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Chapter Ten

A poster on the wall showed a bleeding rose. Tetanus: it doesnt have to be a rusty nail, the caption read. Beneath, a handwritten notice pleaded: If you or your child feel sick, please tell the receptionist.

The surgery was crowded, a plague ward. Children sneezed and cried and ran about in a fever. Men and women coughed and evacuated their noses, blue germs puffing from their mouths in the chilly room. The chairs were hard and the magazines few. You were not encouraged to come.

The buzzer went angrily. Who would dare to be next.

Miss Day? Go through please.

Rachaela walked through into the doctors room, which was quite large, with netted windows over a garden.

The man wore a suit and tie. He was slim and fit with well-brushed thinning hair. He gave Rachaela a neat and ironed smile.

What can I do for you?

Rachaela sat down on the chair he indicated.

I need an abortion.

The doctor put his smile away and raised his brows.

Lets not put the cart before the horse, shall we? So you think you may be pregnant. What leads you to believe this?

My periods have stopped. Ive been sick several times.

How many periods have you missed?

Two.

Have you brought a sample of your urine taken first thing in the morning?

I did a Predictor test.

I see. Well as youre here, wed better take a look at you. He pressed at the intercom. Mrs Beatty, come through please. He said, Just slip off your under-things behind that screen. Keep your slip on.

Rachaela did as she was told, and came out to the examining table, very white with something on it like a large paper towel.

Fat Mrs Beatty entered and sat down in a corner beyond the screen.

Knees up, please, ankles together. Just relax.

The last time a man had touched her it had been a pleasure, a miracle of sensation. This one was rough, knowing how tough the female body had to be, how much it could take.

Yes, he said, um.

And he poked and prodded at her vagina and her belly. He stared in behind a light, like a miner.

All right. You can put on your things now.

He washed his hands, soiled by her, at a sink, and Mrs Beatty slunk back out of the room.

Well, Missah, Miss Day. Id say youre definitely pregnant.

I know.

Everything, he said, seems very healthy. Lets have a look at your blood pressure. He attended to this, checking his gauge. They waited in silence. Thats excellent. Youre a very healthy young woman.

His congratulations did not thrill her.

I want an abortion.

Theres absolutely no reason that you should. Youre what he consulted her statement before him, twenty-nine? Thats not too late. There are tests that can be run if youre worried the baby

Its not a baby. Its a thing, a parasite, lodged in me.

I dont want it.

But, Miss Day. Its not as simple as that. You have a responsibility. The child has been conceived. A life, Miss Day, which you are carrying.

It was an accident.

Could she say that? She had not taken any precautions, nothing had been further from her mind. The gate left open, and the fertile Scarabae seed, better at inbreeding, sown in one of five vortices of ecstasy. Yes, she was responsible.

Im afraid, accident or not, the child is a fact. He ran his eye over her. He smelled of disinfectant and aftershave. Do you have any family?

No.

And I take it your boyfriend isnt interested.

Boyfriend.

I left him.

I see. An awkward situation. But people come through worse. You must be brave. In this day and age things are made quite easy for a young mother, a single parent. I see you have an address in quite a nice area.

She had just gained the small flat via the proceeds of the compensation for the other. It had taken weeks to sort things out. Thus her delay in coming to this man. This man who believed in the sanctity of life, its life, not hers. Hers was immaterial.

My address doesnt matter. I dont have any money

There are means of support for women in your situation.

But I tell you, I dont want it. Itit was forced on me.

Surely not. He allowed himself to show a measure of distaste.

I cantI cant have it, care for it.

You can decide all that when the baby is born. And youll change your mind. Children are wonderful things. Special.

Not to me.

Well, Miss Day, Im sorry but I see no excuse to recommend you should opt for a termination. Of course we need to go into your history. But judging by what Ive seen and what youve told me, I see no reason why you shouldnt square up to this and assume your responsibility. Think of all those women who long to bear a child and are unable.

I dont care about that. I care about my own body. I want my freedom.

Then Im sorry, Miss Day. I cant help you.

Then where do I go?

Youll have to find that out for yourself. Im not here in the position of a butcher. Lifes important to me.

Im desperate, she said.

He flushed. He said, You people make me sick.

He rose. Rachaela got up too.

She struck him violently across the left side of his face dislodging all expression. He gawped at her, his left eye watering, and the imprint of her hand bright-pink across his clean-shaven, aftershaved cheek. So he would have to confront the next patient.

Heavy as lead, she walked from the room.

The main chamber was ten feet by fourteen. The walls and ceiling were white with a hint of peach, and the carpet dove-grey. She had known all this before she moved into it, from the estate agents sheet.

The bathroom was boxed off, giving a tiny entrance lobby as you entered the flat. The suite in the bathroom was white and the floor black-and-white tiles. There was a frosted window. The kitchen area also opened off the room, without a door. It had a black floor, white cupboards, and a stainless-steel sink and drainer. The one window in the kitchen and the two in the main room were on the same end wall. They looked across the lines of houses and the blocks of flats towards a distant handkerchief of park with tall bare trees. In summer they would be green, as the agent had cunningly pointed out.

Rachaela had expensively rescued her furniture from store. She spread the bed with a blue and crimson Indian blanket, put up lampshades, hung blue curtains.

The flat was not unpleasant. For one. It was only for one.

The radio stood on the kitchen work-top.

She turned it on. Haydn, clipped and safe, with only the passion of melody.

She had been so frightened. It had taken all her strength to go to the man who thought children were special. Why were they special? They were unformed dough, unfinished things, due to be warped into the general useless and dangerous mass of human adults.

Rachaela touched her stomach and took her hand quickly away. It was in there. A growth, busily feeding on her, swelling second by second.

It would take so much courage to find another doctor, and she would surely have to go to a hospital to do so. She feared hospitals. She distrusted the uniform of the white coat. And then she might meet another one like the one today.

Could she do something herself?

She had tried all the sane home remedies she had ever heard of to dislodge it. Gin and hot baths, exercises. She could not bring herself to fall down the house stairs. The commotion, and people running out, a broken leg.

She was afraid, too, of the abortion. To have the thing scraped or vacuumed out of her womb, the very thought of it last night had sent her to the bathroom, heaving over the modern white lavatory.

But she must find someone. Someone kind who would put her first.

As she had told herself she must not, she saw the Scarabae reaching out, their agents in the surgery, the doctor listening, nodding.

This was not a plot. It was simple bad luck.

The tradition of the family. Continuance.

No wonder he had left her. He had seen to her as he had seen to her mother. He had been more certain with Rachaela.

She sat down in her chair and threw its new blue cushion to the carpet.

How pretty the flat was. She could live here, surely, at peace, alone.

And she would need to work. There was the cafeteria in Lyle and Robbins. Old-fashioned, not too demanding, and no drunks. Then again the Pizza Eater on Beaumont Street was a better bet for tips. No bookshops. Computerized tills. These things could be sorted out and surmounted.

But not this.

She lay back in the chair.

She was so tired.

The clear windows showed the roofs of London, the redundant chimneys and the crop of TV aerials, the spring sky. An aeroplane. She recalled no aeroplanes flying over the heath. Out of time and place, that spot.

Perhaps something will happen. Anna had said that.

She had meant the pregnancy.

Was it wrong to kill it?

It was a monster.

In the blustery dark descending the well-lit centre of the house, Rachaela found a woman had stepped out from a doorway, a neighbour from the floor below.

Oh, Miss Day. I picked this up by mistake. Im afraid I think its only junk mail, but its addressed to you.

Rachaela took the glossy envelope.

Thank you.

You can never tell these days. It might be something you want.

The woman was conciliatory in warm fawn. Her hair was a greying fair, thick and shaggily cut. She had a square face and large brown eyes, smiling. She wanted to be friends.

How are you finding the flat? she asked.

Its fine.

I find its so small, said the woman. But then, Ive had all these years to accumulate rubbish.

Rachaela waited, her heart drumming and her stomach rife, for the challenge of the street and the night.

Well I mustnt keep you. Take care, she added kindly, its a nasty old night.

Rachaela went on down the stairs, stowing the piece of junk mail in her bag.

She forgot the woman outside. The wind struck at her, the sky was choked with dark blue churning cloud.

Rachaela walked down the street and caught a bus at the corner. It twisted and turned and bore her into an ominous and derelict suburb, stark in the orange street lights.

Where she got off, the buildings had been knocked down, great rattling walls of corrugated iron, striped with bills, separated her from yawning cavities. She walked past the rowdy pub which had been described and up a hill of council houses fish-boned with fake shutters, gardens spattered by gnomes, and windmills that whirled with weather. The street ended in waste ground. Some youths in leather and day-glo socks were holding a meeting on the gloomy grass. One shouted at Rachaela, a ritual of menace. She walked on and came to a one-storey building surrounded by a cordon of wire fencing.

Through the gate and over the lumpy ground, and she opened the door and went into a long drill hall with a clacking wooden floor.

The air was hot and sour, the room crowded, the lines of wooden seats around the walls filled by women of all apparent ages between the virgin and the crone. It was a place of women, a mocking slightly sordid club. And from a yellow door issued a man in a white coat, and the eyes of his harem of suppliants went to him, the click of knitting needles hesitated and pages of rustling magazines halted.

He joked briefly with a woman in a lilac cardigan at a desk. Then he was gone, like the god.

Rachaela went to the desk.

Ive got an appointment for seven.

Oh yes. Miss Day is it? Thats right. If I could just take your address. The woman entered details and nearby the nearer women listened. A pallid girl with round frog eyes watched Rachaela, popping a boiled sweet into her rosy, fatty mouth. Im afraid were a bit behind tonight. It may be a bit of a wait.

All right. Rachaela went from the woman and found a chair at the end of the line.

About thirty in front of her. Surely some of them were together. It was ten to seven now.

The frog princess was the nearest to the yellow door. Presumably when one went in, they all moved up a chair, into the heat of the previous sitter, intimately. We are all women. We are bound to protect ourselves. The cap and the pill, the scrape of the spatula taking our smear, to save us from semen and from cancer. We are the responsible ones.

But there were children with the women here and there, subdued children eating chips or drawing on pieces of paper on the floor.

Fourteen-year-olds with kids and thick mascara, slim with strange fat faces that had not lived, but had overseen, screaming and crying, the birth of offspring from the trunk below.

Certainly, none of them looked afraid. They were all quite comfortable in their evening club, the Family Planning Clinic.

Im afraid I havent planned. Heavy with child I come to ask for an extraction.

Would this one listen?

Was it to be the man from behind the yellow door? She had hoped it would be a woman on this visit. A womans touch would be less horrible, perhaps.

But these were all women. Look at them.

The needles of that one clocking like Madame Defarge, her soiled yellow hair piled up on her head and red lipstick like a gaping wound. And there one writing, probably a letter, holding the paper sideways and chewing her nails.

The hall smelled of women, too. Cheap scent and costlier scent like fly spray, sticky underarm deodorant, hair lacquer, babies and washing-up hands.

Rachaela felt sick. If that happened, where was the lavatory? There must be one. She should have asked.

She could feel it, pressing against her belly from beneath, like solid indigestion.

Try not to think of it. She took slow breaths of the nauseating air.

A girl in a purple suit began to talk to her friend beside her.

I dont like this waiting. Gets on me nerves.

Teah.

Yes, thought Rachaela.

Dont know what hell say this time. I reckon he fancies me.

Dont be daft.

Well why not?

Its moren his jobs worth.

The purple girl toyed with a packet of cigarettes beneath the No Smoking sign, playing with them like a toy. If she could not consume them at least she could hold them.

He keeps on, give it up. Ive tried aint I? I started with all that worry.

Yeah.

All them counsellors and psychiatrics. Was I sure? Cause Im bleeding sure. Cant have another kid can I? Cant afford it and hell leave me.

Oh Lyn.

Well he would have. We was in a fix as it was. An I took the bloody pill. I did. Regular. And then I goes up the shute. That would have been number three.

Lyn, you always go on.

Its this place. It reminds me. All them psychiatrics at the hospital. I had to see four of them. Like a bloody judge and jury, trying to persuade me to have it. I cant have it. Ive got two already.

Rachaela listened, her eyes on the wooden floor. To one who had travelled before her.

Well, you got rid of it, Lyn, said the unfriendly friend.

It was a struggle. And then the way they treat you. And the pain. Christ, I thought it would be all right. Ive never been right since. You know I aint. I couldnt bear him near me after.

That was psychological. They told you it was.

No it werent. They done something to me, the clumsy buggers. They treat you like shit when you go in for it.

The yellow door opened and a slim, fat-faced young girl came out, looking satisfied.

The god emerged again and went to the desk. He gave instructions and vanished once more.

Miss Garland, sang out the woman in lilac, and the frog princess, sucking her sweet without fear, went forward and inside the door.

The Defarge woman dropped a stitch and cursed.

Im going outside for a fag, said the purple girl. She got up and left the hall.

A new picture. Probes for the body and others probing at the mind. The team of psychiatrists, trying to delve the reasons of the would-be terminator. Would it be enough to be afraid? No. The dream she had had, lying on the beach and the sea coming in, split open and fire running out of her guts, that would not be enough.

Of course, they would not make it simple. It must not be easy. She bore a life. She could not merely flush her body like a toilet bowl.

The girl next up from Lyns friend was discussing food. A nice cut of steak and fry it up with onions. I could give him that every night. Its no good me saying, Tony, its bad for you. Youll get a heart attack. And try giving him salad. Chips with everything. Our ceilings black from frying chips. Running with grease. He makes me sick.

She had done the favour for Rachaela.

Rachaela rose and walked quickly out of the hall.

Outside the night came thankfully cold, a smell of external houses and open street. The glare of the nauseous streetlights which made the world faceless and colourless.

The purple girl, now in black, stood by the fence smoking greedily. She glanced at Rachaela and away.

It was not possible to ask her questions. In any case, everything was now revealed. A difficult business. A humiliating struggling business. Ending in harsh treatment and pain, and a lingering scar.

She could hear the adjacent streetlight sizzling like a radioactive isotope. The earth was alive with poisons, and surrounded by the threat of outer space. What use was anything.

The abortioned girl stared after Rachaela as she walked out of the gate and back along the street. There was a faint affront on the girls face, as if she knew Rachaela had denied herself a similar vileness and suffering, the secrets of the female club.

Over the Beethoven concerto, the door was knocked upon.

Rachaela lay in the chair, listening to the echo.

Why should she go?

It was no one. Some mistake. When she had been here three days a man had trailed up the stairs, let in by another tenant, hammering on her door. Do the Chambers live here? She had told him they did not. He was disbelieving and finally she shut the door in his face.

The door was knocked upon again. A muffled womans voice. Its only me. Downstairs, Flat Five.

Rachaela lifted herself from the chair.

Was this too some part of the Scarabae plot? For yes, there was a plot. Of course there was.

She opened the door. It was the fair, greying woman from below.

Sorry to disturb you. An absolutely ridiculous request. You couldnt let me have a little milk? Ive been so chilled all day, made myself cup after cup of coffee and tea, and Ive run out. The milkman delivers tomorrow. I can let you have it back quite quickly.

Rachaela said, Theres only carton milk.

Oh thats perfect, if you can spare it.

Rachaela went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. She took out her three-quarters-full carton.

The woman stood on the grey carpet. How attractive youve made it, she said, and no clutter. I truly admire that. Im afraid mines a cross between a library and a curiosity shop.

Rachaela thought of all her books left behind.

The Beethoven played on, oblivious.

Can you spare all this?

Yes.

Well, thank you so much. As I say

Dont bother. Ive another carton, Rachaela lied.

But I must.

The woman paused. Thats Number Three isnt it? Im a fan of Beethoven. I love his fury. Why shouldnt the poor thing get angry, going deaf as he did?

Yes.

Id better introduce myself. Rachaela only looked at her. Undaunted, apparently, the woman said, Emma Watt. Mrs. Not that that counts any more. My poor old love died two years ago. I sold the house and took the flat. Tried to squeeze myself really small.

We all have our own funny ways of trying to deal with pain.

And the pain. Christ...

Anyway, said Mrs Emma Watt quickly after all, I expect youre busy. Thanks again for the milk. Ill pop up and put a bottle outside your door tomorrow.

Theres no need.

But I must.

She went into the hall and brightly down the stairs with a brave self-sufficient smile, for Rachaelas benefit.

What would it be like to be Emma Watt, fifty years old, sad and alone and brightly squeezed into her too-small flat?

What would it be like to be the purple girl, frigid from anxiety, and child-bearing behind her?

There was no escape. She was Rachaela, here and now.

In her belly the thing lay, embedded, coiled.

The Pizza Eater took on Rachaela, gave her a red dress and a pale green apron, and asked her to put up her hair. She plaited it, which seemed to satisfy them.

She worked from ten in the morning until six, or from three until eleven-thirty. Some of the late customers were drunk, but normally well-behaved. Often, delayed by the clearing up, she did not leave the premises until midnight. In addition to serving the wood-plastic tables, she cut sandwiches, grilled steaks, scooped out ice-cream, piled pizzas in boxes for a take-away service, and now and then washed up.

She grew accustomed, as she had before, to her feet hurting and burning, to the rudeness and tiplessness of many customers, and the matey chatter of her fellow workers of both sexes. She received lunch or dinner free from the restaurant, but the food did not really appeal to her. Sometimes she managed a rare steak or else ate salad and ice-cream. It saved her efforts at the flat.

She came to terms with the computerized till, which often she had to deal with. One afternoon she gave a pound short on the change which had showed up in emerald numerals before her face. The customer did not notice; and by the time she realized, he had gone. On her own at the till, Rachaela removed the extra pound and kept it.

The Pizza Eater was only twenty minutes walk away from the flat.

For the first seven weeks she was meticulously on time. Then, when she was late, it was never more than ten or fifteen minutes, which the other employees frequently bettered, coming in half an hour over the odds due to tube delays or traffic jams.

Rachaela thought of the job as temporary. Something more soothing would present itself. Meanwhile the money was not bad, and forgetting the occasional pound in change proved a useful means of saving. Only once had the customer checked his money and informed her she had short-changed him. Rachaela looked flustered, apologized, and fished the extra note out of the till. Thats all right, he said blithely. Anyone can make a misnnetake.

The other mistake she ignored.

At the time when most women, so a solitary book from the library had informed her, began to experience sickness, Rachaela stopped. She had no symptoms, except that no monthly showing of blood took place. Her waist widened a little, her hips. She took care of that by moving the buttons on her skirts, then buying a larger size. She bought loose T-shirts. So far the red dress, always too large, fitted.

The weather verged through a blustery spring into a rainy May. The trees in the distance of the windows flowered into mop-heads of shining green. The grey and stormy skies made them if anything greener. Chickweed pushed through the pavements. The city was all cracks and crevices wetly fruiting, burgeoning. The weather lied. It was nearly summer.

She did not think about the thing inside her now. She put it out of her mind.

As if to compound her plan, it gave no real evidence that it was there.

Perhaps her greatest defiance, the extravagant music centre she had ordered from the junk mail, arrived when she was out at the restaurant.

Arriving home at half past twelve at night, Rachaela found it in the downstairs hall, another tenant had obviously taken it in.

Rachaela proceeded to lug the boxes upstairs three flights.

On her last journey, as she was passing Number Five, the door opened and Emma Watt looked out.

Good heavens, I thought it was the brokers men! Oh goodness, you shouldnt be carrying that, let me help you. No I insist.

And so, aided by Emma Watt, Rachaela carried the last box up to her flat.

Do you mean you brought all those up too? And some of them look quite heavy. These firms nowadays, theyre so bad. Couldnt the man have brought them up? In your conditionoh, Im sorry, said Emma Watt, blushing. That sounds so nosy. I mean you hardly show, but I couldnt help seeing, youre so slightand well, I had three myself, and Ive seen my daughters through it. I hope you dont mind that I said anything.

No.

You must be careful, said Emma Watt. Im sure its all right this time, but you shouldnt carry anything heavier than a handbagthats what my old love used to say. He used to add that my handbags would make a strong man blench.

Rachaela, as if by suggestion, felt suddenly weak. She sat on the bed.

There you see. Youve overdone it. Can I make you a cup of tea?

Im quite all right.

I will any way. Dont worry, I wont stop, just a quick cup of tea. Your kitchens through here, isnt it, like mine? You just relax. Put your feet up. From the kitchen the sound of water and a surprised, You dont have a potjust use the bag then. Theyre so convenient, arent they.

Rachaela stared at the boxes. Would she ever have the strength to undo them.

Whats in those? asked Emma, coming back out. Is it a music centre? Can you put it together yourself? Im hopeless at anything like that. If you have any trouble try the little man in Horsley Street, the electricals place. Hes splendid. He wired all my lamps for me and fixed my washing machine.

Ill remember.

Kettle wont be a moment. Oh you must be so tired. You work late, dont you. I often hear you come inplease dont think you disturb me, youre very quiet, and Im always up till one or two. Terrible sleeper. Ive got some pills but they make me feel like a rag in the mornings. And I love the mornings. I get up at seven. Always have. Oh, please dont think Im prying, but Id love to know. When is your baby due?

Rachaela reeled off a book-established fact.

December.

A Capricorn. Theyre lovely. But good lord, youre in your fourth month. Youre very small. My middle daughter was like that, tall and slim and you could hardly tell. It used to annoy her the way everybody took no notice. She said she wanted to sail upon the land like Titanias handmaiden. My oldest daughter, poor girl, swelled up like an elephant. What does your chap say at the hospital?

Rachaela said, Apparently everythings the way it should be.

Yes, of course. And youre so young too. Its exactly the right age. Emma Watt blushed again. All the same, its rotten for you, having to manage on your own.

That was my decision.

Yes, but its courageous of you. And so wise to go ahead and have the baby, if you want it.

I didnt, Rachaela said, I dont.

And wished she had not spoken.

Emma Watt did not look shocked, but only tremendously sad.

But thats terrible. Why

I went to the wrong doctor.

You poor girl. But couldnt youno, I suppose not. And youre resigned to it now. I still think its best. When your babys borntheyre so rewarding. I loved it. When theyre little, watching them grow. And I love them, I love my children. Its such a pity theyre so far away. I hardly ever see them. They phone me up, of course, but it isnt much good. Theyre always so scared I cant cope after their father died. I have to keep proving to them that I can. Emma smiled valorously, proud of her facade. Her eyes were moist. Ive missed all the grandchildren, too. Its awful. I just love babies, children. They fascinate me. These tiny helpless little things that just come to life day by day, until theyre people. Oh, Im sure youll be glad. She raised her head. Theres the kettle.

She went to make Rachaela the unwanted tea.

She made none for herself, but left Rachaela at once with the mug in her hand.

The room darkened oddly, perhaps a trick of the electricity.

The summer came at the beginning of August.

The city baked, the trees turned coppery. Ochre dust rose from the blazing pavements.

A blue sky of cobalt made a lid for every stink and fume. Everything smelled and tasted of asphalt, petrol, car exhaust and sweet ice-cream.

Rachaelas back ached continually. She could put this down to her job. The red dress was firm but the apron hid it. One of the girls made a crack that Rachaela had put on weight due to the food.

One day she amassed ten pounds from those careless customers who did not count their change.

The man from Horsley Road had fixed the music centre. The radio was not very good but the tape and record players were excellent.

She bought books and lined the shelves of her bookcase.

Emma found excuses to appear, but not very often. Emma still did not know her first name.

September was a tawny month, tanned, cooked skin on the streets, brown crispness on the leaves.

October yellowed, banana sunsets cut with gilt, lemon first-light as Rachaela, cramped and sleepless, saw the dawn begin, and the trees in the park like topaz flags.

Storms at night. Downpours of hot rain.

Sibelius, Mozart, Shostakovich.

No need to think. So sluggish. She would have to give up the Pizza Eater. Her back shrieked, and when she bent to serve the late-night customers with their breath of beer and Cinzano, her head swam. Nobody had noticed she was pregnant. They thought she had got fat, a good advert, on the succulent nosh.

The summer ended on the first night of October. Hail thrashed the roofs and glass windows.

Rachaela had called in sick and sat at her window and watched it, her back packed with cushions and pillows.

She had an hallucination of a tall dark man on the street, striding through the hail. Adamus in a cloak of thunder, come to claim her again for the Scarabae.

But all that was over. It was a dream. She had conceived immaculately and here she was, the slave of this molten tumour in her womb, and it was real.


Chapter Nine | Dark Dance | Chapter Eleven