“Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light” is about a lonely young woman, recently moved to the big city, who is looking for love. What she finds is a friend and confidante who is much older and wiser than she.
Marcus arrived on the third day of school. Of course, Rosamunde didn’t know then his name was Marcus. All she knew was that the new guy was hot. Like, really hot. Shampoo-commercial hair hot. Tawny skin like a lion’s golden coat just like when the sun hits a lion’s golden coat on a plain somewhere in Africa hot. He walked into homeroom just like a lion, totally confident and cool. His confident gaze raked the classroom. Like he could eat them all alive if he wanted to. And then he looked right at her with gorgeous, glowing violet eyes. As if there was no one else in the world. As if his whole world, just right then, were Rosamunde.
Consider deleting second and third use of ‘lion,’ I write in the margins. To avoid repetition.
—Are his eyes really glowing? asks the vampire, looking over my shoulder. —Doesn’t that seem inconvenient?
Glowing eyes? I write. Reword?
It isn’t what you’re thinking with me and the vampire; we’re just friends. Probably you’ve read too many books. We meet every evening on the corner of Twenty-Sixth and Sixth after I finish work and go for cocktails at the Half King. I am an assistant to a literary agent and he is a vampire, which is I suppose a certain form of employment.
There are a lot of people in this city who have money that comes from no transparent source, but as far as I know the vampire is the only one who is a literal monster. Early in our acquaintance I asked the vampire why he liked to spend time with me, why he had chosen me out of all the millions of other girls moving in glittering packs through the night streets of the city. Soft-skinned slim cool girls with blinding teeth and neat manicures, immaculate girls who leave in their wake the scent of jasmine and new dollar bills; thoroughbred girls far glossier than me.
—I don’t know, said the vampire. —You have a certain je ne sais quois.
Rosamunde’s highly profitable literary franchise comprises three novels; the literary agent has given me a draft of the fourth to review. Thus far in the series, Rosamunde has proven a magnet for supernatural entities of all kinds. Two werewolf brothers, several half-demons, and one fallen angel have told her she is beautiful, but she doesn’t believe them. Rosamunde is certain she is only average. Her skin is soft and smells of roses. She enjoys bubble baths, the Brontës, and Frappuccinos. The vampire has offered to act as a consultant on Rosamunde’s latest adventure, in which the new boy in school turns out to be a vampire himself. Although he dabbles in the dark side, Rosamunde’s suitor is persuaded toward the light thanks to a generous application of Rosamunde’s love. Everybody likes a project. Tonight my vampire is feeling clever; he’s ordered a Bloody Mary, although that’s not a nighttime kind of drink. The bartender gave him a dirty look when he thought the vampire wasn’t looking and the vampire ran his finger over his teeth. Most nights the vampire drinks Pernod and complains daintily that he can’t smoke indoors anymore, although it’s been years and years since one could. Time is different for vampires, as you doubtless already know. The vampire has deigned to lend me his coat, which is the band jacket Hedi Slimane did for Dior Homme. I did not know things like this before I met the vampire, only that the vampire’s jacket was beautiful and made me feel, the first time I put it on, as though I had been wearing the wrong clothes my entire life.
—What does ‘shampoo-commercial hair’ mean? the vampire asks.
—I guess it means that he’s clean, I say.
The vampire looks at me in surprise. —Is that really all you people want now? My goodness, what a very different time it is, indeed. A year or two ago the Half King was closed briefly for the filming of a movie in which Drew Barrymore finds love in unexpected places, and I had to explain romantic comedies to the vampire. He was quiet for some time. —I like that fellow Tarkovsky, he said finally. —No talking.
It’s not my first winter in this city but I still can’t manage to dress warmly enough. There are nights I think the cutting wind will pull me apart and cauterize what’s left into solid ice. I came here with my pockets full of dreams but the people-clotted streets are lonelier than anywhere I’ve known. The place I left behind never got cold enough to kill you.
—You can make it here; you can make it anywhere, the vampire says. I think he means this to be encouraging.
We met at the library on Sixth, which is where I spend my weekends. The building has heat and you do not have to pay anything in order to sit all afternoon and cry like a teenager into your open notebook. The library used to be a courthouse but it looks like a palace. There’s a spiraling stone staircase and a tower with stained-glass windows that let in rainbow-chipped light from another, kinder dimension. Sometimes I imagine myself a princess coolly awaiting her coronation, her diadems, her velvet gowns. A princess, perhaps, called Rosamunde. I was reading a book about public executions in the sixteenth century when the vampire approached me.
—It’s not altogether true, you know, the vampire said, although of course I didn’t know then he was a vampire. I didn’t know who he was at all, this lean, tall man with cool gray eyes that were startling against his dark skin. Outside, the storm-silted afternoon was sinking into night.
—I’m sorry? I said. I’d only been in the city for a few months, but even then I could tell his clothes cost more than my rent.
—I’ve read that book, the vampire said. —It wasn’t quite like that, although he gets close.
—I’m researching a novel, I said, although my tear-spotted notebook was blank.
—Is that so, the vampire said. —How fascinating. Might I buy you a drink?
I share an apartment with four other girls in a part of the city that will not be cheap for much longer. Once a month a black family moves out of my building and a white couple moves in. My roommates, like me, all came here to do things other than the things they are now doing.
—Five of you in that tenement, the vampire says in horror. —Like rats in a box.
—We don’t call them tenements anymore, I say. The apartment is filled with the miasma of human presence. The bathroom is murky with leavings: clumps of hair, spent toothpaste tubes, a greasy sheen in the sink. The heat’s been broken for months and I sleep in two sweaters and wool socks. In the morning my stale breath clouds white in the pale air. I don’t much like to go home, which suits the vampire just fine. He’ll buy me drinks until the table slides across the floor. Sometimes he puts me in a taxi and I wake up in front of my building with crumpled twenties and pieces of eight in my pockets, the cabdriver’s eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror.
—You are lucky, a cabdriver said to me once, —to have such a generous friend.
I gave him one of the vampire’s antique coins. —I don’t know if generous is the right word, I said, —but he does his best to be nice.
When I first interviewed with the literary agent, I told her I wanted to be a writer. —Who doesn’t, she said, rolling her eyes. —Bring me a story, I’ll take a look. The printout I gave her still sits, yellowing, on the bottom shelf behind her desk. Girls these days like to read about vampires, or so I am told by the literary agent, who makes her living off books that aren’t particularly good. If she had dreams once they have long since scurvied into misshape under the flickering gray-green lights of her windowless office. I suppose if one is not acquainted with an actual vampire, love disguised as cruelty sounds better than the world outside. All these monsters, waiting for the right girl. All these girls, hoping for monsters. Once a beauty finds her beast, she blossoms. Her junky old jewels turn out to be talismans, her dead mother’s cheap locket a portal to another plane. All she needs to learn magic is for someone to call her pretty.
How people die now: torture, shot by police, hate crimes, executed by the state. Am I safe? I can’t tell. In this city, in this century, I don’t know what the word means anymore. The literary agent sends me home with manuscripts to read on my own time; this is for my career development. Some of them belong to her clients. Most of them belong to people who want to be.
This one defies credibility, I write in the reader’s reports I submit to her.
I agree!!!!! she emails back, although she sits six feet away from me. Please reject J J J
After science, Rosamunde walked up to the new guy. He was so hot. She could hardly believe her own nerve. She was shy. She didn’t know how to talk to guys. Especially not guys like this one. So cool. So energetic.
—She means ‘enigmatic,’ surely, the vampire says.
—Or egomaniacal, I say, and am pleased when the vampire laughs. I make a note in the margins.
“We’re supposed to choose lab partners,” she said, trying to keep her voice from quivering.
—Quavering! the vampire says huffily.
—You’re the one who wanted to help, I tell him, and he subsides, muttering into his Bloody Mary.
“You’re new, so—I’m guessing you don’t have one.”
“No,” he said. His smell, now that he stood so close, was heady. Masculine. Like a forest. Almost like a powerful animal with muscles bunching underneath its rippling skin. He was wearing an expensive brand-name sweater that brought out the sapphire blue of his eyes.