Talulla Rising Page 79

Murdoch, hopping back in, didn’t bother saying don’t bother screaming we’re miles from anywhere. It was more satisfying to him to let his silence make it obvious.

He wasn’t alone. At his side was a stale-looking, heavily built guy in his mid-forties in a black leather jacket, baggy khaki combats and a string vest. A St Christopher winked in his chest hair. He was full-lipped, in need of a shave, with big, wet, heavy-lidded eyes the colour of prunes. He didn’t say anything. Just looked at me with a sort of hopelessness that emptied me of everything except the certainty of what was going to happen. I’d wondered why I’d been left with the use of two limbs. Now I knew. Same reason they’d given Caleb the blood rations before sending him into his cage: maximal spectacle. Murdoch didn’t want me powerless, he wanted me overpowered, given just enough will to really feel it not being enough.

I thought, while String Vest took off his jacket and unzipped his pants, of all the times I’d heard or read about someone getting raped. I decided straight away I wasn’t going to struggle. Some rapists liked that. I decided I was going to fight the sonofabitch with everything I had. Some rapists liked that. I fought him at first, but in the end I couldn’t stop him. A lot of rapists seemed to like that. There was no kind of rape there wasn’t a rapist for. I had never been raped. Faced with it I felt the ghostly weight of all the women who had been, ranks upon ranks reaching back to the first sad loping female hominids. Incalculable numbers, a wretched sorority only truly visible when you found yourself about to join it. At the same time here again was the terrible aloneness I’d felt when my waters broke. However many hundreds of millions had gone through the experience, when it happened it was only your own version that mattered.

‘Here we are then,’ Murdoch said, quietly, unlocking the cage door.

I stared at him. ‘I’m going to kill you,’ I said, also quietly. ‘You’re going to turn me over to the organisation and I’m going to get out, just like I did before, and I’m—’

‘I find I have to do these things,’ he said. Which forced a weird pause between the three of us. ‘There’s a momentum,’ he said. ‘When I was a child I remember learning that if you gave an object in space just a little shove it would go on for ever. Assuming it didn’t hit anything. It would just keep going, for ever.’

String Vest breathed audibly through moist nostrils. I could smell him. The woman in me could smell cigarette smoke and beer and sweat, food fried in old fat. The wolf could smell his thrilled blood and riotous pheromones, stale piss, spiced meat breath and the first ooze of semen. He wanted this raw interim to be over. It was dangerous for him, my personhood like a shimmying or vacillating flame, one moment being the reason he couldn’t, the next moment being the reason he couldn’t not. I said to him: ‘Wait. You don’t have to do this. You know you don’t have to do this.’ But I knew it was pointless. The raw interim was over. It was over from the first step he took towards me. Now anything I said or did would be provocation. Now the bare fact of me was provocation. That’s the nature of rape. His face had thickened slightly, his limbs filled. This was what he’d been waiting for: the illusion of necessity, submission to the force of the dimming drug.

This man is going to rape you.

All the documentaries and articles and silhouetted testimonies. All the little intuitions I’d had about certain women. She has been. She has been. She has been. All this flared and billowed like a suffocating cloud around me and I realised that behind all of them was an actual event, an actual man closing actual distance between himself and an actual woman and shoving himself onto her, into her, through her, breaking the physical boundary and dirtily ransacking the soul’s house of priceless memories. Behind all those stories were the candid odours and needling palms and legs sick with adrenaline and the universe’s indifferent obedience to physics: physics said if you couldn’t fight and your thighs were open and the man was determined to put his cock inside you then that’s what would happen. Your body would accommodate it because your body was under the same pointless administration as stars and molecules. I’d seen it in my victims, of course, the shocked realisation that a claw applied with the right pressure would open the soft meat of a midriff and there was nothing the universe could do about it. Right, wrong, good, evil, cruelty, compassion... the universe just shrugged: I don’t know this stuff. I just know physics. I’d seen it in my victims. Let’s not forget that. Millions of women could have asked their rapists, legitimately: How can you do this? Millions of women who genuinely didn’t know. Not me. I knew how he could do it. He could do it because it was good for him if it was bad for me. He could do it because it was only the best for him if it was the worst for me. I knew the equation. The equation had integrity. The equation didn’t change. Only my place in it.

That was an option, of course, to take it as poetic justice, a penance earned from my own mortal sins. Aunt Theresa had a big thing about offering your sufferings up to God. I’d overheard my mother arguing with her: What kind of lousy sadist God wants my sufferings? Don’t be such a retard, Theresa. A flash of love for my mom went off like a gorgeous firework – and I laughed out loud.

I know how uplifting it would be to say the laugh unnerved my rapist, but it didn’t. He was past all that. Laughter might have had a chance in the raw interim, but not now. Now he’d dropped deep into his blood and only outside force could stop him.

He was less than two feet away. His body’s heat touched the cold sweat on my face. Wulf was outraged at the timing. An hour, maybe two, and she could tear him in half. But that was part of the Murdoch design. He wanted me as close as possible to the Curse’s gift of physical strength without being able to use it. Think what you could do to him if only the moon was up! Oh, but it’s not up. Of course. Shame.

Without warning String Vest slammed into me, hurling me back against the bars. His weight was a momentary eclipse – but shot through by a sudden distinct pain in my left flank, just under the ribs. For a second I thought he’d stabbed me, albeit with an absurdly small and blunt knife. Then I realised: there was something in one of my pockets after all.

I’d stopped wearing make-up when I was pregnant. Not on principle, but because most of the time my skin was so sensitive that dragging cosmetics across it would’ve been plain masochism. But here, from the days before maternity, was an eyeliner pencil. I remembered. One night in Palm Springs while I was still pretending to feel great about the divorce I’d tripped, drunk on margaritas, getting out of a cab, and half the contents of my purse had ended up on the sidewalk. A friend had handed me the eyeliner pencil I’d missed, and I’d shoved it into my pocket on my way up the steps to the club. It had been there, with its nib stuck in a tiny hole in the lining, ever since.

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