I met Mona Michaels at a party in a house by the riverfront in the town where Mum and I finally settled. I was standing on the patio, smoking a cigarette and drinking red wine from the bottle when she walked outside. I’d seen her earlier in the living room, searching through the CD collection, peering at the tracklist of something by Kraftwerk: this tall, pale, slightly skinny girl with cropped black hair. I smiled and nodded; she asked for a light. We sat on the plastic patio furniture in the late summer air, while music blared from the house. Later, we shared the red wine walking down to where a wall separated the garden from the river’s edge. A shuddering diagonal crack ran through the cream alabaster. That autumn, all the houses along this stretch would flood. We talked about the river and the town, about the summer and the future. I told Mona how I wanted to save money to head for America. I forget what she told me. We were very young. Maybe this was the first time that we discussed her films, although I have a feeling it was much later, that she was embarrassed to talk about it. I have difficulty in putting it all together.
Probably, I told her about Dad. Around this age, I’d realised that having a father die in battle set me apart from everyone else. Years of pity had been repaid with ruthlessness, but I don’t remember Mona being so easily persuaded. ‘Oh. That’s bad,’ would have been her response. Given I’d decided that I could manipulate anyone who came my way, the resistance was intriguing. Earlier that summer, an ex-girlfriend had described me— tearfully, horrified— as a vampire, an idea to which I became devoted for a long, long time.
Night had fallen. The river moved like a thick, continuous pane of black glass. There was almost no current, although I knew that this stretch of the water was deadly, and only previous September a boy from the college had drowned after jumping from the bridge. Streetlights showed up like orange fireworks on the perfect oil-like sheen. I saw something drifting quickly towards us out of the darkness, a human shape. Mona let out a shout. It was already about ten metres away. As I jumped down onto the other side of the wall, I felt as though I was falling into one of life’s larger dramas; I was excited and almost, I think, a little privileged. I bent down low towards the water, balancing on the riverbank, the damp grass, the wet, yielding earth. The pale form came towards me out of the dark. I could make out an arm and a head. As I reached out towards it, I could imagine the cold, soft touch of dead flesh and my stomach fluttered with excited nausea. Mona had pulled herself over the wall and stood behind me on the grass. As the figure slipped closer towards us, she reached out for my arm. When it came into the light from the garden, I could see it for what it was. My hands closed upon the hard plastic of the top half of a shop mannequin. Mona started laughing.
We brought it back with us, perching it against the wall, artful and posed as we finished the bottle of wine. Mona even offered it a drink. Isn’t she a perfect woman in a way, Mona said to me.
‘Bald?’ I asked.
No, she said. Slender, silent, artificial. Isn’t that really all that you want?
Words © Daniel Bennett