CHAPTER 13. A Child of Air.

The minivan was spotless, besides the small mess Uaine made. Moby's Southside played at just the right low level to induce its industrial tranquility. Uaine had promoted the notion they should pump the song through the speakers in sweatshops.

The driver tapped his electronic display. "Your destination is Le Ballon Rouge? Do you feel up for that place?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever."

" 'The strangest things are there for me, both things to eat and things to see, and many frightening sights abroad till morning in the land of Nod.' "

"Isn't that sleeping? The land of Nod?"

"That is an old English pun. The land of Nod is really to wander, be a fugitive, a refugee. Like those patrons of Le Ballon Rouge."

"A refugee from where?"


"Maybe, not life."

"Oh?" The cabbie tilted his ear back to better listen.

"Maybe, it's normality. When I was a kid, my mom would take me to have lunch with my brother when he was interning at the public defender's office, and afterwards, we'd get ice cream. Raif would layer on as many flavors as he could, and I always got a plain, dry waffle cone." Uaine's voice cracked; he coughed it away. "I was too normal, too bland for too long."

" 'For, long ago, the truth to say, he has grown up and gone away, and it is but a child of air that lingers in the garden there.' " A silence passed between them. The driver shifted. The beads of his seat cushion crinkled. "That is to say, the garden of your mind. You are no longer that boy. You're just as much him as you are a zygote."

"What?" Uaine looked up. He had been staring at his hands. "Yeah. I was thinking about something else."

"Your brother?"

Uaine's eyes narrowed, but he could see only the cabbie's dusky forehead in the rear-view mirror. "Maybe."

"Brothers are a dangerous thing."

"Really," said Uaine, his tone flat. "No quote for them, huh?"

"Sure. But none that do them justice."

"Try me."

They waited for the entire length of a red light. The cabbie drummed his fingers along the steering wheel. After they set out again, just as the minivan turned onto Sugarcane Plaza, he spoke, " 'I am content to follow to its source every event in action or in thought; measure the lot; forgive myself the lot. When such as I cast out remorse, so great a sweetness flows into the breast we must laugh and we must sing, we are blest by everything, everything we look upon is blest.' "

" 'When such as I cast out remorse,' " mused Uaine.

They were quiet for the rest of the ride. Uaine offered him three prepaid cards, and the cabbie swiped them through the reader on his display. The fare crept down in increments, and Uaine leaned between the front seats in nervous anticipation. The balance reached zero and before Uaine could say anything the driver punched the skip button for the tip input.

"You can go back, I'm not done, yet."

"Don't worry about it." The cabbie jerked his head over at the brick building they idled beside. "You'll need all you have in there."

"Let me shake your hand then."

The cabbie turned and their eyes met and an irate monkey shook the branches and bundles of nerves throughout Uaine's brain; a vestigial response lingered in his DNA. He underwent it as a spectator, an idle channel hopper landing on Animal Planet. It made him wonder how real people, someone with more fluidity to their mind, might experience this odd, generic man. The driver possessed no discernible ethnicity, light-skinned African, dark-skinned Caucasian, almond Asiatic eyes matched with the heavy lashes of the Arabian peninsula, straight, dark hair and a short, kinky beard—the face which belonged to an antediluvian proto-human.

"Qayin," said the cabbie. They shook hands.

"Oooh, biblical. Uaine..." He grinned like a jackass. "Dupree."

"Dupree. That is familiar."

"Well, my grandfather was a famous architect, a real Howard Roark–type. You know, minus the rape." Uaine shrugged. "I hope."

Qayin rumbled his bass chuckle. He turned back and waved him off. "Go in peace, Uaine Dupree."

"Yeah. You, too. You've been cool to talk to, man."

The yellow cab left him there, under the burnt out street lamp. He stood in the shadow of the great, red warehouse. Dandra Money's messages still rung in his ear, "Come by the Rouge. Be here all night." The drab entrance waited before him. It rattled off and on. The balloon which floated above had already lost two feet of elevation. The smell of sweat and alcohol and lubricant crawled from the doorjamb. Le Ballon Rouge was the end of the world, the Babylon of Revelations, a 1980's punk culture Gatsby party, sprinkled with the acid-induced hallucinations of the nineties' European techno scene and populated by twenty-first-century candy kids born into the Look at Me generation. ...

Uaine swung his head about to shake away thoughts of his brother. He set the wide grin on his face, not altogether fake. Twice tonight he had permitted Raif into his mind. There would not be a third.