Talulla Rising Page 10

Of course I’d known it was a possibility. Simple math determined an approximately one in thirty chance labour would coincide with a full moon. Cloquet and I had prepared. We had labour-inducing drugs: Pitocin, dinoprostone, misoprostol. We had (or would have had, if the consignment hadn’t been stuck at Anchorage) half a dozen amniohooks – little plastic crochet-needle type instruments used if the drugs don’t work to rupture the membrane of the amniotic sac – though the thought of having to resort to these terrified both of us. The plan had been to wait until the thirty-sixth or -seventh week then make a decision: induce and risk slight prematurity or leave it and risk having to give birth... like this. Radical prematurity I’d refused to prepare for. Radical prematurity would just mean – in the old universe where things meant things – that the baby wasn’t meant to survive.

Well, now we’d find out.

Ghost voice shoved aside, I looked down at the steaming splash my waters had made in the snow. The passing of the mucus plug from the cervix is known as the show. It is a sign that labour is soon to start, but it goes unnoticed by many women. Many women and one idiot werewolf. The amniotic sac ruptures either shortly before or at any time during the first stage of labour. The first stage of labour lasts on average 6-12 hours. The second stage of lab— I screamed. Yelped, rather. All the times you’ve heard women talk about this pain it’s remained a mystery. Then one day it comes to you. Your version. The only version that matters. I thought of my Aunt Vera telling my mother about the thirty-hour labour she had for my cousin Andy: They kept telling me to pant like a dog, but it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. I told that dumb-ass doctor why didn’t he try meowing like a cat... In Westerns it was men pacing up and down outside and trying to get in and being shooed away by a plain old housemaid suddenly filled with occult authority, or a sour grandmother everyone thought hated the girl but it turns out loves her and delivers her baby. There was this mental blur and flutter, images of people ripping up bedsheets and putting water on to boil, female screams and the sweaty big-thighed woman in the Sex Ed video, Lauren whispering, If your kid’s too big your pussy tears open and they have to stitch you up. It rewrites the contract, I’d read somewhere. Your self’s no longer central. This thing comes out of you and drags half your soul along after it like a blanket.

Another pain went through me, an effect like the sudden splintering thunder of a fighter jet overhead. They kept telling me to pant like a dog. Like a dog. Ha ha—

A moment of blindness, the world swung up. I found I’d fallen to my knees and bent forward, elbow-deep in the snow. My head was giant and wayward, too much for my neck. I crawled into the moonlight expecting its balm, but there was nothing. Just another contraction that doubled me, lips curled, fists clenched. I thought of the care Poulsom had taken of me in the white jail, the Harrods towels and beaming bathroom. In his own way he’d contributed, if this child survived. I wanted my mother. Her ghost, her voice in my head, anything of her so I wouldn’t be going through this alone and she could tell me it would be all right and because it was her I’d believe it.

But there was nothing. Of course there was nothing.

I got to my feet and lurched, wet-thighed towards the drive.

Cloquet knew immediately something was wrong, and almost simultaneously what was wrong. He let go of Kaitlyn (who collapsed) and came towards me, but I waved him back. (Waving, gesturing, miming. Not many worse times to lose the power of speech.) He stopped, suffered a moment of paralysis, mouth open, arms held slightly away from his sides, then turned, grabbed Kaitlyn’s hand, yanked her to her feet and all but dragged her back into the house. By the time I crawled across the threshold he’d cuffed her, semi-conscious, to the cistern pipe in the downstairs bathroom.

‘Merde... merde... merde...’ he said, neutrally, as if the emotions under the word were missing. His face was pale and not just clammy but wet. ‘ Oh, mon ange, mon ange...’ still without discernible feeling. ‘Jesus. Fuck. Merde.’

I had enough strength to get to the couch, but I knew that would be the last of my legs for a while. Cloquet, now that we’d come to it, froze. Through the pain I could see that confronted with the central fact – you have to deliver a werewolf’s baby – he was capable of all sorts: fainting; taking a Ski-Doo and riding away; cutting my head-off; going for medical help; sitting down and smoking a cigarette.

He needn’t have worried. I didn’t want him there. Not just because in the absence of any real knowledge (despite his bedside Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) there was nothing he could do, but because I couldn’t spare the consciousness his presence would demand. What was happening to me would require all the consciousness, all the being, all the anything I had. Which still wouldn’t be enough.

A contraction came, and a last defiant surge of hunger met it head-on. One moment of balance – a salt whiff of groggy Kaitlyn; even Cloquet briefly risked a clawed swipe – then appetite went, seared away in the solar flare of another contraction, and I was left with the one priority, the womb’s screaming monomania: Get this fucking thing out of me.


I ended up under the dining table, though I couldn’t tell you how I got there. Your bitch will seek a covered over or tucked-away place to litter. She may ignore the whelping box, however comfortable you’ve made it, but this is normal. Let her follow her inclinations. A great hoot for wulf was doing away with any delusions of dignity your human half might have. Somewhere between hotel reruns of Friends and surreally perused Elles I’d gone to canine-health.com, the tone of which alternated between pseudo-clinical and gratingly down-home. Mom will NOT thank you for bright lights and crowds on her big day, however much the kids (and adults!) might want to watch. Give the little lady some PRIVACY. I’d visited the website in a moment of self-ridicule, and couldn’t have spent more than two minutes scanning its content, but it had gone in. Lycanthrope hard-wiring or a subconscious concession to my one-in-thirty chance of needing it. And now here I was, needing it.

Push. Don’t push. Breathe. Pant. Push. Breathe. Don’t push. According to Essentials there was a technique, a method. I might have had it memorised once but I didn’t have it now. What I had now was the feeling of slowly splitting – starting between my legs – in half. (Plus irritation that there even was a method. What about the millions of women who’d had their babies without being told when to push and breathe and pant? This is all bullshit, Lauren had whispered in Sex Ed. Women in the Amazon just go off into the jungle and give birth on their own. They dig a hole and fill it with leaves and squat over it. They don’t have stirrups and enemas and fucking doctors talking about golf.) No position was bearable for long. I had to keep moving: all-fours; side; back; squatting. The contractions emptied my mind of everything, the way God must have felt before creation, when it was just Him on His own, without the angels or even Time going by. Between contractions was the terrible fact of my finiteness, the exact shape and size of the body that somehow had to accommodate all this. Mom will NOT thank you for bright lights. This turned out to be true. The lodge ceiling had angled spots on its exposed beams and for some reason Cloquet (more miming had got him out of the house, from where he could have continued to Disneyland for all I cared) had left all of them on. In the moments when I wasn’t God I was aware of them giving me a headache. My claws scored the oak floor. Blood gossiped and thumped in my skull. Random details came and went with pointless vividness: the little brass logo on the range door; Cloquet’s yellow road atlas of the USA & Canada; a small carved wooden bear on the mantle; my The North Face jacket on a chair, one red thermal glove hanging out of its pocket. The room was like something stupidly smiling in the face of horror. Was it the Vietnamese who smiled when terrified? Some movie. Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. I was aware of my own crammed silence. At one point I heard something like metal grinding rhythmically in the bathroom where Kaitlyn was tied-up, then it went quiet again.

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