John Park

Metamorphoses of the Vampire

Les Anges impuissants
se damneraient pour moi!

--Baudelaire


The bamboo by the back wall had grown tall. When it was planted it had been just her height, now it towered above her, clacking and rustling softly in the wet breeze off the river. The afternoon was hot and would get hotter.

She stood at the open sliding door, her arms folded across her breast, holding shut the loose ends of a long dressing gown. A tired robin made a few feeble hops across the path that halved the narrow garden of drooping flowers and dry foliage, kicked a bit in the dirt, and, finding nothing, flew above the wall toward the overlooking apartment building. The air packed her nose; crept turtle-pace into her lungs. It was jungle air; hot, wet, stifling; it was city air in the summertime.

The bathroom door opened a crack and George Chamberlain's stately, tennis-tanned face appeared. From his position, he was sitting down.

"Rosie," he said, "hand me the magazine there on the nightstand, please."

She turned from the door and picked up the copy of Sports Illustrated, flipping through it rapidly.

He tugged impatiently at the bushy gray sideburns that he cultivated like a garden.

"Please hurry," he said.

He cultivated his voice also. He had recently achieved what he thought was the proper blend of world weariness and gentle authority in his tone (with just a ting Boston-Oxford tang), and never missed a chance to use it. Oh! They would say, you're from England! And he would smile, would answer, but he had once lived there and had the Devil's own time getting rid of the accent. This, despite the fact that the only English people he'd known were the whores, barmaids, and working men in the pubs around the army base where he was stationed in 1956.

Rosalie walked slowly across the room and handed him the magazine, like a prisoner's dinner, through the narrow opening. Her dressing gown opened on a fine performance. "Thank you, my dear," he said, and the door clicked shut. And she resumed the slow pace and circled back to her position at the sliding door. (She cultivated a sultry walk of feline intensity, inflaming the very souls of men.)

A bumblebee droned in a tiny circle above the fat, bent heads of the peonies. She lifted her heavy hair in a bundle to the top of her head, and let the breeze cool her neck. What a shame no one was out on the balconies of the apartment building.

A cough and a sharp fart came from the bathroom and she smiled. He was so ashamed of shitting. He would cough or run the tap, actually drawing attention by the attempt at camouflage.

She heard the toilet flush and then the hiss of the shower. She slid the glass door shut and closed the drapes until only a foot of daylight entered the room.

This done, she fell back onto the crumpled sheets of the bed. It retained the sweaty impressions of two bodies.

She was dozing when the door opened and Chamberlain stepped out in his underwear followed by a steam cloud. She hadn't heard the shower stop.

Rosalie watched him stalk across the room to the chair where his clothes were piled. She watched him from narrowed eyes masked by long lashes.

"What are you going to do today?" he asked as he pulled on his well cut double knit trousers.

"I don't know," she replied, lazily reaching for a cigarette off the nightstand.

"Why don't you learn your lines?" He pointed to the theme binder that lay on the floor near the scattered newspapers.

"There's Plenty Of time for that."

He reached over with the lighter and flicked it under her cigarette.

"Thanks," she said, taking a puff. "Why don't you take me to the zoo?"

"It's too hot for that." He pulled on his socks, put on his shirt and began buttoning. "Besides, I've got to meet my wife at the club."

"Ah yes," she said, "ah yes, the wife. And how is the little woman these days?"

"Rosie, don't use that tone, please." He traversed the bedroom and disappeared into the bathroom once again. "You know we barely get along," said his echoing voice.

He scrutinized his face, picked up a pair of cuticle scissors, and carefully clipped protruding nasal hairs.

"Why don't you leave her?" She looked at the ceiling: twin streams of smoke wandered out her nostrils.

"What?"

"I said, why don't you leave her?"

He came back across the room and grasped his jacket.

"Don't start that again," he said wearily, then changing his tone, "We're having lunch with Mrs. Albion-White. Good chance, I think, of dragging a sizable donation out of the sour old bitch."

"Hmmm," she said, "Why don't you come back to bed for a little while, George?"

He checked his digital wristwatch. She coughed softly.

"Sorry, my dear, I'm late already." He kissed her lightly and walked towards the door. "I might come by tonight. If I don't, I'll see you at rehearsal tomorrow, Learn your lines and, Rosie, don't smoke so much, it roughens your voice."

He left. She stubbed out her cigarette and lit another. And waited for her gray mood to settle like ashes.

The unfortunate thing was that she nearly always got what she wanted. So consequently, (here she chuckled bitterly) she was expert on the subject of being careful of what one wishes for.

She had dreamed of being an actress. She had dreamed of having an affair with a married man. Romantic, tightrope-tripping situation, both, this laboring for art's sake and this flirting with what was deliciously decadent, (from her childhood's point of view). Neither, in the modern light, was more than an illusion of romance or decadence. (Paint peels, there are no golden statues, and real people often crawl in bed with dirty feet.)

The reality of it was--she was an actress.

She kicked the script across the floor.

At least, she acted in plays. Whether she was an actress or not, well, you can't trust what those close to you say, and George was the director and George was close to her and it all came down to what she'd always known; she was treated different because she was beautiful. Everything came perhaps a little too easy to be worth much. Men who would never have listened to ugly girls, listened to hours of egocentrism and half-baked
philosophy. And even praised it, in a thousand roundabout ways. At times she gloried in it: her beauty, the center of attention, making men nervous. But then, she couldn't count that as an achievement, it came too easily. Women, of course, hated her on sight.

She stood up in the narrow, dust-glittering strip of light that came between the drapes. Her eyes were dark. The cigarette smoke made them water. Her thick black hair fell about her shoulders. It was the legacy of her Russian grandmother. She twined the ends
around a finger. It is unfortunate that such gifts are ephemeral. She recalled the white hair of her grandmother as she knew her.

Her breasts were large, (that sturdy Russian stock), but due to proper exercise, sagged only a little. A scar from a childhood accident made its pale winding way along the tan of her shoulder, and, in the manner of childhood scars, was magnified in the eyes of its owner. She didn't even trust her excellence--this sturdy, desirable body, collection of random genes, luck, and fate, would one day rebel.

Her lovers were strung like beads (or albatrosses, or the many leaden souls dragging her to perdition.) She tolled the rosary of lovers sometimes twice a week.

She was prettier than her mother, who had a sprawling, flat face and wore glasses. Her father bought her presents, most anything she asked for. His other daughters, envious and anxious, remained always in the background, as chorus to the central act.

Her lovers were always at a loss. No young man buys presents equal to those of an older man, a man wealthier and wiser. She constantly sought out older men, and her age was constantly mistaken. She had exchanged the uncertainty of youth for the sophistication of maturity far too early. The men without the vigor and strength of youth were also without its embarrassing lack of knowledge. They knew the right touch and the right word.

Not that she always loved older men. There was a young man once, a classmate, who used to pass along her street drunk late at night and sing, echo and shadow, or throw tiny pebbles, tick-tick, against her window. Sing, echo and shadow, (slight stumble), cats in the gutters, and streetlamps. It fit her desire, for the moment. And she would lean out her window and whisper to his shadow under the cherry tree, or slip out, barefoot and nightgown, cold on the early pavement. But he didn't live up to the fine art of her plot. He was an ass and very slow on the uptake. He was even afraid of her, though in a way he would never admit. He babbled and stumbled over words when he spoke to her. (She loved that, and the phrase--her beauty turned strong men into babbling fools--came to mind, even though he was not particularly strong. Yes, a very good phrase.)

He had a stilted way of talking--a sort of high school poetic. You suck the life out of me. You leave me numb. Who are, you really?

Yes, who was she really?

But when she's moved on (light years ahead of him), still he passed along her street. Still he came to talk and said nothing.

She winced for his lies and his stories. They impressed her not at all, because the pavement, early in the morning, is cold (in the summer there are mosquitoes, in the winter-snowdrifts), and he moved in a different direction and was a fool and drank and didn't care about the job he worked or the money he earned. And he didn't have the good manners, of the cast-off lover in the books, to fade silently into a subplot, but instead kept, metaphorically, screaming for her attention . . .

At this point she walked to the glass door again, and peered out through the space in the drapes. Nothing was going on in the garden. No one was out on the balconies of the apartment. She momentarily debated whether or not to go out somewhere, but couldn't think of anyplace to go, and besides it was too hot, anyway. If George came by tonight, maybe they would go dancing or something . . .

So, musing upon this, she decided to take a shower. That killed fifteen minutes. Then, towel wrapped around her wet hair like a turban, she read the funnies and the book review section of the newspaper, and at last, having exhausted all possible excuses, began to study her lines.

The play fell into the category of a bedroom farce, built on the well-worn situation of the lover's triangle. It was full of well-worn one-liners and was void of any character or original thought. It would be a fantastic success. Yet she already knew what the critics would say of her performance. She had a sheaf of old reviews that she kept in a little, gold-embossed book next to the crystal scotch decanter, a collection of mediocre, noncomitant phrases used to describe her skill . . . adequate . . . undistracting . . . a walk through . . .

Her part in this one was that of Glynda, the "other woman." She reflected how life imitates art (or something like that), wondering which of the two she was most skilful at and remembering, reluctantly, her first try at the "other woman," (How reality and fantasy get so muddled together after a while!), when she was working in summer stock at a mountain resort and slept with that distinguished-looking gentleman several times, before he got drunk one night, and, with much tearful tenderness, showed her photographs of wife, Marlene, (smiling, slim and attractive, in a garden; hand shading her eyes), and little Timmy and Beth, (aged 7 and 5; he--picking his nose; she with knees clamped tight, waiting--in vain, it seems, being frozen forever in daddy's wallet--to scurry off to a convenient toilet).

So, shocked and embarrassed, (she was in love), she rebounded, (Resilient Rosie!), into the second-floor-front room of a hairy young man who sold paintings to the vacationers.

He was a serious young man. In the mornings he painted sparkling skylines and colorful landscapes of the type that hang about the beds in motel rooms. (Crap! He said. Pure crap!) These he sold down by the lake in the afternoon. The nights he reserved for his serious work-murky abstracts full of Godknowswhat sort of philosophic implications.

They made love in the evenings, before she left for work, and it was an orange love: full of setting sun, dustspecks, sweat, and the scent of linseed oil.

With experience, the lovers learn to play their parts; there was no bad feeling when, at the end of the summer, they went their separate ways. There was just enough desire and regret underlying his smile to give her satisfaction . . .

Bored with learning foolish lines, Rosalie dozed. A head parted the drapes and floated into the room. I'm dreaming, she said to herself quite matter-of-factly. The head drifted into the center of the room and rolled its saucer eyes comically. She rose and followed it down a long hall. A mirror trapped her and she watched helplessly as it made her face drip like candle wax, and hang in great jowly folds. Deep within, two dark eyes gleamed. She smashed the mirror and immediately regretted it. That meant seven years bad luck, and she started to cry.

She woke up and saw the red evening light coming between the drapes. She remembered the dream, shook her head, and stood up. She walked to the closet and got dressed. Her hair was rumpled and stringy and still damp.

"Oh damn it!" She said to her mirror face with the frustration and confusion of waking from bad dreams into more bad dreams. Dreams within dreams within dreams.

Her hands flew to her face. For a long time she peered between her fingers at the mirror. Two dark eyes gleamed. She took a brush and attempted to make order out of the tangles, but gave up and went out to the kitchen. She put some ice into a glass, poured it half full of scotch, and carried it, softly tinkling, through the sliding door and out into the rapidly fading sunlight of the garden.

A few lights were on in the apartment building. A swallow cut the air of the garden from wall to wall. She lit a cigarette and watched the light fade in the sky. Some early stars were sneaking out in the blue above the city. Inside the telephone rang faintly. She rose and went inside.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," She grumbled to it.

"Can't come by tonight, my dear. Dinner party. See you tomorrow at rehearsal," said George's voice.

"O.K." She said, "George . . . ?" She was going to ask him something, but he'd hung up.

She got more ice and more scotch and went back out in the garden. More lights were on in the apartment building. She tried to decide what to fix for dinner. Two meteorites flashed briefly over the glow of the city. Falling Angels her mother would have said. The bamboo rustled in the damp breeze.




This work first appeared in Gargoyle, issue #4. Please respect the fact that this material is copyrighted. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose without the express consent of the author or artist.