The usual characters:
The Monster should not be called that. He is huge, shambling — bottles topple drunkenly in his wake — but he just doesn’t know his own strength. (At his would-be delicate touch, the stereo needle squeaks, like a baby bird he’d just wanted to pet but squeezed too hard by mistake). He’s more like a clown, really: big booted, mute, smiling sadly. He ambles toward you, arms outstretched, bellows, Friend! Friend!
The Assistant’s the one you always fell in love with, as a kid watching movies: that anonymous Igor type, who was gentle and quiet and never really meant any harm; always being whipped by someone, and taking it. You believe this childhood crush is important; like a National Enquirer quiz, a Key To Your Personality. This Assistant empties ashtrays, brings you beer, laughs at your jokes, and it happens again. But his hump isn’t calcium, or rubber, but another woman. One he’s carried for years. So you keep your mouth shut. At least try to.
Last but not least: the Doctor, the Count. Lounging in the red beanbag chair near the secret passageway bookcase, a beer in one hand, a smoke in the other. He’s handsome, of course, and witty, and charming, and you’ve both had a few crashing, Ted-and-Sylvia fights in other people’s kitchens because you were trying so hard not to like him.
They are all very young. And you never were. Why do you keep going back there?
You (in summer lace, and newly blonde) turn up their hot, poorly lit street. Trees rustle on cue. A drill somewhere. Streetcars clatter, hooves on cobblestone. Then you reach it: their house on the corner, party-lit, oozing a strange sort of life — a deep bass beat squeezes through the walls, and pot smoke ghosts through the windows. You climb the stairs, which giggle nervously like girls on their first movie date.
You shove the front door twice before it squeaks open.
You have to scream above the music, the kind you always hated (or thought you did) and that they listen to for a laugh: metallic, pompous, simple-minded stuff that thunders with false profundity; the singers possess high, indistinguishable voices (you blush and shrug when the trio quizzes you and you get the bands confused; there’s so much you don’t know, that you missed) and use the word Satan a lot. And paradise. And forever. Any one of these songs (they are rather rousing, you must admit) could easily be the national anthem of a country composed entirely of strip malls and suburban tracts, in which packs of plaid-shirted boys (small but somehow menacing, like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz) drive ’round ravines on mountain bikes, shouting a steady stream of insults. Sometimes at each other. Sometimes at you: your fat legs, your thin legs, your tight brown braids…
You sit with the trio in the attic. Reach for popcorn. Start Beer #3. Smoke shakily, and too much. They laugh again about the time they walked naked down Queen Street; the night they stole a neighbour’s black-stableboy-lawn-ornament and replaced it with a little burning cross…
The trio’s T-shirts, posters and album covers all seem to have been executed by the same artist — ectoplasmic beasts like bug-eyed chunks of vomit ride low-slung over-customized choppers; snakes twist through the eye sockets of glowing green skulls. Another sip of beer. You imagine bats are hanging from the ceiling, dark and fuzzy — the aborted fetuses of an unholy union between the glazed ducks in a Chinese restaurant window & a black velvet painting of Elvis. The drinks served by the Assistant are having their desired effect…
The conversation turns, as usual, to film. Remembering something you read years ago (when you should have been outside, riding a mountain bike) you describe the horror film as adolescent: those pubescent slasher films, of course, but also the clumsy, overgrown monster who never asked to be born, or the uncontrollably hairy werewolf — all teenage boys, you see. Those phallic knives. All that blood. A virginal Tony Perkins…
You look up: the Monster, bored again; the Assistant, quite interested (or merely polite — don’t flatter yourself…) and suddenly you forget the point that you were making.
You turn to Count Beanbag. His hooded eyes are like deep dark pools of something or other.
He grins, and you just hate it when he does that, and he asks: What about Dracula?
Sex, in poetry, compared to two things: dancing and major surgery.
The former: could that be the Monster upstairs with the Assistant, stomping around the attic to some squeaky organ music that’s either “Light My Fire” or “96 Tears”?
The latter: upstairs, you see, because you see the ceiling first. How long have you been lying on your back? How long were your eyes closed, your glasses gone? How long has your dress been bunched up in that corner of this bedroom?
As your eyes adjust to the lack of light, you make out the face of the Doctor, the Count, hovering above you like a cheap plastic bat that the half-drunk crew’d rig up on the local tv station intro to the terrible four a.m. horror films you spent your entire adolescence watching while you waited for life to begin.
Anesthetized limbs. A lightning flash. And that fatal, glove-like rubber snap.
Behind the Doctor, the Count, the sky births another wide red cape.
And it hits you: the Count’s uncanny resemblance to Frank Langella in Diary of a Mad Housewife, the man you’ve been told all your feminist life to hate — slick and dark, casual, toothy and cruel.
And you’re that plain, blunt-cut, frustrated, half-assertive woman on whom he takes momentary pity. Your crucifix doesn’t deter him one bit. His big white smile is a little crescent moon in Cheshire orbit.
Close your eyes and think of Transylvania.
You tiptoe out of the house a few hours later, your careful feet squishing a neon goldenrod mound of Kraft Dinner that’s Slinky’d its way, inexplicably, to the bottom of the staircase. Your still half-drunken mind says agent orange, then Hallowe’en: blindfolded, years ago, jutting your hand into a bowl of peeled grapes (eyeballs) or cold, wet spaghetti (guts).
Fun word, that: Guts. Guts, guts, guts, say your feet, their unsteady slap on the sidewalk is the morning’s only sound. The Sunday light is blinding. (Maybe you’re a vampire now, too…) You fumble through your purse as you walk along, tearing open a cuticle when your hand scrapes your hairbrush, your keys, and find them at last: your sunglasses, the black-lensed prescription ones the trio had declared to be WhhhICKED. You then perform the delicate, don’t-drop-them-on-the-sidewalk operation of removing your regular glasses, snapping them into a case, and sliding on your shades. Much better.
A man walks by and stares at you — disapprovingly, you think; perhaps he can tell, yes, you’re sure of it, you reek of cheap sex and yesterday’s panties, an olfactory mark of the devil. So you do what you always do when you feel vaguely ill or awkward in public: with the generous assistance only Ray-Bans can provide, you pretend you are Jacqueline Kennedy. Jackie O Attacked by Dracula! Good poem idea. It could work. You swish some beer/tobacco/morning breath saliva around. Perhaps the evening wasn’t a guilt-inducing, total-loss-embarrassment after all. Yes, triumph over adversity. This is what it means to be a writer. To be… Jacqueline Kennedy!
That’s the last thing you’re thinking just before you walk straight into a telephone pole. And say sorry.
You have your usual hangover craving: a greasy, cholesterol circus of a breakfast. Each step you take as you walk with attempted dignity from stop to stop (no streetcar in sight) reminds you vaguely of dipping warm buttered toast—white, you deserve white this morning, just this once—into a fried egg’s heart-stopping yolk. I’m gonna harden my heart your mind sings in time with your feet I’m gonna swallow my tears/I’m gonna turn/and/le-ave yo-u he-ee-re. And: If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. Bacon. BaconBaconBacon: some line from a commercial. That party two weekends ago—the morning after, you and the young hostess chanting that catch-phrase while she made omlettes, and the boys slept in the livingroom, looking quite dead, like the victims of a video arcade explosion. And earlier, that same party, how you’d steered the hostess into the bathroom and held her hand while she cried. How relieved you were that someone else was a maudlin drunk.
Still no streetcar. You rehearse The Story Of The Party you’ll tell your best friend, like you always do. And realize that large portions of the evening have simply disappeared; you visualize your brain (which strikes you as a somehow zen-like accomplishment) as a big white round of Swiss cheese. Which doesn’t, you remember, come in rounds. Or does it? The announcer’s voice, another commercial: And this is your brain on drugs, then an egg cracked into a sizzling skillet. A fried egg. Which brings you back to breakfast.
You walk past two diners, your wallet and good sense at war with those window signs (THREE EGGS BACON/HAM/SAUSAGES HASHBROWNS TOAST JUICE COFFEE ONLY whatever) before walking into a third. Just for coffee. And just to smell it. You know better than to drink coffee while hung over. It makes the headache worse. You learned that from the trio.
The patrons are mostly men, bent over newspapers, coffee and dirty plates (over-laden with ketchup in typically male fashion — you recall an old boyfriend who ate nine hotdogs at a picnic, another who drank ketchup straight from the bottle). The only women, in fact, are an already weary, middle-aged, blonde waitress in an ugly, zip-front, polyester uniform; and (seated with a man at a front booth) an equally weary, middle-aged, blonde woman in an ugly, zip-backed, polyester dress.
You pat your hair down, and take off your Ray-Bans.
The fluorescent light is just as shocking as the morning sun after a night in that haunted house. The scary ride is over; you feel shaky and sick. And those cheap effects — the scratchy record spinning out screams, the plastic rats — you can’t believe you paid good money for that short, stupid ride, but know full well that, next summer, when the carnival comes back to town for a week and sets up in the shopping mall’s parking lot, you’ll stand in line to ride it again, even though you know it’s all a con.