Home > Anansi Boys (American Gods #2)(9)

Anansi Boys (American Gods #2)(9)
Author: Neil Gaiman

She unlocked the front door and they went inside.

The smell was familiar: faintly sweet, as if chocolate chip cookies had been baked there the last time the kitchen was used, but that had been a long time ago. It was too hot in there. Mrs. Higgler led them into the little sitting room, and she turned on a window-fitted air-conditioning unit. It rattled and shook, and smelled like a wet sheepdog, and moved the warm air around.

There were stacks of books piled around a decrepit sofa Fat Charlie remembered from his childhood, and there were photographs in frames: one, in black-and-white, of Fat Charlie's mother when she was young, with her hair up on top of her head all black and shiny, wearing a sparkly dress; beside it, a photo of Fat Charlie himself, aged perhaps five or six years old, standing beside a mirrored door, so it looked at first glance as if two little Fat Charlies, side by side, were staring seriously out of the photograph at you.

Fat Charlie picked up the top book in the pile. It was a book on Italian architecture.

"Was he interested in architecture?"

"Passionate about it. Yes."

"I didn't know that."

Mrs. Higgler shrugged and sipped her coffee.

Fat Charlie opened the book and saw his father's name neatly written on the first page. He closed the book.

"I never knew him," said Fat Charlie. "Not really."

"He was never an easy man to know," said Mrs. Higgler. "I knew him for what, nearly sixty years? And I didn't know him."

"You must have known him when he was a boy."

Mrs. Higgler hesitated. She seemed to be remembering. Then she said, very quietly, "I knew him when I was a girl."

Fat Charlie felt that he should be changing the subject, so he pointed to the photo of his mother. "He's got Mum's picture there," he said.

Mrs Higgler took a slurp of her coffee. "Them take it on a boat," she said. "Back before you was born. One of those boats that you had dinner on, and they would sail out three miles, out of territorial waters, and then there was gamblin'. Then they come back. I don't know if they still run those boats. Your mother say it was the first time she ever eat steak."

Fat Charlie tried to imagine what his parents had been like before he was born.

"He always was a good-looking man," mused Mrs. Higgler, as if she were reading his mind. "All the way to the end. He had a smile that could make a girl squeeze her toes. And he was always such a very fine dresser. All the ladies loved him."

Fat Charlie knew the answer before he asked the question. "Did you-?"

"What kind of a question is that to be asking a respectable widow-woman?" She sipped her coffee. Fat Charlie waited for the answer. She said, "I kissed him. Long, long time ago, before he ever met your mother. He was a fine, fine kisser. I hoped that he'd call, take me dancing again, instead he vanish. He was gone for what, a year? Two years? And by the time he come back, I was married to Mr. Higgler, and he's bringing back your mother. Is out on the islands he meet her."

"Were you upset?"

"I was a married woman." Another sip of coffee. "And you couldn't hate him. Couldn't even be properly angry with him. And the way he look at her - damn, if he did ever look at me like that I could have died happy. You know, at their wedding, is me was your mother's matron of honor?"

"I didn't know."

The air-conditioning unit was starting to bellow out cold air. It still smelled like a wet sheepdog.

He asked, "Do you think they were happy?"

"In the beginning." She hefted her huge thermal mug, seemed about to take a sip of coffee and then changed her mind. "In the beginning. But not even she could keep his attention for very long. He had so much to do. He was very busy, your father."

Fat Charlie tried to work out if Mrs. Higgler was joking or not. He couldn't tell. She didn't smile, though.

"So much to do? Like what? Fish off bridges? Play dominoes on the porch? Await the inevitable invention of karaoke? He wasn't busy. I don't think he ever did a day's work in all the time I knew him."

"You shouldn't say that about your father!"

"Well, it's true. He was crap. A rotten husband and a rotten father."

"Of course he was!" said Mrs Higgler, fiercely, "But you can't judge him like you would judge a man. You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god."

"A god among men?"

"No. Just a god." She said it without any kind of emphasis, as flatly and as normally as she might have said "he was diabetic" or simply "he was black."

Fat Charlie wanted to make a joke of it, but there was that look in Mrs. Higgler's eyes, and suddenly he couldn't think of anything funny to say. So he said, softly, "He wasn't a god. Gods are special. Mythical. They do miracles and things."

"That's right," said Mrs. Higgler. "We wouldn't have told you while he was alive, but now he is gone, there can't be any harm in it."

"He was not a god. He was my dad."

"You can be both," she said. "It happens."

It was like arguing with a crazy person, thought Fat Charlie. He realized that he should just shut up, but his mouth kept going. Right now his mouth was saying, "Look. If my dad was a god, he would have had godlike powers."

"He did. Never did a lot with them, mind you. But he was old. Anyway, how do you think he got away with not working? Whenever he needed money, he'd play the lottery, or go down to Hallendale and bet on the dogs or the horses. Never win enough to attract attention. Just enough to get by."

Fat Charlie had never won anything in his whole life. Nothing whatsoever. In the various office sweepstakes he had taken part in, he was only able to rely on his horse never making it out of the starting gate, or his team being relegated to some hitherto unheard-of division somewhere in the elephants' graveyard of organized sport. It rankled.

"If my dad was a god - something which I do not for one moment concede in any way, I should add - then why aren't I a god too? I mean, you're saying I'm the son of a god, aren't you?"


"Well then, why can't I bet on winning horses or do magic or miracles or things?"

She sniffed. "Your brother got all that god stuff."

Fat Charlie found that he was smiling. He breathed out. It was a joke after all, then.

"Ah. You know, Mrs. Higgler, I don't actually have a brother."

"Of course you do. That's you and him, in the photograph."

Although he knew what was in it, Fat Charlie glanced over at the photograph. She was mad all right. Absolutely barking. "Mrs. Higgler," he said, as gently as possible. "That'sme. Just me when I was a kid. It's a mirrored door. I'm standing next to it. It's me, and my reflection."

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