IV. Everything is Illuminated
Blood made sense.
No, Nigel Townsend wasn't a vampire; no, he had never been one; and no, he had never wanted to be one.
But he had known one.
In fact, he had known many; in many shapes and sizes: vampires who thirsted for necks and backs and soft, malleable human flesh; but the worst kind, and of these Nigel knew – unfortunately – many; were the ones that thirsted for hearts.
No, he had never understood the fear of vampires, not when they were so human.
And he even understood their preoccupation with blood – it was the most beautiful, reassuring, and sensible thing he had ever seen. It was bright when it first came out – Panic! Call 911! Get a band-aid! – but later turned a pensive-looking crimson that radiated an uncomfortable warmth – Call the family. Make the funeral arrangements. Grieve.
When he was working in the cancer wing of the Manchester hospital years ago, blood was the liquid that he longed for the most – water made you bloated, fruit juice gave you gas, but blood made you full, complete. (Mind you, he never drank blood, but he always imagined it would feel this way – after all, he already had it in him.) And when he wheeled bald, gaunt patients down to their chemotherapy sessions daily, he wished – prayed – to see the familiar red seeping out of their diseased bones and diseased hearts. Blood signified mortality, and sometimes – no, often – Nigel had forgotten these people were alive.
But living – as he would later come to learn – wasn't the number of your white blood cells or the strength of your bones; no, it was the thickness, the density, of your blood.
The blood in Boston was black; as black and absent as a paved, cement road; and this didn't surprise him. After all, Boston was a concrete jungle; a city of shadows and back alleys and hidden darkness; and to this fact, the morgue was no exception.
He needed red.
It wasn't exactly fire-engine red that he desired – it was warmth: blood was something that was a part of you, a fundamental aspect of your being. In Boston, blood was cold – freezing – and it always felt exposed; something that wasn't supposed to be there, something wrong.
And so he decided to leave.
He wasn't leaving – not permanently, anyway – but he was taking a considerable leave of absence; he was going on safari to Africa. (No, he wasn't leaving because of the ebola virus, either.)
Africa was warm and sweaty and vibrant and cherry-red – the color of tomatoes at their ripest stage, nail polish at its brightest color – and he longed for it, he needed it. Sometimes he could feel the cold freezing inside of him; a cerulean blue that moved like a thick block of ice through his veins and arteries. (Plus, it never hurt to get a tan.)
Jordan and Max were snowmen: they had developed fur and hibernated when it dropped below zero; and Woody – well, Woody could deal with any climate – he could withstand the worst of temperatures. Garret and Bug and Lily had each other to use for warmth; like snowflakes falling from the sky, packed, padded snow had always cushioned their fall. It was simple, really: they belonged, and he didn't.
He adapted – he had survived the blizzard of '01 and that monster they had in '99 – but he was waning: like a winter jacket purchased many years ago, his insides were wearing thin, and his pockets had cultivated large, gaping holes.
Yes, it was as simple as that: it was time for a new coat.
Since the majority of me
Rejects the majority of you,
Debating ends forthwith, and we
Divide. And sure of what to do
We disinfect new blocks of days
For our majorities to rent
With unshared friends and unwalked ways.
But silence too is eloquent:
A silence of minorities
That, unopposed at last, return
Each night with cancelled promises
They want renewed. They never learn.
There were days when she imagined the snow would never end, there were days when she all she wanted was to be buried. She thought it might be nice to let a blanket of snow wrap itself around you, it might be nice to just be swallowed whole. Death without the commitment, she fancied, or just not waking up from a peaceful slumber.
It might be nice, she thought, to just sleep forever.
But every morning, she found herself awaking to the dancing of shadows silhouetted in the snow. It puzzled her – no, it angered her – that something so empty, something so hollow, could be something so beautiful.
She found that she didn't want pretty anymore (had she ever?) She wanted blankets with holes, people who only made mistakes, snow with an end. Beauty was a facade, beauty was a deception: she wanted snow that wasn't beautiful, snow that was brown and hard and melting, she wanted snow to be everything she hated. She was tired of having to dig to find what she wanted, she was tired of people having to dig to find her. More than that, though, she loathed the thought of being without snow, because she knew seeing the streets clear and people smiling and the sun shining would make her long for the cold frost she knew she needed.
Jordan didn't need the cold, she knew, she was the cold. Ice held her bones together (screw osteoporosis) and temperatures below zero kept her organs functioning. Emotions made her uncomfortable, mainly because she always seemed to be doing the wrong thing somehow. It wasn't so much as wrong, however, as it just wasn't right.
Sometimes it seemed to her that everything had a language of its own, and that miscommunication and anger between people merely lied in misinterpretation. Maybe it was actually the emotions that were the clear, dependable things, and that it was the fault of the translator that caused heartache, pain, and confusion. She was surprised, sometimes, by the fact that she didn't hate human nature as much as she could, as much as she could.
Falling in love, like learning a language, required practice and dedication – and while some words were lost, often there were many that still remained.
She loved Woody and Woody loved her, this they both knew, yet the words weren't in their vocabularies, and they hadn't learned the conjugation correctly.
Or, maybe sometimes it wasn't as much a matter of learning as it was of knowing. She remembered her first love (at age five) with a boy named Bobby Cooley, and while they still had much to learn, there was even more that they already knew. During the summer they spent together at the community pool, she remembered (fondly) how they could sit on the swing sets in a comfortable silence, and she remembered (even more fondly) their first kiss: underwater, amidst misshapen bubbles and incoherent gargling noises, she could still feel the softness of his lips just barely touching hers.
Underwater, without words, their emotions had managed to transcend any possible linguistic barrier.
Something to remember, she supposed. If she took on a vow of silence, would Woody love her more?
As soon as this thought crossed her mind, she heard a knock at her door. She was expecting him (this was her role) and he had come looking for her when she didn't show up at work (and this was his.)
Garret took this for an invitation and made his way into her apartment, brushing the snow from his shoes.
"I don't mean to be rude, Garret, but what are you doing here?"
"Can't a boss visit his favorite employee when she decides she doesn't want to come to work?" he asked.
"Without calling," he added.
"And I'm very sorry about that," she gestured apologetically. "But after that one night last—well, I just thought you had refused to come back here."
"Special circumstances," he said. "Very special circumstances."
"And those would be?"
"Jordan, why do you have a cat?"
She sighed deeply, and gestured for him to sit down. "It all started when this long lost sister of mine had a baby—"
"Cut the crap, Jordan," he interrupted. "Woody tells me today that you have this adorable little kitten and, thinking of your past animal experiences, I decided it was safest for me to remove—"
He paused midsentence, gazing at the black cat that had hopped up onto Jordan's lap.
"Whiskers?" he asked, his mouth agape.
"Garret?" she inquired, noticing his expression. "Her name is Natalie."
"No, it's not," he mumbled quietly. "That's Whiskers."
"Natalie, Garret," she gently repeated. "Natalie has whiskers, but…do you want to hold her?"
Garret failed to respond, still staring intently as the cat stared back. Jordan was about to ask again when a knock at the door caused Natalie to jump off her lap and scurry away.
It was Woody at the door this time (she knew he wouldn't let her down.)
"Jordan, we need to talk," he said as she opened the door, not even pausing to take off his snow-covered coat when he entered the apartment.
"Garret?" he asked awkwardly. "I thought you weren't going to come back after that time—"
"Well, he did," Jordan finished. "And he's not talking because cat's got his tongue."
"Very funny," came Garret's reply as he lifted himself up from the couch. "I'll talk to you later, Jordan."
He paused at the doorknob. "And treat her well, okay?"
After he was gone, Woody stared at Jordan uneasily. "Really likes the cat, huh?"
"I guess so," she muttered to herself. "Anyway," she moved over to the couch, "what did you want to say to me?"
Like recovering a distant memory, he flung himself on the couch and faced her intently. "Look, Jordan, about yesterday –"
He was counting on her to interrupt him, but she didn't – she was tired of role-playing.
"We need to get this settled, alright? I can't take anymore tug-of-war, and I can't keep playing games. We need to behave like rational adults here because—"
"You know I love you, don't you?" she asked suddenly, her eyes inquisitive. "You do know that, right?"
He was startled for a moment by the question, but even more puzzled by his own response. "Yes, I do."
It really was that simple, wasn't it?
Did she love him? This was the simple question: yes, she did. She loved him because his eyes were the color of the Boston County Municipal Pool; she loved him because they had both spent their lives trying to breathe underwater, youthful, blue lungs bursting in search of air; she loved him because their silences did not carry the heavy, salty weight of the ocean, but of pure, weightless chlorine, whose essence was light and boundless, until you realized that you needed shampoo to get it out of your hair. And, most of all, she loved him because she remembered what it felt like, at age five, to sit like a rock at the bottom of the ocean, and think to herself: I could float forever.
"Then what's the problem?" she asked, scooting closer to him on the couch. "I mean, why can't we just be?"
"I don't know," he said. "Where do we start?"
"Anywhere," she said. "That's the best part about it, Woody – it's our game to play. We make up the rules."
"There are rules?"
She grinned. "More like guidelines, I think."
His expression turned serious. "So is there a winner? Is there a loser?"
Her smile faded. "Would you play if there was?"
"I don't know. I mean, I don't really know much anymore, Jordan, I feel so wrong, or just—"
"Not right," she finished.
He looked up at her. "Not right," he echoed. "I'm not doing this right, I'm not doing the case right…"
She stopped him. "What case?"
"You know – the one we're working on – homicide by hanging? Young college girl?"
"Ohmigod," she said suddenly, holding her head in her hands. "I can't believe I forgot."
"The evidence – for Nigel. I was supposed to give him something huge today…"
"Huge? How huge are we talking here?"
"Gargantuan," she said, facing him. "It was suicide, Woody."
"Suicide, Jordan? That's not huge, that's…that's massive!"
She hung her head. "I'm sorry," she said meekly.
He gave her a surprising grin. "Don't be."
"May I ask why?"
"It's not my fault, then," he replied with a smug smile. "I didn't screw up, you did."
"Good sportsmanship, you sore loser."
"No, no, I mean – I wasn't wrong. I couldn't find any evidence because there was no evidence to find."
"Relieved?" she asked.
"Very," he responded, returning to his calmer tone. "Anyway, what were we talking about?"
"You won the game," she said with a smile.
"Wrong one, though."
The tone in the room was light, noncommittal -- different from the day before when every word said (or word not said) held a crushing weight. Suddenly, Jordan didn't feel constricted, hidden by the snow: she felt, for lack of a better word, free.You didn't have to sell yourself to be in love, she realized, you just had to learn to share it.
He turned to her then, watching as she absently stared at Natalie curled up in the corner. "Do you think you love her?"
"Yes," she said (surprisingly) quickly. "You know – I always thought about having kids before, but never understood why – how do you know that you have to love your kid, you know?
"But then I realized that you have a kid to remember your own childhood – you learn all the things your mother said to you as a child, because you say it to your own."
"Is it that easy?"
"I don't think it's that hard."
And as she felt his lips upon hers, she felt like she was in a different kind of water – she was treading now, not sinking.
And she felt that even without a translator, she could hear his words loud and clear.
A/N: I know this seems like a very scattered story, but I promise it will all come together in the end. Homicide by hanging comes from first chapter. Poem from Philip Larkin, literary genius, and KEEP REVIEWING! I need more feedback guys! Three chapters and only eleven reviews – that's not so inspiring...