Talulla Rising Page 38

There were moments when I knew he was on the verge of telling me what had happened to him. He rolled right to the edge of it... then back, every time. Until at last one night in the small hours (he was never at the hotel for longer than two or three hours at a time) when we were lying side by side after sex we’d forced on fractionally too long, and I was thinking there couldn’t be more than ten minutes before Zoë woke up for a feed, something shifted or broke in the immediate atmosphere between us, and I knew before he spoke what was coming.

‘It’s quite something,’ he said – then stalled.

Hollywood wouldn’t give up. On offer was the scene where the woman maternally cradled the man and silently absorbed his horror story and afterwards told him it was all right. I always found such scenes aesthetically sickly. I always ended up thinking less of the guy after he’d unburdened himself. I was very close to saying: Don’t bother. Whatever it is I don’t give a shit.

‘It’s quite something,’ he repeated, ‘that it can’t be anything other than minor to you.’

The thing that had happened to him, he meant. The thing he’d wrought himself around.

‘Why don’t you just give me the facts?’ I said.

Pause. Both of us were momentarily aware of the hotel’s sad essence as a thing always passed through, always left. Then the tension fell out of his shoulders, fell out of all of him, as suddenly as if it had dropped though a trapdoor.

‘I killed my father when I was seven,’ he said. ‘He was a cop. I shot him with his own gun. He was smashing my mother’s face into the television. Those are the facts.’

If you’d asked me what I’d thought he was going to say I couldn’t have predicted it, precisely, but every word and image had the quality of a dream I was remembering now in a rush, vivid and inevitable: the little boy struggling to lift the weapon; the low-ceilinged room; the woman’s forlorn knees and the man’s mouth down-curled like the tragedy mask’s, like DeNiro’s, in fact, which was who I pictured his dad looking like. I could see the moment fixing the boy like a pin in a butterfly. I could see the assassin and the smile and the levity and the sex and the skin-shedding like speeded-up film of something growing out of it. There was a weariness in being able to see this, a deflation that came with understanding. I thought: All insight makes us sad. It reminds us of the perfection we used to think was our original state.

‘Did you mean to kill him?’ I asked.

‘I’m not sure. I meant to make him stop. Anyway, he died. My mother dialled 911 but he was dead before they got there. I’d shot him in the heart, it turned out.’

‘What happened to your mother afterwards?’

‘She went off the rails. We had two years of moving from place to place. I’d thought now he was gone she’d be okay, but she wasn’t. She’d never been okay. She died of an overdose three weeks before my tenth birthday.’

I could imagine the story that followed. Child Protection Services. Foster care. Institutions. Too much experience, accelerated exposure, all the wrong shapes. At first I didn’t feel anything. Then when I thought of him saying, Easy there, tiger... easy, and how pure a relief it had been to me to laugh for a moment, I felt sorry for him. But almost immediately and seemingly involuntarily jerked myself out of it.

‘It’s minor to you,’ he said. ‘It can’t not be.’

‘Minor’ was hardly the word, but I knew what he meant. He was used to being the biggest deformity in the room. Now he wasn’t. It was a relief and a loss. Part of him resented it. Again the visibility of all this made me feel tired. Trying to find something to say was trying to escape from of a chamber with lots of open doors, each one of which slammed shut the second I got to it.

‘You know how it is for me,’ I said, eventually. I’d surprised myself. The way out was simply to state the truth, neutrally. He did know how it was for me. Me, the woman whose high-point to date was getting fucked by her werewolf lover snout-deep in their victim’s guts and whose low was watching indifferently as strangers kidnapped her son. The woman with a dozen-plus murders under her belt and ghosts yammering in her blood. You shot your dad in the heart? Impressive. My last beau killed and ate his wife and child. You know, I run with a tough crowd. Ask Delilah Snow.

‘Yeah,’ he said, quietly, as if I’d said it aloud. ‘I know.’

That was all. The exchange had left us both sad, as both of us had known it would. Someone with an early flight pulled a wheelie case down the carpeted hall. A belated surge of pity for Walker rose in me, so that for a few seconds I was balanced between the desire to turn to him and touch him in animal sympathy, and the knowledge that it wouldn’t, in the long run, help.

At which point an odd thing happened. I thought of how my dad used to sometimes take my mom’s hand and make her press it on his face because he loved the feel and smell of her palm and because he was one of those men who was always ultimately looking to dissolve himself into a woman. And how my mom just accepted it. Why wouldn’t her palm on his face make him feel better? That image, of my mom carrying on a conversation with me while my dad took her hand and placed it over his face, tipped the balance (and reminded me with a sudden inner temperature drop of the other balance that tipped); I turned to Walker and kissed him.

I dreamed of Lorcan nightly now, with all dreaming’s shifts and superimpositions of identity, but always the same structure: desperation, obstacles, loss. In a recurring nightmare I was back in the house at Park Slope. I could hear him in one of the upstairs rooms. The place was busy with relatives preparing a meal, my dad drunkenly superintending, my mom talking on the phone. The atmosphere was warm and lazy, and it took a while for me to shift from calm curiosity (where is he, exactly?) to edgy self-ridicule (don’t be silly, he’s right there upstairs!) to slightly unhinged irritation (where is he, God dammit?) to full panic (oh, God, please...) as I went from room to room without finding him, until in the last room I opened the closet door to find not a closet but a sheer drop into black, roiling water that stretched away as far as the eye could see.

I wasn’t supposed to leave the hotel (aside from Walker’s injunction to lay low there was Cloquet’s default paranoia) but by the sixth day I couldn’t stand it any more. The rooms were suffocating me. A strangling pressure came up out of the carpets.

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