eel_deal @eyeteeth http://bit.ly/killing-us-sl0wly is a song about what prescription drugs are doing:
Well, you know me, blanket alarmist statements about medication get my Irish up. Technically they get my Scotch-Irish up, but that's still pretty bad. Ask the Confederate army, or the redcoats, both of whom came off worse against my misspelled pioneer ancestors.
eyeteeth @eel_deal They also keep me from crying in a darkened room all day, but I guess there's no reason a Twitter spammer should care about that.
eel_deal @eyeteeth some drugs are needed but many are messing people up badly. first it's a wonder drug, then it's revealed to cause serious damage.
eyeteeth @eel_deal I guess I missed the subtle nuance of a tweet reading "Killing Us Slowly is a song about what prescription drugs are doing."
eel_deal @eyeteeth in many instances some prescription drugs aren't killing slowly -- they are killing quickly.
eyeteeth @eel_deal So you recant your initial tweet completely? Because some drugs are fine and some kill fast?
eel_deal @eyeteeth no, because many kill slowly, and that seems to fit better in that song parody
eyeteeth @eel_deal And I assume you're working on a followup entitled "Except for the Ones That Have Improved Human Life Immeasurably," right?
He appears to have given up on me. It's understandable. I can't be reasoned with, clearly.
Anyway, that's not important right now. What's important is that it's my birthday, and you know what I like to do on my birthday, I like to inflict a story on you.
* * *
"Tiffany, is it?" These were Declan's first words to Tiffy, as he led her and Tancred into the stuffy parlor and seated them. The room was dim and full of gleamings, the light fixed in starry points on the knobs of the fender and smeared like jam over the glazed crimson tiles of the vacant fireplace. There were twinklings in the crystal drops that fringed a lampshade; another lamp, standing on a little table, was a bunch of lilies, each pale glass trumpet glowing. Too clean, she knew Tancred was thinking, eyeing with distaste the scrubbed tiles, the clock snapping off the seconds on the marble mantelpiece, the thin shining hearth on which rested the poker, the tongs, the rake. He was never at ease among surfaces designed for frequent cleaning.
"Just Tiffy," she said. She could have explained that her mother had had a fight with her sister Ann, and had taken the sound of her name out of Tiffy's name for spite, but it was a strange thing about that story, how it changed depending on who heard it. When she told it to Tancred it had been funny and a little bit sad, but she had a feeling that if she told it to Declan it would just be stupid. Anyway it was Tancred he wanted: he sat smiling expectantly among his feminine objects, his spindle-legged chairs of soft gold velvet, waiting to devour her husband. "Do you live here alone?" she asked, thinking that surely he hadn't crocheted the doilies.
He thought about this and then answered, "At the moment," so that she had to stifle her laughter until she and Tancred were alone again, in the sweet free air, and she could clutch his sleeve and gasp, "The doilies!"
"And why not?" he asked. Couldn't a man crochet a doily? And he held his big hands up before his face with a mournful expression, so that she gave a little scream of laughter and said she took it back, she took it all back, of course a man could crochet a doily, and after all that's what they'd said at the hospital that Tancred needed -- a hobby. Probably needlework was precisely the sort of thing they'd had in mind.
After that he would from time to time address her as Tiffany-is-it? or, if Declan was present, merely raise one eyebrow to let her know that he was thinking it.
It seemed to Tancred that it was only through such dodges as this that he could express himself: once he had been understood as readily as anyone else, but either he had changed or the world had. Now he was a beast without recourse to language. What was the meaning of all that talk about being dead? the doctor had asked him a few weeks before, and Tancred had attempted an allegory. Did the doctor know that the son of a vampire and a mortal woman was called a dhampir, and had special powers over the undead, having been as it were inoculated with death at his conception? He might have been a peacock shrieking. He was told to come back the next day for a psychiatric consultation. Maybe that was a good idea; maybe a psychiatrist would be capable of understanding spoken language. Just to be on the safe side Tancred would not use the word dhampir, which was of Balkan derivation and therefore, possibly, unfair.
Now here they were in the parlor with the doilies and the bookcases of which each separate shelf had its own glass door, and Tancred was looking at the little clock at the exact center of the mantel. Morbid, she knew he was thinking. Stygian, and it was, but it was perfectly fitting that the dry little man who wanted to talk to her husband about death should live in such a place. No room could contain him for long and stay bright or cheerful. But why was there a glow of pleasure in her chest? Oh yes: husband, she had thought, the word that lit a lamp in her heart. She reached over to take his hand and he smiled so she would know he was all right.
"Thank you for agreeing to come," said Declan. (It wasn't fair, was it, to judge him for having ears that stuck out slightly? Hers might look that way too if she were bald. But Tancred's hair was cut close and his ears didn't stick out.)
"Thank you," she said. There was a pitcher of ice water on the table between them; that was nice.
"You asked Dr. Abelow if it is possible to be partially dead. Could you tell me what you meant by that?"
A man with such morbid furnishings could bear a word of Balkan derivation, and so Tancred told him about the dhampir. He seemed to like the phrase "inoculated with death." He was taking notes in a spiral notebook with a green cover. He had also a sheaf of papers photocopied from somewhere. Off one of them he read that Tancred had suffered fracture of his C1, C2, C4, T6, and T7 vertebrae, as well as extensive fracture of the frontal and temporal bones of the skull, with attendant swelling of the brain and meninges that had made ventriculostomy necessary to reduce intracranial pressure. Was that accurate? It was. Tancred had been disappointed to learn that they didn't call it trephination anymore. Trephination, as he was sure Declan knew, let evil spirits out. It was odd, though, that there was never any mention of what it might let in.
"And these injuries…inoculated you?"
Was that what he'd meant? He tried to think. Torn, his body and soul had leaked into each other, and now both were contaminated. Bodies and souls were all right as long as they were separate, but it was like stirring sugar into coffee: you couldn't stir it out again.
And since then had he noticed any changes in his mental state? Was his attention span shorter, did he find it any more difficult to concentrate, was he more talkative? Tiffy was looking at him curiously, wanting to know the answers also. Doubtless she was thinking of him as he had been, imagining him in uniform, standing stiff in a stiff line of identical uniforms, or listening to Vanowen saying, "What do you think?" which had turned out -- she knew this story -- to be Vanowen's last words, the last words before the world vanished and then rushed back leaving him blinking without the slightest diminishment of consciousness at the bright blue sky. Because it was an explosion there must have been sound, but he didn't remember any. Since then was his attention span shorter? It was hard to say. He startled more easily, he said, wanting to be helpful.
"And you are sometimes violent," said Declan, consulting the photocopies.
"I am, sometimes, violent without meaning to be," said Tancred, slowly. This sentence took a lot of effort to produce, the most confusing part being the word I. What did he mean, without meaning to be? Well, to return to the previously useful example of vampires, did Declan know how they attacked people, traditionally? Traditionally the victim woke with the vampire sitting on his chest and strangling him. There was no way to fight back; the victim was paralyzed as the vampire stole his blood and breath.
"Is that what you do?" asked Declan, his pen scratching along. "You strangle people?"
"No!" cried Tiffy, indignant. Pompous little man, she thought, with your pile of notes and your virginal fireplace, you don't understand anything.
He pointed his eyebrows at Tancred, who said, "No." Again he was the peacock, shrieking in a cemetery, shedding once in a great while a plume that would lie burning against some gray stone slab. Tiffy thought he was mostly plumes but Tancred knew he was mostly shrieking. "By dead," he said, "I mean…" But in ordinary human language he could not say what he meant.
"It paralyzes him," said Tiffy. "It strangles him."
Oh! yes. That was it. Evidently Declan was satisfied as well, bent over the notebook. "You act without knowing you're acting?" he said, but that wasn't right either.
"He knows," said Tiffy. She wants him to understand, thought Tancred; why is that, when she thinks he is a pompous fool? But she had dropped Tancred's hand and was gesturing. Her hands swept and fluttered as she tried to conjure him, a miniature Tancred to be held in the hands. Declan could press it like a daisy in his notebook.
She ended with a flourish. She and Declan were leaning toward each other over the table; as Tancred watched, Declan stooped and plunged again into the sea's steel-blue surface, into the book on his knee. "He acts -- and he is aware of his actions -- but he has no control over them." He mounted triumphantly over the waves, scattering silver drops from his pinions, pausing only to say for Tiffy's benefit, "That is called depersonalization."
"Well!" said Tiffy. That's settled, she thought: it's called depersonalization.
"But it's not characteristic of frontal lobe damage," he added. "Which is not to say that he doesn't have frontal lobe damage. When the whole front of your head gets smashed -- well. But it doesn't cause dissociative states."
There was no need to ask what did; it was typed out in the sheaf of papers that lay next to the pitcher of ice water. But how could his condition be described as post-traumatic when just yesterday he had found himself sinking down, yelling for Tiffy to take his hand before the earth swallowed him up? Vanowen was calling him, dragging him down to have a nice long talk about Hegel. Vanowen didn't care that Tancred wasn't allowed to go where he was; the dead were uncaring, they despised the living, that was the world's gruesome secret. They watched the processions of mourners with their gleaming boxes and sprays of sweet flowers, their black rags and sobbing, and they convulsed with hateful laughter. Never mind all that, said Vanowen, as Tancred passed by a funeral parlor, withered sweetness and the muffled sound of weeping reeking from the open door -- never mind all that, I have a few things to say to you about Hegel. And oh God, if Tiffy hadn't been there, if he had not felt her hands or heard her voice -- darling, she called him, sweetie, my heart, and Vanowen had to let him go.
With such power she could afford to be generous, and so she had decided to pity Declan, who was so ridiculous and understood so little. She sipped from her water glass and smiled into his eyes. His hands, fluttering over his papers, would never save anyone from the realm of the dead. He would never be anyone's darling. "You're interested in frontal lobe damage?" she asked.
He drank in her pity without realizing it, knowing only that suddenly he liked her very much -- it was clear from the way he smiled as he tapped his notes into a rectangle against the tabletop. "I am interested in the incremental nature of death," he said. "Your husband's case is a very interesting one, but I think he and I have different notions of what it means to be dead."
"The cessation of the self," Declan said promptly. "We are accustomed to think of it as something that happens all at once, but by no means is that always the case."
"No," said Tancred. The fact was that the self did not cease at all; that was the problem. The self was stuck on, like a rusted switch. Vanowen had said a few things to suggest this had not always been the case. Only since about 1914, but the situation was getting very serious. Eight billion? he had said, and laughed in that nasty way the dead had. In the ancient world the god of wealth was Plutus; do you think it's a coincidence that that sounds so much like the name of the god of death? Oh no, Tank, oh no. There is no one as rich as death. There is no king with so many subjects.
No, death wasn't a cessation, it was the opposite, a surfeit. It grew and pushed out life, which was this: the ordinariness of a room and a Japanese maple framed in the window, Tiffy leaning forward into Declan's discourse on the frontal lobes, her petal-pink fingernails and the disk of lime floating in her glass. Death longed to take all these things away from him and replace them -- with what? With fire, with women's blood, with unpleasant laughter.
What could unstick the switch? he had asked Vanowen once, and where would the dead go when that happened? Where would Vanowen go? But of course Tancred was not allowed to know that. Don't forget, you're the enemy, Vanowen had said. You're an enemy to the dead and now you're an enemy to the living as well. Who will take your side, Tank?
In life Vanowen had never called him Tank, though almost everyone else had. It was one of the things Tancred had liked about him, but it seemed a slender justification now for Vanowen's persistence in a world that had made such a production of rejecting him. Tancred had been at the funeral; he had watched as the folded flag was placed in the hands of the brother or cousin who had not known how to hold it and who stood, finally, clutching it to his breast like a load of textbooks -- while in the hole below them Vanowen in pieces lay sealed in a box to protect their eyes from him. Tancred had bitten his hands to keep from laughing out loud. That was when he had known that he was no longer fully in league with the living. The living thought they could stamp the names of the dead on stone crosses and in that way confine them to their assigned plots of grass. Such arrogance was ridiculous; yet no one else was laughing.
"Oh, how interesting!" Tiffy was saying, sketching a gesture that made the ice clink in her glass. "Is it really that easy?"
Tancred didn't have to move his lips to speak to Vanowen, who didn't have to be present to hear -- not in a tomb like this. She is stronger than you, Tancred said. She burns and is not consumed. Death itself is destroyed by her glory.
Declan was saying he wished he could take credit for some idea. Tiffy was pouring out a second glass of water. She handed it to Tancred, her eyes meeting his for just a moment, her teeth catching her lower lip: Is it silly of me to feel sorry for him? He's so ridiculous. He took the glass, raising one eyebrow: Tiffany, is it?
And Declan smiled, thinking her laughter was for him.
* * *
It's entirely possible that I'm just making myself ridiculous at this point, but that's OK, stuff can always be taken out. Sometimes writing is like drawing a picture of a sea serpent. You fiddle with the sea serpent until you've figured out how much of it to submerge and how much of it to reveal.
And on the subject of the dhampir, by the way, you know how Vampire Hunter D is called the dunpeal hunter in the translation? It took me long enough, but I still felt like hot soup when I realized that dunpeal is Japanese for dhampir. And here I thought that stuff was all made up for the anime and manga, but no, it's based in Balkan mythology: the son of a vampire and a mortal woman (they never seem to have daughters, and it's never a vampire and a mortal man) has power over vampires that other people don't have. I think it's usually pretty cold comfort for him, though, as the kind of people who know about and respect the powers of the dhampir are also the kind of people who know that vampirism tends to be hereditary. I read an eighteenth-century account, purported to be true, about an otherwise inoffensive young Bulgarian peasant whose father (now dead) was well known to have been a vampire. No one had any beef with this guy, but he had zero luck with the young women of his village, because everyone knew that as soon as he died he would be back to wreak havoc starting with his immediate family. If I'm remembering correctly, he eventually had to move to a different village just to find some women who would give him the time of day.
Other people who have unusual power over vampires are sabbatarians, those born on Saturday, which is the Eastern Orthodox sabbath. Sadly I am not a sabbatarian, as I was born on a Wednesday. That's the only lousy day in the birthday rhyme! Fortunately I have deadly prescription drugs for my woe.