Behind every vampire there is a Mrs Vampire waiting with the stain remover, a bucket of cold water and a sturdy cloth. It’s a wearying occupation but when a considerable amount of money has just been spent on wall-to-wall cream Axminster, it pays to be on the ball as far as drips and dollops of bodily fluids (namely blood) are concerned.
‘Can’t you do that outside?’ said Mrs Dracula. ‘Or in your man shed, maybe?’
Dracula paused in his activity and sighed the deep and wistful sigh of a vampire sinking slowly into the mire of a mid-life crisis. ‘Ah…and zo it beginz,’ he said. ‘Zee master ov zis house iz banisht – kaput! – from hiz home; zis home of hiz building through hiz own sveat and blood…’
‘Mostly blood…’observed Mrs D.
‘Yes, yes…’ said Dracula, wearily. And then, ‘Oh! You zee! I haf not even zee energy to summon up zee teensiest spot of irritation in my voice. I am veak, Helga…veak in my heart and soul. My energy iz schlipping avay as every minute passes in zee day like…like…’ – he struggled to find a suitable metaphor to express the flimsiness of his emotion – ‘like a jelly fish vot is gone all vibbly-vobbly because its tentacles haf been retracted into its body in responze to zee cruel, cruel iciness ov zee zea…’
‘Oh, do shut up,’ said Helga. Helga did not have time for her own mid-life crisis let alone Vlad’s, what with running the house, holding down a full-time job AND discharging her duties as vice-lady president of the Double V.I. ‘Really, Vlad, is it unreasonable to ask that you practise darts outside the house. Is it? You know what you’re like with sharp objects.’
Helga could not understand Vlad’s latest passion. She could understand the recently acquired motorbike, the bottle of ‘Cover Up and Dye’ in the bathroom cabinet. She could even forgive the pair of skinny jeans that had appeared in the wardrobe, but had yet to make an appearance on Vlad’s equally skinny legs. But darts? And he never touched the pint of lager he insisted on pouring every time the darts came out. She always ended up putting it out for the slugs in the veg beds. Shaking her head, she began tapping an impatient foot against the hearth.
‘All right, all right,’ sighed Vlad. He yanked the set of flights from the bed of the board, immediately stabbing his fingers. Helga caught the dribble of blood before it hit the floor.
‘And drop the ridiculous accent!’ she called after Vlad’s retreating figure. ‘We live in Swindon, not Transylvania!’
Vlad paused. Ah…Transylvania. Home of his childhood, his heritage, his heart. Oh, rueful was the day the Dracul’s left their homeland for this Svindon. He wanted to snap back at Helga with a witty response, he really did, but wit was beyond his powers of late, so he settled for an inaudible mutter – ‘Svindon, Schmindon’ - and a slam of the back door.
With darts no longer in his heart and the realisation he was getting on the one nerve Helga had remaining, Vlad decided a trip to his club would be a good idea. He toyed with taking the motorbike, envisaging himself arriving in the club car park in a blur of oil, burning rubber and helmet hair, but as the club was barely a ten minute walk up the road he decided the need to talk to a friendly face was greater than the twenty minutes it would take him to ‘leather up’ as they said in the biking fraternity.
‘Come along, Volly,’ he said, nudging the sleeping chihuahua with the end of his toe. ‘Valkies!’
Wally, who had been enjoying a nice snooze in a spot of late afternoon sun on the patio, and dreaming of all things chihuahua, like chasing mobility scooters, snorkelling and just WHERE could you buy the ultimate in mirror sunshades, opened one eye, stood up, shook himself, sneezed and tripped tippy-toes-wise towards the back gate. Walkies had to be taken when they were offered – mostly he was carted around in a doggie tote bag – he was seriously concerned that his legs were beginning to retract into his body through lack of use.
As the pair walked down the garden path, Vlad pausing briefly to deadhead the hanging basket of Autumn pansies, the kitchen window flung open.
‘If you’re taking Wally for a walk,’ called Helga, ‘you’ll need these!’ And a packet of poo bags came flying through the air, dinging Vlad around the ear.
‘Ouch!’ yelled Vlad. ‘Vos zat entirely necessary? Yes, I am taking Volly viz me. Ve are going to zee club. For dinner,’ he added as an after-thought, and making a note to stop off at the cash point on the way because the club was traditional and strictly cash only.
‘Croydon!’ yelled Helga.
‘Votever,’ said Vlad.
At the club, Vlad settled into a high backed, claret coloured leather chair, Wally settled into a low backed claret coloured dog bed, and Mortimer, the butler, deposited a lime and soda on the little table just within the reach of Vlad’s hand.
‘Still eschewing alcohol, sir?’ said Mortimer.
‘I am afraid zo,’ said Vlad. ‘Zee trousers.’
‘Ah,’ said Mortimer. ‘My sympathies, sir.’
The referenced trousers were the skinny jeans, hanging in pristine condition from their hanger in the wardrobe, the label stating ‘Waist 32 inches’ still menacingly attached. Vlad shuddered as he remembered Helga’s laugh when he had produced his new purchase, and at her advice that he’d better take them back and exchange them for something at least 6 inches broader. And, in a particularly cruel parting shot, wasn’t he a bit too old for skinny denim?
‘Zay vill fit!’ declared Vlad with, it was true, more optimism than he felt, now he was viewing the offending garment in the cold, harsh light of day rather than the flattering soft lighting of the shop.
‘Did you try them on before you bought them?’ said Helga, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.
‘Yes. Ov course,’ said Vlad, sulkily.
He hadn’t. Waiting until Helga had left the house for her Double V.I meeting, he approached the jeans with a little care and a lot of determination. ‘My legs are skinny,’ he said. ‘Zees jeans are skinny. Zerefore, zay vill fit.’
They didn’t. Oh, the skinny leg bits went over his skinny legs a treat. But…
‘Vere did zat come from?’ said Vlad, truly surprised at the sight of the round pot of chubby belly that appeared as he paused in what was becoming an increasingly futile struggle to get both sides of the zip to meet in the middle. He flung himself back on the bed and performed an excruciating, breath-holding wiggle dance until he was quite blue in the face, but no. The zip remained stubbornly divorced from itself and Vlad capitulated, peeled the skinny jeans from his skinny legs and spent the next ten minutes trying to make his newly appeared pot belly disappear by standing in increasingly camp poses in front of where the bedroom mirror would have been if they had one.
Somewhere he’d read that giving up alcohol was the best way to make tummy fat dissolve. Whilst he never drank red wine, he was rather partial to spirits - and Baileys - and so he announced to Helga his intention to become tee-total for a few weeks; she had laughed again, and hence the pouring of the pint of lager to accompany his new playing darts whim. Just to throw Helga off the scent really. Clearly, she was going to be as unsupportive as a 20 year old bra of his new drink-free lifestyle. He’d have to go this one alone and...
Vlad was suddenly aware of Mortimer’s still presence at his side. ‘Sorry, Mortimer. Yes? Vot is it?’
‘Are you dining this evening, sir?’ said Mortimer. ‘We have a particularly good risotto on the menu.’
‘Is risotto very, vell, fattening?’ said Vlad.
‘It very much depends on your point of comparison, sir,’ said Mortimer. ‘If, for example, you are comparing a risotto to, say, a bag of jam doughnuts…’ and he looked pointedly at the bag of jam doughnuts sitting open and half empty in Vlad’s lap, and then at the sugar moustache that was gracing Vlad’s upper lip, ‘then no, sir. Risotto would be the choice for the diner who was, er, taking care of his waistline.’
‘Oh,’ said Vlad. He scrunched up the top of the doughnut bag. There were two left. He’d have them later, for supper. ‘Risotto it is, then!’ he said.
‘Very good, sir,’ said Mortimer, retreating with Grace and Tact, who were the club’s two cats. They were supposed to keep the establishment rodent-free but were quite useless at the job, preferring instead to adopt a more decorative role and be fed titbits of tuna and Marmite by the doting club members.
Sipping his lime and soda, and making a note to himself to ask Mortimer to leave out the ice cubes next time because it was annoying to have to keep prising them off his fangs, Vlad studied the club lounge. Being early in the evening it was quiet. But there, in one of the pair of chairs set in the bay window, its back to the rest of the room, there rose a pulsing smoke signal of cigar. Smiling, Vlad stood up and crossed the carpet.
‘Svenvilli!’ he said. ‘How are you?’
The face of the occupant of the chair emerged from the clouds of cigar smoke, and smiled.
‘Vlad, you old git!’ said the face. ‘And how many times do I have to tell you? It’s Swenwilli, not Svenvilli.’
‘Zat is vot I said,’ said Vlad. ‘Svenvilli.’
Swenwilli rolled his eyes. He was an avuncular sort, easy going and forgiving and certainly not one to make a fuss and ado over pronunciation. ‘Sit down, Vlad,’ he said, patting the arm of the companion chair to his. ‘Sit down and tell me what’s happening in the world of the gadabout vampire these days. You look awful, by the way. Pale.’
‘Immediately, I zink you are missing zee point,’ said Vlad. ‘Wumpires are meant to be pale.’ He settled in the chair. ‘Doughnut?’ he said, offering the bag and hoping with all his heart that Swenwilli would decline.
‘Not for me, thanks,’ said Swenwilli. ‘The missus has got me on a healthy eating plan.’ He patted his almost flat stomach whilst Vlad breathed a sigh of relief at having been both generous and retaining possession of his doughnuts at the same time.
‘And how iz Mrs Meechoo?’ said Vlad.
‘Ticketty boo, thank you,,’ said Swenwilli. ‘Especially since the twins left home. You remember Kenny and Shelley, don’t you?’
Vlad nodded. ‘Indeed I do. Charming children. Charming. Vot are zay doing now?’
‘University,’ said Swenwilli. ‘Golf Course Management and The History and Development of Cake. I think. Anyway, Nesta had redecorated their bedrooms within 4 days of them leaving for their first term. We are now proud owners of a mini-gym and home office.’
Vlad nodded his approval. His own marriage to Helga had been unblessed with children (or blessed with childlessness depending on how you viewed these things), but he didn’t mind. As far as he could tell, children were money draining and virulent sources of mess and life-long anxiety and if you wanted to suffer those then why not commit to a dog? At least you could put a dog in kennels if you were going on holiday.
‘How’s Helga?’ said Swenwilli. ‘Not putting YOU on a diet I see!’ And he reached across and slapped Vlad playfully in the stomach.
Vlad sighed. ‘You know, Svenvilli, I vish she vould. I vant to be schlim, like I vos back in my youz. You remember? Ven vee vere skvinny enough to schlip through zee turnstile ov zee fairground vizout even making zee vheel go clicketty click.’
‘Ah yes,’ said Swenwilli. ‘Those were the days, weren’t they? But we are growing older, Vlad. You might be able to stop the turnstile now, but you can’t stop the Wheel of Time.’
‘But I vont to shtop zee vheel ov time!’ shouted Vlad, suddenly overcome with the realisation that yes, he was now, officially, middle-aged. ‘I vont to be young again. I vont…I vont to be…SPECTACULAR! As vunce I voz. Back in zee good old Transylvanian days.’
Swenwilli glanced around the club lounge. Still empty, thank goodness. ‘Steady on, old chap,’ he said. ‘What do you mean, you want to be spectacular? What does that actually mean?’’
Vlad performed a flambuoyant collapse into the depth of his chair. He waved his arm around in a vague yet melodramatic manner. ‘Oh, you know,’ he said. ‘To haf beauty again, to be young and vibrant. To haf zee energy to stay up all zee night and go straight to verk wizout having to get zum zleep first. Just look at me, Svenvilli – look at me. I am turning into a blancmange.’ And he wibbled his pot belly, which carried on wibbling for several alarming seconds after he removed his hand.
‘Well, you can do something about that,’ said Swenwilli. ‘It’s just a matter of watching what you eat, hitting the gym…you know…’
‘But vot about zee rest?’ said Vlad. ‘Zere iz nothing exciting about my life. Look at me. Who am I, Svenvilli…’
‘You are Vlad Dracula…’ began Swenwilli.
‘It voz a rhetorical qvestion,’ snapped Vlad. ‘Please don’t interrupt.’
‘Apologies, old chap,’ said Swenwilli.
‘No vorries,’ said Vlad.
‘Continue on,’ said Swenwilli.
Vlad nodded. ‘Look at me!’ he continued on. ‘Who am I? I am Vlad lll, Prince of Wallachia, son of Vlad ll Dracul. Zee zird, Svenvilli. Not zee zecond, or zee first. Zee zird, for Gott’s zake! I haf not even got my own name. It is vun copied from my fazer and my grandfazer.’
Vlad collapsed back into his chair and sighed. ‘It is all too exhausting, zis angst,’ he said.
Swenwilli had adopted a thoughtful pose. Not like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker,’ you understand – the last time he did that he fell out of his chair and banged his head on the windowsill – no, this was more a chin-stroking, staring-at-the-ceiling-in-the–corner-of–the-room thoughtful pose.
‘I think I know what you need,’ he said, as Mortimer reappeared and dinged a small gong to announce that dinner was served. ‘What you need is a visit to Vunderbars.’
‘Wunderbars?’ said Vlad.
‘No,’ said Swenwilli, carefully. ‘Vunderbars.’