The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe started this past Friday. I love Edinburgh, it’s the city where I grew up, and I rarely get a chance to visit it, despite living within a couple of hours’ drive. Today I met Suzie and Cleo there. The girls are back from their adventures in Romania and Bulgaria (lots of blood, sex and… shoe shopping) and have rented a flat in the Scottish capital for the month of August. (Edinburgh at this time of year is something of an international all-you-can-eat buffet.)
They both seemed happy and relaxed, dressed casually without make-up, long dark hair braided into ponytails, Cleo wearing a black T-shirt with a silver heart (Desigual, I think) and Suzie in one of those touristy white T-shirts with a picture of Nessie on it. (‘I’ve seen the Loch Ness Monster,’ Suzie said, to which Cleo replied, ‘You are the Loch Ness Monster!’ and they both burst out laughing at some private joke they declined to share.)
I’d explained over the phone about this Vampire Lover Blog Award thing I’ve been putting together and asked if I could interview them for my blog, to which Suzie had replied, ‘Another interview? Don’t you have anything better to do?’ But I eventually persuaded her to say yes after promising her a nice bottle of wine (Château La Fleur de Bouard, 2003).
‘Okay,’ I said, eventually getting down to business. ‘Tell me eleven random facts about yourselves.’
‘My name is Suzie,’ said Suzie.
‘Oh, shush, Cleopatra.’
‘Hey!’ Cleo’s expression of exaggerated complaint gave way quickly to a grin. ‘I used to hate being called that. There was always that moment with new teachers where you knew they were about call out your full name. But actually it’s a great name in the bedroom. I love it when men kneel in front of me and call me Cleopatra. Does that count as a fact?’
‘Er, sure,’ I said. I must say that both girls are beautiful – it would be suicidal for me to say otherwise, but it’s true – but while Suzie has an enigmatic and seductive grace, Cleo often exudes danger. Sometimes when she looks at me, it’s like she wants to fuck me and suck me dry – it’s both terrifying and powerfully erotic.
‘I met John Polidori briefly, in 1819, just after he wrote The Vampyre,’ Suzie said. ‘And later, long after he died, I was the secret lover of his niece, the poet Christina Rossetti. “She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more… She suck’d until her lips were sore; then flung the emptied rinds away.”’
‘Is that from Goblin Market?’ I asked.
‘Yes. Her brother Dante was also a fantastic poet. “Still she sits, young while the earth is old, and, subtly of herself contemplative, draws men to watch the bright web she can weave, till heart and body and life are in its hold.”’
Cleo sighed audibly. ‘Just don’t get her started on Aphra or we’ll be here all day…’
Suzie just smiled. I already knew something of her history with Aphra Behn, the famous Restoration dramatist and spy. ‘I had a brief affair with Arabella Goddard just before she got married,’ she said. ‘She could play Beethoven beautifully. She taught me to play the piano, though I didn’t really have anywhere to practise. It’s good to be learning again now.’
Cleo laughed. ‘She keeps waking me up in the middle of the night, banging on the keys.’
‘I do use headphones.’
‘It’s still noisy – but I don’t mind.’ Cleo leaned over and kissed Suzie tenderly.
‘Enough facts?’ Suzie asked, after, looking slightly impatient.
‘I think so. Now for the questions.’
She sighed. ‘Okay, but I’m not promising any answers. Go.’
‘Question One: Does living as a vampire have the same appeal as prior to being turned (if you’re that type of vampire)? If you had to do it over, would you?’
‘That’s a good one for Cleo,’ Suzie said.
Cleo thought for a moment. ‘I honestly thought it would be more fun, though there are things about being a vampire that are certainly fun. I’d definitely do it over.’
‘Okay, next: What aspect of humanity or being human have you lost or used less – or has diminished the most?’
Suzie laughed. ‘The reproductive system.’
‘If you live forever, or for thousands of years, and are difficult to kill, and are very strong and powerful… how do you not become a sociopath? And go off and start doing anything you want and acting on any impulse?’
‘By letting myself fall in love, again and again, no matter how much it hurts, and it always does.’
‘Is it true you have to be an old vampire to fly or teleport (being one place, disappearing, and showing up wherever you want to)? Or, if you were turned by a very old, strong vampire, does that give you the ability to do those things like flying or teleport that other vampires do?’
‘I have absolutely no idea. I usually just get the plane. If nothing else, it’s fun trying to seduce the flight crew.’
‘Suzie’s good at that,’ Cleo said. ‘On the way back from Argentina, I woke up mid-Atlantic to discover an enthusiastic blonde eating out my girlfriend. I’d probably have slept though it if Suzie hadn’t been digging her nails into me as she came.’
‘Talented lady,’ Suzie said, grinning. ‘I’ve met up with her a few times since then.’
I tried not to let the talk of sex affect me, and continued: ‘From what you’ve witnessed yourself, do the history books have it right?’
‘By and large, but the historical record misses so much. If you want to know what the Duchess of Devonshire ate for breakfast every day, you can probably look it up somewhere. If you want to know what lives were like in the slums… well, it was pretty horrifying, but not without charm.’
‘What’s it like to be a vampire?’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘Would you like to find out?’
‘No, thank you,’ I said, and moved on swiftly. ‘Do you miss food, the sun, or your heartbeat more?’
‘I only miss my heartbeat when my baby kisses me.’ (She sang the last bit like the Buddy Holly song.)
‘Are there any female vampires around?’ I asked with a smile.
‘I haven’t seen any. Have you, Cleo?’
‘Only on TV.’
‘Is “live” blood more beneficial than bagged blood? Is it true that the last blood from a dying person is sweeter due to their fear of death?’
‘That’s just sick. And I hate bagged blood. It tastes horrible and does nothing for my hunger. What is sweet, however, is arterial blood. You pretty much have to kill to get it, though.’
‘What was your first feed – or kill – like?’
‘Very confusing, and I really don’t want to talk about that.’
‘Okay. If you had the choice to no longer be a vampire – to just be a human again – would you go for it?’
‘Maybe. There are days when I would.’
‘Do you find the idea of being undead – “living” for ever, sleeping in a coffin, and so on – as horrifying as I do?’
‘I joke about being undead, but I don’t really think of myself that way. It would be pretty horrible.’
‘If you had the chance to be human again to do one thing, what would it be?’
‘Eat a nectarine. Or have a holiday in Columbia without worrying about sunburn. Or maybe I’d just let Cleo have her wicked way with me…’
Cleo grinned. ‘I like the idea of that.’
‘What do you think of the recent fashion for vampire books and films? Has it made your life harder or easier?’
‘Easier on the whole. People still don’t really believe in vampires; they just assume fangs and blood are tricks.’
‘Essentially the same question, but: With the success of vampires in the mainstream, do you find it harder in this day and age to survive?’
‘It’s not quite the same question, if you distinguish fashion from mainstream. Vampires have evolved in the popular consciousness over time. There was a terror of them across Europe when I was young, back in the sixteenth century, that had nothing to do with Dracula. No one knew anything about them really, and that just made the fear so much more dangerous than the modern culture of educated disbelief.
‘The recent mainstream romanticisation of vampires has only made it easier still. The few people who get to see the truth of vampires are predisposed to our soulful nature, and do not rush to assume we are evil. Very few people got to know me well before the twentieth century, such was their fear of demonic creatures.’
‘Vampire physiology must be very different from human physiology – how is human blood digested and processed in the blood system?’
‘I’ve no idea. It’s never made any sense to me. But it’s not purely physiological. There’s something else at work, something demonic, perhaps.’
‘What happens if you suck your own blood?’
‘That’s just weird. You’d get hungry, I suppose.’
‘Can you be turned back to a human?’
‘Not as far as I know.’
‘Can you have sex the “traditional” way? Do you have any desire for sex?’
‘Yes, and oh yes…’
‘According to folklore, vampires can’t cross moving water. Does this present problems for you?’
‘Is it possible some vampire-related genes can be passed down through human bloodlines over the centuries?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘What significance, if any, does gender identity and sexual (etc.) orientation have for vampires?’
‘Probably the same significance it has for humans, except the reproductive system is defunct. I’m a woman, but I’ll never be a mother.’
‘Are there other vampires, and if so what role does gender play in vampire society?’
‘No, and none.’
‘How much is a pint of blood?’
‘Just over half a litre.’
‘They say a vampire’s bite brings pleasure rather than pain. Is that true, and how is that even possible?’
‘The bite is painful, and I for one find pleasure in that pain. I’m not otherwise a masochist, I just love it when Cleo bites me. Humans, of course, can usually be hypnotised and made to feel pleasure rather than pain.’
‘Do vampires possess a soul? What difference does having or not having a soul make? What happens when you die? (Assuming you can actually die… Can you?)’
‘I believe I have a soul. I am capable of love and compassion, just as I am capable of a ruthless cruelty. But I don’t think there is a heaven for me, even if I’m burned to ashes and blown to the four winds. There is no eternal rest at my end, only eternal torment.’
‘Do you believe in “true love” and “soul mates”?’
‘I believe in true love. I have found it too many times and in too many different ways to believe in soul mates, though.’
‘I believe in soul mates,’ Cleo said. ‘I didn’t until I met Suzie.’
‘Would you date a werewolf?’
Suzie shrugged. ‘Depends on the werewolf.’
‘I’d love to date a werewolf,’ Cleo said. ‘Or at least to get one in the sack for a few nights. I like digging my nails into muscles and hair.’
‘Should humans tolerate the existence of vampires?’
Suzie leaned forward and took my hands in hers. ‘What do you think? You’re sitting there chatting away with us instead of trying to kill us.’
‘I like you,’ I said, my heart pounding in sudden fear. ‘I don’t know that I would tolerate other vampires, but I think the world is a better place with you two in it.’
‘Aww, that’s so sweet. Thank you.’ She released my hands and sat back again. ‘Is that the end?’ Once again there was the suggestion in her manner that the answer had better be ‘yes’.
‘Yes,’ I said. I thanked them both, and took my leave.