The next day was Saturday, so I lay in bed retrieving my strength and sanity all morning. It was still raining on and off. Every so often, the sky would become dark and menacing and the rain would hit the ground with startling violence and intensity, then it would stop as suddenly as it had begun. I lay in bed with my eyes closed and head buried under the pillow, trying not to think of anything. I was haunted by pictures and sensations of my experience of last night and the image that was the most persistent was that of dark outlines of pine trees against the stormy sky, lit up intermittently by the moon as the clouds raced by. This image seemed to be etched onto the curtains and the folds fell in such a way, that I could still see it, even with my eyes closed.
I wondered as I got dressed, how a vampire could tell when the sun had set, when there was no sun in the sky. How could he tell any time, when he was sealed within his coffin? One never heard of a vampire climbing out of his coffin before the sun had set, to nip back inside the nearest house to have a quick look at the clock. Thomas had no watch, I was sure of that.
I fell to thinking about Thomas as I stirred my tea absently, or more specifically, Thomas’s desire for death at the hands of yours truly. I had, and I continued to consider, his request very seriously. Although it made good sense, the more I thought of it, the more the action repelled me. I don’t know why I considered it so seriously; I could never bring myself to hurt Thomas. Not even now that I knew that the enemy (in the form of Dr. Lloyd-Jones) was so alerted to his true identity. There could be no happy ending to this story – not for Thomas, anyway. It was tragic but I was powerless to resist the attackers that bore down mercilessly upon the Nocturnal.
My mother used her own key to get in the house, and I heard her wrestling to remove it from the keyhole, which had a habit of swallowing a key once it was inserted into its mouth. I strolled out into the hall to assist.
“Hello, Mum,” I said, leaning against a wall.
“Hello, Alison,” my mother wrenched the key finally out of the lock. “Bloody door, have to get it fixed before we sell the house.” She picked up two Marks and Spencer’s plastic bags and dragged them into the hallway. Her eyes darted about nervously as she looked around. “It doesn’t look as though you’ve vacuumed in here recently.”
“I haven’t, I’ve only just got up.” I picked up one of the bags, heading for the stairs. “Is this clean clothes?”
“Yes. Looks like you could do with some as well.”
I hurried to the seclusion of my bedroom and began to put my clothes away in the chest of drawers. Below me, I could hear my mother vacuuming every surface she could see, in search of those annoying little bits of dust and the occasional fragment of biscuit or cake. It depressed and irritated me to watch her sink deeper and deeper into the void of trivialities, while her imagination rotted. Who was responsible? Could it be blamed on society or was the fault her own? Well, whoever; it didn’t really matter anyway, the damage was done.
I finished putting my clothes away, carefully keeping my brain blank, remembering that I was supposed to be resting today. It was Saturday after all and I had been through a fairly traumatic experience the night before. Better to let my mind take a complete break from philosophy today. Undue questioning and moralising would only lead to a temporary breakdown. Slamming the bottom drawer shut so that two photos, which were standing on the dresser, fell onto their faces, I hurried back down the stairs, two at a time and deciding to tell my mother about Thomas. Well, I would mention his existence anyway, no harm in that. And maybe that would keep her mind from dwelling on trivialities for a few moments anyhow.
She was in the front room polishing the sideboard. In one hand she clutched the canister of Mr. Sheen, in the other a yellow duster with which she rubbed every visible piece of woodwork manically, as if hoping to produce a genie. I leant against the doorframe and watched her tiny little face twist and writhe into a multitude of grimaces, as if she were the one being rubbed at, not the sideboard. Her beady little eyes scurried back and forth over the dresser as she worked, frantic and almost panic stricken. She didn’t even appear to notice me.
“I really don’t know why you put so much energy into things like that,” I said at last.
My mother looked up, startled. She turned back to her work almost at once.
“Well, if I don’t do it, nobody will,” she said, kneeling on the floor so that she could polish the legs off the dresser. “And I do wish you wouldn’t sneak around like that. Why don’t you do something?”
“I’m not sneaking around.” I walked slowly closer to my mother. “And I don’t mean why do you do it, I mean why do you expend so much energy on such a petty thing?”
“If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
Bosworth strutted into the room and began winding himself around my ankles. I held on to the dresser for balance.
“Yes… but it seems so insignificant,” I persisted.
“It is if you go and put your filthy hands on it and smear the polish,” my mother snapped, standing up. I whipped my hand away quickly, sighing. My mum glanced at me sharply. “Anyway, I’m doing more than you are. Why don’t you do something?”
“I am, I’m talking to you.”
“Well, talk then. Actually, I want to talk to you.”
She looked at me, her brow wrinkling and I leaned forward expectantly. “Isn’t it time you did something about de-flea-ing that cat? Get it a flea collar, they’ve got some cheap ones in that pet shop near Dane Road station…”
I gazed blankly at my print of Chatterton. Something needed moving around here. Some action was needed to rest my growing frustration. Kneeling carefully on top of the dresser, I grasped the picture firmly in my hands.
“What’re you doing?” cried my mother, running back into the room and shaking her duster at me frantically. “Alison! You’ll break it!”
I was concentrating on removing the heavy painting from its hook.
“No, I won’t, I’m only taking it down.”
“Not the picture! The dresser! The dresser! Get down!”
The painting was safely in my arms, I clambered down. Turning to transport the precious cargo upstairs, my mothers’ eyes met mine, fury and frustration were there; her mouth was set, her eyes watering behind her glasses. The last thing I needed now was this amount of hassle. She was bottling it up; it would all come out now. Setting Chatterton down on the sofa, I hurried outside, grabbed my jacket and made for the front door.
“Just going to get some nails,” I called, then added, hoping to placate my mother, “and a flea collar for Bosworth.”
It was nearly dark when I arrived home, although it was only late afternoon. Dutifully, I had remembered the flea collar; I caught Bosworth and tied it firmly round his neck, swearing and cursing as the cat struggled and scratched, trying to get away. When I released him, he scurried under the sideboard and glowered at me. Ignoring him, I picked up the painting of Chatterton and began to transport it slowly upstairs.
My mother was also in the back room, changing the bed. I greeted her and clambered up on the bed to hammer the newly acquired nail into the wall. My mother tutted but said nothing. She waited patiently for me to hang the picture before she laid the clean sheets on the bed.
I stood back and looked critically, checking that the work of art was straight. I glanced at my mother as she picked up a white sheet and spread it over the bed.
“What do you think, Mum? Do you like it?”
My mother glanced briefly at the painting, frowning.
“Yes … it’s a bit modern for this room, though.”
“Mum, it was done in the Nineteenth century!”
“I don’t know what you mean. It was one hundred and fifty years ago!”
My mother gestured with a quick jerk of her head for me to tuck the other side of the sheet under the mattress and, at the same time, to stop arguing. Sighing, I obeyed her.
I found myself remembering when I had first discovered Thomas in this very same bedroom, leaning against the window and looking out into the moonlight. That was the beginning of it all, then. Such a lot had happened since that point in time, I struggled to place the event. I thought of Thomas telling me to turn the bloody light off and my own bewilderment as to how my Dark Stranger had managed to climb in at the window with no ladder. I chuckled quietly to myself.
“What’s the matter?” Demanded my mother, throwing another clean sheet over the bed so that it billowed and flowed like Thomas’s cloak. I caught the edges and tucked them firmly under the mattress.
“Nothing,” I said. Then, remembering my decision to tell my mum about my friendly vampire, I added “just thinking about Thomas.”
“Oh,” my mother was silent for a long while and I began to wonder if her brain had digested this comment at all. Finally she asked “who is this Thomas then?”
“Oh, I expect you’ll meet him soon.” I stuffed a pillow into a pillowcase. “He comes round here a lot.”
My mother tossed the red eiderdown over the bed and began to smooth it out, frowning to herself.
“Not too much, I hope,” she said, collecting up the dirty sheets.
I looked up sharply.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know very well what it means.”
I stared after my mother as she disappeared out through the door, an armful of sheets clutched to her breast. I felt a little stunned. I hoped that she didn’t mean what I thought she did. I wouldn’t know where to start with a vampire …
After making the beds, we sat down with a pot of tea. It would be nice to say that we indulged in the sort of idle chitchat that mothers and daughters often share; but I’m afraid that would be the most blatant fabrication of the truth, as any reader possessing the merest morsel of intelligence would instantly realise. In fact, we sat in silence. I watched my mother’s anxious eyes flicker round the room like two restless flies from the corner of my own fixed gaze. I knew that lists of criticisms and jobs to be done were reeling through her mind on an ever turning mechanical roll of paper. The thought of that restless movement alone exhausted me. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Chatterton’s feelings the moment before he died.
The slam of the back door startled me. Thomas! I glanced at my mother, who had spilt some of her tea in fright and was hastily trying to scrub it from her skirt with her apron before it stained. I tried to imagine what her reaction to Thomas would be. I couldn’t.
“Oh – hello,” said Thomas, he stopped in the doorway, hesitantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you, er, Alison …”
“No, no come in,” I urged, leaping up and dragging Thomas into the room. “This is my mum. Mum, Thomas.”
My mother stood up, nervous. Thomas held out his hand and she shook it incredulously. I don’t think she even noticed how cold it was. It was obvious that she had never met anyone like Thomas before and couldn’t quite believe him. He stood at least two feet taller than her, dressed in his customary black and white, the merest ghost of a smile on his face.
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” he said at last. “Alison told me about you. I wanted very much to meet you.”
My mother blinked repeatedly behind her glasses. Her little mouth pursed and then straightened; licking her lips nervously like an animal under threat, she withdrew her hand hastily from Thomas’s grasp and shoved it into her apron pocket. I hung onto Thomas’s arm for support. That moment seemed very long, the tension unbearable.
At last my mother spoke, taking a step back as she did so.
“You’re foreign,” she said accusingly. I should explain here that my mother is not generally racist; her prejudice can be attributed to her extreme nervousness, which I think probably caused the statement to sound more like an accusation than had been originally intended.
“Yes, I’m afraid I am.” He paused and glanced at me for a second. “I’m Romanian. Originally.”
There was a silence. My mother obviously did not trust herself to say anything else, realising her blunder. She tore her eyes from Thomas’s face and looked him up and down, taking in the expensive cut of his trousers, the beauty of the material, the opulence of his cloak.
“He… works in a restaurant,” I said quickly, catching my mother’s sharp eye. “He’s a waiter.”
Thomas smiled and my mother nodded, frowning. To this day, I don’t know what her real opinion of Thomas was, or even if she had one. She was always very careful to avoid mentioning him in conversation, even in passing. She may have harboured, from then on, a deep-seated fear of him, which would explain why no mention was ever made of my rich friend.
“Well, it’s… very nice to have met you too,” said my mother smoothly, turning away and picking up her coat and familiar plumed hat, both of which lay on the rocking chair beside her. “Maybe I’ll see you again. Ta ra, Alison”
“Well, bye then, Mum,” I answered. I was a little surprised at the suddenness of my mother’s departure. She usually hung around for hours.
“Oh, Alison.” My mother turned in the doorway, that notorious worried frown returning to her brow as she gazed in my direction. “Your father told me to tell you to get rid of that crate in the garden shed or else he’ll burn it himself next time he comes round.”
Thomas and I exchanged glances. With difficulty I managed to stifle my giggles until the door had closed behind my mother. However, Thomas did not share in my mirth. He watched me disdainfully for a while, his hands clasped studiously behind his back.
“It’s an idea, you know,” he told me sternly.
I sat up and attempted to compose myself.
“Burning to death in my coffin.”
My face fell instantly and I looked away angrily. All the light seemed to have gone out of the night and such a weight was continually being piled onto my shoulders; like Atlas trying to hold the bloody globe on his back.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about that,” I muttered.
Thomas sighed deeply; he walked over to the window and stared out into the gloom. A few raindrops splattered against the window.
“No, there must be a less painful way,” he said, ignoring me. I felt as if I wasn’t there. This was my destiny being planned for me, over my head. “Anyway, I’m not sure it would work,” he continued thoughtfully, “killing the Undead is such a tricky business. We need something foolproof – something that we know will work.”
But I could still react to Fate, even if I couldn’t change it. I scrambled up from the sofa defiantly.
“Thomas, what do you mean, ‘we’? ‘We’? Don’t you mean ‘I’?”
Thomas stared at me for a long while. So vacant was his gaze that it seemed to pass right through me, soaking in the night instead. I saw that the Nocturnal really was both the time and the place for my friend, reposing eternally in the slumber-like death, safe forever from anguish and solitude.“No,” he said slowly, “you know that I mean ‘we.’"
NOW GO TO CHAPTER TWELVE