The Last Werewolf Page 55

“And it was evil?”

This, of course, is the crux. It doesn’t really matter what the language is, only whether there’s a transcendent moral grammar underpinning it. No one really cares what hell’s called or who runs it. They just don’t want to go there.

“It felt like it intended harm to humans,” I said. “But not as if it had much choice about it. Evil has to be chosen.”

She kept her hands in her pockets. Stared at the road ahead. This was the problem with talking. Sooner or later it led here. Sooner or later everything led here.

Evening on our fifth day from New York we stopped in the middle of nowhere for me to pee. Sunset was a gap between land and cloud like a narrow eye or broken yolk of light, rose gold, mauve, dusk. On either side flat prairie to the horizon, an effect that remade the earth as a disk of pale grass. Ahead the road ran straight to vanishing point; turn 180 degrees and look back, same thing. Talulla got out, stretched, leaned against the Toyota’s bonnet, lit one of my cigarettes. (I’d told her smoking wouldn’t harm her and she’d said okay what the hell, it’s something to do.) We yet hadn’t said anything about where we were going or what we were going to do when we got there, and the not saying anything was for her like flies gathering on her skin, more every hour, every day. These last two nights the Hunger had kept us awake in shivering TV light, drinking bourbon, screwing till we were sore, unable to find comfort lying still. Full moon was eight days away.

“When I was driving in the desert,” she said, staring at the horizon, “I’d go a hundred miles and see nothing, just empty landscape.” She was wearing a black leather jacket, blue jeans, a cream rollneck sweater. I was thinking of lines from a Thom Gunn poem: They lean against the cooling car, backs pressed / Upon the dusts of a brown continent, / And watch the sun, now Westward of their West  … “Then suddenly,” Talulla went on, “in the middle of all this emptiness, like a joke, I’d see a solitary trailer. A washing line, a pickup, a dog. Someone living there all alone. I toyed with doing that, in the beginning, just get as far away from people as possible. Alaska, maybe. The Arctic.” A breeze simmered in the roadside grasses. She took a last drag, dropped the butt and ground it out with the toe of her boot. “But I’m not built for it,” she said. “Loneliness.”

I put my arms around her and kissed her, felt the compact warmth of her under the leather jacket. Her hair smelled of cigarette smoke and fresh air. I was very aware of the precise dimensions we occupied just then, two bodies, all the miles around us. “You know what you look like?” I said. “You look like one of those actresses in an episode of a seventies cop show. Cannon or McCloud or Petrocelli. ”

“I don’t want to alarm you, but I’ve never heard of any of those.”

“ ‘Guest starring Talulla Demetriou as Nadine. A Quinn Martin production.’ They were so beautiful, those girls, they hurt men’s hearts. It’s your beauty spot and your high forehead and your centre-parting.”

“That doesn’t sound very attractive,” she said. “And you can call it a mole, you know, since that’s what it is.”

I held her slightly away from me and looked at her. The Hunger had thinned the skin of her orbits but her face still had its centres of wealth, the long lashes and dark eyes, the mouth the colour of raw meat. A look of fragile control over demonic energies. It had been so much just the two of us that there had hardly been need to address each other by name, but earlier that day in a convenience store she’d said something and I hadn’t heard and she’d said, Jake, and I’d loved her, a sudden access of ridiculous piercing love just because there it was in her voice saying my name, the new deep thrilling familiarity.

Later, driving again in the dark, she said, “I toyed with the other thing too, in the beginning. The radical solution.”

Suicide.

“But?”

She didn’t reply immediately. Cats’ eyes ticked by. The Hunger’s night shift was limbering up. Lust was available to me, moved as with aching muscles towards her hands on the Toyota’s wheel, the small taut weights of her breasts, her knees, the beauty spot by her lip. She kept her eyes on the road. “Turns out I’m not built for that either,” she said. “I didn’t want to die. I put on a show of wanting to die for a while, that’s all. I couldn’t believe I was going to carry on, but there I was, carrying on. No point saying pigs can’t fly when they’re up there catching pigeons.”

The universe demands some sort of deal, so you make one. Yes.

“The truth is I was a monster long before any of this. I got my mother’s narcissism and my dad’s immigrant overcompensation. If it’s me or the world, the world’s had it. Of course that’s disgusting. And liberating. That’s the problem with disgust. You get through it. You feel bigger and emptier.”

Which observation broke some barrier in her, some last resistance to dealing in bald specifics. I felt it—we both did—as surely as we would have felt a tyre blowing out. She understood the genre constraints, the decencies we were supposed to be observing. The morally cosy vision allows the embrace of monstrosity only as a reaction to suffering or as an act of rage against the Almighty. Vampire interviewee Louis is in despair at his brother’s death when he accepts Lestat’s offer. Frankenstein’s creature is driven to violence by the violence done to him. Even Lucifer’s rebellion emerges from the agony of injured pride. The message is clear: By all means become an abomination—but only while unhinged by grief or wrath. By rights, Talulla knew, she should have been orphaned or raped or paedophilically abused or terminally ill or suicidally depressed or furious at God for her mother’s death or at any rate in some way deranged if she was to be excused for not having killed herself, once it became apparent that she’d have to murder and devour people in order to stay alive. The mere desire to stay alive, in whatever form you’re lumbered with—werewolf, vampire, Father of Lies—really couldn’t be considered a morally sufficient rationale. And yet here she was, staying alive. You love life because life’s all there is. That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was the top and tail of the case against her.

That night, lying on our backs side by side in a Motel 6 bed, I knew what was coming.

“I killed animals,” she said, quietly.

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