I was asked by Bronwyn C., curator of the Thunk Tank on WFMU, to craft a story for their Halloween show, which we did live last night. So much fun! You can listen to the whole show (with Brownwyn, Jay, and Amanda Nazario also reading their great stories) here, or read the monologue I crafted below.
Thanks to Urania Mylonas and Lea-Beth Shapiro for their input while I was working on it.
by Kurt Gottschalk
People always want to talk about things they don't know anything about. It's ridiculous. Other animals don't do that. Other animals' whole thing is using what they do know. I mean, that's their whole strategy for survival. But people don't usually have to worry about survival so they have time to spend acting like they know things they don't have any idea about. Like have you noticed how if a white guy gets together with a black woman, or the other way around, the white one all of a sudden starts talking about the diaspora all the time? Or how people are surprised if they hear someone from Japan swear? If they're not Japanese, I mean. Yeah, people from Japan swear sometime. People are pretty much the same everywhere, you know? I guess. I mean, I don't really know that, and actually that's kind of the point. I thought I knew that, but I didn't. And I said it anyway.
I think about these things a lot, lying here day after day, about how arrogant people are and how they're really not very smart, they're just inventive. Inventive, but stupid. Like, it's obvious we don't belong in the water, in the lakes and oceans, because we don't have gills, right? But we couldn't leave them alone, we had to keep screwing with them and now we're running out of drinking water, as if there hadn't enough to begin with. Or you are, anyway. I haven't had a drink of water in like two years. Haven't needed it, I guess.
I'm not saying I'm any better than that white guy who hooks up with a black woman, or a black guy for that matter. That's not really the point. I mean, I lie here thinking, listening to the radio, talking to myself, talking to myself, going on about how all the books and movies and stories are wrong. About how what I used to think I knew was wrong. 'Cause the thing is, vampires are nothing like what people think they are.
I'm not a vampire. I say this in my vain make-believe game that there's someone I'm talking to. But I'm not. I'm not sure what I am, really. I'm not quite dead but I'm certainly not of the living, not in any real way. I'm kind of – in between.
It was Elizabeth who brought me here – here to this dark apartment in Chinatown and here to this state of being on the verge, on the edge of being. Elizabeth is a vampire. Whole hog, bloodsucking, daytime-sleeping, death-stinking vampire. Elizabeth. The love of my life. Well, that's a weird choice of words, but she is. And as her boyfriend I have a claim on that politic. I get to look down on all of those romanticizations of the vampire life – there's that word again – the vampire existence, anyway. It's not all glamor. It's pretty lonely, really. Vampires tend to gather together, well in the city anyway, at least for practical purposes. Making rent is a real issue for them, so they live in these rundown places with as many coffins as will fit side to side. But they don't talk to each other much. They don't share anything. There's no ... conviviality among them. They're pretty lonely. I mean, it seems that way anyway.
It might be obvious to say, but anything pleasurable usually has to do with being alive. That's what they crave, and that's why they're so sad all the time. When they get living blood in their system, they can be kind of alive for a while, kind of feel physical and emotional pleasures. It's not – well, I don't know what it's like, but Elizabeth says it's only kind of like when she was alive. But they don't have any support system to keep the blood alive so it wears off before long.
I met Elizabeth at a bar in the meatpacking district, one of those blue neon places. I knew as soon as I saw her I wanted to spend my life with her and within a few hours she was telling me she felt the same way. When the club closed at 4 and I suggested we go for breakfast and she bit her lip and invited me to her place instead, I thought I was the luckiest guy on Earth. I still think that sometimes.
We discussed the arrangement that night, as soon as we got upstairs. She told me all about the vampire thing, the basics. Yeah, the basics are like in the movies. She bites me, she feeds on me, and I become one of them. And I was game, really. She made it all sound sensual somehow. But that wasn't what she wanted. She told me about the vampire life, about living in the shadows, about being a shadow It wasn't just blood that she needed, it was the blood of the living, it was life. She told me about how feeding on the living temporarily gave her the feeling of being alive again.
She said didn't want that for me. Other vampires – she motioned around the room and I realized, my eyes having become somewhat accustomed to the darkness, that what I thought was furniture was just a roomful of caskets – other vampires are cold, boring, lifeless. She didn't want to make me into that, she said. She wanted to be able to love me. And to love me she needed me to continue to be warm-blooded.
But I was under her sway and I insisted that I wanted to live in her world, that I wanted to be of her kind. That's how the deal came to be, although it seemed like something she'd given thought to, something she thought might work. The arrangement was this: she would take enough of my blood to feel myself coursing through her, and leave me with enough to remain on this side of the divide. It wasn't a precise process, but she told me she'd felt the life drain out of people enough times that she thought she could tell when it was about to happen. And if it didn't work? I'd just become a vampire, which was what I wanted, at the time anyway.
And that's where, or how, how I live. A few pints of blood to keep me animated, but not enough to thrive. Not enough to get up even, really. Certainly not enough to walk. I am, well, I'm awake. I spend nights waiting for her, usually listening to the overnight BBC broadcast on the little radio in the casket we share. Sometimes I'll put on a music station but I'm not really that interested in listening to music. Music makes you want to move, and moving usually makes me tired.
It might not sound like the greatest situation from the outside but when Elizabeth comes home just before dawn, those are happier times than I ever had when I was alive. I can actually smell her while she's still in the hall. I mean, I hear her too, but I know her scent. And when she climbs into the coffin and lays beside me, her skin warmish, more than it will be in a few hours anyway, and her eyes electric ... In the first few hours after a kill everything about her is alluring. She'll lie down next to me, arm across my chest, one leg over mine, so soft, so feminine, and kiss me so lightly, on the cheek, on the lips, forehead, eyelids, maybe a quick lick along my temple, the kisses growing more passionate until I feel her teeth sink into my flesh. It's surprising, the localized heat when she pierces my skin and begins to draw, and she does this thing that I can only think is her own invention. She starts pulling my blood out of me and then pushing it back in again, mixing it (I guess) with the blood she'd taken in when she was out, and I feel this warmth growing inside me. It reminds me of blowing up a balloon, like she was blowing up a balloon inside me. I feel it grow, through my chest, through my arms, into my brain, and then lower, the warmth, coursing down below my waist, awakening me, and then she moves on top of me.
It's hard to say what she gets out of it, of the sex, and I certainly wouldn't ask her. But I mean, I guess it's kind of a pantomime. It's like doing something that the living do – doing something that makes life, even. I know I don't feel much physical sensation, but I do like feeling close to her like that.
Once we're done, she feeds me. Still lying on top of me she'll kiss me again, long, deeply, and then I'll feel a sort of wrenching inside her, her ribs convulsing against me, and she'll regurgitate part of the night's kill into my mouth. My throat opens automatically to receive the raw and partially digested flesh, of a human, of a dog or a rat, I really don't know. I guess it sounds gross. But honestly? I don't think I could digest food on my own. I think I need her to begin the process of breaking it down. Like a mama bird, my frail little mama bird.
It seems sad at the times I stop to think about it – times like now – but really it's not like I was a grab-life-by-the-horns kinda guy before. Am I – I don't know if I'm better off now or not. It makes me think of that Joni Mitchell song. Man, she would have made a great vampire, or a great Hollywood vampire I mean, all pale and gaunt. She's not – I mean, vampires aren't like that, don't look like that, they're – I know I shouldn't say it but they're uglier than that. I mean, they're dead, right? Elizabeth – I wouldn't say this to her, of course, but her eyes don't really fit right in the sockets anymore, and you can pretty much see every bone under her limp skin. And of course she smells like hell. Like wet rust. Times ten. But you've got to figure she's spending at least part of each day rotting, when the blood levels get low, right? The thing is, though, you kinda don't know what it means to love life until you try living without it. And vampires? Nobody loves life like vampires. I mean, you don't see them going out gay-bashing or conducting tribunals or fatwas or inquisitions or lynchings or anything. They hunt, sure. They kill to eat, but they don't kill out of hate. Because they don't hate. It's kind of beautiful. They hunt life, they seek life out, which is more than you can say for most living people. Like, oh right, like the Joni Mitchell thing. “Don't it always seem to go / that you don't know what you got till it's gone?” For real. I don't really know how long I can stay here. I mean, I don't know if what Elizabeth and I have is really a forever thing. And I don't know if I can really leave either. But if I ever go back to the daylight life, I'm really gonna live it. You know?