Royston Tester

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From You Turn Your Back (2014)


¿Who Knows Where?

© Royston Tester, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

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Casablanca, Morocco. April, 2001

Sara settled into the petit-taxi. Three o'clock in the afternoon. Sky was brown.

"You were sharp with that British couple," said Hacem, Sara's lover, up close. The cab rattled into Place des Nations Unies. "They're package tourists like us. You needn't be snooty."

"Those cruise missiles from Dulwich? 'We always take a fourteen day, two-centre holiday at Easter...' God in heaven!"

"Cut it out," said Hacem. He adjusted his fez hat. "You make concessions for British people."

"You do?"

"They go to pieces abroad."

"Mr. and Mrs. made our tour sound like a chocolate. 'Two-centre'? What the hell's that?"

Hacem shrugged. "You're a racist, honey."

"I've got to get out of London," said Sara. "Get back to Toronto. I'm so fed up with the British. Where are their feelings?" She rubbed her forehead. The 'ecstasy' was kicking in. "I don't want my daughters contaminated any more than they are."

...comfort Sara in her distress, that she may hold to you through good and ill...

Sara's teenaged daughters were back at the tour's Hyatt Regency Hotel; the younger, Vanessa, reading The New England Journal of Parasitology for a school exam the following week; the elder, restless, and missing her English boyfriend, drumming up confidence to swim in the outdoor pool.

Mother and lover were taking their tryst elsewhere.

My beautiful daughters, she thought. Good mother am I. Bitch of a good mother. It's their father who was bad—Dan who gave me stillborn Rose.

Through glass, the afternoon sun was hot. Streets filled with passersby, hawkers.

"See, Sara?" said Hacem. "This is Casablanca. Arabs everywhere. You have left Britain."

"No, I mean after this trip. Go back to Canada. The girls are beginning to sound Cockney."

"They love it in East Finchley, Sara."

"Of course! They're fabulous Americans to those soggy, lager lads who hang with them," she said. "Vanessa and Emmy wanted me in a foreign place, I guess, to recover from Dan. Ten years is enough, huh? I'm feeling cured."

Call to prayer wailed through the air above Avenue des Forces Armées Royales—bidding through a scratchy megaphone. Horse-drawn carts and Mercedes' sedans hurtled outside the mouths of the medina. Peddlers, men. Women veiled and seeing.

...let us commend this child...

Sara's throat was dry. 'E' was wrong for the heat. She shouldn't have bothered with it. Scratching at her lip, she drank down the passing street. Boys kicked at a cage of roosters in the dust.

"They haven't forgotten me at Canada Stage, Hacem," she said. "I got a call from the agency."

Sara indicated a paperback copy of André Gide's The Counterfeiters in her shoulder bag. "The play's an adaptation."

"What's the role?"

"I betray Bernard Profitendieu, an illegitimate child, and...oh, he and another schoolboy are in love."

"Why do you betray them?"

"I resent their passion."

I should tell Hacem about stillborn Rose, shouldn't I? My lost baby. In three months, he's probably worked it out. Rose scares men—when they sense her in me. How she haunts my fucking.

"Who are you playing, then?"

"Nobody much," she said. "A 1920's snitch."

"Any lines?"

"Five," she said, smugly. "Enough to crash their world."

I should speak to Rose, she thought. Miss Sulky Stillborn—vengeful nag. She turns me into a bozo. Just like that strung-out dad of hers. Speed-freak daddy, ghost of a different kind.


Are you quite sure Bernard Profitendieu was mixed up in it?'

'Not absolutely, but...'

'What makes you think so?"

'First, the fact that he is a natural child. You don't suppose that a boy of his age runs away from home without having touched the lowest depths.'


"Sara?" said Hacem. "Are you with me?"

Rose, you loused up my life with Dan. You keep out o' my way, kiddo. I want Hacem. I don't want you bugging me, okay? You're buried in the Black Sea. I'm sorry. We hired a chaplain–every day I hear the ceremony. Book of Common Prayer: 'Burial at Sea.' For a baby. I hear it every day.


"I overdid the black coffee."

Hacem smoothed the blue cotton of her dress. Sara watched the waves in it. Have to 'fess up, Hacem. I got me a demon.

"I said, Sara, how many centres do you have?"

"Very funny."

Hacem's Berber signet ring glistened. Mist in her eyes. She swallowed and swallowed. Billowing crests in her throat.

"Do you think they ever have problems?"


"That missile couple from Dulwich," she said tumbling with the surf. Rolling, diving.

"Don't be boring, Sara. You dislike them."

"Don't you?"

"I've never cared for coldness in people," he said. "They were not cold. I'm not obsessed, like you, with British."

"You find the best and worst in every country?"

"It's like saying Arabs and Latinos are about passion."

"Aren't they?"

"Definitely not."

"They seem warmer."

"You need to stop taking pills, Sara."

The sky was yellow now. Behind them, the medina seemed to falter, like a mirage. At Place Oued El Makhazine, and with a revving engine, the taxi pulled up near the bus station. Further along, a crowd of people stared at something in the gutter. Sara felt an undertow. She looked at Hacem.

"This was your idea," he said.


'...Bernard was grave. ...He was beginning to understand that boldness is often achieved at the expense of other people's happiness...'


Odours of rotting food and drains filled the air. Men's smoke, grilled meats, and exhaust fumes. Sara drew a white scarf over her hair. I can love Hacem. I'm ready.

"Am I complaining?" she said, taking his hand.

Two ostentatious stars twinkled on the hotel door.

"I don't know what was wrong with my room at the Hyatt," he said.

"Emmy's uncomfortable about sex."

"We're adults."

"Are we, Hacem?" Sara tapped his elbow.

An intense young man—Raschid on the name tag—had appeared, beaming, at the desk.

"Welcome to the Windsor Hotel, Casablanca." He tossed a key to Hacem. "We have expected you."

Raschid looked overdressed for the cramped reception. A parody of himself. Sara gazed admiringly at the yellow djellabah.

"Pay now, monsieur." His green eyes.

Sara's thoughts swam. This 'E' was far too powerful. Can it be right? Hacem's ear was a spiral of yellow light.

"'Alone, alone, all, all alone'? she said, as they rose in the golden elevator.

"Going up."

"Everything's so sunny, I tell you," she cried out. "This is the Imax mosquetheque."

"Slut," he said, flirting.

Sara closed her eyes—and caressed his neck.

They slammed against the wall. Sara's purse fell open: a notebook, papers and pens trickled onto the floor. A script of The Counterfeiters flopped out, sentence after sentence scrawled over and underlined in red.

"Baby," Hacem said.


and snorts it—Sara. Snorter. Torn, tailored for me. Needle-nose mother. Scratch-blasted. But you won't stop me, Sara. ...Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live... Like you, I hear that Book of Common Prayer. Unborn, a Rose—I. Us. How I preferred Paris to this Casablanca: morning strolls in the catacombs, babies' skulls and sewer rats—in-Seine—birth-canal bateau mouche, a wake in blood and oil.

Breathe harder, Sara. Raise your body's yellow tent and crimson licks. Higher, Sara. Winking muscle. Walls in out. Back, pulse-back, north. To Paris. The cemetery. Our plump and panting cemetery. Pores in bliss. ...and is full of misery... Slippery, stone asleep. Let's leave this Casablanca, Sara. Sniff-slash place. Go back to Paris. Then home. With you I begin—always I begin—where I began. Back to back. To before. Café cassé at the grave.

Sipping, Sara.

But I. Rose. Blood-dancer, jiving in-vein, loved that last and first ride. Memory lane. Cunt trip. I. Choking. Yellow Rose billowing. Finger-wings. Flop-flap. ...he cometh up and is cut down, like a flower... Hanged woman's cum in ribbons fair. A-bobbing. Silverchains and veils a-cross your clit. Placenta previa. Belted, capped. Mother, me, and Holy Toast. Golly gash. Dyke-rape doings. Indigo shade of dead—and snagged.

Triumphant infant a-Rose; tattoo punctuation. Indifferent Sara, lying. Barrened hostess. Traitress with the mostest. Hot-pinched nipples sobbing milk, thorns down, sparrow's feet, cassé cassé, trickling, tissue-tilting morte. Cannon-iced. ...he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay... Snookered, lesbo rap. Dead and good.

Go fuck another man, Sara. Dare you. Now I screw you up. Dare or do. No-mother squirt, whore angelic.


Vanessa flipped a page of The New England Journal of Parasitology. She tweaked her peroxide crew-cut.

"Still reading about the grey matter of the awake rat?" said her elder sister, Emma. "We are on vacation, you know."

Emma looked down at Place des Nations Unies. Café de France—those men who gaped, thés à la menthe. Orange Fantas. What did they think? Fair-faced Canadians: unsure, shiny, mother; two over-solicitous daughters; savvy expatriate Moroccan. The lost in space?

"I'm going down to the pool."

"African rays to impress the guys back home, Emmy?"


She turned another page. "I don't need a sunburn to do that."

"Please yourself."

Vanessa placed the science journal on a desk, and yellow-marked a few paragraphs.

Emma grimaced, folding a black swimsuit into the fluorescent pack. Glasses, towel, sunblock.

"What happened to the scorpion flies and orangutans you went raving about in Paris?"

"Em, I told you about this huge exam coming up. What am I supposed to do? It's a friggin' British public school, not some parking-lot collegiate in downtown Toronto."

"Am I studying every second?"


"Besides," Emma added, "isn't a medical book overkill for a grade nine quiz?"

"Worms are my specialty this term," she said, highlighting another portentous phrase in the journal. "I want to cream the competition."

"There's word for people like you. On holiday, nose in a book day and night."


'...thus the availability and location of reproductive females is highly predictable; consequently, competitive interactions may be severe. Selection may favour male adaptations that lead to high reproductive success at the cost of high mortality...'


"Go stuff your hope-chest, Martha Stewart," said Vanessa. "Gut-worms raping and blocking each other are far more interesting than swimming-pools and melanoma."

"Gut worms? How gross."

"That's exactly what it sounded like this morning."

Emma went for her.

"Hands off!" screeched Vanessa. "My nose ring! I'm stuck in the Hyatt too, you know. While they go off."

"Get it off, you mean," said Emma. She checked herself in the mirror. "Stoned at the Windsor Hotel."

"How did you know?"

Emma tapped her nose. "It's daft how mum has to go to a flea-bag hotel to do it," she said, rummaging for lip-balm amongst Vanessa's crayons. "As if we couldn't guess." She held up a chrome pillbox. "What's this?"

Vanessa teased the box from her sister's fingers. "Did you take my stuff out of that hand luggage?"

"Take what out?"

"My Special K."


"Did you, Emma? Did you take it out? Tell me."

"You're not into ketamine? Holy Christ, Vanessa. It's cat valium. How on earth...?"

"Bugger it," said Vanessa. She rifled through her jeans, backpack—and flung aside Emma's swimming gear. "Oh no." She held a hand to her face. One ear flushed bright pink. "I gave her the wrong one, Emmy. Shit, shit, shit." She stared at Emma's wide-eyed face. "Mum wanted some 'Ecstasy' right? After what happened in Paris with Hacem. To relax and that."


"So she could cum, really."

"Spare me, please," said Emma. "I thought she never stopped…."

Were other mothers like this, thought Emma?

"It's difficult for her, you know that," said Vanessa. "After losing Rose. Even with Dan she had trouble."

"Daniel? With dad?" replied Emma. "How do you know?"

Vanessa ignored her sister. "Mum's got my 'Bump' by mistake. I feel so guilty. What should we do?"


"The ketamine."

"She snorted a dose?"

Vanessa nodded.

"You brought those drugs with you? That's really smart. Do you know what country we're in?" Emma was losing control. "What did you say ketamine does?"

"Kind of takes you inward."

"Bull's eye, Vanessa." She laughed—and rubbed the crown of her head. "K-holing in the kasbah. As if mum needed any help with introspection!"

Emma repacked her bathing suit. Vanessa and their mother were one and the same, as far as Emma was concerned. On occasions like this, she gave up. At home, she would have visited her girlfriend's house in Hampstead, talked boys, church, and clothes. Practiced singing. Anything to forget Vanessa, and Sara their junked-up parent; sometimes—although Emma never admitted it to anyone—to remember the stillborn sister, Rose. She whose life would have spared them Sara's pain.

"What shall we do, Emmy?"

"We? I dunno," with a breeziness she did not feel. "Mum's on board her k-flight. Why don't you smoke something to chill out, Vanessa? Hacem's Brazilian verte Rose. Or that lampe rouge?"

"Will you chill!" said Vanessa. She rubbed her shoulder hard. "We need to act."


'...postulate, however, that sperm competition may have led to the evolution of the cement gland and capping behaviour and that this may represent a preadaptation that under sex selection may have assumed the additional function of removing male competitors from the reproductive population...'


"There's always Hacem's bombe atomique, also Brazilian," Emma went on. "He keeps it in a pouch with his condoms. Of course, that may be missing, too, along with his..."

Vanessa put a hand over her sister's mouth.

"...wad of majoun," Emma sputtered, beginning to cry.

"You go and swim," said Vanessa. She offered her sister a Paris Match. "I need to work out what to do."

"I'd prefer to miss mum's landing, if you don't mind," Emma replied. "Just leave me the flight path and ETA when you know them. I'll make plans."

Vanessa gave her sister the finger. "Go rehearse an Anglican hymn. Shake the Moslems up."

Emma hurried from the room.

With a yellow marker, Vanessa encircled Place Oued El Makhazine.


'…homosexual rape, by removing competitors from the reproductive population may be another manifestation of the intense interaction for the source of reproductive females. We observed an instantaneous frequency of homosexual rape of 2.5 percent in M. dubius…'


in the midst of life we are in death... Let's junk Casablanca, Sara. Bolt, wolf down; take me back to Paris. Within your body, and without, I'll soar for you proud. I. Rose. Lady lordly. Knolled up. Head first. Sweep Parc Astérix for balloons. Montmartre carousel, shadow of Sacré Coeur. In Paris I can stomach Hacem. In Casablanca, no. Too near his family, he is grasping. Too near you. Drumming your skin, tight. I. Galloping click-tock. Faster, faster. Lilies. Sniff. Down in the Paris Orangerie—let's get away. From Hacemland and danger.

Christened in that coffin. I. Rose. Returned. Always returning. Clock-tick. Hoof-trot, bone-beating, drawn, and paper stretched. Finger the Rose, stroke, squirm. I dance for Sara. I. Rose. Palms open, closed. Grinding. For Allah. Boots in the Tuileries. Dirham grabber. Deadmeat lover. Between you and me. Sod off Berber, I say. Jihad mongerer. Counterfeiter. No man for Sara.

No men for Sara.

Not again. See me twist and shake. Along the vein. Follow the tongue. Tip. See me? Feel me? Let the Arab moan and shrink; in the Café—of trembling fingers—de France. Slut? Men's shuddering sips. Sipping Sara. Bellyache and cry, my never-song. Let your blue-eyed Moroccan alone. Ass-high beseecher. Bare soles kissed, kissed. In the heart. Marasmus sweet. Fake and bake. But taste mine, Sara. Take you and me back to Paris. I beg. Give me. Salty toes skipping-tripping up and in. Skin under my nails. Yours. Tight, chalky gripping, soul dreams.

...shut not thy merciful ears...

Nine months, Sara. Always leaving. Always planning to give me up. You were always leaving. I. Felt. But were never away! I. Inside. Jab and pass, I'll wrestle you down. Give. Death a voice. War a chance. Back to where we started, Sara. Forget Hacem. Put the yellow away. Open and close. Open and close.

...spare us...

Climb, Sara. Brimful footsteps by the pond. I follow. Where we started. Where we began. I follow. Always follow. Dragging the Seine-net. Of my favourite city! Humming. I never miss your men, Sara. I. Bateau. Rose-goes inching, inching; beat to the claws, gobble-up, gobble up in the Windsor Hotel today. Why can't we go home?


Sara held Hacem between her thighs.

"Softly," she said. "That's it, darling."

Sup me up.

She massaged his scalp. Hacem's tongue flickered inside. His breath—swimming its laps.

How Rose shimmers on the ceiling, thought Sara. How she frets and stretches, plays her caper. Squints through the shutter at us—yes, I see you. Surprise, surprise. Calling, finger-calling. Back between my legs, sweet Rose. Take your time; your last time. Stroke the lips. Spit on me. Dance.



'...In real life nothing is solved; everything continues. We remain in our uncertainty; and we shall remain to the very end without knowing what to make of things.


'Don't Cry For Me Casablanca'? But blush, mottled-cherry Sara. I blush at me. I do. Twenty years lugging Rose about—moi—you've had enough. How ripe you feel today. Ketamine? Ooh. K-d'Orsay? I can't tempt you, can I? How spent I am. …judge eternal, suffer us not… How can you not hear me singing out prayer? Knackered, I am. Bored. Your Dan-the-dick, dedicated lawman, was a chore, you know, Sara. Battle and a half. Dan-who-did-me-in-Dan. So thick-a-brick, wasn't he? I was so thick-o'-him. Thick, thick. Ken doll.

Where is my father now? Mr. Bone-blood-sperm-flesh Father Lost, no-name, banned. 'No, Sara,' he said. 'No go. Get rid of the kid. Abort or adopt. Get rid of it.' Boom boom. Gut drumming in the dark. I heard him. 'Rid of it.' You said it too. 'Dump Rose. Put her up for adoption.' Sara. Turncoat forever. Double-crossing, two timer. 'Put her up.' I still hear it from my wet-warm and flying. Banished. I was banished.

Where's that man-part now? My father tangle. Who cares? I did the plugging for you: foetal attraction. Me. Stop the train, I said. I'll do it myself. Yank a rip-cord, scream, and score! Gotcha. Head-butt goal. Touché. Dan and Sara. I beat you to it. Aren't you proud? Our red crowd roars, dances death with me.

…we therefore…

Sara, you look on Hacem but stare at Rose. Shuddering petals in the Marché aux Fleurs. I was there. Seine-circling whispers, Île de la Cité where you took a photo. Rose, jump and dodge! I adored Paris. Thank you for taking me. Even with Hacem. Duck and weave! Sniff of a breeze. Paris works in you; stroking backwards. Let's go back. Sail on yellow silks. Oranges and pears in Rue Mouffetard—legumes, greens and purple. I see your Evil Eye. Oops! Swerve and dart! Watch the traffic. Peek-a-boo, Hacem. Hammam in Rue des Mauvais Garçons. Ah. Tissue, tissue. Eyes down. 'I love you, Sara,' Hacem says. That Hacem, idiot crooner. It's me you're hearing. Me you want to hear. Isn't it? I love you, Sara?


That's it, Rose. Not anymore. I'm prepared. That's it. Cuddle your body, Rose. Pout. Mock me, as you wish. I'm frolicking here. See? I'm invincible. You stillborn, avenging runt.

"Love me Hacem, darling."

…we entrust this child to your merciful keeping…

Sara tugged Hacem's hair, pulled it to her face. Pierce the Rose, my sweet. Nail her in the cave—before she checks out again.

"Fuck hard, Hacem."

Come in me, come in me, man. See her pinky grave. Chase her. Eye it up. Olé. Put it through her, Hacem. Needle into eye. Make me free. Before Miss Unnatural takes the air again. That's it. Let me be free, man. There's a love. Deeper.
For the kill.


kissing heaven in the afternoon. Oh, the traffic. Hacem's sky-high lip—rocking horror—mowing me down. You're never going back. Are you, Sara? To Paris; for lovers. Or to me. Flooding in the catacombs, spilt coffee in the grave. Still, I love you, Sara. Rose here. …commit her body… Wine-grinning baby skull. Lick the grapes. Lilies haemorrhage in the Luxembourg boating pond? Baisse-moi, Sara. I beg. Just a peck? Turnstiles in the metro. Let's be swift. …to the deep… Tide-rip, tide-rip. Hosey Rosie. No ticket. No pass. Okay. You win.

Black weed in my throat. Am I spring? I thirst, Sara. Again, end and exit. For the last time, Sara. I do promise. Lulla-goodbye, Sara; mum. So, fuck Paris with Hacem's eye. Rim-tumbling sail boat. Swim for it. Tie me to the mast? Eye-eye. Lash. Hook and eye. Lash, lash. Catch the anchor! Oops. Missed. Where's that rigging? Gale force doormen on the block. Where are the old guys?

Follow, deep.

Where the sane fish dart—pawing handfuls—rain-red candle through the Luxembourg, spluttering, bellysoft from the gardens. Where are the lilies? Swim, swim with the mermaids. Taste wax and sea from the broken banks. Do it, Sara? Cracked lace and bone; convulsions on the higher ground. Unctuous fishlips in a choir. All fall down. Platter-splatter-puff. …to be turned into corruption… For Allah.

Can't blink now.

For Allah. See Rose, boxing champ. Eight rounds with the river traffic. But cocky Evil Eye takes the prize. Ting-a-ling. Gloves away. Butterflies in the mud. I give out. Give up. Lead me to the Conciergerie. Seconds away, a-bout, a-new, adieu. There's your chair, Sara. Here's the other. For passion-Hacem. Yellow table and chairs. All fall down. Given me. Clown. Given me.

…looking for the resurrection of the body…

Sever my wig. Take away my head. Ever the leaving, Sara. Now ever left. Two chairs. One. Three cheers. Café au lait. Ashtray. Still-spirited hands—drummer's echo—and chanting on the radio. Plastic tablecloth. Baton poised and you, madame? Monsieur? Bar's open around the clock.

…when the sea shall give up her dead…

No purse-snatching seconds. Open stars. You'll call me. Cut to. Salut. Lilies under the Tuileries? Someone knew. Too late. Clocked out. Time. Give me my neck in prayer. Brass monkey. No hat. No head. Just a ping-pong nose. Clapper—tolled—of a well-hung bell.

…as it was in the beginning…


"Hacem, my love," said Sara, quietly in his arms. "I've lost a bogeywoman, I think."

He curled a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know."

It was dark beyond the shutters.

She longed to tell Emma and Vanessa. They'll be so happy. Rose tortured the hell out of me. For so long. But Sara Rhodes has her soul back. You'll see.

"To the Hyatt?" said Hacem.

"Yes," she replied. "But let's keep this room for later."

"If you wish."

"Tonight I want to treat my girls to a nightclub, and dinner. Come on."


"They've been cooked up in that hotel, love 'em."

…and shall be forever…

"We've got a minute," said Hacem.

"A toke, then."


'In the meantime life goes on and on, the same as ever. And one gets resigned to that too; as one does to everything one does to everything. Well, well, goodbye...'


Vanessa Rhodes takes a petit-taxi to the WIndsor Hotel and, by minutes, misses her mother and Hacem.

When, in her excruciating French, she enquires about them, the clerk—Raschid on the name tag—smiles, and places a key in her hand.

"You can wait in their room," he says. "They will return soon."

When she tries to enter the elevator, he calls her to stop—and points to the staircase.

"Fifth," Raschid says.

On old Windsor's top floor, Vanessa stretches across the bed, savouring a place of her own. So many paneled doors, such ancient furniture, and shutters.

The evening feels muggy and uncomfortable. No air conditioning here. Suddenly, the telephone rings. It's the front desk—Raschid.

Have you settled in?

"They've paid, right?" she asks, in French. "My mother."

The voice at the other end chuckles—wearily, for such a young man. Deciphering his accent is difficult.

"Room service?" Vanessa says. "No, I don't need anything."

She replaces the handset.


'...During copulation the everted bursa of the male wraps around the posterior end of the female, the cirrus enters the female gonopore or vagina, and spermatazoa are transferred. The female vagina and genital region is packed and then "capped" by secretions from the cement gland, which block the vaginal region. The external cap is lost after a few days...'


Vanessa's thoughts drift idly to the Hyatt. She should return there soon. Blue Jays baseball cap back-to-front, Emma will be flipping TV channels, after a tiring afternoon at the piscine privée and spa. Emma terrified that Sara and Hacem will arrive. She's never keen on her mother's 'coming down' sessions. No little Vanessa to take over. Vanessa is so much better at parenting the parent, Emmy'll be reminding herself.

"Dumb, sweet sister," Vanessa says, curling her toes.

Those poolside guys will have put Emmy on edge.

French Euronews, Spanish tve, Arabic Dubai. Soft-headed Emmy. She won't be understanding anything.

Vanessa undoes her jeans, and shakes herself free. Slips off her blouse and brassiere. I will wait a while, she thinks.

Maybe she should open the shutter. Let the night air in. She extinguishes the light.

'I've had a bit of an afternoon Emma my precious,' mum will say, finally trotting in from Last Tango in Casablanca. Can we puke now, please? I can hear Emmy's thoughts. Is this junkie really my mother?

Don't fret, Emmy, I'll be on the scene.

I see Sara leaning against the door, doped, sated. 'I'm turning in, darlings. I need to lie down. You don't mind, do you?'

'Take a boo at this, mum. Hi Hacem!' Emmy will turn around to pretend she doesn't mind they're stonkered. She'll tell herself, 'Oh well, Ramadan's around the corner. Then we'll go straight.'

Emmy'll point to the television, to that program she's always watching. 'Look at this, you guys,' she'll implore them. '¿Quién Sabe Dónde?'

She'll say it slowly, phonetically, waving at the screen. Emmy's mesmerized by the show. '¿Who Knows Where?' she thinks it means. It sounds right. They track down missing people and reunite them in the studio. Sara and Hacem don't watch the box.

'Can you believe it?' Emma will say. 'Years and years since they've seen one another.'

Neither mum nor Hacem will be interested. But Sara will be feeling guilty, so she'll feign curiosity. She is an actress.

'See?' Emmy'll say. 'This guy here. Missing for ten years! See? The number in the corner? Like a score. You can tell he doesn't want to meet them. Look! He's miserable with it. Can you blame him? Look at grandpa there? See those nephews? Look at the crowd. Jesus! You can see why he left in the first place.'

On and on Emmy'll go.

'Astonishing,' Sara will say. 'Isn't there anything else to watch?' Then, 'I really must lie down.'

Maybe my sister will explode? 'I thought you'd already done that?'

Sara's accustomed to it from Emmy—the morals squad. Everything's pretty 'missionary position' to Em, anyway. Rube Emmy. She sure as hell didn't get that from her mother. For a sixteen-year-old, Emma's pure. Missed a gene, most like.

Vanessa takes a shower. She thinks she will leave soon. Maybe her mother and Hacem have returned to the Hyatt. The water is tepid, She inspects her breasts and thighs. She's enjoying the privacy of a room to herself.

To placate Emma, mum will notice some leaflets on the dresser or something. She'll rustle one, a Marrakech street plan, in front of my sister.

'We'll do the medina...' Sara will say, squinting at the text. 'Plus the...Djemma el-Fna tomorrow, Emma. Right? Up with the lark?'

Vanessa presses her lips against the mirror—and laughs. She studies her teeth.

'Marrakech is three hours south by train,' Emmy will say in her best school voice. She will flip more channels. Flip, flip, flip. Sara, stoned, never knows what city's she's in. 'This is Casablanca, mum.'

Mother will check the brochure. Toss her hair back, adjusting the heavy load...of confusion. 'Oh!' she'll say, taking a second run at the font.

So it'll go on.

Vanessa wipes her body with a towel.

A bejeweled woman, cross-legged on a flying carpet above urban Dubai, will flutter on the television screen, badly superimposed fuzzy edges, apocalyptic music. Yellow numbers and yellow script will wiggle from right to left. Sara will stare mournfully.

Surely the writing's going the wrong way?

'Is it a magic lottery?' mum may ask.

'She's selling beds,' Emmy will say, not bothering to turn around.

'How very Arabian,' Hacem will chip in.

'Are you still on the Jump, then, mum,' Emmy will say, trying to sound casual. 'Jump? Bump?'

'I do have to talk to Vanessa,' mum'll say.

Emmy will fixate on the Koran. It's as yellow as Vanessa's marked-up copy of the New England Journal of Parasitology. Like her mother, Emmy enjoys being confused. A chocolate brown text begins to dominate the screen. As the muezzin pipes up from the minaret, a drizzle of verse lights up in blue.

'Oh!' Sara will declare. 'The bible in WordPerfect. Look, Hacem!'

He will have gone to his room.

Mum will again toss her head.

Vanessa spikes her hair. She fantasizes that Raschid will knock on the door. They can talk. Maybe she will seduce him. How thrilling to be in this hotel room. She parades about the carpet. Observes the mirror alongside the bed. I feel like someone else, she thinks. This angle and that. Why do I waste my time with family?

'Is Vanessa enjoying the swimming pool?' mum will say eventually, now looking for her own key. We're supposed to believe that she and Hacem have separate, 'moral,' sleeping arrangements. Emmy's lost in TV5, I bet: Evian opening a new factory—same source. Cars nose-to-tail on the Quai d'Orsay. Floods. Concorde grounded again. Heavy rains. Europe is such a mess.

The old and the restless will find her key.

'Vanessa's gone out, mum.'


'Oggi in Parlamento,' a man's deep voice will be saying. Bright, parliamentary furnishings. Pleading hands. Sheets of paper, an accusing finger. 'Oggi in Parlamento. Back after this.'

'Looking for you two.'

Is this me? Vanessa sits on the edge of the bed. She stares into a mirror. Me or you? Why do I feel there's someone else? Who are you? Vanessa looks at herself. But it's not herself she sees. This is not Vanessa. Why do I look so different?

At the Hyatt, Emma sees figure-skating championships from Eastern Europe. Napoleon in tights and boots. White and black and blue and red. Australian Open: Melbourne. Banners, t-shirts, sunburnt skin.

Vanessa falls back on the mattress.

...I am the resurrection and the life...

Emmy watches hard. Yellow tennis balls: pop, pop, pop. Oof! Squeaky runners. More grunting. Emmy never gives up. Channel after channel. Looking for something that never arrives.

Vanessa places a pillow between her thighs. She thinks of Raschid—and begins to masturbate.

'Out!' from Emmy's television at the Hyatt. Luge final in Switzerland. Lens spattered with ice and snow. Camera shudders. Can't quite get it. Emmy surfs on.

'But I'm here!' mum will say—slightly perturbed by her own decisiveness.

'You weren't earlier. Vanessa's gone to the Windsor Hotel. Just like you did.'


'Well it wasn't an elopement, you and Hacem, was it?' she'll say. 'Vanessa knew you were on the wrong drug.'

Dubai will go off the air. It often does, according to Emmy. Some suits in Brussels have given a lot of money to Guatemala. Another suit looks glad. Real Madrid has scored against the odds. It's getting late.

'More Bump before bed, mum?' Emmy will say. Bless her. It's her only joke.

'How could you let her out of your sight?' Sara will fume, clenching the doorframe.

Heavy snows in the Pyrenees.

'I followed your example, mum.'

Vanessa brushes her hand over her face, belly, and breasts. She feels the stiffness of her hair. I'm someone else. It's wonderful. Like I'm years older.

...though he were dead, yet he shall live...

'I've talked to her,' Emmy will assure Sara. 'She wants to stay over at the Windsor on her own.'

'Turn that damn set off,' mum will say. She can get into focus sometimes. It's not pretty. 'Is that a fact?' She'll mull it over. Be patient—chemicals need time. Then, 'She's fourteen, Emma. Is she completely stupid? Why didn't she phone me? There are telephones.'

'You didn't know what pill you'd swallowed,' Emmy'll say. 'She wanted to help you get back here, so she said.'

That should do the trick. Mum can never resist strong emotion enacted. Vanessa loves me, mum will feel. How could I get stoned like this?

'Let's phone '¿Quién Sabe Dónde?', mum,' Emmy might say. 'For a laugh. They post their phone number. See? International one. They've got a website. Millions will see our family life.'


even Rose…


I'm okay, thinks Vanessa. It'll be okay. She manoeuvres across the bed. ...shall never die... Who said that? Maybe I should be going.

'Into high gear,' Sara will say, cleaning up.

'There'll be weeping throughout Europe and North Africa when they recognize our fractured lives,' Emmy might say.

'Bury it, Emma,' mum will say. She'll pick up the receiver. 'Windsor Hotel, please. Casablanca number.'

Vanessa sits upright on the bed. Did one of those wall panels move? What was that sound? What the hell is happening? Who's in the mirror? Who's behind that door? Is it a cupboard really? Or a door-door? She should have checked. Her hands stop moving. It's time to leave. ...keep my mouth as it were a bridle... Who said that? I should be going.

'Daughters,' Sara will curse.

'Which one?' Emmy will reply, fed up. 'This time.'

"Hey!" yells Vanessa. She rushes for her clothes. There's someone else in the room, behind that panel. Abruptly, she slams open its door. The 'cupboard' exposes a passageway. There are several men there. Are they men? Are they people? Eyes that glisten.

Is that Raschid further along? Bright yellow cloud—or a woman?

Vanessa screams.

Plunges legs into jeans, arms into blouse. Runs for the real door.

A hand—is it a hand?—throws her face down on the bed.

"Get off! Get out!"

She's no match for the weight.

"Help! Get off me! Someone help!"

Squealing into the bedspread, Vanessa twists and turns. Her skull pressed hard into the mattress.

Done quickly. Done forever. Rose enters her sister's body. without end... even Rose will be watching. ...without...

Rose even. I. Again and again. Into you, my sister. You won't be free of me. Vanessa. Free of Rose? Inside again, am I! Home.

The phone's ringing, Vanessa.

...without end...

Go answer our mother, dear Vanessa.

Tell her the news.



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