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Chapter Fourteen

BY the end of January, Rachaela was working for Mrs Mantini at the antiques shop in Beaumont Street.

Mrs Mantini only wanted her in the afternoons and all day Saturday.

They did a surprisingly brisk trade, although mostly on the little things, the ewers and basins, china dogs, trays of ancient photographs. Certain of these reminded Rachaela of the Scarabae albums, the upright waxwork figures posed before palm treesyet these people might once have been alive, the Scarabae had looked frozen dead for ever.

Mrs Mantini did not like Rachaela to sit and read in the shop. She wished her to dust the furniture, burnish the coal scuttle, and clean the windows. In spare moments she gave Rachaela boxes of jewellery or coins to sort, unvaluable items often to be highly priced.

The pay was not wonderful, but the job was fairly convenient.

Spring came early. Ruth had a phase of bringing home flowers obtained during her days of truancy: daffodils and tulips perhaps picked from the park or swiped off graves.

Dont steal things, youll get caught, Rachaela admonished her.

The flower phase died a natural death.

As the days lengthened, Ruth came home later and later. Often she was not home when Rachaela arrived from the shop.

Sometimes, too, Ruth had eaten in a snack bar, having saved up her pocket money for a beefburger.

The school sent Rachaela a letter saying that Ruths frequent absences were causing her work to suffer. Rachaela dropped it in the bin.

A man spoke to me in the graveyard, Ruth announced, as they ate at the table.

What did you do?

Nothing. He said I was Ruth Scaraby and I said No, I was Ruth Day.

You shouldnt have answered him.

But he was wrong.

All right. Then what happened?

He said he knew my fathers family and had I ever seen them. I didnt say anything and he said he didnt think I had.

What then?

He said hed buy me a Pepsi and I said you said I mustnt talk to strangers, and I came away.

Did he come after you?

No. He just stood there.

Rachaela said, Did he have a dark coat and a woollen hat?

Yes. I expect he was hot.

Rachaela tried to order herself. She had begun to tremble with a sort of frightened and frustrated fury. How had he found them? How had he followed Ruth? How dare he speak.

Weeks since, she had tested the evening pavements for pursuit, looked from windows for watchers in the shadow. And all the while he had been creeping up on them, unseen. Of course, it was not Rachaela who interested them now. Their craving for continuancethe child You must neverneverhave anything to do with that man, Ruth.

Why?

Ties bad.

He just looked like a man.

He works for the Scarabae.

Is that for my dad?

No. For the family. I told you, theyre mad and dangerous.

It was like hurling stones into water. After a moment the impact vanished, leaving no trace. Rachaela had the feeling that, rather than warning Ruth away from the Scarabae, she was intriguing her further with them. What on earth was to be done?

I think youd better stop roaming about. Either you must go to school or stay indoors here. Lock her in, keep her close.

Mummy I dont want to.

Youll have to. I dont want him getting at you.

Could she go to the police? This man is molesting my eleven-year-old daughter... questions asked. This man is the agent of your daughters father, his family. Your daughters father has rights to your daughter. It could become complex, more perilous. Keep the child in. For how long? She must confront the man, drive him off. But now he never showed himself when Rachaela was there.

Youll have to go to school. Ill take you.

I dont want to.

I know. Im sorry. But this is serious.

He only said hed buy me a Pepsi. I didnt go.

He mightI dont know.

I wont talk to him again.

Ruth, you must do as I tell you.

Do as I tell you. Her mothers voice, angry, at its wits end.

Ruth finished her food and left the table. She went behind the screen and Rachaela heard the familiar rasp of pencil on paper.

Rachaela got up and went to the edge of Ruths sanctum.

Ruth, if ever he catches you alone I want you to screamscream as loudly as you canand run away. Will you do that?

Scream and run away, said Ruth. She gave Rachaela a cool and adult glance full of irony.

I mean it, said Rachaela.

There was a radio programme we heard at school, said Ruth. This man said daughters take after their fathers. If Im like my dad, I must be nasty too.

Rachaela stared at her.

Why was she trying to protect this creature? Had she forgotten the way it was, the way it had grown? Now she was acting out the ill-fitting role of a protective mother, and protective of what? All about Ruth, in her grotto, hung weird pictures, bits of stained glass, bells and draperies. It was a crock of shadow and dull rich colour, and Ruth crouched there like a white spider in her web, her beautiful ugly little face pierced by the blackness of the Scarabae eyes.

Rachaela swallowed.

She wanted to say to Ruth, Do what you want. Talk to the man. Find out what you like.

Ruth knew it all already in her eleven-year-old bones.

Youre not like your father. Your father doesnt want you. The family is nosy and possessive. You dont owe them anything. Do as I say.

Yes, Mummy, said Ruth, and bowed her head to her drawing of a witch.

Rachaela could only take Ruth to the school in the mornings; at least she saw her to the gates. In the afternoon she had to trust Ruth on the way home.

Sometimes still Ruth was late.

Where have you been?

Ruth had been to the shops or round at the flat of some girl child never previously mentioned. Probably it was true, for Ruth did not lie, she only evaded.

Has that man been near you?

I havent seen him.

Tell me if you do.

Rachaela tired of the stupid wardership to school. She sent Ruth off alone and followed her. No one other than herself pursued or accosted Ruth.

A sense of apathy overcame Rachaela.

The man would probably persist, he had done so before, but there were always people about. He could not abduct Ruth, even assuming he had instructions to do so, which seemed unlikely.

Rachaela did not care. I do not care. It was up to Ruth. For Ruth was still a burden. She must still be fed and clothed, and soon a decision must be made about a secondary school, with its uniform and other details. Ruth would become more of a problem as she grew older. For how long would Rachaela have to go on sharing her life with this being? She had got used to Ruth, that was all. It was not satisfactory.

On the street. Walk quietly and listen.

Who was this coming from a doorway? Only an old man with a bag.

Turning the corner, oversee each gap in the walls. Was anyone there?

Upstairs, Ruth not home. Go to the window in the dark, and see.

What was that?

Only a man in an anorak.

Where was Ruth? Round at this Ludles?

There she was on the stairs now. Key in the door.

Mrs Mantini said, You do more looking out of that window than cleaning it.

Who was that standing across from the shop, black overcoat, perhaps a woollen hat.

This customer wants serving, Rachaela.

He had gone now.

But he would not be following or watching her. This necklace is fifteen pounds.

There was a frost of green on the trees. Still some light in the sky.

Ruth sat at the table eating bread and jam.

Why didnt you wait? Youll be having dinner in twenty minutes.

I was hungry. Teas always late now.

Youre usually late.

I go to Luciles.

Rachaela faced Ruth. Have you seen that man again?

Yes.

I told you to tell me.

He didnt do anything. He didnt speak to me.

Where was he?

Outside the gates.

The school gates?

Yes. He just stood there, and I came out and he didnt move. Lucile thought he was funny.

Dont tell Lucile who he is.

I didnt tell Lucile anything. She said look at that funny old man.

If she was with Lucile, he would not approach herwas that it? Perhaps the liaison with Lucile was a good thing.

Rachaela, at the window, scanned the street. He was there. Across the road, beneath a lamp just now turning candy red. There to be seen, showing himself. Stay here, she said to Ruth.

She ran down through the house and dashed out into the street. The Scarabae agent was gone.

Above, Ruths white face looked down on her from the window. Impartially.

Mrs Mantini picked nail varnish off her nails. Ive been meaning to speak to you, Rachaela, she said, about the way you keep being late. You were late by half an hour this afternoon. It puts me all at sixes and sevens.

Yes, said Rachaela.

I must ask you not to let it happen again.

Rachaela reduced the fifteen-pound necklace to the prescribed fourteen pounds and carefully replaced it with the price tag face down.

Mrs Mantini ran her finger over the dustless surface of a Victorian overmantel. This mirror could do with a clean.

Presently Mrs Mantini went out, to be gone for her usual two hours before closing-time.

A Japanese man came in and asked about the china ducks. When he had left, Rachaela cleaned the mirror with the glass spray which left smears, then returned to re-pricing the case of jewellery.

At a quarter to four Mrs Mantini unexpectedly reappeared.

Youll have to close up, Rachaela. I have to drive to Brighton.

After Mrs Mantini had gone again, the late afternoon trade began to come in, and at four-thirty, an hour early, Rachaela shut the shop in the faces of two eager customers.

Rachaela felt a sense of freedom as she walked home. She imagined Mrs Mantini in heavy traffic on the motorway. It was as if a cloud had lifted. She had given up concerning herself with the agent of the Scarabae. He could do nothing, and neither could she.

She reached the house and went up the three flights. It was an overcast day, the dark was coming.

She opened the door.

There was a strange noise. It sounded like a child crying. She knew at once it could not be Ruth.

She went around the lobby formed by the bathroom and stared at the dusk flat. Then she turned and looked into Ruths area.

Ruth, who was kneeling on the floor, turned also to look at her. Her eyes were black as voids, heightened by the black eyeshadow and mascara with which she had augmented them. She was draped in a kind of Greek fashion by two of her coloured shawls and she wore round her neck Rachaelas green glass beads. Her mouth was dark red with lipstick, and smudged. It looked at first as if she had been drinking blood.

On Ruths bed lay a brown-haired whimpering female child, also draped in a shawl and with dabs of make-up less hectically or successfully applied to its face.

On the neck of this child was a terrific black bruise.

The child sat up.

Ooh, Mrs Day, said the child, crying and snotty now, she was biting my neck.

For Christs sake what have you been doing?

Rachaela seized Ruth and pulled her upright.

Nothing. We were dressing up.

What were you doing to her?

She was biting me, said the other child, hysterical, and began to scream.

Rachaela dropped Ruth. She grabbed the other child to shake her. The child flung herself at Rachaela, burying her snot and make-up smeared face in Rachaelas jumper.

It was a game, said Ruth, reasonably.

Did you make this mark on her neck?

I suppose so.

I told her to stop, squealed the other child, who was probably the mysterious Lucile. She wouldnt. She kept on and on. Am I bleeding?

No, youre all right. Youre all right. Come over to the lamp and let me see.

She dragged the howling Lucile towards the lamp, and lit it.

The mark was a bruise, purple and ripe, like a lovers kiss but worse. It looked awful.

Nothing to worry about, said Rachaela. Ill get some TCP and a plaster.

My mummy wont let me play with her again, said Lucile, a note of righteousness creeping into her terror.

I think that would be very wise.

Surprised, perhaps, Luciles torrent weakened to a snivel. She allowed Rachaela to dab her with antiseptic and to apply the plaster.

With luck Mummy might disbelieve the dire tale, especially if the bruise went down a little before she saw it. One could not tell the child to lie to its mother. Lucile was obviously bursting to reveal all.

Youre all right now, and I think youd better go home, said Rachaela. Do you know your way?

Yes, Mrs Day.

Go and wash your face first.

Lucile went docile to the bathroom.

Ruth said over the splash of water: I didnt really bite her. I could have. I didnt.

Youre mad. Rachaelas mother had said this to Rachaela over more trivial offences. What possessed you? A foolish question. Obvious what had possessed her.

It was a game, said Ruth again.

No it wasnt, said Rachaela, I know what it was.

Ruth looked at her, every inch a small vampire with her white face, reddened lips, black eyes and streaming hair. She did not look alarmed or bewildered or even scared. She lookedcomplacent.

Lucile emerged from the bathroom. She tore off Ruths shawl and flung it on the bed.

My mummy will be angry.

I expect she will. Well, go home now.

The Lucile child left, blotchy and aggrieved. Rachaela had not behaved the way Mummys behaved. Another failure.

The windows were blue against the lamps gold. Was he out there, on the street?

Ruth sat on her bed and drew towards her the unfinished drawing of lions apparently devouring peopleChristians probably, from the schools Religious Knowledge.

Rachaela felt the violent urge to laugh. It was her own hysteria.

Put that down. Ruth released the picture. Youve done something incredibly stupid, Ruth. Youve behaved in a way that will cause a lot of trouble. You expect me to protect you. Why should I?

Ruth looked at the windows, the coming night. She did not seem at a loss, only waiting for some boring and pointless noise to end.

Rachaela felt fury then.

It was a fearful rage, in which everything became abruptly mixed, the aversions and angers of twelve years.

What are you, you horrible little beast? Rachaela shouted.

Ruth looked at her after all.

The white, black, red face was surprised, just for a moment, then it settled into a closed mask. Rachaela remembered this from long ago. She had seen this expression, this lack of expression, this closing in and down, on the face of the demon baby Ruth had once been.

It wasnt a game, said Rachaela. It was something disgusting that came out of your foul head.

Lucile will be all right, said Ruth, flatly.

I dont care about Lucile, that revolting little fool. I dont care about you, either. If you want to act out this sickness youve got then I suppose you must. But why bring it here? Why involve me in it, you bloody filthy little beast!

Ruth wriggled, like a child embarrassed in class. Then she was entirely still, passive again, almost inanimate.

Look at me, said Rachaela.

And Ruth fixed her eyes on her mother.

For a second there was a peculiar juxtaposition. It seemed Ruths eyes were scarlet and her mouth black.

Have your bath and go to bed, Rachaela said. If youre hungry you can make yourself a sandwich. I dont want anything to do with you. I dont want to see you.

Yes, Mummy, said Ruth.

And picking up her nightshirt from under the pillow, she went into the bathroom.

In the morning Rachaela left Ruth to get her own breakfast. Ruth poured cornflakes and milk, and ate them sitting at the table where Rachaela drank her coffee.

Ruth did not attempt to speak to Rachaela.

She took up her satchel and went without a word.

Getting to her feet, Rachaela saw her from the window, dawdling off along the road towards school.

At twenty past nine the telephone rang. Usually there were no calls save the occasional wrong number.

This was not a wrong number.

Im Mrs Keating, Luciles mother.

Yes?

I suppose you know why Im phoning. Rachaela did not reply. She heard Mrs Keating bridle at the other end of the line. Your child attacked Lucile yesterday. I wondered what you had to say about it.

Nothing, really. Lucile wasnt hurt.

If you call that awful black bruise on her neck not being hurtwhat is your child, some sort of monster?

Yes, how clever of you, Rachaela thought.

She said nothing.

Frustrated Mrs Keating resumed: Ive never seen anything like it. Its hard to believe another child could do such a thing. I think you should take her to see a doctor. A psychiatrist probably. Still Rachaela did not respond to Mrs Keatings red rag. Mrs Keating shouted, I think youd better know, I intend to write to the school about this.

If you like.

Like? Youve got a funny way of going on, I must say. Just you get your horrible child seen to, Mrs Day, thats the only advice I can give you.

Thank you, said Rachaela.

Mrs Keating swore at her and hung up.

Rachaela switched on the radio. She did not want to think any more about Ruth. She would not need to see her until tonight.

A Rachmaninov piano concerto swept through the flat, making the problem of Ruth trivial and vague.

At one oclock Rachaela ate lunch, and at five past two, half an hour too late, she got up and left for the antiques shop.

Mrs Mantini did not upbraid her, but she pursed her tangerine lips and made a great thing of getting ready to go out in a hurry.

The afternoon was not eventful. A girl came in and tried to haggle over a nineteenth-century vase, but Rachaela told her Mrs Mantini fixed the prices fairly and never reduced items. A handsome young man and a rather glamorous middle-aged woman, perhaps his mother, looked round the shop and finally bought a small brass rocking horse.

At a quarter to five Mrs Mantini came back.

Oh Rachaela. I hoped youd have unloaded that crate.

The crate was full of heavy objects that really needed the attention of a strong man. Rachaela had ignored it.

Well do it now, said Mrs Mantini with much irritation.

They began to unload the crate, Mrs Mantini puffing and blowing. At five-thirty they were still engaged on the crate. Mrs Mantini shut the shop. She said to Rachaela, You can stay and help with this. It will make up for the thirty-five minutes you were late.

Rachaela did not argue, and they went on unpacking the crate until a quarter past six.

Mrs Mantini straightened up and puffed out a last breath of her garlic-and-onion lunch. Actually, Rachaela, I want a word with you about this lateness. Rachaela was putting on her coat. Mrs Mantini stood hard-yellow amid brazen fire irons and fire screens. I spoke to you yesterday about it, but you dont seem to have heard me. I dont pay you to be late, I pay you to be on time.

But you dont pay very much, do you? said Rachaela.

If you dont like the wages, miss, you can go elsewhere.

Very well, said Rachaela. She buttoned her coat. Give me what you owe me up until today.

Mrs Mantini glowered, her eyes roasting.

I certainly wont. You can come in on Saturday and Ill give it you then.

No, said Rachaela. Id like it now.

She stood and looked at Mrs Mantini, and gradually Mrs Mantini broke down like an overheated fire. Cursing Rachaela as Mrs Keating had done, but in more vivid words, Mrs Mantini opened the till and counted out the abbreviated wage. She flung it on the counter before Rachaela. Now get out, you little bitch.

Rachaela walked out on to the street. Her legs were trembling. She felt a wave of uncertainty and relief.

This did not matter. It was Ruths fault anyway.

And at the flat, there would be Ruth to see. To go on with the utter silence or to break the silence, pretending nothing had happened. What did silence count for, in any case? When did they speak? Only when there was trouble.

The sky was soft and muddy, losing the light. Stars faded against the waking red eyes of the streetlamps.

Rachaela felt footloose, nearly rattling. No job. She would have to look around. That would take up her time, make her forget Ruth.

When she reached her front door, inside the house, she felt Ruths absence, and going in, the flat was empty.

Rachaela took off her coat. She made herself coffee and switched on the lamps. She washed up the lunch things and looked into the fridge. Ruth was due to have chicken tonight. She might as well have it. Rachaela put the portions into a dish and upended a can of Heinz tomato soup over them to make a casserole. She set the chicken in the oven.

The radio offered opera or politics. She turned it off and put on a tape of Stravinsky.

The sky changed to the orange-black of city night. People came and went along the street.

At eight-thirty Ruth had not come back.

Rachaela turned the chicken on to a very low light.

At nine-thirty the soup had all evaporated. Rachaela turned the chicken out.

She sat in the flat in the silence that was not Ruths silence.

Ruth had never been as late as this. Where could she be? Some burger bar, the Pizza Eater?

At ten thirty-five, Rachaela switched on the main light and walked behind the screen into Ruths area.

Everything looked at first glance the same.

Rachaela examined the area carefully.

The bed was made, Ruths way, lumpy under the dark-blue coverlet. The old bear Emma had given her sat in his corner, accorded dignity, but no longer attention. The books piled up in cranky stairways. On the wall, the painted mirror and the pictures.

The green paperweight and the blue glass cat were missing from the chest-top.

Rachaela walked into the area and squeezed up to the chest. She opened drawers. Comb and brush were not there. The vampire make-up was gone. The blue jumper and the scarlet blouse were gone. Some pants and socks, tights, the second bra, the new packet of sanitary pads.

In the bathroom Ruths toothbrush and her little stick of deodorant were missing.

Rachaela came out and sat down.

What did she feel? As once before, nothing.

She was not astounded. Of course she had known what Ruth would do. Just as the man, the Scarabae agent, had known what she would do eventually. He had only to offer himself and wait.

Rachaela had turned on Ruth, not just the habitual cold shoulder, but with a firework of dislike and alienation. And Ruth had packed her satchel quietly in the night, gone out and gone to him. And he would have taken her, or directed her. To the Scarabae.

What should she do?

Nothing. There was nothing to do.

Ruth was no more. The twelve years of idiocy were over.

After four days, Rachaela cleaned the flat.

She dusted behind the books, dusted the books, scoured the cooker and did out the kitchen cupboards. She emptied the Lucozade, Pepsi and Sprite down the drain. When she reached Ruths area, she moved the screen out into the room and took off the shawls, flowers and bells. She stripped the bed and put Ruths treasures, carefully wrapping the glass, her books and the bear into two cardboard boxes from the supermarket, and stowed them in the bottom of the wardrobe. Ruth might send for her things. Ruths clothes, which she would soon have grown out of, she put into bags for Oxfam. The Scarabae would have to clothe Ruth from now on.

Rachaela did not like the screen, but as with Ruths bed it was too large to dispose of easily. She folded it and stood it in the corner behind the music centre. The bed itself she redraped in its midnight cover, and added a couple of red-and-blue cushions.

The denuded chest she pushed against a wall.

The room looked much bigger, airier. It was possible to see into all its parts freely.

She did not look for the man. He would be gone by now.

On the sixth day, she walked up to Lyle and Robbins and inquired after work, but they had no vacancies. The Pizza Eater looked over-staffed, and the girls and boys seemed extremely young and noisy. There were no advertisements for staff. She would have to look at the local papers.

On the seventeenth day a letter came from the school. Rachaela put it aside, Rachaela sat in her chair, listening to music.

It was going to be a lot cheaper, without Ruth. Maybe she could coast for a little while.

Outside were the familiar roofs and flats, the chimneys and aerials. In the distance the park was transparently, avidly green.

It began to be hot, and the smells of petrol, geraniums and baked pavements filled the flat from the open windows.

After the twenty-seventh day, Rachaela dreamed of Ruth at the house of the Scarabae.

She seemed to be wearing Annas evening dress, long and black and trailing on the floor, winking with spangles. Her long hair fluttered behind her as she moved about. The Scarabae clasped their hands, pleased.

Ruth was in the garden. There were red and white roses. Uncle Camillo popped up from behind a bush. He rode the rocking-horse, which moved over the lawn without effort.

He handed Ruth a letter.

Rachaela could only read the words Come to me.

She walked into the house. It was night, and only the ruby lamp burned in the hall. The door to the tower was ajar.

As she stood there, Adamus came out of the tower.

She had forgotten or erased his face, and so she saw it through a blur, but his body was naked, exactly as she had remembered it, golden-white, muscular and slender, the black mass at the groin and out of it the penis rising dark amber-red. His black hair fell around him. Its you, he said.

Yes. You mustnt, she said quickly, wringing her hands in a strange melodramatic gesture.

But I must.

Adamusshes only a child.

No, he said.

Eleven years old, Rachaela pleaded.

A woman.

And out of the dark Ruth stole in, enveloped in her long, black glittering gown.

She wore her make-up, but impeccably, the black eyelids blended and subtle, the red-Upstick lips softened. Her hair was like his.

She was not a child. She had begun to menstruate, she had high full breasts.

She moved towards him as though Rachaela were not there. She put her thin white hand into his.

Adamus stooped and kissed Ruths scarlet mouth.

He leaned and picked her up, and carried her across his body, up into the breathing unlit tower.

Rachaela followed them.

They came into the upper room.

A fire glowed on the hearth. By its light Rachaela saw Adamus lie Ruth on her back on top of the piano. Somehow he climbed up after her. He kneeled above Ruth and undid the black dress slowly.

Im afraid, said Ruth. She giggled, as she had done when she was a child with Emma.

Adamus bowed to Ruths perfect breasts and mouthed and tongued them. Ruth held his head to her body. He parted her thighs and travelled down her, skin and material, and thrust the dress away, and began his second kiss.

Flames leaped in Rachaela. She longed to scream. She was invisible and unbearable, a ghost.

Ruth groaned. She pulled on Adamus. He left her ebony mound, stroking it with his fingers. He put the burning phallus there, and drove it in.

Ruth shrieked.

You hurt me, said Ruth, hurt me again.

Unable to move, Rachaela watched them rise and fall together, their bodies mounted on a black wild horse of pleasure, galloping.

Ruth screamed. She screamed and kicked and caged him in her long white legs.

Rachaela spasmed in long aching waves and woke in the bed in the flat, staring into darkness.

It was not possible.

Father and grandfather. He could not.

But why should anything stop him?

Rachaelas day was over, she had served her purpose. Now Ruth might be the year queen.

Continuance. The mad people treasured it, and Adamus was their instrument.

Dont be a fool If it must, let it happen.

She tried to remember his face, but as in the dream it had grown blurred and distant.

Rachaela sat up and switched on the light. Outside some drunks were shouting in the street. She was glad of them.

She got out of bed and went to make tea. That had been Emmas remedy for everything. Tea or a drop of sherry.

What would Emma have made of this?

You cant let them get hold of her, Rachaela. From what you say, theyre terrible people. Crazy, awful. Your own child. You have to get her back out of their clutches.

Yes, Emma, Rachaela said.

The boiling water splashed into the mug, and the drunks sang on the street in rejoicing.


Chapter Thirteen | Dark Dance | Chapter Fifteen