The Donor

Chapter Four

      For children, Halloween is not merely a day but a season. It lasts weeks and requires intense preparation. It is not only the celebration of the Monstrous and the Dead, but also the triumph over all fear: and even more so, it is the time when they can gleefully ally themselves against the forces of order and light and get rewarded for it.
      Dylan approached Halloween in a distinctive way. He industriously decorated both flats with proficient and profuse drawings of tame subjects -- cats and pumpkins, haystacks and friendly bats -- eschewing the monsters and ghosts. Except for one picture, painted with his mother's temperas on shirt cardboard, which he mounted on Terry's front door: curved slightly to make a functional mask, a grinning skull with cheerful green eyes, nestled in a lacy red heart from Valentine's, festooned with his mother's symbols.
      "Wow. That's . . . wonderful," Terry said. Truthfully, it was an object of wonder, with its mature craftsmanship and idiosyncratic subject.
      Dylan only smirked.
      "So, what are you going to be for Halloween?" Terry asked.
      "A ferret," Dylan answered.
      "Where do you get a ferret costume?"
      "We're making it."
      Mary asked Terry to go to the school's night-time party with Dylan. She said Eurick and she both had deadlines to meet. Terry thought they both looked a little drawn. The deadlines must be taking their toll. Or something: when Terry came to pick up Dylan, Eurick passed in and out of his office door, fretfully tapping his finger on the door jamb as he passed, gnawing on his lip like a person who is refraining from something.
      On the way to Dylan's school they passed a Mexican bakery with sugar skulls in the window. At the school auditorium there were several altars set up collectively by some of the classes, and displays on the history of Halloween and of Dia de los Muertos, and other displays about different archetypal monsters. Among the children there were as many tiny Draculas as anything else, which caused Dylan to scoff bitterly. "They don't know anything about it," he said. "Everything they say about vampires is lies."
      "Fiction," Terry said. "There are lots of vampire stories. They can pretend any story they want. Just like you and your ferret," which had acquired a complex life story and an ambulance to drive through the forest rescuing squirrels and owls alike.
      "But there's lots of lies about vampires," Dylan insisted. "Those kids just don't know the truth."
      The party was meant to take the place of the trick-or-treat, to lessen the children's exposure to danger and sugar: but like most of the children, Dylan considered it but a prelude to the real thing. Terry tagged along as Dylan went through the ritual at door after door, where the residents had gaudily incorporated Halloween into other traditions. It was a glittery, sugary night, and Terry let Dylan do whatever he wanted.
      Dylan was a a moderate child, though, and after a quick canvas of the neighborhood and a surprisingly full bag, he was ready for bed, talking about the decorations and costumes, still complaining about vampire heterodoxy.
      The next day Dylan came to share his candy with Terry. "My mom says that whatever's left at the end of the week she'll throw away."
      Terry accepted some chocolate kisses and the two of them sat down at the base of the back stairs. The sprouts of the winter garden glowed green against the black dirt. "The reason I know the truth about vampires and those kids don't know anything is they don't live with one," Dylan suddenly volunteered, removing his cherry sucker to speak.
      Despite his lack of experience, Terry knew what to say to children when at a loss: "Really?"
      "Really," Dylan twirled the cherry sucker against his mouth, in a gesture that reminded Terry of Eurick's habit of rubbing his lip. He seemed so serious. But children's fantasies were always serious to them.
      "Tell me about it." Another safe thing to say.
      "Vampires are like other people except for the thing about blood. Eurick has to have blood. But he doesn't do anything like the movies. That's just prejudice."
      Terry took a deep breath. "Prejudice?"
      "Yeah. People make up bad ideas about people they don't know. Like if you didn't know Eurick and I told you he was a vampire you'd think he was all gross and mean. But if you know him, you think he's nice. And he doesn't suck people's blood."
      "So what makes him a vampire?"
      "He just is. He eats rabbit blood. Mom's garlicky food would make him sick if he ate it. Silver bugs him, and sometimes the light, but he doesn't mind. And he can break a board with his hand."
      "Oh," Terry said, glad it wasn't his job to set Dylan straight.
      A few days later Terry asked Mary about her religion. If he was going to live here, he ought to have some handle on Mary's secrets. They did seem to be Mary's secrets, though Dylan had talked about Eurick.
      "What religion?" she asked as if genuinely surprised.
      "All those symbols you put everywhere. I think what you aren't saying is that they do mean something to you."
      "Well, yes, they mean something. They mean money in the bank. People pay more than you'd think for an authentic Mary Thiel with all the mystic squiggles on it."
      "None of your customers ever see the windows of your apartment. But that isn't it anyway. You just carry yourself all the time like a person who knows something and isn't telling."
      Mary bit her lip and gazed away for a long moment, letting the vermillion yarn slide from her hand. Finally, she said, "Tell you what. I don't think I feel comfortable talking about it. But. There's a --" she paused, frowning. " -- a book. If you really want me to, I'll get you a copy and you can read it and then you'll know."
      And a few days later, while Terry was getting ready for the laundromat, Mary came downstairs with a slick oversized paperback book for him to read. On the front cover there was a glossy picture of a flying saucer over a twilit horizon and on the back the blurb gushed incoherently about the symbols of ancient mysteries. Terry took the book with him and read the whole tedious thing while his clothes tumbled in the machines.
      There was nothing in it that related in any visible way to Mary and Eurick's behavior. As he placed his folded clothes carefully into his duffel, he caught the eye of a younger man. He was a commanding presence, handsome, and for a moment it looked like he intended to commandeer Terry, but suddenly his interested gaze turned flat and he turned abruptly away. It was the book, Terry thought, making him look like a wingnut. He shrugged. The guy looked a little like a bully anyway, and Terry probably wouldn't have liked him. Though he was good looking.
      He waited to say something to Mary until she asked him to help make mincemeat. This was to be an all-day affair involving several rabbit corpses, apples, and of course an impressive battery of spices. Terry's job was to chop when told to chop, stir when told to stir, and to help lift the heavy racks of jars into and out of the boiling water in the canning pot.
      When the job was done they sat down to one of Mary's more unsettling black teas and chatted aimlessly. The brown jars seemed to fairly glow on their folded towels. Though Terry had never been extra fond of mincemeat, he was satisfied with his contribution to the task.
      "And to think all I would have done otherwise was to go cruising the Marina," he said.
      "I'm glad you could help out," Mary said. "Eurick won't touch garlic."
      "I can understand his position," Terry said, sniffing his fingers.
      "Are you going out tonight?" Mary asked.
      "I don't know. Why?"
      "Just making conversation. Your life is so different from mine, it makes me curious."
      "Speaking of lifestyle curiosity. That book. It was a red herring." Terry studied her over the rim of his cup.
      Mary looked blank for an instant.
      "You need something better to tell people. I'm your friend, so it doesn't matter what you tell me. You could even tell me the truth, I wouldn't mind. But Dylan's a child and he needs something to go on."
      Mary was attending to him.
      "Without facts he's going to come up with strange ideas. Right now his favorite explanation for how you live is that Eurick is a vampire."
      Mary went white.
      "I don't mean it is as bad as that. Kids make up wild theories all the time and it doesn't mean they have problems. It's just that he'll keep coming up with these wild ideas without something solid to take their place."
      Mary was poking her cup as if it were refusing to let her drink from it. "I wonder how he figured that out?" she asked the thick stuff in the bottom of her cup.
      "Oh, who knows. TV. But you might tell him how things really are with you."
      "I've always been so cool about it ever since the crisis. And he was so little then. But it must have been then. It must have been during the crisis," she repeated. "That was the only time I could have slipped. "
      "What crisis?" Terry asked.
      Mary talked as if she were recounting a bad debt. "When Craig died. Craig had been a vampire for months. Eurick was with him at the end and Craig passed it on to him."
      Terry shook his head and started to interrupt, but Mary went on, speaking not so much to him as to the opportunity to finally talk. "I might have lost my cool then. but that's the only time. I'm sure of it. I took Dylan next door and told them some kind of story so I could leave him there when I went back at dawn to see what was left. I was so afraid I'd find Craig aline and Eurick dead. I was so relieved when I found it was Eurick that was alive, but only just. I watched over him the way I had watched over the others when Craig preyed on them. By the time I could see which way it was going I just couldn't bring myself to do what Eurick said."
      Mary ran her fingers through her hair revealing bright white strands Terry hadn't seen before. "He said to kill him if he turned out to get Craig's . . . but I couldn't. I loved him, and by the time it was really certain, he couldn't want me to any more either."
      It slowly penetrated to Terry that Mary really was telling him this story as they sat outside, under the clothesline. "Have you ever tried counseling?" he asked.
      "Counseling for what?" Mary snapped. "For what? I think I'm doing all right with it. You might say I'm obsessive. Or controlling. Damn right I am. I'm a regular compulsive and because I am, Eurick gets to live like a normal person. I keep the house and me and Eurick and Dylan dripping with all these symbols, any kind of mumbo jumbo I can find. And the daylight bulbs. To control the vampire stuff. It's all for him. And because of it he lives a normal life and what's a counselor going to say about that?"
      She seemed to want a reply. Terry couldn't think of anything that wasn't lame. "So --you believe in vampires?" He couldn't believe he was even saying it. If what she was saying was true, why on earth would she tell him about it?
      "For the last eight years I have. Since Craig went out and made himself into one."
      Terry's tea was truly dark, murky with stray leaves unfolding in the bottom.
      Dylan burst in whooping and the conversation halted until he took hold of it and steered it into a long breathless story involving much crashing of vehicles and incredible heroism.
      Terry didn't talk to Mary about it any more for a while. He succeeded, in fact, in forgetting about the whole conversation as events at work took up more of his thoughts. Jack puzzled Terry as much as Mary did. Sometimes his face would close up like it did that first time at the interview and Terry would be wondering what he wasn't doing right. Other times he was far more friendly than strictly necessary. "I just wish he'd try," he thought. "I'd know how to be cool afterwards."
      Come Thanksgiving Jack invited Terry to come to a dinner in a communal house in the Sunset where he had some friends. It was a carefully worded conversation, almost impersonal: "Since you're new in the area. It's a pretty big group. You might find someone you want to know better. At any rate, you're sure to find someone interesting to talk to." He left no room for Terry to get any advanced ideas.
      It just so happened that Mary's Thanksgiving dinner was a noonday one, and the Sunset house's affair was later in the evening, so Terry didn't have to choose. He would just have to pace himself.
      He was nervous all through Mary's dinner and kept sipping at the nice red wine and gulping water. He was only able to keep talking because Dylan kept asking questions about the myth of Thanksgiving as he received it in school. Abruptly Eurick excused himself from the table to do "just a little more work," leaving behind a nearly untouched plate.
      Suddenly all that fluid hit him, after a second mug of Mary's special pungent tea. His bladder screaming for relief, he stumbled out of his chair and lunged for the bathroom door but he hit the other one instead and found himself in Eurick's study. It was a dark, narrow room, lined on one side with heavily shaded windows and on the other with bookshelves and computer equipment. At the far end was a battery of rabbit cages, source of the furry, acid smell.
      And Eurick. Who was kissing one of the rabbits.
      Eurick looked up, horrified. Terry backed into the door. The rabbit's head lolled and the neck pulsed feeble bursts of blood. Eurick's fingers clapped over his mouth and he slipped the rabbit behind him, but Terry saw the bright stain on his lip and a red drop on his firm round chin.
      "Excuse me," Terry said and backed out.
      Mary's wide eyes were searching him and Terry knew she could read on his face just what he had seen. He dived into the other door and relieved the fierce press in his groin. Then he didn't want to go out. He fixated on the expression on Eurick's face, the round eyes, the mouth open behind the fingertips. He'd give anything not to have made him feel like that.
      Finally he had to emerge. It wouldn't be long before Jack would come. Dylan had gotten his mother involved in contrasting European and Native American farming methods. They filled the time till Jack came with stories about the different lifestyles of pre-Columbian America.
      Jack wanted to linger in Mary and Eurick's place, examining all the details. Terry wanted to leave immediately, but he waited until Jack remembered his friends in the Sunset. All the way over in Jack's clean little car Terry kept lashing himself to speak, but the only things he could really think about were what he had just seen and the things that Mary had said. He wanted to figure out some way for Mary and Eurick to be sane, short of accepting the literal truth of Mary's disclosure. The things he could think of to say to Jack were halting and inane. His responses to Jack were croaking and incoherent.
      It was a very big company at Jack's friend's house. Most of the guests were men, and the conversation was lively and far-ranging. But Terry was nearly sated before he came, and his fierce effort to concentrate on the present was disturbed again and again by flashes of what he had seen in Eurick's study. The white fur, the pale face, the wide eyes, the drops of blood would obscure his vision momentarily, to be replaced by the twilit dining room and the candlelit wine.
      One of the hosts insisted that everyone around the table supply something to be thankful for. Some said they were thankful for big things, like advances in human rights or promise of peace. When a man said he was thankful for his health and a couple of others seconded him, it sounded alarmingly poignant, with the plague of AIDS surging around them. Terry said he was grateful just to be back in San Francisco, and received a unanimous cheer, and for a moment he was able to focus on the here and now.
      During dessert Terry studied Jack, who was engaged in dry repartee with the man and woman across the table from him. He decided that the evening was just as Jack had represented it, not a date. Just a friendly gesture. Still, Terry hoped he was looking good.
      They said goodbyes late at night. Terry had successfully kept Eurick in the background for most of the later evening. After Jack had let off another passenger who lived uphill from the Haight, he brought Terry to his door and sat for a moment without moving or speaking. Something was coming, Terry knew. It could be anything from "let's spend the night together" to "I have to fire you."
      "Something is bothering you," Jack said at last.
      Well, yes, Terry thought. "Just nervousness," Terry answered. A safe answer, he thought.
      "I thought maybe so," Jack said, smiling beautifully. Terry drank it up, but he didn't relax. This could be about to get complicated.
      Jack looked at his hands on the wheel. "It is an awkward situation," he said at last. "But if you hang on, things will eventually change for the better."
      That was all. Goodbyes at the broken front gate were simple and amiable.
      The upstairs windows were still blazing away, eerily lighting the yard. Mary didn't cultivate the front. Everything here was left to go its own earnest way. Even in this season, there were a few roses, and the nasturtiums, done blooming, still presented their fat leaves. Reaching rose branches snagged at his clothes with tiny thorns as he approached his door.
      There was no ease in that apartment, overshadowed by Eurick upstairs. He wished he could have gone home with Jack. What could he have done to make it happen? Any complication would have been better than lying here alone thinking about Eurick.
      Anyway it was clear that Mary and EUrick both believed in the vampire story. Which did explain every strange thing they did. But -- despite those strange things, they just didn't seem weird enough for this.
      How on earth could Eurick get enough calories to exist on a diet of rabbit blood? He must be eating something else too.
      He barely slept. His dreams were a confused hash of forgotten scenes from old slow-moving movies, black and white and very quiet. Again and again that gesture: the enveloping arm draping the long cape around the pale yielding girl. He woke pressed against the mattress wishing it wasn't too late to go out and meet somebody.


back to The Donor index
forward to chapter five
back to chapter three
back to The Crystal Egg