B M R

Goths

by Douglas Thornsjo

 

"You'll have to change it," Kadaver said. "You can't have a name that belongs to someone else."

"But I like Morticia," Jen said.

Kadaver studied his fingernails. They were painted black, filed almost to points. With the black circles around his eyes, the black lipstick on his mouth, he looked a bit like Johnny Depp as Edward Sissorhands. "I do too," he said. Both of them. I'd have married her. Either one."

Jen knew this already; it was the reason she had suggested the name in the first place. "Well then," she said. "What about Raven?"

Kadaver dipped his brush, turned his face to the floor. "It's a lovely name. There must be several hundred Ravens in this part of town alone."

"I have a name for her," Sister Windemere said. "How about Ordinary Bird?"

Alone in the pews, Pippa was sobbing. No one paid her the least attention. The rest were all pretending to work. Dr. Puff was coming up the aisle with a speaker the size of a VW, black and red wire trailing behind. Kadaver had the floor about half finished, but was deliberately painting himself into a corner. Sister Windemere was helping with the draperies. Anyway, she was sticking them with pins, pretty much at random; watching her, Jen had a bad feeling that Sister Windemere would rather be sticking them into her.

She pushed the thought aside, and went back to finding a suitable name.Melancholia? she thought. No, it doesn't suit me. Ominous Dread? That matched her feelings, but perhaps the others would think it too grand. Kadaver might like Sally, as that was the heroine's name in The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he might veto it for the same reason. With a sigh, she turned and looked out into the empty rows of the little church. There was Pippa still, close on the aisle, midway down, a black veil drawn over her face, hiding all but the tip of a powdered white chin. She had the loveliest clothes, crinolines under bell-shaped dresses that rustled when she moved, all in mourning colors. She vanished a white hand under her veil and sat with her shoulders trembling, her head bowed. It doesn't even matter that she doesn't help, Jen thought. She adds so much to the atmosphere.

Dr. Puff had a portable CD player already wired, and was playing the newest from a band Kadaver had discovered called Vanquished Sons of The Southern Aristocracy. With song titles like "Sunken Road" and "Face Down in Chickamauga Creek," anyone might feel like sobbing; now, listening to the words, Jen allowed herself a moment of despair.

Now she walks the Widow's Walk,
the song said.
Black against a sky of red
Dreaming of her son's embrace
In the arms of the recently dead.


"You guys," Jen said. "We're never going to finish at the rate we're going."

"Don't be silly," Kadaver said. "We're almost done now. Just have to set up the bar."

"And the monitors," Sister Windemere said.

"How long do we have?" Dr. Puff said.

Kadaver got up on all fours, pressed his hands into wet paint. "It's just four," he said, studying his blackened palms with some curiosity. "We have eight whole hours. All the time in the world."


Side by side with Sister Windemere in the bathroom mirror, Jen could see the differences that made her feel like an interloper. "I look like that squeaky-clean girl," she said, "in the douche commercials. Just wearing a black dress. No wonder you hate me."

It was the right thing to say; Sister Windemere, who had been scowling all this time, softened a bit and even offered the use of her make-up case. "It's all right child," she said, quite weary and world-wise for all of her seventeen years. "We can't all be born with circles under our eyes."

With her quick, experienced hands Sister Windemere buried Jen's face under a coating of white powder. Of course she chose black lipstick; that was de rigeur. But they decided not to blacken the space around her eyes, opting instead for a simple red line along the lower lid that gave her a wild, vampire stare. "Makes your eyes jump out," Sister Windemere said. "Very stylish."

Jen rolled her eyes at the glass. "Do you think Kadaver will like it?"

"Maybe if you stopped breathing," Sister Windemere said. And Jen thought: perhaps that can be my name. Necrophilia.


When they came out of the women's room, Jen and Sister Windemere had to stop and take a deep breath. The first thing that hit them was the wall of sound, blare of sirens, hard bass licks and the voice of Ministry growling at them about the New World Order. Jen took Sister Windemere's hand. Together they crept along the narrow hall, towards a nervous flickering out of the heavy darkness ahead. The Charcoal Church opened around them, ready for the opening night crowd, a sonnet, Jen thought, in shrouds and electric light. The bar with its castle of bottles filled with burgundy and scotch had appeared at last in place of the altar; behind this, on a raised dais, three television screens were already firing scattershot bursts of gothic imagery: video clips of the Pinhead and Christopher Lee intercut with riot footage from the nightly news, cop lights, motorcycles, crypts and the odd shot of George Bush chopping the air with his hands. Below this, Dr. Puff's frizzy-haired, beefy silhouette labored over a glowing control panel.

In the nave the pews had been pushed back against the walls. Pippa was sitting under the shrouded window, watching with unseen eyes as Kadaver painted a moon onto the dance floor. It had eyes, a nose and a mouth, and was half in shadow, half blue, half yellow. Kadaver raised his head and shouted, "Where's Quinch?"

"What do we want with him?" Sister Windemere shouted back.

"He's our doorman," Kadaver said.

Jen and Sister Windemere looked at each other and would have turned pale if their make-up had permitted it. "He won't let anyone in," Sister Windemere shouted. "He'll butt them all with his head."

Kadaver frowned. "Suppose you're right," he said at last. "D'you think he could manage the bar?"

Sister Windemere thought about it, then nodded. "I think so. He snorts and huffs. But he hasn't learned to drink."

There was a final wail of guitars, and suddenly the Charcoal Church fell silent. A good wind was setting the old church's boards a-creak, but Jen couldn't hear it through the ringing in her ears. Dr. Puff came lumbering out from behind the sound board, shaking himself like a big hairy dog; with the sweat on his body and the goggles over his eyes he looked as if he'd had a million volts shot through him. "I'm ready," he said. "Heh heh heh. Let them come."


Quinch finally turned up at a quarter to, dressed in his usual outfit of black leather slacks and a tee shirt decorated with bloody safety pins. The Charcoal Church was filled with quiet and shadow. Even Pippa was silent. "Have y' seen the crowd outside?" Quinch said. "F--- me! It's diabolical!"

The others, all but Pippa, crowded into the vestibule and peeped through the dirty glass. "He's right," Jen said. "I can't see where they end."

"Too bad they don't have torches," Quinch said. "That would be en-croy-ahble."

At the stroke of twelve Kadaver wrenched the doors open and stood blocking the way. A cold breeze pushed into the church bearing with it the smell of dust and marijuana; at her little table in the vestibule, Jen put her head back, breathed the chilly air all the way down into her lungs and smiled. There was some laughter and a lot of jumping and yowling from the crowd. "All right," Kadaver said, "You can come in. And you and you. Don't even think about it. Go away. Okay, you," and now in twos and threes the local kids, some of whom Jen recognized, came spilling over the threshold in Halloween dress, faces painted chalk white and black blood, looking cold in the night air, vanishing their delicate hands into purses or pockets to bring out crumpled bills for the cover charge.

Dr. Puff stubbed out his Lucky and fired up the console once again. The screens blipped once and faded in on a cartoon skeleton chasing Mickey Mouse into a house filled with flesh-eating zombies, to a rising malicious drumbeat that thudded through the speakers, into the floorboards and the walls, down into the ground and out into the stillness of the North End. At first the teenagers stood in nervous groups, accumulating in the corners, signing at each other, casting about to see who might be coming in after them and if they were having a good time. They came away from the bar with beer cans and paper cups in their hands, pressed guardedly against their stomachs. Wanting to be exotic, they were merely thrilled and a little bit frightened; but the Charcoal Church would take the edge off that: it had already started.

"Hi, Jenny," one of the young voices said. Jen looked up, and hated herself again for responding to a name that she no longer cared for. The young man standing above her was wearing a Metallica tee shirt and a besotted expression that made him look like a fool. His hair was clean, but poufed-up in a calculatedly unkempt look; he said nothing more, as if the greeting and his presence were somehow enough to thrill her, as if they were secret lovers and no other words were needed. Jen averted her eyes in disgust. Of course he would have to show up, she thought, knowing I would be here. She took the money from his hand, refusing his attention until the push of waiting teens forced him away at last. Then she said to his back: "My name is Nocturne."

Robby looked longingly back at her over his shoulder and was driven on into the Church. "'Seventies geek," Jen said out loud, and two of the girls waiting on line joined her in a harsh cruel laugh that Robby was meant to hear. How did he get in? Jen thought. Kadaver must have let him in on purpose. She thought that it must have been Kadaver's way of teasing her, of reminding her that she was not truly a Goth. Not yet.

By twelve-thirty The Charcoal Church had nearly filled. Soon there was so much laughter and shouting that it merged with the music to become a single sound. When Jen looked down into the money box it was all she could do to keep from crying out. She had never seen so many twenties all in one place. She wondered how Kadaver would react. Was it acceptable for a Goth to have money?

Three vampires -- two girls and a she-male -- were first onto the floor. They did the batusi together on the dark side of the moon. They were joined by zombie-types dressed in rags, by girls in black lace, their skins painted green, by young boys in black denim. Pippa raised her veil. She watched the trickle of teenagers turn into a flow. There were no tears on her cheeks now; her face was a white blank marked by the dark wells of her eyes and a horizontal line of gleaming black above her chin. The only thing that moved on her was the reflected light of the video screens. She lowered her head; the black corners of her mouth turned up. "Ah, " she said to herself. "Reverie! Heaven!"


After a time, the cold barrier of Nocturne that Jen had so carefully built up began to crack and crumble. From her place in the vestibule she could see none of the action, and with the crowd beginning to enjoy itself Jen felt left out. The Charcoal Church had been Kadaver's idea, a sort of nose-thumbing at the real Goth Clubs downtown that had refused him admittance on account of his age, but from the start Jen had been its, his, principal supporter; this had so obviously won her Kadaver's approval that Sister Windemere, out of jealousy or futility, had relented, and now Jen, who felt everything as intensely as she possibly could, was being cheated out of enjoying the club that she had championed. Where was Sister Windemere? Somewhere inside, Jen supposed, enjoying herself.

It couldn't hurt, she thought, just to take a peek. Jen pushed back her chair and crept to the archway separating the vestibule from the nave. She stood hugging herself against the cold draft. She had hoped, for Kadaver's sake, that it would be like a party in Hell, full of lower level demons kicking up their heels, a big Walpurgis Night bash. Wide-eyed and blinking against the harsh light, she stared deeply into the Charcoal Church.

And she let out a sigh. Instead of the demons there were only the same skinny, pimply teens that she saw every day round the neighborhood, boys and girls bobbing and lumbering without grace, arms raised, hands open, empty expressions on their faces like store mannequins with eyes heavy from drink. The church was not nearly so cavernous as she had thought, just a shabby room with boarded windows. The crowd was not nearly so large. The decorations that had seemed so fine just an hour before were nothing more than cheap paper tablecloths covered with cartoon bats. The moon that Kadaver had painted was already scuffed, and had been lopsided to begin with. The monitors were ancient, black and white televisions set out on folding chairs. The bar was a folding table that Kadaver had stolen from a dumpster.

Behind it, Quinch was doing more dancing and shouting than selling drinks. Despite what Sister Windemere had said, he was ripping the tops off of beer cans and pouring the contents down his gullet.

The only other person who stood out of the crowd was Robby. Jen found him at the farthest edge of the dance floor, looking lost and forlorn with his back slumped against the pockmarked wall of the Church. His hands were empty; when he saw Jen looking at him he perked up and began to make dancing motions at her with his shoulders. Jen turned away, scowling so hard that her mouth and forehead hurt. "Ordinary boy," she said out loud, though no one heard her. "Well, I won't be your ordinary girl. I hate you."

When she turned back into the vestibule, she saw at once that the cash box was missing. She looked in her chair, she looked under the table. She looked all around the dirty vestibule and into the faces of the dancers roundabout; but the tears did not come until she realized that she would have to tell Kadaver. She had lost track of the count half an hour before; by then it might well have been a couple hundred dollars, lost now; because she had been so foolish, like a child in some nursery story, eaten by wolves for straying from the path.

Jen hid her face in her hands. No one within the Charcoal Church paid her the least attention. She was weeping so hard, and the music was so loud, that she didn't hear the crisp rustling of mourning clothes coming under the arch. A white hand touched her shoulder. Jen started and shouted out loud.

"What has happened?" Pippa said from under the black mask of her veil.

"It's gone," Jen said from between her fingers, and saying it aloud made her wonder what she was making all the fuss about. Not the money, really; they had never possessed it long enough for its loss to matter. It was the other loss, the awful thought that she had allowed her options to be stolen from her, that only Robby remained available to her, Robby and the awful sameness he represented. "Oh, you'll hate me now," she said. "I let all of our money be stolen. You all of you will hate me now..."

"Kadaver," Pippa said.

They found him out in the cool night, propped senseless against the steps, his arms and legs splayed out like The Scarecrow's in the dirt and bricks. The make-up 'round his eyes made it seem at first as if the thieves had blinded him. Pippa and Jen let their shadows climb up the length of him; they stooped and raised his head into Jen's lap. When she saw that they had knocked out two of his teeth, Jen at last gathered herself, and shook away her tears, her foolish thoughts, her fright.

"Cold water," she said. She began tearing her dress into black bandages. "Cold water," she said again. "Hurry." But Pippa was standing above her, gazing intently down the unlighted street.

From somewhere down there, beyond the abandoned buildings and the elevated tracks, Jen heard a new sound growing along the night, a low banshee wail that climbed and dropped away again, a sound that everyone recognized, a sound that killed all noise and motion in the Charcoal Church and set the painted boys and girls within to listening. A strobing blue light climbed over the hill, burning its way in through the window-cracks. The children all held their breath, and all began to run.

They kicked boards out of the windows, they broke down doors and poured into the overgrown yard behind the church. All but Jen, and Pippa, and Kadaver. In the spotlights thrown from the blue cars they waited, motionless, and Jen once again felt that confusion of middle-class relief that help had finally come, and disgust at herself, for feeling so relieved.


Three times they brought her before the camera: twice a mannish uniformed woman took her into the station's dingy bathroom and forced her to wash her face. Jen felt as humiliated as if they had asked her to undress. They wanted her name and Jen said "Nocturne." "Your real name," they said. Jen drew herself inward. "We can find it out," the cop said. And he made her stand pink-faced in the light, holding a numbered slate bearing the name she so hated.

She sat with Pippa in the cold cell, and thought how scared Pippa looked, and how young, and realized that she must look exactly the same. Through the grating she could hear the police outside discussing her case. "Fourteen years old," one of them said. "She looks like my daughter."

Jen said, "Kadaver would like this. A crypt. If he were here."

Pippa said nothing. Jen said, "Kadaver," and then stopped trying. After an hour in the cell she began to shiver from cold and fright. After two hours, one of the officers came through, jangling keys in his hand.

"Your boyfriend is going to be all right," he said, without feeling. "That building was condemned. You're lucky: the owners aren't going to press charges. Looks like you two can go home."

Jen sat up straight and took good deep breath, but the shaking never stopped. She did not know anymore what she dreaded the most, until the door opened again, and her father came through, followed by a well-to-do couple dressed in long grey coats. They held out their arms, and Pippa went running into their embrace.

Jen remained in the cell. It would have done her no good to shout or to sulk. She watched the girl Pippa simpering in her parents arms, and when her father offered his hand she hit it away, wishing it were Pippa, thinking How could you? How dare you? Betrayer. You've given up.

"It's all right," her father said, and Jen wanted to snap back, no it isn't! Instead, she pulled herself to her feet. Her father looked tired, and sad. She would not meet his eyes.


Three days later she spotted Kadaver sitting alone on the wall outside the school gymnasium. A fringe of spiky black hair rode low over his forehead, lacquered arrows pointing down at the remains of a purple-and-yellow bruise below his left eye. He smiled and showed her the black gap where his teeth should have been.

"Awf, that wathom adventure," he said.

"But your teeth," Jen said.

"I'm getting new oneth. Perhapth I'll tharpen them into fangth."

Jen pressed herself as close to Kadaver as she could manage. He let her rest her head between his shoulder and neck. Sitting there with him on the low wall, she shared in the music from Kadaver's headphones, sad, distant refrain:

Now she walks the Widow's Walk
Figure thin and powder white
Bearing only lonely dreams
Heart empty as the halls of night.


Throughout the seventh period the others appeared at gradual intervals: Pippa looking a little wistful, as if she sensed some of what Jen thought; and Sister Windemere, who by day was just plain Susan, no different from a hundred others, except for the hardness of her face; and Doctor Puff, wearing a band-aid across one eyebrow; and Quinch, who said nothing. They settled on the wall around Jen and Kadaver. Jen half expected a reprisal: in their low tones, with their hesitant voices, they would guess at the things that had gone wrong, and assign her the blame. But no one mentioned the Charcoal Church. It was a black dream that they had passed through together, a nightmare chain binding them all together by the ankles.

At one thirty the bell rang and a steady flow of middle-class youth banged their way out through glass doors, sauntering out to the line of buses. Jen saw Robby among them, walking alone, carrying his backpack loose by the straps. She started to turn her face away. Then she realized that something had changed.

He was working over some problem in his head, and looking at him Jen understood that the problem was how to keep his eyes averted. He was looking for pebbles to kick, he was counting the bricks with his eyes. He took no notice of her, though she sat in plain sight; he could not have missed seeing her. He walked straight past without ever turning his head, and Jen felt what the stories meant when they told of hearts taking wing.

"Yes," she said out loud. "Nocturne at last."


Douglas Thornsjo is a writer, cartoonist and graphic designer living in rural Maine in a big old house packed with folk art, Mickey Mouse stuff, books and cats. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The North American Review, Kinesis, The Pikestaff Forum, Three Speed, The Nightshade Press Nightstand Reader, 96 Inc and on National Public Radio. His novel, Persephone's Torch, is available in an electronic edition from Duck Soup Productions.

 





All contents copyright © 1999
The Blue Moon Review, All Rights Reserved.



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