My eyes about popped out of my head when I saw MY NAME and “I See Monsters” on a book review website today. Go check it out: http://writingforchildrencenter.com/2009/08/18/i-see-monsters-by-sara-dobie/. (Thanks, Suzanne Lieurance!) Now, I’m revved up for Part VII.
* * *
“I See Monsters”
By Sara Dobie
She laughed. “Cut your vegetables, ass. I can’t believe you’re still on this vegetarian kick.”
“If I gave up you, I can give up meat.” He turned around, and even from my tree, I knew the tension had lessened. Something in this odd human honesty had put them both at ease.
In the tree, my body needed to move. I went from a half slouch to sitting in a cozy nook over a thick tree limb with my spine against the tree trunk. I took a moment to smell the air, tinged with the sweet scent of mortal blood. I could smell the sea, even from a block away. I could hear a party a block down. I could feel the harsh tree bark against my lower back, beneath my jacket, and the dry edges of leaves crushed beneath my boots. But in the depths of all this, there was really only him—Joshua—as he poured oil into a skillet and tossed the crimson peppers in first.
I watched Jen sip red wine. Joshua became more animated after his second glass, and the woman appeared to lose the tension in her upper back and shoulders. On many occasions, she made inane kissing noises at Caleb, and Joshua would watch her with idiot fascination. What was that feeling? I’d felt it once, had I not? Had I not lost my soul over similar fascination? So why could I do nothing, trapped in my tree, to recall even an inkling of that emotion—the emotion of terrible, painful, wonderful love?
Steam billowed up from the pot of boiling water on the stove as Joshua poured pasta inside. I had no concept of time. I felt I had been watching them for moments and for hours, all at once. They watched the pasta boil and laughed together. Joshua opened a second bottle of wine from his fridge and stirred a bubbling sauté with a battered wooden spoon. The basil reminded me of Italy; the tofu, of San Francisco.
The more time passed, the closer they came. Jen tried to sneak a sprig of greenery from the steaming stove, and Joshua grabbed her wrist and pulled her back against his chest. The two of them faced the stove, wrapped in an embrace, and the woman leaned her head back on his shoulder. He kissed the side of her neck, and it all looked so safe and uncomplicated.
Once they filled their plates, they disappeared from me into the living room. I could have found a way to follow, but I did not want to see them. It was not seeing them; it was seeing them happy. I lingered alone in my tree—alone, as always. But Ray Lamontagne sang to me. He told me he still cared for me.
When Jen returned with a half-empty plate, things were different. She threw the plate into the sink, and I heard glass break. Joshua was behind her, empty handed but with open arms.
“I can’t do this again,” she said, but even the neighbors could have heard.
“Why not? Why?”
“Because it’ll be the same shit, different day, Josh!” Her back was to me, but I could read her expression on Joshua’s face. “We’ll sleep together, and it’ll be great, and I’ll wake up tomorrow and be crazy about you all over again. And then I’ll realize that you will never be able to love me as much as I love you. And I will be ruined. Again.” She moved past him to get her coat, and he grabbed her upper arm.
“Please, just stay.”
She pulled away from him, and I was surprised flesh did not tear. “No. No.” She shook her head and pulled fabric over her bare arms. “No. I love you, but I can’t.” She shoved past him and into the night air. Watching her run across the garden and out the back gate, I smelled salt, and I knew she was crying.
Joshua stood by the open front door. Caleb stared up at his master as if to say, “Why did she leave? What did you do? I love her.”
Joshua closed the front door. Without looking into the kitchen—covered in dishes and leftover pasta—he turned off the light. Moments later, light erupted from his bedroom. I shifted in my tree and practically hung from a branch to look inside.
He took off his clothes. He did not expend energy on buttons. He pulled the black dress shirt over his head and crumpled the fabric into a ball in his hands. He stared at it, as if the shirt had done something deserving punishment. Then, he threw the shirt amidst the laundry covering his bedroom floor. Wearing nothing but jeans, he sat down on the edge of his bed, leaned his elbows on his knees, and buried his head in his hands. Motionless.
Joshua was not the boy I had initially suspected. His bare upper torso had nothing boy about it. Joshua was a full-grown adult. Perhaps he was a student at College of Charleston, but he was a graduate student. That first night, I had placed him near the age of my mortal turning—nineteen, perhaps twenty. I had been mistaken. What nineteen-year-old man cooks dinner for the woman he loves? And what nineteen-year-old man knows himself well enough to know he is no good for the woman he loves? No, Joshua was at least twenty-three, maybe even twenty-five. There was no baby fat on his stomach, no acne on his face. His chest was full and developed. His stooped shoulders were stooped because of his height—not because of some not-yet-grown-into youthful confidence. And Jen. The conversations I had been privy to were not of a youthful nature. Those were conversations between adults who had been there, seen that, in the past and who had no time for it anymore.
He lifted his head from his hands and stood up. By then, Caleb was sitting on the floor near the desk, wondering what was wrong with his master. I was an afterthought, and yet, the animal knew. The creature knew I was in my tree, and I sensed it in the tense way those black eyes would momentarily glance outside and twitch around the edges.
Joshua took off his jeans. I had to duck behind the tree trunk and claw into the bark when he moved to the bedroom window and looked up into the black of night sky. Light lit his body from behind, and I wondered if he resembled Nathan in this state of undress, as well. I had never had intercourse as a mortal; I had never seen Nathan without formal attire. I had been nineteen and unmarried in the early 1920s; it would have been a scandal in Charleston high society. It meant I had only had sex long after my mortal life, and that had only been with other vampires. I had never thought to have sex with a human. I suspected it would give me away. The power to toss a full-grown mortal man would not go overlooked in the darkness of the boudoir. I would have explaining to do. I would have to kill said mortal, and it just seemed like too much work, when it was just as simple to kill a homeless person on the street and be just as satisfied.
It was something else—not just the suspicion. I was afraid of the warmth. The warmth of human blood was one thing, because when I felt that warmth, I knew the warmth would soon be absent. The mortal would soon be dead. The same goes for touching human skin, which I often craved as much as my next meal. There, too, though—if I was close enough to touch a mortal man’s chest or balmy neck, I was close to killing him. The warmth would again be gone. Outside of these circumstances, I feared warmth. It was why I had never slept with a mortal. I feared the warmth would awaken some part of me that had long been dead—the part of me that mourned the loss of my mortal life and despised that of an immortal. I would recall the touch of my mother when she used to braid my long, black hair. I would recall my father and the nights I would fall asleep in his lap as he read long segments of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Though I hated myself for it, I feared I would even miss the remembered heat of Nathan when he had once helped me off a horse with the touch of his hand.
So why did I not fear Joshua? He stood but four feet from my hand. I felt the heat from his bare skin like the sweltering weather I recalled from long gone summer days. Yet, I did not fear his warmth. Instead, I wanted to wrap myself in it and never wake up. He turned away from the window. He did not bother to clean the kitchen or even clean himself. He turned off the bedroom light, and I listened as the bed shifted beneath his weight. Through the darkness, I could make sense of his outline. I could see him roll onto his side, facing my tree. With an open palm, he reached for a pillow and shoved the side of his head into white, down depths. He pulled another pillow to him and wrapped long arms at each pillow end. There was an audible sigh, and I jumped from my tree onto the edge of his windowsill. My boots landed silently on thick, antique wood, and my long fingers latched onto the glass like suction cups. I wanted to be in his bed.
I fell when Caleb appeared below me, barking as if to say, “I know what you are. You will not hurt Joshua. I won’t let you.” I landed in the bushes below, and I brushed the leaves free of my clothing just as I heard Joshua yell, “Caleb!”
I made my way through the front yard and entered East Bay Street. I glanced over my shoulder, and I felt Joshua standing in his window again. He was looking in my direction, but there was no way for him to tell I had come from his yard. I could have been walking up East Bay, all the way from the Battery. There was just no way to tell.
So why, even as I continued up the block, crossing Broad, could I still feel a singular emotion from the house back on Church? Why could I still tell that Joshua had been momentarily afraid of something in the night, and that perhaps, the something had been me?
* * *
PS: Thursday, I’ll take a break from “I See Monsters” to welcome author and guest blogger, Anjuelle Floyd (http://anjuellefloyd.com). She’ll be discussing the history and the ART of the short story. Let’s hope I pass her test!