auri had a real scare of bright red hair. Her momma was sticking it down with a comb and a cup of water. It was about as futile as licking a flame to put it out; it just kept springing back up there.
The sky was dark; black almost.
“You got to look your best, Tauri. Don’t you let your momma down.”
“Sure, momma. I don’t mind doing this. Just give me the stupid thing.”
“’Kay, but he’ll be here soon.”
Tauri held a fistful of red and started dragging the comb through.
Momma got back to looking out the window at the gathering crowds. “I’m gonna get that rat for what he did to us.”
“But he’s a star, momma.”
“Star or no, he’s gonna pay for what he did. Look at you, so young, just out of school. Startin’ some dead-end job – hairdressin’ or somethin’.”
“Hey, momma, I like hairdressing.”
Momma sniffed. “That’s not the point, now, is it?”
“You shouldn’t want to be no hairdresser. You should be wantin’ college or some such. If he’d been around – been around with some money, even – then we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“It’s not a mess, momma. We got a home, don’t we?”
“But it would’ve helped to have a man around. I’m just sayin’.”
But he’s not a man, now is he, momma?
Momma had cashed in whatever amounts of jewellery, sold the antique dog over the fireplace, and gotten them a hotel in the city. It was a rush and riot and Tauri had never seen so many people busy-bein’-busy; going up and down on the moving stairs or swinging through the revolving doors with those funny, little plastic cups of coffee they have. But momma wasn’t interested in coffee. She wanted restitution. That’s what she said, and she’d looked that word up special in the dictionary.
If you listened to momma’s side of it – and how could you not – Tauri was an immaculate conception. Just like that lady Mary, but on some beach up at Lake Havasu, on the ‘Arizona Riviera’. It was a hundred and ten, a real hot summer, and momma had been sunbathing. Then she’d come over kind of funny, felt too warm, had a cold drink and that was it. Nine months later she had a child with red hair.
“And nobody in the family had all that red, now did they?”
When she was eighteen – old enough to know what leads to what – Tauri had asked: “You wasn’t drinking were you, momma?”
“Now how can you ask your momma a thing like that? Course not! And there was nothing in that water, neither. It just happened, and it was him – I knows it – and that’s the end of it. Too damn warm. I shoulda known.”
So here they were.
With about ten minutes to go, they took the lift down to the foyer, and momma barged them past the merchandise. “Fifty bucks a T? They must be crazy! Stay away from them.”
Outside the hotel, all those press-men were getting ready. According to momma, it was a goddamn free-for-all. “We better get past this. Now you smile, Tauri. And I’ll point you out, and then we’ll say what we’ve come to say.”
It was midday but the sky was growing dark and the heavens were beginning to show – a billion pinpricks of light. It had been happening for around two days now.
A murmur went round the crowd. The TV vans began pushing up their satellite dishes on hydraulics, cameras swung to the skies, presenters threw pieces to the camera and were pointing back and up and over their shoulders, as they talked excitedly to the viewers at home.
And then he was there: a blazing light, with four white horses, trailing fire and flame, impossibly bright to look at. The smell of seared tarmac filled the air, and then the arc-light flared and vanished. A white limousine remained, with a few wisps of blue smoke trailing off the paintwork. A tall man, tall as a barn door, stepped out in a dazzlingly white suit.
This was the most famous face on earth.
Of course the crowd surged forward, and momma got her elbows out and sharpened, and started elbowing whoever got close; she could be real fierce. Problem was she wouldn’t let go of Tauri’s hand, and Tauri was getting squeezed between a policeman who smelt of pastrami and a woman reporter who was slippery with sweat, and worst of all she could feel that shock of hair springing back up.
But momma was determined – another force of nature – and before Tauri could draw a breath, they were squeezed up against the still-scalding metal barriers, and there was flashguns going off, and automatic cameras winding on, and reporters screaming, and momma screaming along with them and pointing down at Tauri. But it was so loud, Tauri couldn’t hear a thing momma was saying. In fact, it was a little scary.
Tauri woke up with a slurp. With a jolt of embarrassment, she found the back of her hand was already sliding across the dribble on her chin.
There was a smell of leather and the fleshy, plastic feel of it beneath her cheek. Where the hell are we?
“Momma? Momma? What …? What happened?”
Muzzily, she pushed herself upright. It was way too bright.
“You got squeezed a little, girl. But we got you out.”
Unaccountably, she sounded pleased.
“You’re in the car, Tauri. In his car. The celestial car, is it? Where do the horses go? Is that one of those mini bars?”
Momma was sitting propped up on the back seat, as prim and proper as a queen.
“It’s all sorted, Tauri.”
“Sure it is. Your pappa’s a gentleman. I always said as such.”
I keep telling you momma, not a gentle man, a gentle sun. The Sun.
Helios sat in the back of the car, reclining on the leather, just looking at her; an irresistible presence, tied to every living thing on the planet. He could be of any nationality, or all of them. He was incredibly handsome. His olive skin gleamed with a faint iridescence and his frame was lean and muscled. Above all, though, he was crowned with the shining aureole of the sun.
I read this in the Sunday paper: he drives those horses all day to the West, circling Oceanus, and at night it’s through the world-ocean to the East.
He leant forward and held out a tiny clump of red berries. The green of their stems was emerald and translucent, like crystal, and the berries scintillated beneath the surface like hot coals; flaring red and yellow; revolving within their own skins.
“If you like, Tauri. Only if you want to, I can take you with me.”
“Where?” she whispered.
And his smile was rich and golden, and could put a better complexion on anything, and he said, “Up there, Tauri. Where you belong.”