Thirteen times three.
It's my birthday today.
Three generations spent already. That's depressing.
In the distance the tips of Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu puncture the filthy fog that contaminates the skyline of Giza. Despite the pollution they call to me, a magnetic tide of yearning swells inside me. I long to stand before the three great pyramids.
Tony's humping me. Pedestrian strokes. In and out. Tantric white-noise, you notice it at the start, but soon the predictable rhythm blends you neatly into the wallpaper.
I hope this doesn't long, it's a lovely day outside, and I'm pregnant already.
What an ordeal that was.
I'll do the "bottle-top" thing. I tilt my pelvis forward and grind back and forth, one, two, three and pop goes the weasel. I smile as he spasms with pleasure, and wonder if the kitchen is still serving breakfast?
"Happy birthday babe", he pants, "God you know that thing you do, man it feels so fucking good."
"Thanks", I stretch a smile over my mouth.
What's wrong with not wanting kids? I like my job. I don't need "fulfilment". I reach over for some loo paper, to mop up the mess. A draft, of rancid Egyptian street air, wafts in from the balcony makes me heave.
I launch head first into the toilet bowel. I just can't see him doing all of this for me. I puke until my sides hurt.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, yeah, it's, you know ... I'll be fine"
Better skip the eggs this morning. Oh and I must remember to change the sun block. It smells like "fresh flush". Funny, you don't realize how dull and blunt you are, until you're not. Pregnancy is my sharpener.
We stitch our way through the bizarre.
"Quick" insists Tony.
He brushes me into a side street.
"What are you doing?"
"Remember those gypsy fuckers from yesterday? Well I think they just saw me"
We tuck ourselves behind a huge garbage bin.
"Let's just wait here a minute"
Three boys run past the alley end. Oh shit, Tony's right. My mouth throbs with adrenalin. How are we getting out of this? Why did Tony get involved in the first place? Who saves the good Samaritan ... when he's hiding behind garbage with his wife in a filthy alley? He could've kept on walking, it's not his job.
Another boy stops at the alley entrance, looks in, then screams something in Arabic and waves his arm to unseen allies, father down the main street. He beckons to them, and points in our general direction.
"Judy, down here. Come!"
We slither along the wall and into a doorway. I breathe peach, peppermint and musty carpet. The wall tiles are cool. Listen. Sound without sight turns boys playing soccer, with a broken leather ball, into a gang of psychotic rapists.
"Hello my friends, please come and take some tea, English yes?"
I gasp with shock and spin around to see an elderly Egyptian merchant.
"Please, come and sit? Yes?"
Tea or gang rape? I smile and hold Tony's elbow. We follow the merchant. The cluttered entrance expands backward into a long cool corridor. Columns of carpets prop up the roof, the dust glows pale blue. No tacky postcards. No plastic Sphinx. No fridge magnets. How refreshing. I feel safe in here. We drink fresh mint tea through sugar cubes and chat superficially. Every square inch of this shop is riddled with ancient fascination.
Tony finds an astrolabe, it's like an ancient celestial sextant. He's convinced it's authentic. I wouldn't know, so how would he? I potter around and see an unusual-looking oil lamp. I lift it. Underneath is a turquoise and copper ankh pendant, with engraved hieroglyphics. Very unusual. I love it, until I hear the price. I put it down: it's too expensive. Tony picks it up.
While I admire my gift, a timid street dog enters the doorway, not looking at me. It growls. I turn around, shocked, to find a ten-year-old boy staring at me. His skin is ivory white and his eyes are pitch black. He jumps forward and grabs my pendant, I hold on tight. He gnashes his teeth and bites my thumb joint, I let go with a scream and the boy bolts, with my pendant.
Mustafa and Tony run in, alarmed.
"Your little boy just stole my necklace!"
"No madam, I have no boy"
"Don't lie! Look what he did", I raise my hand and show him the bite marks.
He turns pale and shakes his head.
"You go now. You must go. No boy, no here. I'm closed.” He pushes us out and locks the door.
In the alley, the dog is waiting. It snarls at us, frothing at the mouth, and edges forward.
"Tony, it's rabid. Run!"
We charge off, leaving the dog behind. In the distance, at the exit to the alley, I see the little shit that stole my necklace turn the corner.
"Tony, there! That's him, he's got the pendant. Little fucker!"
"Maggie, I can't" he pants, "You go. I'll catch up."
I up my pace and steel my resolve, as if I was doing my half-marathon, I'm getting that pendant back. I am. We chase through the streets like lab rats, until suddenly we're in a clearing. A belt of heaped garbage separates the fringe of the city from the endless desert. The boy looks back as he crosses the boundary.
I follow. The dumped waste is rancid. I hold my breath. Vagrants scavenge for metal, while clusters of street mongrels comb for food. I spot a solitary jackal skulking around too. Now I understand how rabies can flourish in modern day Giza.
Distracted by those thoughts of work I notice the bloody boy has gone. Shit!
I look for footprints in the sand and give up. He really did vanish into the desert.
Tony will never find me here. He's going to be frantic. I text him my geo-location, and ask him to come to me to stand watch while I investigate the dump. There's certainly stuff here to support my research. As I turn to head back, the lone jackal catches my eye. He's heading toward me.
Instinctively I look for a pole, an occupational habit. The jackal reaches ground level and vanishes, I blink. Definitely vanished. What? Impossible. I walk in his direction. And he reappears, looks at me and wanders off. I head to where he stood, and find an alcove, leading to a tunnel which goes down and opens up. So this must be where the boy went. I clamber down through the trash. It gradually gets cleaner as it gets deeper. I see a ruined pedestal, and the walls are badly eroded and scarred with ancient markings. It must have been a catacomb or something. I continue.
The entrance is occluded now and the light is limited. I use my phone to illuminate my way. It gets better and better the deeper I go. This is amazing. I forget to be scared. The eroded marks are clearer: I can make out the long snout and sharp blade-like ears of Anubis. The jackal god of the underworld, and the patron of lost souls, orphans, and funeral rites. I'm in a chamber of some sort, and I can see a statue.
Oh my God! It's Anubis! I must go and get Tony, this minute. He has to see this. Wait. I aim my phone at the statue, to take a photo. Click. The flash punctures the darkness and knelt, at the black statue's feet, is that ungodly child. The flash blinds me. But the boy glows lime green, as if he sucked the light into himself. I'm petrified.
There's no phrase, in the English language, more terrifying than a silent hiss.
The floor is alive.
I panic, spin around, lose my balance and fall into hundreds of writhing snakes. Quickly they coil around me, like a hundred dexterous hands. I'm screaming from my solar plexus, as they rip my clothing off, stretch my arms apart and divide my legs open wide.
The phosphorescent child raises my ankh pendant, and with an ancient voice, he chants long forgotten syllables and the pendant explodes with light. He lays it on my stomach and leaves the chamber. The coiled snakes tighten their grip.
The radiating pendant is freezing cold and white hot. It's etching itself into me. Suddenly I lubricate, and the solemn black statue of Anubis steps forward obediently. Incarnate, he kneels before me and bows his head with religious respect.
Anubis howls with celestial intensity.
And I black out.
Inside the rapture of unconsciousness, I float lucid. Devoid of being. Vacant and infinite. Gentle waves lap over me. All I can hear is my breath. It gradually hastens and climaxes in a stuttered echo.
The echo elongates and transforms into my name.
"Maggie, Maggie. Maggie, can you hear me?"
"Oh thank God, you're alive."
The day has gone. A ghostly waxed moon hangs in the dusky sky. I'm lying in the rancid garbage, stark naked. My neck, wrists and ankles are wrapped with pelt leather bands. The ankh hangs from a very broad fur belt around my waist. And my body is covered with bite marks. I feel completely spent yet profoundly satisfied. I look down at the ankh. It resembles the symbol of Venus, known to the Greeks as Aphrodite, and to us as the icon of female gender. How peculiar, I have time to think, before I faint.
I wake up in a hospital bed, in the early hours. Tony is asleep in a chair. I feel predictably nauseous. That's a good sign. I get out of bed.
"Maggie? Are you OK? I'll call the nurse?"
"No Tony, It's just morning sickness," I stop. "Did they do a blood test?"
"Yes, yes, of course. You're clean, nothing to worry about"
"Good," I nod as I stumble to the toilet.
I kneel at the bowl and wait, I heave and spit. What the fuck is that? It looks like a furball. The next wave follows strong, I vomit violently and to my disgust, the toilet is covered with dense slimy knitted hairs. I burst into tears, and a very small glass bead dislodges itself from my navel and bounces on the floor. I pick it up. It's a perfectly round amber globe, and frozen in its centre is a scarab beetle.
I wipe my eyes and wash my face, and inspect my mouth in the mirror. My tongue looks spiky. What the hell is happening to me? I return to the ward.
"Tony, my mouth feels furry, like hairy"
"Yeah, mine too. I'll get your toothbrush, promise you'll rest won't you?"
Our last days in Egypt where spent in sterile waiting rooms, poring over test data and gynaecological inspection. The bite marks were definitely canine, and healing well, so the prognosis was a perfect bill of health. The tongue thing was written off to traumatic stress, and the police report was annoying. They never found the alleged alcove. Case closed.
We return to London and after a massive argument with Tony, I agree to take a month off. I call the lab, and Sharon suffocates me with concern. Fuck, Tony, what did you tell them? Sharon insist I have six weeks of "personal time".
Two months pass. Tony comes home from work at six on the dot, as usual, and finds me in my dressing gown, in the kitchen having dinner. His happy smile evaporates when he sees me. He stares.
"Mags? Are you sure you're OK?"
"Oh what now! I'm hungry. Is that a crime? I'm fine, for fuck sakes"
He nods and leaves me to finish my plate of raw meat. I'd forgotten twenty odd years of strict veganism.
I can hear him dial, I understand the tones, the beeps are perfectly audible, even though he's in our bedroom. It infuriates me. He's calling Gavin, my doctor, and I can hear every fucking word that Tony says. I flip the table over and march upstairs.
I grab the phone. He pulls it away, so I throw him through the cupboard door, and smash the phone to pieces. I spin around. His fear fills the room like cheap aftershave. It makes me so horny. Off goes the gown and I pick him up and rip his shirt open. He cowers like a limp little schoolboy, I am humping his knee. He is resisting, and that fog of wanton pheromones is not forthcoming.
"I need it, Tony! I want to fuck!"
He starts crying like a baby.
I glare with scorn for half a second then run at the window and smash into the night. I'm galloping naked down the street. The mid winter breeze in my face, but it's not cold, the world flashes past at a hundred miles an hour. My forearms and hind legs in perfect co-operation. And the moon is full of authority. It whispers to me and I obey, diligently. I am alive. Again.
Cars swerve and skid, and I run and I run until I'm unconscious again. Inside the rapture of this new unconsciousness, I float lucid. Devoid of being. Vacant and infinite.
I wake up in my own bed. It's 7pm already. That's strange. Tony should be home by now. I get up and put my dressing gown on. The cupboard is broken and Tony's clothing has gone.
I rush downstairs, get my phone and call him, panicked. The call is rejected as the doorbell rings. Relief. He lost his keys. I open the door. Two policemen solemnly issue me a warrant. It's a restraining order, from Tony.
"This is ridiculous I'm his wife! What's going on?"
"Madam, if you can't remember, read the statement, and you might consider professional help in the matter. We can't assist you with that. If you don't understand the nature of this warrant, a lawyer can explain your options. Good evening"
They leave me flabbergasted on the doorstep.
I reach down and pick up the newspaper. Tony loves a glass of brandy while he reads after dinner. He's old-fashioned in that way. Oh God, I can't believe he's not coming home. Distraught, I slam the door and curl up on the couch and weep. Fuck him! What did I do? This isn't happening! I throw his stupid paper at the TV. It bounces onto the floor.
I go into the kitchen make a hot cup of calming camomile, and prepare a salad.
The headline of the newspaper on our parquet floor reads: "Second prostitute slaughtered: The Ripper has returned!"