Talulla Rising Page 40

I hailed a cab.

Traffic was slow going west on Oxford Street. I took out the cell to let Cloquet know I was on my way home – then thought better of it: I didn’t want to tie it up and miss a call from Walker. Zoë wriggled and kicked her legs against me – then suddenly went still.

I’d felt it too.

One second of... of what? Something like forced intimacy. A lecher’s breath on the neck. Furious tingling in my legs and breasts and scalp. Then it was gone.

‘Please stop here.’

‘You don’t want to go to the Dorchester?’

‘No. Here, please. Stop.’

Back on the sidewalk I turned slowly through 360 degrees. The street was tagged with globalised brands: McDonald’s; Nokia; Subway; the Gap. Light bounced off the flanks of cars. An open-topped bus went by with an enormous diesel yawn, tourists on the exposed top deck, freezing, taking photographs.


All but on tiptoe I walked back the dozen yards it had taken the cabbie to find a space to pull in.

Cold. Colder.

I turned again and walked slowly west. Zoë had her eyes closed against the flaring and subsiding light. She looked like a tiny ancient trying to recall something from long ago.

A little warmer... Warmer...

I stopped opposite Selfridges.


I crossed the road.


Moved towards the one of the doors – GO IN – and went in.

Perfume counters. Prismic, noisy, jammed with scents in migrainy concentration. Bottles like science fiction objects d’art. Precisely made-up sales girls with glittering eyes and chignons you could see the effort it cost them to keep intact all day. Women and men bent, sniffed, frowned, debated as if the fate of the world was at stake. It made you wonder – the way a gridlocked freeway or heaving Burger King did – why we lived this way. Why humans lived this way, I mean.

The store was hot and lit by too many halogens. I took off Zoë’s cap and mittens. She was quiet and alert. There was nothing to do but keep moving.

Bags. Sunglasses. Jewellery. Menswear: a wall of ties like a paint colour chart. Odours of new leather and serge and talc. Very faintly... very faintly, a pull up the escalator.

I was sweating by the time we reached the second floor. Womenswear. The familiar vibe or subsonic murmur of female concentration. Self-assessment, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-cruelty, self-love. The endless argument with shape and size. Some women stood in front of mirrors holding things up in front of themselves and evaluating the result the way a pathologist might a corpse. Others visibly willed themselves different – hips, thighs, belly, breasts – working through the finite range of minute adjustments to posture and facial expression that ought to but never did make any difference.

I moved into the designer section.


Versace. Karen Millen. Armani.

Much warmer.

Dolce & Gabbana. Diesel.



I stopped. Zoë tensed against me.

It was in the changing room.

And I knew without doubt, as the full impossible scent hit me, exactly what it was.

My skin was wet and heavy, my head full of blood. I looked down at Zoë’s face. Her black eyes were wide open. Questions massed. I had to ignore them, ignore them and think – think!

‘Madam?’ a woman’s voice said. ‘Madam? Are you all right?’

I was leaning on the edge of the doorway to the dressing room. A young sales assistant with corkscrewy brown hair and hazel eyes too close together had her hands out towards me.

‘Are you not feeling well?’

‘I’m okay,’ I said, my face fat with heat.

‘Let me get you a chair. I’ll be two seconds.’

‘Really, it’s—’

‘I’ll be right back.’

I stood, concussed, skin tingling. Zoë’s scalp was piping hot, her soft hair aloft with static. My legs felt empty. It’s not possible. It’s not possible.

Then the door to one of the cubicles opened – and the werewolf stepped out.


It was a girl in her mid-twenties, blonde hair scraped back in a ponytail, lime-green eyes in a catty little face and a small body without an ounce of fat. She wore no make-up but you could see she’d be pop-kitten glamorous if she did. Men, without exception, would go: Yes. Absolutely yes. It was a huge part of her life, men looking at her. It was her aura, that was both a power and an irritant. She was dressed in a white roll-neck sweater, black leggings, oxblood leather knee-boots and matching satchel. She had a black frock coat over her left arm.

For what felt like a long time we stood staring at each other. The air between us pounded with Jake’s first words to me at Heathrow: I know what you are and you know what I am.

‘Here you are, madam, have a sit down for a minute. Can I get you a glass of water?’ The sales assistant had returned with a plastic chair. ‘Any luck?’ she said to the blonde girl.

Neither of us was capable of responding. Now that I knew what someone walked over my grave was it seemed it could never have been anything else.

‘Well,’ the sales assistant said (thinking Okay, fuck you both), ‘the seat’s there if you need it. I’ll be back in a moment.’

And even when she’d gone, and the girl and I were alone face to face, time and silence solidified around us. Meanwhile the world quietly rearranged itself like a CGI effect on a planetary scale. Alarming sorority flowed between and through and around us. (How do we really know there aren’t any others? I’d asked Jake. He’d said Harley would have known. But Harley was nine months late finding out I existed.) Somewhere in the store I’d passed the ad slogan for the latest iPhone: This changes everything. Again.

At last I made my mouth move. ‘Who are you?’ I said.

She swallowed. Opened her mouth, closed it. Started again. ‘Who are you?’ she said. Her voice surprised me: working-class London, East End I supposed. From the horsey get-up I’d been expecting public-school posh.

‘It’s not “who”, is it?’ I said. ‘It’s what.’

‘Fucking hell,’ she said. ‘Fucking hell.’

Someone tutted in one of the other cubicles.

‘You’re American,’ she said.


‘Who did it to you?’

‘Maybe we should—’

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