He missed chocolate the most – the rich velvety smoothness across his tongue, missed the warmth of hot chocolate in the morning sitting by his bed in its chocolate service. In the beginning of his fall from grace, those first painful years without any food and barely any drink, it was easy to avoid his longing. There were so many other things to miss, a good steak or warm bread thick with butter. Later he realized above all else he missed chocolate. Just after the Germans became Huns but before they were Nazis, there came a new torment, chocolate mixed with nuts and raisins. A new taste he could never enjoy. By the end of World War II chocolate taunted him whenever he entered a corner market, from every restaurant menu, and at any hotel.
Chocolate had been rare when he was alive. It was the drink of the rich, more expensive then wine. Today it littered the streets. People tried to give chocolate away for free. On any day he passed 5 or 6 delicious torments, luxuries he could not enjoy. Chocolates on his pillow at night, chocolate mixed with coffee for breakfast. That the offers were so off-handed, so casual, made it all the worse. To love a thing and see it treated as valueless when he could not enjoy it was to be cut in some small way. While he did not bleed, it still hurt. Once, his grief had come through and a street vendor said ‘What, it’s just chocolate?’ He left the man intact, shaking his head thinking ‘he jests at scars that never felt the wound’.
He missed women too. Missed the desire a man could have for a woman and the way it felt to fulfill that most basic human need. He failed to understand the modern need to make sex something vulgar, something so wrong. He had watched pornography race from sensual enjoyment to extremes of degradation. He felt pity for any youth that could not be aroused by the hint of a breast or the curve of a thigh, who found pleasure instead in the most base of acts in domination or the destruction of feigned innocence. He wished he could understand this need for more and more brutal erotica but, he was dead. In the end, the dead never truly understand the living.
He floated, it seemed, between the world he had once inhabited, a bustling city filled with men in suits and women in gloves, and the current world. Sometimes when he walked down a street he could remember so clearly the theater goers in their revelries and the homeless that were the ghosts. He had met others of his kind; ones who had not fared so well, who saw only the ghosts, never the real people. He did not want to join them, yet when he passed the window of a chocolate shop, filled with golden boxes he could never again open and enjoy, he envied them.
He had seen her then, standing in front of that window with its bright lettering spelling out the name of a long dead noble. Would a modern woman know the story behind name of Godiva? Would she care? A warm pool of chocolate sat inside a baptismal font, ripe strawberries fresh from prayers lined up by the side. Opposite them, coolly bathed in the grace of God and chocolate were lined their predecessors. The scene brought him to such rapture he nearly devoured the woman. Watching the reflection of her eyes in the glass, in that last moment before the thing inside him made him more beast then man, he saw himself. Her desire was as deep and as unfulfilled as his own. He felt a single emotion, a sudden clear drop of charity. It rushed through his soul and cleansed him of any need to eat. He turned to her.
“Which would you eat first? The strawberry or the orange?” He left his voice human, tried to be light.
“Both, neither, I don’t know.” Her words came out in a rush while she shook her head. “I can’t afford any of them, and I don’t need the calories anyway. Thank God window shopping is free!” She began to walk away. Salvation slipping through his fingers.
“Wait! I can afford it, but I can’t eat any of it. Let an old man buy you some chocolate.” She hesitated, skittish. He reached out his hand, suddenly sorry he wore gloves. “Please, it would really be my pleasure.” With the last, he let a touch of himself shine through his voice. She smiled and put her hand in his.
“You can’t be that old of a man.” She turned her face up to him, searching for a sign of his age.
“Oh?” His voice held an amused lilt “I think you’d be surprised.” They stepped out of the swirling snow into the bright warmth of the chocolate shop.
Her name was Maggie. She was young, but old in her soul, a tenth of his age merely 28. She had spent too much time doing without, helping someone else. They sat in a corner booth of a slightly battered diner. Between her and the wall where no one could steal them was a heap of golden boxes; too many for such a small woman to carry, not enough to soothe the desires of an old man.
They met week after week as the Christmas decorations lost their newness and the crowds became less kind despite the season. Maggie wore the same shabby coat turned gray from overuse. He bought boxes, gift towers, custom pounds and any other thing her eye rested on. He spoiled her only in this, only in chocolate. He never offered her money or even a meal. He only sat across from her in the diner as she opened the gold foil to slip a piece, furtive and delighted at once.
He learned she lived alone. Her Mother, who had forbidden chocolate in their home, had recently died. She learned he spoke 7 languages, though some not very well. She watched him watch her eat but never asked why he didn’t or why he felt the need to shower her with chocolate. Perhaps he thought she suspected the answer and didn’t want to ruin the chocolate.
Vampires had always been there. He remembered stories of them when he was young. Terrible hideous monsters who could not stand sunlight or the touch of the faithful. He wasn’t that kind. These were more open times, people wanted to meet vampires. People read vampire novels, dressed in vampire clothes, and danced at dark night clubs drinking wine they pretended was blood. He went to the clubs, he tried to understand them, but in the end he was still dead and they were all still living.
People in New York, people all over the world acknowledged that vampires existed. Some of them would say ‘you mean people who think they’re vampires’ and others would say ‘they’ve been here all along’. For the first time in centuries he could tell someone what he was, tell them his real birthday or his whole name and not expect to be branded insane. Like most of the vampires, he didn’t like it. He would have rather lived in the shadows, rather lived a half life filled with lies and loneliness then to be loved but misunderstood. And to be misunderstood so badly! How many times could he hear the same phrases? Listen to the same mindless patter of “I know you think you feel but” or “I know you think you know everything but” as if someone else could crawl inside his mind and see what it really was to be him.
Still, other vampires had made the decision. They had come out, made themselves something more than a horror movie staple, asked for a life when truly they had no right to one. He wondered what they thought to gain. Wondered what the few that had slipped into the spotlight really wanted. Perhaps they were young and hopeful, new to his world. Perhaps they were old and tired of the chase, running out of shadows big enough to hide them.
There were only a handful of them after all. Two or three celebrity vampires, sitting on talk shows debating the correctness of the latest horror novel. He didn’t pay enough attention to the interviews to know if they lied. Did they ever claim to be able to turn into bats? He would like to see one of them try. He would like to see one of them proven completely and horribly wrong. That way he could go back to hiding, seeking out the others like himself for quiet company when the loneliness got to long. Of all the decades in his long un-life, he preferred the ones without public acknowledgment the best.
But Maggie. She might know, she might watch the television and lust after a demon lover. She might dream of a dark prince to save her from life. There was too the chance that she might know and be repulsed. Not find his fine yellow hair or his bright blue eyes enough to bare his cold touch. So for now he left this secret unsaid between them. All they had was chocolate but that was all he needed.