Short Story: Kvetchula

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by Darrell Schweitzer

kvectchula-300As well as being an endless font of genre lore at science fiction conventions, Darrell Schweitzer is the former editor of Weird Tales and winner of the World Fantasy award. He is the author of The Shattered Goddess, The Mask of the Sorcerer, and The White Isle.

 

“Ruth,” my grandmother Esther once explained to me, “there’s no helping it. You’re a born kvetch. A kvetch is a complainer, a person who complains and complains all the day long and all through the night, because kvetches, they don’t have peaceful dreams. A kvetch can’t stop kvetching no more than they can get rid of the damp when it rains and soaks everybody to the skin. The kvetch just kvetches about being wet; then she sneezes, and then kvetches about sneezing, because a kvetch kvetches, plain and simple. The woid is both a noun and a voib, depending on where you put it.”

Grandmother Esther said “woid” and “voib” ‘cause she’s is not sophisticated like me, though she did go to school.

So I am a kvetch. The world needs its kvetches, or else why would God make so many of them? A dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

I tell you, it keeps me constantly busy.

There’s my husband Morris, whom I married out of pity, and that’s the truth, because he needed looking after so badly. Every moment of the day he keeps me hopping.

“Morris, your spectacles are on top of your head, so stop tearing the place apart,” I have to tell him, and “Morris, did you change your shorts?” (and this in front of people sometimes, but I’ve got to remind him), and also “Morris, stop wearing those awful ties!”

The ties are the worst part. I don’t know where he gets them. It’s no use if I throw them out, because he always gets more. I swear they’ve got a whole department of devils in Hell just working full time to keep my husband supplied with ties, for the sole purpose of trying the patience of Ruth Leibowitz.

And my patience has its limit, to tell you the truth.

The glaring, puke-green silk one, that one I can live with, or the day-glo pink one with the eyeball, even the one with the hula-girl under the palm tree, and I refuse to take seriously the plain white one he wears with a black shirt so he looks like some Mafia don. But his warped idea of class is going to our fancy 20-year high school reunion banquet showing off a tie with a picnic-table pattern that’s got enormous ants all over it! With that one, he goes too far. That one I took to the office and fed into the shredder, but it did me no good; he has more of them. Maybe they grow in his closet. I swear he wears them just to torment me, such an ungrateful man.

Then there are the vampires. Morris, he’s partial to wolf-men and mummies and Frankensteins like he is still a little boy, but what he really loves are these vampires, especially the young and sexy ones he watches over and over again on our VCR. Every vampire movie ever made, my Morris he’s got them all, and he sits all day and watches them when he should be mowing the lawn or changing his shorts or something.

Once, just to make a joke, I ask him if he’s ever seen Mein Yiddishe Dracula, and he doesn’t blink, and starts rummaging among his Mount Everest pile of tapes and says, “I think it’s in here somewhere, Honey Love.”

My Morris, he’s totally nuts about vampires and such.

So I’m not surprised — but this is not to say I’m not appalled — when he says, “Honey Love, guess where we’re going for vacation. To Transylvania. I’ve saved up. I’ve already bought the tickets. So we’re going on the Deluxe Vampire Tour.” And then he adds, “There’s no refunds.”

You could hear my jaw drop in Brooklyn. We live nowhere near Brooklyn.

Morris, he’s all smiles, like some kid who’s got an “A” on his report card or something. He’s even gone and bought a new tie for the occasion. It’s all black with a glow-in-the-dark bat with motorized wings that really flap. He’s particularly proud of that. And the noise it makes. Whir… flap, flap. Oy!

Kvetch? Maybe you think I should celebrate?

So the summer arrives and off we go to the airport with Morris wearing his stupid tie, which delays us because its tiny motor makes the security machines bleep, and the guards look at Morris like he’s a mad bomber with an exploding tie, but finally we get through, and he babbles all the way about Vlad the Impaler, who was not a nice man at all, and Nosferatu, a word which could never fit into the crossword puzzle I’m doing to occupy myself with and hide my embarrassment.

Then we’re in Bucharest and everything gets much worse. Our tour group is forming up, and now there’s a whole busload of people just like Morris. They jabber and jabber about things, like, “Listen to them, the Children of the Night, such beautiful music they make,” but I don’t hear no music, and I don’t care, it’s so awful, because every one of them is wearing that same damn tie!

~~~

Now I have to admit that those mountains are pretty, the Balkans or Carpets or whatever they are. (“Carpathians,” Morris whispers in a tone like it’s some crime to make a little mistake in geography, even if I did graduate almost thirty years ago and how many of these Romanians know their way around Jersey City?)

So they’ve got nice mountains. Almost like the Catskills.

But the tour, it’s not so nice. Their buses are always late and you can’t find a decent bathroom, and the food is, to talk like Morris for a minute, an unspeakable blasphemy of indescribable horror, which is a pretty accurate description.

So there they are, all these middle-aged Children of the Night — that’s the name of the fan club, I finally discover — all of them wearing those awful ties, with only me to take care of them, other wives are dumb enough to come, some being as wacked-out as their husbands, some of them actually wearing flapping bats in their hair, which is something, I swear to you, you will never see Ruth Leibowitz ever do. We traipse all over these Carpathians, go into this crypt and out of that vault, and we listen while long-winded tour guides lecture us as we stand around another more pile of rocks. The guide keeps going on about how only goodness can stop a vampire, like waving crosses and all, so finally I can’t stand it any longer. I ask him a historically challenging question.

“Well, what did you Commies do, wave a hammer and sickle at them?”

You see, I know this guide works for the government and since he’s not a kid, I know he’s been doing this for years, that makes him a Commie.

And Morris he looks like he’s just swallowed a live poodle, and everybody else turns away and groans, with their little plastic bats fluttering like sick birds with no feathers.

The guide, he says in a low, nasty voice, all the time pretending to be polite, “Madame, I assure you, there are ways.”

Like the bad guys say in the movies, “Ve haf vays to make you talk.”

Right now I want him not to talk, but to shut up.

Morris yanks me away and whispers, real mortified like, “What do you think we do? Draw a Star of David on the vampire’s forehead with a magic marker?”

Which is probably an interesting question, but just then I don’t feel much like being interested.

END EXCERPT

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