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The Devil of Mercy

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The Annoying Woman recently challenged me on the veracity of my existence as a Real Boy - that is, she insisted (because she was told) that I couldn't possibly remember much about being alive because those memories are shoved out or altered when the demon moves in. That may be true of the minions. I could give a rat's arse. Only know it isn't true of me.

For instance, I remember playing on the floor of the nursery. I'm very small. Wooden animals, a boat on wheels - Noah's Ark must've been. Paired the tiger and the zebra together because they both had stripes, and marched them up the gangway making happy little dum de dum noises. Also, being afraid to sleep because of some bible story about the prophet, erm... Elijah, was it? one of those Old Testament prophets sending two she-bears to devour all the little children who made fun of him. And also practise pieces at the piano, fingers aching, no talent whatsoever and me doing it because my mum said I had to. And being shocked and terribly excited by "ta ra ra boom de ay." The way that music hall chippie kicked her leg high enough for the whole audience to see the back of her thigh. Shocked that I could see her knickers. Excited by what must be underneath them.

The Annoying Woman had wrinkled her odd little nose at that and said, well, I'll bet you can't remember being born. And I said, what, Slayer, like you bloody well can?

Now, while I don't remember being born - that would be a neat trick and maybe I will someday just to piss her off - I do remember dying. Can't for the life of me remember what Drusilla said in that alley that got me to give it up to her. I'm sure it was flattering, a honeyed buzz of flattery, but my hand and mind were full of her breast. Naturally I don't mention the handful of boob to the Annoying Woman. But still, I have to wonder if I surrendered my life because Dru let me touch her breast. That would be truly lame.

Wait. Hold on. I'm going somewhere with this memory thing. Not to a nice place either.

Tiny room. Sputtering candle. Broken window. Girl on bed. Like a lovely picture postcard I've sent myself from the past. Caption reads: "Whore's childbed. Whitechapel. 1881." And on the other side there's a poem I composed, comparing the afterbirth to the Afterlife. It's terribly overwrought. I had intended to carve the words into Dru's breast once. Too many syllables, not enough breast. (Breasts again! I'm obsessed.)

The whore in my picture postcard memory couldn't have been more than fifteen, Dawn’s age, which didn’t seem so young to me then. And despite the caption in my mind, I don’t think she was even a whore, just some fool little girl got seduced, knocked up and kicked out, too ashamed to go to charity hospital, writhing on a filthy pallet in a filthy doss, churning out a new life wouldn't be worth two pennies once it took a breath. The muscles in her thighs were twitching and jumping, raw power running through her whole being, and for what? Something she didn't want, couldn't care for properly even if she did want it.

But the sounds she made - you never heard the like. Fucking beautiful! She would lurch up, grab the backs of her thighs, roar and grunt and growl, pushing pushing pushing.

Death makes a different sound. We tend to forget that after a while. Start to believe death is the only sound God can hear because that's the music we happen to make for the motherfucker every night. But this - on the bed, in that room - this was Life forcing its will through the body. Different sort of music altogether.

The girl couldn't even spare the effort to be afraid of us. She was that in the moment, face all twisted up, ugly and red, eyes fixing to pop right out of the sockets. When her eyes focused on me, they were full of fury. Not the sort of girl who surrendered easily. I had to admire the power and cunning of the man who'd bent her to his will, either by an opportunistic rape or a long courtship of whispers and ever emboldened groping in the mews. Yes, I thought, as I stroked and pinched her sweaty cheeks, had to admire the fellow.

Dru wriggled at the foot of the bed, practically crawling up through the blood and shit between the girl's legs. Too close, too intimate as always, was my princess. "Lovely wicked little monster," she said. "It's tearing her in two."

It wasn't really. Drusilla had no idea how wide open a woman could get and still be all in one piece. She'd been broken to pieces before she ever got to learn that perfectly ordinary truth.

I should have seen it coming. Dru liked babies. She really did. Pretty floppy dolls they were. But new babes aren't fat and pretty. They don't smile and coo at you before you snap their little necks. I figured she'd lose interest. When it squirted out into the muck on the bedding - boy-child, blue-white wormy thing with the umbilical still pulsing - she made the strangest noise, between a sigh and a laugh and a sob, like it was the most beautiful creature she'd ever laid eyes on. And I felt the shiver run through me, a portent of bad to come. She wanted that baby. I could see it in the way she held herself. The weird hum at the back of her throat, the way her body vibrated. For a moment or two the child just laid there and I thought to myself, "Still born, thank God." You see how I hadn't broken the God habit entirely at that point. Even Dru was still getting smacked down for the occasional Catholic lapse and she'd been with them for twenty years. Anyway, didn't matter. God, as usual, wasn't being helpful to the likes of me.

Dru leaned over it and started licking the blood off, licking it clean like a big cat. The child's mouth opened and a thin keening sound came out as she pulled her tongue over it. It went from blue to pink and rosy in a heartbeat. Its own heart pumping blood to all its tiny parts.

The girl whispered, "What is it?"

"A boy," I said.

Dru must truly have been channelling a panther, 'cos she just moved in and confidently bit the cord in two. After that she took off her petticoat and wrapped the baby in it. "You can have the mother, William," she said. "I don't want the mother."

Well Christ on a crutch! I didn't want the mother either. I just wanted to leave. Grab Dru and shake her till she got some sense, then get the hell out.

The girl started trembling, whimpering, and her body bent yet again, a gentler purging push that expelled the afterbirth. Dead matter. Unnecessary. All life-giving blood had been poured into the child. A perfect exchange of energy. I wrote a poem about it as I've said, with too many words, as I've mentioned.

A devil of mercy (that would be me) brushed his lips against the mother's ear, whispering, "We'll be taking the little darling now. That's all right, isn't it?"

She turned her head to the side so as not to see us, mouth set angry and bitter. "I don't want it. Do what you like." But she was crying.

I didn't kill her. What would have been the point? We'd gorged ourselves only a bit before and I had no doubt that after a brief spot of guilt the cunning tricks of memory would bury her shame much deeper than the hole we'd toss the little body in when we'd done with it. I even left her a few shillings.

Dru and me went to a hotel. House of assignation actually. No questions asked that money couldn't answer. I still expected Drusilla would play with her new toy a while, then kill it. So I left her to her games, lay on the bed, drifted off. Heard my mother crying, a dream of noise without pictures. When I woke up I realized it had been the baby crying not my mother and the only reason it had stopped was because it was dead. Only it wasn't. Quite.

The lamp cast a hazy glow but not much actual light. A curl of smoke from the wick threw a whimsical shadow over a framed print on the wall, satyrs and nymphs frolicking. Dru had pulled down one panel of the draperies that hung about the bed, her little treasure swaddled in it. She was humming, blood on her lips, big dark eyes all for the child now. Cradled in her arm, it resembled a loose limp bag of bones. Her bodice was opened to the waist. Sharp, sharp nails pierced the brown flesh of aureole, the stub of a nipple. Blood welled up in beads and droplets as she brought the tiny lolling head up and pressed its little rosebud lips to her bosom. I stood there gaping, stupid, paralysed - with the mantra "it's dead, it's dead, please let it be dead" running through my head. She rubbed its face in the blood, murmuring encouragements, and after a few moments I could hear it sucking. She made an infant not three hours out of the womb utterly helpless and dependent forever.

"You'll never fly away now, will you my angel?" I shuddered at that, something like awe mingled with my panic. Resentment on the heels of it. She would call it Angel, the bitch. The endearment was short-lived. A little later she settled on William. I might have been flattered but for the fact that her real father was called Bill and the pouf's name was actually Liam. She once gave all the stars the same name and it was probably William.

Baby William had perfectly formed fingers, aesthetically perfect really, and translucent. I could see the lamplight shining through them. Same with his ears. Skin so thin and delicate that light passed through it. He had a lot of hair, sticking out all over, fine and dark, like Dru's. But other than that he was your basic ugly. And he would never grow out of ugly.

Forever lasted about a week during which time I played the proper bread-winner as required, bringing home the long-pig bacon, fulfilling her requests for tiny bonnets with blue silk ribbons, frothy lace and linen gowns, knitted stockings of lisle cotton, eyedroppers, talcum powder, flannels printed with sprigs of lilac and yellow ducks, special soap - even nappies, which the cursed little beast didn't need. It didn't piss or shit right? It would never grow. It would have the stub of an umbilicus forever. When it cried from hunger, its forehead got tiny ridges, but it had no bloody teeth! We had to move to a different hotel twice in that week. She'd feed from the people I brought her, cut her nipple for the child to suckle, deny me the same pleasure later. My lips and tongue were no longer welcome at the holy shrine that was her bosom. And there was no getting between her thighs either.

At the end of this forever week, I was caught stealing a pram. Not by the law.

"It's customary for our kind to take the baby and leave the pram, William my dear." Darla's words were cool, her smile indulgent. Angelus was a huge looming presence over her shoulder. Smug and dressed for the theatre, looking like the parvenus they were - whore and roué with delusions of elegance, stomping and tearing through worlds to which they'd never been welcomed. And for all their cold cunning, for all their calculated evil, they still never really got that about themselves, you know? That underneath the clothes they had no fucking class.

"What have you and Drusilla been up to then?" Darla's voice made me want to shove my fingers into her face like knives. Instead I told them. Bloody coward that I was.

They were clever enough not to do anything at the hotel. Clever enough to indulge Dru's bizarre delusion in order to trundle the lot of us back to the house where no one would hear the screaming. "Yes, Drusilla, he's a fine boy." And "What a good mother you are, my dear."

My role in the family dynamic at that time was whipping boy- Bloody hell! I can't believe I just said that. Family dynamic, patterns of relating, cycles of abuse, yadda yadda. Pat phrases from that Psych 101 crap the Slayer throws at me when she's in the mood to analyse every sodding person in her life save herself, 'cos God knows she can't go there. And she never even finished the course!

The baby was a burden, pointless, useless, in the way. In short, everything they'd already said about me. What they couldn't believe is how hard she fought to keep us. I could scarcely believe it myself. Where did that fierce protectiveness come from? Especially for the baby. What did it give her? What did it do for her? It obviously did something I couldn't. The night they found us and "escorted" us back to the house, yammering on and on in that vacuous transparent way about the newest member of our little family, Drusilla actually seemed happy. I knew what was going to happen, I even knew it had to happen, but she, poor mad girl, had no clue.

Betrayal has an instantaneous physical effect on the body. Even if you live your life expecting it, when it happens the pain feels stunning and new for a moment before it falls into the realm of recognition and "oh, this again." When the door was locked and she realized that it was definitely going to happen, I could almost see her insides twist out. And she looked at them, then at me. I looked away.

A new kind of madness was on her after that and I think they were afraid this time. Deeply and sincerely afraid of her. When they finally had her, were dragging her down to the cellar by her hair, I could only watch from a careful distance. I was ashamed I suppose. She'd fought to keep them from killing me but I wouldn't fight to prevent them from killing this other thing she loved. She twisted and kicked and spat, screamed obscenities one moment then pleaded with them, with me, and all the while clutching her "baby" to her. If it had been a living child the crush of her embrace would have killed it for them.

Eventually Angelus managed to get it away from her and while Darla chained and gagged Dru in the cellar, he very efficiently dashed its bitty skull against the wall. Which made it stop crying, but didn't kill it. It was still a vampire. Certain things required to make it absolutely dead. I was given that task. Like tossing a burlap bag full of unwanted kittens into the river I laid him outside, naked, and waited for the morning sun to erase him from the world. Out of sight, out of mind. But for a moment, right before, I thought I saw the sun shining through his fingers as his little arms flailed about - the kind of pink translucence that makes you think of God when you absolutely don't want to - then a sizzle, a pop, a hot burst of flame. Nothing but ash.

Right now I'm sitting in a demon bar with bourbon and a beer back, writing this shit down, thinking about my no-so-pretty picture postcard memory, thinking about breasts and my Annoying Woman, and listening to the latest gossip. It's surprising how quickly everybody's juicy business gets around, considering half these demon folk don't have the manual dexterity to use a phone or a laptop.

Rumour has it (and the underworld is shocked, shocked let me tell you), that Darla and Angel made a baby. A real living child out of their skanky undead selves. Fancy that. Of course, it's all whispers right now. Powers That Be nonsense. But I wouldn't put it past the son of a bitch. Angel gets miracles and prophecies and a state of grace. What do I get? His fucked up leftovers, memories, and the lovely irony of it all.

It just goes to show we're all of us animals when it comes down to the push and shove. Life forces its will upon the lot of us, even when it's hopeless and makes no sense.

So I get it now right? God is the devil of mercy.

 

~finis~