I meet a group of middle-aged ladies at the diner. I cannot tell you their names, or what they look like.
I am good at details, but I cannot describe them. Except that there were four. I don’t even see them sitting there at first until one of them calls my name.
Once I am seated, the waitress comes over. She gives me a menu.
One of the women says, “May we have menus, too?”
The waitress starts, says, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t see you all sitting there. Just a minute.”
The women tell me this happens all the time. “We feel invisible,” one says.
I joke about us all getting older. But honestly, I cannot tell one from another. They are middle-aged, nondescript. Only their differently-colored coats mark them apart.
“It’s not that. It’s because of him,” one says. They all nod.
What we are here to talk about is that they have a Meetup group.
It’s called The Vampire Victims’ Club.
The founder tells me that they first met when one of them placed an online ad asking: Has a famous celebrity sucked your blood? Me too, let’s talk.
Soon six were in touch, but all afraid to meet. They knew there were others, so the four brave enough to meet in person started this Meetup group with the more generic name, The Vampire Victims Club.
“We got a lot of Goth girls at first. To them it was play. You know, bad boyfriends who cut them with knives, or used a little dainty syringe. Blood-dabblers.
“When they saw us, how we were pale without make-up. When we told them what anemia really was, and how we were slowly wasting away, well, off they went, back to their boys with little fake vampire teeth.
“What we all came to realize is that there’s only one in mid-town. ”
“One what?” I ask.
“Why, vampire, of course. It’s always him, him all the time. He must have driven the others like him away.”
“No one will ever believe you,” he says to all of us. “Oh, such alibis he has. His limo drops him off at some fancy club or fund-raiser. Then halfway through, he slips away, men’s room and then a back doorway. Then he’s a few blocks away at the kind of place a divorced woman or a single mother goes, dim-lit and quiet. Slow drinks and flirts. Married men who want a secret girlfriend, mostly. Or sad widowers – you hope to meet one of those with money.
“Then in comes Mister Billionaire, discreetly, hat drooping low in that pretend-you-don’t-know-who-I-am mode.
“So he buys you a drink, and you talk, and you pretend not to know who he is. And he flirts and you say Oh, come on now, I know who you are. You have your pick of all those showgirls. Porn stars even. Why do you want to hurt a poor girl’s feelings? And then he says he’s just enjoyed talking to someone who didn’t want to play sugardaddy games, and he felt very at home with you and would like to, you know, get to know you.”
“And all the time his limo is sitting outside the charity ball?” I ask.
“Oh, even worse. Sometimes his wife is sitting back there. You know, the famous model. And she’s looking at her watch and fuming, and putting on fake smiles and the little ‘who knows’ shrug when someone asks her ‘Where is your husband?’
And he says, “Not to worry, I know this street like the back of my hand. And then you’re up against a brick wall all cold and clammy and he’s got your legs apart and think he’s going to. And then, no, he’s at your throat and it burns and surges and the life is going out of you. And then he stops, and laughs, and waves his hands in front of your face in a peculiar way and says, “Be here tomorrow. This place, at midnight. And he puts something in your purse, and when you look later, its enough to pay your rent for half a year.”
“Was it just once, then, I ask?”
Another woman chimes in. “It’s never just once. I’m his Monday victim.” Pointing: “She’s every Wednesday.”
“And I am Friday’s victim,” the first woman says. Every Friday. In that alley, three blocks from the most expensive restaurant in New York.”
“We’re just his cafeteria,” the fourth one chimes in. “I’m the youngest, as you can see. Weekends I have to wait, in a suite in his office tower, for whenever he can get away.”
“She’ll outlive the rest of us,” one says bitterly. “She just gets him through Sunday. He hardly takes a thimbleful. A snack.”
“Or maybe he’s grooming me to be his next wife,” says Number Four. “Like in the movies.”
In answer, dark laughter and the shaking of heads.
“And none of you have gone to the police? Is that why you invited me here, to get the word out?”
There is a long silence.
“Each of us has tried to go to the police. You see the station, the one on 57th Street. You turn the corner. You start walking. Your steps get tinier and tinier. You’re walking like an old lady. And then you’re hanging on to a lamp-post, almost fainting. And you reel for a trashcan, vomiting.”
“I tried by phone. I dialed the police. When someone answered, all I could do was squeak, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to call this number.’”
“Post hypnotic suggestion?” I wonder.
“The other thing is, mister, is that no one can see us. You noticed that when you came in. No one comes up to any of us and says, ‘You’re looking terrible. Let me get you to a doctor.’ It’s getting worse as the life drains out of us. When one of us dies, they might not even find our bodies, just husks behind the dumpsters, stuff no one would touch or even try to name.”
“I find that hard to believe.” I wondered if this was an elaborate hoax.
“Show him Mildred!” the third one intones.
“We were five originally,” the first explains. Her weary hands reach into a shopping bag. “Mildred was oldest, and weakest. Once, she was a Rockette, then a cocktail waitress. She was the first one he made a ‘regular.”
She pushes aside the coffee cups and menus, and lays a thing before me.
It smells of whisky, beer, sawdust and vomit, the reek of an alley behind a sodden bar. Its mottled color is that of fungus, newspapers yellowed in cat urine, and soot. It weighs almost nothing, the lint of laundromat, the clot of forgotten spiderweb, a bird’s nest. It has no shape I can name, a tapestry of shreds and sticks and filth. Except for the woman’s face dead center in its fractals of trash, it is nothing. Nothing, nothing at all, I chant as I flee, stunned as though hypnotized, and when I look back the diner booth is empty.