But the villagers did try in surreptitious ways to dislodge the creature in their midst, the one who lived in the big house, or maybe slept in the family crypt. They all grew garlic of course, to the extent that the village became famous for it, and many travellers came there to buy the stuff or trade goods for the fragrant bulbs. Garlic was grown in every garden, front and back, in every cottage and farmhouse and some farmers even cultivated whole fields of it. They took horses into the graveyards because of the belief that the animals couldn’t tread over a vampire’s plot and there were heated conversations about lifting every body, exhuming entire generations of villagers in order to find the one that didn’t belong.
The chapelgoers were uncertain about this, seeming a step too far, this deconsecration. In the knowledge that dogs, like horses were sensitive to vampires – oh how they searched for this sort of knowledge, sending emissaries to great libraries – they trained sheepdogs to scent out the unfamiliar, to alert people to strange things at night. And they talked about how they would slay a vampire once they had found it, with the stake through the heart option winning universal approval and Septimus had sharpened a special one out of oak to a point that could surely pierce metal. Come the day. Come the fateful day.
Which never dawned. Which was why Henry was seated opposite Anna waiting for the first course to arrive, oysters, freshly shucked from the shell. He was thinking about the villagers – runty, maggoty beings, as they were, and how they had to die. They had been the bane of his days for far too long. Yes, die, unlike himself who would stay hungry for centuries to come, and visit other villagers as a curse.
After calamari for Anna and beef carpaccio for him they were served a rich pork stew made with clams in which the meat had been cooked for so long it was melt-on-the tongue delicious. By now Anna has had enough wine to make her tipsy and by dint of this, brave, or at least confident in a way she isn’t usually. So she takes off a shoe and slides her foot along Henry’s leg. His face doesn’t change but she does notice the waxy consistency of his skin. It is the death mask of some famous composer, crazily preserved. Edward Elgar, that’s the one. She had seen it once, maybe in the Malverns of Worcestershire, she can’t be sure. She must be desperate for a man to contemplate going to bed with a man with a face like Elgar’s death mask, she thought. But she’s drawn to the secrets there, the way he elides truth and fact and seems to belong to another age.
He smiles, even though the eyes don’t , and bends to take off one of his shoes and, during the tiramisu, their feet snake and entwine erotically. And as the wine kicks in – affecting Anna much, much more – the feet explore, experimentally, reaching higher and higher so that even Henry’s mask dissolves. Her foot is now in his lap and she feels like she’s a contortionist as she tries to do all this while eating dessert. He plays with his food before suggesting, most abruptly that it is time to pay the bill.
In the taxi they kiss as if each kiss will be the last. Their mouths adhere, in fact their faces meld as one and taking so much as a breath is difficult. Henry is emboldened and has started to palp her breasts and she can hear ‘Nimrod’ playing, the slide of violins. Anna can see the taxi driver’s eyes looking back at them and the frustration builds, a pressure cooker of want and lust and desire to have Henry, fingering her like a pianoforte. She is filling up with desire and pumping blood and she is ready, oh so ready. Soon she will explode and wants this journey to end and for them to arrive at her flat. His house, he suggests is too far, out in the country, ‘a dingy pile’, as he puts it.
It is raining when they arrive, but neither feels so much as a raindrop. Anna slams the door shut and offers him a drink but he is taking off his coat, taking off his brogues, coming in for another deep, asphyxiating kiss. He kisses her on the throat, a suckerfish on the aquarium glass and she fears she will have bright bruises there come the morning.
She does not want to mar or miss the moment when he sees her underwear. She has kept the receipt, just in case. Neither does she want things to happen too fast, as she has been dreaming about this for far too long. For weeks, months, maybe all her life.
‘You make yourself comfortable,’ she says, aware of the cliché. ‘I won’t be long, I promise.’
In the bathroom she sees her eyes are reddened by the Shiraz from the Margaret River, but the lipstick she applies is bolder, redder, claret. She takes off her thin jacket and opens her blouse so that she shows off her line of cleavage. The bra shows, the blue of bright sky. She is sexy and it sets off little charges of thrill.
By the time she comes back in Henry has already moved into the bed with the duvet covering him up to the neck. He looks like someone about to be embalmed, which is a bit of dampener of a thought. His face is white, his greasy hair a spill on the pillow.
She teases him. ‘Don’t be shy, Henry. You can show me what you’ve got or we won’t get very far. And we want to go far, don’t we? Transport ourselves to far off shores of wild abandon… don’t we?’
Then she kneels over him on the bed and, to the accompaniment of a CD chosen expressly for this moment, Prince’s ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, playing quietly in all its majestic sultriness she shakes herself free of her shirt, which swirls to the floor, diaphanous. Henry seems mesmerised by her boobs and his hands reach out. Or perhaps he’s fixated on the throbbing vein in her neck, which promises both succour and sexual charge. He hasn’t eaten properly for sixty years: the carpaccio had made his teeth water, especially his lupine incisors. They are sharp as scalpels. He has not had to eat, he thinks, as the last great feast, back in 1848 involved a whole extended family and their servants, and he had drained their blood like draining a swamp. He was clever too, made it seem as if the whole bally lot of them had gone missing on the mountain and by the time the bodies were found there was no evidence of blood slurp or tell tale puncture marks.
‘Not yet, Henry, not yet.’
Anna was delaying things, even as she played with her breasts in front of him, enjoying their heft and feel. She plays with them as she would with dough for the bread maker and makes the teats stiffen. Henry is enjoying this, or at least she thinks he is, but he has a far away look, as if his mind he is in Transylvania or somewhere.
Then he pulls her in towards him so that soon they are as one flesh, pulling and withdrawing, building up an insistent rhythm. Their breathing keeps time to the bass line in the song and speeds up, with passages of arrhythmia in his case as he misses beats. By the time the song is finished so too are the lovers, splayed out, exhausted on the bed, and they have produced their own music, one of crashing tympani and volcanic violins, of sea-surge pulsing on cello and on bass, the great crescendo of sexual congress. Anna and Henry, body on body.
With a languorous kiss Henry signals his need to sleep now and Anna turns away from him to set the alarm for the morning, as she has to work early. As she drifts off she can feel something pressing on her shoulder and remembers that Henry is there with her, her weird lover, her deeply, deeply weird lover. She is not to know that he is reminiscing through taste, and remembering the flavour of a young girl from Oldenburg in the time of Martin Luther.
By morning Henry has fed well and returns slyly to the house of ermine. In a few days, when the police break into the flat (after one of her colleagues sounded some alarm) the pathologist, Austin Smith will notice two small puncture marks and dismiss them as insect bore holes. He shrugs off any notion of vampires and vampire bites as a carryover from the days when he watched films starring Boris Karloff. He was a rational man. So, not in this day and age. No blood-sucking monsters. And certainly not in the village of Clydach.