She was someone who heard each grain in the hour-glass, she felt the passing seconds like sandpaper against her softest skin. Time actually seemed to hurt her, and people helped her get through it. [..] Sometimes it seemed to Nathan that her life was just that, a feat of held breath, just another ten seconds, just another five, and then death would flood her lungs like water, a string of glass bubbles to the surface and then nothing. She was scared in a way that he could understand. The kind of fear that sends you running across a six-lane highway or jumping into rapids. She was someone who ran towards her fear, screaming. Who tried to frighten it. Who, in another period of history, would have been worshipped as a saint or burned as a witch.
Jed thought he understood. It was like when his radios were thrown away. You could shrug your shoulders, put on a face that said you didn't care, but you did and nothing could ever be secure again. The next time security appeared as a possibility, you smashed it yourself. And went on smashing it. That, he was sure, was how Creed felt.
While still practising law, he'd run a hearse-rental agency. Then, later, he'd bought into a handkerchief factory in Baker Park. Their most famous innovation was the funeral hankerchief, a plain white cotton handkerchief with a black border. Not long afterwards he patented the first black-edged tissue. He'd made millions, apparently, though nobody knew what he'd done with the money. His only extravagance had been to install an elevator in the house, so he could move between floors without getting out of his wheelchair. 'So what did he mean about hearing money?' Jed asked. 'It's his factory across the river. He claims he can hear the money being made.
The plane banked, and he pressed his face against the cold window. The ocean tilted up to meet him, its dark surface studded with points of light that looked like constellations, fallen stars. The tourist sitting next to him asked him what they were. Nathan explained that the bright lights marked the boundaries of the ocean cemeteries. The lights that were fainter were memory buoys. They were the equivalent of tombstones on land: they marked the actual graves. While he was talking he noticed scratch-marks on the water, hundreds of white gashes, and suddenly the captain's voice, crackling over the intercom, interrupted him. The ships they could see on the right side of the aircraft were returning from a rehearsal for the service of remembrance that was held on the ocean every year. Towards the end of the week, in case they hadn't realised, a unique festival was due to take place in Moon Beach. It was known as the Day of the Dead......When he was young, it had been one of the days he most looked forward to. Yvonne would come and stay, and she'd always bring a fish with her, a huge fish freshly caught on the ocean, and she'd gut it on the kitchen table. Fish should be eaten, she'd said, because fish were the guardians of the soul, and she was so powerful in her belief that nobody dared to disagree. He remembered how the fish lay gaping on its bed of newspaper, the flesh dark-red and subtly ribbed where it was split in half, and Yvonne with her sleeves rolled back and her wrists dipped in blood that smelt of tin.It was a day that abounded in peculiar traditions. Pass any candy store in the city and there'd be marzipan skulls and sugar fish and little white chocolate bones for 5 cents each. Pass any bakery and you'd see cakes slathered in blue icing, cakes sprinkled with sea-salt.If you made a Day of the Dead cake at home you always hid a coin in it, and the person who found it was supposed to live forever. Once, when she was four, Georgia had swallowed the coin and almost choked. It was still one of her favourite stories about herself. In the afternoon, there'd be costume parties. You dressed up as Lazarus or Frankenstein, or you went as one of your dead relations. Or, if you couldn't think of anything else, you just wore something blue because that was the colour you went when you were buried at the bottom of the ocean. And everywhere there were bowls of candy and slices of special home-made Day of the Dead cake. Nobody's mother ever got it right. You always had to spit it out and shove it down the back of some chair. Later, when it grew dark, a fleet of ships would set sail for the ocean cemeteries, and the remembrance service would be held. Lying awake in his room, he'd imagine the boats rocking the the priest's voice pushed and pulled by the wind. And then, later still, after the boats had gone, the dead would rise from the ocean bed and walk on the water. They gathered the flowers that had been left as offerings, they blew the floating candles out. Smoke that smelt of churches poured from the wicks, drifted over the slowly heaving ocean, hid their feet. It was a night of strange occurrences. It was the night that everyone was Jesus......Thousands drove in for the celebrations. All Friday night the streets would be packed with people dressed head to toe in blue. Sometimes they painted their hands and faces too. Sometimes they dyed their hair. That was what you did in Moon Beach. Turned blue once a year. And then, sooner or later, you turned blue forever.
Vasco bought a bottle of vodka to celebrate and they drank it in the old sailors' graveyard in Mangrove South. This was where the funeral business had first put down its roots. Over the wall, between two warehouses, Jed could just make out the Witch's Fingers, four long talons of sand that lay in the mouth of the river. Rumour had it that, on stormy nights a century ago, they used to reach out, gouge holes in passing ships, and drag them down. Hundreds of wrecks lay buried in that glistening silt. The city's black heart had beaten strongly even then. There was one funeral director, supposedly, who used to put lamps out on the Fingers and lure ships to their doom.
Sometimes it seemed as if he'd always been very old. People said that time lasted for ever when you were young. That was lies. Lies and rosy spectacles. His spectacles were steel frames and time was those tattoos on Vasco's arm. They were more like time than anything else. Once, in the Empire of Junk, he'd seen an hour-glass. Now that came closest to the truth. Except you could turn it upside down and start again. So that was lies too. The sand should run out the first time, run right out. Once, and once only. Time wasn't outside you, it was inside. [...] Time was something that went bad, like fruit. To be used before it was all used up. Though, for most people, the only way to live was to deny that.