"That Okie," says Magreb, "is an idiot."
I turn my head miserably and there's Fila, sitting two rows in front of us with a greasy young man. Benny Alberti. Her white neck is bent to the left, Benny's lips affixed to it as she impassively sips a soda.
"Poor thing," Magreb whispers, indicating the pigtailed actress. "She thinks he's going to save her."
Dracula shows his fangs, and the Okie flees through a cornfield. Cornstalks smack her face. "Help!" she screams to a sky full of crows. "He's not actually from Europe!"
There is no music, only the girl's breath and the fwap-fwap-fwap of the off-screen fan blades. Dracula's mouth hangs wide as a sewer grate. His cape is curiously still.
The movie picture is frozen. The fwapping is emanating from the projection booth; it rises to a grinding r-r-r, followed by lyrical Italian cussing and silence and finally a tidal sigh. Magreb shifts in her seat.
"Let's wait," I say, seized with empathy for these two still figures on the screen, mutely pleading for repair. "They'll fix it."
People begin to file out of the theater, first in twos and threes and then in droves. "I'm tired, Clyde."
"Don't you want to know what happens?" My voice is more frantic than I intend.
"I already know what happens."
"Don't you leave now, Magreb. I'm telling you, they're going to fix it. If you leave now, that's it for us, I'll never . . .".
Her voice is beautiful, like gravel underfoot: "I'm going to the caves."
I'm alone in the theater. When I turn to exit, the picture is still frozen, the Okie's blue dress floating over windless corn, Dracula's mouth a hole in his white greasepaint.
Outside I see Fila standing in a clot of her friends, lit by the marquee. These kids wear too much makeup and clothes that move like colored oils. They all look rained on. I scowl at them and they scowl back, and then Fila crosses to me.
"Hey, you," she says, grinning, breathless, so very close to my face. "Are you stalking somebody?"
My throat tightens.
"Guys!" Her eyes gleam. "Guys, come over and meet the vampire."
But the kids are gone.
"Well! Some friends," she says, then winks. "Leaving me alone, defenseless . . ."
"You want the old vampire to bite you, eh?" I hiss. "You want a story for your friends?"
Fila laughs. Her horror is a round, genuine thing, bouncing in both her black eyes. She smells like hard water and glycerin. The hum of her young life all around me makes it difficult to think. A bat filters my thoughts, opens its trembling lampshade wings.
Magreb. She'll want to hear about this. How ridiculous, at my age, to find myself down this alley with a young girl: Fila powdering her neck, doing her hair up with little temptress pins, yanking me behind this Dumpster. "Can you imagine"Magreb will laugh"a teenager goading you to attack her! You're still a menace, Clyde."
I stare vacantly at a pale mole above the girl's collarbone. Magreb, I think again, and I smile, and the smile feels like a muzzle stretched taut against my teeth. It seems my hand has tightened on the girl's wrist, and I realize with surprise, as if from a great distance, that she is twisting away. "Hey, nonno, come on now, what are you "
The girl's head lolls against my shoulder like a sleepy child's, then swings forward in a rag- doll circle. The starlight is white mercury compared to her blotted-out eyes. There's a dark stain on my periwinkle shirt, and one suspender has snapped. I sit Fila's body against the alley wall, watch it dim and stiffen. Spidery graffiti weaves over the brick behind her, and I scan for some answer contained there: GIOVANNA & FABIANO. VAFFANCULO! VAI IN CULO.
Excerpted from Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. Copyright © 2013 by Karen Russell. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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