The doorbell interrupted suddenly as Fiona fastened the last garter snap for her black stockings. She jumped to the floor, landing on her high heels, and hurried a few steps toward the door. George DuPont smiled. A shocking red rose in his right hand and a gift in his left. He put the rose in water. George preferred fish but without spices. Fiona asked him to open the bottle of white wine. He would gladly … if she opened her gift. Fiona smiled. She ripped the paper, making sure he could see her long nails perfectly red. It was a black box. Inside, a necklace too lustrous to be fake. George put it around her neck and offered the certificate authenticating the platinum setting and the diamond.
From that moment he controlled the entire situation in the kitchen. He had to help her with the fish when she burned herself with steam shooting from the pan. After that she dropped the mashed potatoes. He said it didn’t matter; he never liked mashed potatoes. She intended to take a second glass of wine and poured half on the table. He tried not to disturb her. Quietly but firmly, he helped her set the table, light the candles and serve dinner. She excused herself to go to the bathroom.
Take it easy, she said to herself half-sitting on the toilet seat. But who does this idiot think he is? That he can buy me?
She had never seen a diamond in her life. I can’t believe it. There are so many women that would readily give him all and more with no need for gifts. I must not accept it. After dinner I’ll give it back. She looked at the necklace in the mirror: exquisite. Why not? Don’t be stupid, Fiona. Nobody has given you anything in your life. You deserve it. Act as if you were accustomed to getting gifts like this on a first date. Dinner awaits.
George and the dinner were at the table.
“Excuse me. I’m sorry if it offends you …”
“No way.” She smiled exactly as she had rehearsed. “On the contrary, George, thank you very much.”
“A new friendship must be forged with the best symbols, is that right?”
“Of course.” She feigned self-confidence. “And with the best dishes served.”
“Absolutely. The fish is superb!”
“But you have hardly touched it.”
“I eat very little. The presentation is exquisite. A banquet.”
“Thank you, but I believe you don’t like it.”
“Of course I do.” George tried to eat, but as he put a piece of fish on the tip of his tongue, Fiona could immediately see the repulsion on his face. “Hey, I can make something else,” she offered, clearly uncomfortable with the situation.
He looked at her as if she were far away, as if trying to recognize her, then hurriedly added, “No, this is enough. What I will take is a little red wine. You don’t mind if I open it?”
“Of course I don’t. Go ahead.”
After a couple of bites, Fiona also abandoned her dish. With a napkin, she cleaned the corners of her lips and added, not without resentment, “No fish. No white wine. No potatoes. I suppose you won’t take the rice either.”
“Fiona, please, don’t feel bad. I don’t feel hungry.”
Trying to change the mood, and because the only thing she knew about George was that he lived alone in the upstairs apartment, Fiona thought about asking the usual questions: What do you do? What did you study? Where do you come from? Instead, she only stammered with her voice caught in her throat: “What’s the matter?”
George was trying to control his tears, and he was constantly wiping them away with the back of his long, delicate hand. Fiona gave him a napkin and changed to a chair closer to him. She didn’t expect him to tell her the reason for his tears, nor did she want to console him. She felt disappointed. Angry.
She never cried in front of anybody, and she thought it was in bad taste that someone else would.
Fiona served herself the last of the white wine, and for him another glass of red. George was sobbing while drinking the wine. She got excited to see him drinking the red liquid, with his runny, red nose, burning lips reddened from the wine, his green eyes slightly swollen. Fiona began to kiss his shoulder. He sobbed a little louder. She buried her nails in the back of his neck and pulled his face to hers. George’s mouth was contorted as if constraining a moan. When she tried to kiss him, he stood up abruptly from the chair.
Fiona served a little more red wine, and adopted an indifferent attitude to the destiny of that night that brought her a strange being, too thin, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t make love, cried on the first date and gave out diamonds.
“My soul is burdened with spells.” George said, turning his back to her, as if he were talking to the city from the window “Curses and revenge.”
“Oh my God,” she thought, “the soap opera is beginning.”
“Centuries ago I searched for forgiveness. The light leaves me blind in each death, and my will is leaking out of my wounds. Each time is farther and farther the escape from this body.”
George looked sharply at her. There was a red flash in his eyes. Even though he could see Fiona’s disgust at his confession, he continued, “I am a spirit of condemned souls.”
She was not listening. She smoked, drank some wine, remembered that she had to call her mother tomorrow. Then she thought about the gift and attempted to listen more closely and understand what her guest was trying to explain.
“Dear Fiona.” He looked at her tenderly, “I must ask you for a very special favor.” He took out a disposable ten milliliter syringe. “I need you to donate a little bit of your blood. This is all I need to continue dying. I cannot stand anymore this pain of hope that is never fulfilled.”
Suddenly she was sober. She opened her eyes as wide as she could and looked at her neighbor. He seemed to be an ashamed kid. He was squatting with his hands on her lap. “Dearest, I have suffered so much. Each death is a vertigo of lives, incarnations and sins that never end mixing in my veins. The memories of all of them are clotted and stuck in my bloodstream like lard. I have carried them for centuries.”
Fiona was confused. She wanted to ask him to repeat everything he had said, but at the same time, instinctively, she began to feel the panic boiling inside her. In a quick sequence of images, she thought what she might do in the next minutes: she would excuse herself to go to the bathroom. She would pass by the door and yell for help in the corridor of the apartments. But before she could stand up, George captured her wet, cold hand, rubbed it between his fingers, and slowly placed her palm upon his chest. “I know how hard it is for you to listen to this, dearest, but I need you to do so before you decide. I will respect any decision you make. I promise.” There was a warm sincerity in his words.
George continued with a sweet, anesthetic voice, and his eyes were moist. “I had Gaspar. I had him for more than 50 years until he died of old age. He cultivated in me the elegant art of love. While he fed me, he injected in me the vision of other worlds that are difficult to access. He would walk into dimensions where the only secret is the magic of owning a spirit. Mine is hollow in its center; it’s plastered with the essences of the lives I have drunk for centuries.” There was a part of Fiona that resisted diagnosing him as mad. He sounded so coherent and at the same time so absurd. Fiona didn’t smoke or drink. She simply listened to every word as a double or triple echo that tried nesting in her logic.
“When Gaspar died, I knew his blood, always warm, melted one-to-one those clots that stopped me from the duality of life and death.” Fiona moved her mouth as if she wanted to say something but no sound came from her throat. George took advantage of the silence to continue.
“I ignored how much I depended on those new doses he always served me at each sunset. Only then could I be calmed. We could read and talk about those worlds, or listen to Bach between the crackling sounds of the burning firewood. It was like mastering an art without the passion of the beginner. It was like drinking only one glass of cognac with the same lover every afternoon. I understood that the compulsion to drink a life until you leave it empty is sick. Especially for someone as old as I am. Since Gaspar died, I have searched every night for the chalice of death that he would offer me.”
Fiona noticed that her legs were numb and her face was frozen. She wanted to say something, but she didn’t know exactly what. She was sure that the joking laughter would never burst out.
George looked at her sweetly, imploring her to understand, and then he spoke again. “I have thought about you, Fiona, since I moved into this building. I also have thought how unfair it is for a woman with a beautiful spirit to meet someone like me. However, only a great soul has access to the sacrifice of love. I beg you, Fiona. I want to free each of the deaths that abound in me, and recover the light that will allow me to enter into Gaspar’s world.”
He cried again. Fiona noticed that she was wiping his tears with her hand and cradling his head on her chest.
“I only ask you that you try a few days. Let me seduce you. You will see your masterpiece in me. I will pay you back many-fold for each of your sacrifices.”
George showed her the syringe.
“Each day a diamond. A smile. And the happiness of being together.”
“But I’m afraid of needles.”
They laughed together.
George took advantage of the moment to stick the needle in her vein, and while he was slowly filling the syringe she grimaced with pain.
“There is something else I want to ask you. While I drink this light that you have offered, I must be alone. I feel … ashamed.”
When the syringe was full, George withdrew the needle softly. He folded Fiona’s arm and kissed her on the forehead.
“Lock yourself in your room,” he commanded her.
With the wine, the confusion, and the fear over his last words, Fiona crossed the room rapidly. At the same time that she was locking the door of her bedroom, she felt a cold breeze at her back. She turned abruptly to discover George in one corner of her chamber.
“Dear Fiona, without the joy of the game, eternity would be mortally boring.”