Look! It’s another installment of my six-part gothiness series. You can read the previous four parts by clicking on these links:
Part V: More Fangs!
A few months after Tiny Beowulf, our second child, was born, my husband and I went away for the weekend. Not far, just a few hours’ drive, but this getaway vacation was a big deal. We headed to San Antonio, where I have family and friends, and which is also a great city to get away to when you don’t want to be gone for long or be too distant. We saw a friend’s acting re-debut that Friday night and gallivanted around downtown and the Riverwalk that Saturday night with my cousin Andy. It was a fantastic time that also taught us the valuable lesson that it was, in fact, perfectly okay to be away from our toddler and infant for a couple of days while they hung out with their doting grandparents.
But I also had a mission on this trip. Ken Dracula (remember him from Part 2?) had moved away from Houston some years before, and my brother had told me he’d resurfaced in San Antonio — and Robert had his number. Of course he did. It had been over a decade since my last fangs. Their color no longer matched my pearly whites so well, and as I’d grown into an adult, my jaw had grown too, so the bridge didn’t even fit well anymore. I’d decided it was time for a new set. I rationalized that I could be a vampire at school for Hallowe’en instead of the same predictable witch like so many of the other teachers.
I made an appointment with Ken to get some new fangs made.
I could not, however, entice my husband to come on this appointment with me. “I want to take a nap,” he said that Saturday afternoon.
I certainly didn’t want to go alone. But Andy was coming to meet us; maybe he could show up a little early?
“I like that idea,” my husband said through his yawn. “Go spend time with your cousin.”
Andy was happy to go with me. He seemed to look on this errand as a weirdly grand adventure; I looked on it with excitement, an exuberant throwback to my younger days to prove I hadn’t lost my sense of self in becoming a mom, as so often I’d seen happen to women at my stage of life.
We got to Ken’s apartment, and immediately I felt something was off. For one thing, it was hard to find him. Not the building itself, which was actually rather easy; it was difficult to figure out where the entrance to his apartment was. The building was a retail storefront of indeterminate identity, closed on the weekends. Ken’s apartment ended up being in the back of the building. A few phone calls and some wandering in the driveway later, Ken came out of a screen door onto his porch to meet us, all flip-flops and bermuda shorts and faded t-shirt, all tousled hair and bags under his eyes and anemic, gaunt frame. It had been a very long time since I’d seen Ken Dracula, but in his younger days, he’d been reasonably good-looking and spunky and generally entertained by every aspect of his life. This Ken was a changed man; he did not appear to have weathered the intervening decade well. He’d gone all nosferatu; instinctively I worried about him, but then I brushed the feeling away. I barely knew the man. He was my brother’s contact, and even Robert barely knew the man anymore.
Suddenly I thought, What the hell am I doing here? I’m a mother, for pete’s sake. I’m a grown woman. The image of myself as a twenty-year-old traipsing up the stairs in my parents’ house as quickly as I could to hide my fangs from my own mother — that woman who is a grandmother now — shimmered briefly and then faded like a ghost in the clear reason of self-awareness.
I was on a fool’s errand.
But Ken had seen us; we couldn’t leave now without being jerks, and jerks we were not. Clumsy, manic, he bounded down the few porch steps and held out his hand to me to shake it. I had the impression of someone who never got many visitors anymore.
Andy gave me a sideways glance as if to say, Is this the guy who’s going to make you fangs? Honey, I love you, but you’re kind of a freak. What he muttered quietly was, “You ready? Because it looks like Ken Dracula is.”
We were ushered up onto the porch and then through the screen door into a cramped kitchen that was more clutter than function. Pots and pans and tupperware pieces piled onto tiny squares of countertop. A few half-empty supermarket-brand spice bottles littering the top of the ancient stove unit. A sink whose white enamel was chipped, rust stains dripping from the drain vents. On a fridge too new to be vintage and too old to be trustworthy, crumbling newspaper clippings and fliers from the San Antonio club scene. The walls were covered in empty cardboard daiquiri carriers with here and there an early 90s-era CD box.
This place was such a far cry from Ken’s former, tastefully decorated apartment in Houston I was actually afraid, for a moment, of what I had gotten myself into.
He gestured for me to sit upon the red chair in the middle of the kitchen. It was one of those dinette models that in another setting would have been cutesy-kitsch sitting next to a sparkling formica table against a turquoise wall. But here, resting with its back up against a cluttered one-foot-by-one-foot butcher block island — because that’s all that this kitchen could fit — it took on the aspect of a dentist’s chair. Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. came to mind. And then so did Sweeney Todd.
Andy had been discreetly peeking through the doorways — there were two. When Ken stepped out to retrieve his tools, my cousin hissed me over to take a look. One opened into a hallway, which Ken had disappeared down into, that led to other rooms in various states of disarray. A pile of laundry in a corner, a short stack of yellowing Anne Rice paperbacks next to an end table. The other doorway revealed a large room that might have been great for entertaining with its hardwood floor and lack of furniture. And maybe it was used for parties: we saw festive crepe-paper decorations and man-sized cardboard character cutouts of Frankenstein and Darth Vader. A frayed straw sombrero topped an ancient stereo cabinet, and large speakers stood a sad sentry in the corners.
Andy said, “Where did you find this guy?” I couldn’t tell if he was terrified, bemused, or in awe.
“Um…” I began, but then Ken came back. He glanced at us as if to wonder why I wasn’t sitting in the chair but said nothing, and I quickly sat down on the puffy red vinyl seat.
Ken had brought his denture acrylic and latex gloves. Instead of using metal tools, he used a bamboo skewer and some Q-tips. In spite of his apartment and his general appearance, it was clear to me that he was operating safely. His materials were reliable. I felt ashamed of my inner voice for questioning the situation.
It was just fangs, that’s all. Easy-peasy. Just like he’d done hundreds of times before.
While Ken worked — and, I had to admit, with competence — he chatted easily with Andy about the night life in San Antonio and about Anne Rice. The club scene was all right, Ken guessed, but then he took on a slightly sad tone when he began talking about the woman who had been his idol. While my bridge was curing, the acrylic heating up in my awkwardly open mouth as I tried not to compulsively touch my tongue to the bar behind my teeth, Ken patiently answered Andy’s questions about the author, who had in recent years (a.k.a. Andy’s adolescent and early adult life) fallen out of the mainstream.
“She sort of stopped writing her vampire and witch books a while back,” Ken said with…was that a hint of wistfulness? “After her husband died a few years ago, she just sort of…stopped.” Ken was quiet a moment, checking on my fangs, putting the final shaping touches to them. I looked up into his eyes, which focused intently on his handiwork and not at all on me, though my face lay in his gaze. I wondered if Ken still worked in a dental office. Then he said, “Of course, losing your partner…well, no one ever really recovers from that, do they.” It wasn’t a question. And no, it wasn’t wistfulness, either, but commiseration.
Ken himself had lost his partner a few years before, he informed Andy, as if I were supposed to have known about it already and just hadn’t brought my cousin up to speed because I couldn’t speak while in the dentist’s chair. And then suddenly Ken’s appearance, his apartment, his bizarre decor came into clear, puncturing focus.
“But Annie used to throw these amazing Hallowe’en parties every year in New Orleans,” he continued. “I used to go out there and make fangs for people.” He began shuffling around in a clutter of papers and photographs from one of the nearby stacks. “I’d set up in the corner and just crank them out for the guests, fifteen dollars a pop.” He half-smiled. “That was back in the day. Fangs were cheap then.”
I’ll say, I thought. These are setting me back fifty. I mentally shrugged it off.
He dug out an ancient photo of himself in full Dracula regalia and make-up, fangs prominently protruding from his grin, the affectionate arm of Anne Rice herself, cloaked in black panné velvet, slung around his shoulders. As he showed off his photo to us, a little of the spark of exuberance the old Ken Dracula had radiated back in the day tried to shine. I would have smiled politely had the bridge finished curing. Andy did so for both of us.
“That’s really cool,” he said. He sounded sincere.
I sort of waved my hand a little in the direction of my mouth.
“Oh, of course,” Ken said and removed my new bridge. I relaxed my jaw and took a deep breath. He inspected my new set and then smiled. “All done,” he assured me and handed them over. As he explained the rules for caring for my new fangs — rules I’d heard before and remembered well — I noticed that the color was slightly too dark, that the bridge itself was a little jagged in places. I put them back in and tested the fit.
Just a bit too snug to be comfortable, like wearing retainers I had grown out of long ago. I knew I wouldn’t be wearing these again. But I didn’t say a word other than a very sweet “thank you.” Ken smiled.
“So does Anne Rice still have that big Hallowe’en party every year?” Andy asked.
Ken blinked his eyes thoughtfully a couple of times before answering. “Well, I haven’t been back for some time,” he said. “But last I heard, the party was still going strong. Annie, though, she hasn’t been seen there in years.”
Click on this link to be taken to the final installment in this series. Thanks for reading!