Ellen Skirvin

Need You

My husband and I had been living together for a week when I developed the taste for human blood. I had been weak, light-headed, and moody. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. Then one night, shivering in bed and lips blue, I asked my husband if I could taste his blood. 

Are you sure that’s what you need?
he asked. 

I nodded. And that’s how it started.

I lost the taste for everyday food, even my favorites like buttered baguettes and stuffed olives. I still made my husband dinners with balanced vegetables and proteins. We sat together, he complained about his day at the office, and I waited. Then we would move to the couch and watch his TV programs. He laid his arm across my lap, his fist clenched. I traced a finger up his forearm, pierced a thick vessel, and drank with an eye to the football game. I learned to not be messy. I only needed to wipe the corners of my mouth when I was done.

The urge for blood would often hit me in a fury. I’d wake before dawn and see my husband lying next to me naked like some fallen angel atop our white comforter. I’d drink from his arm while watching him sleep. He made little moans and kicks at first, then settled into a drooly peace, his blood warming my throat. When he woke, he wouldn’t notice a thing until I smiled, a red sheen covering my teeth.

The night we painted the kitchen yellow, my husband opened cheap champagne and played Tammi Terrell. When the needle reached the record’s inner grooves, he offered his neck to me. I lunged at him. My throat warmed. My skin hummed. I thought I might burst with pleasure. I imagined blood covering our walls. Splashing like rain puddles.

I came up for air. My husband was ghostly white. He blinked at the ceiling; his mouth opened slightly. I fumbled through our kitchen drawers and found a tea towel with Mr. and Mrs. printed in gold cursive. I pressed it to his neck and watched the cloth turn red. Lying beside him on our checkered tiles, I whispered against his beating chest, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

The next morning, sticky and disoriented, he showered and bandaged himself, then left for work without a word to me. I cleaned the kitchen tiles, put on a wide-brimmed hat, and made my way to the farmer’s market. I bought tomatoes, rosemary, and marbled meat. When I returned home, I marinated, punched, and simmered. My husband came home after dark. His face the color of a midday storm. He ran a hand through his curls and slumped in the dining room chair. I served him a thick cut of sirloin and ladles of gravy. He chewed with his back molars.

Afterward, he turned on a movie. I waited for his offering, but he crossed his arms. I curled up next to him and watched the screen. It showed military men exploding monsters into green goo. My stomach whined like a kitten trapped between walls. 

For the rest of the week, I continued to make him intricate meals. Meat marinated since morning. Sauces that gurgled into evening. I tried eating spoonfuls of raw hamburger meat and wine glasses of pork blood, but nothing satiated my hunger. Soon, all food disgusted me. The only thing I craved was beneath my husband’s skin. 

One night, I grew desperate and tried to sneak a drink while he slept, like I used to do. My teeth only grazed his wrist before he smacked me and rolled over, taking all of the blankets in his wake. He grumbled an apology as he fixed his tie the next morning. The bruise swelled into a yellowish lump under my eye. 

That morning, from behind my sunglasses, I scanned the farmer’s market patrons, while restocking ingredients for my husband’s meals. The man who sold honey dabbed his thick neck with a bandana. A short-haired woman examined a tomato for bruises, her wrist on full display. A swollen toddler ran into me, fell backward, then cried at the shock. I wanted to taste them all too, but I didn’t trust myself. I returned home, hungrier than ever.

Another week passed without my husband letting me drink. Sunlight gave me migraines. I closed our curtains during the day and only shopped at night. My hair fell out in clumps in the shower. I disintegrated until my vertebras felt like river pebbles under my skin. My husband continued to eat the meals I made him, never commenting on my growing bald spot or deteriorating figure. 

One harsh morning when the light pierced through the curtains brighter than ever before, I slunk into our basement. I used to be afraid of dark places, but it felt good and safe down there. The basement was unfinished with exposed insulation rolls and wooden beams. The ground was cool like clay. Crickets pounced around me. I wasn’t afraid. 

I hadn’t realized how long I was down there until I felt my husband’s hands. He cradled me in his arms and rubbed the space between my eyes. My skin had grown tough and prickly. I lifted my hands to his face. My nails were thick and sharp. Thin webbing stretched between my fingers. I heard myself snort.

There, there, he said. There, there.

He wet my lips with a trickle from his finger. My heart thumped on.

Ellen Skirvin currently lives in Pennsylvania and teaches college writing. She received her M.F.A. from West Virginia University. Her fiction appears in The Baltimore Review and the Anthology of Appalachian Writers Volume XI.