An unexpected wave of high pressure came our way on Monday and I found myself stepping out quite merrily towards my previously dreaded destination, the psychiatric clinic. I even declined to take the bus into Sale; the warm air filled my nostrils and I smiled at a scruffy looking dog as it trotted past. The dog gave me a bewildered glance and hurried on.
It was tragic that Thomas could never experience walking in the sunshine, feeling the warm breath of air upon his upturned face, seeing the brightness dappling the pavement and dancing over the hedges like diamonds. The Nocturnal World was all very well and beautiful but there was something to be said for the lucid dazzle of a clear spring day.
I turned right, up Washway Road, turning my back rebelliously on the college, which gazed back indifferently. Although I felt much better now, I found that I could not face college today, maybe tomorrow. Thomas had become a strict, watchful mother over me that weekend. He had allowed me to stay up all night with him, only because I could sleep during the next day, so that I became almost a vampire myself. But, at least, I was managing to sleep and I felt much refreshed because of that. I knew that Thomas acted out of fear that I would ‘let something slip’ to the psychiatrist about my friendly vampire, rather than concern for my well-being. My previous belief that selfishness was a purely human vice was thus destroyed; obviously this state of mind filtered through to the vampire world. And this, despite all my assurances, I would guard my mouth with my life.
Of course, part of the reason for my not going to college today, was my desire to avoid Cassandra and Joseph, particularly Cassandra. Not that I continued to feel hatred, anger, or even hostility towards either one of them; but I just wanted to stay away from them.
As I approached the sombre bricked front of the psychiatric clinic, I tried to imagine what the psychiatrist would look like. An old, friendly fellow, with a white goatee beard and tiny round spectacles, I decided. Not forgetting the casual, crumpled suit and heavy German accent. He would show me pictures of ink splodges in the shape of two women dancing and demons with knives and ask me what I thought of when I looked at them. He would ask me if I envied my mother or would like to kill my father. I, of course, would answer; I would definitely like to kill my father. I would help the psychiatrist to reach a diagnosis of my case, quickly and efficiently. Make it schizophrenia… and perhaps a bit of paranoia thrown in. Like my visits to the doctor and the college nurse before her, I knew what would happen. It was already written and performed in my head. All that remained to be done now was for me to go through with this farcical ritual and to get it over and done with. I passed quickly through the ivy-covered gateposts, through the ornate porch and into the clinic.
The receptionist was an artificial, gaudy bubble, not much older than myself, who sat prettily behind her desk with her legs crossed and a demure smile on her painted face. She smiled patronizingly at me and repeated my name, running a coral pink nail down the list in front of her. She had a habit of shaking her head like a horse, tossing her mane of thick, strawberry blond hair back, so that it hung down her back like a tail. I watched her fascinated, unable to take my eyes off her; she was like a cartoon character from a film, exaggerated and yet, totally believable, I wondered if she was a reincarnation of some sort of prized show stallion. I could just imagine her with ribbons in her hair, trotting back and forth, shimmying her withers. She coughed, shortly and I quickly tried not to stare anymore. I knew that she thought I was mentally disturbed, the way she told me silkily, “don’t worry, he won’t be long.” Several times, I caught her gazing curiously at me, shaking her blond head every now and again. When she stood up and trotted across the room to Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s door, her stilettos clicking jauntily on the floor and her entire body bobbing up and down, I had to restrain myself from shouting out “gee up!” After knocking on the doctors’ door and giving him some papers, she reappeared and told me to enter. As I passed her, she shook her mane back triumphantly and left, shutting the door behind her.
I didn’t notice the doctor at first. My attention was taken by a grotesque grey lump of what appeared to be well-masticated chewing gum floating in a glass tank of liquid upon the desk in front of me. I went closer to examine the object, which I recognised, eventually as a brain. I wondered if it had belonged to one of the clinics’ less successful patients.
“A beautiful example of the greatest mystery of modern man, don’t you think?”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones stood behind the desk leaning across it, an inquisitive, bright grin on his face. A superbly manicured moustache curled above his elastic lips and his eyes danced beneath fine, delicately arched eyebrows. His face was thin and long, with incredibly high and prominent cheekbones. I stared, my dreams shattering. He spoke in a manner that was both excessively articulate and cultured. His hair was cut neatly across his forehead, deep ebony, one couldn’t possibly mistake for white or even grey. I searched the top of the desk quickly with my eyes for small, round spectacles; my gaze roved over stacks of paper, pens, books, ornaments and bits and bobs… I stared mutely at the doctor. I could not see how he could possibly call himself a psychiatrist. A hairdresser maybe, or a used car salesman… but never a psychiatrist.
“I’m Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I’m very pleased to meet you. Would you like a barley-sugar?”
I shook my head, taking instead the proffered white hand. Examining it, I noticed how similar to Thomas’s it was; long, fine fingers tapering to a point, smooth skin and a narrow wrist… but of course, this flesh was so much warmer. Psychiatrists can’t be vampires anyway… and vampires cannot possibly be psychiatrists. I sank down into the soft chair the doctor indicated as he consulted his notes.
“Ah… ah… hmmm… Alison… Alison Smith, is that your name?”
“Yes, it is actually.”
The doctor frowned at me, still smiling wildly.
“One can never tell with these ‘Smiths’, you know. So often the name is used simply for effect.”
I shrugged, looking around for the cards with ink splodges on them. I thought that this was a very peculiar line of questioning. I had serious doubts as to the authenticity of this chap’s Doctorate of Psychiatry or whatever it was. I wished that, whoever he was, this doctor would get to the point and stop going on about my name.
The doctor walked around to the front of the desk, popping a barley sugar into his mouth and stuffing his hands jauntily into the pockets of his slightly baggy, yet immaculate suit. Leaning casually on the desk, it struck me how much he resembled Humphrey Bogart, with his red handkerchief sticking out of his top pocket, his shiny, pointed black shoes and, I noticed, a grey trilby hat hanging on the hat stand behind the door. Next to it was a grey, wing collared raincoat, he would have made an ideal private detective.
“Like my brain?” he asked suddenly, indicating the tank.
“It’s fascinating,” I said, trying not to sound sarcastic. I did find it fascinating… though, at the same time, disgusting and obscene.
“You’ve burnt your arm,” he said, reading a paper on his desk.
“I couldn’t decide whether or not this was a question. While I was still debating, the doctor offered me another tit-bit of information.
“You fell asleep.”
“Yes,” I said. There was a rather pregnant pause. I knew that I was supposed to say something else. So I added, “pretty silly.”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones snorted in delight.
“Pretty silly,” he repeated deliberately and giggled. There was another pause. I could hear the doctor sucking ruthlessly on his barley sugar. He cleared his throat musically, “why did you fall asleep?”
“I was tired,” I answered, irritated. Wasn’t it obvious?
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
“I don’t know,” I snapped, annoyed. So this was what a psychiatrist was trained all those years for, he just had to ask ‘why?’ when you had given your answer. The idea was, presumably, to wear the victim – or patient – down to such a state that he would fit any label the psychiatric profession then chose to stick on him, be it ‘psychotic’ or ‘psychopathic’. Meanwhile, Dr. Lloyd-Jones continued to grin obscenely at me and suck his barley sugar noisily. He shut his eyes during this operation as if in silent ecstasy.
Upon opening his eyes, he asked “And are you sleeping now?”
“Yes,” I said at once.
“Ah,” he said meaningfully.
I wondered if my doctor had mentioned my ‘imaging vampires’ to the psychiatrist. I hoped desperately that she hadn’t, I didn’t want him to know… anything. I was very aware of my promise to Thomas.
“Ah well, you see,” said the doctor, chuckling beneath his breath, “I was led to believe that you … are… being haunted.”
I shifted uncomfortably.
”What?” I stammered, accompanying it with a dry giggle.”
“Well, are you?”
For a moment I was speechless. Then I recovered myself.
“I’ve never seen a ghost.”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones stared at me, beaming. He held his hands on his hips as if he were trying – and successfully – to create a complete parody of himself.
“What about… a vampire?” he suggested indecently, leaning across the desk towards me, his meticulous eyebrows raised a fraction, the barley-sugar bulging out of his mouth, malignant and obscene. I stared back aggressively; I would have to deny this and quickly, a barefaced lie. Gripping the arms of the chair until my knuckles turned as white as the doctor’s, I sat slowly upright, trying to appear intimidating and indignant.
“I dreamt the other night about a vampire but I’ve never seen one. I forced a high-pitched laugh from my dry throat, “What do you think I am? I don’t know any vampires.” I looked away, thinking that perhaps the psychiatrist would think that I was arguing too much. “Anyway, you can’t be haunted by a vampire, silly,” I muttered.
The doctor sat down behind his desk in his executive leather swivel chair and crossed one leg over the other.
“Why not? They’re Undead, aren’t they?”
“I dunno,” I shrugged, “you tell me, you’re obviously the expert. Have you ever been pursued by one?” I demanded aggressively.
“No… but I wouldn’t mind,” he replied, studying the polished toe of his shoe carefully. “They sound fascinating creatures, I would love to meet one.”
A shiver crept over my body and I kept my mouth firmly shut. No more would be said on this subject; from now on the vampire subject was definitely taboo! Now I knew why Thomas was so suspicious of psychiatric tactics – wily would be an appalling understatement. I could feel Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s merry, watchful gaze fixed upon me; I grabbed at a photo that stood on top of his desk, hoping to divert his attention.
“This your family?” I stammered, studying the tall, dark-haired woman with a baby in her arms. The doctor nodded and I was amazed, the woman was incredibly beautiful, tall, slim and delicately but strikingly featured. Now, this really was the Lauren Bacall look that Cassandra lusted after. What on earth was it that drew this enigmatic woman to an irritating madman like Dr. Lloyd-Jones? It had to be money, it was a question that I longed to ask but, astoundingly, I found politeness restraining me.
“Your wife is very beautiful.” I said at last.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones giggled predictably and turned in his chair, folding his hands neatly under his chin.
“I find myself drawn to originals,” he told me, with a small, happy sigh.
I wondered what he meant by that, was it a compliment to his wife, or an insult? Perhaps they didn’t get on at all, then. Perhaps they hated each other; perhaps she bullied and practised witchcraft on him when he came home at night. This thought gave me some comfort and I smiled gently to myself. Such a beautiful and clearly intelligent woman could not possibly be a passive blob in the hands of some mad doctor husband. The doctor’s remark began to irritate me as I thought back over it. ‘Originals’, I disliked such pretentious comments anyway, which left you wondering what the hell they meant. I put the photo back.
“Mind you, that’s not true with my son,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones continued pensively. “He’s six now and certainly an original… but I’m not drawn to him. No, not at all.”
I thought this over. The bizarre and intimate nature of this discussion appealed to me.
“Oh, I like him,” the doctor twirled in his chair, his pointed shoe trailing along the carpet in front of him. “I like him alright but he’s… quite a handful sometimes. Mischievous, headstrong.”
“Is he evil?”
The doctor paused and pirouetted.
“Oh yes, oh, yes definitely. He’s called Newton, I hoped to make a famous research scientist of him… I thought that the name may give him some… encouragement… and inspiration but he’s not interested. He collects insects, caterpillars… beetles, butterflies… that type of thing.”
“Well alive, but then he kills them, he impales them. He has plenty of sharp instruments.” The doctor sighed his eyes misty, a grin still fixed rigidly upon his face as if it were painted there. “The child has no respect for life in any form.”
“He sounds very evil,” I said, concerned. No wonder his father was so strange then, one must influence the other. “Why does he have this obsession with death, do you think?”
“I don’t think, I know,” he said. “Oh yes, I know alright.” There was a long silence, in which he gazed vacantly at a huge print of Fuseli’s The Nightmare, which hung on the wall. Then he coughed and chuckled quietly. “It’s my wife, you see, they spend a lot of time together. She has an unhealthy influence on the boy. Our house is filled with heads of various beasts on all the walls… and heavy tanks house masterpieces of wildlife scenes.… birds, reptiles, insects and fish… all stuffed, all dead.”
I sat back, repelled yet fascinated.
“Your wife shares this obsession then,” I said slowly.
The doctor sighed, smiling.
“I’m afraid so.”
“And do you?”
The doctor neatly avoided this question.
“I don’t know her at all,” he told me gently. “My own wife and I don’t really know her at all. I don’t know my son either, I feel like they’re all complete strangers to me.”
I leant forward, my elbows on the desk.”
“And you’d like to feel… you had more control over them?”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones grinned, leaping to his feet.
“That’s it exactly!”
There was a long silence while the doctor gazed out of the window at the traffic roaring past and I watched him carefully. His tall, lean figure reminded me suddenly of Thomas. Quickly I shut the vampire out of my mind and concentrated on the problems of the Lloyd-Jones family. A picture of their house came into my mind; an ornate, massive white building, expensive looking gold curtain rails, deep crimson carpets, long flights of curving steps sweeping gracefully into the distance. Beautiful glass tanks here and there, housing a stoat, a ferret, a squirrel… rows of dead beetles and flies encrusting the walls, impaled to the plaster by sharp pins, instruments of death… grotesque heads of leopards and bison protruding from above the picture rail, their eyes staring like the Lady of Shallot’s when the curse comes upon her; glassy, unseeing, dead. This silent mausoleum would encase the living within the dead, who would see nothing. I remembered my previous question.
“Dr. Lloyd-Jones,” I asked, “do you have a similar obsession with death, like your wife and your son? Do you enjoy being surrounded by… death?”
Another heavy silence fell and the doctor stood motionless, his back to me with his hands clasped behind him. I shifted in my bouncy chair and brushed some stray wisps of hair out of my eyes. It really was stuffy in here, like… some kind of museum. I debated whether or not to ask Dr. Lloyd-Jones to open a window but decided against it; somehow I felt that the question would be wasted on such a state of mind as his. I hoped that I hadn’t said anything that may have upset him; I usually regretted words spoken on impulse afterwards. So, I was very much relieved when he turned round, to find the inevitable grin still plastered across his face and the inevitable bounce still in his step as he returned to his desk. Placing his hands on the desktop he gazed lovingly at the grotesque, grey brain in its tank, caressing the image with his eyes. I wondered if he had heard my question at all, or was in fact, deliberately ignoring it. Tearing his gaze from the pickled organ, the doctor smiled at me.
“I’m afraid it’s time to say goodbye Alison, my dear,” he said with an exaggerated sigh, straightening his already immaculate cuffs.
I stood up quickly, relieved.
“Oh well then, goodbye Doctor,” I said heading for the door. “I feel… so much better, thank you.”
Dr. Lloyd-Jones looked shocked.
“No, no don’t thank me,” he bowed theatrically, leaping to hold the door open for me, “I am, after all, just doing my job.”
I smirked, hurrying through the door so that he wouldn’t see my expression. I wasn’t sure if his final remark had been a deliberate joke or not.
“Same time on Wednesday?” he called, grinning and waving. I nodded, waving back.
Outside, the horse-headed receptionist was waiting in her paddock. She stared as I passed, tossing her mane back nervously as I gave her a huge melon grin. I could feel her eyes clinging to my back as I strolled out through the main doors of the clinic, out amongst the roaring traffic and the still dazzling sunshine. I knew that she doubted my sanity but this didn’t bother me any more, I felt good. I couldn’t recall exactly what Dr. Lloyd-Jones had said to me in the previous hour but whatever his tactics, they had obviously worked. I felt so much less confused – healthier and lucid. Whatever else Dr. Lloyd-Jones may turn out to be, he certainly was a damned good psychiatrist.
“Thomas, you can say what you like but to me, he’s a damned good psychiatrist. I feel much better for talking to him, I don’t know why, but I do.”
I plunged my hands into the hot water, grasping a slippery dish beneath the soapsuds and washing it with energy and violence. The steam rose up, turning my face rosy pink to match my hands and arms; Thomas tipped some more cups into the sink, careful not to touch the hot water with his delicate, colourless hands. I thought of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s hands immediately, in some ways he was so similar to Thomas. Though, of course, I would never say that out loud! Thomas had taken an aggravated dislike to the psychiatrist, although he had never met him. I had not said much about my visit to him but it was enough to make Thomas sulk and mutter incoherently about ‘those cunning bastards’ and I had no difficulty realizing whom he was referring to.
I washed each piece of crockery carefully, mechanically, wondering what exactly had caused my friendly vampire’s hostility towards psychiatry in general. Was it because, according to the Laws of Science and the Mind, as symbolised by Van Helsing in Dracula, vampires were only the result of a disturbed mind? Or, had Thomas had a nasty run-in himself with a psychiatrist somewhere in his nocturnal past? It was difficult to say. I finished the washing up and tipped the water away pensively. Thomas, leaning against some cupboards on the other side of the kitchen, moved impatiently.
“Now what are you doing?” he said, exasperation straining his voice.
“I’m cleaning the kitchen,” I told him, wiping some egg from the fridge. “What does it look like?”
“But it’s eleven o’clock.”
“So?” I got down on my hands and knees to scrub out the salad drawer. “I’ve told you, I’ve got to get this done before my Dad comes round with this professional chap to value the house. I’ve just remembered he’s coming tomorrow – or the next day. Mum warned me last week and I forgot all about it. My dad will publicly hang me if he finds anything out of place.”
Thomas opened the cupboard door with the toe of his shoe, and then closed it again.
“Is he really such a monster?” he asked.
I stood up, kicking shut the fridge door.
“No more than you.”
His voice was so low it was almost a breath; only audible to me because the vampire was so close, almost touching me, his arms clasping themselves around my waist so that I was hopelessly imprisoned. Imprisoned in a nocturnal embrace! I leant back against Thomas, the dishcloth dangling uselessly in my hand. I could feel the folds of that magical cloak fluttering around me, swathing me like a baby’s christening gown. The blackness was slightly claustrophobic it was so thrilling! I found it hard to catch my breath; I felt the roughness of Thomas’s hair against my cheek and the icy sensation of his limbs wrapped around me. The passion of the night, the mysterious touch of the nocturnal. I looked up at Thomas, feeling the cold emanating from the proximity of his face to my own. I realised, for the first time, how tall he was – almost a foot taller than my own five eleven. His eyes met mine, those lightless, kaleidoscopic eyes, myriad shattered fragments of nocturnal hues, swirled and danced, fringed by ebony lashes, lying web-like against skin stretched as paper over bones that threatened to break through any minute. His fangs caught the light as he lowered his head and they were struck like a mirror; in that light they appeared sharper than ever but fear did not strike me now. As I kissed Thomas, that delicious state of night crept into me and everything mundane and active fell away from me, I was enveloped in this nocturnal shroud. I can’t deny that I felt those fangs pricking me like needles but, though it may sound strange, it was anything but unpleasant.
Thomas raised his head and straightened up slowly, without drawing blood. We looked at each other a little sheepishly and giggled, then Thomas released his arms and I broke away from him. He lurked in the doorway for a while, fidgeting. I glanced at him as I began to run water into a bucket, wondering if the experience had upset or saddened him in some way. It was possible, I supposed. I went over to him and grasped his arms in my hands.
“Thomas,” I said gently.
He looked up; there was sadness and longing in his face but… something else as well. Gratitude?
“Can I do anything?” he asked at last.
I smiled at him. How glad I was that I had met and become friends with this vampire! How glad I was of his company!
“You can put the vacuum round,” I told him.I stood in the middle of the kitchen while the bucket overflowed in the sink, listening to the clatters and thumps as Thomas searched in the cupboard under the stairs for the vacuum cleaner.
Now go to Chapter Seven