Copyright © 2014 by Michael Litzky
Charity’s boss always looked like he had a headache. A shrimp-thin white man with a red moustache, face still showing acne scars, he looked with watery green eyes above and to the left of her ear and said, “Your performance is slipping, Charity.”
A few months ago, she would have wilted at those words. Now her first thought was, if he fires me, I won’t have to worry about Tommy alone all day. Though no longer paralyzed by daylight, he seemed content to sleep away the day on the little cot she’d set up for him, holding the soft blanket from Goodwill with the red fire engines. But she still hadn’t made any effort to find his parents and what if he decided to wander out into daylight and —
“Do I have your attention, Charity? I’d like to know you care about how your actions affect the firm.” Mr. Dilworth shifted his gaze to his steepled fingers, perhaps lingering on her chest for a moment on the way.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Dilworth,” she said, with no trace of pleading. “I’ll get focused again. My work will be back up to snuff. You won’t have to tell me twice.” Dilworth was surprised into a momentary frown directly at her face. His finishing line, after raking her across the coals multiple times, was supposed to be “I know you won’t make me tell you twice.”
Irritated, he waved his right fingers, go back to your cubicle. “I look forward to improved output from you very shortly, Charity,” he called after her, just loud enough for everyone to hear. Without looking back, Charity sang out, “You’ll have it, Mr. Dilworth.” Thrilled at her daring, she could almost see his mouth working as he looked back down to his papers.
All she could think about was the coming weekend. Tommy didn’t pester but he had asked several times, just checking in, “When c’n I fwy, Aunt Chatty?” It didn’t seem to occur to him that he could just go do it. She had finally promised him, “This weekend, my little man.” Now she was racking her brains to think of a place to take him.
Thinking of the other vampires who wandered like ghosts through her house at night, she had an idea which pleased her so that she trilled a warble of delight. Teddi in the next cubicle stuck her easy-going blonde head over the wall and said, “Share?”
“Just something I’m proud of myself for thinking of,” Charity blushed.
“Rad. Wanna go to lunch in a few?”
People had seldom asked her to join them for lunch and she’d always said no so they’d stopped asking. But now, although she worried that she would say something completely inane, or that Teddi would turn out to be gay and try to pick her up, or that tsunamis of scalding lava would blast from the ground and sizzle her to ash, she managed what sounded like a simple and happy, “Why not?”
Sally’s apartment showed almost no trace that Steve, her old exercise buddy, had lived there for half a year. A frugal, meticulously neat and deeply spiritual man, he had slept on her futon, eaten cross-legged on the floor at her low table and complemented her sparse wall art only with a set of green prayer flags with images of the goddess.
He kissed Sally’s cheek and shook Lavinia’s hand. In defiance of stereotypes, he was straight, pumped weights as a meditation and spent hours a week working with children at the homeless shelter where his girlfriend Melody was the director. Sally would have dated Steve if he’d ever been available, but he’d always been head over heels in love with Melody. If she’d been capable of it before Lavinia, she might have taken the greater risk of becoming his friend.
Now she grinned shyly at him, holding Lavinia’s hand. He looked at the two of them together and said, “Love rides well on you, Sally. You look almost human.” He might never have seen me smile before, she realized.
“Something wrong with ‘almost human?’” Lavinia asked acidly. Without waiting for an answer, she motioned, “C’mon, babe,” and walked into the bedroom.
Steve spread his hands and looked quizzically at Sally. Sally wanted to apologize but she knew Lavinia would hear and would come bustling back if she tried to explain in a way Lavinia didn’t like. “We, uh, just have to get my passport from my files,” she said uncomfortably, and hurried after Lavinia, fuming.
Lavinia was looking at the futon and smiling. She had been in Sally’s apartment only once, on that day six months ago now when they had quit their dead-end jobs (Sally as a bank teller and Lavinia as a secretary at a talent agency), grabbed things from their apartments and left to travel together. Her first comment back then, in Sally’s nearly empty main room, had been “Jeez, kid, you don’t believe in furniture?”
“I like to live simply.” Sally usually liked appearing exotically Chinese to new lovers but suddenly she’d felt defensive.
Lavinia had nodded at the framed print of an enormous wave breaking. “Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai,” she’d said, casually. Sally had been impressed, as Lavinia of course intended. “Japanese artist,” Lavinia had added, cocking an eyebrow.
“A Chinese person can like Japanese art too!”
“Hey, you can have a kasha knish on your wall, for all of me.” Eyes mischievous and teasing, Lavinia had walked into Sally’s simple bedroom and they’d wound up having some pretty hot sex on that futon, Sally more turned on than ever to have Lavinia making her do things in her own bed. Remembering, Sally couldn’t be mad at Lavinia. My God, we’re leaving the country together soon. It didn’t seem real. Going to the country that had produced Wagner and Hitler and, perhaps, the vampire plague.
The passport was in the closet, buried deep in the single cardboard box which constituted Sally’s “files.” “Kay, let’s go get mine,” Lavinia said briskly. “Say goodbye to Mr. Sensitive out there.”
“Look, what did he even say?” Sally whispered fiercely. “You are a vampire, even if you’re really the goddess personified.”
“It’s not that, kid, not that.” Lavinia refused to whisper and Sally knew Steve was hearing her. “It just pisses me off when straight men treat me like I’m ‘just as good as them.’ Underneath that ‘well heaven bless your love,’ he’s really tweaked with himself for how enlightened he is, treating a dyke couple just the same as if.”
“I didn’t get that at all,” Sally whispered. Then, louder, she said deliberately, “I don’t agree with you.”
“That’s fine. You can have your opinion. I’m going down to our home. Come whenever you’re ready.” She ambled out with elaborate casualness, calling “Bye now, Steve.”
Sally, face bright red, could barely face Steve. He took both of her hands, looking humiliated but determined, and said, “I hope it’s okay for me to say that you’ve never looked so happy. Even right at this minute, you look happier than I’ve ever seen you.”
Sally realized Lavinia had been right about his secret thoughts. She just hadn’t seen that he was also aware of them and trying with all his heart to genuinely be gender blind. On impulse, she hugged him. “Thanks for taking such good care of my place and … everything.”
She rode beside Lavinia in silence to the other side of town. As they approached Lavinia’s apartment building, she forced herself to try to explain to Lavinia why she was bothered. Lavinia answered in dry monosyllables which left Sally fuming again.
They turned onto Main Street and there was the stylish 1930s building which had been Lavinia’s home until she left it for Sally. I’m pissed, Sally realized, but I’m scared too. I really want to ask her if she’s tired of being human, of dealing with human things. She suddenly missed her sister; pain though she’d been, Sally had always known exactly where she stood with her. She hoped wherever KerriAnne was now, if there was anything beyond this life, that she really was as happy as in that vision last night. She looked like she’d pulled off something that really pleased her.
Lavinia touched the opener and the gate across the building’s garage wheezed and clanked out of the way. Sally’s memories brushed across their first night, when Lavinia had opened that gate and raced the old camper up the ramp and into the throng of vampires.
Lavinia had always been unreasonable about a few things; was it really any different today? She glared over at the deliberately bland face, then faced forward and hunched into herself as Lavinia drove calmly down the ramp.
As the camper passed through the gate, Lavinia was suddenly slammed against the driver’s seat so hard her breath puffed out of her body. Her foot struggled to reach the brake and was forced back.
Sally’s shocked head whipped around. Lavinia was being repelled by the house magic! But why now? She’d had no problem coming into Sally’s apartment just a half hour ago!
Remembering Lavinia’s nose breaking and flesh splitting as she was thrust against the rear door of the camper by that magic, remembering the vampire whose head had caved in when she pushed him against the door of Fantasy Life, Sally lunged toward the steering wheel.
For an endless moment, Lavinia’s body shook on the verge of squishing into jelly as the camper continued relentlessly forward into the building which was no longer home to her.
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