It stinks. The air is thick, textured with rot. The no-where land between winter and spring when the snow has melted and flooded the ground, the long-dead leaves show their variegated faces, the crows are the only voices in the sky. Dawn is weak, a dim glow behind the clouds. A fox is weaving its way home through a bony stand of trees, and Claire is sitting in the mud, bleeding out.
She has lavender, the horn of a buffalo, the axle of a wagon, a human skull that she holds in her lap, and she’s cut her arms open with a shard of fulgurite.
“Come to me.” She says it in English because a dying woman’s words are dear in any tongue. “Come and be mine.”
It’s an indelicate method, if there were anyone around to equivocate to, she’d admit that. Care and subtlety had been for her teens, her twenties, her fifties and sixties. Now there’s nothing left of herself to safeguard. Her mother long-dead, her own skin parched and aching to tear apart. She’s been traveling toward this for so long.
16 years old on the phone with Sam Winchester. He’s useless.
“So you don’t know where he died?” she says.
“I, well, I don’t know when exactly. It could have been at the lake, but I guess we just assumed it was, you know. A while back.” A muffled television grinds over the line. “Claire, look, I’m, I can’t tell you how sorry...”
“You never asked.”
“You said you assumed. That means you never asked him about my dad.”
She hangs up. She doesn’t need to hear him say it.
17 years old and she knows everything. The demon wants her soul, but Claire’s not selling that. The thing paces in its trap. Eyes her up, eyes her down.
“It’s a good deal,” Claire says. “Take it, leave it.”
“And if I leave it, will I ever leave here?” Claire throws it a smile. “Mm, that’s what you think, babydoll.”
“Word on the street is you could use all the ammo you can get. And considering the current...political climate,” Claire shrugs in affected nonchalance, “What I’m offering is worth way more than what I’m asking you for.” She steps right up to the edge of the circle. “So what do you say?”
The kiss lasts. It lasts longer than she’d imagined it would. The demon tastes of cigarettes, soda pop, burnt bread. The kiss lasts. When it’s over, there’s a sword in her hands. She keeps her eyes closed for a moment longer.
“You know,” it says, “You taste just like him.”
22 at the edge of the world. She’s shorn off all her hair and the frigid wind claws at her bald scalp. Claire stands before the tree, before the massive body that swings in the noose, under the branch where the raven sits with an eye held in its beak.
“No child’s father ever really dies,” says the corpse, as if that solves anything.
27, her mother’s accusing eyes, no more time, nothing left to try, and the ring of goofer dust is thinning.
45. When she tracks down an address for Robert Singer, a white-haired woman answers the door and sticks a gun in Claire’s face. Everyone’s dead, Jodie with a gun tells her, but they might have left something in a box in the upstairs closet.
It cracks like plaster when she tries to unfold it. It’s caked in blood and darker things. When she shakes it out, it looses a cloud. It’s stiff as canvas. The tails of the belt stick to the rest, completing the comparison: an empty portrait. Claire laughs. Jodie asks if she wants to keep it.
“You know, I don’t even remember him wearing this. Before.”
“Oh?” Jodie has only a peripheral idea of who Claire is. She’s about as old as Claire’s mother would be now. She’s seated at a bench in the hall, the gun loose on her lap. “If you don’t mind my asking, how old were you when...?”
“I was eleven.”
Claire drops the coat back into its box. It falls back into the shape it’s held for decades, easy as a book falling shut. Jodie says hm, makes a gesture like she’s expecting a find a cup of coffee next to her, then closes her hand around her knee instead.
“I was nine when mine passed. My dad.” Claire is long past arguing semantics. And anyway, this woman has let Claire into her home. She nods.
“Do you remember much of him?”
“I remember,” Jodie clears her throat, she shakes her head. “Just pictures. There was one, he was sitting with me on the front stoop of our house. This was down in Colorado, Fort Collins. I’m holding a newspaper upside-down, and he’s pretending to read. He had a mustache. Did yours have a mustache?”
“I thought for a while that every father did.”
There’s dust on her fingertips from the cloth. All the walls in this house are bare. It’s a new house, it doesn’t feel lived in. There’s no history here, nothing for her.
“You should take that, if it’s his,” Jodie says. Claire stays for a cup of coffee downstairs, leaves empty-handed.
The angel in the fire won’t tell her its name. It’s quivering, bitter, alone. Claire is pushing 70; she knows something of exile, and can recognize its taste in another’s mouth.
“They’re both long gone,” it says. “And we are relics now, you and I. We are God’s stupidities made flesh. You know that, don’t you child? You knew that in the beginning.”
He arrives like his namesake: unannounced, unavoidable. He stands slight, obliging. He is small. Her breath thins out, the trees cease to shake. The dirt-grey face of the world empties of expression. Everything is still in his presence. When she moves her hand to offer it to him, the movement is still. He lifts her out of the mud.
“I have nothing to give you,” he says. “Nothing that you could take with you.”
Claire says, “I’ll ask anyway.”