I may have been engaged to another man at the time, and I may have been fooling around with the friend who introduced the Palinode and I — I was, shall we say, a lover and not a fighter in those days — but damn if that Palinode didn't seem like a fine human being, and one of my tests for fineness back then was to ask about books. If a person hemmed, hawed, or looked in any way confused by the question, they were deemed Not Fine.
"What book should I read next above all others?" I asked him.
"Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian," the Palinode answered without hesitation.
And he was, indeed, deemed to be Very Fine.
More than seven years after that conversation, we dated, and almost a year after that, we were married, and about a month or two into our marriage, we were sitting around in our apartment together talking about books again when he suddenly looked like he'd remembered something important.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I just remembered one of my favourite passages in fiction," he said. "Would you like to hear it?"
"I would love to," I said.
I expected him to get up off the floor to find the book the passage was in, but no.
"It's from Blood Meridian, pages 51 to 53," he said, as though it were the most normal thing in the world to remember that kind of thing, and then his eyes looked up at the ceiling for a moment, and then he looked at me and recited this section of Blood Meridian from memory:
The first of the herd began to swing past them in a pall of yellow dust, rangy slatribbed cattle with horns that grew agoggle and no two alike and small thin mules coalblack that shouldered one another and reared their malletshaped heads above the backs of the others and then more cattle and finally the first of the herders riding up the outer side and keeping the stock between themselves and the mounted company. Behind them came a herd of several hundred ponies. The sergeant looked for Candelario. He kept backing along the ranks but could not find him. He nudged his horse through the column and moved up the far side. The lattermost of the drovers were now coming through the dust and the captain was gesturing and shouting. The ponies had begun to veer off from the herd and the drovers were beating their way toward this armed company met with on the plain. Already you could see through the dust on the ponies' hides the painted chevrons and the hands and rising suns and birds and fish of every device like the shade of old work through sizing on a canvas and now too you could hear above the pounding of the unshod hooves the piping of the quena, flutes made from human bones, and some among the company had begun to saw back on their mounts and some to mill in confusion when up from the offside of those ponies rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers bearing shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass that cast a thousand unpieced suns against the eyes of their enemies. A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armour of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses' ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.OH MY GOD, I thought in my head.
Oh my god, said the sergeant. 1
I stared at him in silence.
"Oh, you didn't like it," he said.
"No, I loved it. That was like incredible poetry."
I remembered our conversation about that book from eight years before and decided that I had just landed in one of three situations:
b) I was in way over my head, and he should totally divorce me for someone who knows stuff.
c) I had married either a robot or a highly intelligent alien-human hybrid sent to infiltrate the species.
Ten-and-a-half years later, a full eighteen-and-a-half years since we met, I think the correct answer was A. He still knows a ludicrous amount of information — really, his brain is a jaw-dropping miracle of meat and electricy — but he's kind enough not to mock me for having trouble remembering the word for butter, and that, my friends, is love.
1 Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West. 1985. p. 51–53.