Chapter XV

Mewsy pauses on the lip of a sand swell, the globe lights of the Cherry complex blazing behind her, the landscape before her all colourless but for the lantern point. Evening breeze fills the hood of her coarse-fibred walking dress.

Truly, she muses, I’ve not been this far from my boudoir since the day I came back to Shop. She shivers — is it the cheeping of night things or the sense of the vast open world here that does it? — and plunges ahead. The wind has turned edgy.

Unbidden, unwelcome, the image of that cross-desert escape rears up. She seems to still see them — the burning orange eyes of that Sister Lord Muriel — and to feel how they drove her, exhausted and fearful, on, on, and on through the merciless storm. In her mem’ry now they are lit with an unnatural gleam. With Faith, it must be. How else could Mewsy have followed so blindly, and have come with the Sister so achingly close to the Very Last End?

She shakes the thought off, and at once the chill air seems to soften and still. What a kindness. And here is the shape of the ramshackle hut, with its flickering light and its roughly tamed patch of indigenous flora.

“Desert honeysuckle,” Mewsy murmurs aloud, pushing the split-rail gate to, and filling a lung of the twinkling air. “Grown almost wild since no one’s been tending her.”

She loiters on the flagstone path pretending to look for stars. I could go anywhere just now, she thinks. I could walk on a little and savour some more of this sweet night.

But she takes two more perfunctory snuffs of the saccharine fragrance, and knocks.

“Joe,” she says coolly. She sidles on past him and into the warm, low, close room. The Genius says nothing.

“Just like it always was,” she says, slowly turning to take in the homey den in its entirety.

“Ain’t nothin’ll change when ain’t nothin’ to change,” he says.

“You’ve done me disservice, old pal,” Mewsy says. With one gesture she slides from her raffia cloak and presents herself: buxom, unruly, commanding.

“Cain’t be r’gretful o‘ no course o’ behaviour what’s brought such a visitress right to m’door,” he says softly, and eases down onto a light wicker ottoman. “But I knew right enough, no denyin’, who ‘e was, and I took ‘im on all the same.” He holds to her gaze while deliv’ring himself of this brazen confession.

“It’s wicked,” she says. “and it’s cowardice besides.”

“Reckon yer lookin’ at a coward, then, miss.” The wiry trim little figure seems to tremble, but his gaze is insolent.

“Cowards got nothing to offer a woman,” says Mewsy, slinking forward up over his lap. She can feel the spring of his turgid cunthorn from under his kilt. Its curve, she remembers, is just what it ought to be. “Seeing as they always be fucking themselves.”

On a shelf to her right, the Baby Genius lies where it always does. Mewsy reaches for it. “Remember the day when we cast it? Having to keep the original flying at vigorous mast til the plaster all dried? Such devious methods we used…”

The Genius makes not a sound. Slowly he turns himself over, assuming the footstool’s low four-legged form. Mewsy draws It over her loins, and buckles the band.

“Lucky man that it’s of such a moderate size,” she coos, “If your original was like what I had just this afternoon, we’d need a sight more expedient.” She dunks the thing in hog grease and presses it forward with glee.

“That so?” he manages.

“Sure,” she says, “Sure.” She fits in. “It doesn’t seem natural. But then, when you’re all the way on and he’s taking control, it’s the nat’ralest thing in the world.”

The Genius grunts out quite low. She lets it flow out of her, softly and smooth. “It’s got more to say than you’d think,” she says, rocking. “It knows when to pulsate and when it should push. And his big hands just handle you, everywhere, nowhere, fingers each got their own mind. A big man, well, I needn’t tell you, it’s quelque chose d’autre.” She smiles, and drives on. “Grunting, sweating, dripping, pawing. I’m squealing like a chew toy, and I feel that it’s wearin’ me like just a glove and I, golly, but well, you do know that I love it.”

He spoodles down the side of the stool and grunts once again. She bucks her hips deep. They settle together.

“Turn up any time,” Joe chuckles — a gasp, a cough, and a sigh in one.