Originally published in Tahoma Literary Review, Issue 3, Spring 2015
Outside, the vampires saunter and glide through urban streets, leather shoes in sulky-lit alleys, motors running on highways from there to here. In the car, they change the station on the radio and roll down the window part way. They admire the cityscape full of lights and notice the shimmer on the window looking toward another skyscraper, or the river, or maybe even the sky itself. And the lights and their reflections, those phantoms bobbing dimly, hazy reminders from somethings elsewhere, and the vampires fall in love and press lips to pulse.
Afterwards, they decide it is time to get out of town, and they take their cars down two-lane roads and parade down country lanes, stepping farther and farther from those lights. In the evenings, they grace the woods, tipping their hats to the wolves that remain, haunting old forests. They float ghostly into barns in disrepair, flutter among the owls and swallows, trail the forests along deerpath and pawprint.
There is something to be said for déjà vu. The coffin lid goes down, and outside there are the vampires. Perhaps it is all too absurd, but this is what I hear, and it seems in these bones that I have heard it all before.
“And how many times has the lid closed?” Marie asks herself.
She lies in the coffin and the air is damp with her own breath. It seems that the world presses her down to her back, but no dirt is thrown on the lid. It is dark, and she hears something like sniffing, like the dogs are out, like her breath reaches the outside air, like the smell of blood and sex, and those in the street with leather shoes on pavement, a strut down the sidewalk to where she lies, locked up, but not tight enough.
But maybe she imagines the sound because there are the hums of voices she has heard too many times before, the groan of a man, her mother telling her to clean her room and to do it right because she wasn’t going to go outside at all until the bed was made. And the chatter of her sisters who had too many vodka tonics, slurs and giggles, the man who stomped up the steps and announced, “I just fucked your sister,” the sound of someone barfing, the whine of a dog left behind.
In the coffin it is dark, with the sound of breath and the bump of elbows and knees, and the red dots flickering and flying like tiny infra-red cosmonauts, and is that light coming through the joints of the box because it may be daytime outside, or most likely, it is the streetlight coming through the windows and into the room where the coffins sit. In the dark, there are cracks of light, and maybe they’d never think to look for her there, but the orange light comes through, and no seal is ever tight enough, and they could smell like dogs, and there she is with breath and body and the odor of living.
Marie hears the scratching of nails, moving into timber, and she presses to arch her back, her spine against a space never quite tight enough, and from somewhere inside or outside, she hears herself moan.
There was a room, and in it sat two people. They were seated on thickly upholstered chairs from another century, wood carved with care, backs tall and erect. The room itself was textured with fabric, and the ceilings were high. Books lined the shelves with discussions on the natural sciences, the make-up of the human body, the revolution and rotation of the earth. It was a room of grandeur that I can only imagine as I have never seen such a space in real life. It was something akin to the rooms one might find in the châteaux of the Loire Valley during the height of the French Renaissance. The room belonged to the man.
The man asked if she would like some warm wine, but Marie said no. There was something else that she wanted. Neither spoke for a moment, as if assessing the situation, considering the negotiations of trade. They looked at each other, and it was evident that Marie was an experiment, a Petri-dish that he wished to hover over, to see if indeed there could grow such a thing as a woman’s soul, to see with his very own eyes and make certain. He leaned toward her, and Marie thought that if he asked, she couldn’t easily tell him the truth.
But that was lifetimes ago.
At the house, Marie sits on the porch, and the man plays a banjo. They are near the lake and a wet yellow dog comes running up to her. It is not like the time the dog came running and smelled like something dead, and it grinned and rubbed itself on her legs with affection and adoration, and Marie led it to the hose and washed the remains off the dog. This time is not unlike that time, but the dog does not carry the dead, and the three sit on the porch. All in all, it is lovely because the air is golden, and the sun is setting, the dog at her feet and the man beside her, and the music is lingering over nerves and in the bones of the ear, and yes they are alive. “Except none of this is true,” says Marie. “I made it all up.”
It seems that I have known Marie forever, and though she is much older than I am, I remember what it was like when she was young, and she walked along a garden path, and the young man swore that his heart bled for her, and he cut open his palm, as if it could prove such a thing, and he waited and waited—three whole days, but Marie never could return the gesture.
“If only I did,” Marie thinks, as if it could have proved any such thing, as if any such thing could matter, then or now, after all these years. She closed up her fists and wondered if they were tight enough.
At night, Marie hears the vampires come asking for her blood, as if all the gods suffer because they too live heartbroken.
The Gospel According to Mary
“A person sees neither through the soul nor the spirit. The mind, which lives between the two, sees the vision.”
“Where the mind is, there is the treasure.”
Here lies a history of gardens, and Marie swears that she was the first to arrive, but so does everyone else, and the proof is not in this pudding, for none of these gardens are the kind that imply a gardener who planted and ordered, structured a greenery with mind to light, wind, or drainage. These are not English gardens with systems of aesthetic, pathways of stone or brick, reflecting pools with benches aiming views toward waters mirroring the self or just the light of the sun. Instead, the gardens just grow, random, haphazard, exquisite in their disarray, and, as no one standing could take credit for the creative cultivation and horticulture, the matter of who arrived first is a matter of he said, she said. The others in the gardens, men and women, shamans and priests, scholars and carpenters, soldiers, prostitutes, and politicians, argue all the arguments, make claims on all the who, what, and whys of existence, but Marie lets the issue go; she chalks it up to the unknown, to mystery, that which registers in our minds as chaos, and we are back to the beginning. Chance, chaos, mystery–the inexplicable.
Though who wouldn’t like to open that treasure chest of knowledge buried somewhere among the trees? Many indeed, including Marie who would have sold her soul, though not to the devil, for that kind of clarity and sense and, if what they say is true about origins, for that kind of love. What she would have given to make this exchange, but the only one suited for this commerce was another woman. But this woman, whose name was Sophia, was not selling.
Sophia, the enchantress, sister to Daphne who escapes our grip, though our fingers may touch the bare skin of her shoulder; her skin is soft, her features delicate. She is swift like the hare, and we are huntresses all.
I had a glimpse of her once and fell madly in love in the Chicago streets. Afterwards, I fantasized about making love to her, penetrating her and pushing myself further and further inside her. I dreamt of becoming her. I wondered what it would be like to be adored the way she is adored, to be chased, to be looked at with longing the way Marie looks at her when they are alone, because, if you haven’t guessed already, Marie was the first to get close, and perhaps she got closer than anybody else. She ran faster than she ever thought she could, her fingers scraped a wrist, reached for an ankle and missed, grazed the small of the back, then, with another leap, quicker than any other Marie has taken, she sprung forward, her fingers taking hold of the nape of the neck, and Marie bit down as if Sophia’s throat were a throbbing fruit of perfect ripeness. Because, if you haven’t figured out already, Marie has always been a vampire.
Tonight, as I lie awake and think of Sophia and all the men I could have been, I’d say that I want her to fuck my brains out because what I really want is to be consumed by her, and it occurs to me that perhaps the one I really love, above all others, is Marie. It’s an archetypal fantasy—to be hounded by the insatiable appetite of the vampire.
But, a love bite from Marie was not enough to fell Sophia. She was something much larger, much stronger than Daphne’s laurel tree. Sophia was the whole of the forest where you might raise an ax and drag out a birch but where you also just might lose yourself. And if you were lost under the leafy canopy, with the sun dropped behind this cloud or that, or if it were night with only a hazy moon, and there you were, stumbling and confused in your momentary loss of direction, you may worry that you will not find some clearing soon enough, that there is no place to rest in the security that comes from an open sky. It will be then that the wolf will find you, and you will find yourself devoured at last.
My Everlasting Werewolf Nights
Time is cyclical, witchy sisters say amongst themselves, as if to cast a spell and make it true. The three are crones. Past maidenhood and motherhood, they share a disease of womb and blood and bleed only into themselves. They are always at the edge of the forest; they feed the wolf and cover Sophia in her sleep.
I suspect she is the only one who can sleep. The sisters keep watch, and Marie lies quietly and still in a coffin, hoping for an invitation, and perhaps for forgiveness as well. I myself lie restless with visions of men, a farm, and a lake, a dog running. I can almost remember who I used to be, and it is always a man—the man who put yellow roses on his wife’s funeral casket; the lid closed tightly, and if the box allowed any light to pass through, he never knew. The ground dropped over her, and he never saw her again, though he dreamt of her once, once when he put a rose on her casket, and the lid was already closed tight, much too tightly, and there is blood under my fingernails from scratching at one side of the lid or the other.
There are two sides of man, the crones whisper while the werewolf howls. There are silver bullets under my bed, though I have never fired any. I pull one from the box and finger and smudge the metal. There is a glimmer of reflection, and I place it on my naked chest.
I go back in time, and I am a man farming a crop that is not my own, and I am covered in mud. My son scrubs and scratches the dirt from my back. He is my only son, and there are no women here. I lie on the ground with my arms outstretched. I am not a good father, and I wonder if my son knows.
At night, I am the werewolf racing through the woods after the rabbit who becomes the girl. I catch her by the throat with claws and hands, and suddenly, I cannot breathe. I fuck her anyway.
I go back in time. I am in the garden, and I see Marie come out of the tent at dusk. The others are the vampires, and they want our blood, though that isn’t exactly the point we try to argue. They do not listen, and I finger and smudge a silver coin in my hand.
But, because the question of origin is never ending, we can go back even further, back to one night when the moon was hazy and I ran through the woods, dirt under my toenails. I sniffed the air and the rabbit was out. A man pushed himself inside a sister. The rabbit ran, and the dog chased her, but I was the bigger wolf. The sister got up, leaving the man in the room, and went outside with blood on her thigh. I smelled it dripping down her leg. The tops of the trees creaked in the wind, and I ran over wet moss and scratched my arms on twigs and bark. I ran until I finally found the clearing and the gardens of flowers, and there was Marie, her lips touching Sophia’s face and her hands cradling her head. How much love can be buried away? I, too, wanted to taste the pulp beneath Sophia’s skin. I, too, wanted to know what was just below the surface, below breath and heartbeat. I, too, wanted to feel something kept warm and secure.
The Gospel According to Judas
“You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by other generations.”
“But you will surpass all of them, for you will sacrifice the man who bears me.”
We can’t have Sophia, so the vampires feast on the body and blood of another. The man moans softly, deliriously, and Sophia, that forest-that-can’t-be-seen-for-all-of-the-trees goddess, returns to her perch like a ripened pear, and I am lost with Marie in the woods. We try to conjure the sensation of sweetness at the tips of our tongues, but mostly we fail. Most skin, after all, tastes merely of sweat and salt, and our memories get in the way. I imagine the lithe flawless body of Sophia, but the feel of stubble and the slow breath of a man replaces her just as quickly, though this isn’t to say that there isn’t some kind of pleasure here. One phantom replaces another, but while bearded men are freely given, Sophia is always locked up tightly.
Marie goes to the garden, and the vampires hound her because she is a woman and not a man, because she is a vampire of a different kind, and the throat she bit was not the right throat, not at all. “You’re going about it all wrong,” they say. “It’s all your fault—this something—this ‘this and that.’” But she’ll have none of it. With witchy sisters, Marie sets sail, finding herself in what would become a land of castles and grapevines, where several French kings ride horses whose hooves prance over a green terrain rolling with bright red poppies.
In that other life, I kissed the first man who mattered, and I am haunted by him still. I run through the woods after Marie after Sophia, but he trails behind me and bullets fly. If only I could turn around and take him by the throat, if he would fuck my brains out, and then I’d become him, know what he knows, but behind him, the vampires chase, lost and confused, but always trying to sniff out the trail in the late, late hours of night, stumbling through allies, seated on bar stools, or sometimes, even in the midst of day as they wait in line for tickets to the show or to pay for a gallon of milk. So, I dodge silver, desiring to turn and face him, to choke something away, something like this ‘this or that,’ something that I just can’t say because that reason doesn’t matter, and yes, a body does matter, and the vampires might be right, and maybe that is the point after all.
Instead, I find a girl who might be Marie though there is nothing that I can see clearly now. I strangle her tight as a noose around the neck. I envision the act of self-destruction before I am delirious, and yes, there is some kind of pleasure here.
The Curse and Blessing of the Whole of Memory
But I am not Judas Iscariot. I am not a man at all, though slippery thoughts and images come to mind in sleepless nights. “Memory is not memory but the imagination” is what they say these days, though, say what you will, I remember what I remember. There was a mother pregnant in an unmade bed, and soon there were sisters who drank too much and laughed when young men said they’d bleed for them because nobody bleeds for anybody, but then they grew up and learned that life was something different.
But Marie is still Marie, a vampire exiled by the others, and at night she comes to me. She tells lullabies from long ago, about those early loves—Sophia and the man in the garden who did indeed bleed for her, but she was young and selfish and stupid and certainly never deserved any such thing. They are ghosts to her now, and she is merely the undead, concrete and finite, but she can remember it all from her very first moment onward. She tells all of it to me late in the evenings, and we go back in time.
So, I tell her a story of my own. There is a man who lives along the lake and a yellow dog and the music from the porch lingers over nerves and in the bones of the ear, and I say this and make all of it true. His skin tastes like salt and sweat and nothing like a peach, but I press my teeth into it nonetheless, hoping that one of us can always remember this time on the porch with music and dog, with lips on pulse, all of it happening soon.
And this must be some kind of love story, I say, because I realize standing in this kitchen near a lake, I’d cut open a hand with a paring knife if any such thing could matter, though perhaps it doesn’t, not for Sophia or the man I kissed in the garden because blood is just blood and only finite in measure, and there are so many different kinds of love—so Marie, open your fists because you can never close them up tight enough, and, just in case, just in case it matters at all, we’ll stand and face each other, bloody palm to bloody palm.