As we left the hospice and stepped into the crisp morning air it was still dark, my attitude ambivalent. My conflicted feelings had a numbing effect. Although I was deeply grieving her passing, I also felt as though a weight was crumbling -- falling from me like ash. All of us had spent much time in doctors offices, clinics and, before the final move to hospice care, the hospital. I wouldn’t be coming back to this place again. I wouldn’t be helping my mother slowly make her way into any of these places -- no more appointments, no more hospital cafeteria food, no more hours spent beside her reading as she slept. No more enduring the arrogant impatient attitudes of doctors delivering the results of the latest blood tests -- or reminding harried nurses that they were late with her meds and need to attend to her ASAP. So my relief was mixed with sadness and a little guilt.
**** **** ****
Two weeks later my sisters, my brother and I were set up for an estate sale. Since mom’s apartment had to be vacated before month’s end, we decided to move all of her possessions to my house. A neighbor had told me to have the sale early in the morning because estate sales advertised in the newspaper were magnets for deal-hungry aggressive people. Some of them would be outside my house peeking in windows and salivating long before the time I’d announced.
The days had become perceptibly shorter. The early evening darkness and the prolonged dawns were depressing. They made me tired and sleepy. I was anxious to climb into my warm bed and get the deep sleep I needed. Everything was set up for the sale in my double car garage so I could relax until tomorrow.
It seemed as though I had barely fell asleep when I was awakened by a knock at the door. Annoyed, I looked at the clock on my bedside table. Damn it was only four o’clock! “what the hell,” I muttered as I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the hall to the front door. It had been snowing and the yard was already layered with a white glistening blanket, so I was even more surprised, and slightly alarmed, to see a young woman standing on my porch. She was without a jacket and poorly dressed for the cold. I 'm sure my voice sounded testy. "Yes?” I assumed her car was stuck and she needed a phone, but I was wrong.
“I’m terribly sorry if I’ve awakened you,” she said in a concerned but sweet tone. “Is this where the estate sale is to be held?”
Oh my gawd, I thought, growing even more irritated. “The sale isn’t until seven o’clock! And there isn’t much of value anyhow. Come back then.”
“Yes, I understand,” she said, “but I’m afraid I'll be long gone by that time and I had my heart set on being here." She smiled and raised her eyebrows pleadingly.
I just stood there staring at her. The grogginess of sleep was clearing up. She was very pretty and very pale. In fact her skin nearly glowed. Like the snow behind her, there was a vague shimmer to her skin. But as fast as I registered her beauty I also suspected that she was a little crazy. Who would be dressed like that in this bone chilling cold? She wore a red tank top under a pink cotton shirt, tight jeans that she must have poured herself into, and a pair of leather open-toed sandals.
I sighed impatiently. “You must be freezing out there.”
She smiled. “I don’t really get cold.”
“Well, come in, just the same.”
She followed me down the hall where I opened the inside door to the garage. “As long as you’re here, you may as well look around.”
As put out as I was, I stood and watched her, admiring her shape as she slowly made her way around the tables, furniture and piles of stuff. Her movements were smooth as a cats. She picked up an old photo album, thumbed through it. She looked up at me surprised. “You’re not keeping this?” she asked as she gently placed the album down.
“I’m not very interested in all that old stuff.”
“But surely you have siblings or relatives who will want them . . . I mean after all, they are your ancestors aren’t they?”
She picked up a framed photo from the same box that the album was in. “Who are these pretty ladies here?”
“My mother and my aunt.”
She smiled, “they look like Maud and Myrna.”
“What?” I said. Maud and Myrna were my grandfather’s sisters long since deceased. “How could you know that?” I demanded. “Who are you?”
She glided toward me holding out her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Virginia.”
I took her hand. It was very cold. “Jake,” I said. “How do you know about my family?”
“I saw a photo of them in the album, Silly.”
“Oh, right. I just thought . . . It was . . . Kind of strange.
Her laugh was musical and disarming. I laughed too. “Okay,” she said suddenly, “I’ve found what I want.”
“But you’ve hardly looked at anything.”
“I’ve got a good eye,” she answered.
“Only one?” I laughed. I immediately felt embarrassed by the corny pun and wished I hadn't said that.
She walked around the room purposefully retrieving various items she could scarcely have seen in the short time she‘d been there; a dark old oil painting of a landscape, a bowl and ewer, two big plastic jugs with funnel and siphon hose. Then she bent over a large box of old vinyl LPs that Mom had hung onto. I moved to help her as I knew the box was very heavy. I’d had barely been able to lift it when I had moved it from Mom’s to my truck and from my truck into my garage. But before I took two steps she scooped up the box as if it was empty. She must have seen the shock and surprise on my face and said; “This one is kind of heavy.”
I burst out laughing. “Are you for real?”
“As far as I know,” she smiled.
“Let me help you get this stuff to your car,” I said.
“So how much do I owe you?” The records were probably worth a lot. I gave her a sum and she paid me from a man’s wallet without batting an eye.
“Would you like something hot to drink before you go? Coffee, Tea? I could make hot chocolate.”
“I’d love to but I can’t. That’s why I came early remember? I’m driving down to Texas and I am not sure I’ll make it back by Monday as it is.”
“That’s a long distance. Where about in Texas? Some of my family came from there.”
“Yes, I know,” she said hurriedly, “I live near Dublin, Comanche County.”
That sounded familiar, I thought to myself. I helped her load up the stuff she bought and watched as she stepped into the drivers seat. “Thanks so much Jake. You’ve been too kind.”
“What about the old photo album? Did you want that?”
Her smile dropped and she almost glared at me. “Jake, you keep those photos. They’re important and one day you’ll see that.”
“Alright,” I agreed. She smiled again and slowly pulled away. I watched her until her car disappeared around the corner. I wished I’d asked her more questions, asked for her number even. Silly though since she lived in another state and far away from here. I looked at my watch. It was already six o’clock but the sun wouldn’t rise until nearly eight. I felt a strange disappointment as I walked back into the house. I retrieved the album and sat it on the kitchen table, then prepared myself some breakfast.
As I ate, I thumbed through the album. There was indeed a photo of my great aunts Maud and Myrna -- but there was nothing written to indicate there names. I shook my head. Bizarre.
**** **** ****
A week later I was at work where I tended bar. I was not particularly watching the clientele. It was a large place with a huge dance floor and there were only three of us working behind the bar. Nevertheless, I occasionally glanced out beyond the line of people in front of me. I almost choked on the water I was drinking as I saw a woman walking toward me with a wide grin on her face. She came directly to my station, cutting in front of other patrons waiting to order.
“Virginia!” I said. “I thought you were in Texas by now.”
“I decided to stay awhile. Thought I’d drop by and say hello.”
"That’s great! But how did you know where to find me?”
She shrugged and said. “lively place. What time are you off work?”
My heart beat faster. “I’ll be done by two-thirty. Why?”
“I’ll take you up on that hot drink you offered last week. How about meeting me at that all night diner across the street when you're off?”
I watched her turn and walk away, hips swaying like a well timed metronome. The rest of the night drug on and I thought I’d never be done. I will not relive that first meeting other than to say I was in awe of this pale graceful thing. But she proved unresponsive to anything more than amiable conversation and a little innocent flirtation.
She agreed to meet me several times -- always in the evenings and never for meals -- just drinks. She was very interested in my life, my family, my history, my friends but I could never coax information from her. The only thing she ever said about her life was that she missed her sisters. “I’ve got three; Amanda, Rebekah and Jasmine. I miss them so much.”
“They’re in Texas?”
“You could say that,” she answered. Whatever that meant.
I suppose familiarity can breed contempt but I was surprised to find myself growing more and more impatient at her unchanging, almost static personality. At first it had been charming but the more I saw her, the more irritated I became by the sameness of her, her evasiveness, her unresponsiveness to romance or sexual innuendo. I couldn’t get to first base and it finally broke through my thick skull that I never would. She was some sort of walking talking laughing statue.
So the next time I saw her, as far as I was concerned would be our final date. As she walked with me to the car, she looked up at me quizzically. “What’s wrong Jake?”
“This romance is going nowhere,” I answered.
“You see?” I shouted. “What am I to you, just some guy to keep you company?
“Jake. I think you are adorable, but we can’t. You’re going to be a great catch for someone someday, but we. . .”
“Can’t” I interrupted. “Why? Are you married. Diseased? What?”
At that moment a gang of young guys was beside us. I hadn’t even noticed them approaching. Their belligerent attitude was apparent before one of them opened his mouth. “Nice wheels,” he said rubbing my car.
“Don’t touch that,” Virginia said to the guy.
“What’d you say bitch? You got something to say to me?”
“She said don’t touch that,” I interjected. “We don’t want any trouble here so . . .”
The guy interrupted me. “Oh, I see. You’re here to protect the lady. Your ho’s got a nice ass. I bet she likes it doggie style. Maybe she wants to share. You wanna share a piece, baby,” he said as he reached out toward her butt. She threw his arm away before he actually touched her.
“You touch me,” she said in a low steely voice that I’d never heard, “I’ll rip your arm off.”
The other guys, silent until now, started laughing and hooting. “What the fuck did you say, you skanky bitch?” he said, reaching out again.
What happened next was so fast and violent I could hardly process it all.
She grabbed his right arm and yanked it behind his back. Then she jerked it up at an impossible angle above his head. There was a sickening snap and the guy fell to the ground screaming. The others stood there in disbelief, but before they could react there was a frenzy of movement. In a blur three of them were on the ground and a few feet away Virginia had one of them pinned against a tree. There was a horrible growl as she bent over him. It looked as though she was kissing his neck. As the boy’s body grew limp, she looked over at me with wild eyes. Her mouth and chin were glistening in the dim streetlight and her tongue was lolling like a happy puppy. Then she smiled at me. “It’s okay Jake. He’s not dead.”
Oh my gawd, it was blood on her face! I jumped in my car -- cowardly, I know -- revved the engine and peeled out, spraying a rooster tail of gravel and dirt behind me. I drove and drove, no destination. I was just driving down the highway to put miles between me and her. After a while I slowed down and pulled over, still gripping the steering wheel with enough force to cause my hands to go numb. My cell went off and I picked it up -- but I didn’t say anything.
“Jake.” It was Virginia.
“Okay!” I yelled. “I get it. You can’t love me because you’re a fucking vampire!” I almost choked on that word, believing and not believing at the same time.
“No, Jake, that’s not it. I . . .”
“You bit that kid, Virginia! I saw the blood spurting from his neck. It was all over your face. What the hell?”
“Look Jake. Just calm down, I can explain everything. It’s almost sunrise now and I’ve got some things that need to be taken care of but I’ll come to your place tomorrow night.”
“No! Stay away from my house. And stay away from me. I’ll keep your secret if that worries you, but don’t come near me.”
“Jake, please. Calm down for Christssake.”
“You got a lot of nerve bringing Christ into this.”
There was a stifled chuckle from her end of the line. “Be home tomorrow Jake. I’m not going to hurt you, but I must tell you something. It’s important. You’ll understand everything. You’ll feel better.”
“Like hell,” I said. But my voice sounded weak now. I was suddenly so tired. I snapped the phone shut.
**** **** ****
Virginia did not show up the following night. There was disappointment mingled with my relief. I had been worried too about the scene that I had fled the night before. Had the police been called? Was there any chance I could be connected to the violence. She said she hadn’t killed the boy, but I didn’t know anymore whether I could trust her.
Almost three weeks passed before I heard a knock at the door one night. My heart was beating out of my chest as I answered the door, sensing that it was her.
“Jake,” she whispered.
I moved aside and let her enter. As she passed me I wanted to embrace her, I wanted to run from her, I wanted to weep like a child. I followed her into my kitchen where she pulled up a chair. I stood. “Virginia, you don’t owe me anything. I . . . I’m not even sure what I saw.”
“Hush, Jake, I want to ask you something.” She paused as if reconsidering. “Do you have the photo album I told you to keep?”
I looked at her blankly. “What? What does that have to do with anything.”
She sighed. “Do you have it?”
“Go get it Jake. I’ll explain everything.”
I shook my head. “Okay.”
I went down the hall to retrieve the album from my desk. It took me a minute to find the right key. Why I had locked it in my desk, I don’t know.
When I came back to the kitchen, she was gone. A note on the table said:
The answer is in the book.
I sat down and flipped through the pages. What was I looking for? Was there another note slipped inside? She was crazy. But then, on the second to the last page, I saw it. It must have been one of the oldest photos in the album. There, sitting demurely on a fringed chair and dressed in Civil War era clothing and ear bobs, was a beautiful young woman., The face was the very likeness of Virginia.
I gently pulled her out of her photo-cornered placement. Imprinted in the bottom corner was “Langston Studios, Fort Worth, Texas, 1862. I turned the photo over and saw my own mother’s handwriting. It read,