Moth-Eaten Furs and Tarnished Jewels ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Blanche arrived on the ten-fifteen train. Stella was there to meet her. They greeted effusively. Blanche wept, held Stella in a tight grip and kissed her on both cheeks.
“It’s just so wonderful seeing you!” she said. “I can scarcely believe I’m finally here.”
“Was it a difficult trip?” Stella asked.
“Well, you know, the train always rattles my nerves and then there’s all this heat.”
“Still the same!” Stella said with a laugh.
They stopped off for a drink, just a little nightcap as Blanche said (which she didn’t touch after ordering), and seated themselves in a back booth at a little bar where they might talk.
“You’re looking wonderfully well,” Blanche said. “Married life seems to agree with you.”
“I wish I could say the same for you,” Stella said. “You look awfully pale and tired.”
“Oh, don’t look at me!” Blanche said, holding her hands up between her face and the light. “Daylight never exposed so total a ruin!”
“Is anything the matter? You’re not ill, are you?”
“No, not ill, exactly. No more than you might expect.”
“I heard all the talk about the vampires around the home place. I hoped you were all right.”
“Yes, I was fine. As well as might be expected, as the doctors say. But I’m afraid I have some bad news about the home place.”
“What is it?”
Blanche’s face clouded; she took Stella’s hand across the table in her own. “We’ve lost the home place.”
“What? What do you mean we’ve lost it?”
“Everything had to be sold to pay off the debts. I’m afraid there’s nothing left.”
“Why didn’t you tell me things were so bad?”
“I didn’t to worry you, dear, and, besides, I knew there was absolutely nothing you could do.”
“I could have come down for a few days and helped you sort everything out.”
“I managed all on my own.”
“Imagine that! The home place gone!”
“Yes, it took exactly a hundred and fifty years for our once-prosperous family to squander a considerable fortune and come to nothing. My greatest regret is there’s nothing left to pass on to you.”
“Oh, Blanche! I feel so bad about all this!”
“So do I, dear, but what’s done is done! The only thing to do now is to move forward. Life goes on, you know!”
“You’ve lost your home and everything! What on earth are you going to down now?”
“You needn’t worry, darling sister! I’m not planning on descending on you and your poor husband forever.”
“I know. That isn’t what I meant.”
“Just let me rest up for a few days in your comforting presence and I shall be right again in no time.”
“Of course, darling! For just as long as you need! Stanley travels a lot in his work and it’ll just be the two of us again, the way it was when we were young.”
“Sounds like heaven!”
In Stella and Stanley’s modest rooms on the ground floor of an old stucco apartment building, Stella installed Blanche in a tiny back room where there was a small bed, a bureau, a ramshackle chair and a closet that wouldn’t even begin to hold all her clothes. There was no door to the room so Stella hung a thick curtain that Blanche could pull closed whenever she felt the need of privacy.
For two days she stayed mostly in the little darkened room (“where the light doesn’t hurt my eyes”), lounging on the bed and listening to her tinny old phonograph records. Stella offered to fix her special dishes that would tempt her appetite, but she refused them. She was just getting over an illness, she said, and had no appetite.
On the third evening, Blanche came out of her room and, after spending a couple of hours in the bathroom taking a bath—hydrotherapy, she called it—she dressed to go out.
“Why, where are you going, dear?” Stella asked.
“I thought I would like to see what the world looks like outside these four walls,” Blanche said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind! You can do whatever you want. Do you want me to come with you?”
“Oh, no, my dear! I’ll be fine!”
“But you don’t know the city. You might get lost.”
“I have an uncanny ability to find my way around in the strangest of places. Don’t worry about me.”
Stella waited up until two in the morning for Blanche to return and finally went to bed.
The next day Blanche slept all day. When she awoke in the early evening, Stella offered her coffee and various things to eat, but she would take nothing. She flitted about the apartment in her Japanese silk kimono, endlessly smoking cigarettes and looking nervously out the window, as though waiting for something or someone.
“Are you feeling rested now, dear?” Stella asked.
“Yes, I feel ever so much refreshed now. Thank you for asking.”
“Did you enjoy your evening out?”
“Oh, yes! I had a marvelous time!”
“What would you like to do this evening? We could go to a movie or play some gin rummy. If you’re still feeling tired, I could read to you while you rest.”
“I’m sorry, sweet. I’m meeting someone in just about an hour or so. That doesn’t give me much time.”
“You don’t know them, dear.”
“Yes, I met up with some friends last night in my rambles about town.”
“I thought you didn’t know anybody in the city.”
“Well, it’s just the funniest thing! I didn’t know they were in the city, but they somehow knew I was.”
“What did you do last night?”
“Oh, we talked and danced and laughed a lot. How we laughed!”
“What did you find so funny?”
“We were just talking over old times. You know how it is when you meet people you knew from a long time ago.”
“Were they people from the home place?”
“Oh, no. I knew them after that.”
“What time are you planning on coming back? Should I wait up for you?”
“Oh, no! You go to bed and get your beauty sleep and, above all, don’t worry about me!”
The next day Stella was going to suggest a shopping trip, but Blanche slept all day again.
After five days of what Stella considered uncharacteristic behavior, she took Blanche by her cold hands and made her sit down at the kitchen table.
“I think it’s time we had a talk,” she said.
“Is something the matter, dear?” Blanche asked.
“Something’s the matter with you and I want to know what it is.”
“Why, there’s nothing the matter with me!”
“I don’t know you anymore. The Blanche I knew would never stay out all night and sleep all day.”
Blanche lit a cigarette. Her hands shook and her eyes looked glassy. “It’s true I’m not the person I once was,” she said.
“You’ve been through a difficult time, I know.”
“Yes, and it’s changed me greatly.”
“You’re not telling me everything, are you?”
“I planned on telling you when the time was right.”
“Now is that time.”
“Besides losing the home place, I also lost my job at the high school. They called me into the office and fired me.”
“Oh, Blanche! Why did they fire you?”
“I became involved with one of my students. Romantically involved.”
“A high school boy?”
“More of a man, really.”
“Oh, Blanche! How could you!”
“I was desperately lonely.”
“How humiliating it must have been for you!”
“Words don’t begin to describe it! They said I was lewd and lascivious and a lot of other words that are too embarrassing to relate.”
“Oh, how awful!”
“They threatened to have me arrested. The only reason they didn’t was because I promised to leave town, never to return.”
“So that’s why you came here?”
“Not at first. I didn’t want to prevail upon you until things became really desperate for me. I was staying in an old railroad hotel about twenty miles from the home place, trying to figure out what my next move would be. I was as low as I had ever been in my life. I had about eighteen dollars to my name and some moth-eaten old furs and tarnished jewels. And then I met a man.”
“Oh, Blanche! Not another man!”
“I was drinking in the bar one night, alone, when he came in. He was not like any man I had ever seen before. He was young but not young, if you know what I mean. It’s impossible to describe.” She puffed on her cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.
“Go on,” Stella said.
“I had heard stories about the vampires, of course, same as everybody else, but I didn’t know what they could be like.”
“So, you’re saying this man was a vampire?”
“His name was Alessandro.”
“Aren’t we all? I spent the next few days with him, doing the wildest and most unimaginable things. It’s all a blur now, thankfully, which I can barely remember. But the fact is that he lifted me out of my despair and made me want to live again.”
“Don’t tell me you let him make you a vampire!”
“It was the way I could survive all the blows that life had dealt me!”
“Oh, Blanche! I don’t think you should be here! There are people who kill vampires on sight!”
“I’m aware of that, and the last thing in the world I want to do is to endanger you or Stanley. I came here out of necessity, though, as you are my only living relative in the world.”
“When you go out at night, have you been killing people and drinking their blood?”
“Oh, no! Somebody else does the killing.”
“The friends you mentioned.”
“And what happened to Alessandro, the man who made you a vampire?”
“He had to go away and leave me. He told me from the very beginning that it had to be so.”
“Where did he go?”
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
“Is he dead?”
“We’re all dead, dear. Even you. Even Stanley.”
“Since you speak Stanley’s name, I have to tell you that he’ll be back from his business trip tomorrow. He won’t be happy to hear there’s a vampire living in his house. He’s very traditional.”
“He doesn’t have to know I’m a vampire, does he?”
“How can he not know, with you gone all night and sleeping all day?”
“I can keep him from knowing.”
“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, Blanche, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave before Stanley comes back! I have about seventy dollars in the house and you’re welcome to every cent of it.”
“Oh, I could never take your money, sweet!”
“I don’t think seventy dollars would get me very far, anyway. And, besides, you just let me handle Stanley. I’m sure I’ll have him eating out of my hand before you know it.”
“I’m afraid you don’t know Stanley.”
Stella prepared a special dinner for Stanley’s homecoming. Blanche took one of her long baths, fixed up her hair and put on her best dress. She had a way with men and Stanley was a man.
He was about what Blanche expected from the things Stella had told her. He was rather on the short side, muscular and with a decidedly animal nature, indicating low intellect. She had known men like him before and knew how to put them in their place.
“How do you like our little home?” he asked Blanche as they sat down to the table to eat.
“It’s very cozy,” she said, “but different from what I’m used to.”
“That’s right. You are used to luxury and a big fancy house with lots of rooms.”
“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”
“While you’re here we need to have a talk about that big house and about what my wife is entitled to as her share.”
“Stanley, we’ll have to talk about that another time,” Stella said.
“I’m afraid there won’t be any share,” Blanche said.
“What do you mean?”
“Everything was sold to pay off the debts.”
“Oh, debts, is it? Is that the line of crap you’ve been feeding my wife?”
“I’m afraid we’ve made rather a bad start, haven’t we?” Blanche said. “In a situation like this, I think it’s always a good idea to go back to the beginning and start all over.”
“What’s she talkin’ about?” Stanley asked. “I’m not able to follow this kind of talk.”
“Just drop it, Stanley,” Stella said. “We’ll discuss the home place at a more appropriate time.”
“A more appropriate time? What the hell does that mean? You’re both talking a lot of nonsense and I don’t like nonsense!”
“Well, how was your trip?”
“It was bad, that’s how it was! When a man comes home, he wants to be able to relax and not have a couple of magpies saying things in his face that he doesn’t understand.”
“Just forget it, honey,” Stella said. “There’s no reason in the world why you can’t relax and enjoy your dinner.”
When Stanley realized that Blanche wasn’t eating but was only holding a glass of wine, he pointed at her with his fork and said to Stella, “Why isn’t she eating? Isn’t our food good enough for her?”
“She has an unsettled stomach,” Stella said, “and she thought it would be best if she doesn’t eat anything just yet.”
“I think I ought to tell him the truth,” Blanche said.
“And what truth might that be?” he asked.
“I have become vampire.”
“You have become a what?”
“I don’t eat what you eat because I’m a vampire.”
“I don’t think it’s right to just blurt it out that way,” Stella said helplessly.
“Oh, so you’re a vampire?” he said. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“Please, let’s not have a row,” Stella said.
“I thought it only fair to tell you since I’m living in your home.”
“Well, not for long, you’re not!”
“Stanley, we can just put her out on the street!” Stella said.
“There are people in this town who consider vampires the lowest form of animal life,” he said, “and I tend to agree.”
“You have to remember she’s my family!” Stella said.
“Well, she’s not my family. I can grab her by the throat and throw her out the same as if she was a bag of garbage!”
“Well, that isn’t very nice!” Blanche said. “I was trying to be honest with you and put all my cards on the table.”
“Here are the cards that are on the table!” he said. “You have about five minutes to get out of my house!”
“Stanley, you’re not throwing her out!” Stella said.
He clenched his jaw and pointed his finger. “Are you a vampire, too?” he asked.
“Of course not!”
“It’s all right, Stella,” Blanche said calmly. “I’ll go. But I could use that seventy dollars, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, darling. You can have anything that’s mine.”
Stella pushed herself back from the table and went into the bedroom to get the money. When she returned, Blanche and Stanley were standing beside the table, grappling. Stanley had his hand around Blanche’s diamond necklace and was trying to pull it off. Blanche was holding him off the best she could but was no match for his muscular strength. When she tried to claw his face, he stayed just out of her reach.
Finally the necklace came free and Stanley let go of Blanche. She fell against the table and her hand found its way to a knife, a sharp knife used for cutting meat. As he was stuffing the diamond necklace into the pocket of his trousers, she sliced across his throat, severing the jugular.
The blood spurted fountain-like. Blanche watched it with fascination and then went to it and drank greedily, thinking of nothing other than how wonderful it tasted and how restorative it was.
Stella came into the room and saw the bloody scene. She screamed and tried to pull Blanche off Stanley, but she knew it was too late to help Stanley.
When Blanche had finally drunk her fill of Stanley’s blood, she stood up, trying to stop the stray drops of blood escaping her lips.
“I’m afraid I’ve made rather a mess of your lovely home, dear,” she said.
“You’ve killed Stanley!” Stella said.
Blanche tried to enfold Stella in her arms. “I am so terribly sorry!” she said.
“You killed him!”
“Now is not the time to lose our heads, dear!”
“I’m going to call the police.”
“No, I beg you to reconsider! Do you know what they do to vampires in this town?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that you killed Stanley!”
“If you call the police, they’ll come and take me away and that’s the end of me. You won’t ever see me again.”
“How am I going to explain to people that my sister killed my husband?”
“You don’t have to explain anything to anybody, dear! The thing for us to do is to go away.”
Stella looked at Stanley lying on the floor and shuddered. “I can’t leave him here like this.”
“He is beyond our help,” Blanche said.
“In a couple of weeks we would have celebrated our first wedding anniversary.”
“It’s for the best that it happened this way. He was a brute, a low animal. You’re not like that. You have refinement and taste. You were brought up to experience the finer things. Things about which he knew nothing.”
“I can’t listen to your talk right now, Blanche. You’re not making any sense.”
“The only thing that makes any sense is for us to go away together. You and me! Far away!”
“What will people think when they find Stanley like this?”
“They’ll think it was just another random vampire attack. Regrettable, but all too common these days.”
“Oh, Blanche! I don’t know if I can just go off and leave him lying on the floor like that.”
“He’s dead, honey! You have to get that through your head. Stanley is no more! It’s only you and me now!”
“I just don’t know about this.”
“We’ll have such fun together! It’ll be just like old times when you were twelve and I was fifteen. Not a care in the world!”
“I suppose I should call the police and at least tell them that Stanley is lying here dead.”
“You don’t want to do that, honey. You don’t want the police snooping around. We don’t want to have to submit to their questions.”
“Where would we go?”
“It’s all becoming clearer now in my mind. I know some people on the East Coast who would be willing to help us.”
“And would I be expected to become a vampire like you?”
“Of course not, darling! Never, if you don’t want to.”
“It’s funny, Blanche,” Stella said, after a while. “We’re both just alike now, aren’t we? We’ve both lost everything.”
“It may seem that way now, dear, but we can start anew. You’ll see.”
Later, safely on the train heading out of the city, Stella put her head back and closed her eyes. “I feel so tired I just want to die,” she said. “When I think I’ll never see Stanley or my home again, I want to jump off the train and let it run over me.”
Blanche indulged in a secret smile. Everything had worked according to plan. She baited Stanley from the moment she saw him. She knew he would be greedy and would want a share of the family’s money and, not getting what he wanted, he’d grab for the diamond necklace she wore at the dinner table and that would be her justification for killing him. He played into her hands, as people of inferior intellect always do, and now her sister Stella was free of him forever.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp