Remière is dead.
The boy who had come to the mouth of the catacombs would have fled at the sight of my face, had he not been tasked with his message. Now I prowl the foggy churchyard of Saint Vincent of the Shroud, waiting for the one who will come to fetch me, gathering dew on my feet. My dress is grey velvet--a mourning shade, and one unsoiled by the grave--but living among the dead, I had forgotten shoes. Remière would have laughed at that, as he laughed at so many other things.
Now there isn't anyone here to laugh. I walk among the graves and mouth the names on the stones, mouth the words that come to me, work life back into my rusty voice. I speak my name, Delphine, Delphine, but get no answer.
I'm a ghoul, after all. No one comes to speak with me.
There is a stranger at the grave of Marie-France Remière, a resting place I know not only for its occupant but also for the statue that stands guard over it, a weeping Madonna that had once adorned Remière's back garden: Our Lady of Sorrows.
Madame Remière had been delicious.
He, this stranger, has brought nothing to her grave but himself; no flowers, no trinkets. He wears a brown tweed suit and a long black coat against the damp, and his hat shadows much of his face, but when the limp wet leaves squelch under my feet, he turns to me a smile half-hidden under his bushy white moustache, and says, "Delphine."
I stop in place. Is he the one sent to wait for me? "You...know me."
"Remière spoke of you often." He doesn't notice the grating squeak of my voice, or he pretends for politeness. "He was young when you met, yes? Just starting as the town butcher, making ends meet by robbing graves for a doctor's studies." He steps away from the grave and toward me, hand extended. "I'm Auguste Cardin. I was the doctor."
I've never heard this name; Remière never spoke it. To him there was always just "the doctor." I stare at his hand, the smooth palm and neat, short nails, for a full three seconds before I remember to touch it with my own. He smells of cologne and carbolic soap, and the pink of life is in his cheeks. My own fingernails are long and cracked, with burial earth beneath them. "Why are you here?"
Dr Cardin releases my hand. "Remière has left you a gift. It was his dying wish that I find you." He touches my uncovered hair and takes my chin in his hand, staring at my face. "He was right. You're beautiful."
I am thin, barefoot, ashen-skinned and yellow-eyed. I am not beautiful. I say nothing.
Twenty years have passed since I last saw Remière, and since I last dared creep from the burying grounds to his back garden, when the Madonna still stood sentinel there. This man Cardin could buy his transport to any destination in this city, but no driver in France would take a fare from my hand. We walk.
I fidget on Cardin's arm. The sun hasn't yet broken the fog, and the cobblestone streets are smudges of soft tan and grey. "When did Remière...die?" I'm an eater of the dead, yet the word sticks in my throat. Remière of the broad shoulders and big, brash laugh and curiously gentle hands, now still and empty and cold as clay. I can't picture it. "Tell me."
Cardin makes a rumbling thoughtful noise. "Six hours ago. The city clock had just rung two bells. His heart had been failing for some time, and I'd been treating him with morphia." He catches my hand awkwardly and squeezes. "It was quite painless, Delphine, I promise you."
That's no comfort to me. "I don't understand," I murmur at last. "I thought I was only a curiosity to him. A ... novelty."
"You were more than that to Remière." Cardin sighs. "Much more."
"I'm not even human," I protest. The streets are empty, yet I feel watched from every angle. "What could he possibly have given me?"
"What he felt you most deserved." The doctor shifts his grip to my elbow, and guides me down the Rue Montaigne. Remière's house is at the end, blue slate and polished glass. "His heart."
The thin young woman who meets us at the door, garbed head to toe in black, has Remière's black hair and his high forehead, but her eyes are pale and cold instead of brown and sparkling, and her mouth is a tight downward line. I know she's Remière's daughter, named Marie, and she doesn't offer her hand. "Dr Cardin. I see you've brought the beast."
I flinch from Cardin, and Marie's lips twist up mockingly. I stare into her eyes, seeing myself, seeing my pointed teeth and the forward thrust of my jaw, and I want to hate this girl; I want to say, your mother died bearing you, and before you there were five stillborn sons, each wrapped by his midwife in a bloody sheet and buried in the garden beneath that statue of the Virgin; but it wasn't Our Lady of Sorrows who bore the meat away, and your father called it the best end he could have wanted for them.
I find my voice. "Marie. My name is Delphine."
She steps back from me, wide-eyed. "Jesu, it speaks! Cardin, what have you brought into my house?"
"I'm just following your father's wishes, Marie," he answers. "You know the terms."
"Yes. I know." Marie spits at me and wipes her mouth. "My mother suffered and died to give my father even one child, and he loved a monster. A monster." She shakes her forefinger, its nail red-lacquered, in my face. "And my father died still so besotted with you that I can't even inherit properly until you've eaten his heart!"
His heart. So that's what Cardin had meant. I turn away from her, stumbling. "I shouldn't be here--"
"Delphine." Cardin takes me by the shoulders and shakes me, but gently. "No. You must. You must. It's what he wanted." He puts his face close to mine and whispers, "Even if it benefits Marie."
"She takes what she came for." Even without seeing her face, I can hear Marie's teeth scrape together. "Just that, and not a fiber more. I hold you responsible, Cardin."
"Of course you do." He puts an arm around my shoulders and guides me past her, toward a staircase. "Come, Delphine. Remière is waiting."
Remière's house is neither large nor particularly imposing; the walls are dark, the carpet stained, the furniture worn in a way that suggests comfort. The gas lamps glow inside globes of amber glass and cast flickering shadows. I spot a shawl thrown over a chair, and a bouquet of dried flowers lies in the fireplace atop a mound of ashes, but I see nothing I can call decoration. He was a butcher, after all, and a widower, and would have been practical.
I wonder if it looked different when his wife was alive.
"You must forgive Marie," Cardin tells me at the top of the stairs. "She's young. She's only just found out."
I stare down the narrow hallway. "But I am a monster."
He leads me to the room at the end of the hall and opens the door. I stand in the doorway while Cardin lights the lamps. This is Remière's bedroom, as plain as the rest of the house; the bed is large and roughly fashioned, and I deliberately keep my gaze down, away from the large familiar shape beneath the pulled-up sheet. A red-upholstered chair is drawn up to the bedside, the only bright color I've seen, and a black leather bag sits on its seat. Cardin takes up the bag and occupies the chair. "My surgical tools," he says apologetically. "Marie must have a glimpse before I make the repairs."
I skirt the bed carefully. The faintest odor of beginning decay rises to meet me, making my palate tingle and my stomach knot. I haven't eaten in days. "If I eat him when he's buried," I say slowly, "will she know?"
I look up, but Cardin's attention is on a threadbare patch in the rug. "He'll be cremated tomorrow." He meets my gaze and gives me the barest of smiles. "Remière never expressed his wishes for the rest of his body."
Just his heart. I study Remière's form beneath its covering, and draw back the sheet. The whisper of death, of food, intensifies, and my mouth waters.
He had startled me, that first night, breaking into the crypt in which I was feeding. He'd startled me the next night by coming back to look for me, and the next, until I'd realized that I was his focus, and his tomb-defiling work had become an afterthought. Remière had been a skilled butcher even then, fifty years ago, carving the choicest meat for me from his prizes when he'd been no older than Marie.
I should tell her we made love for the first time in an empty grave.
Remière's curly hair is silver now instead of black, and his beard is almost white, and the lines on his face are deep; but his brows have kept their color, and his shoulders have kept their breadth. I climb onto the bed, pulling my skirts up over my thighs as I settle myself on his hips and rest my hands on his shoulders. Even his death pallor makes my skin look grey. I kiss his forehead, his eyebrows, his mouth, and I realize I haven't forgotten how to weep.
"Do you know"--Cardin's voice jerks me upright--"he had names for you. His tomb wife, his corpse bride, Delphine des Goules." He's twirling a scalpel in his fingers, studying the gleam of the lamplight on the blade. "Shall I help you?"
"No," I say, and I open Remière's skin with my nails.
I shove my fingers through the flesh between his fourth and fifth ribs, a skill I'd learned young, and pry them apart, the bones cracking as they loosen. I worm my hand into the gap and curl my fingers around Remière's heart, still faintly warm, and pull it free, holding it in my hands, taking in the maze of arteries and the padding of visceral fat.
Then I honor his wish, and my hunger.
"He should have been yours." That's all Cardin says, afterward, as he wipes my mouth and my hands, as he twists Remière's wedding ring from his finger and presses it into my palm. I hide it in my bodice and keep silent. He leads me back down the stairs as I suck away the blood still edging my nails. "Delphine, if you need anything--"
"No." I want no more promises to devour; I've had enough. "Thank you. No. Let me go."
Marie is sunk into a chair beside the cold fireplace. She springs up as Cardin leads me to the door. "I suppose it's done?"
"It's done," Cardin answers. "I'll show you."
"Fair enough." The girl glides up to me with her hands on her hips, looking me over. Abruptly she grabs my hair and wrenches my head back, and sweetly says into my ear, "If I see you again, beast, I'll have you hunted down and burned."
"Marie!" Cardin shouts. She lets me go; I snarl at her; Cardin comes between us and backs me out into the street.
"No, Delphine." We stand on the pavement and he rubs the back of my neck. "No. Go back to where you belong. Remember Remière. Forget his daughter."
He makes it sound simple, but I know it's not. "You asked me to forgive her."
"Yes. Will you try?"
"I'll try," I answer, "but someday she'll die, and I'm patient." Forgiveness, like love, is almost nothing to me. I still have Remière's flavor on my tongue and behind my teeth, salty and beefy and copper-sweet; I draw his ring from my bodice and slip it over my right thumb, bending my hand into a fist. I look up at Cardin and for the first time in two decades, I feel myself smiling. "Perhaps she'll even taste like her father."
Issue #6 CONTENTS
MAKE DO AND MAKE MEND
STORM CLOUD RAIN, GRAVEYARD DIRT
THE BLUE BOY
MURDER AND CRUELTY FREE
S Van Sickel
A PROPER FOUNDATION