© Maria Thermann 22.11.2009
If You Love Him, Tell Him…
“Stop playing with your food, I’m not telling you again!” Alice Band shot an angry glance across the kitchen table.
“I’m not playing, Babe. I’m just trying to …erm…soften up the merchandise,” her husband Dylan said. He tapped the dish in front of him with the back of a spoon. “Who’d have thought she’d be so…”
“Sinewy and middle-aged?” suggested Alice helpfully.
”Fit and healthy! She’s an exotic dancer, actually. Naturally she’d be covered in muscles wrestling that huge snake every night.” Dylan tickled the writhing body in front of him. “Oh look, she’s woken up!”
“Exotic dancer, my foot! You’ve picked up an ageing stripper from that club down by the river!” Alice snorted and mopped up a puddle of milk drenching the breakfast table. She moved the milk bottle out of the dancer’s reach, as the fully conscious woman had begun to thrash her legs about. “Were you too drunk to tie her up properly?” Alice shredded the milky kitchen cloth into tiny pieces.
“I wasn’t drunk, Babe…honest…not as such. Just tired, you know…a hard night’s hunting… I came across her when I …erm…after the gig had finished, the boys and I went for a drink. It was Rob’s birthday, what could I do?” Dylan risked an anxious glance at his wife. In an effort to appease her, he grabbed the breakfast dish by the ankles and tied up her legs with a tea towel.
“Good morning, Willow. Sit down and have some breakfast, darling.” Ignoring her husband, Alice put a plate out for her eleven-year-old daughter, who had just come down the stairs.
“I think I’ll give breakfast a miss, Mum. I don’t much care for …wrinkly food.” Willow said with a quizzical look at the dancer’s mascara stained face.
The woman was making gurgling noises now. Dylan had gagged her with one of his socks. He had secured the sock with one of the dancer’s own fishnet stockings, fastening the garment with a knot at the back of her platinum blonde head. Willow moved her chair further away from the table.
“It’s not what my school friends would get for breakfast, that’s for sure!” Darren won’t touch anything that isn’t organic!” Willow pushed her plate away.
“I know what you mean, darling … there’s way too much face powder and rouge. It can’t be healthy! Perhaps some left-over from yesterday? Do you fancy a slice of that young German tourist we had for dinner?” Alice smiled encouragingly at her, displaying perfectly shaped fangs in a beautiful face untouched by time.
Willow shook her head and poured some milk into her glass. She couldn’t help smiling back at her mother, though. Alice’s efforts to give Willow as normal a childhood as possible touched her and she made an effort to appear cheerful. For her parents this was really dinner, not breakfast. They just called it breakfast because Willow had to get up in the morning to go to school now that the summer holidays were over. They had been up all night, hunting for prey in the neighbourhood.
During the summer pickings were rich, with so many tourists visiting the charming village of Stinkforth-upon-Avon. Now that the autumn school term had started, food was harder to come by, as visitors returned to the cities to resume work. During the holidays Willow had been able to earn her keep by providing the family with employees of a nearby cosmetic research facility. However, this food supply had now dried up thanks to the laboratory closing after several “unexplained deaths and disappearances at the animal testing lab”as a newspaper man had described it in his tabloid column.
“I think I’ll be turning in now, Babe. I’ll have my breakfast later, if you don’t mind. Just leave it in the larder.” Dylan yawned. He tickled the dancer’s well-toned belly and stood up to leave the kitchen. On his way upstairs he usually picked up his 12-string guitar to play a tune before bedtime, but today he seemed preoccupied and anyway, the guitar was not in its usual place.
“Not so fast, lover-boy. Do you really think I’m going to store THAT in the larder for your amusement later, when I’m asleep upstairs?” Alice hissed at her husband. She poked the woman in the ribs, provoking a renewal of gurgling and sobbing.
The dancer’s wide eyes stared up from the table, clearly hoping to catch a glimpse of pity in Alice’s eyes. No such emotion was forthcoming, however. Alice threw a tea towel over the dancer’s head, as if she were a parrot to be silenced, picked her up and stuffed the helpless woman into the cupboard under the stairs. Alice locked the door and put the key into the pocket of her red velvet jacket, which she wore over her tight-fitting black dress.
Dylan shrugged his shoulders, ran his fingers through his long brown hair in a distracted, careless way and blew a kiss at his wife. With a final have a nice day at school, Princess he left Willow and her mother and went upstairs to go to bed.
“MUSICIANS!” said Willow’s exasperated mother and turned away, but she had not been quite fast enough and Willow had caught the sorrow in her eyes.
Willow sat and sipped her milk in silence, whilst her mother tidied up the kitchen. From her seat, Willow had a perfect view of the fields surrounding their remote cottage. She loved the distant glow of the first lights coming from the village. The villagers would be getting up now, sitting bleary eyed over their porridge or munching their bacon and eggs. Willow loved the smell of bacon, although she hardly ever ate anything that wasn’t freshly slain.
She imagined how Felicity Henderson’s father would hold her a lecture across the breakfast table, reprimanding his daughter for only achieving a satisfactory in her last essay. Felicity’s exceptional school record had taken a nose dive of late. Ever since Willow had won the school’s annual poetry competition, Felicity’s confidence had been shattered. Willow grinned. An astounding piece about childhood, truly deserving a place in the school’s year book their teacher had called Willow’s poem about the late vicar’s book club and his encouragement of young minds.
A thumping noise coming from the cupboard under the stairs startled Willow out of her reverie. The old-fashioned clock on the mantle-piece urged her to get a move on or she’d be late for school. She ran upstairs to get her bag. There was just one more item she needed to pack. Moments later she descended the stairs taking two steps at a time.
“I’ll be back around 6pm today, Mum. There’s an after school activity, which I’d like to go to.” Willow said and quickly closed her bulky school bag.
“Oh, what activity would that be? Not more Kipling readings, I trust?”
“Nah, no poetry this time, don’t worry! Our teacher is planning a trip to the Natural History Museum in London. We are short of funds. Our year is collecting things from pupils’ houses, you know, junk people want to get rid of. There’ll be a jumble sale soon. That reminds me – do we have anything old you’d like to chuck out?”
“I’m sure I could think of something!” Alice said with a nod towards the cupboard under the stairs. “There’s always your old Dad…” she added with a grin and placed a kiss on Willow’s nose. “Be careful now and remember to stay in the shade of the trees when you make your rounds this afternoon.”
Willow ran out of the house and down the tree-lined lane, narrowly avoiding a pile of leaves, which her mother had carefully raked up from under the oak trees surrounding their large garden. She didn’t like lying to her mother, but this was an emergency and it was only a little white lie anyway. If nothing came of her investigation, her mother need never know where her daughter had gone that afternoon. Willow hurried along, as she had to make a brief detour on her way to school.
School was uneventful except for Darren calling Felicity an interfering busy-body, when she’d pestered Willow about the contents of her bulging school bag. Felicity hadn’t taken kindly to this and had threatened to tell her dad, the much-despised new headmaster of their school. Darren had countered this by poking Felicity’s own bag so violently that if fell off the desk, spilling its contents across the floor. It revealed an astonishing number of sweets and also a small make-up bag. Willow chuckled. Mr. Henderson would go mad if he knew his daughter wore make-up in school. Mrs. Henderson would ground Felicity for at least a week. Mrs. Henderson was a dentist demanding total sugar abstinence from everyone living in Stinkforth-upon-Avon.
Willow made her way through a patch of woodland to get to her friend Eddie’s house, ensuring on the way that she wasn’t seen by anyone. Eddie lived in a tumble down house which had stood deserted for thirty years or more whilst Eddie had been in prison. He was a released convict, a wife-murderer. A bake-your-wife-in-a-pie killer. He had taken a hatchet and had cut short his wife’s career as a poultry farmer and unscrupulous pie maker. She’d been the enemy of all pet chickens and small animals. Willow liked him a lot.
Eddie sat in front of the house on his dilapidated garden bench and sipped his afternoon grog. His tousled grey head gave her a friendly nod when she came running up the garden path.
“Everythin’ went accordin’ to plan. Delivered the message, just as you asked me to. I wasn’t followed and she didn’t suspect anythin’. Eddie’s wrinkly face burst into a lop-sided smile. He made room for her on the bench and she threw herself into the seat next to him.
“Great! Now we’ll just have to wait. At 5pm we’ll go down to the old barn and see if she fell for the note.” Willow helped herself to a biscuit from Eddie’s tin. “What’s she like in the day light?”
“Oh, you know…the usual type. Dyed hair, too much red lipstick and if that was a dress she was wearin’ …well, I know I’m old fashioned …but I reckon that girl’s goin’ to catch a cold in that skimpy outfit!”
Willow sat quietly for a while, nibbling her biscuit just for something to do. It was getting chilly and Willow watched Eddie’s breath drifting past her like tiny white clouds. She wished he wouldn’t drink, it wasn’t good for him, but he had assured her, it was only one mug of grog a day to keep the autumn out of his old bones. She watched a squirrel digging under a fruit tree, where Eddie had placed some hazelnuts. A bird was noisily pecking at an apple which hung up on a branch on a piece of string. The air smelled of log fires, grog and Eddie’s supermarket soap.
Dad had never used cheap soap. Dad smelled of sandalwood, cinnamon and centuries of expensive tobacco. She closed her eyes and saw his long hair sleeked back with gel and his slim manicured fingers strumming his beloved guitar, a dusty bottle of wine on the piano next to him.
Her vampire nostrils told her that Eddie wasn’t taking particularly good care of himself with respect to personal hygiene. Intuition told her that he was scared of the future, old age and loneliness. Dad on the other hand positively reeked of confidence, courage and a gifted musician’s arrogance. When Dad entered a room, all eyes were on him. Eddie crept in and out of rooms, disregarded, an invisible old man in a shabby grey coat. Willow put her hand on Eddie’s arm.
“Come, it’s time to go. Can you manage with your leg?”
“Still a bit sore and bothers me in this damp weather, but I’ll manage. Thanks for askin’ though.” Eddie got up and had to lean hard on the back of the bench for a moment, the tiny white clouds coming a bit faster and shallower this time.
They arrived at the old barn a little after 5pm. Eddie had brought an old lantern and they risked lighting it, once they were inside the barn. Willow’s night vision was as a vampire’s should be, but Eddie needed the light to find his way up into the loft. She opened her school bag and revealed an old camera, 1950s style.
“It’s one of Dad’s. He collects all sorts of old junk.” Willow explained and handed Eddie the camera. He ascended the ladder, dragging his aching leg behind him as he went up to hide in the hay.
“Ready?” Willow whispered up into the darkness. Eddie answered with a sneeze.
“Damn hay ticklin’ a man’s extremities when he can’t defend himself.” She heard Eddie curse as he tried to get comfortable.
“Shush, someone’s coming! Put the light out!” Willow darted behind an old tractor and it was only now that the spotted some blankets on the floor. There were two empty wine glasses next to a wicker basket with a dusty bottle of wine, stale bread and a half-eaten chocolate bar. A 12-string guitar lay forgotten on a footstool. Willow gasped and took a step back. She nearly tripped over a lantern displaying the remains of a candle. The barn door creaked at this moment and Willow ducked behind a heap of straw.
“Hello? Is that you, tiger?” A girl’s voice called out in the dark. “Sorry I’m late. A bit difficult to walk across the field in these heels. You’re not cross, honey-bunch, are you?”
Willow nearly retched hearing the girl’s high-pitched sugary voice. The girl had brought her own lantern. She placed it on an empty crate, took off her coat to reveal a very short red dress and made herself comfortable on the blankets right in front of Willow.
Eddie had not exaggerated. The girl’s bleached hair stood in stark contrast to her cherry-red lipstick. A cloud of cheap perfume wafted over to her when the girl turned to reach for the bottle of wine. Willow held her nose to stop herself from sneezing. Noiselessly she retreated even further behind the stack of straw.
“Are you hiding upstairs, tiger? It was sweet of you to send a note via that pensioner. My boss never suspected a thing. I just said I had to take care of my poor old relative who’d come for a day‘s visit from the nursing home. The old skinflint let me go half an hour before closing time. Unheard of! You bring me luck, you do.”
A rustling noise from upstairs cut short her chatter. Willow suspected that Eddie was trying not to laugh at the girl’s description of him. The girl was about to get up and investigate, when the barn door creaked again and a man entered. Willow crouched even lower and didn’t move a muscle. The man came closer; his feet crushed the straw on the floor. He didn’t say anything, just stood there hidden in the shadows.
“There you are my tiger! Come to your sweet Tiffany. Don’t be shy and let me kiss you,” the girl purred. She got up and threw her arms around the stranger’s neck.
“NOW, EDDIE!” Willow yelled. For a split second a flash light from upstairs illuminated the barn, showing a bewildered Tiffany in mid-hug action, Eddie standing on the top rung of the ladder holding a camera and …Willow’s dad staring back at her.
“What the hell are you doing here, Princess?”
“WHAT AM I DOING HERE? What about you … and Miss Tight T-shirt 2009 hanging from your neck, Dad?”
“I saw the light and came here looking for you. Your mother is worried sick about you!” Dylan said, putting an astonished Tiffany firmly aside.
“Pull the other one, Dad! I saw you last night going into the barn with Tiffany Trollope here and this morning, a totally different platinum blonde was lying on our breakfast table. You didn’t meet this girl for culinary reasons, Dad. You were planning to …yuk … you were going to snog her!”
“I warned you not to play with your food, Dylan. You’ve caught your last Blondie-mouse. The game is over, tiger.” Alice said in a choked voice. She had entered the barn unnoticed. Upstairs Eddie relit his lantern and in the flickering light Alice’s eyes glittered with tears.
“Will anyone tell me what’s going on here? Who are you people?” Tiffany’s voice had become shrill.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know my husband, little one! The songwriter with a blonde in every dressing room and a bimbo in every barn? How could you not know him? He advertises his services so well! Hands off, he’s MY TIGER …about to be skinned alive.”
“Listen lady, I’ve never met your husband until just now, when the old pervert up there tried to take our picture. If you’re so worried about your bloke, perhaps you should take better care of him?”
Alice grabbed Tiffany by the throat lifting her up in the air. “I’ll deal with you later, Bleach Babe!”
“I swear to you on our daughter’s head that I’ve never seen this girl before.” Dylan interrupted, gazing at his daughter with a look of infinite sadness. He tried laying his hand on Willow’s shoulder, but she evaded his touch.
“Liar! Eddie gave Tiffany a note asking her to meet you here.” Willow yelled. “How could you, Dad? Just look at that cheap little tar-“
“Princess, you don’t understand. Just let me explain –“
“Don’t bother, Dad! I HATE YOU!”
“Willow! Take your friend and leave now. GO HOME!” Alice pointed at the open door.
Willow and Eddie slunk out of the barn and into the field. Eddie heard Willow crying. He reached into his coat pocket and gave her a handkerchief. She blew her nose and wiped her eyes. Behind her in the barn a fight had broken out. Willow feared that this time her Dad’s luck and her Mum’s capacity for forgiveness had run out for good.
“It seemed such a good idea … taking a picture of them … telling Dad never to see that little troll again or I’d tell Mum. Oh, what a mess …I’ve made everything worse!” Willow sobbed.
“You weren’t to know that your Mum would follow your Dad. She’s usually asleep at this time of day, you said.”
“Oh Eddie, she was so worried, I saw it in her eyes this morning. Dad goes through these funny phases… Mum must have suspected…”
“Thought you couldn’t take pictures of vampires? No reflection?” Eddie tried to distract Willow.
“There would have been a photo of the girl though …with Dad’s guitar lying there and … sometimes …if you catch us unawares … in the dark like …you can see an outline of a vampire.” Willow tried to suppress a hic-up.
“Hence the 1950s camera with a huge flash light?”
“Yeah. I feel so ashamed, Eddie! The way Dad looked at me just now … he must be so disappointed in me.”
“Not really my place to say but … I reckon your Dad is a bit of a fool. Such a beautiful wife and daughter who love him … a comfortable home…” Eddie’s voice trailed off.
Willow suddenly felt very sad. What was going to happen now? She’d never seen her mother so upset. Willow felt sad for Eddie, too. He’d never had a loving wife and daughter …or a comfortable home come to think of it. She shouldn’t have dragged him out here on a cold night. She had treated her father’s infidelity like a game. Catch Dad at it – tell him he’d behaved like an idiot. End of story … and now what? Broken hearts all round!
Darren’s parents were divorced. Darren never got to see his dad. He’d moved away and had written a letter to say that he couldn’t cope seeing his son just during the holidays. He’d sooner give up seeing his son all together than suffering the separation at the end of each summer. Willow had taken for granted that her vampire parents would love each other forever – literally, since they had no natural enemies in the neighbourhood to cut short their after-lives. There was no such thing as a vampire divorce court giving custody. Vampires settled their differences with their fangs and claws. Willow felt sick.
“He seemed genuinely surprised though,” Eddie said to break the silence.
“You bet he was surprised at having his cuddle interrupted like that!” Willow kicked a bushel of grass and regretted it instantly. It was covered in cow pads.
“No, I mean he was surprised at seein’ the girl. Like he’d never clapped eyes on her before –“
At that moment a scream pierced the night and put any thoughts of guilt out of Willow’s mind. Her parents needed her, what was she doing standing about in a field scraping cow dung off her shoes? She turned and ran back to the barn.
Willow was just in time. Her mother was lying unconscious on the floor. During the matrimonial fighting Tiffany had managed to throw some old netting over Alice. In an effort to free herself, Alice had fallen over the crate and knocked her self and the lantern out. Dylan was on the floor, too. A broken bottle lay next to his head. Clearly there was more to Tiffany than met the eye!
“Ouch, my head …I duelled with Casanova! I beat Mozart in a marathon piano recital and I escaped the Spanish Inquisition …only to be defeated by a shop girl! How humiliating!“ Dylan mumbled when he regained his senses.
Tiffany sat on his chest and held the business end of a broken broom handle over his heart. Dylan remained very still, his eyes signalling to Willow not to do anything rash.
“Tell them!” Tiffany demanded.
“I tried, they won’t believe me.” Dylan squirmed under the sharp spike pointed at his chest.
“Tell them or I’ll stick this thing into you, I swear! My Gran warned me some axe murderer was roaming the country side …. What with all those people disappearing at the cosmetics lab and the vicar vanishing without a trace. I laughed at her, told her not to believe everything she read in the papers. Axe murderer indeed! Look at me … I’m arguing with a bunch of vampires!” Tiffany was furious. Her romantic evening had been ruined. She had been half strangled by a jealous wife and had almost snogged a 400-year-old bloke. Willow sympathised up to a point.
“Fine! I’ll tell them …I’ve never met you before today … but I did know that you were going to be here tonight, because Rob asked me to give you a message. The message said: GET LOST!” Dylan heaved a sigh. “Happy now?”
“I’ll be happy when you and your banshee wife are a pile of dust!” Tiffany pressed the stake firmly into Dylan’s shirt.
“Rob?” asked Willow, her eyes wide with disbelief. “What’s your bass player got to do with this mess?”
“Princess, he’s been using this barn for his secret meetings with Tiffany, so her husband wouldn’t find out they were seeing each other! Tiffany clearly thought your note was from Rob! Do you think we could discuss this later? Perhaps you could … erm …get your mother to squash this insect on my chest?”
“It was you I saw going into the barn last night, Dad. I’d know your green coat anywhere. It’s got that embroidery on the back, remember, the one Mum did for you … and that’s your guitar over there!”
“Princess, Rob borrowed my guitar to impress the girl. I swapped my coat with him last night so I could –“
“So you could do what exactly?” Alice had woken up and rubbed her head. She tried to free herself from the netting but only succeeded in entangling her long black hair even further.
“…so I could follow you unnoticed, Babe! Alice, where have you been these past weeks? You sneak off when you think Willow and I are asleep. You evade my questions. I thought … well, I haven’t made a lot of money with my gigs lately and I guess I haven’t been the most attentive husband either … Perhaps you don’t love me any more? Is there somebody else?”
“After 200 years of marriage you think that of me? You still don’t really know me, do you?” Alice said quietly.
“The new shoes … that tight dress … and your hair looks different, too –“ Dylan said and Willow saw that he instantly regretted having drawn attention to his wife’s hair, which stuck out from under the netting and looked as if it was covered in bird droppings.
“Oh darling, how could you think such a thing! I’ve been working at the petrol station. My shift starts at 9pm …we were so short of cash …I was ashamed to tell you … working like a human … with a social security card and a family health insurance plan!”
“How very touching! Who cares what you’ve been up to, Toothy! I reckon the local police will be pleased to get the killers of all those people. Let’s say I dust your husband and then hand over you and your child in exchange for the reward being offered by the cosmetics company?” Tiffany threatened.
“You’d have to get past me first, Goldie Locks.” Alice snarled and tried to get up.
“Hah, you reckon? By the time you’ve staggered over here in your fishnets, your husband will be ready for the vacuum cleaner!” Tiffany raised her arm as if to bring down the stake.
“Leave my Dad alone, you … you underdressed shop dummy!”
“Goodbye my little Princess, goodbye dearest Alice, love of my after-life!” Dylan closed his eyes and awaited the blow.
“Don’t hurt him, I beg you! My darling, please forgive me for suspecting you.” Alice’s voice trembled.
Willow realised that this soppy moment of parental reconciliation presented the best chance she’d get. She launched herself at a surprised Tiffany and knocked her to the ground with a kick to the stomach. With a left hook to the chin she sent the shop girl flying into the tractor wheel. Tiffany sank to the ground like a broken rag doll. Willow couldn’t resist giving her another kick – just to make sure she posed no further threat, of course!
Part of her wanted to throw her arms around her parents. She wished for them all to go home and be a family again. But another part of her, the more grown up part perhaps, decided to leave her parents alone in the barn. Willow tied a rope around Tiffany, placed both of the lanterns on the crate and quietly left. Just before she closed the door, she saw her father affectionately peeling bird droppings out of her mother’s hair.
“I love you, Dad.” Willow whispered and closed the door.
“I reckon they’ll be fine now, Eddie. They’ve got candle light, a comfy bed for the night …something to eat and drink.“ Willow pictured Tiffany’s soft white throat and smiled.
She turned and promptly fell over something large lying on the ground. It was Eddie.
The excitement of the events had been too much for him and he had collapsed. His eyelids flickered and he was very pale. His breath was hardly making clouds at all now.
“I’m taking you to a doctor. Just hang on in there, Eddie, just hang on!” Willow tried to lift him but he sank back to the ground with a groan.
“Leave me be, girl. Time to say goodbye, I reckon.”
“No way, Eddie! You have to go into hospital … they’ll make you better!”
“No point takin’ me to hospital. A useless old man, a convict, a murderer. They won’t bother with me. Just take me back to the house, there’s a good girl.”
With an effort Eddie lifted himself up and supported by Willow, they made slow progress towards Eddie’s house. At the end of the path, Eddie passed out again and Willow, desperate to help her friend, did the only thing she could think of. She took him home. Not to his ramshackle house with the draughty windows and the damp old settee. Not back to his bedroom where Eddie’s wife glared down from the faded photographs.
Willow took him back to her own home, placed him on the sofa in front of the log fire and covered him with a blanket. She’d read somewhere that humans needed warmth when they were poorly. She wasn’t sure what else they needed and was about to telephone Darren, when a thumping noise startled her. Something moved under the stairs!
She had forgotten the snake lady! Willow picked the lock and let the woman out. Her face was swollen from crying and she was bruised from kicking the door for hours, but otherwise she seemed to have survived her day under the stairs quite well.
“Used to work for a magician. The Great Zeppo made me squeeze myself into all sorts of tight places on stage.” Rita Ramona explained, once Willow had removed the sock from Rita’s mouth.
Rita was busy surveying the damage to her fishnets, when Eddie regained consciousness and groaned again. “What’s the matter with him? Is he another one of your lunatic family?” Seeing Willow’s distress she added more kindly: “Your granddad’s unwell?”
Willow was about to say that Eddie wasn’t her granddad, when it occurred to her that Rita might be able to help.
“Yeah, Granddad’s unwell but he refuses to go into hospital. I’ve kept him warm but I don’t know what else I can do.”
“Leave him to me, ducks. I used to be a paramedic.” Rita gently pushed Willow aside so she could examine Eddie.
Willow marvelled at Rita’s career change from paramedic to contortionist to exotic dancer, not to mention snake wrestler! But most of all she wondered about Rita’s capacity for forgiveness and willingness to help a family who had tried to eat her.
“I’m sorry, duckie. I don’t think he’s going to make it through the night without a doctor. He’s had a stroke. You’d best say your goodbyes as soon as. I’ll stay with you until … well, until he goes to sleep.” Rita put her arm around Willow’s shoulder.
“But he can’t die, he just can’t! He’s my friend and I … Willow swallowed hard and bravely carried on: “I love him!”
“Thank you for … taking me home.” Eddie whispered and closed his eyes.