Casket Suite: Reflections

by James Dorr
read the suite from the beginning


Of all the superstitions about vampires, the one that bothered Lo the most was the one about mirrors.  That vampires can’t see their own reflections.  But vampires were beautiful, having become such at the most alluring time of their lives, at least the ones that people called les filles à les cassettes, the casket girls who had come to New Orleans in 1728, and Lo was the one who was the most attractive.  But how could she be sure, were it not for her viewing herself in a mirror?  

Others could tell her, of course, and some did.  Especially men.  But how could she be sure they told the truth if she couldn’t see what they saw for herself?  And not to mention the use of a mirror for putting on makeup, for even a natural beauty can use the enhancement of art.  But without her mirror. . . .  

Well some of her fellow filles, behind her back, of course, whispered among themselves that she was shallow.  That she cared only for beauty and fashion, and how the latter could add to the former if one had taste — which she certainly had.  And again her mirror helped underscore that.  

She might add, too, that they all required this — a personal beauty, especially as recognized by men.  Had they not, after all, been sent to New Orleans by King Louis XV himself, especially to marry the burgeoning colony’s most influential men?  To induce them to take roots there and raise families, and never mind that Lo and her sisters, as vampires, were sterile.  Sisters, that is, in a metaphorical sense — that’s the term her more poetically minded fellow fille, Yvonne, would use — they having in common that they had all been “turned” by their mentor, Aimée, the one who had been a vampiress already before their voyage.  Who then had shared that blessing with them, with Lo herself being one of the first, and as for sterility, men did take mistresses, even if married — even if married to beautiful women.  And vampires had ways to induce these rivals . . . well, in short for babies to be produced and identified as the vampire-wife’s own.  

But here was the thing.  If vampire-wives’ jobs  were, as it were, to gain the most wealthy and powerful as husbands — becoming themselves New Orleans’s most influential women — they must be beautiful.  They must serve as examples for all the city’s more common women, and in their own company, it stood to reason, one of them must also be the most beautiful.  One for her fellow filles to strive after, to better their chances for nailing their own men.   

If it was for Lo to bear this burden, she cheerfully took it on.  After all, les filles had formed a sorority, specializing in charitable works, which husbands could be induced to make substantial donations to, even if when they found themselves aging and thinking of wills, they might be inclined to be overly generous to their children.  For husbands did age, even if other men vampires dealt with might have shorter life spans.  

But to the point, for Lo to serve as an ideal of beauty for her fellow filles, this was in itself a charitable act, yes?   But for her to do so, she must have her mirror! 

Not only that, it was a special mirror.  She, like her fellows, had grown up squinting into small, tarnished ovals of once-shiny metal, or if their families had had enough money, perhaps a mirror made of Venetian glass backed with tin.  Smoky and dark.  But it was in 1835 that the German chemist, von Liebig, discovered a way to adhere metallic silver to glass — the silver-backed mirror!  Who said people like Lo failed to appreciate science?  And Lo had a husband who, at that time, had connections with Germany, even before this Justus Liebig had been made a baron, and so she was first in New Orleans to have one — and her unlife was changed!  

Or maybe, really, not completely changed.  But now she could be sure, what she saw was beautiful — maybe with a little touch-up here or there, an experiment with a new coiffure, but the basics were in place.  She had in her dressing room now what was really three mirrors, as tall as she was herself, hinged in a way that she could see even her own back reflected.  It was the Ancient Greeks, was it not, who said “know thyself,” and the silver-backed mirror, for vampires as well as for anyone else, was a tool of self-knowledge.  

Which brought up another bête noire of hers.  The superstition that vampires, somehow, were supposed to fear silver.  So maybe that was supposed to create the problem with mirrors?  The thing about problems with vampires’ reflections?  But Lo loved mirrors.  Just as she loved, and personified, beauty.  For beauty could hide things as well as reveal them.  

A certain sharpness of one’s teeth, for instance, but why dwell on that when the lips surrounding them were so desirable?  That beautiful women might embrace the night, but was not that the time for charity galas, for parties for raising funds for good works?  It was important that no one suspect that the lovely, charitable ladies among them were actually higher on the food chain.  Again, this was self-knowledge.    

One was what one was.  And husbands were useful for other things too, like money and luxuries, new gowns to wear for the party season.  Jewelry and comforts, and not just for food — one would find one’s meals elsewhere!  These were as well in the service of beauty, but also obtained in the first place through beauty.  One’s carefully tended-to desirability, for which one was in part dependent on mirrors.  Both vampires and humans.  

And her fellow filles said she was not a thinker!

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