She wants to die spectacularly, suddenly, explosively with bits of Beulah stuck in the hair of gawkers and bystanders. Or, grasp the life immortal laid out so enticingly in True Blood, and the movie made from Anne Rice’s book Interview with a Vampire. She pictures herself living in a warm decadence made up of handsome men with hair that never falls out, pony tails and puffy shirts and that pale, pale luminosity. Staring for eternity into the mesmerizing, dead-sexy ice-blue eyes of the yummy LeStat de Lioncourt, the thousand-year-old vampire being interviewed. She has long since forgiven the casting of Tom Cruise, figuring the men were shorter then, what with the crappy diets. For those particular vampires, she is ready to offer up hot holy Blood, the River of Life and invite hunky immortals to pillage her yearning shores.
No wonder it has so much meaning and allure, the ultimate sacrifice to one’s lover, to give in to an ecstasy of exsanguination – or would it hurt? No, their fangs carried happy drugs, yes, that must be it. Just not death in any ordinary way, not from some wasting disease, or Gaia forbid, old age.
Beulah looks in the garishly lit bathroom mirror, sees a freshly scrubbed face looking back, desperately seeking mascara, and opens her makeup drawer. The Bluetooth speaker in the bathroom which is only slightly better than the embedded speaker on her phone warbles out her “Spooky Cool” playlist, and she gets back to thinking about vampire life. Of course, drinking only blood these days would resemble the Paleolithic diet craze, it would fit right in with the raw food movement, they’d call it a Plasma Cleanse or something equally trendy. Man I gotta get out of this loft…
Mascara lumps having been carefully removed, Beulah checks the reflection carefully for any blemishes. Nope, face checks out, and after a quick dusting of face powder, the jangled mess of makeup in her bathroom drawer gets closed up, ready to work its magic in the soon hereafter.
She fingers her iPod and replays Eagle’s song Witchy Woman, listening carefully to the lyrics – especially “Raven hair and ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips” – yep, that’s me, she thinks. That line pretty much describes her present situation, the nowness of her power, all currents of electric youth and yearning. Like right now, in her mid-20’s, her face, her body, her hair will never look better. There will be sagging and wrinkling – all that handiwork of gravity’s pull. But what if it could be stopped at this very moment? Witchy Woman is still playing: “I know you want a lover, but let me tell you brother, she’s been sleepin’ in the devils’ bed”. If the devil looks like Brad Pitt - yeah, ok, I’ll sleep in that bed. I am a wannabe vampire, frozen forever in the best body I will ever have.
She thinks longingly about the magic of compounding, just letting the money make money by building up layers of itself. It takes time, decades even, but just a lump of cash will grow and grow, until eventually, she will not have to work. Vampires probably save their money in Certificates of Deposit – super safe, and even at 1%, think of how many dollars that would be in 100 years. And as for accumulating that wealth in the first place, of course, she would have to find a job with night hours, but with telecommuting and texting, it could work. It’s not like coders were up during daylight hours anyway. Beulah shakes her black curls, gives herself one last look in the mirror, and satisfied with the results, puts on her jacket, (a floor length black leather coat she nabbed on sale at North Beach Leather), grabs her matching purse, and swirls out of her SOMA loft to meet her blind date. Gerard is his name, and he was recommended by Angie, a fellow game coder, so it’s not entirely “blind”. At work, Angie says she met him at a Goth club and he is a little older and a lot more sophisticated than her usual boy toys, not that they set the bar very high. Boys who design PlayStation games are never described as sophisticated. Horny, yes, thank Gaia for supplying fuck buddies, but sophisticated? Not a chance! So, this one is not a gamer, excellent start.
From the ground floor, she embarks on a brisk walk, deftly sidestepping puddles of yellow yuck – the smell marking the edges of Harrison Street as “up and coming”. Her brand-new Versace Palazzo Booties make a satisfying thunking clatter, not at all like that plastic-y rattling sound that cheaper shoes make. You can hear the quality, she thinks, not to mention they make my butt look fabulous.
The restaurant is not far from her apartment and while walking she muses about “The Realtors”. They are like a scary girl gang; travelling in packs, conspiring to come up with cutesy names for every neighborhood. In this case, they adopted a New York City naming convention for this neighborhood in the seedy section of San Francisco. If Manhattan can have South of Houston (SOHO), then San Francisco can have South of Market (SOMA), a pretentious name, not at all like the district itself. It is literally on the wrong side of the tracks, if you consider street cars and cable cars to be the tracks in question. “Live/Work” is another Realtor Misnomer – there is not enough room for either. Beulah rents from a young executive who actually lives in Manhattan. When he comes to town, she couch surfs for a couple of weeks. It’s been working out great, and the arrangement leaves a few bucks at the end of the paycheck to go out to dinner a few times a month.
Only a few city blocks away from her loft squats the forbidding government building at 850 Bryant. It is an ultra-modern jail surrounded on all sides by Bail Bonds offices and bars. Pretty darn safe, given the SFPD is right there 24/7. Tonight, the destination is one of the new “farm to table” vegetarian restaurants called Got you Beet. Itjust opened, like most of the dining establishments thereabouts. It occupies about 10,000 square feet and features “family style dining” replete with picnic tables and long benches of “repurposed” wood. She remembers that a local reviewer said there were tables for two along the back wall where it was quiet.
She walks to Got You Beet in about fifteen minutes. It is a typical San Francisco night, and the cool fog-kissed air keeps her from working up a sweat, with the added benefit of fluffing up her hair. When they made the date, he had promised to wear a green carnation. A shrewd – if not obvious - move one of her girlfriends had taught her, a safeguard allowing Beulah to turn around and walk out if the guy with the goofy flower is a dud. Upon entering, she smiles and appraises the spacious vegetarian restaurant, scanning for the bright green flower on some loser’s lapel. And then she almost gasps aloud. There, already seated at one of the coveted two tops, is the most handsome man she has ever seen. There are only five tables -or-two in the family style restaurant, and she is glad he came early, so they could have some privacy.
Considering the undeniable fact that <oh my Goddess> he is gorgeous, she ponders briefly taking a selfie and IM’ing it immediately to the Women Who Wine. They would pee themselves. He is ghostly pale, like LeStat in Interview, and elegant in chiseled black attire. The collar and cuffs are startlingly white and starched to the thickness of fine stationery. He had an old fashioned hairstyle, a little long - showing off white blond waves framing a masculine face – not too pretty, not too harsh. So this guy somehow manages to make a green carnation look svelte. Wow. Straightening her shoulders, Beulah insinuates her long legs and swanky coat between the tables, clamping her mouth shut to avoid drooling down the front of her outfit. He looks up just before she gets to the booth, he has already left room for her to sit down, guilelessly avoiding the awkward scooching coders are known for. Clearing her throat, she unintentionally warbles:
“Beulah?” He smiles, then says “It must be you, zere are so few young women attracted to garish green lapel decorations.”
“Yes, it’s me. I mean, I’m Beulah. So you must be Gerard, hi.” This cannot be Gerard. Oh. Hell. No. Angie would have given me a heads up. There’s gonna be a bait and switch, the real Gerard <fat, balding, Izod shirt in puce> is on his way – this must be Gerard’s gay friend who got here early in order to chaperone. He is standing up, and <swallow the slobber> he is just the right height. About six feet tall. Holy crap. Mommy, can I lick him? Hush up Beulah’s Brain. Wait, that’s not my brain talking….
Please, sit down, Beulah.” Gerard motions to the chair on the other side of the table, waiting for her before sitting back down. He resumes perusing the wine menu, actually more of a solid leather bound book than a menu.
“I hope you do not mind, I took the liberty of ordering a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, a dark red wine, well aged, is ze best accompaniment to a cold night, do you not agree? The waiters will get very busy soon, and we should have something to sip while we converse.”
“The Cab sounds perfect.” Beulah looks at her menu, thinking he actually is pretty funny. His wit does not require the belittling of others, a refreshing change from the boys at work calling each other “pussy” and making pig snort laugh sounds at their pathetic witticisms.
“What is Paris like, Gerard? I’ve never been.”
“Paris is enchantment encapsulated in its every brick and fence. It is a walking city, refrigerators are tiny in our high ceilinged apartments and we do not miss them. In the Place de la Concorde, we are walking upon the very same cobblestones that ran with the blood of our beheaded King and Queen. Parisians argue about everything, loudly, and with great gusto – but we are possessed of a formidable courage. After gunmen slaughtered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo in 2015, you may recall, the magazine was back in print, with thousands of new subscribers within days. I love that city, she haunts my dreams.”
“Wow. When will you be going back?” Please say never. Never never never. Or you could say “when I am ready to move in with you”. That would be a good answer. I am packing up in my mind right now.
As Beulah gazes at him, her head fills with a bird’s eye view of the two of them strolling along the Embarcadero, hand in hand – Gerard in a fur lined cape and she in a bold gold bodice-clinging cashmere sweater with fur cuffs and collar and one of those Isadora Duncan scarves trailing behind her in the fog. Lost in that fanciful stroll, she picks up on the last part of his sentence: “… and, thanks to the dogged persistence of our mutual acquaintance, Miss Angela Piperis, I can now say the journey is filled with delightful surprises.”
The waiter quietly approaches, introduces himself as Kyle, “your server tonight” and she reluctantly rolls her eyes back in to focus at the menu. She orders the mushroom risotto, Gerard, the Quenelles, which are actually fish balls, in other words, ground fish rolled into gelatinous balls. Aside from volunteering that tacky description of the meal he just ordered, she feels all warm and sophisticated while tasting the rich flavor and sniffing the high alcohol content of the Cabernet Sauvignon. A 2003 from Grgich Hills – the bottle was over $500. Beulah wasn’t worried though, an old fashioned gentleman’s vocabulary does not include “Dutch Treat”. Still, it is the most expensive glass of wine she has ever consumed. It tastes of oak and blackberries and of years spent in cool dark caves. The gnarled branches of the vines growing at Grgich Hills Winery had come originally from France. They retained the DNA of ancient grapes grown in volcanic soil formed by the French Alps. A sensual reminder on the tongue – the taste brought visions of Lascaux cave paintings – the red outlines of prehistoric hands – outstretched in a 30,000 year old reach toward immortality.
It all comes back to that – to be remembered – to matter. How cool would it be to build a game where players are all Neanderthals and they have to find the red paint, mix it with blood (someone else’s of course) and make the cave art in order to get to the next level and score the Mastodon spear? Teams would be essential and the players limited to communicating with hand gestures and facial expressions of their avatars… She shakes herself out of her reverie as Gerard is asking what sort of work she does.
“I’m a coder – for virtual reality games. I tell the computer, in its own language, how to build a village, for instance. And then, when the player interacts with the surroundings, the objects within have to grow and shrink in precise proportions – all in lockstep with the player’s proximity to the object. It’s actually a bunch of letters and numbers and yet, it is also art. At least the way I do it, it’s art.”
“This career, it has no requirement of daylight? Je pense que oui. Pardonez moi, Beulah, from time to time, when I think out loud, I think in French. I meant that, in this global world, where one’s co-workers are living in their very different time zones, sending their work product across the equator at all hours of the day or night, is it not good to have a portable livelihood free of the restraints of our ancestors?”
There are maybe one and a half more glasses of wine in the bottle, so Gerard replaces the cork gently, and offers to carry everything back to her door.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“Au contraire, Beulah, I believe it is the gentleman’s responsibility to see his lady friend home safely. It is the custom, after an evening meal, to walk in Paris. Is there a similar custom here in San Francisco?”
“Come to think of it, it would be nice to stretch my legs. OK, let’s drop this stuff off, and we’ll take a hike up to Market, then down the Embarcadero. Since the freeway came down, lots of people stroll along the Bay.”
They make good time, Gerard walking satisfyingly fast, just a little quicker than Beulah, then he matched her step for step. The panhandlers left them alone, preferring slower prey.
“This is it, I’ll just be a minute.”
While Gerard waits outside, she dashes upstairs, puts the food in the refrigerator, the wine on the counter, grabs some gloves and a hat, switches to flats, and is back down and ready to roll in five minutes flat. As they stroll along the Embarcadero, the wind carries a chill straight from the San Francisco Bay to their faces. Some of the alleys between the warehouses along Howard Street had never been paved per se, the chunky granite cobblestones still serving their purpose long after the sounds of horses’ hooves had faded.
As they stroll, Beulah is recalling one of her favorite Alanis Morissette songs that asks the eternal question: “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t cha think? An old man turns ninety-eight, wins the lottery, and dies the next day…” She thinks that Gerard just might be a winning lottery ticket, and she’d like to collect before she turns ninety-eight. Life is both darkness and light, sunshine and moonlight, hot and cold, and I could totally handle living only at night. Man I hope he is what I think he is. Like Mom always said: You don’t ask you don’t get, so I’m jumping in…”
“Gerard. And I believe you are hungry right now, even though you hardly touched your food. You are hungry for, if I’m not completely off base here – maybe – some fresh blood?”
“Ah, Beulah, you are too enamored of those fantasy games you design. And if I was a vampire, why would you agree to be bitten?”
“You must believe me Gerard, I want this. I want to be young forever, to never again experience the pain of radiation. I know I should hesitate. I barely survived the deaths I have already experienced. My brother, my mother, the father I never knew, all dead. There would be so many more deaths to come, I know that, and I know that for those with extended lifespans, it never ends. But I have no one to nurture, no one to miss.”
Beulah continues, “As soon as I start to bemoan missing a sunrise, or seeing the shadows cast by the trees in Muir Woods, I can put on my Oculus Rift goggles, and look at it in high-definition three-dimensional splendor. Have you watched a movie in 3D? We could start an online group for others of our kind – I already thought of a name “Extended Lifespan Terrestrials”, or ELTs. Not exactly the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks either. Kind of like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence face off against the Sisters of Mercy. I believe that our life eternal will be elegant and grand. I know you need me – there are too many ways this century’s technology baffles you.”
Beulah faces Gerard in the moonlight and says “So bite me, I want this.”
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Hi Catherine, I would like to comment on your story, hopefully with some constructive critique. I think your writing is quite creative. I like the way you get right into the story. The first line definitely gets our attention. Your story holds together, but there were a few things that stopped me. At points, I felt like the voice was confusing because we are seeing this character from a third person perspective, but so much 'thinking' in italics comes across as first person. (a bit confusing) Perhaps free and indirect discourse can be shown ...