22. Maybe I’m Just Like My Mother – She’s Never Satisfied
I sat against the wall by the stove and Louis lay with his head in my lap, lazily chewing white bread and peanut butter.
I smiled down at him. I couldn’t help it. “Happy?”
“Goommd.” We both laughed.
“Actually, this is cheapshit peanut butter. It’s not great. When I lived with Gerd, she would buy this organic stuff from the Geneva markets. It had a ribbon of chocolate in it. Freaking amazing.”
“Dad’s sister, Gertrude Victoria Grimwalt. She died when I was thirteen. She took care of me for a while.”
“Did the Man kill her?” Louis’s wide eyes looked up at me.
“God, no. I think Ig was afraid of her. She had a weird form of cancer. Gerd was a tough lady, smart and funny. I always wanted to be like her.”
“Pretty.” He reached up and brushed a strand of hair from my face.
“She was beautiful. Enid always said she was fat, but she was like this soft cloud of love wrapped around a hard center of common sense. By the time I met her, her hair had all fallen out. It didn’t matter to me. She wore these gorgeous head scarves and carried this giant purple purse. It seemed like whatever I needed was always in that purse.”
That was true. Losing Gerd had hurt me more profoundly than any other loss. I still held that image in my mind of Arthur and Louis climbing up away from the fire. To everyone else, it had been dismissed as childhood nightmare, hallucination in panic. To me, it was still accepted fact. But Gerd was really gone. She was a small box of ash sitting in a secret divot in Mont Blanc. I had put her where she wished, in her most favorite place. And I had never once doubted her realness or her love for me.
And there it was – the lessons of self-made women.
What I found out after Aunt Gerd died was the real shock. Men in expensive suits showed up at her home. At first, they requested meetings with me politely. Then they started demanding and threatening. I woke up one morning to find a living mummy standing over me. I had screamed at reached for the phone to call the police. But the police captain and several gendarmes were standing with him.
“Please let Mr. Arjona speak.” Said the captain.
The mummy, an ancient man of well over a hundred named Felix Arjona, moved his beef jerky lips.
“Ms. Dahlia Grimwalt. Your dear aunt was working for me.” His accent was Spanish, gravelly Spanish spoken through dust and time. “Would you know anything about your aunt’s work?”
“No, I don’t know anything.” I sat up, pulling the covers around myself.
“Do I frighten you? I mean you know harm. I am just in need of an answer. You see, Ms. Dahlia, Gertrude had not found an answer for me yet. I know she was close. It would behoove you to tell me anything you might know. Maybe where she kept her books or anything?” He reached forward to place a hand on my forearm, but I shrunk back. Before the mummy could even make contact with my skin, little needles of electricity shot through my body.
“All the books are in the library. All the ones I know about.”
I suddenly felt dizzy, like my head was full of sawdust. The lights in my room grew dim and flickered. My eyes were locked with the reddish black eyes of the speaking mummy. He was glaring at my forehead, raking a trowel through my memory. IT felt like all the blood in my body was being pulled through my skin. Felix Arjona was an ancient dark vortex, sucking the life out of the room, out of the gendarmes, out of me.
Then it stopped.
“The girl doesn’t know anything.” Felix said to the captain. “I am sorry to have disturbed you, Ms. Dahlia. I will trouble you no more.”
I dropped back on my bed, exhausted. I slept deeply and awoke wondering if it had been a nightmare. I never saw them again. Aunt Gerd had lived another life, away from our time together. By the time I came to live with her, she was a dying recluse.
Gertrude Grimwalt had been a self-proclaimed alchemist. She was a member of several secret societies, a female mason, a favorite of occultists. In her twenties, she began combining parts and theories of different methods of divination. Kabbalah, tarot, mediumship and alchemy -she worked with heavy metals. Her methods had appeared to heal a few wealthy people.
The ridiculously rich and old Felix Arjona had noticed her talents. Gertrude was unafraid. She would mix her own blood and mercury and some particle of spirit. And just maybe she could keep him alive. Maybe Mr. Felix Arjona, petrified of death, desperate to push Hell even further away, would live forever.
So, young Gertrude took his money, convinced of her own abilities. And she researched and read, pulling in bits of ritual and pieces of legend. She experimented and charted stars. Every three months, she would inject Mr. Arjona with a serum, and at his insistence inject herself as well. He would speak to her, in his death rattle voice, about eternity alone is no fun.
And by her fortieth birthday, her own alchemy had leached into her bones. Her hair began falling out. Her conviction in magic and her faith in just about everything shattered. Mr. Arjona still paid her. And she kept going. Even when she knew the mummy would outlive her.
And yet, she had shown up to save me. Broken as she was, Aunt Gerd was my miracle. Her beautiful human heart had survived all the poison and decay. Despite her choices, she was capable of great love.
I carried the bloodline of two women, Enid and Getrude. Both ambitious and self-made. Both blind to the dangers and risks of power and excess.
I came from them, but I would not be like them.
I put the lid on the cheap peanut butter. I leaned down and kissed Louis, wiping off traces of it from his lips. He kissed back.
The more I touched him, looked at him, was around him, the more I was convinced he did not share my blood. There was no Enid in him and no Arthur either.
I was hungry for him, aching for the lost years of his life. I would no longer question his origins or the dark spaces he kept from me. We were together now.
I could not take back the pain or cruelty inflicted on him, but I could love him from now on. How arrogant of me, wanting to fix him. He was already perfect. I was the monster – made of parts from flawed, selfish people.
He kissed me again deeply, holding my face between his hands.
All I wanted was right here.