It was those days of yore. When romance still held charm. Lush carmine roses…. Liqueur chocolates rich… with many a Romeo abound. Still her heart beat for none… which is the shame tch-tched everyone young and old… for a beauteous maiden; ‘delicate as a dewdrop’, ‘compact as a china doll’, ‘Surreal as a dream, occult as an enchantress…’. It was said that Sienna’s eyes, with their whites dove white; blacks raven black with feathery lashes; bewitched one and all she locked them with and their spell had them heady for at least a day and like Shakespeare’s witches who spiked their cauldrons with the eye of newt, leg of frog and the rest, Sienna laced her ‘spells’ with her sweet-saucey brow dramatically arched like some birds’ ravishing wing; her nose of strong bridged character; her scarlet wound of a mouth that laughed and mocked alternately; her skin an even burnt sienna hue like that of some a queen’s of some exotic land… “oh, why can’t she be mine’ the lads lamented (some lasses too, in secret). ‘Forget that witchy- witch. Something’s’ not quite right there’, their mothers tried to console. A typical case of sour grapes! And so the lads settled for lesser beauties and their mothers muttered obscenities under their breath as Sienna passed. So almost all thought her an ice-maiden. Some called her a ‘luscious plum’ with a stone for heart. If only they knew……
It was those nights of yore… the nights were young and so was she. The air was replete with the sweet scent of her baited breath. As she held ivory rails; with sweet anticipation, her visage reflected in the peridot waters beneath. She waited. For the one she knew was hers. At first sight – when the wolves had bayed while the owls had hooted. Time had stopped… the air was still… a barely percephable movements and his papery profile had captured a sliver of the moon. He had turned. Facing her. Their eyes met. She had known. Immediately. His little secret. As undoubtedly as she knew he was hers. She knew he was one of them and she yearned to be his and so she waited. To frenzied patter of wing that metamorphosed to a sprawling purple robe. He stood behind her hushed. A vein below her ear pulsated pleasantly life blood rushed to her face. She caught a glimpse of herself in the waters below. As for him- he cast no reflections, nor shadows. This is common truth about ‘them’. Apparently because they do not posses a soul.
She knew what he was… she knew his sustenance.. she had witnessed his predatory ways. The key to his eternal youth… but still?! Why was she doing this? She knew not herself. She knew nothing. Except the moment. She laid a palm ever so gently on his chalky white face. His eyes looked for a moment ever so pathetic… almost soulful… but how could that be for ‘they’ have no souls.
His lips were drenched with red wine or blood. She was seized suddenly with a ravenous thirst for immortality. He understood. Cut a long finger and let it bleed into a goblet. And held it to her lips. She tasted eternal youth. And bared her fangs at him. In earnest gratitude. He smiled too. He knew what she wanted now. Out came a ring from nowhere which he lithely slid in her finger.They became vampire and wife and sealed their union with the kiss of death.
What exactly does metamorphosis mean? … the shedding of ancient skin… the formation of new? … a rejuvenated spirit? Tuning into a totally fresh frequency? A dramatic shift in focus?; The cessation of life or relationships and spurting or rekindling of new?; suddenly breathing in intution instead of air?; A soul makeover or a free fall that Sienna’s experiencing at the moment as she turns wolverine with wings at will… the changes in sequence are apparent yet so fluid… she flits across bright city lights, clouds and galaxies, her being now in contact with warmth and now in contact with chill in air… the changes in air pressure bring about a sweet ache in her ear… reverting to the idea of metamorphosis… could it be more drastic than turning from maiden to wife, from Sienna the human to Sienna – the vampire all in one night.. or as queer as forgetting completely the aunt who had reared her and whom sienna had once loved with all her LIFE? She looked at Ethan flying beside her. She now loved him with all her DEATH. So is there anything called metamorphosis at all?.. or only shift in focus…..
It was time for supper. As Sienna drew first blood Ethan caressed her gullet with sensual long fingers… ‘You are exquisite’ he whispered as the red fluid rippled down her throat ‘so transparent… your neck has actually turned crimson’… Sienna blushed. “The face too has followed suit” he laughed now- a casual laugh. Then he rakishly took her hand and twirled her round and round. Abruptly he stopped. The kaleidoscope of magic they had whirled in a moment ago had broken. All that remained now was a wooden inscrutable look. And a detached bantering tone. This was the Ethan Sienna had to live with for the next two decades. The shattered glass already reflected albeit hazily, her life to come.
His house was everything she had put her money on- Gothic architecture, broad motes and shady coffins, except that Sienna hadn’t bargained for all the cobwebs that had confiscated that place. She picked a broom and with firm purpose launched operation Gothic de-cobwebing. A clearer picture of what was to be her home sweet home gradually started emerging. Slashing silky strands of spider cord, she marched upstairs and started working on the chambers. In one room she noticed a coffin, not quite closed. Someone seemed to be lying in there-a plump lady. She awakened, the astonished Sienna expected antagonism but received a broad smile instead “So Sienna’s here”, the lady extended a podgy hand, ‘By the way, I am Jade.’
Sienna took the offered hand in a trance. In her irrational infatuation for Ethan; she had ceased to notice the agape chasm that existed between them, screaming questions. What did she know about him anyway: except his little secret. Nothing- no confidences no familiarity. She had taken the plunge into vampirehood and matrimony without a query. Based on fleeting sensations, her odd quirk for anything unusual, the magnetic pull of the unknown. What had Ethan chosen her for she wondered- her uncommon beauty, her prior vitality (she was dead now, she was confused as to whether she still was supposed to possess vitality) or…? And who was THIS JADE?
‘I can see Ethan hasn’t bothered to make a mention of me.’ Jade sniggered at Sienna’s frozen attitude. “I am his mother” she said stressing on each syllable with slow almost cynical deliberation. “You can go now” she said curtly before stifling a yawn. In a minute she had dozed off.
Sienna spirited down stairs to come face to face with Ethan. ‘Sienna?’ he enquired noticing her bafflement and then laughed in realization. “I can see you have met my “Mother” (the same sarcastic emphasis on “mother”). You are going to have it tough sweet heart’ he said, his tone kind but distant ‘getting used to Jade. Getting used to everything here. Getting used to me for that matter’. ‘I am game’, answered Sienna earnestly. After all you are the one I’ve chosen out of my own desire. This is the life I wanted. But tell me one thing- why have you chosen me, me in particular?” “you’ll know in good time, Sienna, in good time.” Ethan muttered before walking away, turning his back on her.
For the next fortnight the newly wed vampire bride saw a great deal of Jade and nil of her husband. The love lorn heart pined for a mere glimpse of her beloved, until it hurt physically. AllSienna could do during these times was clutch her bosom and sigh and of course, hear Jade out. Sequestered inside the sprawling mansion to escape sunlight; that was hemlock to vampires, she witnessed Jade’s hedonism. The aging vampire was debauchery personified. Her impulses had not moved beyond Freud’s oral stage – she drank lustily her face getting ruddier by the second, chattered and smoked incessantly- an overdose of fags had rendered her long finger nails yellow and there were broad gaps between her fangs. Freud would have probably said this is a sign of high libido, well he would have been right in Jade’s case at least. The vampire grand dame who had been a prosperous butcher’s wife when she was human couldn’t withstand her run of the mill lifestyle – the monotony created such an urgent need to vent that she thought she would explode. So she let a vampire seduce her into turning one herself and from then on there was no looking back for this zesty lady.
And Ethan wasn’t Jade’s son, Sienna learnt. As Jade talked Sienna’s could visualize an unsuspecting young wood-cutter, returning home at twilight, probably looking forward to nothing more than a simple dinner and a good night’s rest by the cozy hearth. Instead he was bitten by Jade as the dusky sylvan beauty looked on hushed. Ethan could never return home to his mother after that night. She had died pining for him. From then on the hapless Ethan had lived a vampire’s life, with Jade. The vampire community thought of them as mother and son for all practical purposes. He had been a vampire for 90 years now.
Jade loved extracting stories out of him- as to how he had led his life, how he had dropped out of school to help his father cut wood, how he had frolicked in the village pond with his cronies, his first crush, the colorful village fairs and festivals, elaborate description of the clothes ladies and gentlemen wore on such occasions…. Jade was simply insatiable. She craved to be a part of both the homosapien world she had renounced and the vampire world that she had embraced and after a while Jade became jaded. No quantity of Ethan’s and her vampire chums’ stories narrated time and again (cycled and recycled) excited her anymore. If only she could welcome someone new into her mansion; someone female…. these males could be colossal bores at times – take her butcher husband for instance, take Ethan. A lightering of an idea struck her. Why shouldn’t she ask Ethan to bring home a bride… she could entertain her with juicy tit-bits of mortal gossip. Ethan hadn’t agreed. He didn’t want to force his wretched lifestyle on anyone else. He was hardly Jade. One day he mentioned Sienna out of the blue and brought her home shortly after.
After being smothered by thick curtains during morning’s quarantine, Sienna stepped out on the terrace. She savored the freedom darkness brought and deeply inhaled the delicious chill brought in by the air of the new night. She brushed a lock of dark hair off her face and looked fondly at the ring on her left ring finger- her one ornament. Her thoughts flitted to Ethan and their brief wedding ritual; when Ethan had slipped the same simple lovely gold band on her finger. Instantly there was a faint rustle of wing and a giant vampire bat morphed into Ethan. Wordlessly he handed her an ebony-box. “Here’s some jewellery” his speech was terse- ‘mother wanted me to give them to my wife. I went and got them from home one night after her death as well as mine”. Sienna gingerly opened the lid. Antique ancestral jewellery – pearls set in the purest gold; diamond studded bracelets; emerald and ruby delights probably handed ones to and treasured by daughters-in-law for many a generation, winked at her. They were probably never meant to be sold whatever one’s financial status was.
Sienna stood as if hypnotized. “Are all these mine?” she finally spoke slowly. “Yes, all” he replied and turned to go. ‘Ethan’ she stopped him. “You still haven’t answered my question.” ‘What question’ he blinked. The reason you chose me, me is particular” she persisted. He ignored her question and prepared to fly. They flew side by side in stubborn silence.
Her head was throbbing with the pain of this silence. Whatever she has expected of martial life, it wasn’t this. Anything was preferable to this aloof behavior he showed her. He treated her as if she was a stranger. Anything else she could have with stood – heated quarrels… differences of opinion… open incompatibility… accusations. Anything was preferable to this ugly icy reserve. Why had he wed her if he had to keep her at bay? What in the world stopped him from sharing his feelings?
Had Sienna been a modern 21st Century vampire wife, she would probably have consulted a vampire marriage counselor for help. But these were times when all this hadn’t arrived. So all she could do was suffer in silence.
Upset she might have been, but Sienna was as loyal as they come. She never snitched on Ethan to Jade or anybody else; not once. Something in her refrained from showing Jade the family heirlooms she had received from him. They were as sacred to her as their relationship itself. They were too personal to be flaunted.
Meanwhile Jade wore Sienna out, as she churned out one story after another at Jade’s insistence. Only during evening hours did she get some respite when Jade went cavorting around. ‘Socializing’ was the word she used. Sienna could then indulge herself doing fine thread work on silken robes-vampires night time vision is excellent. At other times she and Ethan flew anywhere they wished – except above consecrated grounds – such as temples and churches; definite forbidden territory to vampires. Vampires also for some reason were unable to cross running waters.
Poor Sienna was so preoccupied with sad thoughts that she knew not where she flew. She suddenly became aware of dark vast stretches extending all around her. There was no sign of Ethan. Sienna’s heart pounded with fright. She didn’t know her way home for her sense direction of was very poor. Ethan had been her guiding star all this time, leading the way for her and she had followed him blindly, without bothering about landmarks and such ‘rubbish’ and now the vampire wife was in big trouble. She was on the verge of tears when her attention was distracted…. Faraway strains of song… a little sweet… a little melancholy. They beckoned her to their source and she followed their mellifluous trail. Ethan sat on the branch of a tree, singing. His back was turned on her. His was voice was rich, soft and pleasant. Sienna sat down quietly on a branch and listened. He sang:-
On my way to chop wood
I frolicked among rushes
By the brook….
They gently swayed to my rhythm
My soul was warmed by sunshine
Bursting forth the trees
Now there is neither
No sunshine nor soul
Also the heart is dead
And rushes don’t dance no more.
He paused poignantly for a moment before continuing
At the stars I had gazed
Dreams of all good I’d do
Simple work, kindly deeds
For people, all the people.
Sienna felt a lump in her throat. The irony in the last stanza of the song was so grating. Ethan so full of kindness and good intent; who had once had visions of helping people, now in his present form preyed on them. They were his sustenance now…; his life force, while his victims slowly wasted away into cadavers. Fate had a cruel way of dealing cards – especially in Ethan’s case. How agonizing it must be for a being with ideals to live a life so lowly.
She has started sobbing loudly. Ethan heard her and stopped singing abruptly. “Sienna, I didn’t hear you.” He spoke fast, words stumbling over one another. He got up hastily and made an ostentatious gesture of dusting his hands on his trousers and pretended not to have noticed her tears. He seemed extremely embarrassed. “It is nearly daybreak”, “shall we leave?” he asked. Sienna nodded and managed a small smile.
Metamorphosis into wolf, bat, owl… flights unto darkness… nightly rounds… sinking fangs… drawing blood… watching forms languish and finally die.
Ethan… reticent ways… few words… kind eyes… hurtful long silences punctuated by nothing… music- its soulful strains.
Looking the same year after year after year. Twenty years went past in a swish of the robe and no, Ethan hand still not answered Sienna’s question as to why he had chosen her. She had stopped asking anyway.
After her prowl, Sienna returned home to find Jade in a queer state. She was pacing up and down in her parlor with feverish restlessness. Her ruddy complexion had darkened to an alarming purple. Sienna watched with some discomfiture. Jade covered her ears with her hands and screamed – loud and long – she looked like the tormented image depicted in Edward Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’. “Jade!” Sienna ran up to her extremely worried now- “what’s wrong?” This one women blue murder also brought Ethan there as well. “What in the world was that?” he stammered looking from Jade to Sienna in confusion. “It’s killing me” was the illuminating answer. Ethan and Sienna exchanged puzzled glances. “Oh, its killing me”, she continued “life… the ladies club – sooo boring, this ridiculous mansion – such an eyesore. The same ugly vampire mugs in your face for infinity’ she spat the words out passionately.
One Craves chutzpah in life – what say? An adrenaline rush; you know. A roller coaster ride, novelty, good company!
‘But I thought Sienna was extra company enough’ Ethan ventured. “Are you talking about this nit-wit’ Jade snarled showing her fangs “she’s not come up with a good story for two whole weeks… tell her to stick her stupid mug down the manhole”. “Jade… please” Ethan tried to persuade her without much success. The incorrigible of incorrigibles continued to shower abuses on Sienna. Ethan quietly escorted Sienna outdoors to save her the pain of further insult.
Ethan and Sienna sat facing each other. They were both silent. Both of them knew Jade well enough to know that something drastic was in the offing, that would change the geography of their existence and tried hard they did but couldn’t drive butterflies that jigged in their bellies, unable to stay still because of the suspense.
Somehow when it came to Jade, Sienna and Ethan seemed to lose control over all decisions. They became dumb puppets she could manipulate at will.
Finally Jade emerged. The butterflies toned down their jig.
On reflection, one could say Jade was very ahead of her times. She could well have been the personification of the chronic discontent that has gripped the modern era, where people have taken to aggressive consumerism to stay happy. They needed external reality to feel complete.
Jade likewise WANTED and note with a big W- things- No, nothing as common as new clothes or an unusual coiffure – a new place, sir, (nothing more nothing less) and a twin identity – she wanted to pose as a woman during the day and let her true nature rule, in the night. Sienna’s vivid description of her village – picturesque and alluring, had caught this hippie gypsy’s fancy. But the million dollar question was – how would they survive their enemy, sunlight?
Jade smugly raised a brow and with a saucy half-smile locked herself in her parlor. She emerged after three whole days. Her pig-like beady eyes glittered with the unsuppressed vanity of victory. Ethan and Sienna had sensed that frivolous Jade who usually avoided books like disease had been studiously pouring over them and she was up to something bombastic. What was it?
Magic portion in glass crystals
Face the sun like real mortals.
Uncork the bottle;
Unincarcerate the worthy liquid
Which bubbles out like bubbly Jade.
Apply it lavish; on body and face.
Nervous eyes that dart in sunlight
Push behind your cares
Wear these wonder pairs
of lenses – stare the sun down
In this mighty duel.
These marvels had taken Jade energy and concentration enough needed to go through a mighty séance. Anticipation of all the excitement ahead had energized the usually unfocussed Jade to work with gusto. oh! If only morning sweet morning arrived soon. She couldn’t wait to embark on the adventure.
But now it was time for ‘din din.’ Jade had not eaten for THREE WHOLE DAYS. She was hungry enough to devour their chateau, if required. She buzzed off to hunt, dancing a minuet. Sienna and Ethan stood like wax statues.
Morning arrived and the threesome made due preparation for their journey. Applied lotion and wore lenses of sorcery. Ethan and Sienna wanted to bid goodbye to their vampire acquaintances but Jade forbade them. ‘If they as much as get an idea, all the ninnies would want to swarm there. ‘Do you want your entire village to be vampire – infested, honey?’ she asked Sienna in saccharine sweet tones.
They left without telling anybody.
Tap a tap a tap
A bee in the cap
Three vampires arrive
For a taste of life’s sap
Arms around each other wrap
Clap! Clap! Clap!
Is this and event that merits applause?
Vampire footsteps in tandem
A soldier’s stately march
People turned to stare
Many raised a hair!
Could this be Sienna?
Still so young and fair.
Her contemporaries had aged
Fine lines tinged their brow
She in contrast looked
Fresh and pretty as a rose
She was twenty then
She’s twenty now
They all wondered how
If only they knew….
Sienna fabricated that she had eloped with her beloved, twenty years ago. and had lived in a variety of places, including the East. She had been connoisseur of more than one flavour of the exotic and all she craved for now was the comforting familiar bread and cheese – her village. She had missed, she said, the maternal luxury of her aunts lap, which was always there to lay her head on, whenever she had needed love or comfort and so she had come back; bringing her husband and ‘mother-in-law’ along. Sienna learnt from the villagers that her dear aunt had passed. For the first time in years Sienna’s heart clenched in extreme sorrow (and some guilt). May be her aunt would have survived had she stayed back… or maybe not – who could say for sure? In the careless impulsiveness of youth, she had taken flight (literally) with Ethan. She had to admit that at that time her aunt hadn’t crossed her mind at all. Now to come to think of it, Sienna reflected, she had been rather self-centered at that age. All she had cared for was gratification of self. Had she confided in her aunt (about her love for Ethan) she might have even let her go. But no, she hadn’t done that. Was she to point a finger at flighty youth or was she doing this to purge herself of all guilt? There was no use ruminating now. Her aunt was dead.
The house now belonged to Sienna. That had been her aunt’s last wish the villagers said. They gave her the key. It was just a matter of time before Sienna settled down comfortably with her family.
To be contd…. next issue