HE GREW UP IN DRACULA’S CITY. He’d walked past Bram Stoker’s house every day on his way to school. But it had meant nothing to him. He’d never felt a thing, not the hand of a ghost or a shiver, not a lick on his neck as he passed. In fact, he was nearly eighteen, in his last year at school, before he’d even noticed the plaque beside the door. He’d never read the book, and probably never would. He’d fallen asleep during Coppola’s Dracula. One minute his wife was screaming, grabbing his knee; the next, she was grabbing the same knee, trying to wake him up. The cinema lights were on and she was furious.
-How can you do that?
-Sleep during a film like that.
-I always fall asleep when the film’s shite.
-We’re supposed to be out on a date.
-That’s a different point, he said.–For that, I apologise. How did it end, anyway?
-Oh, f**k off, she said, affectionately—that was possible in Dublin.
So the whole thing, the whole Dracula business, meant absolutely nothing to him.
Nevertheless, he wanted to drink blood.
The badly was recent, and dreadful. The itch, the urge, the leaking tongue—it was absolutely dreadful.
He wasn’t sure when it had started. He was, though—he knew when he’d become aware.
-How d’you want your steak?
His wife had laughed. But he’d been telling her the truth. He wanted the slab of meat she was holding over the pan, raw and now—fuck the pan, it wasn’t needed. He could feel muscles holding him back, and other muscles fighting for him—neck muscles, jaw muscles.
Then he woke.
But he was awake already, still standing in the kitchen, looking at the steak, and looking forward to it.
-Rare, so, he said.
She smiled at him.
-You’re such a messer, she said.
He hid behind that, the fact that he acted the eejit, that it was him, as he bent down to the charred meat on the plate a few minutes later, and licked it. The kids copied him and they all ended up with brown gravy on their noses. He made himself forget about his aching jaws and the need to bite and growl. They all watched a DVD after dinner, and everything was grand.
And it was; it was fine. Life was normal. For a while. For quite a while. Weeks—he thought. He opened the fridge one day. There were two fillet steaks on a plate, waiting. It must have been weeks later because she—her name was Vera—she wouldn’t have bought steak all that frequently. And it wasn’t the case that Vera did all the shopping, or even most of it; she just went past the butcher’s more often than he did. She bought the food; he bought the wine. She bought the soap and toilet paper—and he bought the wine. You’re such a messer.
He grabbed one of the steaks and took it over to the sink. He looked behind him, to make sure he was alone, and then devoured it as he leaned over the sink. But he didn’t devour it. He licked it first, like an ice-pop; it was cold. He heard the drops of blood hit the aluminum beneath him, and he felt the blood running down his chin, as if it—the blood—was coming from him. And he started to suck it, quickly, to drink it. It should have been warm. He knew that, and it disgusted him, the fact that he was already planting his disappointment, setting himself up to do it again—this—feeding a need, an addiction he suddenly had and accepted. He growled—he f**kin’ growled. He looked behind him—but he didn’t care. You’re such a messer. He chewed till it stopped being meat and spat the pulp into the bin. He rubbed his chin; he washed his hands. He looked at his shirt. It was clean. He ran the hot tap and watched the black drops turn red, pink, then nothing. He took the remaining fillet from the fridge and slid it off the plate, into the bin. He tied the plastic liner and brought it out to the wheelie bin.
-Where’s the dinner? Vera wanted to know, later.
-I bought fillet steaks for us. There.
She stood in front of the fridge’s open door.
-They were off, he said.
-They were not.
-They were, he said.–They were minging. I threw them out.
-They were perfect, she said.–Are they in here?
She was at the bin.
-The wheelie, he said.
He hadn’t expected this; he hadn’t thought ahead.
-I’m bringing them back, she said, as she moved to the back door.–The f**ker.
She was talking about the butcher.
-Don’t, he said.
He didn’t stand up, he didn’t charge to block her. He stayed sitting at the table. He could feel his heart—his own meat—hopping, thumping.
-He’s always been grand, he said.–If we complain, it’ll—I don’t know—change the relationship. The customer-client thing.
He enjoyed listening to himself. He was winning.
-We can have the mince, he said.
-It was for the kids, she said.–Burgers.
-I like burgers, he said.–You like burgers.
The back door was open. It was a hot day, after a week of hot days. He knew: she didn’t want to open the wheelie and shove her face into a gang of flies.
They had small burgers. The kids didn’t complain.
That was that.
Out of his system. He remembered—he saw himself—attacking the meat, hanging over the sink. He closed his eyes, snapped them shut—the idea, the thought, of being caught like that. By a child, by his wife. The end of his life.
He’d killed it—the urge. But it came back, days later. And he killed it again. The fridge again—lamb chops this time. He sent his hand in over the chops, and grabbed a packet of chicken br**sts, one of those polystyrene trays, wrapped in cling-—lm. He put a finger through the film, pulled it away. He slid the br**sts onto a plate—and drank the pink, the near-white blood. He downed it, off the tray. And vomited.
Cured. Sickened—revolted. Never again. He stayed home from work the next day. Vera felt his forehead.
-Maybe it’s the swine flu.
-Chicken pox, he said. You’re such a messer.
-You must have had the chicken pox when you were a boy, she said.–Did you?
-I think so, he said.
She looked worried.
-It can make adult males sterile, she said.
-I had a vasectomy, he told her.–Three years ago.
-I forgot, she said.
But he was cured; he’d sorted himself out. The thought, the memory—the taste of the chicken blood, the polystyrene tray—it had him retching all day. He wouldn’t let it go. He tortured himself until he knew he was fixed.
It was iron he was after. He decided that after he’d done a bit of Googling when he went back to work. It made sense; it was fresh air across his face. Something about the taste, even the look, of the cow’s deep red blood—it was metal, rusty. That was what he’d craved, the iron, the metal. He’d been looking pale; he’d been falling asleep in front of the telly, like an old man. Anaemia. Iron was all he needed. So he bought himself a carton of grapefruit juice—he knew the kids would never touch it—and he went into a chemist on his way home from work, for iron tablets. He regretted it when the woman behind the counter looked at him over her specs and asked him if they were for his wife.