Rowan was calling him. Shaking him; he almost hit her.
Stench of chemicals, rotted filth in those jars. He’d glimpsed it last night, she’d told him about it, but now he had to see it, didn’t he? And touch it. Touch Marguerite’s filthy jars. He’d smelled it last night when he’d come up to find Townsend’s body, only it wasn’t the body. His hand on the railing, caught a flash of Rowan with the lamp in her hand. Rowan angry and miserable and trying to escape the old woman, who was beating her with words, viciousness, and then the black woman with her dust mop, and a carpenter putting a pane of glass in this window that looked out over the roof. God, that is an awful smell up here, lady. Just do your job. Deirdre’s bedroom, shrill clang of other voices, rising to a peak, then washing away, and another wave coming. And the door, the door straight ahead, someone laughing, a man speaking French, what he’s saying, let me hear one distinct word, the stench is behind it.
He held it. Mary Beth The flapping gores of her skirts came against him; if he looked up he’d see her looking down; he did see her, there was no limit to what he could see, he could see the backs of their heads as they closed in on him, but nothing would hold steady even for an instant. It was all gossamer, and solid for one second and then nothing, the room full of dusty nothing and crowded to overflowing. Rowan came through as if through the tear in a fabric, grabbing him by the arm, and in a glimmering flash he saw Charlotte, knew it was Charlotte. Had he touched the doll? He looked down, they were all higgledy piggledy and so fragile on the layer of cheesecloth.
He groped under the cloth – where? – easy to tell for there lay the oldest, a mere stick thing of bones and one over from it, the blond hair of Charlotte, and that meant that the frail little thing between them was his Deborah. Tiny beetles raced from beneath it as he touched it. Its hair was disintegrating, oh, God, it’s falling apart, even the bones are turning to dust. And in horror, he drew back. He had left the print of his finger in its bone face. The blast of a fire caught him, he could smell it; her body all crumpled up like a wax thing on top of the pyre, and that voice in French ordering him to do something, but what?
Wavering, vanishing, Julien …….