The Very Modern Vampire, Chapter Three
Visions on the Wind
"We are so full of desire, and yet, our desires come and go—massive and looming but then, suddenly, insubstantial. How to explain this? Some who study desire, such as the Buddhists, attribute this to the structure of the mind, simply taking it as a given that we are creatures given to a fickle kind of wanting. And then there are those, such as I, who refuse to accept this. The spectral nature of desire is, quite simply, bizarre—it is as if we are programmed by some sinister and inept playwright to do one thing and then another, without much narrative logic. Perhaps the aptness of that analogy should give us pause.” -László Szabó, Our Unbelievable Existence
Klaus assaulted an A&W cheeseburger as promised, after saying hello to his favorite cashier, some sort of ex-military person who communicated in screams. Klaus enjoyed the screaming, and the food’s grease, which was understandable and familiar, made the world seem comprehensible: a real place for real things that he knew and could deal with.
After eating, he walked and mumbled through the afternoon, listening to menacing hip-hop music in Chinatown and thinking of the lecture, which kept intruding on his thoughts despite his efforts. He kept recalling Masha’s words, and slowly warmed to the idea of doing things—at least, on this day, in the cool air, the kind that heightened awareness and spoke of promising summer afternoons to come. From somewhere, lilacs perfumed the breeze, which, in combination with the smells of exhaust and sesame oil, created a sophisticated bouquet.
With every step through this fog, his self-esteem rose slightly. He could be anything, he realized, even after all these years. It would be so simple just to attack his life with renewed freshness, to take every day as a challenge. He worked himself up into a sort of froth. His pace accelerated. If he had a lover, he could be a lover on the run, if he were on the run.
As he passed, occasionally fumbling through an Eminem lyric sotto voce, the quavering day became a chilly evening covered in cloud. Most of the people on the street disappeared from sight. You could see them through the windows of fancy bars, drinking sherry and eating ‘small plates,’ for the modern diner who couldn’t deal with the monotony of an entire pork chop. The streets were empty, and the overcast sky and the grey pavement together formed a velvety omnipresence.
Klaus made his way to the campus, where the lecture was held. The university was Victorian in sensibility, with manicured lawns and wrought-iron lampposts. It looked like Harry Potter except that the children were slightly older and their words weren’t magic. The kaleidoscope of wrong fashions was dazzling. He passed a young man carrying a ukulele and singing, pretending that he wasn’t attracting attention. Normally all of the youth would oppress Klaus, but his mood of optimism was nearly invincible.
But it was not totally invincible. Happy as he was, he was still highly perturbable, especially by a certain kind of predilection. As he crossed a darkened lawn in front of the building, in the same moment that he sighted Brad’s head dawdling outside the lecture hall, he saw Sydney, in a long red coat, along with some other clothing.
Sydney. How could he handle this situation? It required, during his day-to-day life, a fair amount of effort to restrain himself when they encountered each other in the hallway. Not from doing anything violent, but from, perhaps, crying out, or falling to her feet, or begging her to notice him, to turn from her normal concerns to his abnormal desperation. It was a delicate operation, a difficult task, to glance at her neutrally, to pretend that he didn’t wonder, frequently, if she weren’t the cure for his whole complex disease.
And now she was just standing there, next to Brad, in an outfit which, even from a distance, looked charmingly ridiculous. (Certain attractive people can wear anything and make it seem like a style.) It occurred to him, at that moment, that he could murder Brad, despite his well-developed pecs. How could she just stand there, speaking to him? How could he withstand her force? It was utterly wrong.
Were they fucking? He had never heard evidence of it, but he couldn’t rule it out. He couldn’t rule out the possibility that Brad had a magnificent penis that was routinely inside her. The universe had abandoned him.
Maybe he could go over there, though. Maybe he could strike up a casual acquaintance. Perhaps, seeing Klaus in this intellectual context, she’d reconsider her views about him. (He had no idea what those were.) She’d see how innocent he was, inside, how kind, how considerate, under the layers of dirt and withered masculinity that she’d sweep away. He’d settle for friendship, perhaps, hoping to stumble into bed with her one fine day after deepening their acquaintance. He’d settle for being her footman or butler, cooking her meals, arranging her schedule, maybe—that would, at least, be a purpose of some sort.
No. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t possibly sit through a lecture in her proximity. He couldn’t conceal his longing. It was unavoidable: there was a nearly-extinguished light within him that flickered a little bit when she was near. Better not to explore that.
As Klaus stared from the shadowed lawn, Sydney turned her head, surveying the horizon, perhaps in response to a boring conversational tangent. Her gaze nearly touched the dewy patch where he was standing.
He fled. He almost broke into a run. As he went, hypothetical flashes of her were presented to him sketched on the night: brief glimpses of her button nose, her almond eyes, her ostentatious mascara and multicolored hair, her ass poised in the air, the smile she might smile while he tugged her panties down to her ankles, the sounds she’d make during the moments following. He parted the tableau with his steps, gritting his teeth, trying to escape his infuriating lack.
The campus faded into the grimy area just beyond it. He passed an electronic music venue where people did heroin and a hotel where they slept off the heroin, and he felt more comfortable with the vibe. He hadn’t really wanted to go to the lecture anyway. Lectures were for idiots whose own thoughts weren’t enough, who needed thoughts force-fed by some self-important, pretentious ‘thinker.’ Klaus nodded, agreeing with himself, as he continued retreating.
He knew what would happen next. He was, at this point, a scientist of drunkenness, who had, after years of experimentation, arrived at the correct procedure and dosage, and the rest of the evening flowed almost automatically. Here are the steps he took:
He arrived at a bar, staffed by a handsome man named Jake with a useless political science degree.
He ordered an upscale margarita, and, with his first sips, felt the flow of his torturous thoughts slow slightly.
He savored the beginnings of a drinker’s peace—the replacement of the previous environment with a lusher parallel world, more real somehow, more essential.
He looked at the revelers around him, despising them, loving them, longing for their youth and innocence knowing that he would never again be among them.
He refreshed his drink at a half-hourly pace to maintain the warm, starry feeling of a new dose of liquor.
He slowly brought himself to the brink of oblivion, stopping before the point of nausea.
Then, he paid, after fumbling with his nearly rotting leather wallet, and stumbled home, enjoying the way that the pavement swam beneath him. He felt warm, numb, and relatively confident that he wouldn’t be mugged, given his stature and erratic appearance.
He arrived home out of the blur. He paused at the entrance for a moment, listening, making sure that Brad and Sydney weren’t still up. He nodded to himself and ascended the stair towards the heaven of his mattress. As he arrived at the door, he accidentally kicked something. Looking down, he saw that Brad had left a copy of László Szabó’s book on his doorstep. He picked it up, unlocked the door, threw the book onto the ground, and fell asleep.
In the morning, he rose and kicked off his shoes while remaining in bed. He lay there for a half-hour or so, by which time it was noon. He then got up, and, on the way out the door, picked up Szabó’s book, without any particular intention.
He left without his keys and burst onto the street. He jaywalked across to the Black Lion diner for ham and eggs and coffee. After placing his order, he sat there for a moment, among the aged and overweight diners and Portuguese memorabilia, gathering up his consciousness and doing his best to breathe.
He opened the book and beheld the face of Szabó on the dust jacket. He was white-haired and balding, with bright, intimidating eyes and a slightly amused expression. There was something avian about him, something of the kingfisher sitting beside the river and observing its prey sliding through the water.
He began to read. He did so casually. He had no awareness that he was hurling himself off a precipice, that the decision to cast his eyes across those pages was irreversible and monumental. It was just a book, right?
Next week on The Very Modern Vampire: dawning madness, sudden sadness. Klaus’s world is exploded, and he runs through the rubble.