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Dark Dance

But I dont want to go among mad people, Alice remarked.

Oh, you cant help that, said the Cat: were all mad here. Im mad. Youre mad.

How do you know Im mad? said Alice.

You must be, said the Cat, or you wouldnt have come here.

Alices Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Chapter One


The woman in the fog:

It pressed round her, walls of yellow breath. She walked in a moving jail. At intervals the stem of a street light would loom like a great thin tree, or an angled wall would jut out. High above, electric windows dim as old lamplight, peering. She found her way by memory.

The fog had a sad melancholic smell that smothered everything. There was a feeling in the fog of a pursuer, but irrational, from every side.

The woman walked on. She was slim in a dark coat. Her hair was substantial, down her back, very black, like thick leaves on a bush. A slim white face and two pale eyes. One hand held her collar. She had unpainted nails, rather long.

She turned into Lizard Street, past the great building with lions, and walked into the bookshop.

Oh, Rachaela. Youre late.

Yes, she said.

Twenty minutes.

She walked by Mr Gerard and into the back, the tiny room with its kettle and piled newspapers, the stacks of books either shiny and plastic with newness, or old as dying brittle moths. She hung up her coat.

She wore a black skirt and dark jumper and boots. The shop was never warm except in the sweltering summer when it baked, and only the thinnest of shirts was bearable, but Mr Gerard still pottered in his sweaty jacket and tie. Today he wore the Fair Isle pullover, cheerful under his sour fat fruit of a face.

He left her his position at the counter. Trice these from my list.

Rachaela nodded.

This job paid very little, and she was required also to make tea, fetch sandwiches, sweep the floor, and dust the stacks, which she seldom did. She never argued or complained, neither did she apologize for her laxness, her constant lateness. Mr Gerard did not threaten her. She had not stolen from him, she did not answer back. When he flew into a temper at something she stared into far distances, and afterwards seemed to forget. She was as polite as a statue to the customers, of whom there were few. Mr Gerard knew next to nothing about her. A mystery woman.

As Mr Gerard edged away into the back of his dingy, frowsty cave, a man came in to collect a book. The fog swirled vaguely through with him to fill the space, wreathing a thousand volumes.

Rotten day, said the man. I thought we were finished with these things years ago. Bloody weather.

Rachaela put his book into a bag and rang up its price on the till. The till was one of the reasons she had applied for the job a year ago. She hated computers, they frightened her. She liked old things. She was not so uncomfortable in this shop.

The customer took his book and handed her the money. Rachaela counted his change slowly, before giving it to him. Figures also bothered her. She was happy only with printed words.

Excuse me, said the customer. Rachaela looked at him, seeming shocked. Had she made a mistake with the money? Youre Miss Day, arent you?

She hesitated.

As if admitting a dangerous secret she said, Yes.

Her voice was low, soft and occlusive.

I thought so. Said Id bring you this.

He handed her a buff envelope. Like a spy she took it. She asked him nothing, but her slender, long-nailed hand was reluctant to carry the envelope back to her body, her hand lingered in the air between them.

Better explain, he said. He was friendly. Im from next door. Lane and Soames. The boss man asked me to bring it down to you. Theyve been looking for you, you see.

She spoke. Who?

My firm, Lane and Soames. Looking, and here you were all the time.

She had been hunted, then.

Rachaela brought the envelope into her breast. Her hands were tight upon it.

She had felt a pursuer, silent in the fog.

Day was not her name, but she had used it for years. She supposed it was legal by now; certainly it was the name on her insurance card, and by which she paid her bills.

Perhaps, however, there was a mistake.

Are you sure Im the right person?

Dont ask me. Im just the errand boy. Said Id drop it in to you.

His jolly eyes were vacuous, he did not like her, her distance, or her beauty, which had a noiseless closed quality, almost to be missed, not exaggerated by bright make-up or dress.

OK then, he said. Out into the soup.

He went at once and the door shut and the fog swirled. It was thick in the shop now, and Rachaela remembered Alice Through the Looking-glass, the shop with the sheep and the water swirling up...

In the back, Mr Gerard was talking on the telephone. But I said to him, Mac, old dear, you just cant He would be engaged for an hour.

Beyond the windows was that soft, grey-yellow pastelled wall. Behind it might stand anything, the soldiers of an execution, starving beasts escaped from the zoo. Had it been a leopard which had followed her through the fog?

Rachaela saw that her wrists were shaking.

She tore open the letter.

Dear Miss Day.

They dont know.

Would you be so good as to call in at my office, at your convenience.

Someone, someone knows.

My clients, the Simon family, have asked me to locate you on a matter that may prove mutually beneficial.

That name isnt real either.

Unlesssomething else

What else could it be?

The easy answer was to ignore the solicitors letter. But then again, they had come so near.

Lane and Soames, a few yards away through the wall.

Rachaela saw in memory her mothers tired and embittered face. Have nothing to do with them.

She could hear her heart. A drum in the fog.

Oh come on, come on! roared Mr Gerard to the phone far off over the hills.

At six oclock Rachaela went out into the street. Mr Gerard locked the shop in a flurry of ancient duffel coat and scarf.

Filthy night.

It was growing dark, the fog shadowing, and many bright lights shining through it, smeared and dangerous.

You mind how you go, Rachaela.

Yes, she said, good night.

Probably you just dissolve, Mr Gerard said audibly and angrily to the stiff lock.

Rachaela crossed over from Lane and Soames. The great lions crouched wetly black, but did not spring. No one could make her enter between their paws.

She walked east and came among the vast animal of the evening crowd, bumping and pushing along. At a bus-stop she waited, silent, as people swore and raved at the buss delay. You dont live in the real world with the rest of us. It had been a blinding accusation. Her mother had furiously believed Rachaela was not hurt by the world.

The bus came.

Men and women thrust in front of her. She let them. The world to Rachaela was mostly horrible and she expected nothing good of it. For this reason she had refused friendships and lovers, although once she had been raped by an acquaintance after a dull party. She only expected onslaughts, upon her privacy, her person. The rape had not shocked Rachaela. She sloughed it.

After half an hour she got off the bus, and stepped back into the belly of the fog. She had now to walk across the wide green in front of the flats. She knew its perils, she did not fear those, they were facts. It was something else she feared.

The fog brought it. It had brought the letter, too. Sitting in the snack bar at lunch time she had thought of absenting herself this afternoon from the shop. But so far she had never done that, not even when she had caught flu, and foolishly she did not want to spoil her record. She was saving her truancy for some perfect day when she would abscond to picturesque gardens or to see a film.

Besides, the letter would have been left for her. She could not have escaped.

Trees passed her, swathed and dripping.

A lit streetlight shone ahead like a living livid moon.

A man stood before her. He was suddenly there. He was very tall, dark, held in a void, faceless.

Rachaela started and her entire body went to water. Then the man was gone. There was only another tree.

Pardon me, said a voice. He was by her side, short, in a black overcoat and a woollen hat. She thought he would beg money, but instead he said to her: Mr Simon is very anxious that you call at Lane and Soames.

Who are you? said Rachaela.

A friend of Mr Simons.

Leave me alone.

But you must go, you know.

It was usual to be obedient to authority, to obey a legal letter. But Rachaela left her bills unpaid until the threats began. She ignored the money-envelopes stuck through the door for starving children and the sick.

Go away.

She did not run. The green ended at a pavement and the lamp filled the fog with an impenetrable vortex of light.

The dark man stared at her. He had a foreign face and gelid eyes. Would he attempt violence?

You go, he said, to Mr Soames.

And then he turned and slid into the fog.

Rachaela crossed the road and a boy cycled suddenly by like an apparition.

She climbed the steps and unlocked the door.

The fog smurred into the bleak hall, over its stone floor and the dusty table with letters. She feared to see a second letter lying there, but there was only a telephone bill, not in itself to be dreaded, for she never phoned anyone, the phone had come with the flat or she would not have bothered with it.

Rachaela took her bill and let herself into a tiny space crowded by stairs.

A year ago she had had a cat, a black round cat which was too lazy to come to greet her. But the cat was old and had died in her sleep. So Rachaela had found her one morning on her bed. Rachaela had wept for loneliness, but so far the ghost of this first cat, which she sometimes glimpsed about the rooms, had precluded obtaining another.

Nothing therefore awaited Rachaela but the usual walls, cream-washed by the landlord, and a floor carpeted by him in a faint beige.

Rachaelas great bookcase, crammed and crowded by books, many of which now stood and leaned along the wall, did not remind her of the shop. Yet it was her connection to books which had suggested that form of employment. Before the bookshop she had done many flimsy things, served tables in a caf'e and counters in a fabric shop, other things like these.

It was cold. Rachaela turned on the electric fire, a fixture also supplied by the landlord, ugly but warming. She drew the beige curtains against the curtain of the fog. Even this room was touched by it, it had seeped in like pollen or gas through a hundred camouflaged cracks of the house.

In her kitchen area Rachaela opened the fridge. She drew out bread and left it ready to be toasted. She made herself a mug of coffee that she did not really want, but which pleased her as it represented the home-coming ritual.

It was good seldom to worry about a meal. While her mother had lived there had always been a dinner, cheap sausages and black cabbage, watery omelettes, often burnt, and jacket potatoes with prickly eyes glaring out of them.

Rachaelas mother had died abruptly of a heart attack. Rachaela bore the sympathy of neighbours and her mothers friends. She was twenty-five then, and had always lived with her mother and was expected to grieve and fall in little pieces.

But Rachaela went about the bewildering process of clearing up her mothers death without tears. At the cemetery when the joyous young clergyman had promised remembrance of the dear old lad/who had liked to think of herself, when alive, no more than middle-agedRachaela had known a terrible ache in all her muscles, not the least the muscle of her heart. It was her body relaxing for the first time in fifteen years. She was free.

She never ceased to be thankful for her freedom. Her aloneness was her pleasure. She missed her cat, who had given her an uncloying and nearly careless love, her cat who never raged or shouted, never told her things, never demanded. But her mother had been a weight of iron. Rachaela had stayed light as air.

Until now.

Because now it was as if her mother reached out for her again. The doom-laden asides of family history, the portion of the unknown father who had revealed just enough before deserting to leave a lifelong stigma of the cheat or the fraud.

His family, not Simon, but having a name Rachaela could hardly forget, its oddness lost in repetition, ScarabaeScarraby it was pronounced. A weird name to go with a weird fly-by-night man. I loved him, the swine, the sod, had said Rachaelas mother. She had not taken his name. Her own name was Smith, so foolish that Rachaela, left alone, discarded it.

Rachaela put on the radio, the third station, and heard Shostakovich in an unmistakable clash of silver chords.

She sat by the fire and edged off her boots.

In half an hour she would make her supper, toast and cheese. Tomorrow was Friday and she would fetch a salad and some cold meat from the deli. Perhaps a glass of wine.

Outside the silence of the fog waited.

She had screwed up the letter from Lane and Soames and thrown it in the waste bin at the shop.

Perhaps she had come into some money.

Would she want it if it depended on her fathers infamous side?

Hes dead by now. Have to be, the way he carried on, her mother said loudly in Rachaelas mind.

Four years since the funeral.

You never came through, did you? the young man said, accusatory.

She had been trying to avoid him by dusting the stacks, taking out old books that were slightly foxed, and brushing them gently.

Is it any of your business?

The young man became flustered. People relied on you not to be rude to them while they tried closer and closer forms of insolence. Rachaela did not play this game.

Nowell, yes. I delivered the letter. Now old Soames thinks I pissed about and never gave it you.

But you did.

Yes, I bloody well did. Why didnt you go?

Excuse me, said Rachaela, and slipped away around the shelves.

Whats all this now? inquired Mr Gerard, who had come from the back eating biscuits. Something wrong?

Er no, this young ladyI brought her over a letter from Lane and Soames and she hasnt taken it up, and old Soames thinks Im to blame.

What letters this?

Rachaela did not answer. She dusted a copy of The Egyptian and put it carefully back into its slot.

Something to do with property, said the young man. Thats my guess anyway. Theyre all of a doodah over it, damn nuisance.

The fog was in the shop again. Unrelentingly it mouthed the capital.

She doesnt have to make an appointment. Just pop up and Soamesll see her. Wouldnt take a minute

You could go in your lunch hour, Rachaela. My God, dont you think you should? It might be worthwhile.

Rachaela did not speak.

She did not tell Mr Gerard to mind his own business since she had never been rude to him. He paid her small wages.

The young man sighed. Ill just take the biography, then. Waste of time, reading fiction.

Luckily not everyone thinks so, said Mr Gerard with dislike. Suddenly unpopular, the young man hastened from the shop.

What the hell are you doing, Rachaela?

Im dusting.

You never dust. Stop it. Theres clouds of muck going up. Go to lunch. Take an extra ten minutes. Go and see this Soames.

It was Saturday morning and the animal of the crowd was out shopping. Its mood was the familiar one, surly and desperate.

Rachaela walked towards the snack bar. A man charging by slammed into her shoulder and almost spun her round. She found the man from out of the fog by her shoulder.

Miss Day, you will allow me to accompany you.

He took her elbow and turned her all the way about. They moved against the crowd, which seethed and spat in their faces.

Youre forcing me to go there?

No, no, Miss Day. You will be pleased. Come along.

It was Saturday. Would Soames be in his office? Apparently he was.

Three youths in football colours of some team from Mars collided with them. They were no longer a unit, the foreign man and Rachaela. They were hammered apart.

Rachaela whirled into the fog, into the thick of the crowd, giving herself to its hasty rhythm.

The man did not call out after her. His hand did not clutch and grasp her arm.

She made towards the museum, where she spent her lunch hour among the blue and pink stone of god birds and smiling pharoahs, eventually eating two bananas bought from a stall as she walked to the shop, fog-bananas.

The man did not come into the shop, and the young one did not come back.

Mr Gerard said, Did you?

No.

Silly. Silly, silly girl. Make us some tea.

She stood on the bus home. The vehicle was full of excited escapees.

The shop shut half an hour earlier on Saturday in order to allow Mr Gerard, also, and his employee the chance to rush away to a bacchanal. But she doubted he had one any more than she did. Mr Gerard remained as thankful a mystery to her as she remained a provoking mystery to him. He lived with a wife near Kennington. She could only visualize a Mrs Gerard who was a female version of Mr, in a Fair Isle woolly or sweaty dress and cardigan, eating custard creams or reading pieces out of papers over the telephone.

The fog hung on the green as intensely as ever, but Rachaela did not anticipate the man. She did not know what she looked for. Something unpleasant.

In the flat as she drank a glass of wine, the other half of Fridays bottle, the door sounded.

No one called on Rachaela.

She thought of some sort of emergency. Perhaps an accident had happened in the street. She might not have heard a squealing of brakes over the storm of Beethoven, not to mention the rock music from the flat below.

Hallo?

Miss Day?

She did not recognize the voice, isolated and tinny in the receiver.

What do you want?

Miss Day, this is Mr Soames of Lane and Soames. I wonder if you would be good enough to let me in.

Im afraid not.

But Miss Day, Ive come out of my way to see you on this very urgent matter. It is an urgent matter, Miss Day

No, Mr Soames, Im not interested.

My client, Mr Simon, has authorized

Goodbye, Mr Soames.

The door sounded three more times after she had replaced the entry-phone.

Rachaela paced her tiny room. Upstairs a tinier bedchamber, and a cupboard converted to a bathroomthis minuscule, expensive flat that mostly her mothers savings had enabled her to choose, and when they were gone, what?

Perhaps it was money Mr Soames offered.

Money was remote to Rachaela. She partly feared it, it carried responsibilities, it caused such trouble and damage. But then.

The phone no longer made noises.

Mr Soames had gone away.

On Sunday she had a long bath, in the afternoon, with a radio play on.

She shaved her legs, as she did every third day, and the slender under-pits of her arms. She washed her hair, as every third day she washed it, and left it to dry in the artificial Africa of two electric bars. These habits were her own. As a child, her mother had washed her hair every fortnight.

Outside a fine drizzle penetrated the yellow fog.

She had a lamb chop for dinner and thought as she ate it of the beautiful white curled creature it had been. This did not sicken her, only made her sorrowful. She enjoyed the meat of the lamb even in some way more because she liked what it had been and pitied it.

She had once in her teens tried to become a vegetarian, but she had vomited and bent double with terrible pains in her stomach for weeks. She gave it up.

Her mother had mocked both her attempt and its failure. She had dragged Rachaela to a dish of burnt fish fingers. Stop all this bloody nonsense.

Her mother had had to bring her up alone.

She was thinking of her mother too much.

It did not hurt, but it unsettled her.

She had never said goodbye to her mother, that was the difficulty, perhaps. The freedom had only been spontaneous. Perhaps she should have kissed the embalmed corpse farewell, on the brow, as in one of the more sensitive old-fashioned horror films. The embalming had not looked like her mother. Something had gone wrong and they had pushed her mothers rather large stomach up into the chest so that she appeared stout and matronly in a way that, in life, she never had. The rouge on her cheeks was patchy. Not dead but sleepingno: decidedly dead.

She missed the cat, which had been used to sitting on the edge of Rachaelas bath, sometimes pawing the water in surprise. Or on the table, decorous, begging for nothing.

Perhaps she should find a more lucrative job. Where? Who would take her on? She had no experience. She was twenty-nine. Should she work in a wine bar now? She thought of the noise and the hustling, the broken glasses and drunks. No, the bookshop was safe. It had paid for the chop.

Rachaela sighed.

Beyond the curtains the fog was giving way. She could see across the green to a gaudy Sunday bus moving sluggishly westward.

On Monday morning Rachaela walked down a clear grey Lizard Street and up to the black lions. She entered the building and went to the reception desk. Three minutes later she was in the efficient lift which tore her up into the buildings cranium.

Without the fog, it was possible to see, from a window, the bookshop cowering under its dirty roof five storeys down. It was dwarfed.

Mr Soamess secretary greeted her brightly and took her at once into the office, like a valued client.

It was a sombre glassy room, whose window looked towards the park. On the trees there was one last faint wraith of lingering fog. The screen was gone. The hunter out in the open.

Im here, said Rachaela.

Yes indeed. Let me say how glad I am that you reconsidered.

It got rather frantic, didnt it? Your call. That little man in the overcoat and wool hat.

Im afraid I dont know who that can be, said Mr Soames smoothly. He had never had eyes, only glasses. All his face had succumbed to them. Wont you sit?

Rachaela sat in the leather chair. It did not please her to think it had once been a black bull rushing over tindered meadows. Maybe it was only a clever plastic.

She sat with her hands together, her legs crossed. Her heart beat uncomfortably, but Mr Soames seemed more nervous than she.

Miss Dayfirst of all, I believe that your name was, until a short while ago, something other. Am I correct?

Perhaps.

I dont like to stress this, but my clients, the Simons, made rather a point of it. Your mothera Miss Smith. And your fatherwell, these things happen.

Rachaela waited.

Mr Soames twitched at his cack-handedness.

The Simons are a connection of your fathers family. Cousins, I believe.

Rachaela waited. Her mother had never mentioned cousins, only the Scarabae family, obscure and artistic, darkly ominous, somewhere out of the city, inaccessible, wielding a whip of intent. He never stayed with me because they would keep on and on at him. But of course he had never stayed with her because she had conceived Rachaela. Strange she had never flung that in Rachaelas face. It would have been like her.

And even after all this time, hope that you will be willing to visit them.

She had not been attending.

Visit them? These Simons?

Yes, just so. I have to tell you, Miss Day, a moneyed family.

Is the name Simon?

Yes, Miss Day.

Then I dont understand what they have to do with me.

Perhaps you should agree to see them. Then youll discover. As I say, theyre prepared to pay your travelling expenses.

She had not listened, and so did not know to where she was intended to travel.

I find all this very peculiar. I find it suspicious.

Mr Soames was ringing for a file.

I shall show you the correspondence, Miss Day.

She did not want to see it. She felt no curiosity. She felt threatened.

Their name was not Simon, and God knew where they lived or why they wanted to find her but it made no sense, this coincidence of the solicitors being so adjacent. Unless surely they had tracked her down previously, and then placed their business with the firm of Lane and Soames to give it a spurious orderliness and a handy quality. Easy to nab her when she was only next doorit had been perfect for them. And that other one was their agent.

The file came with the glowing cerise-clawed secretary. She teetered in and out as if high on something.

The name, Rachaela said again. Is it actually Scarabae?

Soames did not twitch or flinch. He was impervious, a little irked.

The name I have is Simon, Miss Day.

He opened the file before her and indicated a lengthy correspondence, lots of long sheets with neat dates and slightly faulty typing, and handwritten letters on featureless white paper. Rachaela could not read handwriting of any kind. Probably its intimacy repelled her. She glanced at the indecipherable address on the handwritten sheets and raised her brows, trying to convey to Soames an air of sensible concentration. She was not responding as he wanted. She felt cornered. The leopard was prowling round the room.

Had she always been afraid these people would one day reach out for her? Why was the idea so dreadfulfor it was, it was horrific. Her mother had always maligned them but knew nothing of them. They had been a shadow at the back of her lover, she conveniently blamed them for his desertion. To the child she must have told horror stories now too recessed and entrenched to come forward to the light, embedded like black fossils in Rachaelas subconscious. For she was afraid of the tribe of the Scarabae.

No, Mr Soames. Im very sorry. I dont think your clients are being honest, either with you or with me. If theyre relatives of my fathers theres really no reason for them to be interested in me. I never knew him. I cant help them. Thats all I have to say. Rachaela got up. I hope now that Ill be left in peace.

I regret you take this view, Miss Day.

He was pedantic and huffy, he had lost.

Rachaela went out and passed by the secretary who flooded into a terrifying fake smile all teeth and lipstick.

The lift descended.

It was raining in the street.

I must shrug it off now. But she could not. The leopard, invisible in light as in murk, still followed at her heels.

Youre late, Rachaela, said Mr Gerard. Three quarters of an hour. Its too much. I had a rush, ten people, and where were you?

I went to see Lane and Soames.

Any joy? cried Mr Gerard.

Rachaela loathed the expression but expected nothing else of him.

Theres been a mistake, she said. The people are no one to do with me.

What a pity. Hard luck.

That week Rachaela continued in her usual way, moving between the bookshop and her flat, doing her slight shopping, eating at the little snack bar, going once to the cinema to see a colourful cruel film which bored her. She bought three books, some shampoo, toothpaste, and oranges, and over all the scent of the leopard was borne to her nostrils. It was still there.

She sensed a tightening cord like a string overwound on a guitar.

She could not appreciate the music which she heard. The noises heard from the neighbouring flats irritated her, and one night there was a party which went on until four in the morning, and she lay wakeful and could not read, the words jumping away under her eyes, the centres of sentences missing.

In the shop she had begun to dislike the entry of any customer. She expected the man in the overcoat or even the fool from the solicitors, or even Soames in person. For some reason she did not visualize one of the awful tribe of the Scarabae. No, they carried on their business from afar. That unknown country written so finely and illegibly on the white paper.

I am waiting for something more.

But what? What could happen. She had refused. It was finished.

On Friday morning she found a letter for herself on the dusty table, one of six identical envelopes from the landlord. Opening this letter she learned that the street was to be widened or renovated or turned inside out in some way. That in six months she would have to find alternative accommodation.

She did not think in terms of coincidence, or even now of destiny. She felt a wave of fright. She stood with her pale hands knotted below her pale face. The complications of the situation, rather than her loss, appalled her.

Then she went to work, late, for she had missed the bus, and Mr Gerard drew her back into the musty inner room.

Rachaela, Im sorry, but Im going to have to let you go.

She almost laughed at the exquisite counterbalance of her woes.

You mustnt think its anything to do with your, well, your rather erratic timekeeping. Weve rubbed along all right. Trouble is, this place doesnt pay. Ive been thinking about it some time. Saw the old accountant yesterday. No other thing I can do.

He offered her a biscuit by way of consolation and she took it.

She imagined the agent of the leopard coming in to Mr Gerard with a silken knife, threatening him. She thought perhaps agents had set to work on the landlord of the flats.

She bit the biscuit and ate its tastelessness.

Stay on the month. Ill give you an extra month in lieu, anyway. I realize its a bit much. Youve been here a year, havent you? Ill miss you.

She knew he lied, that secretly he was glad to tread on her spine. All those times he had tried to learn things about her and she had not let him. All the jokes she had not giggled at, the untrue rushes of book-buying customers she had missed by being late. Her lack of apology.

He was well rid of her.

But what was she to do?

She knew what she was supposed to do. It was quite obvious. The leopard sat there, awaiting her, its inky form wrapped in a garment of fog and night.

She picked up a fragile broken book, a dead black moth. Opening its pages she read: Her heart lifted at the prospect of this happy reunion. And shivered. It was inevitable, and had been so from the first. She would have to give in.

None of the other tenants communicated with Rachaela about the proposed dissolution of their homes. Perhaps they did not care. Two of the flats changed hands regularly, and even the rock music enthusiast had only been installed a few months. She had previously avoided contact with all of them. But they would probably know themselves as defenceless in the face of bureaucracy as she judged herself to be.

She went into work on time, and did not linger over her lunch hours now. She was scrupulous.

Mr Gerard crowded her at the till. He had come out of hiding to serve the customers, to get used to it. He no longer made his telephone calls, but he ate vast quantities of biscuits. As the week ended and the end of the month drew near, Mr Gerard became embarrassed, making awful little extra jokes and asking Rachaela to sweep up, which generally he had not troubled with before. He did not send her for sandwiches but chewed slabs of bread and pickle.

She did not like his proximity. She was seldom alone now in the shop. She began to long for the month to be over.

She would have to look for another job. It would be best to try one of the agencies. They were smart and brisk. She hated them.

It was raining fiercely and she hurried over the green and almost collided with the overcoated man in the woollen hat.

Miss Day. I was asked to put this directly into your hands.

She took the envelope. It was typed. They stood in the downpour confronting each other, both creatures of the jungle who might ignore the rain.

I dont want this.

You must take it. Read it.

I thought all this had stopped.

Please, Miss Day.

All right. Very well.

She moved away with the letter, the rain thick on her wonderful hair as broken glass.

In the hall she shook herself with a little grunt of defiance. The closed outer door was a barricade. The demon locked outside.

One of the other tenants came clattering down the stairs. A girl in a red coat. Rachaela considered stopping her, discussing the downfall of their house. But the girl did not look real. So young and contemporary she was hardly on the plane of existence, an egg-shaped face, smooth, not a line or an expression to show she had lived, was alive. Rachaela let her pass on, and opened the door to her flat.

The light was bizarre, greenish and electric from the rain. The walls danced. She longed for the warm round body of the cat, to wake her and press her face to the smoky fur with its inner smell of herbs and being. But the cat was gone, only the ghost, conjured by tired eyes, remained to haunt her, indifferently.

Rachaela took off her coat and hung it up. She pulled off her boots. She sat down on the edge of a chair and slit the letter open with a bronze paper knife resembling a dagger.

It was thick white paper.

The letter was typed, as if they knew she could not read their calligraphy, or would not. No chance of a blindfold. Too short to be avoided.

Dear Miss Smith,

By now you will know that we have traced you and are eager to meet with you. Please give us this opportunity. Your mother knew very little of the family and your father, we understand only too well, abandoned you. Give us this chance to make possible amends. The familial connection is complex and we will not attempt to describe it here, but hope to do so before you, in person, at some future date.

Our name is not, evidently, the one given to our agents, but as you have correctly guessed, Scarabae. That name to which you yourself are entitled.

As Mr Soames will have told you, any travelling expenses or expenses entailed in tying up your affairs will be borne by us.

We trust that we shall hear from you soon.

The letter was signed boldly Scarabae. Not even any initial. A dynamic collective which told nothing.

There was no address. The letter was headed solely by the words The House and the winters date.

Rachaela glanced intuitively towards the unlit electric fire. Her impulse was to burn the letter.

Instead she sat with it in her hands for three quarters of an hour, in the chilly flat, while the rain danced on the windows and the walls, erosively.

Yes, Ive changed my mind.

I really am delighted, Miss Day, gushed Soames. Im sure youve made the wise decision.

When Rachaela had finished this phone call, she called Mr Gerard.

Im sorry, I shant be completing the month.

Oh. Well thats not very fair.

Youve dismissed me. What difference does it make.

Mr Gerard began to inform her in detail of the difference, shouting. Rachaela put down the phone. Four days later a cheque arrived. He had not paid her for the extra month nor a penny beyond the day she had last worked for him, which had been Friday. He would have to manage the Saturday rushes of two people on his own now.

She wandered about the tiny flat, tidying it for the last time. If she returned, the flat would be no more. She would store her furniture, the Scarabae could pay for that.

Day by day now the flat became like a prison. She could settle to nothing but packing her two new cases, parceling up the few leftovers for Oxfam. Her plants had died, she could not grow things. The cat had died. She had no friends, no one to bid farewell. She sent the new address to the landlord, who would probably ignore it. The new address was surreal in any case, perhaps invented, a place that did not exist.

A lot of matters she left unseen to. For when she came back.

But it was inconceivable, a return, the outward journey with all its twists and pitfalls before her.

Outside on the green she thought that, twice, she caught sight of the agent in the woollen hat, hiding among the wet trees, watching. But he might be an hallucination.

She hoped the ghost of the cat would vanish from her rooms once she had left. The thought made her cry as sometimes she did, violently, but never for very long.

She had indulged in purely emotionally-sexual fantasies from childhood, at rest or in bed before going to sleep. She pictured unformed adventure, and men almost faceless, tall and black-haired. In the world she never met them, although now and then, for a moment at some street corner, across a room, she might see a fleeting illusion which dissolved as she gazed on it.

Following her mothers deathwhen Rachaela was twenty-fiveshe had believed herself too old for these dreams, hazy and incoherent, repetitive and unlikely as they were, meetings in storm and mist, on hillsides, under midnight trees... She put them away. Now and then a book or a film might try to trigger them. She was stem.

Currently her imaginary excursions were all to the place where she was going. She conjured it with terror. It was like a swamp which sucked her in.


| Dark Dance |