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Authors: Emily Maguire

Taming the beast

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Emily Maguireis an Australian novelist, essayist and English teacher. Her articles and essays on sex, religion, culture and literature have been published in newspapers and journals includingThe Sydney Morning Herald, The Griffith ReviewandThe Observer. Her darkly erotic first novel,Taming the Beast, has been translated into ten languages and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She lives in Sydney.

Serpent’s Tail also publishesThe Gospel According to Luke.

Praise forTaming the Beast

‘A hard-hitting debut about modern adolescence’The List

‘The Australian novelist eschews the obvious child abuse narrative for a more complex look at the nature of violence and sex in this emotional rollercoaster’Herald

‘In short, this might not be the novel to recommend to your primmer friends. But it’s far too well-written to be discarded as shock-smut’Arena

‘If you are seeking weight loss, this novel will give you far better results than any Atkins/South Beach/Cabbage Soup diet… By the end ofTaming the Beast– through which I forgot to eat – I felt terrified, feverish, and green at the gills. And utterly awed’Big Issue in the North

‘A disturbing and dark examination of obsessive love, with ferocious, unflinching sex and troubling, intense and bloody violence’Bookmunch

‘Like Susanna Moore’sIn the Cutand Barbara Gowdy’sWe So Seldom Look on Love, this is an uncompromising look at sex, desire and unrequited love… Carefully narrated, this is a brilliant meditation on sex and power’City Life

‘I was very impressed byTaming the Beast… Without being prurient, Maguire heads into extraordinarily dark psychosexual territory, withholding any easy answers’Matt Thorne,Independent

‘This book explores the affect of the affair and its long-term implications through the woman’s eyes’Australian Times

‘It’s a bleak, uneasy book, albeit powerfully written. It is also shockingly compelling’Observer Magazine

Taming the Beast

Emily Maguire

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library on request.

The right of Emily Maguire to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

Copyright © 2004 Emily Maguire

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means, electronic or manual, including photocopying, recording, or any retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

First published in Australia in 2004 by Brandl & Schlesinger

First published in the UK in 2005 by Serpent’s Tail

First published in this five-star edition in 2007 by Serpent’s Tail an imprint of Profile Books Ltd3A Exmouth HousePine StreetExmouth MarketLondon EC1R 0JHwww.serpentstail.com

Printed by Mackays of Chatham

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Part One1

Sarah Clark felt like a freak for two and a half years. It started when she received a leather-bound copy ofOthellofor her twelfth birthday and ended when her English teacher showed her exactly what was meant bythe beast with two backs.

In between, she read every one of Shakespeare’s plays and then moved on to his sonnets, before discovering Marlowe, Donne, Pope and Marvell. With peers who read nothing butTV Weekand parents who were inclined towards theFinancial Review, Sarah was forced to conceal her literary leanings. She hid poetry anthologies under her bed and readEmmaby torchlight, the way boys her age readPlayboy. For the first two years of high school, she came top of her English class without opening a single school book. It wasn’t necessary since the curriculum consisted of a few familiar texts, plus comic strips and newspaper clippings.

Then on the first day of the third year of high school, Sarah met Mr Carr. He was unlike any teacher she had ever encountered. For the entire forty minutes of his first class he spoke about why Yeats was relevant to Australian teenagers in the year 1995. In the second class, Sarah put up her hand to make a comment on something he had said aboutHamlet. When he called on her to speak, she started and could not stop. She stayed in his classroom all through lunch, and when she re-emerged into the sunlight and the condescending stares of the schoolyard cliques, she was utterly changed.

Mr Carr began an active campaign to keep Sarah’s love of learning alive. To prevent boredom, he brought her books of his own from home and gave her a note that allowed her to access the senior section of the library. Every novel and play and poem was discussedin depth. She had never received a better compliment than when he told her that he knew she would love a particular piece because it was his favourite too.

While Mr Carr was shaping Sarah’s mind, her body was changing of its own accord. Small, painful breasts appeared overnight, as did ridiculously placed hair. She kept waking up in the middle of the night to find her blankets tossed to the floor and her hands tangled up in her pyjamas. Whenever the School Captain, a lanky blond boy named Alex, walked past, Sarah had an inexplicable urge to press her thighs together. She started to daydream about how to become more beautiful.

One day in June, Mr Carr asked Sarah’s advice on how to make Shakespeare more exciting for the class. The sonnets studied so far had failed to ignite a spark of enthusiasm in anyone except Sarah, and he thought she could help identify where he was going wrong. The problem, as Mr Carr saw it, was that many of the sonnets dealt with themes that couldn’t be understood by your average fourteen year old kid. Sarah told him that the average fourteen year old understood plenty about love and lust and longing; it was the language that put them off. After all, she said, every second song on the radio dealt with the same themes as old William, albeit with more grunting and less wit.

He laughed a throaty laugh and reached across the space that separated them. His hot, damp hand settled on her bare knee. Sarah noticed, all at once, that his forehead was shiny and the blinds were lowered and the door was closed and her heart was racing. She didn’t move or speak. Breathing was all she could manage.

Mr Carr leant forward in his chair and moved his hand to Sarah’s shoulder, then let it slide until it rested on one of her never before touched, brand new breasts. She felt like she might cry, butshe also felt a sick kind of excitement. She sat very still with her arms at her sides and watched as he stroked and kneaded her breasts through the cheap polyester. His gold wedding band caught the light, and she wanted to reach out and touch it, but didn’t. He was saying her name over and over, so that it no longer sounded like her name at all, but like one those mantras that Buddhists used to go into a trance.

Sarahohsarahohsarahohsarhohsarah.

One of his hands slipped inside her shirt, under her bra, and she was shocked by the thrill she got when his fingers caught hold of her left nipple and squeezed.Ohsarah. He moved forward, right to the edge of the chair, his head lowered to her chest, his shins pressed hard against hers. She had to bite down on her lip to stop herself from laughing. How strange that a smart and accomplished man could be reduced to such an undignified state just by touching her breasts!

Mr Carr stopped chanting her name, and the room was silent except for his rasping breath and the rustle of her shirt as he unbuttoned it. Then Sarah felt his tongue sweep across her nipple; she let out a surprised gasp. This excited Mr Carr even more, and his head all but disappeared into her half open shirt as he fell to his knees in front of her. A giggle escaped her, which Mr Carr obviously interpreted as encouragement.OhSarahohSarahohohohohsobeautifulSarahoh.

He pushed her legs open and knelt between them, his head still buried in her chest but his hands pushing up her scratchy pleated skirt. Sarah tried to remember which underpants she had put on that morning. She hoped it was not the pair with little ducks. If Mr Carr saw little ducks on her underwear he would think she was a child, and then he would stop. But he couldn’t see her underwear anyway, because his mouth was still latched onto her nipple as if he was a hungry baby and she was a mother withheavy, milk filled breasts, instead of a girl with hardly enough to fill a training bra.

She liked the way it felt, the sucking. It was gentler and more rhythmic than she had expected. In the movies it all looked so frantic and out of control. Not that Sarah had anything to compare it to, but he seemed good at what he was doing: sucking her nipple and stroking her through her underwear in perfect time. Stroke and suck, stroke and suck.

The tempo changed when he plunged his hot, unexpected hand into her underpants. He seemed to be searching for something, his hands moving quickly, stroking and pressing one hidden spot after another and then moving on. Sarah thought she knew what he was trying to find and wondered why he was having so much trouble. She considered telling him that he had missed it, but found that she did not have any words to describe what it was he had passed over, or what it was that she expected him to do when he found it.

But then a flash of heat shot through her body, and she cried out in surprise as her hips bucked upwards. She felt the flash of heat again, followed by another and another as he continued pressing the secret spot, and she could not stop the noise that rose in her throat from escaping as she felt herself dissolving into his hand.

Mr Carr pulled away abruptly, gasping for air.OhSarah wrong this is so wrong oh Sarah ohsarahsowrongohsarahoh.

This was the best Sarah had ever felt. Ever. She wondered what to do to make him keep going. Then she realised her hands had been by her sides the whole time. She placed them on his stooped shoulders, holding him back, and he looked up, his face creased with need and guilt at that need. She slid from her chair, so she was on her knees in front of him, and slowly unzipped his trousers. She felt removed from herself, watching these stranger’s hands reach in and take hold of this odd, hard, hotthing. It was as if all reason hadleft her and the part of her that was just instinct and heat had taken over.

Mr Carr groaned and his chant became frenzied and fast, not even distinguishable as language anymore, just a low desperate growl. He pushed her hand away, and for a second she thought he was angry, but then he saidOhGodohGodohGodand fell on her. The pain tore through her, and she had to shove her fist into her mouth to stop from crying out. Then the pain stopped, and she felt warm and calm. Mr Carr was looking into her eyes, grunting at her. She touched his face and hair; he grimaced and moved faster. Then with one last, louder grunt, he rolled off her, leaving a warm, sticky mess.

The entire incident had taken less than ten minutes. As she buttoned her shirt, she could hear kids yelling outside the window, the sound of a netball whistle, a car engine turning over. She took a tissue from the box on his desk and wiped away the stuff trickling down her thighs. Mr Carr watched her while fat tears slid down his red cheeks. Sarah finished her clean up, and then she went to him and wiped his face.

‘It’s okay,’ she told him. ‘You don’t have to feel bad.’

‘I don’t feel bad, Sarah. That’s the tragedy.’

2

Because he was older and her teacher and married with children, Mr Carr could absolutely not allow a repeat of yesterday’s incident. ‘Oh,’ said Sarah, who had thought the point of her staying back after school again was so that yesterday’s incident could be repeated. The way he had kissed her as soon as the door was locked, the way he had run his fingers through her hair while he asked her how she was, the way he had begun to stroke her thigh as soon as they sat down, all seemed to confirm her initial assumption.

‘I don’t care about that stuff. I just feel happy being with you.’

‘Oh, Sarah…’ He squeezed her thigh. ‘I wish being happy with each other was enough, but it isn’t. I would lose my job, my kids. I could go to jail. The law doesn’t care how happy we feel. You’re fourteen years old, and according to the law you aren’t capable of recognising what makes you happy.’

‘Well, the law is wrong.’ Sarah did what she had been thinking of doing ever since they sat down: she leant forward and kissed the crease between his eyebrows. ‘It’s insulting to assume I don’t know what I want. You know for most of history girls my age were expected to be married and popping out babies. It’s ridiculous to think that five hundred years ago I would be considered capable of raising a family, but now I’m not even allowed to decide if I like a guy or not.’

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