Talulla Rising Page 11

I don’t know how long it lasted. I pushed when my body demanded it. Once or twice tried not pushing. Couldn’t tell what effect it had, other than making me feel I was at the limit of what I could stand. I remember putting my hand between my legs to try to feel how much I was dilated (vaguely thinking: four inches for humans – double it?) but I couldn’t tell and my fingers came away wet with blood and in any case what was the point since I’d already started pushing? I thought: Okay, this is it. You die. She died in childbirth. Fittingly Victorian, for Jake. Then the reality of death struck me – death right here, right now, actual death – and all I had besides pain was fear. Vestigial fear of the Devil and hell quickly torn through into the bigger, up-to-date fear, of falling through cold black silent nothingness like an empty lift shaft between two universes – for ever.

But you didn’t die. That was the treachery of suffering. It took you to the point from which you thought death must follow, then let you know it could hold you there indefinitely. That was when you stopped fearing death and started wanting it, praying for it, begging for it. I knew how that worked. Serves you right. Monster. Murderer. Mother-to-be.

I lay on my side, jaws clamped around one of the table legs. My thighs were sticky with blood. During the final stages of labour the uterine contractions are very strong and usually painful. The baby’s head presses on the pelvic floor, which causes the mother to have an overwhelming urge to push down. In the gap before the final contraction I heard Kaitlyn thrashing around in the bathroom. Then it was the last contraction, and with a sharp scalloping sensation and a sound like a rubber glove being pulled off, the baby, in a knot of satiny gore, slithered out of me.

At that moment Cloquet crashed through the window and went flying across the floor.


They were here.

All the calculations and evasions and disguises and double-checks and now it was for nothing and there was no time and no strength. I started wondering how they’d found me – but it didn’t matter how. Only that. I was turning to see the child when the first vampire leaped in through the broken window. I glimpsed close-cropped grey hair and a small neat face before he turned to take Cloquet’s four shots in the shoulder with barely a twitch. There was an inexplicable suffocating pressure on my arms and chest, though my legs felt weightless. The front door opened. Cold air that should have been knife-fresh rushed in packed instead with the pigshit-and-rotten-meat stink of the Undead.

In spite of which the imperative was simply to see the baby, verify its existence, establish it was breathing. With immense dull elephantine effort I reached down and lifted him towards me.

It was a boy. His eyes were closed and he was covered in mucus and blood. I licked his muzzle, quickly, cleared the tender nose. He coughed and wriggled closer. I knew this was only a moment but it was pathetically intact, like a petal in a paperweight, my astonishment at the miniature hybrid hands and feet, the little penis and the soft covering of gold and black hair. He opened his eyes. They were dark, like mine, like Jake’s. I thought: You walk around with it inside you and nothing prepares you for the absurd concreteness of the fact: a new creature suddenly here, disturbing its share of atoms. I put my hand under his head and sensed flickery consciousness inside. He blinked up at me, once, twice.

I want – you’ve no idea how much – to be able to say I loved him, instantly. I want to be able to say the miracle happened just as it was supposed to, that his life took immediate priority over everything. I want to tell you that as soon as I saw him the paradigm shifted, that the rubbishy clutter of my self fell away, that the contract was rewritten, that he’d come out of me dragging half my soul behind him like a blanket, that I was now – with molecular certainty and before I was anything else – a Mother.

The truth is I felt neutral. A living creature had come out of my body, but that was merely a bizarre fact, just another thing that happened to be the case. If I wanted to I could snap his newborn neck or rip out his newborn heart. There he was, warm flesh and banging blood, arms and legs and head, teeth and tongue – but in those first pure moments he was simply a live alien object in my hands, nothing to do with me. He was like a word you repeat so many times it loses its meaning and becomes raw sound.

Delilah Snow’s legacy.

Everything since I’d met her had been leading up to this moment.

The table lifted and spun away through the air to crash against the range. Two vampires stood over me. A Henry Mooreish perspective, their heads remote. One was a petite young (looking) male with dark brown curly hair and a smug long-eyelashed face like the early Bob Dylan’s. The other was a slim, attractive, green-eyed woman in her (nominal) late thirties with coppery red hair cut like Hitler’s. Both wore black jeans and zip-up leather jackets with a red leather emblem – something like a cuneiform character, I thought – embossed on the left lapel. Both had a stripe of thick white paste beneath their nostrils – an olfactory block, though from the look on their faces not completely effective. Their smell made me gag. The redhead was terrifically excited, at a pitch that gave her a steady gleam. I could hear a helicopter. The sound brought a feeling of exposure. I didn’t know why I could barely move. My legs were pillowcase light. An invisible weight lay across my abdomen. I tried to turn so I could shield the baby (if a reflex then a lumbering one, something I dimly knew I was supposed to do) but the woman kicked me hard in the side of the head, and in the time it took me to absorb the blow the youth rammed something big and sharp-pointed straight through my throat into the floor, pinning me. The pain rolled me up to the edge of blacking out, then back again in a sickening blur. I raised my left sandbag arm but found it grabbed and held by the grey-haired vampire. With no hint of effort in the natty, civilised face he forced it down, produced a second spike (not silver; someone wanted me alive through this) and impaled my helpless hand. I began to choke.


The three of them stared down at me. The young Bob Dylan smiled. The helicopter was close with its sound of monotonous urgency. Whisks of snow-cold air played over me. My legs were negligible, two scraps of chiffon. I tried to turn my head to see if Cloquet was alive, but it was impossible. The only two certainties were my helplessness and the weight of the child’s gory head in my hand. My heart still didn’t move. It was like a racehorse that just stands in the stall after all the others have gone: I didn’t feel anything about him (apart from curiosity) though he’d looked at me with such mesmerising nude wideawakeness. Maybe his heart was suspended too? There was that between us, the intuition that as yet there was nothing at stake. No love lost, as they said. There was leisure to consider all this. The emotional universe found room in a split-second for elaborate expansions.

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