Now it was always Billy’s conception that he should be as God to Melanie: that she should know him as a person knows their God, absolute, primal, preceding all other things in his authority, and at every moment witness to the secret movements of her heart. It was always Billy’s conception that Melanie should fear him and his red right hand, not as one fears a mortal tyrant or an older brother and his fists, but rather with the nakedness and openness that characterizes a fear of God: of that against which there is no recourse, and from which every punishment arises in the end from the workings-out of one’s own weaknesses and shames.
That she should fear him as that which is just by decree of the universe. That she should recognize the only alternative to that fear as having been better in the past, remaining though that past remains a bitterly unalterable country. That she should greet him only with the full humility and helplessness of one who has nothing not given her by the hands and whims of God.
In this conception Billy failed.
Like the seed of some black apple rotting in her stomach Melanie acquired freedom. She in some strange fashion learned unruly petulance, a quirk which he extinguished only with brute force, and never for all time. And finally he took that step which is every bit as much forbidden to the monsters as to God, which is to say, coming to accept as writ that which he could not change; coming to despise her for her weaknesses, rather than to cultivate them; and giving her a license, in that doing, to take that unsightliness that lived within her and grow it into strength.
He was, in the end, not so very terrible a monster, and he never grew his wings.
He’d gotten the idea, somehow, of what he was meant to be, understood that great awfulness of his nature, but nobody ever showed him how to get there, the unraveling of the riddles of it, the ways to open it up and live with it, so he lived in pettiness, instead.
His sister was afraid of his fists.
Nabonidus would have eaten Billy alive. 1968’s monster would have ground him down for jam. Mylitta would have cut him open. Even Prajapati could have beaten him, not even a hero or a monster, just a girl, but even she could have beaten him, brought out gods and the weapons of her good character to defeat him, triumphed, surpassed him, and broken him, left him gasping out his life like a fish might do on land.
It never even occurred to Billy to stake his sister out with the ropes of her own tendons and let the birds feed upon her flesh. It never even occurred to him as a threat, much less as an actual thing to do. It never occurred to him to winkle out every last bit of herself that she loved and take it from her, returning it if ever in bits and pieces imprinted with his name. It didn’t seem necessary to him. Not when she loved him. Not when she feared him. Not when he had his fists.
He even let her run.
He had Melanie for five years plus, the most vulnerable years that she would ever have, and he didn’t break her. At best he imprinted himself on her, just a little, made her like him, gave her a bit of that clumsiest monster’s nature and overlaid it on her own.
If you had any idea what running from a real monster is like, you’d know how utterly miserable a failure it makes him, that she’d gotten on a boat and run.
He was God to her; but such a God as to make her doubt — such a God as to make her think, as early as 1977, age 5, “is it so bad to be a Lucifer under him, and raise my hand against the Lord?”
And at that moment, when she first had that thought, she caught sight of something rippling, twisting, something strangely purple and terrible beyond the horizon of her life.
She couldn’t help herself.
She shook her head, once, twice. She tried to focus.
And she saw —
[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]
“There is a King.”
It is worse than she imagined. It’s not the worst words she’s ever heard. It can’t top never you not you. But it’s worse than that time when Billy showed her Papa’s head.
“There is a King of the old countries,” the woman is saying, “that came before the Round Man’s world. And he is bloated with a clotted mass of life. It moves damply and uncomfortably within him, as if a man had swallowed ten other men, or a fish had drunk the ocean.”
The woman’s voice is like the wind.
“These are the signs of his coming: dreams and portents. Death. Trouble between friends.”
Melanie is in a great and wild and empty space and there are words like silver wire cutting channels in her soul.
“He is wearing rotten vestments and they are indigo and green. He is heralded by helplessness, and memories, and principles that are left aside. There shall be corruption, fear, and hatred, and polluted water, and tainted colors, green and black.”
Melanie makes a sound.
“The Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions,” Liril’s mother says, “break the covenants of the world.”
There is silence for a while. Liril’s mother gets up. She walks around, tidying up the room.
Melanie’s eyes focus once again.
“What?” she asks.
I thought you said you didn’t hate me.
“You will drown in him forever,” Liril’s mother says. “You will never die. This is the fate I see for you, Melanie, whom my daughter has befriended.”
“No,” Melanie protests.
Liril’s mother can’t help grinning. It’s ghoulish. It’s mean. It slips out onto her face until she bites her lip to hold it in.
“My,” she says.
Then, carefully, she releases the little happiness that she has in her, to see one of Amiel’s line disturbed so. The smile fades. There is only careful awareness of the world.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Liril’s mother says, “or I’d blackmail you, or help you, or something of the like. But I can only tell you: this is a thing that comes to pass. Will you leave us alone now, Melanie? Will you let me and my daughter be?”
She wants to run.
She’s run before. It works. It works. But she’s caught in the web of a spider.
So she sighs, instead.
She shakes her head.
“So be it,” Liril’s mother says. “No stealing. No loud music. Her bedtime is ten o’clock exactly. No bringing trouble to this house.”
And Melanie goes up to Liril’s room to talk; and to these two children thus forsaken of their gods it is given to be childhood friends.