Talulla Rising Page 39

At least that’s what I told Cloquet. The truth was someone walked over my grave wouldn’t leave me alone. Hadn’t left me alone since Hammersmith. It was with me now like a continuous sound. It grew in the suite’s deeper silences, crept into what little sleep I got, whispered and sometimes blared out when I climaxed. Wulf, normally entering her quietest time of the month (ten days since her last appearance, eighteen till her next), remained raw-eyed and awake, ghost ears pricked, ghost snout baffled. It was no good. There would be no peace. Whatever it was it was out there and I was sick of not knowing. I said nothing about it to Walker, who would have tried to stop me.

Cloquet looked in on me just as I was pulling on the white-blonde wig. The suite’s windows, overlooking Hyde Park, showed high bright clouds and the trees with their remaining leaves shivering. Cold, softly threshing air I wanted to feel on my hands and face and neck.

‘You’re going out,’ he said. He was annoyed by the liaison with Walker, yes, but more because he thought he’d done irreparable damage to my trust in him. I hadn’t told him about someone walked over my grave, either. It wouldn’t have helped. He was tightly enough wound as it was. ‘I just came to see... I just came to see if you needed anything.’

He just came for a little company, he meant. The last few days had pared our relationship down to its functional bones. It suddenly occurred to me how gentle he was with Zoë whenever he had to handle her, and I felt a great tenderness towards him.

‘Come here,’ I said. I was sitting on a pink velvet stool at the maple dresser. He crossed the room and quite naturally knelt and put his head on my knees. I ran my fingers through his hair and received, in his muscular surrender, how much he’d been starved of physical contact. There was an ache around his body. Unloved, uncaressed, the flesh developed a wrong microclimate that made it more unlovable, more uncaressable. I let myself imagine there would come a time when, my son restored to me and God in His heaven and all right with the world, I could order Cloquet to take some comfort in the arms of a woman, whether his libido was dead or not.

‘You’re exhausted,’ I said. ‘Do you know that?’

He didn’t answer. The medic Walker had brought to check Cloquet’s shoulder had pronounced it infection-free and healing, but it was still a visible drain, a force that gnawed his energy and made him clumsy.

‘I’m going to go for a walk with the baby,’ I told him. ‘Why don’t you take a nap?’

‘I can’t sleep.’

‘Just try. Have a brandy and put a movie on and take your shoes off and lie down on the bed. Just do that. Just rest.’ I spoke calmly, running my fingers through his hair, thinking of the scar on his foot from where his mother had burned him with the poker. Again I felt the unjustifiable nature of our relationship. And again the obscure entitlement. Wulf knows its dues, and will have them. ‘Listen to me,’ I said. ‘I know you wanted to protect me. You think I don’t trust you? You’re the only person I trust. Don’t you know that?’

He couldn’t answer. Tenderness upset him, having been so long absent from his life. When it appeared now it was like the return of a glamorous unreliable parent who’d abandoned him umpteen times before. He knew it wouldn’t last.

And it didn’t. With gentle insinuation from my knees and hands I let him know it was time for him to get up. His shoulder pained him when he did.

‘How long will you be gone?’ he asked, quietly.

‘I don’t know. No more than a couple of hours. I’ll call you if it’s going to be more.’

I added Zoë’s last layers, hatted and mittened her, stuffed a couple of diapers in the pocket of her carrier, then snapped her into place against my breasts. ‘This is what Dolly Parton must feel like the whole time,’ I said, straightening my spine against the weight. ‘I’m going to end up a hunchback lugging this critter around.’


God knows what I was hoping for. For whatever it was that was stalking me to be sufficiently provoked, I suppose, to stop all the sneaky stuff and walk right up to me and do whatever it was going to do. Not that I was sure I was being stalked. The feeling was more like the one I got close to transformation, that call of the wild that went from innocent to sly to vulgar to raging, the need for moonlight and the ground rolling under me and air streaming over my snout and the sudden exploded stink of a victim...

Whatever I was hoping for, I didn’t get it. Hyde Park was green and wet and littered with red and gold leaves, but empty of supernatural signals. I bought a hot chocolate from the Serpentine Gallery and turned back on myself, northeast, towards Marble Arch. Zoë rested snug against me, stupefied by the world’s soft tumult and shifting odours. The temptation wasn’t a temptation now but a frail revolt, a forlorn rebellion against the hardened heart. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. But there whether I wanted it or not was my daughter’s lethal particularity, that uniqueness that called up the too-late love that must fall away, atomising into nothingness, the same nothingness my mom saw between morphine doses, the same nothingness that was where I wanted Jake’s ghost to be, the same nothingness everyone glimpsed now and then, and denied. I pulled her hat down to cover her ears, inside still falling away, falling away. Serves you right, Aunt Theresa’s voice said. You had your chance.

I took a cab to Leicester Square. Maybe whatever-the-fuck-it-was hid in crowds. Here were the crowds. Humans, woollen-hatted and scarved, raw-nostriled, frowning, jabbering into cellphones, wrapped in their own details. Christmas had already started to show in window displays, glitzy and merciless as Lucifer. The capital’s nerves were shot from the financial meltdown, and Londoners everywhere had the look of trying not to think about how bad things were going to get. I moved among them, struggling to block out regular perception and open myself to its twilight-zone counterpart.

With zero success.

I got nothing. Spent two hours getting nothing. If anything the signal dimmed. What had been a continuous nagging interference faded, sometimes disappeared altogether.

Charing Cross Road. Soho. Piccadilly. Regent Street. Oxford Circus.


My back ached. My left eye watered in the cold. Zoë wanted feeding. She fed every two and a half hours, like clockwork, with a four-hour sleep between one and five a.m. My choice was find a mother-and-baby room in a store or hail a cab and go back to the hotel.

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