FICTION: Death on the Thames by Tadhg Muller

By the time the biting started it was over.

Monika had been in Poland for her name day. Monika had taken the opportunity to make a trip to a family home, in the countryside just outside of Krakow. The usual gathering of family and friends, the offering of gift, and food, one of her former pals from her uni days had brought a particularly beautiful tropical flower (in the dead of winter) how Poland had changed since Monika’s childhood, since her uni days. Her grandmother had gone to the trouble of making some particularly fine pierogi filled with cabbage and pork, the specific variation of pierogi being Monika’s favourite. Some things remain the same even with the flowers in wintertime. And an ex from her uni days ‘Piotr’ had the nerve to drop by, they had parted amicable as lovers with her move to Britain, there it had ended. The sad truth was that Piotr was never quite the man she was looking for, no great ambition, no get up and go, not much in the way of prospects, not much in the way of a catch. Her move to London had accelerated their drift, as certainly it wasn’t a parting. Perhaps the dullard just didn’t get it, or he didn’t accept it. Everyone thought that Monika was something else, and Piotr was no different.

When she started biting people Monika could only think that Piotr was partly to blame. You see it had been Piotr idea to take a walk in the fields together after the party, maybe Piotr had the idea of getting together in one of his father’s sheds, like they had done when they were students. As Piotr had put it to Monika who upon arrival was in truth bored shitless, and just wanted to be in London.

-I’d like to give you a present. He was tall, boney, muscular, with close cropped blonde hair, tanned skin, and vacant blue eyes; good natured, innocent, meek, kind, caring, almost saintly. His ambitions never extended beyond the village. There was power to his body, and a gentleness to his touch. In no way remarkable, a first rate lover with nothing between the ears.

And the two of them made their way up the road, not really talking, not close, night coming on and it being cold but not yet freezing. They would have been in the shed in fifteen minutes. And a dog came round the corner, and the dog had bitten Monika and ruined her name day. The dog was limping and salivating, the dog had seen them and snapped. His canine teeth had pierced Monika’s tights and blood ran from her leg. Piotr had first kicked the dog with a heavy boot, and aware of the weirdness of the beast’s behaviour Piotr had picked up a large rock and brought it down on the dog’s head with a crunch like a mincer, in the interest of public safety.

It was an unfortunate end to Piotr plan, and just about the worst end to Monika’s name-day. Piotr did the decent thing and escorted Monika home, there was some insistence that Monika be driven to the hospital immediately (mostly by Piotr) but everyone agreed that it was too late, she had a flight to catch in the morning to London. In London she would need to go to the doctor. And no one wanted to listen to Piotr especially Monika, Monika who blamed everything on his bright idea of taking a walk with the aim of getting her into one of the sheds for a root.

The flight to London was largely uneventful, some turbulence, no luck on the Ryan Air  scratchy, a coffee, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, a faint temperature, a twitching of the nose, and a restlessness as the man next to Monika drank his Heineken, the gurgling in his throat, a noise like water on pebbles, a rushing sound, something in his eyes that made Monika hungry. And her fellow passenger admiring Monika from the corner of his eye, a little overwhelmed, a little out of his league, a little taken-back by the intensity of her cold blue eyes, quite taken by her but to intimidated to know what to do about it, and the intensity of an unashamed stare had made his heart skip a beat, that made him ill at ease, as if perhaps the beautiful women might be somehow dangerous. And he lowered his eyes, and only gazed when he thought her attention was elsewhere, which presented the opportunity for just a brief glimpse until she flashed those eyes back on him, and smiled with her long teeth. For a moment (a very brief one) Monika considered giving him her number. He looked strong, she had an urge to bite him, to bite him all over.

The plane landed. A quick rush though the terminal, immigration was painfully slow, she wasn’t sure if it was Brexit and a tightening of checks, or the ever present prospect of terror, or just a general lull in activity amongst the British people, a certain apathy, a resignation in the face of austerity, of existing, of going to sleep, she bolted towards the gates, eyes flicking left and right, trying to ignore the herd of people racing before her, moving through them, past them, around them, outsmarting them… And finally through immigration.

By the time Monika reached A&E she had begun to sweat. A cold sweat that sat on the outside of her eyes, and that ran down her long spine, all the way to her tail. Her tail. What was the onset period, she coughed and it surfaced like something of a bark. She coughed again, and became agitated as she waited and someone filled a glass of water, from a fountain, a fucking fountain, she stood up and paced the length of the A& E. There was a child with a head injury, an old man bend with a blanket around his shoulder and his wife holding his hand like a rosary bead, a woman her ailment not so clear, a family with a sick baby… and Monika. Increasingly agitated, she had pressed on the reception the urgency of the matter.

-We don’t get rabies in the UK.

As if that was a quick fix. She wanted to whack the bitch, to tear her to fucking pieces. To piss everywhere, just so the bitch knew who was boss. Just so the bitch could smell her piss. She sat back down, and imagined her piss golden yellow, and steaming hot on the floor by the reception desk. A child began to cry and Monika pulled her hair, she got back up and continued her pacing.

A doctor came, she sat down with the doctor, the doctor expressed some concern, took her temperature, shined a light in her eyes, checked her pulse, put a swipe up a nostril. Asked a series of question, and then shamelessly concluded that the hospital didn’t have appropriate medication, that she would need to go to another hospital.

-We don’t get rabies in the UK, and this too was his final conclusion, as if unconsciously he thought it might provide an answer and an explanation to something else, a fact to be celebrated as positive, something that set Britain apart.

The doctor handed her a scribbled note with an address, concern evident on his face, Monika could almost smell the fear, she could smell the fear straight from the neck, the glands, the large veins that pumped blood through the doctors body, the veins that if pierced quickly and effectively would ensure that the doctor died quickly. She barked again, or did she cough.

-I would advice you to see this doctor quickly.

-What about sex, Monika asked.

-You can have sex, and kiss people, but don’t bite.

Monika understood. Perhaps it would have made more sense to see a vet. In the morning she would go to the doctor, tonight she would see her lover, she wouldn’t bite him, she would be careful. In the morning she’d go to work, quickly report in and see that everything was in order, and then go to specialist medical department in East London.

There is some question over whether or not it was the rabies, or some other psychosis that accounts for the next incident. When the police finally came to Monika’s flat, and knocked the door down as part of a missing persons investigation; the police found her lover on the blood stained sheets of Monika’s bed, puncture wounds in his neck, and bite marks all across his body, and a knife wounds to both the heart and kidneys. Perhaps Monika had had enough, or maybe it was the early onset of rabies and a related madness. I am getting ahead of myself, this is more an end note, and epilogue, excuse me…

So that morning Monika went straight into work, a new dress, a white blouse, her usual heels. The team were less than pleased with the return of the boss, the whelps put their heads down and got to work quite shamefully as if the whole lot of them were guilty… she shut herself in the office, and started reading a whole series of mundane emails, all the time aware of the clock, knowing full well that it would take her an hour to reach the hospital. Two of the juniors walked in, after a tentative knock, a look of unease on their faces. Sensitive types, they asked about Poland. Monika informed them that she had been bitten by a rabid dog. Their alarm was evident, and Monika licked her lips with delight.

-Is it contagious?, one squealed.

-I can have sex with you, I can kiss you, I just can’t bite you. And they laughed at the joke nervously.

And that was it she got on the tube. She had read online, at her desk, that the onset period was a week, that there had been an instance in America when rabies had been detected in a patient, and the patient had been placed in a forced coma, and the patient had survived (that was America). The survival rate after the onset period, and following contamination was .01% a scary number. Still it was only the second day. Or was it the third?

On the train she noticed a splattering of blood on her shoes. Her hand went to her nose, a blood nose perhaps. She barked. And into the hospital and everything like whirlwind, the specialist was hysterical asking why she had taken so long, and temperature checks, and eye tests, and more swabs up her nose, and then a tube up her bum with a camera and a flashlight, like it was some piece of mining material, like they were excavating her anus to lay another tube line perhaps they’d name it William, or Harry, or Charles? And at that point did she howl or did she howl. A howl that was deep and pleased and mysterious, straight from mythology or nightmare. She wouldn’t get anywhere with these doctors, doctors like battery hens, cuts to the NHS, less and less of them, a shortage of nurses, slashing of medical spending, covert privatisation. She trembled, she felt hot, her mind clouded, her throat was painfully dry… maybe she needed a priest, a good catholic priest and one that could perform an exorcism, or better still an excommunication, a priest that could formalise things, banish me from god’s flock, she howled, and laughed, and barked, and joyful squatted and let rip a spray of steaming yellow urine on the sterile white hospital floor tiles.

And Monika became more and more aware of her surroundings, it wasn’t just her and the doctor now there were other people, security guards, two of them. And that was it she picked up a scalpel and slashed it straight through the cheek of a guard, he fell to the ground screaming and clutching his face, and onto the next guard and her hand moving in a z across his chest, and the scalpel piercing his shirt and skin, and another r movement with the blade, and the doctor running from the room screaming, and Monika dispensing with formalities and tossing her favourite heels and going barefoot through the ward in a frenzy, a scalpel in each hand slashing left and right, and out a fire escape, and down an alley, and the sound of sirens which is nothing in London just a noise, and Monika crawling into a hole, and nightfall, and Monika washing her face in a pool of water, and her tongue hanging from her mouth and her hair wild, and she looked into the window of a parked car with some horror, and decided that she would find Piotr and avenge herself for his desires, and Monika made her way into the depths of East London, and it rained, and the darkness and shadows gave some cover, and Monika walked where it was darkest, until finally Monika came to a light, and how the rain falling aggrieved her, and her anger rose, and she let out a pained howl, and made her way down a corridor and into the light and there was a stage and a large man talking in front of a hip audience, and the audience laughing, and Monika watched from the door not certain who to attack, not certain which one was Piotr, and a second man stood, a short fellow, with a jagged haircut, beady eyes and glasses, a very pleased and clever look upon his face, a poem in a puny hand. He’d do.

Tadhg Muller

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Tadhg Muller was born in Bristol and grew up in Hobart Tasmania. He studied History at the university of Tasmania. Before completing his studies he travelled overland from Cairo to Kabul, through Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, finishing in Afghanistan. Since graduating he has been dedicated to writing fiction in London. While doing this he has worked in market, warehouses, kitchens, cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and delicatessen, odd jobs. His writing has been published in Australia, USA, and the UK. Since mid 2017 Muller has lived in France.

If you enjoyed Death on the Thames, leave a comment and let Tadgh know.

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