After a moment’s hesitation I tapped on the sickroom door. I knew exactly what would happen when I went in; which words would be chosen to pass between us; how I would react, if at all. For, to tell the truth, all my reactions and passion had gradually burnt themselves out as I thought over my friend’s betrayal of my sanity to the nurse; it had passed through my mind so many times since yesterday that now I felt quite resigned to my fate. That’s not to say that it didn’t hurt, it didn’t astound me every time I re-lived the experience. But, after nearly a full night’s sleep, and several hours spent in silent deliberation of life and justice – like Descartes round his boiler – I found I could only accept the fact that no-one would believe me about Thomas. It was a little unfair of me to expect them to take me at my word, perhaps. Anyway, I should have kept my big mouth shut in the first place, and then none of this would have happened. Now I was paying the penalty for my lack of self-control.
Realising suddenly that the nurse was shouting “come in!” to me, I did so. The sterility of the room blinded me for a moment, until I made out the stocky figure of the nurse sorting through some racks in the far corner. When she saw me she stood up hastily, straightening her already straight uniform – as if I were some obscure form of royalty or tax-collector. I half-expected her to bow next or touch her forelock in deference to my superior status… needless to say, she didn’t. Beneath the show she made of clearing her throat I caught the definite gleam of nervousness in her countenance.
“Ah, Alison,” she said cheerfully, “sit down.”
I sat on the bed. I knew exactly what the nurse would say; I just wanted to get it over with.
“I’ll just dress this arm,” she told me. I held out my arm obediently, while she undid the bandages slowly. “How is it? Not too bad? You were lucky. Fancy falling asleep like that.” I winced as she applied cream, and gritted my teeth. I knew what was coming next. “Have you seen your Doctor yet? Are you sleeping any better?”
“No,” I answered mechanically. The vampire was still around, after all, though I didn’t say that. There was no point.
“Well, Alison.” There was a pause as the nurse began to bandage my arm up again, and I knew that she was planning what she would say in her mind. I pitied her task. It wasn’t an easy one. “You know this can’t go on. You need…. some kind of attention. Something – to help you sleep. To pacify your… your anxiety.”
“I’m not anxious,” I put in sadistically.
The nurse concentrated on fastening the bandage with safety pins.
“Well - you need to… put your mind at rest. I’ve had reports of vampires and all sorts you’re imagining. Now, you can’t tell me your mind’s at rest, can you?”
I looked down at my boots. This could have been the opening for a lengthy and complex argument – vampires are real, and what’s more, I’ve seen one! But there was no point. I shook my head, acknowledging that yes, my mind was disturbed.
“I want you to see your Doctor, Alison. I’ve had a word with her and she agrees that you ought to see… another… special Doctor.”
“Yes.” The nurse turned away and began clearing up the soiled dressing. I fancied that she was trying to hide her plump, slightly red face from my sensitive eyes. “But she says to go and see her first. I’ve made an appointment for this afternoon for you.”
“You think I’m mad, don’t you?” It was a token of defiance which had to be made, although I felt nothing. My passion was exhausted.
“Alison, psychiatrists deal with very few completely insane people. Everyone, in my opinion, needs their own personal psychiatrist to help them survive in life.”
I looked up, alarmed. I had never known the nurse to speak like this before. Perhaps her real ambition was to become a Doctor of Philosophy. She was clearly better suited to that vocation than to that of a plain old college nurse. She put things back in their correct racks, silently. All her joviality and garrulousness had vanished. I shivered. This was serious after all.
“So you’ll go to see her at three fifteen this afternoon, then? Don’t forget,” she told me, going over to the sink to wash her hands. “It’ll be alright. You’ll be able to talk to her.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to talk to anyone,” I said miserably, although I expected all this. I felt like a condemned prisoner thrown into a bare cell with bars on the window and chains around my ankles.
“Well then, you’ll be able to talk to the psychiatrist. They’re trained to help you sort things out. You’ll be able to talk to him.”
The burden felt even heavier. Boulders around my ankles perhaps. The psychiatrist would certify me criminally insane and I would be locked up in some asylum, away from Thomas for ever.
“I doubt it,” I muttered, and left.
* * * *
I quickened my step as I caught sight of Cassandra in the corridor. I only wanted to get home now, I didn’t want any contact with anyone. Least of all Cassandra, who had virtually declared me insane publicly. Keeping my eyes fastened on the ground in front of me, I hurried towards the entrance doors, ignoring her cries of “Alison! Alison, please!” which pursued me like Furies, hot and vengeful on my trail. As I reached out my hand, feeling the glass of the door cool and refreshing against my fingertips, Cassandra grasped my arm and brought me to a standstill. I turned round slowly. Anger and injustice still consumed me, licking tongues of flame, but also a welcome numbness and resignation. Like Keats, my extremities of passion had quite burnt themselves out. A recognition of the inevitable, which I saw and nodded wisely, Cassandra stood there, her delicate cobweb ear-rings and many bangles and chains tinkling gently like wind-chimes. Her long black dress swallowed her into the shadows, out of which her white face peered, worried and desperate. Desperate for what? Her lipstick was a bright crimson. So much like blood that I thought she must be teasing me, cruelly, on purpose. Behind Cassandra, Joseph lurked. He appeared downright miserable. He studied some posters on the wall meticulously, pretending that he was not really there…..and neither was I there; this whole thing was not here, not static, not tangible; it existed only in my own imagination… a bit like Thomas really. I glared at Cassandra fiercely.
“Alison, I... ” Like a film-script, her voice trailed away and her arms dropped to her side. Of course I remembered her training as an actress. No wonder she got such high marks. “I’m sorry,” she continued, running her blacktopped fingers through her mane of unruly hair. “I’m sorry you… feel so bad about this. I mean – I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you one single bit. But I wish you’d give us a chance. We… we were worried about you. You have been acting strange. You must see that.”
I scowled splendidly, the Byronic touch suiting the occasion admirably. When I thought of Thomas, the scowl deepened without any help from me.
“I’m sorry, I don’t see that at all.”
“Oh, look, don’t say that. Don’t pretend,” Cassandra said bitterly, beginning to get angry. Her ear-rings jangled louder behind her words. “How many normal people do you know who go around robbing blood and then pretending to faint? Who insist that they’ve got a vampire living at their house and, what’s more, that they’ve seen him change into a bat and fly off into the sunset? Who walks around like a zombie, falling into Bunsen burners and setting themselves on fire? Does that sound like normal behaviour to you, Alison? Does it?”
Her voice had risen almost to a shriek and several curious heads turned, including Joseph’s. He began to walk towards me but then changed his mind and walked away. I examined the toe of my boot, mulling over Cassandra’s words. So she thought I wasn’t normal, eh?
“So I’m not normal, am I? And you are, I suppose?”
Cassandra sighed, frustrated. She shook her head, the flimsy silver filigree of her ear-rings swinging and bobbing frantically.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that. You know what I mean. I – we think that you need… something. Some help. You’re not mad. Don’t talk soft.”
I kicked at the edge of the door gently, an awful doubt growing over my mind like fungus. Cassandra’s point of view suddenly seemed so reasonable.. so… admirable. She may not believe me but she cared. My sanity did not seem to be in question, after all. But she still didn’t believe me. I glanced at her, expressionless, my theatrical glower fading away like the vampire with the sun. Kicking open the entrance door decisively I pushed my way through it.
“Where are you going?” she called after me.
I turned just before the door swung shut and answered in a voice of distance and hostility.
“I’m going to see the doctor,” I said, without a smile or grimace. Cassandra looked such a frail, helpless film star behind the glass of those doors, a Lauren Bacall in her solitude and distance from me – or maybe, more suitably, a female Childe Harold under the stars. Turning my back on her, I broke into a swift jog. It began to rain, heavy, vicious drops which shattered upon the pavement like Kamikaze planes. They reminded me of something I had read in a book about vampires; that they were created out of self-generating fear which led to a death-wish on the part of the victim. Then I remembered that those were mythical vampires… not like Thomas… he was a real vampire, not living, but quite definitely not dead.
* * * *
“I’ve been to see the doctor.”
Thomas looked up quickly; his dark eyes seemed to try and meet mine, then change their mind; they drifted off into a corner, unfocused.
“Yes.” I stroked Bosworth absently, who was curled up in my lap, purring loudly. As I tickled his orange throat, he looked up at me, blinking his emerald orbs lazily. I shifted under his weight. The damned cat was almost as heavy as Thomas had been the other night. “Doctor James.” I smiled as I thought of the young woman with a neat brown bob framing her round face, sitting importantly behind her desk, clasping her hands together and telling me in an extremely patronising and officious tone that she would advise me to see a psychiatrist concerning your… ah… problems. I smirked to myself as I remembered the shocked look on her face when I told her – in graphic detail - how I had set fire to my arm. My goodness, I hadn’t realised quite how insane I really was! I couldn’t help it, how was I supposed to take this seriously?
“She told me to see a psychiatrist. A certain Dr. Lloyd-Jones.”
Thomas looked up again, this time catching my eye. His expression was one of arrogance and sulkiness.
“Oh, you know, Thomas, I told you last night.”
I thought; Christ, not all this again.
“Yes, but – you’ll sleep alright now, won’t you? If I don’t keep you awake? You won’t be tired anymore?”
I sighed. He sounded like a tiresome child continually wanting reassurance, which I felt I couldn’t give.
“That’s all very well. I may not be tired anymore, but I’m still imagining vampires, aren’t I?”
“Don’t joke about it.”
“I can’t take it seriously.”
“But you must!” Thomas stood up and launched into his usual pacing.
I looked at the carpet. I couldn’t yet make out any footpath worn into the orange and brown pile; but it was so dark. The main light was switched off for the sake of the vampire’s eyes; only the street lamp winked knowingly through the window from outside. The night itself was so silent that I was sure I could hear the shrieking of tiny carpet crawlers as they were squashed beneath Thomas’s shiny black shoes.
“It is serious, you don’t seem to realise – it’s very serious! Think – if people found out about me – imagine what they would do to me.”
I thought. This seemed extraordinarily selfish, in the circumstances.
“Yes. To me, if they found out! If you told them and they caught me… ” He paced faster, distraught, his cloak billowing out behind him, torn from the shadows. A black rag flung out from the edge of a hurricane, the serpent cast out of Paradise...
“They would put me in a cage, they would chain me up… they would never let me out… they would dissolve me in the sunlight, decompose me and examine the bits… you mustn’t tell them anything, don’t even mention me… you must promise… ”
I shrugged. I couldn’t really see what the fuss was about.
“Alright, calm down. I won’t mention you, don’t worry.”
“But you might forget! You mustn’t trust them! Don’t tell… this Doctor… anything! Don’t tell him anything!”
“Look, I won’t say a word.” I leant back in my chair, feeling confused and somehow cheated. Wasn’t I the one who should be distressed? Alarmed? Pacing? Didn’t I deserve some compassion? “Sit down, Thomas, you’re making me nervous, pacing around.”
Obediently Thomas sat. He bit his fingernails instead.
“Look, I think I’m the one who should be upset,” I said, after a while. I could hear the crunching of Thomas’s nails beneath his teeth; he was careful not to catch them with his fangs, which would have sliced effortlessly through both skin and bone, probably severing his entire fingertip.
“Think of what’s happening to me. I’m going insane, according to… them.”
“Yes, well, you’re not, are you?” Thomas examined his beautifully pointed fingernails carefully. “I am real, aren’t I?”
“Well, I know, but no-one else does. That’s no comfort.”
“It should be. It proves that you’re not mad, whatever they may say.”
Bosworth stood up, jumped off my knee, and, stretching, went to see if there was any food left in his bowl. I watched him go. The thought of the asylum still intimidated me.
“What if they… lock me up?”
”I’ll come and rescue you.”
This idea appealed to the anachronistic part of my nature so much that I smiled, relieved. I could safely stow that fear away, now. I stood up and yawned.
“I don’t know what you’re getting so worried about anyway,” I told my friend, staring abstractedly at Chatterton as I spoke. “You know I wouldn’t get you into any trouble.”
“No… I know you wouldn’t. Not intentionally, anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?”“Oh it’s bound to slip out sooner or later.” Thomas sighed and shrugged. “They’re devious people… psychiatrists. They’ll trick you and… oh, I just don’t trust them.” He looked up, his eyes were like the inside of a coffee liquor. “They’re funny people, these psychiatrists!”
Now go to CHAPTER SIX