Talulla Rising Page 13

That was me. I was like that. Always had been. When I was nine I had a pet mouse and neglected it and it died. My dad had just said, very quietly, I’m so sad about this, Lulu. And my heart had filled up with panicky self-hatred to hear him say that and to see that he really was sad, but also there was a sensual thrill that I’d done this to him – me! My face had felt warm and soft, just as it had when I’d turned and seen Aunt Theresa standing there in the basement and my pants were round my ankles and she’d said, Talulla Demetriou, you are a dirty, filthy little girl.

I’d expected emptiness in my womb, like the space left by a scooped out avocado stone, but it felt undelivered. The pains (I would have said contractions if the baby wasn’t already out) meant something was wrong. Something other than the blank where instant love should have been, something other than my dead heart, my failed motherhood, my third recurring daydream.

It was filtering through to the animals that they couldn’t grasp the spikes. I watched their long teeth slip and slash. Distress began to gather in them, my distress. I turned my head. Cloquet was still unconscious, for all I knew dead.

The only way to free my hand was to slide it up the shaft of the spike and off the other end, like a chunk of meat off a shish kebab. Three feet, give or take. It made me think how time must have crawled for Christ on the cross, a horse’s tail swishing, a centurion easing his leather cap, a boy drawing with a stick in the dust. That was the world: innocent vivid continuity, regardless.

My wolves lay down around me. There were a dozen of them in the room now, and others arriving. I wanted more than anything just to be able to turn on my side and curl up in a ball. I clamped my jaws together and began to force my hand up the spike, slowly at first, then when the scale of the pain registered, quickly, to get it over with. Three seconds with a white-hot circle in my palm – then it was free. The first moments of welling blood were worse than the impalement, but with a sudden disgust at the figure I cut – helpless, legs spread, choking – I willed myself through it, gripped the skewer in my throat and yanked it out. My left arm was still pinned, but I had the joy of being able to turn onto my left side and draw my knees up a little, as far as my still-big belly would allow. Blood pooled from my neck like a cartoon speech bubble. Cloquet coughed and groaned, then fell silent again.

I passed out.

When I woke the door was closed and there were at least twenty wolves lying in a circle around me. Their warmth quilted me but was spoiled here and there by the air from the broken window. I pulled out the last skewer and fresh blood oozed from the wound. Then another contraction came – and with it the realisation that the reason I felt as if I was still in labour was that I was still in labour.


My son, whom I’d lost the right to name, was born into violence and death. His twin sister, whom I named Zoë, was born surrounded by the warmth of wolves.

I fell asleep after delivering her. In spite of the conviction the vampires would return I dropped down into darkness and darkness closed over me. It was wonderful to surrender. The last thing I remember was licking her snout clean, turning on my side and holding her close to my chest. That and three of the wolves dragging the vampire’s body and head out into the snow.

Hard to tell how long I was out. It could’ve been minutes or hours. At any rate it was dim daylight when I woke. In human form.

With a human baby in my arms.

I’d slept through transformation.

I thought of how exhausted I would have to have been for that, how vulnerable I would have been if—

Wait. Her too: she’d changed back. No sign of trauma. She was awake, quiet, blinking dark-eyed out of her bloodstained face.

Then immediately there it was.

What they’d done.

Like a careful rape.

And I’d just let them.

I’d seen a news report a few years ago. A group of project-housing mothers in New Jersey who’d been charged with assaulting a neighbour when they found out he was on the child sex-offenders register. One of them had kept repeating: If you gotta kill to protect your kids then you kill. You got no right to call yourself a mother if you wouldn’t kill to protect your kids. You got no right to even have kids if you wouldn’t kill to protect them. The mob of women around her were ravished and pouchy-faced with righteousness. You ain’t no kinda mother if you wouldn’t kill for your kids.

I lay still. Molecular renewal tickled my wounds. My jacket partly covered me and the child. A grey wolf lay pressed up warm and soft against my back. Another lay close to my front, keeping the baby snug. The room throbbed with the pack’s consciousness and the heat of their bodies and the not-silence of falling snow. All the animal corpses had been removed and the lodge’s front door pushed shut. Peace had returned to my womb, which for a moment made me feel small and sorry for myself and grateful.

But there it was again like a reflex. What they’d done. And I’d just let them.

Animal documentaries loved to linger over the horror of mothers who rejected their offspring. The robotically grazing ewe deaf to the shivering lamb’s cries. Now I’d joined the club. As with all appalling self-discovery it brought a thrill – and a feeling of déjà vu. And as with all appalling self-discovery there was nothing to do but accept it, like the first time a hairdresser holds up a mirror and shows you the back of your head.

When I moved to ease the pins and needles in my left leg I felt something wet and pulpy between my thighs. The placenta is pushed out 5 to 15 minutes after delivery of the foetus. Two placentas, in this case. Zoë’s umbilical cord still attached her to hers – panic again – until I remembered reading that it didn’t matter: left alone the cord detached naturally. It was doctors who were in a hurry to get everything snipped off and tied up, with racquetball and call-girls waiting. There are no nerve endings in the umbilicus, therefore neither mother nor baby feels the cut. Still, the thought of cutting it myself gave me a twinge. Me, who ripped people apart and ate them. Serves you righ—

Cloquet coughed, and I realised that was the sound that had woken me. I turned to see him sitting on the floor with his back against the couch, holding an improvised dressing against a wound in his left shoulder. He was pale and haggard and piebald with blood. His hands and face were badly cut from the crash through the window. One deep gash along the line of his brow needed stitches. His hair was greasy. Along with his body’s other woes, I knew, his scalp would be aching. There were these thoughts, but they were little details against the continuous pounding consciousness of what they’d done and I’d just let them.

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