ALICE TURNS HER key stealthily, like they're breaking into someone else's life. She pulls Drew after her, kicking the door shut behind them. Relieved to see her flat still looks the same. Home sweet home: all exposed pipes and rising damp, metal entrails and the hole in the wall. Renovation? More like devastation. She turns on the fan: what wouldn't she give for a cool change? She wouldn't give him, Alice smiles, pushing Drew towards the bed he's thought about for the past week. She wouldn't give tonight. Still, she figures, she's about done with the city. Or it's about done with her. She's begun to crave a big house on an endless beach with a fine sugar daddy to ice every cake she has her eye on. She wonders if this one wants the job.
Alice slips off her shoes and kicks them aside. She lifts her arms over her head and peels off her top before heading towards the fridge and the gin in the freezer: thick as syrup, sticky as lust. She can already hear the ice cracking like the floorboards above or her futon yielding beneath their weight.
She doesn't even know where he's really from, she chides herself. ''On the rebound, I guess,'' he's told her. She doesn't even care. All that matters is the present moment: them, here. Now.
She pours G&Ts strong enough to wake them both up, or send them to sleep. She's not planning on needing a refill. She wants a drink big enough, long enough, deep enough for her to tumble into â€‘ down, down, down. Watching the lemon cloud the liquid, she licks its sharpness from between her fingers and takes the few steps to where Drew sits, tentative, on the edge of the futon.
She stands above him, a glass in each hand. She takes a mouthful from the left, one from the right and leans forward to kiss him. He loses himself in the booze on her breath and her pungent citrus lips. With the taste still on his tongue he bends his head to take her bellybutton in his mouth and probe its impossible depths. Something hungry and wanton snakes between them. When she pulls away he tilts his head to look up at her and his wide smile threatens to undo her. He takes the glasses from her hands and puts them on the floor, then pulls her onto him so she straddles his lean hips. She bites her lip, knowing she'd usually be shy but feeling different somehow; not quite herself – or more fully herself than ever before. He pulls her harder against him so she feels the fit of their bodies as though no one else has ever felt it before.
Shedding, unbuckling, pushing clothes aside so shoes fall to the floor and fabric tears, they grope blindly towards the centre of the bed. She straddles him again and he's reminded of Lucy, but this is different. Alice isn't trying to wrest her pleasure from him, not fighting him for it. He runs his hands down the curve of her small white back where it rises from his body like some fantastic animal: they are a two-headed monster, the beast with two of almost everything. They close their eyes, faces turning away from each other as vision gives way to other senses. Sweat beads their skin like salty dew, slides into their eyes and half-opened mouths. The smell of her fills the room and Drew is rocked by it – that is the taste the wet seashell of her navel promises.
She curves forward, licking his left nipple with her gin-puckered tongue. He lifts his hips and she gasps, stretching back up, one hand gripping his hairless chest so her nails dig perfect half-moons into his flesh. He watches her face until his pleasure overtakes him. She rides her own rhythm, feeling him hard at the very centre of her: something to hold onto.
It's as though she's there and not there: aware of that centre, aware of her edges dissolving. She is herself and not herself. She is a geisha with robes flung out around her lover, her painted face expressionless. (Alice's toes clench.) And the man she rides is a labourer, thrown beneath a haystack by a country girl who piles her skirts around him and guides his hand. (Alice bites her swollen lip.) She is a black woman – skinny and lithe as a snake, writhing on the even darker man who has transfixed her. (Alice makes a sound.) He is a priest, his face turned away from the witch who uses him in spite of himself until his features are contorted by her charms and spells.
Alice, Riyuki, Eve, Lilith, Lucy's stand-in – he's told her about Lucy, his former, her forerunner – Drew's lover, Alice ... she has no idea where she ends and the world begins.
"Precious," she whispers, as his heart pounds through the thin skin of his chest into the palm of her hand.
"Little one," she closes her eyes, turning them inwards to where the walls of her womb suck together, pulling him deeper and deeper in. Following her blood deeper into her matter until all around her is the pressing of cells, the crowding of DNA. "Come on," she thinks, gripping and clenching, her orgasm forgotten but still building. "Come to me."
"My child, my daughter, my playmate, my darling," she whispers to the secret not yet begun.
Searching for the right words to persuade the child to stay, Alice can feel the future hanging in the balance. Time slows, freezing somewhere between the beat of his heart and the grind of her hips. She feels as though she's summoning the past and not the future. The small blonde girl she's looking for could be her, or Lucy, or her mother, or ... She didn't know it would end like this: her, here, beginning life anew with a man beneath her. She thought renovation, she thought beach house, but she never really thought of the future.
"You're the next of us," she says to her not yet daughter. "You're the end and the beginning. I don't know what kind of mother I'll be, but I'll give you everything I am and everything I know. I'll love you forever and ever," she promises, "but not too much. I will never love you too much."
Alice thinks that maybe, just maybe – not despite but because of all she is, and all she is not – she'll make the perfect parent. She, unmarried, the anomaly, could preserve the norm. How Star Trek: the Borg and her baby, happily ever after.
"How many stars?" she asks and answers herself.
"How far away?"
And then, as if in final answer, she feels the moment when life begins. The Moment. Like a key turning in a well-oiled lock, like a door swinging open to reveal a garden in full sunlight, she knows: this is the beginning. This moment. Now.
Alice begins to laugh; she can't help it. As her muscles spasm laughter bubbles up like champagne gurgling from the bottle. Drew smiles at the white arch of her throat as she gives in and takes him with her.
Alice falls, tumbling breathless with only his slow receding hardness to hang onto. Her eyelids are heavy, as though she's just had a hit and is still fast in the grip of its pleasure. She realises she's come as she returns from her strange adventure: an unplanned dream that stole her from herself, shook something loose, screwed something down tight. She breathes deeply, clinging to him fiercely with clenched thighs and fists. Her face aches from the rictus of orgasm. Her voice is sore. She looks down at him and smiles wide enough to embrace the darkening night.
ALICE ROLLS OFF and lies on her back in a pool of sheets. Around her she can hear the echo of her moans, as though the room itself is remembering. Hugging her knees to her chest, she wraps her arms around her slim ankles, clasping the right wrist with the left hand. Locking herself in so her tail bones tip towards the ceiling and the still-turning fan.
"I remember when you began," she imagines telling Ellie after her daughter is born. "I remember how at first I wasn't sure whether I'd recognise the moment, but I concentrated every cell in my body on you, sure if I got all the details exactly right you'd step forth: blonde, female, radiant. My imaginary friend. My gorgeous Golem girl."
I will give her the moment of her creation, thinks Alice. I will give her this: the fan above me forcing out beats of air, the heat rising from the futon as if from a night of fever. The boy by my side reaching out his arm, touching me as if I might be a dream and asking me if everything's OK.
"Sure," Alice uncurls her limbs and turns to Drew to share a secret smile. "Everything's much better than just OK."