Talulla Rising Page 16

‘We’ll think of something. You’ll have something to sell.’

Feeble. Both of us knew it. My skin was a settled swarm of flies. The hole in the fabric of everything was in this room, now, the window into pure nothingness I daren’t look through. It would be in every room I was in from now on, until I got him back. (You? Aunt Theresa’s voice in me said. Get him back? A dirty, filthy little girl like you, who just lay there, who just lay there and let them take him? And we know why, don’t we? Yes, we—)

‘I’ll go and get the stuff loaded,’ Cloquet said.

‘I’ll do it. You’re still woozy. Go lie down.’

He nodded, headed for the stairs – but he was back a few moments later. As soon as I saw his face I knew what he’d realised: we’d forgotten, both of us, Kaitlyn.

‘She’s gone,’ he said.


‘The pipe was loose. There’s water all over the floor. It’s my fault.’

She’d seen both of us.

‘I’ll go and look for her,’ Cloquet said. ‘Maybe she never made it to the highway.’

I put the last of the journals in the bag and zipped it up. It had stopped snowing. ‘Forget it,’ I said. ‘We don’t have time.’ It wasn’t that I believed she’d reached the highway safely, it was that if we found her we’d have to kill her, and for better or worse I couldn’t face it. Just couldn’t. I should never have pictured her feral bedroom and sad acceptance of the lousy demands guys made on her. ‘Go and lie down for a minute,’ I said. ‘I need to feed the baby before we leave.’

Which I did not want to do. I hadn’t fully admitted her existence. Even through the appalling intimacy of washing her I’d kept her in peripheral consciousness only, a trick of self-misdirection that had given me the emotional equivalent of eye strain. It hadn’t worked, either. There she was, small and clean and absurd in her plastic laundry basket, radiating power to recreate the world. Every humble atom glorified, Jake had written of Heathrow’s vivification when we’d met. Now here was the soft grey sky and the pink curtain and the oak floorboards and room’s smell of dust and mothballs and old linen all wondering why I wasn’t accepting their beatification.

I undid my shirt, tried to feel nothing, then raised her carefully to my breast.

The physical sensation was shockingly literal, once the tough little anemone mouth had found my nipple and latched-on: a living creature sucking nourishment out of my body. (Essentials said milk proper might take three days to come in; meantime colostrum, the pre-lacteal secretion rammed with antibodies and who knew what lycanthropic extras.) I went in and out of bearable horror, as if a six-pound parasite had attached itself to me, but also in and out of the feeling of having come bloodily into an inheritance. All those Madonnas with Child; my dad’s Compendium of Greek Mythology showing Hera’s breast-milk spurting out to create the Milky Way; connection to every female animal I’d seen with an offspring tugging at its teat (the dismal word ‘teat’); Richard coming back from a visit to his sister who’d just had a baby and me saying So how was she? And him saying ‘fucking bovine’; the Polaroid of my mother breastfeeding me under the maple tree and you could feel my dad’s thrill and pride and fear of her through the photograph back into his hands holding the camera and his man’s beating heart that still held the awed and jealous little boy in it.

Meanwhile the baby stared at me like an emotionless deity. That was the Divine trace, if we carried one, a fragment chipped-off from God’s infinite capacity for neutral observation. Or so it seemed, as long as she stared at me – then she’d blink, long-eyelashed, or her face would twitch, and God would vanish, leaving a blank human infant, barely more than the instinct to suckle made flesh and blood. There was the seduction I’d read about, the rhythm of succor that lulled the glands, but there was revulsion too, and a riffle of pornographic breasts and silicone implants gone wrong, and the time in biology class when Mr Shaeffer said feeding babies was what breasts were for and Lauren said, Listen, mister, these are my boobs, which means I get to choose what they’re for, and Jennifer Snow’s pale breasts splashed with blood and a detached sadness at what a crucifixion by contraries the story of the human female had been so far. Followed by a little cheap self-pity, because I – of course – wasn’t even a real human female any more.


‘What do we do about the vampire’s body?’ I asked Cloquet. The baby, in her laundry basket, had been transferred to the couch. She was gurgling, quietly, pouring out the godlike recreative energy I had to keep ignoring. I had an image of Jacqueline Delon slowly inserting a wire into my son’s eye. There were dozens of similar images queuing up, bristling with detail.

‘Rien,’ Cloquet said. ‘Go and see for yourself.’

I opened the front door and looked out. At least a dozen wolves occupied the front yard. I knew there were more surrounding the house. Where the young Bob Dylan’s corpse had been was a declivity in the snow covered with a greyish residue and a few blackened strands of what looked like intestinal tissue. In another hour there would be nothing. I closed the door. Wulf set off a dozen tiny remnant firecrackers in my spine.

Cloquet was in no condition to drive, so I took the wheel, with the baby in the laundry basket wedged between us and the wolf on the back seat. Even with snow-tyres it was a tense, nosing crawl through the woods, but we made it to the highway without incident. We had a back-up car (plus a bagful of wigs and glasses and false moustaches, standard precautions) in a parking garage in Fairbanks. The plan was to change vehicles and get the first available flight out of Alaska.

A plan with a big problem: the baby. We might be able to get her on domestic without ID, but not international. And even for domestic I guessed she’d need a birth certificate. Which was one of those ostensibly simple things that would turn out to be incredibly difficult. No doctor, no midwife, no pre-natal care... How, exactly, could I prove she was my child? DNA testing? How long would that take? (And on immediate second thoughts: DNA? Not an option.) I imagined the authorities’ reasonable questions: if I knew I was having a baby what was I doing in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness? Was I crazy? On the run? Did I have a criminal record? Reasonable questions would become suspicion. Suspicion would become investigation. Investigation would become, eventually, horror.

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