

“You're related,” William said, wanting to break the tension between these two. “I can tell by the eyes.”

“Distantly,” Vincent said as he accepted some daisies Regina had picked. “Several times removed. Probably by hacksaw.” He grinned and April grinned back at him.

“No, by carving knife,” she said prettily. “That's the way an Owens removes you from his life.”

April and Regina were currently living in Santa Cruz in a
small wood-shingled cottage that was provided when April found employment as the gardener and housekeeper on the estate of the owners, wealthy San Franciscans who wanted to be closer to nature, but hardly ever got out of the city. She planned to return to the desert to attend to her research with spiders, but for now Regina needed school and the companionship of other children. “Stay with us tonight,” April insisted. “We so rarely have interesting guests. You're here, we're here. Clearly it was meant to be.”

Regina had taken hold of Vincent's hand. Because of the weight and heat of her small hand in his, he didn't say no. April had hitchhiked to Monterey with her daughter, so they drove back in the borrowed Mustang, top down. While they sped along the curving highway William slipped a recording he'd made into the tape player.

“You made a tape?” Vincent asked William.

“I wanted to save the moment. And maybe send it to a radio station.”

“No,” Vincent said. He knew where fame would lead him, to the darkest side of himself. It was something he didn't need.

April leaned forward, her arms on the edges of their seats. She held her hair back from her face with one hand, intent on the song.

Saul went down to the oldest road to meet the Witch of Endor.

She spoke, but he couldn't hear. She saw his fate, but he had no fear.

No predictions could make him stay. He was told the truth, but still he strayed.

Isn't that what love makes you do? Go on trying even when you're through.

Go on even when you're made of ash, when there's nothing left inside you but the past?

When I was yours, who was I then?

I heard your voice, but that was when

I had a heart, I had a harp, I had your love, the knife was sharp.

I walked at night, I cared with all my might.

Isn't that what betrayal is? Isn't that when fear exists?

Isn't that what happens when you hide who you are, even love can't take you that far, when you were a man.

“Who was the Witch of Endor?” Regina asked her mother.

“A wise old woman who could foretell the future.”

“Could she really see a person's fate?”

“Fate is what you make of it, my aunt always says. You can make the best of it or you can let it make the best of you. My cousin knows that. He loved to get the best of other people.”

William was driving and therefore didn't see the worried expression cross Vincent's face. There was something in April's knowing tone that made him uncomfortable.

In Santa Cruz they had dinner outside, at a weathered wooden table set beneath a trellis teaming with flowering vines. The pale blooms gave off the bittersweet scent of almonds, reminding Vincent of their aunt's greenhouse.

“It's so familiar,” he said.

“Oleander,” April responded. “It's poisonous.”

She had been inspired by the greenhouse in Isabelle's garden and grew herbs that weren't native to California.

As a girl, April couldn't wait to leave home, yet now she favored wildflowers that could be found when traipsing through
the woods in Massachusetts. Sunflower, wild bean, wintergreen. Blue flag, used for skin conditions. Blue vervain, for headache and fever, cardinal plant, appreciated by the native people as a love charm. Skullcap, for nervous conditions. She asked Regina to give William a tour of the greenhouse so he could see for himself. Vincent stood, about to join in, but April caught his eye and gestured for him to stay. “Don't leave, Cousin, it's been too long since we've spoken.” He felt he had no choice but to sink back into his chair, though he had a feeling of dread. April was a wild card. You never knew what she'd do or say. Now, for instance, as soon as William and Regina were out of earshot she turned to Vincent. “You know, don't you?”

“April, don't play games.” Vincent stretched out his long legs. He was all in black and he'd kicked off his shoes. He realized that he felt more at home singing in a subway station or in the park on a summer evening than he had in Monterey. All that time of playing around with
The Magus,
thinking he sought fame, and now it was the last thing he wanted. He was rattled by the festival, and had little patience for April's mockery. “Your charm was always telling it like it is.”

“Well, you always knew what your charm was, especially that summer when you were fourteen and fucking everything in sight. Of course, this was before you knew who you preferred.” April gazed searchingly after William, who was bending down to fit his tall frame through the pitched doorway of the greenhouse. He was so courteous, listening to Regina's ongoing lecture concerning the uses of poisonous plants. Vincent, too, watched William, intent on his form. He had a masculine grace that was enchanting.

“I don't care what you think about me and William, so if you
want to make nasty remarks, go right ahead. It will feel like old times.”

April reached over and took Vincent's hand. “Tell me you don't remember.”

He looked at her blankly. Family was always such a bother.

April raised an eyebrow, disappointed in his lack of recollection. “I came to your room. Into your bed.”

It had happened on a night when there was a rainstorm, when the sparrows took shelter in the branches of lilacs below the window. They'd told no one, and had never even spoken of it afterward.

“Oh, that,” Vincent said. He remembered now. Of course. A quick crazy fuck with their hands over each other's mouths so no one would hear the heat of their sudden passion. Their aunt had given him a disquieting look in the morning, but his sisters, prescient as they were, seemed to have no idea of what had gone on.

“We
are
extremely distant from each other in the family tree,” April went on. “Third cousins twice removed. It's fine genetically.” She studied his puzzled face and laughed. He had no idea what she was getting at. “You really don't know! And you're supposed to be the one with the sight. It just goes to show, people see what they want to see.”

“April,” Vincent said. “Don't fuck around with me.”

“I think it was quite the opposite. You were the one fucking with me, darling.”

Annoyed, Vincent stood, making haste to follow William, but before he could April reached for him. Her tentative touch made him stay. She was emotionally raw, something he hadn't thought was in her nature. Although she had been so vulnerable
when she'd come to visit them after the summer, running off before they'd spoken.

“All right, then,” April said. “Perhaps you are clueless. Well here it is, my dear. She's yours.”

Bewildered, Vincent watched the little girl in the greenhouse. She was gathering purple echinacea flowers for William. They had grown almost wild in Aunt Isabelle's garden and had been used throughout time as a cure for scarlet fever, malaria, diphtheria, blood poisoning, and the common cold. Regina laughed as William accepted her gift, then bowed.

“Can't you see yourself in her?” April asked.

“You said her father drowned.”

“What was I to say? That I fucked a distant cousin who was fourteen and too stupid to use a condom? And now here she is. An amazing child we share. A double bloodline. The problem is, I think she may live twice as fast. I saw it when she was an infant, and I think Franny did as well when I came to visit.”

“Franny?” He had a flicker of panic.

“Don't worry. She doesn't know you're the father. That spell we placed on her in the library so she wouldn't know what we were doing lasted. But she knows the fate. Something our girl has inherited. From both of us, really. A life line that is regrettably short.”

Vincent was stricken. “You know that for a fact?”

April dissolved into tears. “I'm giving her the best life I can. She'll grow up, I know that much, and really, who knows how much time anyone has?”

“What will you tell her?” Vincent leaned forward into the last rays of yellow light. “About me?”

“I'll tell her you're a very special cousin.”

Vincent nodded. His grief was in his expression.

“It's too late to have regrets,” April said. “Maybe I should have told you, but you were hardly interested in such things. You were a boy. Life is a mess, that's what Isabelle told me when I decided to have the child, but all we can do is live it. She was right. I'm glad at last you fell in love.”

“You know that's impossible for us,” Vincent reminded her.

“Bullshit,” April said, for she had been in love with him that summer. Her first and only true love as a matter of fact, and nothing horrible had happened. Instead, something wonderful had occurred. Their daughter. “We just have to fight harder for what we want.”

William and Regina approached the patio, holding hands and singing their own version of “I Walk at Night.” William carried the bunch of cut flowers with their purple-red blooms.

I had a garden, I had a dove, I had a tree, I had your love.

“Let's bring out dessert,” April said. “If I'd known you were coming, I would have made Auntie Isabelle's tipsy chocolate cake. Instead we have a raspberry mousse.”

“I thought you were making macarons,” Regina said, for those were her favorites. “Vincent and William would love them.”

“Not enough time,” April informed the sad little girl.

“Someday we'll have macarons from Paris,” Vincent said to cheer her. “But tonight we're having a moose for dessert and I want the antlers.”

Regina laughed as she climbed onto his lap, a child who was completely comfortable with who she was. “Sing to me,” she said. “I want to remember you when you're gone.”

Vincent smoothed down her hair. It was black, like his, straight as sticks, and her smile could undo a person, at least it had done so to him.

“I'll send you a tape,” William assured the little girl. “Or even better, I'll have it made into a record.”

Regina clapped her hands happily and said, “Then I'll play it every night when we get a record player.”

“We'll send you one of those as well,” Vincent told her.

“Do me a favor,” April said. She had reappeared with their dessert and some coffees and had overheard his promises. She knew Vincent as well as anyone, and she knew how easy it was for him to forget something that was terribly important to someone else. The smell of the dessert's berries and sugar was so intoxicating bees gathered round and April had to bat them away with her hand. “Don't make promises you can't keep.”

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