“You’re angry with Pappa too, Auntie.” A fine split between a question and a statement. Even the tone was somewhat scabrous.
Joyce snuggled up closer to the girl in the bed and kissed her forehead.
“Raving mad, sweetheart. But I think he’s angry with himself too, you know. He loves you all to death, believe me. He just doesn’t know how to handle anything domestic without his precious Gudinna to direct him. Try to sleep now.”
Joyce dimmed the bedside lamp until the room was bathed in semi darkness. To making talking easier, even while she urged sleep. It was not the first time she slept in this bed, in Khira’s private suite. Khira had them all over their properties. Traditionalist Khira needed her private rooms for when she had “my deity days” and kept her husband out of the bed. How often had Joyce teased Erik about building individual huts for himself and his wife like they do in Luoland? Her suite at Stjärnblomma was the most impressive. After all, the villa had been a present from her husband for giving him Loyana. The dressing room here was fit for a sitting room. The bathroom had golden faucets in the shape of doves. Her huge bed was canopied with white silk chiffon snaking on the floor like a bridal train, parted and held back with tasselled cords.
How often had she snuggled here with Khira, talking and laughing half the night about their girlhood caresses, caresses up until the time Joyce ventured into male domain and lost her virginity. How this “betrayal” had started Khira off on her fierce campaign to also get rid of her hymen, discover the pleasures of maleness. Joyce remembered that the last time she had shared this bed with Khira, forever aware that their intimacies were a thing of the past, forever forbidden. She’d said, Know what, Candy? We should have married each other. Khira had countered as they coughed with laughter, Then we wouldn’t have our lovely children, love of my girlhood. They thought over that one while giggling. And Joyce speculated, Oh, we could have lured Jimmy and Erik into the den when we were ripe for impregnation, locked them in until they’d done their duty successfully then release them until the next round. They’d laughed even harder, stretching out their fantasies till their bellies ached, as they further embellished how they’d rape the two men to exhaustion, feed them nectar and wild honeycombs and assorted choice morsels deemed aphrodisiac in Luoland.
“He’s so different now, Auntie. I don’t think he loves us like before.”
The girl had been quiet for so long that Joyce had thought she’d fallen asleep. Her words gave her a little jolt, pulling Joyce away from her reveries.
“Of course he does, sweetie. More than ever before. What makes you say he doesn’t love you like before?”
The answer came out like a shot. “Like, he doesn’t let me sleep in their bed with him anymore. Like we are not even allowed to stream in in the morning and nibble on pastries there before breakfast. He doesn’t want any of us in that bedroom now she’s not there. Even when I’m sad and crying, he brings me to my room and cries with me there. He tries to hide it but I know he’s crying, you know? Like his body shakes and his breathing is… different. Sometimes I pretend to sleep and then he really cries, shaking badly. It… hurts me and… I don’t know what to do. I can’t help him… maybe I’ve to try harder to be deity enough.”
Holy Family Cathedral. The Initiation. It attracted and repulsed her as well.
The child went on and on, and Joyce had to once again block and lock her own tears, ignore her hurting head and throat, concentrate on stroking and comforting Loyana. This was why the girl had wanted her to share her mother’s “sacrosanct” bed with her. To talk to someone she trusted completely. To pour out her heart. To find answers to certain puzzles. She was now a deity, but the girl in her still wanted her loving father. She wanted to take over where her mother was unable to, but was still but a novice in propping up male weaknesses when they’re supposed to protect her instead. The novice still had a long way and two cultures turned gladiators in her very blood.
Joyce listened and answered only with affirmative sounds, not trusting her voice to form sentences without revealing what she was blocking and locking up. Candy, you stupid, silly sweet. Loyana told her how, when Mamma slept in her own bed, Pappa would pick his girl up and tease Mamma about how he was going to spend the night with his Celestial Holiness and swear like sailors all night without Gudinna admonishing them. How they’d “conspire” to undo her python-thick braid and he would spread her snaky squiggles all over the pillow, stroking them, telling her she was the most beautiful little goddess that ever graced the planet. That she should be worshipped by half of the universe. That she was him and his Gudinna so joined together that no power would ever separate them. And that, when he thought she had fallen asleep, he would repeat, “And I made you, Celestial Holiness. With the help of my untainted Gudinna, this bastard actually made Wondrous You. And you made me a father. A father, my precious soul, for the first time in my life! I was a special God, able to create flesh and blood Lindqvists!”
The girl, always, would finally fall asleep feeling loved, extra special, worshipped, invincible but at the same time protected. The Initiation had highlighted many of these. But how should she be deity enough to help Pappa, the muscled infant who now needed a deity badly but had hit his own into a coma because of Loyana’s Initiation.
“See? It was not your fault, will never be. Not the Initiation, not his blackout moment when he hit his Gudinna, and definitely not Mamma’s comsa. All of you only meant well. That funny thing called love? Wait till it offers you grief in arrears, darling. A remarkable phenomenon, your Mamma would say, because she, like you, has only loved one man in her whole life.” Joyce pecked on Loyana’s forehead again. “And what you say about your Pappa, what you’ve shared and will still share with him, sweetheart – that’s boundless love, sweetie. He has it for all of you. And right now he’s suffering terribly for having – for a split second – forgotten himself and hit his untainted Gudinna who’d helped him become a god and able to create all of you. That’s boundless love, sweetheart. Sleep now, my darling. Don’t forget we’re off to see Mamma tomorrow.”
A sigh of relief as she curled in the hollow of Joyce’s belly and hips.
“Yeah, Auntie. Thank you a million times for being here.”
Whoa. There must be something like didactic good manners. Khira always told her she had failed in taming wild Loyana. “Pleasure, love. I love you too.”
Oh, God. Please. “I thought we’d decided to sleep at last, you pest.”
Loyana giggled silently as Joyce poked a finger into her belly. Good.
“Just a little question, okay?”
“If I can answer it. So ask away.”
“Why does Lars-Jan look so different from the rest of us? Is he truly Mamma’s baby? I don’t remember seeing Mamma preggies with him. Do you?”
Jupiter and Apollo. Holy bloody Family Cathedral. “Of course he is, sweetie. You were hardly a year when he was born, so no wonder you don’t remember Mamma being pregnant with him.”
Then Joyce thought a little litmus test was in order here.
“Anyway, which pregnancies do you remember, darling?”
And she realised too late that her question was risky. The knot of anxiety crept back to the pit of her stomach like a lead cannonball. Lars-Jan was sacred ground to Khira. No one was allowed to tread here. Not even Erik. Joyce didn’t know if Loyana had asked her father this question, but she knew the girl had asked Khira the question. Something to do with remarks from other kids at their Swiss boarding school, Khira had told Joyce, cursing her beloved husband for having insisted in sending her Big Three to the boarding school where Khira could not always spread her protective wings over them.
Like any loving parent in her situation, Khira had told her daughter that there’s a perfectly plausible reason why her brother looked the way he did, but the girl would simply have to be patient until she grow up a little more and could understand some of the vagaries of adult and parental life. Then her mother would explain everything to her. Khira had that uncanny way of being firm but gentle, her words and gestures, her entire magnetic field spread around you, smothered in tons of pulsating love. You, child or adult, accepted her bone-straight honesty as some precious benediction and didn’t even pray for rain.
You knew, wholeheartedly trusted, that it would rain.
The point was that Lars-Jan was a Lindqvist stylus. Lord Fauntleroy, Joyce called him. Completely Erik. White blond hair with the natural cowlick on the crown somewhere, Asiatic straight. Eyelashes just as white blond, eyes Indian Ocean sapphire blue, the eyes of Norska and Senior rather than their son’s, whose eyes were a constantly changing blue-grey-green. And Lars-Jan’s skin was a colour far from the naturally golden hue of his siblings. Two seconds in the sun without adequate protections and Lars-Jan was an Alaskan lobster.
“I remember her preggies with Leif and Davin. All ballooned and clown-y.”
Joyce repeated, “See? Because by then you were old enough to notice. And now, we’ll sleep. Auntie’s knackered. Goodnight, darling. Although it’s more like good morning at this hour. I love you lots and lots.”
“Auntie, I’m not an idiot.” No reproach, just a sort of resignation. “But I think I understand you. You’re Mamma’s best friend. Best friends often have secrets. This has something to do with her privacy or whatever it’s called.”
Jesus wept. She didn’t quite know what to say. “Yeah, right.”
“It’s just that the age difference between Lars-Jan and Thistle Butt doesn’t tally, Auntie. Do the math yourself. Unless Mamma is truly a goddess or something. Five months and eighteen days is not even enough for—what’s it called again—a full term pregnancy unless something goes wrong. And right, too.” She waited for a moment, and when nothing came she added, “But he’s plainly Pappa’s son. Yet he’s younger than me and Pappa’s first wife died long before he and Mamma had met. Christ, he hadn’t even migrated to Kenya from Madagascar, yet, had he.” A statement, like: I know these things, folks.
Holy Family Cathedral, kids. Go noticing every distinction. No ordinary mum ever had two boys with an age different of five months. What to say? Things were precarious enough between daughter and father. “He is, sweetie. Pappa’s son. But you’ll have to wait for the right age to learn the truth from Mamma. Now that you’re a novice deity, I think it won’t be much longer.”
It was Joyce’s turn to hold her breath. Erik again. And Khira Caroline Lucrezia Borgia with her Erik Larson Thorsten Rodrigo Borgia. She forever broadcasted and watered seeds or nurtured his saplings into delicate legends and myths and mysteries aimed to dazzle or intimidate the world and its mother.
“I understand you, Auntie.” Joyce let out a soft breath as the girl pulled Joyce’s arm and tucked it around her little belly. “I’m glad you’re Mamma’s best friend.” Several beats, while Joyce heard the girl’s thoughts reduce speed. Her head had been firing on all cylinders, thought Joyce who, as a mother, had heard the works going. She could only guess which routes they’d been speeding on. Her next words took Joyce by surprise.
“I’m also glad Mamma had me initiated, Auntie. Lots of good stuff there to explain even more to you than a dozen professors. Deity me is floating along nicely, blossoming along the way. I think I’ll make it with firsts.”
“Oh, sweetie. Come here. You’re being forced to grow up overnight.”
No pause this time, soft tone serious. “I’m a deity now. You’d never believe the things we have engraved in our libraries of ancient memories and large, forgiving hearts and our brilliant minds. One day I’ll have a best girlfriend just like you. With Mamma and you as role models, I can never go wrong.”
Said in woman-to-woman tones.
“Darling, that’s the most wonderful compliment anybody ever paid me. Thanks, sweetheart.”
No further words were necessary. Peace settled on them as Loyana took a last look, through the flimsy curtains of the bedroom window, at the mutton-fat colour of the moon being shadowed and un-shadowed by weak grey clouds. The Maiden Moon. Goddess of all Goddesses. Smiling down at her with the askew smile her father had when they were being “coarse” in Mamma’s deity presence.
Less than sixty seconds later, snuggled together, the two were marinating in deep sleep.