BEFORE THEY WERE BORN, Georgia and Bessi experienced a moment of
indecision. They had been traveling through the undergrowth on a crescent moon
night with no fixed destination and no notion of where they were, whether it was
a field in Buckinghamshire, the Yorkshire Dales or somewhere along the M1 from Staples Corner to Watford. Night birds were singing. The earth
smelled of old rain. Through scratchy bramble they scurried, through holes that
became warm tunnels and softly lit underground caves. Their paws pressed sweet
berries in the long grass and they sniffed each other's scent to stay
together. Soon they began to sense that they were coming to a road. One of those
huge open spaces of catastrophe where so many had perished. Squirrels smashed
into the tarmac. Rabbits, badgers, walking birdsmurdered and left for the
flies. Bessi thought they should risk it and cross, there was nothing coming for
miles. But Georgia wasn't sure, because you could never be sure, and look at
what the consequences might be (a little way up the road a bird lay glistening
in its blood, feathers from its wing pointing stiffly up to the sky).
They crept to the roadside to get a closer look. Nothing coming
at all. No engine thunder, no lights. It took a long time for Georgia to come
around. Okay then. Let's be quick, quicker than quick. Run, leap, fly. Be
boundless, all speed. They stepped onto the road and shot forward, almost
touching, and then the engine came, and for reasons beyond their reach, they
That was the memory that stayed with them later: two furry
creatures with petrified eyes staring into the oncoming headlights, into the
doubled icy sun, into possibility. It helped explain things. It reminded them of
who they were.
A slowness followed the killing. While their blood seeped into
the road they experienced warmth, softness, wet. But mostly it was brutal. There
were screams and a feeling of being strangled. Then a violent push and they
landed freezing cold in surgical electric white, hysterical, blubbering, trying
to shake the shock from their hearts. It was a lot to handle. Georgia, who was
born first, forty-five minutes first, refused to breathe for seven minutes. And
two and a half years later, still resentful, she was rushed back to St. Luke's
Hospital with dishcloth, carpet dust, half her afro, and tassels off the bottom
of the sofa clinging to her intestines. She'd eaten them, between and
sometimes instead of her rice pudding and ravioli. The ordeal of it. Ida running
around the house shouting "Georgia's dying, my Georgia's dying!"
and the ambulance whisking her off and Bessi feeling that strange sinking back
toward the road (which, when they were old enough to explore the wilderness of
Neasden, they decided could well have been the North Circular that raged across
the bottom of their street).
There is a photograph of them seated at a table in front of
their third birthday cake, about to blow, three candle flames preparing to
disappear. Georgia's arms are raised in protest of something forgotten and
across her stomach, hidden, is the scar left over from where they'd slit her
open and lifted out the hair and the living-room carpet like bleeding worms and
then sewed her back together. The scar grew up with her. It widened like a pale
smile and split her in two.
As for Bessi, she spent her first human month in an incubator,
with wires in her chest, limbs straggling and pleading like a beetle on its
back. The incubator had a lot to answer for.
SO GEORGIA AND BESSI understood exactly
that look in the eye of the hamster downstairs in the sun lounge. He was
ginger-furred with streaks of white, trapped in a cage next to the dishwasher. What
is it? the eyes said. Where am I? The view from the cage was a
hamster blur of washing machine, stacked buckets, breathless curtains and
plastic bags full of plastic bags hanging from the ceiling like the ghosts of
slaughter. People, giants, walked through from other parts of the house,
slamming the door and setting off wind-chime bells. A sour faced man with a
morning tremble. A woman of whispers in a hairnet, carrying bread and frozen
bags of black-eyed beans.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...