Talulla Rising Page 3

We both knew I really needed them already, what with wulf jamming the room with its stink and the cattle-wire shocks in my fingernails and ringing iron in my eye-teeth and outside whispering the dirty talk of the wild. Transformation was less than twenty-four hours away.

‘You don’t have to be brave, you know,’ he said.

‘I’m not. I’m just thinking ahead.’ I didn’t want to think ahead. (I didn’t want to think back, either. There was horror in both directions.) Rufus, my fish supplier for the Brooklyn diners, had described watching his wife having their baby. I want to tell you it was beautiful, he said, but basically it looked like someone had taken a twelve-gauge to her pussy. This image kept coming back, as did the Sex Ed video they showed us in high school, yellowed footage of a big-thighed woman sweatily giving birth. Unanimous teen revulsion. Lauren had said to me: Fuck the miracle of life, where do I sign up for a hysterectomy?

‘I’ll go and check downstairs,’ Cloquet said.

‘No, I’ll go.’

‘You should rest.’

‘I need to move. Ow. Fuck.’ The baby shimmied, scraped something in me. It sent these violent communiqués. The same communiqué, every time: I saw you. In the mirror. You and Delilah Snow. Mother.

I waited for the pain to fold itself away again.

‘You sure you don’t want something?’ Cloquet asked.

I shook my head, no. Then held out my hand to him. ‘But I don’t think I can get out of this chair by myself.’


One minute you’re little Lula, eight years old, sitting on the counter in the Tenth Street diner drinking a vanilla shake under the pink Coors neon – the next this, the stink of liver under your fingernails and the water in the shower running red around your feet. In the thought experiment you commit suicide. I wouldn’t do it. I’d kill myself. In reality you don’t. In reality you kill and eat someone else. You start at one end of the experience, go through it, come out the other side. You’ve killed and eaten a human being. Blood winks on your fingers, mats the hair on your arms and snout. The gobbled life flails and struggles in what it touchingly mistakes for a bad dream. The moon sets. The next day you wake up in sheets that smell of fabric conditioner. There is CNN. There is coffee. There is weather. There is your human face in the mirror. The world, you discover, is a place of appalling continuity. I ate his heart. It seems incredible the words don’t refuse, don’t revolt. But why should they? You didn’t. There’s your horror, yes. But your horror’s a tide going out: every wave stops a little further away. Eventually the tide doesn’t come in any more. Eventually there’s just the sighing delta, the new you, the werewolf. The last werewolf, as it happens.

Jake had thought he was the last. He’d thought he was ready to go, too. One by one I’ve exhausted the modes, he wrote:

hedonism, asceticism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miserable Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism’s worn out. I don’t have what it takes. I still have feelings but I’m sick of having them. Which is another feeling I’m sick of having. I just . . . I just don’t want any more life.

Then he’d met me. Courtesy of the risible twist, the ludicrous coincidence. Love has come, he wrote.

Full, incendiary, unarguable with. Love has come, and with it the renewed pricelessness of time. I think of an hour with her – then of my hundreds of thousands of hours before knowing her was possible, wasted hours, by definition. The life we could’ve had if she’d been around a century ago (or fifty years, or ten, or Jesus Christ five) is an obscenity in my imagination. The bigger obscenity, of course, is the question of how much life we’ve got. There’s no God but I know his style: he wouldn’t teach you the value of time unless you had fuck-all time left . . .

He was right. We had two months. Careful what you wish for, he’d sent me, dying, in my arms. Before we’d met he’d wished for death. Death had listened. Death had made a note. Unerasable, it turned out.

A century and a half of loneliness coda’d by sixty days and nights of love. Not much of an equation. Reversed, it looked a lot worse: sixty days and nights of love followed by hundreds of years of loneliness. No wonder I missed every abortion appointment I made.

I had three recurring daydreams. One was of me with a twelve-year-old daughter living in a Los Angeles villa. Turquoise pool, cactus garden, sunlight, Cloquet in a straw hat and white bermudas teaching us French.

Another was of a little werewolf boy in a shredded school uniform covered in blood, a leftover eyeball in his lunchbox, a human tongue flopping out of his blazer pocket. Of course it was darkly hilarious. Dark hilarity’s always an option, if there’s no God.

I said three recurring daydreams.

I know.

Not yet.

Halfway down the basement stairs my legs buckled. I grabbed the banister, slid to my knees and vomited. Bile and water, since I hadn’t had solid food in twelve days. It hadn’t always been this way. I’d swanned through the first eighteen weeks of pregnancy symptom-free. Then, without warning, everything had changed. Cramps, vomiting, night sweats, visual disturbances, nosebleeds, back ache, diarrhoea, breathtaking uterine pains. Overnight, biology made me its punchbag. If I was lucky I got about a week’s grace post-transformation, when the bodily violence subsided, but when the moon hit first quarter it started up again, and the fiercer the hunger, the more maternity beat the shit out of me. A curse on top of the Curse: you’re starving, but your appetite makes you sick. (My last victim, an onion-and-whiskey-flavoured pimp in Mexico City, had brought on x-rated vomiting less than an hour after I’d eaten him. A pointless death. Now he was an oddity among my dead, confused and wraithy from having not been taken in properly – or from having been taken in and then half forced out again.) For a while I’d clung to a moral theory, that motherhood abhorred murder. But things had happened. Things had happened, and the theory had gone.

‘It’s okay,’ I croaked down to Kaitlyn. ‘It’s just me.’

The stuff you come out with: It’s just me. Your other kidnapper. How reassuring. Kaitlyn didn’t reply. She was on her feet by the camp-bed, holding the restraining cable. Twenty-three, according to her driver’s licence. Pale skin, greasy blonde hair, slightly bulbous blue eyes and a blow-up dollish mouth. Overall a look of not being quite clean (I imagined a grimy navel and a bedroom like the site of a poltergeist freak-out) but slim and pretty enough not to have suspected anything worse than a one-night stand when Cloquet picked her up in Fairbanks. She’d resigned early into the belief that sex was the only thing she had to offer, spent a lot of time docilely doing things in bed she really didn’t want to do, but hey, you know, that was guys, that was the world. There were millions of young women just like her all over America. I’d never been one of them. Because as a child I’d had love and winter nights with my dad talking me through the constellations. Because I’d had catastrophic drunk uncles who’d blearily sought my eight-year-old opinion and sharp aunts (Theresa excluded) who’d marched against the war in Vietnam. Because I’d had The Iliad and Emily Dickinson and the fabulous spectacle of my mother’s ego, her outrageous sense of entitlement.

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