"HOLY crap, that is red. That's… that's like, fire engine red. A fire engine that's on fire. In a sunset."
When Gary smiles, I get to see almost all of his teeth at once, and it's the only time his fangs pop out of his face. It would be a little creepy if not for the fact that he always looks to damn happy when he does it. It's tough to be frightened of vampire fangs when they're in a face that can pass for an emoticon. Gary proudly runs his thumb over the wide collar, "Yeah, I know! It's far out, right? This thing is in fantastic condition."
"Well… yeah, I guess it is," I say, ignoring his ancient slang of lame. "But it's really weird seeing you wear something that's so…"
He looks so proud of it, how do I say this without hurting his feelings? What if it's some sort of personal vampire tradition I'm insulting? Should I say it's very bright? Vivid? Kitschy? Gaudy? Garish?
"That's so…festive. Is there any special occasion for it?"
He spread out his hands in a semi-solemn gesture, "I am in respective mourning, dear Mina."
I lift an eyebrow at him. The jacket's so bright it's like a stoplight against the rain with the spots of water make the leathery material really slick, so the damn thing practically lights up when headlights hit it. At least there was no chance of someone running him over in the dark. A car will honk at him every twenty minutes or so. I have no idea if it's a friendly way-to-go-there-buddy honking or unfriendly hey-look-at-the-retard-on-the-side-of-the-road honking.
"So, is wearing bright colors some kinda… vampire tradition-type thing?"
Gary wheeled his head around like a neon owl, balking like I stabbed his dog in the face. "What?"
"I- hey, I'm sorry if it is… or if it's, like, not. I just thought maybe it was ironic? Or something?" You'd think with the taste of my foot in my mouth I'd take a hint and shut the hell up, but no, I just keep going "You know, ironic? Because vampires are s'pposed to dress dark all the time and since humans dress dark for funerals… it's backward and ironic, see? Um. Or not? Sorry?"
"Geez, Mina, are you serious? Are you really even serious right now? Where've you been for the past twenty years that you don't know this jacket?"
"Really. Okay, here's a clue", says Gary. And then he suddenly starts to walk/slide/shuffle across the pavement. When he realizes that I'm still just staring like a hillbilly in an astrophysics class, he sighs. (Without breathing?)
"It's the jacket from Thriller, Mina."
"Oh? Oh - OH! It's a Michal Jackson jacket!"
"Took you long enough"
"Well, how was I supposed to know, anyway? I was an embryo when that video came out. Not my fault."
"No excuse. It's common cultural knowledge. And how on earth did you not pick up on the freakin' moonwalking?!"
"Okay, first of all that one sparkly glove's more known than the jacket and second of all, that was not moonwalking, that was you shuffling backwards and everyone knows that moonwalking looks like you're gliding but not touching the floor. Duh."
"It was close enough!"
"Yeah, keep telling yourself that."
He frowned, "You know, I could eat you."
"We both know you couldn't, wrong blood type. You wouldn't, anyway if you could. Did you really keep that for twenty years?"
"Longer!" Gary leaned back on his heels, puffing out his chest like a pigeon or, an untouchable Congressman. "I've had this jacket since eighty four. I've brought it along from Illinois to New York to Kentucky and back here to Ohio. It looks almost exactly like it did when I got it."
I hafta admit, despite not giving a shit one way or another if an eighties pop star was dead or alive, it was a pretty good-looking jacket for its age. And even though it's not that great a jacket, Gary wears it well somehow. I don't exactly know how, since a white undead guy in his (apparent) mid-thirties with middle-aged spread should be the last person to pull off the look. But hey, here we are.
In my year and a half of knowing Gary, though, it seems weird that he ought to even own a jacket like that. I mean, I know the guy died in the eighties, but he never seemed like a Michael guy. I've seen his records, he's more like a Tears for Fears/Billy Joel/Genesis/that-chick-who-sings-"Heart-of-Glass"/Duran Duran sort of guy. And I tell him so, too.
He laughs at that, a rough popping sound that echoes just a little in the empty, damp air. (It's a happy sound, but I don't think I like it) "It was '83, Mina. Everyone was 'a Michael guy'. I mean except for the guys who hated him, but that's not the point. And really, I wasn't that big of a fan. I don't even own the albums"
"You don't own the albums but you own the jacket?"
"The jacket wasn't entirely my idea. It's all really my niece's fault. Now, she was a fan. I mean a big fan. The "tear out your hair screaming and crying at concerts" kind. She also wasn't the kind of niece you only see Christmas or Thanksgiving either, she lived a few streets from me, so I was at my brother's house all the time, and we were good pals. So this Michael stuff was around me a lot. And if you were in her room, I mean that literally. How does a twelve year old cover every inch of your wall with posters but not overlap anything?"
"With Scotch tape, obviously. Lot and lots of Scotch tape."
"And stucco. But yeah, there was no getting away from that guy. And she would have been so mad at me if I didn't like him. Plus resisting would have just ended up with me being irritated by her taste in music for the rest of my life."
"The rest of your life? Isn't that being a little dramatic? Really, he was only that popular for a decade."
Gary has a dry half-smirk upon his lips, "You, Miss Nehru, obviously underestimate depths of fandom." Then, in a tone just heavy enough to be grave he says "Even without that fact, it's not exaggerating. Remember: a fraction of that decade was the rest of my life."
"Oh. Right. Sorry about that."
"It's okay," he says (though I can tell from his frown that it's not okay at all). "But yeah, one day I decided to be lame and buy this jacket in the middle of all that. It was really more to make her happy to begin with, but then I ended up really liking the jacket all on its own. And the music too, sort of. Did you know that that this is the second most expensive thing I bought the years before I died?"
"I didn't. Out of curiosity, what was the first?"
"Dodge Mirada. The jacket was, I think, in the area of seven hundred dollars. But it's not some crap knockoff; this is high quality replica stuff. It's the closest thing you can come to getting the real jacket; that's why I bought it. I also figured it might be worth something someday."
"It sure is now. You could probably sell it for… sheesh, quadruple what you paid for it. I mean, my friend Arj sold his mostly-new copy of that Making of Thriller video, and he got a thousand dollars for it."
Gary smiles a bit "So I actually own something worth some bread. Nice. Shame about the circumstances."
"Well yeah, tragic celebrity death and all that jazz."
"No, that's not it. Okay, that's party it, but that's not what I meant. This whole thing creeps me out", said the undead vampire. "I haven't been in touch with anyone since 1990. I don't know if the niece knows; I'm sure she does. I hope she's not too hung up about it."
I wonder if Gary's niece was that one lady that let out doves at the trial.
"It's not that what bothers me. It's… well… I've never outlived someone before. I - well, not outlive, but you know. Not like I personally knew the guy or anything, or met him, but I still knew him. Sort of. In that popular osmosis sort of way, you know? But the really unsettling part is that he was my age… actually, no, younger. That makes it worse, especially when I notice how much he changed since I got the jacket and how much I didn't. It's just unsettling.
"But yeah, I thought it would be a nice thing to wear this jacket again. It reminds me of nice things, and it's always nicer to think about things someone did when they were alive, not how someone's dead. That what I think mourning really is. Or that's how I do it, anyway. And it just looks good on me."
I reached out theatrically "Why, Gary! I do believe it brings out the paleness of your cheeks and copper of your hair!" It actually more highlights the grey of his eyes, making them stand out more than they should, and it makes him look creepy on several levels. But of course, I don't tell him that. Instead, I tell him, "It's cool of the media to look at the early stuff in his career, and not all that weird stuff he did later."
"Oh yes, it really is. You know, sometimes even though the media is hard on someone, when they die, they can act really - wait. Wait, weird stuff? What weird stuff?"
Oh boy. "Well, you know…"
"Um… no, I don't."
Gary gives me a froggy, glass-eyed stare of incomprehension. "There were scandals?"
"…Actually, you know what, nevermind. It's nothing important. We should go to the dog park before they close the gates."