THERE CAME into my heart some wild dream that Mona would be at the funeral Mass, but no such thing happened, though Fr. Kevin Mayfair was the celebrant, and though all the Mayfairs I knew -- Rowan, Michael and Dr. Winn -- were there as they had been at the wake the night before. They all shared that eerie glow which so unsettled me. Stirling Oliver was also with them, and they gave me their polite nods when our eyes met.
The same immense crowd was there, filling the central nave of St. Mary's Assumption Church in a way I'd never witnessed at weekly Mass. In fact there were more people present because McQueens had flown in from far and wide who had not been able to reach New Orleans in time for the wake the night before.
It chilled me mercilessly to see the closed coffin lying on its bier in the main aisle, and since it was only just dark when I reached the church, I had been unable to see Aunt Queen before they shut her up for all time.
But I did not have to bear this misery alone, because both Lestat and Merrick Mayfair appeared at my side just as I was making my way past the Mayfairs and into the pew with Jasmine, Tommy and Nash.
This was so unexpected that for a moment I was shaken and had to be supported by Lestat, who took my arm firmly. He had trimmed his hair quite short, was wearing a pair of pale sunglasses to blunt the effect of his iridescent eyes and was dressed very conservatively in a double-breasted blue jacket and khaki pants.
Merrick Mayfair, in a crisp white linen shirtwaist dress, had a white scarf wrapped around her face and neck and a large pair of sunglasses that almost masked her face. But I was certain that it was she, and I wasn't surprised when Stirling Oliver, who was in the pew behind us, came up and spoke to her, whispering that he was glad to see her and hoped he might later have a word with her.
I could hear her plainly when she said she had many things on her mind but she would try to do what he wanted. It seemed then that she kissed Stirling on both cheeks, but I wasn't certain as her back was turned. I knew only that for Stirling this was a moment of incredible magnitude.
Fr. Kevin Mayfair commenced the Requiem Mass with two altar boys. I hadn't been to church since the transformation and I was unprepared for the fact that he reminded me so very much of my red-haired Mona. I felt an ache just looking at him as he greeted us all and we returned the greeting. And then I realized I ached for him as I always had.
He believed completely in the sacred words he spoke. He was an ordained priest of God and the awareness of this permeated his entire being. The Blood revealed this to me. But even as a mortal I had never doubted it.
That Lestat and Merrick actually knelt beside me, making the Sign of the Cross and apparently praying in whispers, answering the anthems of the Mass, just as I did, was a shock but a pleasant one, as if the mad world in which I was lost could form its own flexible connective tissue.
When it came time to read a passage from the Bible and to speak of Aunt Queen, Nash made a very solemn and proper speech about nobility existing in Aunt Queen's eternal consideration of others, and Jasmine came forth shaking badly and spoke of Aunt Queen having been the guiding star of her life, and then others spoke -- people I hardly knew -- all saying kind things. And finally there was silence.
I remembered vividly how I had failed to speak at all the funerals of my life, in spite of my love for Lynelle and for Pops and for Sweetheart, and I found myself rising and coming forward to the microphone at the lectern just behind the altar rail. It seemed unthinkable that being what I was I would do this, but I was doing it and I knew that nothing would keep me from it.
Adjusting my voice for the microphone, I said that Aunt Queen had been the wisest person that I had ever known and that being possessed of true wisdom she had been gifted with perfect charity, and that to be in her presence was to be in the presence of goodness. Then I recited from the Book of Wisdom the description of the gift of wisdom, which I felt Aunt Queen possessed:
"For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity.
For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.
For she is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty, and the image of his goodness.
And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things. . ."
I broke off there. "No finer language can be used to describe Aunt Queen," I said. "And that she lived among us to be eighty-five years of age was a gift to all of us, a precious gift, and that death took her so abruptly must be seen as a mercy if we are to remain sane, and to think of her and what decrepitude might have meant to her. She is gone. She, the childless one who was a mother to all of us. The rest is silence."
Then, scarcely believing that I had stepped up to the sanctuary of the church to deliver these words before a human crowd at a Requiem Mass, I was about to return when suddenly Tommy rose and anxiously gestured for me to wait.
He came to speak, shaking violently, and he put his arm around me to steady himself, and I put my hand on his shoulder, and he said into the microphone:
"She gave me the world. I traveled it with her. And everywhere we went, from Calcutta to Aswan to Rio to Rome to London, she gave me those places -- in her words, in her enthusiasm, in her passion, and in. . . in. . . showing me and telling me what I could make of my life. I'll never forget her. And though I hope to love other people as she taught me to love people, I'll never love anyone the way I loved her."
Looking up at me to indicate he was finished, he clung to me as we made our way out of the sanctuary and back to the pew.
I was very proud of him and he took my mind off my own sins completely, and, as I sat down right beside Lestat I held Tommy's hand with my left hand and Lestat took my right.
When it came time to receive Communion, a great many people were moving out of the pews to get in line, and of course Tommy and Jasmine were going to do it. And on impulse I rose and went before them to get in line.
And to my utter shock, so did Merrick, and so did Lestat, following my example perhaps, or doing what they would have done in any case.
The three of us received the sacrament.
I took it in my hand as was my custom, then put it in my mouth. I don't know how they took it -- whether in their hands or directly into their mouths. But they took it. I felt it dissolve on my tongue as always -- such a tiny morsel of food not being repulsed by my body -- and I prayed to the God who had come into me to forgive me everything I was. I prayed to Christ to redeem me from what I was. I prayed to know what I must do -- if there was any way, honorable or decent or moral -- for me to live.
Was Christ inside me? Of course. Why should one miracle cease just because another one had taken hold of me? Was I guilty of sacrilege? Yes. But what is a murderer to do? I wanted God to be inside me. And my Act of Contrition, my renunciation of all sin, was for the moment pure. I knelt with my eyes closed and I thought the strangest thoughts.
I thought of the omniscient God becoming Man and it seemed such a remarkable gesture! It was as if I'd never heard the story before! And it seemed that the omniscient God had to do it to fully understand His Creation because He had created something that could offend Him so deeply as humankind had done. How tangled it was. How bizarre. Angels hadn't offended Him so deeply. No. But human beings had. My head was so full of ideas, and my heart for the moment was full of Christ, and my soul wept its own bloodless tears, and I felt innocent just for this little while.
Fast-forward: the cemetery:
Lonigan and Sons had provided us all with small candles, each with its round paper shield so the wax wouldn't burn our hands. Fr. Kevin Mayfair finished the graveside ceremony with dash and charm. He wept for Aunt Queen. Many people were crying. Terry Sue was still crying. Flowers were heaped all around the coffin on its bier. We were invited to file past and touch the wood for the last time. The gates to the tall granite tomb stood open. The coffin would be interred on one of the shelves after we left.
Patsy broke into hysterical sobbing.
"How could you bring us out here at night!" she shouted at me, her eyes wet and streaming. "You, always you, Tarquin. I hate this place, and you have to bring us at night. You, always you, Tarquin."
I felt sorry for her that she was so unhappy and that everyone was staring at her, and not knowing how sick she was, and how insane she was in general.
Big Ramona tried to quiet her. Merrick Mayfair stood at my elbow watching her intently. I could feel Lestat watching her as well. I felt humiliated for her, but what did it matter to them, her strange theatrics? And why had she come?
She had not come to the gravesides of her own parents. But she had loved Aunt Queen. Everybody had.
And then Big Ramona guided her towards the car. Our lawyer, Grady Breen, tried to pet her and quiet her.
"Damn you, Quinn!" she shouted as they forced her into the limousine. "Damn you to Hell!" I wondered if she had some divining power to call out such perfect curses.
"We should meet tonight," said Merrick in a low voice. "Your spirit friend is dangerous. I can sense his presence. He isn't eager to be seen by me or by Lestat. But he's here. There's no time to lose."
"We'll meet at the house?" I asked.
"Yes, you go with your family," said Lestat. "We'll be waiting for you when you arrive."
"Your mother, she's headed there also," said Merrick. "She wants to leave, however. Try to keep her. We have to talk to her. Tell her that we have to talk to her. Use any means you can to keep her there."
"But why?" I asked.
"When we get together," said Merrick, "you'll understand."
The limousine was waiting for me. And so were Tommy, Patsy, Big Ramona, Nash, Jasmine and Clem.
I glanced back once at the coffin and the mortuary personnel and the cemetery workers as they prepared the crypt -- just what they had not wanted us to see -- and then I went back to take two red roses from the bank of flowers, and, glancing up, I saw Goblin.
He stood at the very door of the mausoleum. He was dressed as I was, in a black suit, and his hair was like mine, full but trimmed, and he stared at me with wild, sparkling eyes, and all through him, solid though he was, I could see an intricate web of blood, as it infected all that made up the illusion. The image remained for one second, perhaps two, and then winked out as though it had been a flame.
I shuddered. I felt the breeze. The emptiness.
Taking the two roses with me, I got into the car and we headed for Blackwood Manor.
Patsy cried all the way. "I haven't been right up to that damn tomb in all these years," she kept saying. "And we have to come in the middle of the night on account of Quinn, little Quinn, how fitting, little Quinn!"
"You didn't have to come," said Big Ramona. "Now shush, you're making yourself sick."
"Oh, damn you, damn you all, what do you know about sick?"
And so on it went for the long ride home.
By the time we reached the house my anxious hands had involuntarily crushed both roses into wanton petals.</