Talulla Rising Page 37

‘It wasn’t a lacuna,’ I said. ‘I felt nothing for him because I thought if I did I might kill him. That would’ve been the worst thing. And that’s what we do, our kind. We do the worst thing. Just so you know.’

Our auras lay against each other, allowed the passage of unspoken information. What I’d just told him wouldn’t stop him wanting me. He was drawn to monstrosity greater than his own. He’d long ago stopped looking for anything more than temporarily diverting sex among the normal women of the world. He believed his only chance for depth was with someone more lost or mutant than himself.

‘What about now?’ he asked. ‘Do you think you’re a danger to your children now?’

In the pale pink bedroom with Delilah Snow the wardrobe door had mysteriously opened, and when I’d looked up at the sound I’d been introduced to my reflection in its mirror. A monster with a human baby in its hands. Like the third recurring daydream. Except of course in the third recurring daydream the baby was a werewolf, and it was hanging from the mother monster’s jaws.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

I lay still, existing with what I was, with what people would think of me. There was a superficial or movie-ish impulse to get up and get dressed, disgusted afresh at my talent for carnality where there should just have been visible torment, but I ignored it, let it burn out, leaving only the level of reality that wasn’t interested in the movies, the alleged consensus, the bad script. It wasn’t defiance or self-forgiveness. It was my soul’s weird expansion to accommodate itself, all its opposites and approximations. I thought of how exhausted the God who wasn’t there must be, who’d been doing this from the Beginning, with no end in sight.

We didn’t speak for a while. He didn’t say: Don’t cry. He just waited it out. The hotel hummed gently under our backs. Never underestimate the solace of a quality hotel, Jake had written. It’s like you. Full of ghosts. For the werewolf, natural sympathy of structure.

‘I forgot to tell you,’ Walker said. ‘According to Hoyle, Merryn was working on a new translation of The Book of Remshi.’

Let the other stuff go, for now. Good. I’d said all I was going to say about it. I liked him, bitterly, for sensing it.

‘For Jacqueline?’ I asked.

‘We don’t know. It may have had nothing to do with her. Merryn was a genuine scholar.’

‘Seems a bit of a coincidence, though, doesn’t it?’

‘I know. But even if he was working on it for her, if she found out he was a mole the commission would’ve been revoked. Terminally.’

‘Where is it, anyway?

‘The translation? God knows. Jacqueline’s crew were pretty thorough. WOCOP have been over Merryn’s place since we were there. According to Hoyle they didn’t find so much as a note for the milkman.’

‘Can you get me a copy? I mean not Merryn’s, obviously, just the most widely used one? I feel like I’m flying blind.’

‘From what I remember it’s pretty impenetrable. Mike might have a copy somewhere... Or maybe on disk. I’ll see what I can do.’

Zoë woke up. Reintroduced herself to the world in a short series of burbles, then fell silent, as if waiting for its reply.

I got to my feet. I was the reply. I was the reply she was stuck with.


The days that followed were a static ordeal of waiting for the phone to ring, relieved by increasingly good therefore increasingly bad sex with Walker. Around the fourth or fifth time we did it I stopped kidding myself I wasn’t playing with fire. Our understanding was immediate and shocking, mutual intuition that skipped chunks of language without surprise and said, loud and clear: Danger. Ten years ago we would have congratulated ourselves. Now we kept our mouths shut and our eyes averted. Not just because we were older and sufficiently mangled, but because we knew that in our case cause for congratulation was cause for retreat. There was no avoiding it during sex, however, when our eyes met in moments of letting it be what it was: something far more than was good for us. This isn’t safe, is it? No, it isn’t. Don’t stop. Oh God don’t stop.

Post-coitally the Hollywood every American carries insinuated its norms, repeatedly suggested the afterglow scene where I doodled on his chest and asked the history of each of his scars, or told him some endearingly embarrassing story from my girlhood. We ignored it. Silence stopped us slipping into the lousy script, but exposed us to the ominous thrill of how little we needed to say. And despite our efforts prosaic epiphanies ambushed us. Once, getting back into my jeans, I got my foot caught and lost my balance. I didn’t fall over, but went through a Chaplinesque sideways hopping routine which he watched, smiling and saying: Easy there, tiger... easy, which made me laugh for the first time since before Alaska, and which opened another terrible flower of sympathy between us. At some point I’d realised he was shy of saying my name. He called me Miss D, if he had to call me anything. Then once, without thinking, he said, quietly, ‘Talulla?’ when I was lying on him and the room was dark and he wasn’t sure if I’d fallen asleep. The smart thing would have been for me to pretend I was asleep – but instead I found myself up on one elbow, kissing his mouth, all femalely tender and lit-up by him unguardedly saying my name, unguardedly, that was the thing, it was such a frail brave thing to be unguarded with someone... telling myself the whole time, don’t do this... don’t do this... for God’s sake don’t do this you idiot... and feeling the gap between him and his previous self widening, as if it were a planet he was drifting away from into vast and utterly unknown space. Me.

We carried on not-talking about any of it. Talking about it could only lead to how stupid we’d been to start and how stupid we’d be not to stop. I imagined my mother watching the delicious mess I was making of things. She would have approved, since she was always for life and life was at its best a delicious mess; she would have approved but cut short the honeymoon period of shirking the facts: He’s not a werewolf, Talulla. Which means either make him one or dump him. Otherwise the delicious mess becomes a car-wreck. The question of whether I could Turn a person was, naturally, refreshed, but no less bedevilled by common sense: who in his right mind would thank me for doing it? You couldn’t start a love affair with a more selfish act. A love affair? Hardly, by the measure of mine and Jake’s – but there was potential around us like a massing storm. Superficially we had the strangers-in-a-strange-land myth to draw on, bodies that fit together in expert cooperation, the aphrodisiacal nearness of death and the mesmerising profane turn-on of not being the same species, but beneath all that was my liberating moral bankruptcy and his fall towards someone who (he thought, wrongly) could cut him off from his past once and for all by turning him into Something Else. That was the potential: part of him wanted to be Turned.

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