Clouds: Death

December 19th, 2021

by Ilhamul Azam
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Death

I come out on the balcony, there are so many stars in the sky. I look at them, the moonlight floods the balcony with its haunting yellowish light.

“What are you thinking Dada?” whispers Shilu swinging her legs to and fro.

I say nothing.

“ Are you thinking about death?”

“Why do you ask?” I ask without staring at her.

“After Nanu’s death yesterday, everyone has been thinking about it.”

When Nanu*[1] was dying, I was there. She was dying, we all were dying with her. A while before her eternal sleep, her eyes became big. The eyes had something to exhibit, maybe fear that endangered the peacefulness of our existence.

My Nanu had been ill for many days, I was asked to see her every time. I didn’t go. I was afraid of seeing someone suffering who had been so actively lively in my memories, I didn’t want to distort the memory of that bliss. Now, I feel not the same, regret is so bad. Now I see her in my dreams so often, where she is an active person, not someone who is suffering for a peaceful breath, not someone who has not adequate blood running through her body. I don’t tell anyone about the dreams, how do I tell as well? with what audacity? I wasn’t there with her when I should have been. 

“What happens after death Dada?”

She dazzled me with so deep a question that has depth never-ending, that has so darkness surrounding it that nobody can see beyond.

The concept of fear is so profoundly intertwined with death that it seems to me, there could be only two outcomes, either it is nothing after death or there is something intolerable that we will consciously endure.

My friend had once said to me, “ I don’t think there will be any divine punishment after death. The objective of punishment is really worldly and GOD is beyond all these.”

Perhaps he is right or maybe GOD isn’t what we think HE is, HE shouldn’t be also. HE is never to be thought of by anyone that is why HE is GOD.

Maybe the critical criticism of divine deity starts to occur in my age, when the soul is full of spirit, the blood is warm, the eyes have a sparkle and search for answers that might make them stop questioning conventionality.

My mother tells me pretty often, “ You are always against beliefs that we have trusted blindly for years.”

Who knows my questions might end as I grow older, weaker.


[1] Conventional regard for the mother of mother in Bangladesh.  








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Clouds:  Helpless Persuasion

December 18th, 2021

by Ilhamul Azam 
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Helpless Persuasion

Sometimes I think about the helplessness of humans. I am afraid I perceive the perception of helplessness feeling for my father or is it me, who is helpless, unable to do anything for him.

Coming across helplessness is a social convention but the medium, which makes it happen, makes the feeling severe.

I still remember, the remembrance is vague but tremendously awful when I try to comprehend it. Mother came with someone and closed the door, having gone inside the room. I peeked through the rectangular gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. Even then my childish mind smelt some distortion, but he couldn’t make his restive mind go through this enormity and searched for something comprehensible.

Many times I tried to label it as a weird childhood imagination that didn’t exist in reality. I wish I could be a better persuader.  






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Clouds: A Teacher

December 17th, 2021

by Ilhamul Azam 
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A Teacher

Father doesn’t stay with us. He works in another city. He comes once a week. When he returns home, mother sleeps early or pretends to do so. Father then switches on the dim light so that mother doesn’t wake up. In that darkness, he tries to find his medicine box and comes to my room to do all the rustling. I thought I was the most unfortunate one, maybe this person has endured more than I could ever perceive.

When I was 7 years old, Mother and father had a big fight. Father tried to choke her, “ You diminished the happiness of my life.”

That day I thought I would fight for mother. Today, I feel not the same. Then I respected father, probably didn’t love him. Today, I feel not the same, even today I might not love him but isn’t sympathy a way of showing love? Or sympathy is greater than love?  

I fear father. Father has taught us several things while being silent. I wonder about the significance his teachings would’ve got if it hadn’t come from a person who spoke less. He was full of teachings without even intending to teach us, we learned about life in his simplicity and in the wickedness that was provided by mother. This education is great education.

Mother’s teachings have been complementary to that of father’s. It is important as well if not more. The bad aspects of life can never be turned down in front of the positive aspects since they are superior, they make the world work. The relationship between me and my mother seems to have no abnormalities. Is it because I am not sensitive toward this evil inconvenience or the simplicity of this divine bond is not gonna fall into the feet of worldly flaws?








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Clouds: Childish Consolation

December 16th, 2021

by Ilhamul Azam 
read the suite from the beginning

Childish Consolation

I often talk to my mother. When I ask her to give me her phone, I see a dread in her face, she tries to delete something. She knows that we are aware of what she does when she gets out of the house at night or on holidays lying that she has some work to finish. Even then I often talk to her.

One day Shilu came to me saying that she saw mother today on someone’s bike holding on tight to that unknown person.

“ It wasn’t father, Dada*[1]”, she said with a crying face.

Does Shilu understand this evilness? Shilu is getting big.

“No No, it couldn’t be mother. She was with me when you presumed to see her. It must have been someone like mother,” giving her a false consolation I wish I could get from someone.

Mother isn’t ashamed. Why am I?

That day Shilu came to me weeping, “ Dada! They say bad things about mother.”

“ Who?”, I asked, caressing her.

“ That tall and fair uncle,” hugging me and weeping harder.

“ People say bad things about good people. Bad people envy the goodness that stays within good people,” I said to her, moistening my eyes as well but I try to hide it. I don’t have someone to have consolation from, I am unfortunate. 

I don’t want to talk to mother regarding this, but if I end up saying it to her, she denies the fact.

“ I swear! I don’t have anything like this in my heart, I would never do this consciously,” says mother.

I become angry with her. I don’t want to be angry with her. I don’t want her to be accountable to me.  


[1] Conventional regard for big brother in Bangladesh.







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CLOUDS

December 15th, 2021

by Ilhamul Azam                                                                                    

Regret

‘A good family is where a father doesn’t have to go to his children to express his feelings since his wife is reluctant to have a discussion with him,’ I wrote in my diary.

I always write things that I observe. It is a pretty lavish trait for a middle-class boy as getting a diary he likes to write in is expensive. I often write incoherent things but they always end up being philosophical. I then decipher my own writing. Everything I write becomes coherent, I just have to be metaphorical.

“ What are you doing?”

I look up and see father is standing.

“Nothing,” I say

Father then sits on the bed. It seems like he wants to have a talk. Should I start the conversation? But I don’t, I am really afraid of my father, he is a very very good man. But I don’t know why I fear. Is it that the people you love most are the people you fear most?

“ Do you know how many countries there are in the commonwealth?” asks father.

“No, I don’t know,” I say just so he has a chance to get him out of this awkwardness.

“ There are 54 countries.”

“Oh!”

Then silence……

He sits a while and then he stands to leave. I wish I could talk to him as he wanted me to. Regret is so bad.

Father doesn’t speak much, even if it is important. When father became ill last month, he grew extremely talkative as though he conveyed all his deep suppressed feelings that were meant for us to hear.

“Put your hand on my head,” he said lying in bed, closing his eyes.

I couldn’t do that. Regret is so bad.

Childish Consolation

I often talk to my mother. When I ask her to give me her phone, I see a dread in her face, she tries to delete something. She knows that we are aware of what she does when she gets out of the house at night or on holidays lying that she has some work to finish. Even then I often talk to her.

One day Shilu came to me saying that she saw mother today on someone’s bike holding on tight to that unknown person.

“ It wasn’t father, Dada*[1]”, she said with a crying face.

Does Shilu understand this evilness? Shilu is getting big.

“No No, it couldn’t be mother. She was with me when you presumed to see her. It must have been someone like mother,” giving her a false consolation I wish I could get from someone.

Mother isn’t ashamed. Why am I?

That day Shilu came to me weeping, “ Dada! They say bad things about mother.”

“ Who?”, I asked, caressing her.

“ That tall and fair uncle,” hugging me and weeping harder.

“ People say bad things about good people. Bad people envy the goodness that stays within good people,” I said to her, moistening my eyes as well but I try to hide it. I don’t have someone to have consolation from, I am unfortunate. 

I don’t want to talk to mother regarding this, but if I end up saying it to her, she denies the fact.

“ I swear! I don’t have anything like this in my heart, I would never do this consciously,” says mother.

I become angry with her. I don’t want to be angry with her. I don’t want her to be accountable to me.  


[1] Conventional regard for big brother in Bangladesh.

A Teacher

Father doesn’t stay with us. He works in another city. He comes once a week. When he returns home, mother sleeps early or pretends to do so. Father then switches on the dim light so that mother doesn’t wake up. In that darkness, he tries to find his medicine box and comes to my room to do all the rustling. I thought I was the most unfortunate one, maybe this person has endured more than I could ever perceive.

When I was 7 years old, Mother and father had a big fight. Father tried to choke her, “ You diminished the happiness of my life.”

That day I thought I would fight for mother. Today, I feel not the same. Then I respected father, probably didn’t love him. Today, I feel not the same, even today I might not love him but isn’t sympathy a way of showing love? Or sympathy is greater than love?  

I fear father. Father has taught us several things while being silent. I wonder about the significance his teachings would’ve got if it hadn’t come from a person who spoke less. He was full of teachings without even intending to teach us, we learned about life in his simplicity and in the wickedness that was provided by mother. This education is great education.

Mother’s teachings have been complementary to that of father’s. It is important as well if not more. The bad aspects of life can never be turned down in front of the positive aspects since they are superior, they make the world work. The relationship between me and my mother seems to have no abnormalities. Is it because I am not sensitive toward this evil inconvenience or the simplicity of this divine bond is not gonna fall into the feet of worldly flaws?

Helpless Persuasion

Sometimes I think about the helplessness of humans. I am afraid I perceive the perception of helplessness feeling for my father or is it me, who is helpless, unable to do anything for him.

Coming across helplessness is a social convention but the medium, which makes it happen, makes the feeling severe.

I still remember, the remembrance is vague but tremendously awful when I try to comprehend it. Mother came with someone and closed the door, having gone inside the room. I peeked through the rectangular gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. Even then my childish mind smelt some distortion, but he couldn’t make his restive mind go through this enormity and searched for something comprehensible.

Many times I tried to label it as a weird childhood imagination that didn’t exist in reality. I wish I could be a better persuader.  

Sometimes I think about the helplessness of humans. I am afraid I perceive the perception of helplessness feeling for my father or is it me, who is helpless, unable to do anything for him.

Coming across helplessness is a social convention but the medium, which makes it happen, makes the feeling severe.

I still remember, the remembrance is vague but tremendously awful when I try to comprehend it. Mother came with someone and closed the door, having gone inside the room. I peeked through the rectangular gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. Even then my childish mind smelt some distortion, but he couldn’t make his restive mind go through this enormity and searched for something comprehensible.

Many times I tried to label it as a weird childhood imagination that didn’t exist in reality. I wish I could be a better persuader.  

Death 

I come out on the balcony, there are so many stars in the sky. I look at them, the moonlight floods the balcony with its haunting yellowish light.

“What are you thinking Dada?” whispers Shilu swinging her legs to and fro.

I say nothing.

“ Are you thinking about death?”

“Why do you ask?” I ask without staring at her.

“After Nanu’s death yesterday, everyone has been thinking about it.”

When Nanu*[1] was dying, I was there. She was dying, we all were dying with her. A while before her eternal sleep, her eyes became big. The eyes had something to exhibit, maybe fear that endangered the peacefulness of our existence.

My Nanu had been ill for many days, I was asked to see her every time. I didn’t go. I was afraid of seeing someone suffering who had been so actively lively in my memories, I didn’t want to distort the memory of that bliss. Now, I feel not the same, regret is so bad. Now I see her in my dreams so often, where she is an active person, not someone who is suffering for a peaceful breath, not someone who has not adequate blood running through her body. I don’t tell anyone about the dreams, how do I tell as well? with what audacity? I wasn’t there with her when I should have been. 

“What happens after death Dada?”

She dazzled me with so deep a question that has depth never-ending, that has so darkness surrounding it that nobody can see beyond.

The concept of fear is so profoundly intertwined with death that it seems to me, there could be only two outcomes, either it is nothing after death or there is something intolerable that we will consciously endure.

My friend had once said to me, “ I don’t think there will be any divine punishment after death. The objective of punishment is really worldly and GOD is beyond all these.”

Perhaps he is right or maybe GOD isn’t what we think HE is, HE shouldn’t be also. HE is never to be thought of by anyone that is why HE is GOD.

Maybe the critical criticism of divine deity starts to occur in my age, when the soul is full of spirit, the blood is warm, the eyes have a sparkle and search for answers that might make them stop questioning conventionality.

My mother tells me pretty often, “ You are always against beliefs that we have trusted blindly for years.”

Who knows my questions might end as I grow older, weaker.


[1] Conventional regard for the mother of mother in Bangladesh.

Daylily

Yesterday, I got a letter. I know who sent it, but I don’t answer her. Love seems repulsive, I am not strong enough to endure betrayal, which is inevitable. Love is full of different distinct feelings and feelings change.

“ How are you?” she asked me.

“well,” I replied

“ Do you want to say anything to me?”

“I don’t.”

“Anything special?”

“NO.”

“ Did you get any letter?”

“Who would send me letters in this age?”

The girl never talked to me again, maybe from touchiness.

Someone had said to me, “ Touchiness sores life.”

Shrieve, neither mother nor I. Who knows,  Maybe hurting people who love us is in my blood.

The first teaching of love comes from seeing the happiness of mother and father, probably I didn’t get it, or I did get it but was small to understand it. Love lasts till some earlier years of marriage, then it starts to fade away, fades away like the people in it. My education tells me to be far from all worldly greed. Maybe, in the early years of marriage my mother and father weren’t, they were happy, they were caring, they were loving. What does it matter if it didn’t last long, at least it existed. They could provide a bit of love to the world from them, thinking about it is nothing but ecstasy.

Inexplicable

I have complained about the inadequacy of love in moulding my perception, it is not completely true. I have come across love or maybe something more superior to it which cannot be called love.

When my Chotomama*[1] got married, she brought the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was enchanted by her mesmerizing beauty. I used to stare at her whenever I saw her, if our eyes met she used to give a smile that brought storms to the ocean of my emerging feelings.

My restless heart had to share the feelings I had for her, a childish love that didn’t have any evil intention.

I couldn’t help sharing and told one of my cousins, “ I wish my wife turns out to be the same as Chotomami*[2].”

That evil boy told it to Chotomami, what an embarrassment. When Chotomami got to know about this, whenever she saw me she used to give me a hug and hold my hand for a long time, what a bliss it was for an adolescent whose heart was full of emotions. 

She once told me, “ If my marriage doesn’t work out, I’ll marry you. Would you wait for me?”

I used to blush, couldn’t say anything, What could I say even? How could I express that her place was never to be replaced, never to be faded in my emotional heart? Maybe that was when I got to know about a feeling which was far superior to love, a feeling that shouldn’t be disgraced calling it love, an enchantment that had no place for evil needs, which was as pure and lovely as an infant.

When they went away from us, I was broken as a failed lover, what an astonishment! what we had between us couldn’t be called love!

I was seeing her compulsion as betrayal, I was seeing my Chotomama as a rival, what an idiot I was! Probably that time was dedicated to idiocy. My affectionate heart searched for something, it still does. These affectionate aspects of life are always going to be daunting for me. I have wanted to be many things, never wanted to be an admirer of enchantments. These worldly affections have come into my life like a black cloud on my sunny life, a distortion never to be repaired, never to be considered for improvement in the way I live.


[1]  Conventional regard for mother’s younger brother in Bangladesh.

[2] Conventional regard for mother’s younger brother’s wife.

 






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Casket Suite: What’s In a Name

December 14th, 2021

by James Dorr
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What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name?  Aimée wondered.  Well her name, Aimée, meant “beloved” in English, and she’d like to think that everyone loved her.  But did they really?  

Well, she was a vampire, the first of les filles à les cassettes, the casket girls, the one who had been a vampire before — having had to flee those who would persecute her — before she discovered the group of young women just then leaving France to go to New Orleans.  This was at the orders of no less a one than King Louis XV, to found families there with the colony’s most influential men.  And who thus had become vampires themselves because of Aimée, to endure forever in youth and beauty, while they had been waiting to choose their husbands — as well as to found their own sisterhood with Aimée as its head, which continues today. 

Surely that act was deserving of love! 

But it doesn’t explain why she had had to leave France in the first place.  Why some had pursued her, hoping to do her harm. 

Who, one might then conclude, did not love Aimée. 

She sighed at that.  True, she did have her faults, a lack of patience at times being one of them.  It was a thing she had to face, to strive if she could to keep under control.  Especially, she did not suffer fools well.  

But was that not itself a result of what should be considered a virtue?  That is, her ambition, besides being loved, was to learn to better understand things — to be the opposite of a fool.  Her first husband, for instance, was chosen not just because he had wealth — this was a criterion for all les filles, that their husbands be wealthy because, in the times when they were between husbands, they had to have means to continue their lifestyles.  But back to the point, that her first husband also had been a doctor by profession, as well as in his spare time a scientist, such as science was in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. 

Aimée adored science, to learn how the world worked.  To learn about stars and such things that weren’t “fool” things, like how the Earth went around the sun and not the other way around, no matter what it looked like from the ground.  Or what happens when chemicals are mixed together.  She liked as well to learn the customs of different people, in places other than France or New Orleans — and even religion, although it was those who professed religion who often were the most prejudiced against vampires.    

She could not understand that.  That, yes, these were the ones who, in France, had pursued her!  Who even destroyed several of her companions with hammers and stakes driven through their hearts.  And yet if they truly believed in God, the creator of vampires as well as people, should they not then extol vampires instead?  

Sure, perhaps on occasion a human, or someone a human had known, might have had a bad experience with a vampire, sometime in the past.  There was, after all, the “blood thing.”  But that was no excuse!  It was not the fault of vampires that God, in His wisdom, had put blood in people — blood that vampires required to live.  Did cows and chickens, for instance, blame people because of God’s making them out of meat?  

But yes, there it was.  It was a case that some people were bigots, and Aimée, most of all, should realize that one cannot reason with bigots.  Some still persisted in saying the Earth was flat and, although Aimée could suggest experiments they might use to see it was round instead, she knew that that still would not change their minds. 

And that was something Aimée had to cope with.  To make rules, for instance, for one’s fellow filles to keep their vampirism a secret, lest they be persecuted as well.  To not tell one’s husband, but also not to use him as a blood source — rather to fake one’s own parallel aging as he lived his life out, and then as a widow to go back to France, only to return some months later in the guise of one’s own “daughter,” having been sent to France as an infant for one’s education.      

To try not to kill people, except when needed — but then were they given credit for that?  For showing restraint, even when it might be an inconvenience?  Of course in that case, restraint was a virtue in that it helped keep their existence a secret.  

If one should ask, for whatever reason, if vampires exist, to readily reply:  “Of course not — vampires are a superstition.  Only a fool would believe in vampires!”  

And Aimée, even if the beloved, had no taste for fools. 

– END –






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Casket Suite: Shades of Difference

December 13th, 2021

by James Dorr
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Shades of Difference

Red, the color of blood, of course.  It was a vampire’s favorite color, but, just as a Frenchwoman doesn’t drink just wine, so too the New Orleanian vampiresses, les filles à les cassettes, expressed their fondness for shades of red.  Crimson, for instance — arguments ensued over whether or why it was better than scarlet.  Yvonne had a special fondness for pink, her poetic mind searching for tiny variants — highlights, if one will — in its soothing paleness.  Lo preferred mauve, or even maroon, but in a fashion sense, noting their contrast to her pale skin, her luxurious blonde hair.  “Just red,” she would maintain, “is vulgar.  Too flashy.” 

Others agreed, although all pointed out it was still delicious.   






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Casket Suite: Reflections

December 12th, 2021

by James Dorr
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Reflections

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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Casket Suite: A Surfeit of Poe

December 11th, 2021

by James Dorr
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A Surfeit of Poe

They were the casket girls, les filles à les caissettes, having come to New Orleans in 1728, turned into vampires by one of their number, the one named Aimée.  They had come to be married, sent by none other than King Louis XV himself, and had married well, amassing from their husbands wealth and power, exchanging the old for new as these first husbands aged and died, and so had formed an exclusive club.  They did work for charity, founding a hospital, helping patients who suffered from bad blood — cupping as was the medical practice of the day, and never mind what happened to the blood then.  And they held regular meetings among themselves in which they discussed the events of the world, and other such things that they found of interest.   .  

So it was that Yvonne had returned from France, from a recent visit, younger looking and rather more stylish than when she had left.  This was a thing they did, going to France, then claiming now that they were their own daughters — how else to explain a perpetual youth?  And having left, often, as a grieving widow, now back on the prowl to obtain a new husband, not to mention new riches and comfort, for if one was to be all but immortal, better to spend one’s time wealthy than poor.  

And they spent their time learning, some of them anyway.  Yvonne, for instance, usually the quiet one, the dreamer, the poet who kept things in her head, churning and churning until they were ready to be put on paper.  But this time pulling a book from her luggage, in French of course, Histoires Extraordinaires.  “It is from an up and coming young writer, Charles-Pierre Baudelaire,” she said.  “But the thing is, it is not written by him.”  

“Then why do you have it?” Claudette asked, laughing.  She, the literal-minded one, was always ready for a joke as well.  

“It was given to me,” Yvonne said.  “Charles — that is, Monsieur Baudelaire — when he heard I was leaving for New Orleans, said they were translations he had made of our American poet, Edgar Allan Poe.  He thought they were quite good, the originals, that is, though others have praised the translations too.”  

“But these are not poems,” Claudette, who had taken the book and now held it up, said.  “As you see they are stories, not poetry at all.”  

“But did he not write ‘Le Corbeau‘?” Lo asked.  She had been back to France the decade before, and was always the most glamorous of them all.  “I mean, I am not so much a reader myself, but Aimée has a copy.  She showed it to me once.  And stories as well, but they all seemed so sad, about people who had bad things happen to them.”  

“‘The Raven,’ yes,” Aimée said.  “Poe wrote the poem not that long before his death.  It is popular still.”     

“Yes, and for the stories I have read Aimée’s book before too, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” Claudette said, smiling.  “For myself I’ve enjoyed them, though certainly they are often dark.  But then, we are too, aren’t we?”  

“And now they can be read also in France,” Yvonne said.  She envied this Poe — Baudelaire as well, although not always agreeing with all his sentiments.  But the way both of them had with words, the one in English, the other Français.  And as for “Le Corbeau,” she tried to remember.  Something Poe himself had written. . . .     

But Lo interrupted.  “Yes,” she said, “both Poe and we are ‘dark.’  And no doubt this Baudelaire as well.  But then why do they not write stories about us?  If that were the case, perhaps I would enjoy them more.”  Hélène and several others who had not spoken yet nodded.    

“Well,” Claudette offered, “there may be one or two — such as ‘Ligeia.’  It’s one Baudelaire has in his book too.”  

“But it’s not,” Lo protested.  “That is, he has it backward. Yes, there is a woman who will live forever, but as a loose spirit who seeks new bodies.  While we retain our bodies and souls too, as long as we wish them.” 

“Symbolically, though,” Aimée said, “is not ‘The Raven’ a sort of a vampire?  He takes all hope from him, Poe, perhaps, who is speaking through the poem, even the hope of eternal rest.”  She looked up from the copy of Baudelaire’s book, which she had now been leafing through.  “That is, I would hope we don’t always go that far, but. . . .”  

Now Yvonne remembered it, practically word for word, almost exactly ten years before in Graham’s Magazine, Poe’s essay on how he had written “The Raven.”  “Listen,” she said, “this is how he described it.  Poe himself, and on poetry in general.  ‘Of all melancholy topics, what is the most melancholy?’  His answer was ‘Death.’  ‘And when,’ he asked, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’    

“This is what Poe said:  ‘When it most closely allies itself with beauty.  The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’  Perhaps he did not realize that after death some of us continue.  But we are the undead, then, are we not?”  

Claudette laughed out loud.  “Yes.  Beautiful, dead, and now living again.  So, by his own words, the best of this Poe’s work was written about us.”  

Aimée looked up again.  She had not heard this theory before, but she nodded and smiled. 






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Casket Suite

December 10th, 2021

By James Dorr

The Flavor of the Jest

Life, or in her case perhaps “unlife,” was not without its little jokes, Aimée reflected.  Many of the women she now considered her sisters had parents who, like all respectable bourgeois will, complained the king’s taxes were too high.  Yet she and her fellow “casket girls” — filles à les caissettes as they had been called for the little sea chests they had been given for their belongings — were now in New Orleans because of Louis XV’s generosity, most of them hoping for new and better lives.  They were to marry the rich and successful, starting families to insure the permanence of this new colony, with only one, Aimée herself, who had had to flee France.  There had been persecution of those of her kind.  

Yet who longed to return.  

Fate was fate, however, and one must play the cards one was dealt, yes?  She had murdered a girl in Le Havre for her papers, and then on the voyage, if one needed blood, were there not healthy young woman aplenty pressed alongside her in the ship’s hold?  And if one should make of them “sisters,” not corpses. . . .  

Then, irony upon irony, they were now housed in an Ursuline convent until they should become brides, guests of a far different kind of sisterhood.  Housed and accepted, so much so that when some of them complained of the sun, as they slowly became themselves full-fledged vampiresses, the nuns immediately hired men to construct shutters for the windows of their third-floor quarters — shutters that remain there to this day.   

It was here Aimée had her change of mind.  Admiring a carpenter for his ruddy, blood-filled physique, she had lured him into their attic’s shadows and had her fill of him.  But, oh, the flavor!  It was like a fine wine, yet new in its brashness, not sweet like those of her sister filles, but with a tang, as if from some trace of vinegar.  Surprising and fresh, a taste of robustness. 

This was not a man she would marry, of course.  For that higher birth would be required, not to mention money.  But marriage vows need not constrain one’s dining habits.  Nor must one long only, she realized now, for what was left behind.  

No, Aimée considered, perhaps even she would learn to love her new américaine home. 

A Surfeit of Poe

They were the casket girls, les filles à les caissettes, having come to New Orleans in 1728, turned into vampires by one of their number, the one named Aimée.  They had come to be married, sent by none other than King Louis XV himself, and had married well, amassing from their husbands wealth and power, exchanging the old for new as these first husbands aged and died, and so had formed an exclusive club.  They did work for charity, founding a hospital, helping patients who suffered from bad blood — cupping as was the medical practice of the day, and never mind what happened to the blood then.  And they held regular meetings among themselves in which they discussed the events of the world, and other such things that they found of interest.   .  

So it was that Yvonne had returned from France, from a recent visit, younger looking and rather more stylish than when she had left.  This was a thing they did, going to France, then claiming now that they were their own daughters — how else to explain a perpetual youth?  And having left, often, as a grieving widow, now back on the prowl to obtain a new husband, not to mention new riches and comfort, for if one was to be all but immortal, better to spend one’s time wealthy than poor.  

And they spent their time learning, some of them anyway.  Yvonne, for instance, usually the quiet one, the dreamer, the poet who kept things in her head, churning and churning until they were ready to be put on paper.  But this time pulling a book from her luggage, in French of course, Histoires Extraordinaires.  “It is from an up and coming young writer, Charles-Pierre Baudelaire,” she said.  “But the thing is, it is not written by him.”  

“Then why do you have it?” Claudette asked, laughing.  She, the literal-minded one, was always ready for a joke as well.  

“It was given to me,” Yvonne said.  “Charles — that is, Monsieur Baudelaire — when he heard I was leaving for New Orleans, said they were translations he had made of our American poet, Edgar Allan Poe.  He thought they were quite good, the originals, that is, though others have praised the translations too.”  

“But these are not poems,” Claudette, who had taken the book and now held it up, said.  “As you see they are stories, not poetry at all.”  

“But did he not write ‘Le Corbeau‘?” Lo asked.  She had been back to France the decade before, and was always the most glamorous of them all.  “I mean, I am not so much a reader myself, but Aimée has a copy.  She showed it to me once.  And stories as well, but they all seemed so sad, about people who had bad things happen to them.”  

“‘The Raven,’ yes,” Aimée said.  “Poe wrote the poem not that long before his death.  It is popular still.”     

“Yes, and for the stories I have read Aimée’s book before too, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” Claudette said, smiling.  “For myself I’ve enjoyed them, though certainly they are often dark.  But then, we are too, aren’t we?”  

“And now they can be read also in France,” Yvonne said.  She envied this Poe — Baudelaire as well, although not always agreeing with all his sentiments.  But the way both of them had with words, the one in English, the other Français.  And as for “Le Corbeau,” she tried to remember.  Something Poe himself had written. . . .     

But Lo interrupted.  “Yes,” she said, “both Poe and we are ‘dark.’  And no doubt this Baudelaire as well.  But then why do they not write stories about us?  If that were the case, perhaps I would enjoy them more.”  Hélène and several others who had not spoken yet nodded.    

“Well,” Claudette offered, “there may be one or two — such as ‘Ligeia.’  It’s one Baudelaire has in his book too.”  

“But it’s not,” Lo protested.  “That is, he has it backward. Yes, there is a woman who will live forever, but as a loose spirit who seeks new bodies.  While we retain our bodies and souls too, as long as we wish them.” 

“Symbolically, though,” Aimée said, “is not ‘The Raven’ a sort of a vampire?  He takes all hope from him, Poe, perhaps, who is speaking through the poem, even the hope of eternal rest.”  She looked up from the copy of Baudelaire’s book, which she had now been leafing through.  “That is, I would hope we don’t always go that far, but. . . .”  

Now Yvonne remembered it, practically word for word, almost exactly ten years before in Graham’s Magazine, Poe’s essay on how he had written “The Raven.”  “Listen,” she said, “this is how he described it.  Poe himself, and on poetry in general.  ‘Of all melancholy topics, what is the most melancholy?’  His answer was ‘Death.’  ‘And when,’ he asked, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’    

“This is what Poe said:  ‘When it most closely allies itself with beauty.  The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’  Perhaps he did not realize that after death some of us continue.  But we are the undead, then, are we not?”  

Claudette laughed out loud.  “Yes.  Beautiful, dead, and now living again.  So, by his own words, the best of this Poe’s work was written about us.”  

Aimée looked up again.  She had not heard this theory before, but she nodded and smiled.

Reflections

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!


Shades of Difference

Red, the color of blood, of course.  It was a vampire’s favorite color, but, just as a Frenchwoman doesn’t drink just wine, so too the New Orleanian vampiresses, les filles à les cassettes, expressed their fondness for shades of red.  Crimson, for instance — arguments ensued over whether or why it was better than scarlet.  Yvonne had a special fondness for pink, her poetic mind searching for tiny variants — highlights, if one will — in its soothing paleness.  Lo preferred mauve, or even maroon, but in a fashion sense, noting their contrast to her pale skin, her luxurious blonde hair.  “Just red,” she would maintain, “is vulgar.  Too flashy.” 

Others agreed, although all pointed out it was still delicious.   

What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name?  Aimée wondered.  Well her name, Aimée, meant “beloved” in English, and she’d like to think that everyone loved her.  But did they really?  

Well, she was a vampire, the first of les filles à les cassettes, the casket girls, the one who had been a vampire before — having had to flee those who would persecute her — before she discovered the group of young women just then leaving France to go to New Orleans.  This was at the orders of no less a one than King Louis XV, to found families there with the colony’s most influential men.  And who thus had become vampires themselves because of Aimée, to endure forever in youth and beauty, while they had been waiting to choose their husbands — as well as to found their own sisterhood with Aimée as its head, which continues today. 

Surely that act was deserving of love! 

But it doesn’t explain why she had had to leave France in the first place.  Why some had pursued her, hoping to do her harm. 

Who, one might then conclude, did not love Aimée. 

She sighed at that.  True, she did have her faults, a lack of patience at times being one of them.  It was a thing she had to face, to strive if she could to keep under control.  Especially, she did not suffer fools well.  

But was that not itself a result of what should be considered a virtue?  That is, her ambition, besides being loved, was to learn to better understand things — to be the opposite of a fool.  Her first husband, for instance, was chosen not just because he had wealth — this was a criterion for all les filles, that their husbands be wealthy because, in the times when they were between husbands, they had to have means to continue their lifestyles.  But back to the point, that her first husband also had been a doctor by profession, as well as in his spare time a scientist, such as science was in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. 

Aimée adored science, to learn how the world worked.  To learn about stars and such things that weren’t “fool” things, like how the Earth went around the sun and not the other way around, no matter what it looked like from the ground.  Or what happens when chemicals are mixed together.  She liked as well to learn the customs of different people, in places other than France or New Orleans — and even religion, although it was those who professed religion who often were the most prejudiced against vampires.    

She could not understand that.  That, yes, these were the ones who, in France, had pursued her!  Who even destroyed several of her companions with hammers and stakes driven through their hearts.  And yet if they truly believed in God, the creator of vampires as well as people, should they not then extol vampires instead?  

Sure, perhaps on occasion a human, or someone a human had known, might have had a bad experience with a vampire, sometime in the past.  There was, after all, the “blood thing.”  But that was no excuse!  It was not the fault of vampires that God, in His wisdom, had put blood in people — blood that vampires required to live.  Did cows and chickens, for instance, blame people because of God’s making them out of meat?  

But yes, there it was.  It was a case that some people were bigots, and Aimée, most of all, should realize that one cannot reason with bigots.  Some still persisted in saying the Earth was flat and, although Aimée could suggest experiments they might use to see it was round instead, she knew that that still would not change their minds. 

And that was something Aimée had to cope with.  To make rules, for instance, for one’s fellow filles to keep their vampirism a secret, lest they be persecuted as well.  To not tell one’s husband, but also not to use him as a blood source — rather to fake one’s own parallel aging as he lived his life out, and then as a widow to go back to France, only to return some months later in the guise of one’s own “daughter,” having been sent to France as an infant for one’s education.      

To try not to kill people, except when needed — but then were they given credit for that?  For showing restraint, even when it might be an inconvenience?  Of course in that case, restraint was a virtue in that it helped keep their existence a secret.  

If one should ask, for whatever reason, if vampires exist, to readily reply:  “Of course not — vampires are a superstition.  Only a fool would believe in vampires!”  

And Aimée, even if the beloved, had no taste for fools. 

– END –

 






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