My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers.
(Bob Hicok, ‘Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem’)
Since he’s been left alone with his grief, Russell decides his grief might as well keep him company.
“You look hideous,” Talbot says – or does not say, on account of being highly dead. Six hundred and ninety-six years, and now he’s gunk in a garbage disposal. It’s all very Hamlet in the graveyard.
“Fae blood. Sunlight. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps,” Russell admits, “I’ve grown a bit reckless since you – well.”
They are in some vast and unimportant space. He does not bother with the details. Talbot sits next to him. That will do.
“You idiot,” Talbot says. “Your face looks like it tried to make love to a George Foreman grill.”
“I have so missed these sweet nothings,” Russell drawls.
“My darling.” His expression softens into anomalous, unselfish sadness. “Look at you.”
“A temporary setback,” Russell insists. He is less convincing than usual.
“I suppose I made a big mess of the drawing room carpet,” Talbot reflects with a wistful sigh.
“It has seen better days.” Pained, he is hit by a flash of memory. Sinking to that floor. Clinging to that muck, cerise and silken and cherishable between his fingers, against his arms and legs and face, because it was all he had left. “Though, haven’t we all?”
“Fucking vampires,” Talbot scowls.
He thinks of the things he will say to Mr. Northman, upon their (might as well face it) inevitable reunion. How pathetic it is, for instance, to imagine for a moment that one’s mortal family – twenty-five, thirty years of squabbling, of misunderstandings, of Oh look, I inherited your nose, of Why won’t you let me spread my wings and fly out of this nest, blah blah blah blah blah – can begin to compare with seven hundred years. He doubts that Eric Northman can even remember the nuances of his parents’ faces, the color of their eyes.
Meanwhile. Language has not done much to pull missing out of mortal terms. A shame, but what can you do? The consequences of a history of great poets who are either human or masquerading as. And so perhaps it can be best transcribed thus: Talbot was his heartbeat. (Speaking, of course, figuratively.) His heartbeat, his bones, his lungs, his brains, the flick of a hand and the curve of a smile. He was as unacknowledged and as necessary as a limb or a blink or a breath. To be without him is to be chopped in half by a shaky-handed dilettante, the best laid plans of King Solomon, it is lobotomy and castration, for here is something that the poets never could find out—if bodies join for long enough, then so do minds and souls. Not in the maudlin mortal sense, transient and darling as a Hallmark card. Simply and cleanly and truly, inextricably. He is half alive, and fuck the centuries of fools who have wielded that sentiment without even beginning to imagine its meaning, who have cheapened it in sonnets and song lyrics and poorly punctuated text messages. It is not romantic. It is not poignant. It is one endless guttural scream, it is the twist of guts, it is the watery overwhelming weakness that eats you up before you vomit. It is, quite frankly: I am forever and you are gone.
Now, think about that.
“A garbage disposal?” Talbot repeats, aghast.
“I tried to stop her,” Russell says, with a bit of sing-song. His indignation really is adorable.
“God. How humiliating.”
“I do fully intend to escape and drink her dry, if that makes you feel any better.”
After some contemplation:
“A little,” Talbot sniffs.
“There there, my love. At least you got to see some of the world after your true death. Most can’t boast as much.”
“I hope you used the 1860 Baccarat crystal.”
“Talbot, my darling. Of course I did.”
The imagination truly is a remarkable thing. He will give the human animal that much. He is still and aching and can’t tell whether his face has made much progress. He hopes it has, for Talbot’s sake. If Talbot’s sake is no longer relevant or real, if Talbot is flecks of red in a sewer, that’s neither here nor there.
(“A sewer? Drifting around surrounded by shit? Augh! What did I ever do to deserve this – this indignity?”
“Look at it this way: you’ll certainly be the prettiest one there.”)
His eyes are open but it doesn’t matter much. When it rains (quite seldomly) he listens with keen interest. He does not pay the same respect to the insipid human chatter that plagues the construction site. White noise and wasted breath. Should any of them dig him up, he looks forward to ripping their throats out.
Their seven hundredth had begun to creep up on them, as anniversaries gradually do. Russell had been a little busy. Contrary to what some seem to suspect, it is not a walk in the park, orchestrating the long overdue triumph of vampire supremacy. Still, it did occur to him at the supper table one night when they were in the middle of sampling Talbot’s newest culinary effort, a courageous-but-not-entirely-successful blood stracciatella with coconut shavings.
“Four years!” Talbot cried, in hysterical response to Russell’s casual observation. “Four years to plan. That is nothing. What, exactly, were you expecting, my dear? Paper plates? Dixie cups of room temperature TruBlood? Streamers?? Pin the tail on the fangbanger??”
“You’ll pull something together. You always do.”
“I wonder at this point, darling, whether we will even make it to eight hundred!”
And Russell had laughed, at the time.
Talbot had been furious at first. (You think a vampire is a force to be reckoned with, try a Byzantine royal who’s never learned the meaning of no. Or the meaning of ‘your lover is, to be technical, deceased.’) When the fangs came out, he threw a gilded water basin at Russell’s head. Didn’t miss either.
Monster, monster, devil, fuck you, stay away from me, go to hell, go back to hell. The usual slew of melodramatic, pointless babble that accompanied human fear. What a shame it seemed, spilling from his mouth. Keeping his lips and teeth and tongue from more admirable pursuits. Russell let him yell, let him toss the contents of the room every which way. It really was marvelous to behold, some peculiar middle ground between a child in the height of a temper tantrum and a gladiator primed to fight to the death. And yet a dismal feeling ate him up all the while, a sour twitching pitiful thing, a fear that the fury wouldn’t pass. That he would not be understood or forgiven, that he would lose Talbot.
An unendurable notion, even then. He had been disenchanted with humans for centuries, but – and do forgive the expression – the heart wants what it wants. It was as simple as glancing across a crowded room. A matter of eyes meeting.
It took nearly two weeks after Russell’s confession for Talbot to return to him.
“You’ll go to hell.”
“I’m older than hell. And I don’t plan to go anywhere.”
“I like the sun. I like fresh fruit.”
“You’d like blood better.” There could be no harm, surely, in the invitation.
Talbot refused. He was young enough to fancy himself invincible, as good as immortal, and felt no need to forsake so many pleasures. Russell was— no, not content to wait. But willing, for once, to take a stab at patience.
How young they were, different names and languages and lives. How many they’ve gone through since. And yet let the record state that the change did not come until five years later, and then only by necessity. A battle field, a wound indisputably fatal. Yes, Talbot granted him, finally, Yes, do it now, and it felt like nothing he has ever known, the stopping of his true love’s heart, and what it was to wait until he crawled out of the dirt, out of the dirt and back into Russell’s arms.
It is with true love as it is with ghosts, which many have talked about and few have seen.
How lucky he was – they were – for awhile.
“What is that?” Talbot asks, distastefully. “Billy Joel?”
“Really now, Talbot, it’s the Prince de Marcillac! We spent a great deal of time with him in the 1650s. Remember, he got in that spot of trouble explaining how he’d survived getting shot in the head.”
“Oh, that man.” Talbot wrinkles his nose. “I could not stand him. He liked the sound of his own voice far too much.”
“Still,” Russell says, “he raised an interesting point.”
Talbot shrugs. He has never been much for philosophy.
Russell muses, nostalgic, “Il est du véritable amour comme de l'apparition des esprits: tout le monde en parle, mais peu de gens en ont vu.”
“Ugh,” Talbot says. “The French.”
He is so divinely predictable. And yet when he reaches over to press a hand to Russell’s face, how obvious this façade is. How utterly memory fails. Almost seven hundred years, and no thought can replicate that touch.
“I’m not a ghost,” Talbot says, but his voice is mostly Russell’s and would convince no one.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Russell sighs. “How I wish you were.” (And here is something he will never confess: There are things he would like to believe in. Resurrection. Truer eternities. Maybe that is the curse of existence. That bright, deluded spark in the back of your brain, whispering Keep on, keep on, one day you will find what you’ve lost.)
“You old romantic,” Talbot fondly chastens. A lie of a caress is better than none at all.
He turns his thoughts to his revenge. He would like to strike a delicate balance: impeccably planned, but not without a bit of zest to keep things interesting. He would like to tear their souls out through their mouths. To make them eat each other’s organs. To dance on their bloody pulp like you would on grapes for wine. Perhaps, Talbot suggests, wine would not be such a bad idea. The vengeance cherry on top, as it were. They ponder the intricacies of blood fermentation.
Ten feet above him a construction worker scarfs down a meatball sub from Quiznos, not bothering to chew with his mouth closed. He pauses for a moment, three inches in and his chin smeared with red. He could’ve sworn, for a second, he heard voices.