Talulla rising, p.1
Also by Glen Duncan
Death of an Ordinary Man
The Bloodstone Papers
A Day and a Night and a Day
The Last Werewolf
Published in Great Britain in 2012
by Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
Copyright © Glen Duncan, 2012
The moral right of the author has been asserted
‘The Child Dying’ taken from Selected Poems by Edwin Muir copyright © the Estate of Edwin Muir and reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber Ltd
Excerpt from The Devil Tree, copyright © 1973, 1981 by Jerzy Kosinski and reprinted by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc
Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologises for any errors or omissions and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 84767 947 5
Export ISBN 978 1 84767 948 2
eISBN 978 0 85786 232 7
Typeset in Perpetua by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd,
This digital edition first published in 2012 by Canongate Books
My thanks to all at Canongate in the UK, Knopf in the US and Text Publishing in Australia, especially: Francis Bickmore, Jamie Byng, Jenny Todd, Norah Perkins, Lorraine McCann, Angela Robertson, Cate Cannon, Jaz Lacey-Campbell, Polly Collingridge, Andrea Joyce, Morven Dooner, Marty Asher, Sonny Mehta, Diana Coglianese, Kim Thornton, Ruth Liebmann, Peter Mendelsund, Mandy Brett and Jane Novak. Once again I’m indebted to my brilliant agents, Jonny Geller in London and Jane Gelfman in New York, and to my friends and family, without whose support and occasional salutary ridicule I would have long ago gone off my nut. They are: Louise Maker, Mark Duncan, Marina Hardiman, Stephen Coates, Nicola Stewart, Jon Field, Vicky Hutchinson, Pete Sollett, Eva Vives, Andrea Freeman, Glen & Dave Teasdale, Bryn & Sally Teasdale, Sarah Forest, Ben Ball, Paige Simpson, Alice Naylor, Jon Cairns, Gavin Butt, Nicola Harwood, Tracy Ryan, Mike Loteryman and Anna Baker Jones. Special thanks to my inspirational Ma and Pa, and finally to Kim Teasdale, for all the usual reasons, but chiefly for allowing me to steal her best ideas and take credit for them.
PROLOGUE: SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THINGS NICE
PART ONE: NATIVITY
PART TWO: THE THIRD RECURRING DAYDREAM
PART THREE: LOVE BITES
PART FOUR: LACUNA
EPILOGUE: TALULLA VICTRIX
SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THINGS NICE
Talulla Demetriou, you have been a Very (pause) Bad (pause) Girl.
My mother always said this with a glimmer of delight in her eyes. She was a Very Bad Girl herself. What she hated above all was weakness. Especially in women. She’d rather pure evil. She was pure evil, when she had to be. She acknowledged an elite: our family, a handful of friends, certain celebrities. The rest of the world was made up of idiots and mediocrities. The Humans, she called them.
(God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive...)
Later, courtesy of my psycho-terrorist Catholic Aunt Theresa, I discovered I was also a Dirty Little Girl. A Dirty, Filthy Little Girl, to be precise. When I was eight she caught me and Toby Greely in the basement examining each other’s private parts. One minute Toby and I were alone, watched by the room’s stunned miscellany – cardboard boxes and a broken ping-pong table and some rolled-up sunshades – the next the silence shifted and I knew someone else was there. Aunt Theresa stood on the bottom step. Her face was always moist from Pond’s Cold Cream but right then it shone with what looked like newly minted divinity. My face, when I turned it to her, was hot and overfull. I had a rich soft feeling because of my pants round my ankles and Toby on his knees and the silence that had cocooned us while he’d taken his long, careful – and indeed tender – look. I’d been close to some big revelation, I believed, and along with horror at being discovered was queenly annoyance at being interrupted. Even then I was thinking Toby and I would have to get back to this, soon.
‘Talulla Demetriou,’ Aunt Theresa said, ‘you are a dirty little girl.’ And then, since that didn’t quite cover it: ‘A dirty, filthy little girl.’
The Dirty Filthy Little Girl was pretty and liked bad things. In Tenth Grade she was friends with Lauren Miller, who was also pretty and also liked bad things. For example there was a drippy and permanently cold-sored girl they tormented and nicknamed NODOR (No Danger of Rape). One day the Dirty Filthy Little Girl was sitting on Jason Wells’s lap at recess and Lauren called out something awful to NODOR as she went by and you could see from NODOR’s face it really hurt her, hurt her in her heart, and at the same time Jason’s hard-on was pressing against the Dirty Filthy Little Girl’s ass and the Dirty Filthy Little Girl got the rich soft feeling again and knew there was a connection. It was like the Devil putting his arms around you from behind and you leaning back into it and enjoying the lovely surprising warmth.
At college the Very Bad Dirty Filthy Little Girl knew once and for all she was an agent for the forces of darkness. She was the worst kind of young woman: one who recognised the proactively politicised female she ought to become, then didn’t become it, but instead carried on being attracted to evil guys and having the wrong kind of sexual fantasies and making herself look as attractive as possible and ultimately accepting that she was too selfish and good-looking and lazy and perverted to ever live the kind of life she knew she ought to. By the end of her sophomore year she was openly reading the wrong authors and no longer going through Gethsemane every time she wore a sexy dress or a pair of politically bankrupt shoes or let a guy fuck her in the ass, which, to be fair to her, was a privilege she granted very (pause) very (pause) selectively, and often with mixed feelings or when completely hammered.
Finally, the Very Bad Dirty Filthy Little Girl capped her career of moral slippage by dropping out of her Masters in Literature and becoming a businesswoman. A servant of Mammon! With no great surprise – in fact with loose-lim
Given the Very Bad Dirty Filthy Little Girl’s record, it was astonishing that when her marriage collapsed it wasn’t because she was cheating on her husband, but because he was cheating on her. She enjoyed a brief sojourn on the moral high ground.
‘Brief’ being the operative word. No sooner had she got used to the toothsome satisfaction of being all sorts of lousy things but at least I’m not a fucking liar you miserable fuck than she got bitten by a werewolf one night in the Arizona desert, and was forced to say goodbye to the moral high ground for ever. She discovered that not only could she kill and eat people once a month, but she could kill and eat people once a month and love it.
Until she found out she was pregnant. Then a whole new species of trouble began.
‘Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.’
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
‘Oh, mon Dieu,’ Cloquet said, when he opened the lodge door and saw me on the floor. ‘Fuck.’
I was on my side, knees drawn up, face wet with sweat. Pregnancy and the hunger didn’t get along. Hated each other, in fact. I pictured the baby pressing werewolf fingernails against my womb, five bits of broken glass on the skin of a balloon. And only myself to blame: when I could’ve got rid of it I didn’t want to. Now that I wanted to it was too late. Conscience from the old life said: Serves you right. I’d fired conscience months back, but it was still hanging around, miserable, unshaven, nowhere else to go.
‘Did you get it?’ I gasped. Behind Cloquet the open door showed deep snow, the edge of the pine forest, frail constellations. Beauty mauled me even in this state. Aesthetic hypersensitivity was a by-product of slaughter. Life was full of these amoral relations, it turned out.
Cloquet rushed to my side, tugging off his thermal gloves. ‘Lie still,’ he said. ‘Don’t try to speak.’ He smelled of outdoors, dense evergreens and the far north air like something purified by the flight of angels. ‘You have a temperature. Did you drink enough water?’
For the umpteenth time I wished my mother were alive. For the umpteenth time I thought how unspeakably happy I’d be if she and Jake walked in the door right now, grinning, the pair of them. My mother would dump her purse on the table in a puff of Chanel and say, For God’s sake, Lulu, look at your hair – and the weight would lift and everything would be all right. Jake wouldn’t have to say anything. He’d look at me and it would be there in his eyes, that he was for me, always, always – and the nightmare would reduce to a handful of solvable problems. (I’d expected their ghosts, naturally. I’d demanded their ghosts. I got nothing. The universe, it also turned out, was no more interested in werewolf demands than it was in human ones.)
Pain thickened under my toenails, warmed my eyeballs. Wulf smirked and kicked and cajoled in my blood. Come on, what’s a few hours between friends? Let me out. Let me out. Every month the same delirious bullying, the same pointless impatience. I closed my eyes.
Bad idea. The footage ran, immediately: Delilah Snow’s room, the wardrobe door swinging open, its long mirror introducing me to myself in all my grotesque glory, what I was, what I could do, the full range of my options. Monster. Murderer. Mother-to-be.
I opened my eyes.
‘Let me get you some water,’ Cloquet said.
‘No, stay here.’
I had hold of his coat and was twisting it. My dead moaned and throbbed. My dead. My restless tenants. My forced family of thirteen. Those ghosts, yes, of course, as many as you like. The only way to be sure of never losing the ones you love. The Dahmer Method. Extreme, but effective.
‘Breathe, chérie, breathe.’
Chérie. Mon ange. Ma belle. Lovers’ endearments, though we weren’t, and never would be, lovers.
One by one the broken-glass fingernails withdrew. The pain furled shut, like time-lapse film of a flower closing. By degrees, with Cloquet’s help, I made it to the armchair. Wulf smiled. The prisoner’s smile at the guard, knowing the breakout gang’s already on its way.
‘Did you get it?’ I asked again, when I’d caught my breath. ‘At least tell me you got it.’
Cloquet shook his head. ‘There was a screw-up. It’s stuck in freight clearing at Anchorage. It’ll be in Fairbanks Saturday morning. There’s more snow coming, though. I’ll have to take the Ski-Doo and trailer.’
I didn’t say anything. I was remembering an artwork I saw once at MOMA: a foetus made entirely of barbed wire. Lauren and I had just stood there looking at it, silenced.
‘Don’t worry,’ Cloquet said. ‘It’s two days. You’re not due for six weeks. I’ll go back to Fairbanks Saturday first-thing. They promise it’ll be there. It has to be.’
‘It’ was a consignment of obstetrics equipment, including oxygen machine, forceps, foetal and adult stethoscopes, heart monitor, PCA pump, sphygmomanometer and sutures. ‘Fairbanks’ was Fairbanks, Alaska. Necessary obscurity: WOCOP – World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena (think CIA meets Keystone Kops meets Spanish Inquisition, Jake had said) – knew I’d survived Jake’s death and was carrying his child. Its hunters wanted my head and its scientists wanted me strapped down in a lab. It didn’t stop there. Having found a correlation between survived werewolf bites and increased sunlight tolerance, vampires were after – what else? – my blood. More than all that, my straw-clutching subconscious had seen the snow as a sterile environment, a natural hospital. Conventional medicine was out of the question – Well, Miss Demetriou, as you can see on the monitor, here’s the umbilicus, and here’s a very healthy-looking placenta, and of course here’s the—JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WHAT IS THAT? – so Cloquet had found the converted hunting lodge, with its exposed beams and wood-burning stove and wardrobes that smelled of camphor. Three thousand dollars a week, no other residents within fifteen miles, no phone reception, a half-mile of dirt road through the Christmas trees’ thrilled hush to the highway, from which Fairbanks was a ninety-minute drive southwest. I could scream as loud as I liked. No one would hear. I had a recurring vision of myself lying on the dining table in a pool of blood, screaming as loud as I liked. I had a lot of recurring visions.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘This thing’s going to kill me anyway.’ Gratuitous. Post-Delilah Snow I was full of random cruelties. I knew how the fear of me dying gnawed him now he was an accessory to murder. Murders, plural. Looking after a werewolf uniquely disqualified you from doing anything else. As Jake’s poor minder Harley could have confirmed, if he hadn’t had his head cut off. That Cloquet had become my minder still occasionally mesmerised me, the giant absurdity of the fact. Yet I remembered the feeling of dreamy inevitability that night in the forest five months before, when I’d put out my hand – my changed hand, clawed, wet and heavy with blood – and he, after a cracked laugh, had taken it. What had happened moments before – carnage, death, vengeance, loss – had left the two of us with a raw permissive consciousness, and into it this new relationship insinuated itself. Expect the absurd, Jake had warned me. Expect the risible twist, the ludicrous denouement. Expect the perverse. It’s the werewolf’s lot.
Cloquet shut the door, took out a big white hanky and blew his nose. The cold had given him a look of surprised innocence. Sometimes I saw him like this, humanly, the mangled person and the road back to his childhood strewn with wrong turns and ugly coincidences. Long ago he’d been a little boy, side-parted hair and a volatile world of loved toys and stormy adults. Now, as he snuffled and swiped, nostrils raw, eyebrows raised, I had an image of this dark-eyed child standing alone on a jetty looking out over black water, waiting for the reunion that would never come. T
‘How is it?’ he asked.
‘I wish you’d take the drugs.’
Just say no. So far I had. Acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine, codeine, Demerol, morphine. All with potential side-effects my imagination made certainties. Administration of this drug during the first trimester can cause behavioural abnormalities in the infant.
Behavioural abnormalities. Jake and I would’ve exchanged a look. But ironies were like secrets: unshared they died. Jake and I would’ve. Jake and I. Jake. I. There were these moments when there was nothing between me and the reality of his death, when the future without him yawned, a vast space of sheer drops and wrong perspectives. There’d be more and more of these moments, I knew, until eventually they wouldn’t be moments at all, just the continuous, crushing way things were. The way things were that having our child was supposed to alleviate.
‘Save the drugs for when I really need them,’ I said.
We both knew I really needed them already, what with wulf jamming the room with its stink and the cattle-wire shocks in my fingernails and ringing iron in my eye-teeth and outside whispering the dirty talk of the wild. Transformation was less than twenty-four hours away.
‘You don’t have to be brave, you know,’ he said.
‘I’m not. I’m just thinking ahead.’ I didn’t want to think ahead. (I didn’t want to think back, either. There was horror in both directions.) Rufus, my fish supplier for the Brooklyn diners, had described watching his wife having their baby. I want to tell you it was beautiful, he said, but basically it looked like someone had taken a twelve-gauge to her pussy. This image kept coming back, as did the Sex Ed video they showed us in high school, yellowed footage of a big-thighed woman sweatily giving birth. Unanimous teen revulsion. Lauren had said to me: Fuck the miracle of life, where do I sign up for a hysterectomy?