My heart yearns for your fragrant hair
The smell of life, the smell of love ...
Annie isn't sure who first brought out the notebook. It must have been George, of course; George, who wrote terrible poems about Nina's fragrant hair and soft skin; George, who believed love smelled like lavender and ylang-ylang; George, who was calmly and minutely falling apart day by day after Nina left him, the house, and all of them.
It was a plain scribbler with a nondescript blue cover and neat, lined pages. Annie moved it from the kitchen table to the coffee table, and Mitchell tossed it on the floor when he came back from his hospital shift. A few minutes later, though, he scooped it up off the floor and snorted.
“'Fragrant hair'? Really?”
Annie shrugged, hands tight around her cooling cup of undrinkable tea. “It's sort of sweet, don't you think?”
Mitchell rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Every man in love fancies himself a poet.”
“You saying you've written poems, Mitchell?”
Mitchell dug a pen out of the sofa cushions and started to write. “Leave that where George can see it, okay?” His grin was wide and guileless, the way it hadn't been since Herrick's death. “We all need more poetry in our lives.”
There once was a werewolf named George,
Who went to the woods to forage.
He found there a beast,
And had a great feast,
But then had no room for his porridge.
George stared at the notebook with annoyance. “Oh, that is—that is ... really bad poetry.”
Annie sniggered behind her mug. “I thought it was rather clever. Forage, porridge. He had to think about it, you know. It's not like 'There once was a man from Nantucket'.”
“All of ten seconds, I'm sure,” George said, putting the notebook down. “I suppose I'm glad he didn't use 'gorge.' It could've been worse.”
“Maybe I ought to try one,” Annie said thoughtfully.
George tossed her the notebook. “Go mad.”
There once was a ghost from Bristol
Who was really quite a pistol.
“That's not a poem,” Mitchell pointed out. “And your rhythm's off.”
“And you forgot to buy milk again,” Annie said haughtily and disappeared as if she'd never been there. Mitchell and George stared at the empty space.
“Right, so milk.”
George turned the page and started a list.
Annie put tomatoes on the list, even though she couldn't eat them. There were times she missed being able to eat. She'd loved cooking, and everything that went along with it, including the slow stroll through the market on Saturday mornings, holding hands with Owen. God, how naive she'd been to think that was going to be their life—holding hands and choosing produce together. Choosing furniture, choosing curtains, choosing rings.
She reached for the tomatoes Mitchell had left on the counter. They were small and ripe, still attached to the vine. She held them to her nose and inhaled: good earth, sunshine, and that unmistakable smell of things recently growing. If she closed her eyes she could almost imagine the garden they had come from, the farmer's warm hands plucking the vine carefully.
“Should I leave you two alone?” Mitchell asked from the kitchen doorway.
Annie threw a tomato at his head. Her aim was very good.
After that, the notebook was always around. It wasn't that they talked less, but that there were things no one wanted to say.
Top Three Reasons George Needs to Get Over It
1. So he'll stop snuffling like a wounded dog in his sleep.
2. So he'll stop whimpering Nina's fucking name all night long.
3. So maybe someone else can get some bloody sleep!
“Do you actually need to sleep,” Annie asked, genuinely curious, “or are you just taking the piss because it's George?”
Mitchell rolled over in his bed and glared at her. “I have a bed, Annie.”
“It could just be for show. Keep up appearances, and all that.” She gave the mattress a somewhat tentative bounce with her hips. “Or, you know, it could be a sex thing.”
Mitchell rubbed a hand over his face, and Annie realized he did look tired. Funny to think someone dead could be tired, but then again, she had her moments when she didn't want to do anything either.
“Are you okay?” she asked, laying a hand on his arm. He was always cool to the touch, not that different from her. She idly wondered if the two of them would forget what warmth felt like if it wasn't for George.
George, who sounded like he was in the throes of a nightmare. Again.
“Christ!” Mitchell threw off the covers and ducked past Annie. He was wearing only boxers, and his bare feet on the floor were silent. Sometimes George said that two ghosts lived here, but he never said it when Mitchell could hear.
Annie watched from the door as Mitchell shook George to wakefulness, George's breath coming in aching gasps that made Annie's heart clench.
“I'm sorry,” George said, eyes suspiciously damp, and it wasn't clear if he was apologizing to them, or to an absent Nina for something he could never undo. Mitchell let out a breath and lifted the covers.
“Shove over, mate.”
“What?” George said, but started to move anyway, making room as Mitchell settled under the covers.
“Go to sleep,” Mitchell mumbled into George's shoulder.
“Bloody hell, you're cold!”
“And you're noisy. Go to sleep.”
“Don't think this makes me easy,” George said, and Mitchell laughed.
“You're many things, George, but easy isn't one of them. Sleep.” Mitchell eased closer, George settled down, and Annie watched until their breathing came slow and easy, falling into a matched rhythm. She loved them both—as if they were family, and in a way, they were. The only family she'd had in a long time, and Owen didn't count because he'd killed her. Bastard.
She crept quietly close to the bed and sat on the carpet, her back to their combined warmth. It was enough.
“A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost walk into a bar ...”
George looked thoughtful from his seat on the middle of the sofa. “You know, maybe it should be 'a vampire and a werewolf walk into a bar'.”
“What about me?” Annie asked, indignant, squeezing in beside him. Mitchell flopped down on George's other side.
“I think George is assuming you're already at the bar.”
“Right,” George said, looking grateful for the save. “You're the ghostly bar maid.”
“Maybe that's ghastly bar maid,” Mitchell whispered, just loud enough to be heard.
“You try it! It's not so easy keeping track of all those drinks, chatting up the customers, cleaning up after them.”
George smiled serenely. “You do remember the pub, don't you, Annie? Customers plural might be over-stating it a mite.”
“You really want to talk to me about cleaning shit up?” Mitchell's eyes had gotten dark, his voice tense. “Maybe you want to compare notes? I clean up more shit and puke and fucking horrors in a day than you've seen in your whole bloody life.” Mitchell pushed himself off the couch, avoiding George's hand reaching for him.
“I'm going out.” He grabbed his jacket off the hook by the entrance, letting in a wave of chill when he opened the door.
“Mitchell, I'm sorry,” Annie tried, but it was too late, the door rattling in its frame as it slammed. George tucked an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
“He's not himself lately.”
“I know that.”
“Not since Herrick.”
“I know.” Annie laid her head on George's warm shoulder. “I think we're losing him.”
So am I.
We're worried about you.
I know. Don't be. There's nothing you can do.
We want to help.
I appreciate that, but you can't.
Is this because of what happened with Herrick? Has someone taken his place?
I can't talk about this.
Their handwriting was as individual as they were.
Annie's was large and loopy, prone to unfinished letters and flamboyant capitals. It rambled over the page like a country rose, a breath of sweetness in its hopeful cadences. Sometimes she even dotted her i's with hearts just to make the boys roll their eyes. They ignored the smudgy patches where she droned on about Owen and all the things she'd wanted out of life. It wasn't lack of caring or an unkindness on their part, but really, what could they do? What could anyone do about it now?
Mitchell's looked like the writing you saw on old-fashioned postcards, which made a tragic sort of sense. He preferred a fountain pen and rich blue ink, but he'd lower himself to use a ballpoint if absolutely necessary. Mitchell gave the impression his sentences would form proper lines even if the page had no guide. There was a precision to his writing, a remembrance of the military man he'd been. Sometimes in the corners of pages that had already been filled up and used, Annie would find fragments of poems—beautiful, naked language that made her feel as if someone had ripped her open. She never had the heart to ask if the words were Mitchell's, although the handwriting clearly was.
George's writing was no doubt the fault of the British grammar school system. It was a churning mess of printing and writing, loops and angles appearing with no sort of regularity whatsoever, wandering off the line and off the page willy-nilly.
“You know, a psychiatrist would have a field day with your handwriting, George,” Annie said, shaking her head and setting the notebook down.
“What do you mean?” George sounded offended, and grabbed the notebook off the table. “It's perfectly legible.”
Mitchell leaned over his shoulder. “It's legible, yes, but hardly perfectly.” He slumped onto the couch and reached for one of the cups of tea. Annie shook her head, and he settled on the next one over. That one was at least lukewarm, she knew. “Now, when I was a boy,” Mitchell continued, “good penmanship was encouraged. It was expected.”
George rolled his eyes. “Yes, well, when you were a boy, they were using zeppelins.”
“They really were magnificent,” Mitchell said nostalgically.
“If you ask me, you're both still boys,” Annie added, but that just seemed to make the other two grin stupidly and waggle their eyebrows at her until she gave up and joined in with laughing.
The page was torn and crumpled, a white blotch in the bin. Normally, Annie wouldn't have paid it any mind, but George had been miserly with the notebook the last few nights, writing and writing and not letting them see.
and I hate this, I fucking hate this so fucking much, all of it, and it's NOT normal, not any of it, not the three of us trying to be human, not turning into a fucking wolf every month, not feeling like something inside me dies every time I think of Nina. God, Nina. I cursed her. Someone should kill me. I should be dead. I should just
Annie grabbed the phone, panic rising in her chest, and dialled Mitchell. He'd know where George was. He'd know what to do.
She almost forgot it was a full moon that night.
When Mitchell brought George home the next morning, they both looked horrible. Wretched pale faces, wan expressions, as if someone had kicked the shit out of both of them. George was wearing his Star of David, Mitchell's jacket, and a pair of green tracksuit bottoms Mitchell kept in the car. His feet were bare and filthy, his hair sticking up in bunches and shedding pine needles on the floor. Mitchell propelled him gently towards the couch, acknowledging Annie's presence with a nod. She lingered at the edge of the kitchen, relieved to have them home.
“I wasn't going to--” George started.
“It doesn't matter.” Mitchell knelt in front of him and took George's face gently in his hands. “I know how hard it is to live with it—I do. But you've got to forgive yourself, or you're going to go mad.”
“I turned her into a monster.”
“It was the Wolf, George. It wasn't you.”
“It's the same thing, and you know it.”
Mitchell's face was kind, and for once Annie could see all of his 120 years there and in his eyes. “It's not the same at all, and even if it were ....” His voice trailed off. “We still need you. We still want you here. With us. You're one of us.”
Annie took a step forward, pretending that she couldn't feel tears welling up in her eyes.
“We're family, George, and we will always want you, no matter--”
“I'm a monster!” George's eyes were red and wretched, his voice cracking with self-hatred.
“All men are monsters,” Mitchell said, gaze never wavering. “We have to learn to live with it.”
Mitchell put his arms around George and held him while he grieved for all the unfairnesses of their lives. Annie turned back to the kitchen and settled the kettle on the stove. They were definitely going to need a spot of tea.
Resistance is futile!
Existence is futile!
NO MORE STAR TREK MARATHONS FOR EITHER OF YOU!
“The Real Hustle's on at 10:30,” Mitchell said, settling on the couch by George.
“Sounds good,” George mumbled, not looking up from the paper he was reading. Annie was already cozied in on George's other side. It was no secret that George always got the middle because he wasn't dead, and therefore was the warmest of the three.
He never complained when the other two stole his body heat, huddled in close, fingers and toes sometimes creeping into warm spots they had no real business going.
“Watch the hands!” George grabbed Mitchell's hand, fingerless gloves and all, and held it between his own, giving Annie ample opportunity to slip her own cold fingers between George's warm thighs. “Christ, I give up,” George finally said, and put an arm around each of them, making room for them to burrow closer, offering his warmth for the taking.
Oh! sleep in peace where poppies grow;
The torch your falling hands let go
Was caught by us, again held high,
A beacon light in Flanders sky
That dims the stars to those below.
You are our dead, you held the foe,
And ere the poppies cease to blow,
We'll prove our faith in you who lie
In Flanders Fields.
“You'll never believe what I found at the second-hand bookshop!”
George burst through the door, waving a small, leather-bound book.
“A book?” Mitchell supplied helpfully.
“Not just any book,” George said and started to read a poem from it. Annie thought there was something familiar about it.
“Isn't that the Remembrance Day poem?” she asked, taking the red chair.
“It's one of them.”
“George.” Mitchell's face had gone more pale than usual, his voice low and uncomfortable.
George barrelled ahead. “This particular poem, an answer to Canadian John McRae's 'In Flanders Field,' was penned by an obscure poet named John Mitchell.”
Annie looked at Mitchell in surprise. “John Mitchell? You mean to say your first name's John?”
“That's hardly the most important point here,” George said.
“You knew? You knew his name was John?”
“Oh, I see. The ghost is always the last to know.” Annie crossed her arms over her chest and glared at them both.
“Give me the book,” Mitchell said, resigned. George held it for a moment, as if Mitchell might intend it harm, but then handed it over. With a sigh, Mitchell opened the book and began to read the poem aloud, his Irish accent heavier than normal, each line delivered as if he still knew the words by heart. When he was finished, the last lilting cadence lingering in the air, Mitchell closed the book, then closed his eyes.
No one said anything for a very long time.
I think we should take a photo of the three of us. Like a family portrait. I know, I know, two of us won't show up in it, but still, I'll know we're there. It just seems like we should commemorate this somehow. This. Us. The house. The three of us. You must think I'm daft, but please? Can we do this?
It would have been my anniversary today.
Also, I think I'm developing a fear of doors. Is that completely mental?
You know I love you both.
Annie felt stupid that she cared about things like anniversaries and birthdays. She knew she was dead, but honestly, she was still around, so she felt some need to mark the progression of her life. Death. Un-death. The dictionary didn't seem to have a vocabulary that included her existence.
She thought about the three of them, the timelessness of their being. George was the only one who would ever grow old, and there was something strange about knowing that. She wondered if they stayed together what their lives would look like in ten years. Twenty. Fifty.
Assuming Death didn't open a door for her. Or Mitchell didn't die in a bloody vampire coup. Or George wasn't killed by frightened hunters. Too many ifs.
They'd never be able to stay in the house indefinitely anyway. Not with George ageing as a normal human being. Right now, George and Mitchell were believable twenty-something flat mates. Friends. Lovers. It didn't really matter what people thought.
But then it would be George as Mitchell's older brother. Uncle. Father. Grandfather. Annie tried to imagine the two of them—George growing grey and tired, Mitchell staying exactly the same forever. And if they left the house, could she go with them? Would they even want her to?
It was then that Mitchell came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. “Tuppence for your thoughts,” he said.
“Liar,” he murmured against her hair, but didn't push.
“Setting up the camera.”
She whirled and looked up at him with delight in all her features. “Seriously? We're going to take a picture? Seriously?”
Mitchell laughed and tugged her along into the living room where George was masterfully arranging a camera on a tripod. “I think the light should be just about perfect if we don't take too long,” he was saying until Annie pounced on him, arms flung around his neck, kisses planted on his cheek.
“You know how much I love you both?”
“Yeah,” Mitchell said, still smiling. “Subtle as you are, we worked it out.”
Annie looked at where George had shifted the furniture to accommodate them. “Here?” she asked, standing against the wall, Mitchell a small distance to her right, the in-between space left for George. As always.
“I'm pressing the timer,” George said, backing away from the camera, which immediately started a slow steady beep. He eased into place between the two of them, arms going around them, their arms circling his back and waist. Three best chums. A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. Family.
“Thank you,” Annie said.
She felt Mitchell's hand stretch from George's waist over to hers. “We won't let anything happen to you. We'll go through every door first if we have to,” Mitchell said.
George squeezed her gently. “We love you too, you know.”
“I know,” Annie said softly, words lost in the silver flash of the camera.
Exhibit, Bristol Historical Society, Unidentified Subject, Circa 2010.
The young man in the centre of the photograph is standing with his arms out to each side, as if around two chums.
He is, as any observer can clearly see, alone in the picture.
Some say that there is a ghostly figure to the man's left. A woman with dark hair and skin. Some say there's the faintest shadow of a tall, slim figure to the man's right. However, these “apparitions” are more likely a trick of the light or the developing process, as the photo was taken on film rather than digital imagery.
If you have any information that may identify the origin of the photograph or the man who is its subject, please contact the Bristol Historical Society. Thank you for your patronage.