Charlotte’s Story—August 1st, 1900
(30 Years Old)
My father has given up all hope that I shall ever marry. At exactly 3:13 this morning, I reached the age of thirty and in the span of my three decade old life, I have turned down exactly seventeen suitors who have asked for my hand in marriage. Sometimes I hear people whispering behind my back regarding my choosing
spinsterhood over the safety of having a husband. Time and time again, I find myself conveying to the members of the community that I simply have not met the right man yet. Unfortunately, my explanations do nothing to stop the meddlers from talking. Whispers of my interest in the Sapphic delights circulated for a period of time, until no one ever noticed me being intimate with a woman either. There were yet others who have implied that I might be a closeted nun. It is a preposterous notion, of course. The gossipmongers do not seem to take into account that I belong to the Episcopalian church, not to mention that I have no interest in donning a habit or living a cloistered life. Why anyone should care if I marry or not is beyond my scope of understanding anyway. If we all just left our judgements out of the equation, this world would be a happier place. On the larger scale, wars would be prevented and on a personal note, I would be left alone.
Besides, I do have a man in mind—at least in my head. I simply have not had the benefit of making his acquaintance as of yet. He is a figment of my imagination. A personage of such impeccable perfection that no real man can possibly compete. Perhaps, it is sheer folly on my part, but I have no intention of being married for the sake of marriage. I have my own income and therefore, my own independence. I do not need a companion. I am perfectly content living out my days in solitude. If that is meant to be my destiny, then so be it. But secretly I yearn for the man in my mind to make his grand entrance into my life.
Only time will tell…
My thoughts linger in my mind as I gaze at my appearance in the mirror. I am pleased with the image staring back at me. Taking into account that most would consider me middle aged, the reflection I see does not acknowledge this truth. I have the good fortune of resembling my mother. While my mother was alive, she looked younger than her years and it would seem that I have inherited this quality. I still have the appearance of a young woman of twenty-two. My porcelain skin shows no sign of age. My eyes still glisten like emeralds. I feel good in this body I have.
My general features may reflect my mother, however, I inherited my blond locks from my father. My coiffure, of course, is more feminine than his. It takes dear Isabel, a full ninety minutes just to style my hair every day in an appealing Pompadour arrangement. Curls abound and it really is lovely, but it takes an incessant amount of time for us women to be presentable. I cannot even dress myself without the assistance of my lady’s maid. At least Isabel and I can blather on until the end of time. It makes me wonder if it is the destiny of all women to simply look beautiful and chatter the days away with whatever suits us.
Regardless, of society’s dismissive thinking about women, I am grateful that I have been given an extensive education. My father’s library has certainly opened up the wonders of the world to me. My primary interests are history, philosophy and geography. I envisage myself studying at the far reaches of the world, even though it is only in my mind. These books can take me to places and to times I had never been to before. They open the doors of my mind so that I can understand how the inner workings of the world works. I may be a woman of this time, but I am still able to ponder the nuances of this existence we all share.
I not only work out my mind on a daily basis, but my body, as well. I suppose another reason for my youthful exterior is due to the fact that I play tennis on a daily basis. Running across the court for two hours a day helps to keep me fit. While my contemporaries are now on their fourth or fifth child, and filling out their waistline because of it, I have continued to maintain my figure. Perhaps that is a part of the reason why the gentlemen in society continue to ask for me to walk with them down matrimony lane. Of course, I am not blinded by the fact that it very well could be for the simple reason that I have $3500 per annum. Being the sole beneficiary of my father’s fortune certainly adds to my allure.
I may be an heiress, but I would give almost anything to have my mother, brother and sister back—even for just a day. Mamá had succumbed to the trials of birthing my twin brother and sister when I was just seven. I miss her terribly and I miss my brother and sister, the two little ones I had barely an opportunity to know. They were born small and frail. I could hold each of them in the palms of my hands. They held on to life for a mere seven days. I acted as surrogate mother to them for a week, and that was all. Three deaths in such a short period of time was almost too much to bear. I vowed I would never have children after that day. I did not want to suffer like this again. Nor did I wish to see my father suffer like he had during this time either. I would stay a virgin if necessary. And if Mr. Right did actually show up, I would learn to take precautions. Isabel knows of these things and I can simply ask her what to do. For now, I don’t need any lessons, but I hope to in the future.
My resolve remains hidden between me and my diary. My suitors are not aware that I do not wish to carry on their name. Presumably, each of them has assumed that I would naturally want to bear their children, since that is a woman’s job after all, but I have no interest in fulfilling my womanly duties. I have turned down so many men that it seems almost ridiculous than anyone else would care to try.
And yet, the gentleman callers who have knocked upon my door keep making their attempts to woo me. They have come in all age group classifications. Some have been my age. Some have been only a few years older. While others were working on acquiring their second or third wives. One man was so old that he would fall asleep mid-sentence, only to wake up when his head began to fall, making his chin hit the elegant cherry wood cane that he held upright in his hands between his legs. It was a preposterous notion for him to think that he had a chance with me. I think this may have been a practical joke on my father’s part. He stood in the corner trying to hold in his guffaw—and not succeeding very well, I might add.
After this man left, my father said, “I apologize dear daughter. I could not resist. When J.W. Farthing told me he was interested in your hand, I could not believe my ears. I was certain you would send him packing. I am glad you did.”
“Very funny, Father. Please do not bring any more men into my vicinity. I am simply not interested.”
“Yes, daughter dear. It saddens me to not have the luxury of grandchildren. However, I can see that being with any of these men simply will not suit your nature. You are too much of a rebel at heart to listen to society’s standards on marriage. You will find your own path and I am learning to be alright with that.”
The only man for me is the man I have been consumed by for the last quarter of a century. I could not tell him that, of course. He would simply scoff at this notion. I did not care though. I would wait for my knight in shining armor. Albeit, he is not really a knight. He was a well-dressed man of perhaps thirty-eight years of age. Taller than me by four inches with wavy chestnut colored hair. His eyes are piercing blue that mesmerize one’s gaze. I could fall deeply in love with his eyes alone. But it is not just his physicality that is appealing. He is a brilliant, kind and generous man who loves me passionately. Furthermore, his alluring French accent gives away that he is originally from Paris—a place I would like to visit one day. Just hearing that voice in my mind conjures up romance for me, but if I am to be truthful, it is not just about my romantic stirrings. He is self-sufficient and has no need for my money. This is the man I want and I will wait for him.
Never to reveal the words aloud, I regularly repeat them in my mind, “One day I will meet the man who will sweep me off my feet.” It has become a sort of mantra for me. A mantra that has been flowing inside of me for years. But even before that, there was a beginning. A place where it all started. The dreams began on the night of the great ball. The night that would change my life forever.
Charlotte’s Story—July 4th, 1876
(5 Years Old)
The ball will begin within three-quarters of an hour. It is this country’s centennial as a free nation and the masses are looking forward to having grand celebrations. I can already hear people carousing in the streets. Independence Day is being celebrated in all 39 states and 10 territories. My parents are having the largest social gathering in New York City, with over 500 guests who are about to arrive. Included on this list are Governor and Mrs. Samuel J. Tilden, the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the John Pierpont Morgans, the Rockefellers, and every member of society that my mother deems worthy of being a guest at her event.
In preparation for the gala, the ballroom is dressed up in all its fineries. Mamá had new wallpaper installed made from cream colored silk linen affixed with flowering trees made from metallic gold leaf. Bringing nature indoors in this manner is nothing short of exquisite.
Because of the theme of the event, Mamá chose to add pops of color emulating our country’s flag. The opulence of the patriotic reds, whites and blues, made it all the prettier. Blue silk draperies that were dyed to match the blue of the American flag exactly, flank the wall of windows that reach to the top of the high ceiling. Father says it is twenty-two feet in height and I believe him. It is a marvelous place to visit the exterior from indoors. Rain or shine this is a room with a spectacular view.
Majestic flower displays of dozens of red roses filled with blue and white wisteria are positioned upon plinths around the edges of the room. The tops of the arrangements are certainly taller than any adult, let alone me.
The paintings usually residing in the room have been replaced with heroes from the Revolutionary War. General George Washington’s portrait is centered in the most prominent position for everyone to admire. Dressed in his full military regalia, he stands next to his white horse. He is both commanding and elegant all at the same time. I wonder what it must have been like to be the man who not only led this nation to victory, he also became the first president—the Father of our Country. If only I could step through a portal in time to shake his hand.
His image is slightly higher than the other portraits of various signers of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are my personal favorites. A copy of the Declaration itself is posted as well, so that admirers can read it as they wish. My tutor has been teaching me to read for a year now and I can read some of the words. While I like the sentiment behind the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” I do indeed wonder about women and girls. I wish to be equal too.
It has been warm this summer, but luckily the humidity is almost non-existent today. A reward from God, I think. The glass doors that are centered along the wall of windows are open for this evening’s event. It not only allows the breeze to flow in to cool down the room, it allows for access to Mamá’s rose garden. Later this evening, as the sky darkens to its fullest blackened state, the guests will easily be able to amble outdoors to see the fireworks display cascading from the sky towards the gardens.
And on the other side of the room, the orchestra is setting up. Hearing the music, even from upstairs, brings such joy to my heart. I am grateful for the glorious sounds that fill all the rooms.
It is not just about the sights and the sounds, but the tastes, as well. Considering there will be such a large group of people here tonight, having a sit down meal will be impossible. However, the guests will still need to be fed. The food itself will be an artistic achievement, created by the famous chef Louis Fauchère. Having Monsieur F. in her employ was quite a feather in my mother’s cap, considering he normally never leaves his restaurant, even for just a single night. For this event, however, he made an exception. He closed down the restaurant for the evening for the first time since he opened it, bringing his staff over to our home to create his magical dishes. Every lady of society knew that he would be here. Gossip certainly floats around town and it is hard to keep anything a secret. My governess says that the guests are envious of my mother’s power of persuasion. According to her, everyone has been clamoring to see what The Crazy Frenchman will create tonight.
I want to take a peek for myself. While the decorations have been up for a week, the food arrived only today. My governess has left the room for a moment, which means that I have the perfect opportunity to sneak downstairs to see how it all looks.
In the foyer a grand fountain made from five tiers of Mamá’s best sterling is staged in the center of the room. It freely flows with the best champagne—at least that is what Father says about it. The intricately molded silver looks as though it is made with various roses. It is a piece of art unto itself, belonging in a great museum, but for the moment, I get the pleasure of enjoying it myself. It covers several feet of a circular table, so one should hope there will be enough champagne for all the grown-ups to drink.
I meander from one room to another. A long table fills one of the walls with its oceanic theme. White linen drapes over the buffet, while shimmering blue glass stones carefully cover up the entire table top, mimicking the color of water. Over the glass stones rest various large trays that are carved from ice. Each of them are lined with sardines at its circular edge, much like the rays emanating from the sun or the petals of a daisy shooting out from its flower head. At the centers of each tray sits dozens of raw oysters, along with their shells, just waiting to be consumed. Both ends of the table are flanked with its own treasure chest pouring out gold bobbles, as well as the largest shrimp I have ever seen. Crystal candle holders of various sizes are spread out across the table with coordinating red, white or blue candles filling them. And for the pièce de résistance, a mermaid ice sculpture gives the impression she is floating at the table’s center. She appears to be giving her approval to the display. I do not even care for seafood, but one cannot help but be amazed by Monsieur F.’s artistry.
I stroll into the kitchen to see what else is being prepared. Servers in their black suits have various trays filled with sweetbreads served on small canapes, radishes cut in the shape of roses, steak tartare, caviar, stuffed mushroom caps, and the list goes on.
After a time, I lose interest in the goings on of the kitchen and head back to the foyer and through to the formal dining room. The dining table has been removed in order to make way for standing guests. While chairs align the walls, the center of the room shows off another round table. This one is covered in red silk and displays all my favorites. According to Mamá, I have the sweetest tooth in America and I can sniff out a sugary treat a mile away. At the center of the table, mouth-watering petit fours are placed together like a puzzle in the shape of the American flag. Surrounding it are various fruited tarts of strawberries, and blueberries, delicious truffles, cream puffs and chocolate and vanilla mini-éclairs. The site is almost too much for my young mind to bear, I want a piece of everything! I cannot help but sneak out a few of the sugary treats.
While I am currently alone, soon the clanging of glasses, laughter, dining, music, dancing and all other forms of merriment will begin, but before the festivities commence, I need to creep back upstairs before I am caught. I make it up only four steps, before I hear the summons of Mamá.
“Charlotte? What are you doing young lady?”
I had difficulty explaining at that very moment, since my mouth was filled the most decadent and creamy éclair. I raised my hand to make my point, but it was filled with even more desserts, so I quickly hid the evidence behind my back. Mamá had the grace of not mentioning the food, but she did lovingly chide me just the same.
“As you are still a child, Charlotte, you must go to bed early. You are only five years old, but in a few years’ time you will be all grown up and at that point, you will be able to join in on the festivities.”
In between her words, she showered me with hugs and kisses. No matter what I did to annoy her, she still loved me.
By then I had swallowed what was in my mouth so that I could take a stand. “But Mamá, I am very nearly almost six!”
My mother grinned at me. She always appreciated the fact that I tried to emulate her power of persuasion. But on this night, I would not win.
“Indeed you are. I stand corrected. But my darling daughter, you must have your rest. There will be other parties for you to attend in the future.”
She gave me more hugs and more kisses and lightly tapped my bottom in order to guide me upstairs.
I obeyed and went to my room. I put on my nightdress, and climbed the chair in order to turn down the gas lantern that sits on top of my chest of drawers. I may be dressed for sleep, Mamá, but I am not going to go to bed! I will just have to wait, with much anticipation, for Elizabeth, my governess, to go to her own room before I can get up to my shenanigans. Then I can have a small soiree of my own. No one but perhaps God and the angels are able to hear my thoughts, but I am determined to fulfill my night of playing. Even if I am the only one on Earth who knows about it.
The minutes seemed like hours, but eventually the orchestra begins playing a waltz, as the first carriage arrives and Elizabeth heads for her own room. I can hear Jeeves (yes, we actually have a butler named Jeeves) downstairs announcing their arrival.
“The Honorable Mr. and Mrs. William H. Wickham.”
The mayor and his wife are first to arrive. Elizabeth hadn’t quite made it out the door, so I missed seeing what they were wearing. They visited father and mother often, so I know who they are. I could imagine that she had some large feather sticking out of her head. That woman certainly liked to display her feathers!
After their announcement, I was free to head to my window. I tiptoed, of course, so that Elizabeth wouldn’t hear me. After softly gliding onto the pink cushioned bench that rested under the window, I set my eyes on the task at hand. Being on the second floor, I had the perfect view of the spectacle below. I wished to gaze upon the beautiful frocks. An abundance of laces and shimmering silks of all colors showed off corseted figures. Both men and women wore gloves, though the men’s version always stopped at their wrists, while the ladies’ gloves ran up past their elbows. The men looked smart in their dark breeches, polished black leather boots, white vests and formal jackets.
However, the women always had the edge in looking more glamourous in their attire. Their hairstyles alone made them more interesting to gaze at. With their hair pulled up in elaborate styles, some adorned with flowers, others with jeweled combs and a few with the plumage of some bird or another, allowed for them to be the center of attention. All the ladies’ necks, ears and wrists proudly adorned various pearls, diamonds, sapphires or other rare gems. Some necklines are squared. Some are curved. Some women have bouffant sleeves, while the commonality between each of the dresses is that they are inevitably tied with a beautiful ribbon. The skirts are fitted over the bustles with a train that are new to fashion. With these dresses, each lady needed help to exit their respective carriage. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to wear one of those fabulous dresses.
After the guests arrive, it is not long before the outside is brightly lit with all the colors of the fireworks exploding in the sky. Blasts of red, white and blue dance in the air accompanied by the many oohs and aahs of the bystanders. The party goers observe the fireworks from the back end of the house. So no one witnessed me peering out of the front. As for me, I am mesmerized by every detail. The colorful little stars shower from the sky as I reach my arm out my bedroom window to try to catch one. They always allude me, but I have fun in the attempt nonetheless.
After many squeals of delight, the fireworks end. I decide to move on to other adventures. I inch each side of my chair away from my desk in order to bring it closer to the shelf that is simply too high for me to reach. This is nothing new for me. I move my chair all the time so that I may pull down my favorite doll, Katherine. She is a blue eyed, porcelain skin beauty. She wears a pink and white lace dress and a matching pink silk bow around her waist and in her hair. Mamá never lets me play with her as she doesn’t want me to break her fragile face. But I am always careful with her. And what Mamá does not know will not hurt her. I bring her back to my window bench and pick her up over my head.
Katherine’s hair is long and blonde and is curled in piles that are held up by the pink ribbon. When I look at Katherine, I am reminded of the main character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—which happens to be my very favorite book! While Katherine reminds me of this story, Mamá always tells me that I am the one who looks like Alice. My long hair extends to my waist just like hers does and Mamá adorns my locks with ribbons that I like very much indeed. Maybe one day I can go on an adventure like Alice does.
I lifted Katherine up again and spun atop my bench. That is when I saw him standing at the other corner of my room. My angel had appeared just like that.
“Hello. I have never seen a golden light surrounding anyone before, but it certainly surrounds you. I do have one question, though. Where are your wings?” I asked.
He had a funny way of talking, but I still seemed to understand him.
“Yes, you are an angel, are you not, and angels are supposed to have wings.”
My angel grinned. His smile along with his chestnut colored hair and his piercing blue eyes, not to mention the almost blinding golden light, all caught my attention. “You arrr right. Some angels do have wings. While uzzers do not. I am one of zee uzzers. I have to earn my wings, wheech takes uh while.”
“I see. How do you earn your wings?”
“I show God zat I can perform many great deeds and when He deems me wurzzy, I receive a set of weengs.”
I do not know why I knew that zat meant that, wurzzy meant worthy, and uzzers meant others, but I did.
“Excellent! I hope I can perform many great deeds and earn my wings in the future!”
“Indeed, I am certain that you weel.”
“In the meantime, maybe you can start earning your wings right now. I need a favor from you and you are just in time. I need to return Katherine to the top shelf before my mother realizes she is gone. If you do it, I will not have to climb my chair.”
“I would be most delighted, mademoiselle. Where does this enchanting doll of yours go?”
“Over there. No. A little more to the right. Yes. That is perfect. Thank you kindly, dear angel.”
“You are most welcome, charming child. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jean-Pierre Chevalier.”
Jean-Pierre bowed his head and waived his hand around the front of his body.
“You are speaking like no one else I know. Where are you from? I mean I know you are from Heaven, but are their different countries there?”
“I am taking uh sabbatical from Heaven. I was actually born in Paris (he pronounced it Pair-ee), but I arrived in New York City just today.”
“I am from New York and I have never been to Paris, but someday I would like to go there.”
“Ah, it is a beautiful place, feelled with many wonders. Beautiful buildings zat remind me of Heaven. Cobblestone roads zat have bored the weight of thousands of horses and pedestrians for centuries. Éclairs zat are filled wit so much cream eet looks and tastes like Heaven itself. There is uhn endless amount of art that feel every wall inside. The City of Light is what they call eet and for good reason. At night zee lights feel zee street, so you never lose your way.”
“Oh, like the fireworks tonight?”
“Yes, very much like zat.”
I did not know this angel. It was my first time seeing him, yet somehow I knew not to be afraid. He was my new friend. I knew instinctively he was good. He was my angel, after all! I was, however, curious how he was able to enter into my room unnoticed as I had not heard the door open and he certainly could not have climbed through the window, since I was there for almost the entire evening.
“I am Charlotte Marie Chantilly.”
“Ah, you are French, non?”
“I am American, but my great-great-grandfather was from France. He came over to help with the Revolution. How did you get in here?”
“I am an angel remember? I can vanish into zeen air.”
“Really? Please, let me see,” I begged.
With another flourish of his right arm, he waived it and said, “Voila.”
And he was gone.
A moment later he reappeared in another part of the room. He was an angel!
Charlotte’s Story—December 24th, 1880
(10 Years Old)
Santa was about to arrive. Or at least, that is what Father told me in order to persuade me to go to bed without argument. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I knew who Santa really was. Nevertheless, I submitted to the pretense that "Santa" was on his way and said good night to all before heading up the garland-decorated stairway to my room.
I knew in advance that in the morning I would awaken to the aroma of hot cakes wafting to my nose. Breakfast would be a hearty feast filled with sausages, ham, oranges and boiled eggs. There would also be some sort of fish dish. Why Father needed to add fish to a perfectly good meal, I would never know. He would always tell me I must try it, but when he was not looking, I would feed it to Louisa May Alcott—my dog, not the author. I named our golden retriever Louisa May Alcott because I had read Little Women four times. I wanted to be Jo when I grew up. She was independent and she didn't just sit around all day. She was a writer!
Of course dreaming of breakfast wasn't the only reason I wanted to go to my room. Jean-Pierre is likely to be there soon. Sharing the happenings of my day with my angel became our nightly ritual. I often thought it was strange that no one ever heard us, no matter if we whispered or if we howled with laughter. No one ever came running into my room. Maybe he had another angel power to block out noise that I did not know about.
I noticed Katherine the doll sitting atop my shelf. I rarely played with her anymore. I was more interested in my atlas and reading stories of wonderful adventures than playing with dolls. From time to time I brought her down. She was a reminder of motherhood and my own mother, I suppose. With the exception of the small black spot on the back of her dress left from the ink that flew through the air from the fountain pen I flicked in the direction of Jean-Pierre's voice when he popped in the room and startled me, she looked exactly the same. Mamá never did notice the tiny blemish on the white dress. I wish she had. She had been gone for three years now. I missed her. I would rather she find the black spot and berate me for my carelessness than be gone forever, never to kiss me again. Melancholy filled me as thoughts of her filled my mind.
"Your hair is lovely tonight," Jean-Pierre said.
My sadness instantly lifted when I heard the familiar voice. As for my hair, Isabel decided that I could no longer wear it down. I was becoming a young lady, she said, so it was time to a hair style that was befitting of my age. I argued that I was too young to wear my hair on top of my head, so a compromise was made. She curled the top of my head with tongs and the rest of my hair was affixed into a loose plait. On special occasions, she slipped flowers into my hair. For Christmas Eve, holly was gingerly placed into the braid.
"Thank you!" I gushed. I was rather pleased with this new hairstyle myself and to be complimented from my angel solidified that this new coiffure was going to be with me for a while.
"How wuz your Christmas Eve?"
"Oh it was delightful! Father and I took a stroll through Central Park. There were many performers there today. Musicians, a juggler and even a fire thrower. It was fantastic!"
My voice filled the room with enthusiasm. Jean-Pierre smiled.
"How was my favorite angel's day?" I asked.
"For zee holiday, I felt compelled to go to church."
"St. Antonee of Padua."
"But everyone speaks Italian there. Did you understand anyone?"
"Zee priest spoke een Latin and I understood heem perfectly. As for Italian, I speak zat too. I understood zee parishioners perfectly well."
"You could have attended our church with us, you know."
"Thank you for your kind offer, but St. Antonee reminded me of home. Eets circular window ees reminiscent to zee window een Notre Dame een Paris. While I wuz there, I revisited my youth een my mind."
"You had a youth? You were not simply a fully formed angel?"
A giggle escaped him before composing himself.
"I had a youth. Even angels have to grow up."
"You know Jean-Pierre, when I grow up, I am going to marry you."
He couldn’t help but giggle at my childhood adoration.
"Well, eef that were to happen, eet would not be for many more years. You might be tired of me by then.
"No, I shall never tire of you," I promised.
Charlotte’s Story—August 1st, 1886
(16 Years Old)
My debutante ball is tonight. Most of my friends are excited for their cotillions, but I am forlorn. Jean-Pierre says he cannot come.
"Why ever not?" I demand.
"No other human may zee me," he explains.
My anger will not subside. I want him there with me. Why must we always hide in this room? This room that harkens back to my childhood. Katherine still sits on top of her shelf, albeit she is now tipping over slightly. I haven't reached for her in years so she is rarely straightened back into the proper position. My bedroom is bursting with books and has become too small for my liking. Why we cannot ever leave the confines of this space I will never understand. It is beginning to feel more like a prison than a haven.
I feel that he understands this too.
"You are tired, my dear," he says.
And suddenly as though a magic wand has been waved above me, I yearn for a nap. I lay down on my bed for a brief respite before I need to get ready for my fete. A good idea, I think, considering I will be up very late this evening for my party. I lie down my bed for a short rest. I close my eyes and begin the journey towards sleep.
Before falling completely under the spell of sleep, I hear a distant voice echo in my mind.
"It wuz just a dream," the man's voice said. "Only a dream.”
The voice begins to fade now, but I still hear it softly whispering, “Remember zee dream. Never forget zee dream, but eet wuz all a dream."
Charlotte’s Story—August 1st, 1900
(30 Years Old)
My thirtieth birthday has arrived. It is hard to believe that I have reached this milestone so quickly. So much has happened in my life—and yet something is still missing. Where is he? Regardless of my lonely heart, this was a time of celebration. A gathering is to be had filled with friends, cousins, aunts and uncles, and of course my father. All will be in attendance this evening.
As the day progresses, Isabel made sure to have me resplendent for my party. These days my favorite color is sage, so I chose a dress showing off this hue. Its luxurious silk is decorated with a jacquard print that shows off my corseted waistline perfectly. The neckline is squared at the bust, while the sleeves are wisps of soft ecru colored lace that flow over my shoulders down to my elbow. The train of my dress reaches three feet behind me and I feel the quintessence of subtle elegance.
The music begins playing and the guests arrive at a steady pace. Isabel admonishes me for wanting to go down early.
“You must wait until all your guests arrive, before making your grand entrance.”
“Yes, Mother,” I jovially snicker.
I suppose that after Mamá passed away, she had indeed taken up the ranks of a second mother for me, and I am always grateful for her counsel.
When I finally made it downstairs, the party was in full momentum. Everyone turned as I glided down the grand stairwell. It is as though time has stopped for just a few moments. The only one moving through it was me. The guests were all at a standstill. I was not sure if I should run back in my room and hide or force my way down through the silence. That is when it happened. The applause began whirring around the room and I realized that my ensemble was a great success.
I let out a sigh of relief. After taking in a fresh breath, I noticed everyone else in their own fineries. And at the left side of the room, a long table showed off elegantly wrapped gifts, mostly in my favorite colors of sage, teal and purple. Later I would discover the packages were filled with a sequined handbag, butterfly earrings, a gold art nouveau stickpin, a painted compote, and many leather bound books by great writers such as Gustave Flaubert, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. Books are my passion and I am grateful to receive them all.
Monsieur F. consented to cater this party. For the second time, he left his restaurant for the night. Earlier in the day, he admitted to me that he had a secret crush on my mother and for the daughter of that great woman, he was only too happy to oblige my guests with the perfect display of food. I, of course, was drawn to the dessert. The cake is a new concoction called Devil’s Chocolate, which is a dark chocolate cake topped and filled with more chocolate in the form of frosting. Its very name conjures up its sinful taste. Sugary pink roses that look like they were plucked from the garden, dress the cake. Monsieur F. knows they are my favorite flower and he made sure to find a way to invent an edible version just for me.
After dining on the decadent dessert and opening all my packages, I found myself surrounded by five eligible men, all of distinction. There was a son of an oil tycoon that recently wrote a book about a wizard living in some place called Oz I think. Joining him were two architects that were working on a skyscraper for my father, a financial advisor who also worked for my father, and an employee of his bank. I knew and liked all of them and laughed at each of their jokes. Admittedly, I coyly flirted with all of them, letting each one feel as though he was the most important person in the room, but secretly it felt wrong somehow. As though these men should be replaced by only one. However, at my age, maybe it just was not meant to be.
As a slight feeling of despair filled my thoughts, in an instant they were gone. It was as though someone snapped his fingers and all the worries of my life vanished in the blink of an eye. Literally, something in the air changed. I viscerally felt a presence—a presence that was familiar and one that I had not felt in a long time. Even before I saw him, I knew my angel was in the room with me. I had dreamed him into existence. He was real!
The room once again became quiet, as my guests parted ways to make room for this unknown man. He strides into the ballroom as though he has been living here for years. He is a man on a mission. He is clearly here for me. He reaches my vicinity and in one flourish, he removes his hat from his head, all while he stares directly into my eyes. Those eyes were like magnets and I was being drawn into them. If the eyes are the windows to the soul then I could almost see into his.
He took my hand in his and with a heavy French accent he said, “Bon soir, mademoiselle. And Joyeux Anniversaire ! Happy Berzzday. May I have zeez waltz?”
My dance card told me I was scheduled to dance with one of the architects next, but that did not matter. Everyone else in the room faded into the background. My breath was taken away and I nodded my head and smiled before I somehow managed to get out the words accepting his request. “I would be delighted,” I breathily said.
For the second time in one evening the room was at a standstill. All eyes were on us. I am certain the onlookers all wondered who this man was and why he had this effect on me.
We danced through the ballroom and into the courtyard. With the exception of all the various sets of eyes peering out the windows to watch us, we were alone. However, the onlookers seemed to be as mesmerized as I was. I could feel their collective gaze upon us, but I did not allow myself to be bothered by it.
The moon shone over the landscape, giving us enough light to see. My breathing became heavy as we gazed into each other’s eyes. Those eyes were like magnets pulling me into the depths of his being. Our bodies were pressed closely together and he leaned down in order to kiss me. It is as though a thousand years were tightly pressed in the frame of those few seconds. I was about to have my first kiss! I had been all these long years for this man—and now it was actually going to happen.
He brushed my lips before lingering his kisses on the right side of my neck. I allowed him to do so as I leaned my head slightly in the other direction, giving him more room. We were not allowed to do this in mixed company, and yet here I was participating just the same.
…That is when I felt it.
Two small punctures ripped open by the strength of his teeth. I did not understand. A few moments ago, his smile displayed a beautiful, normal, set of teeth, but now two canine fangs had grown in the exact position needed to leave his mark on my neck. I fell into a daze, but before I lost consciousness, I sensed him clasping my body tightly so I would not fall to the ground.
The next time I woke up, I was across the country in San Francisco.
Charlotte’s Story—August 1st, 2000
(130 Years Old)
One hundred years have passed since that fateful night and I haven’t aged a single day. My friends comment on how young I look. If they only knew.
A lot has happened during the last century. I have seen stock market crashes, and two world wars, not to mention a Cold War. Tension escalated to great heights during this time, where simply the threat of an actual confrontation had the general population scared that a nuclear attack on both sides would end us all. I have borne witness to good things like women earning the right to vote, while the granddaughters of those early suffragettes burned bras in the streets. The Women’s Movement in the sixties helped to give women, if not a total equal footing, at least it was a giant leap in the right direction. We still have some work to do with regards to equal pay. I have seen protests and race riots. I have seen good men striving for change for the benefit of all of mankind only to be assassinated while we watched on TV. I have seen the invention of modern marvels from the automobile to space ships. When we landed on the Moon, I thought it couldn’t get much better than that. Maybe we all will live on that great satellite in the sky someday. Okay, maybe it will take a few generations to get there, but I have time.
What fascinates me most, is that during the Middle Ages, there was so little change. At least not with regards to the general population. If a time traveler popped into the year 490 or the year 1290, he’d see much of the same conditions. But these days, things change so quickly it’s almost hard to keep up. The world has gone through an unprecedented growth spurt, and I have had the pleasure of baring witness to it all—and having a lot of fun while doing it—at least for the most part.
I have met many wonderful people over the years. I have attended many parties. I have seen many sites—at least around here. Jean-Pierre told me all those many years ago that no other human could see him, but that was not true. That is what he told me so that he didn’t have to explain himself to my father. He had stopped aging at 38 and I was only 16 at the time. I understood his reasoning, even though I didn’t like it much at the time.
I have lived in San Francisco for the last century. I still love to read, write and absorb the pages of my atlas. I still haven’t made it to Paris yet. However, in Northern California, there is much to appreciate. There are trees that are not only hundreds of years old, they also reach to the heavens like any skyscraper. An ocean sits just outside my living room window and I can imagine it meeting distant shores on the other side of the world. From my view, it merges the skyline with terra firma and has been here even longer than any of us vampires. We have mountains that embody strength and beaches which show how change is inevitable. Even the land breaks down to tiny little particles. With so much beauty to enjoy, one could say that overall, it has been a good hundred years.
That being said, I don’t want to give the impression that life has only been a bed of roses. There have certainly been a fair share of thorns—most particularly in the last ten years. While I adore everyone in our small community, there are too many secrets they are not willing to share with me. Did I do something wrong? Do they think I am too young? I haven’t the faintest idea. For example, has anyone bothered to tell me why we are vampires? No. Has Jean-Pierre ever mentioned why he hasn’t kissed me since that night? No. A century is a long time to wait for a second kiss, let me tell you.
While I am in the dark about a lot of my life’s little mysteries, there are some things I do know. Sadly, I think it’s safe to say that vampires have been misunderstood. What people have read in books and seen in film have been given a false impression. There is actually a rumor floating around in the vampire community, that I tend to believe is true. Bram Stoker, the one who originated the first tale of vampires, actually knew a vampire. That’s where he got is information. However, when the vampire in question did not return his affections, he twisted his story to suit his revenge. Ever since, we have been placed in the category of monsters. Frankly, this is a gross miscarriage of justice, which means our true identities must remain hidden from the outside world. I can mingle with mortals. I simply can’t tell them what I really am. So, we hide in plain sight.
We don’t live in coffins either, nor do we restrict our activities to the darkness of night. Some of us have jobs. I myself worked in a shop selling clothing in the late seventies and in the eighties I sold real estate for a while. When I became bored with that, I chose a more relaxing occupation, by working in one of the luxury spas here in town. Occasionally, I show off my writing prowess, by sending a piece to the San Francisco Chronicle or the local magazines. It has been fun. I don’t have to work. Somehow we always seem to have an ample supply of funds. Not that I know why, of course. However, we do live in a large home in Pacific Heights with all the latest amenities. But I like to get out and mingle. Seeing different faces every day is one of the great joys of my life.
So yes, we mix outside of our group. I have plenty of human friends. They simply don’t know the full story about me. I never show off my fangs. The truth of the matter is that I don’t even know how to do so, even if I wanted to. It’s not like I go around sucking people’s blood or anything. We don’t even drink blood. That was a myth that Mr. Stoker invented. That would be ridiculous and frankly disturbing. In fact, the only time I have seen any fangs whatsoever was on my thirtieth birthday. Jean-Pierre’s elongated teeth came into full view for a mere few seconds and I haven’t seen a single one since.
We’ve never discussed that night. More to the point, he will not discuss that night. I have all but given up trying to find out why on that singular occasion his fangs came out and why none of the rest of us have ever shown ours. Supposedly we all have them, but I have as of yet to bear witness to any of them.
As far as the world is concerned, we have normal teeth. However, I must stay hidden in the proverbial closet. Those in the general population can’t know who I truly am. But just to set the record straight, I do go out during the day time. Garlic doesn’t ward us off. In fact, I never met an Italian dish I didn’t like, the more garlic the better. And as far as the stake in the heart thing is concerned, I have never heard of a piece of wood of any kind having some special power of hurting any of us—whether it’s through the heart or otherwise.
What makes us different than the human population is that we are immortal. Jean-Pierre is one hundred and eight years older than I am. While George, the elder statesman in our group of five was born, as he says, in the year of our Lord 482. So, yea, we live a long time. Well, most of us do anyway.
I actually knew a vampire who died. She lived with us in our little commune for thirty-five years. Her name was Peggy Sue and she was transformed in 1955. In those days, her silky blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Like me, she had a fair complexion and at 5’4 stood two inches shorter than I do. People often mistook us as sisters and it wasn’t just because of the way we looked. She was like a little sister to me. I hadn’t had siblings in a long time and having Peggy Sue around was a blessing for me. We chatted and laughed much like Isabel and I used to do. It saddens me that I can’t see either of my old friends anymore.
All I know, is that one day after having a picnic with Jonathon, Peggy Sue stormed into the house crying. After a few minutes of trying to console her, she told me to back off. Normally, she came to me with all her problems, but this was somehow different. She clearly was in physical pain. Her body began to contort. The initial sign was with her hands. They clasped as though they were holding onto a ball, but the only thing she was clasping onto was thin air. Her shoulders hunched over, while her knees buckled in unison. Within seconds, she writhed in pain on the floor.
“Peggy Sue! Peggy Sue! What is the matter? Help! Helllllp!”
My screams called the rest of our group to gather in our living space. That is when Jonathon raced through the front door. He had clearly been chasing Peggy Sue. To say that he looked disheveled would have been an understatement. He normally is the epitome of fastidiousness--tall, elegant, and well spoken. Yet on this day, even his 6’2 frame somehow appeared to be shortened, as though the air was let out of him. His normally perfectly coiffed brown hair that is trimmed short with precision around his ears was rumpled as though he just woke up from a full night’s sleep. His shirt was untucked, and buttoned incorrectly, while the hems of his pants and his barely laced shoes looked like they had been dragged through the mud. His facial expression matched his bedraggled attire. He looked terrified. His composure was nowhere to be seen. This was the sight of a vulnerable man.
I knew he loved Peggy Sue. Though, according to her, they only kissed on the night she was transformed too. Regardless, when she wasn’t with me, she was with him and it was obvious he wanted to be by her side. But before he could reach her, George held him back. Jonathon fought hard against George’s grasp, but he could not pull away.
“Let me go old man!” Jonathon pleaded.
“There is nothing you can do. There’s nothing any of us can do. It’s too late. You know that.”
As empathetic as George was to Jonathon’s plight, he clearly wanted to protect him.
“No! Let me be with her!”
“I cannot. You know what will happen next.”
“PEGGY SUE!!! PEGGY SUE!!! I LOVE YOU!!”
I would like to think she heard him, but I am not certain that is the case. By this time her bellows were as a loud as a lion’s roar with a microphone attached.
I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to do something—anything. Jean-Pierre pulled my head to his chest and wrapped his arms tightly around me, ostensibly so that I would not witness what was to come next. That’s when I heard it. A loud bang—an exploding sound that would have been deafening to anyone, let alone to the sensitive ears of a vampire. The shrieks coming from the now group of five could have been heard at several miles away if it wasn’t for the sound-proofing we have in our home.
Even so, no one ever heard us. No one outside our home ever knew. To them, Peggy Sue packed up to go live in the Mid-West with her parents in their last days. They didn’t realize she would never come back.
When I gathered the courage to pull away from Jean-Pierre’s chest, I saw what remained of my dear friend. Little pieces of her floated around the room. Peggy Sue was no more. Her body was gone.
A plaintive cry emanated from within me that held all the years of sorrow in one wail. This was just the last straw. I hadn’t cried in so long and now it poured out of me. My mother was gone, and now my father too. My brother and sister and the many friends I have had back throughout the years were long since deceased, as well. And Jean-Pierre hasn’t made any sort of intimate advance towards me in all this time. I let go of Jean-Pierre’s grasp and fell to my knees. I sobbed for what felt like days.
That was ten years ago. No one would explain. I did not understand. It was just swept under the rug as though it never happened.
But it did happen. And there were changes. A somber mood spread though our home like a cancer attacking a sickened body.
Jonathon became inconsolable. He answered questions when they were presented to him, but other than that, he barely uttered a word. He may have been in the room with us, but it was though his spirit was somewhere else. An empty corporeal shell was all that remained. He just wallowed in self-pity, as though this event were his fault, but how could that be?
After several weeks, I confronted Jean-Pierre and as usual, he brushed the issue aside. Why wouldn’t he tell me? Moreover, why won’t he touch me? I told him that I loved him, but he did not say anything in return. He just apologized and ran away.
As a result, I collapsed. In fact, I did more than that. I fell ill. Sicker than I had ever been in my life. The thing is that this shouldn’t have happened. No human illness should have been able to conquer me. And yet it did all the same. I spent several weeks that turned into months, in bed. My fever reached elevated heights of 108 degrees. No mortal would have been able to withstand this intensity for days, let alone for the months that I did. During this time, delirium ran its course though my veins. I have memories that are more like flashes of people talking above me, but that is all. Martha, our matriarch and George’s wife, tells me that I very nearly died myself. But how is that possible? I very nearly died and Peggy Sue did die. To this day, it doesn’t make sense to me.
“But we are immortal. How can that be?”
I questioned our little group, but no one would say a word. Another secret that I didn’t know the answer to.
I may have overcome my illness, but afterwards, I couldn’t bring myself to speak to Jean-Pierre. Not once. If necessary, I spoke through Martha to get a message to him, but even that was rare. We lived in the same household, but I treated him as though he did not exist. The silent treatment has been going on for the last ten years and I have had enough—enough of it all. The thorns have overrun the rose bush and I am ready to cut them loose.
While I was happy to be here for the first ninety years, things have changed. A melancholy sits just under the surface. I am the reader and the writer. I am the one interested in the inner workings of the Universe. I do not fare well having all these secrets lying around.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to go off on my own. I made my decision. After this evening’s celebration, I would leave this house forever. I couldn’t exactly stay with Jean-Pierre anymore. It was too painful. He is the love of my life. The only one I ever kissed. I am certain he feels the same way too, but he shuns me. The ten years of silence is killing me. I see him staring at me from behind his newspaper. He thinks I don’t notice his head peeking out from behind, but I do. His eyes always look like a sad puppy’s. And as per usual, he won’t explain.
Since tonight is my big party, celebrating my hundred years as a vampire, I will wait. Martha has gone through so much trouble, I don’t want to disappoint her. Vampires from around the state are joining us. The first hundred years for a vampire is like a sweet 16 party in human cultures. I barely remember my own sweet 16. It felt as though I was half-asleep. The sights and the sounds were there, but somehow distant. So, for this coming of age party, I wanted to be fully present. And Martha wanted it to be special. For her I will stay. George may be the oldest in our group, but it is his wife, Martha, that rules the roost. She runs the household with tight, albeit loving reigns.
Martha stopped aging at 44 in the year 1313. While that is middle age for us, back in her day, she would have been considered an old woman. She still wears her grey hair in a loose fitting bun. Her clothing may have changed over the years, but I doubt her hair ever has. She is a little on the plump side, but that just gives more of her to hug. We all adore her, but at the same time we accept “Martha’s Law”—that’s what we all call her rules and regulations. She is yet another mother figure for me in my long life. But even children need to break free from the reigns of their parents.
So, after the party is over. I will feign sleep and then in the early hours of the morning, before anyone else awakens, I plan to make my escape. Not that I am a captive here in any way. I just mean I plan to escape the old memories. I love everyone here, but I cannot face them any longer under these conditions. I will leave a letter and be on my way.
…That was the plan anyway. However, life has a funny way of getting in the way of our plans.
I slipped into my cocktail dress. I bought it specifically for the occasion. It is a short, above the knee, cranberry-red satiny-silk number with black tulle overlay. I laugh at the irony of the red. Perhaps, I unconsciously bought that hue as an homage to the color of blood—that stuff Mr. Stoker says we are supposed to drink in order to stay alive. Hah! What a laugh! After the giggles die down, I continue scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror. (Yes, vampires can see their reflections in the mirror too). Thin spaghetti straps hold the two fitted pieces of fabric in place. The zipper is hidden on the side, which makes it especially easy to put on. Where I once needed the help of a lady’s maid to put myself together, now I can get dressed all by myself. Another wonder of the modern world.
My goodness, how times have changed. In my early life, I couldn’t wait to don a fitted corset and a long flowing gown. Now, I can’t even imagine it. For centuries, it was considered lude to show off a lady’s ankle, however these days we ladies show off not only our ankles, but a whole lot of skin, as well—and no one bothers to bat an eye over it. I certainly do not miss the Victorian puritanism of my youth.
I continue reminiscing on little things. Along with the clothing styles, even our language has transformed. We have simply become more casual in our tone. Where I once never dreamed of contracted my words from ‘there is’ to ‘there’s’ or ‘I am’ to ‘I’m,’ now I do it all the time, without even noticing. Moreover, slang has become the norm. Three generations of people use the word ‘cool’ these days. ‘That movie is cool.’ ‘That jacket is so cool.’ Back in the fifties it would have been James Dean who embodied the essence of cool. In the nineties it would have been Kurt Cobain. It looks like that word may be here to stay. Slang has become a part of our lexicon. It’s almost as though we have stopped thinking of it as slang in the first place.
I finish getting ready. I throw on a pair of black strappy three inch Manolo Blahnik’s for good measure and add the beautiful ruby drop earrings that were left in my room. Did he leave them for me? At least for now, that remains a mystery.
The 100th anniversary of one’s transformation is something that every vampire looks forward to. Those who have been immortal longer than me speak of it often, and they start talking about it almost from the beginning of one’s transformation. Of course, they won’t elaborate on what the festivities will entail, but a party is a party. I am happy to be attending and I am happy to be the center of attention. One last hoorah with this group who has become my family.
Even from my room, I can hear the doorbell ring again and again and again. Apparently, it is customary to have 100 in attendance as a symbol for each year of one’s transformed life. So, I expect to hear that doorbell quite a lot this evening. While I want to run downstairs to see what’s happening, I think of Isabel reprimanding me for wanting to go downstairs to meet my guests early. She may be long gone, but her memory lives on inside of me. Besides, between her and Martha’s tutelage, I forego my urge for impatience by sitting in my chair. I will just wait—and I will be okay with it. One of Martha’s Laws is to never be late, never be early, and arrive just on time. As such, I await until the grandfather clock tolls its resonant eight bells.
As the last chime rings, I make my way down the stairs. The bustling room ceases to exist and in its place I hear only the sound of a waterfall that Martha set up. Talk about déjà vu happening here. Just like a hundred years ago at another birthday of mine, everyone drew their gaze at me in silence. I wondered if I should continue on or if it might better to turn around and run for the hills. Before I chose the latter, the applause broke out into the room. I could not believe my ears. It was almost like being at a rock concert. A good start for my Centennial Celebration.
I assumed that we would only have passed hors d’oeuvres since there were going to be so many of us. A seated meal, simply was not going to work in this space. Even our large home could not accommodate that many tables and chairs. However, I was about to find out that I was mistaken.
Jean-Pierre waited for me at the bottom of the stairwell. He held out his hand, presumably in the hopes that I would place my hand inside his own. While the others followed behind us in a procession, Jean-Pierre guided me at the head of the queue down the corridor leading to George’s office. I liked this space. Its sage green walls highlighted the art that had been accrued from this group over the centuries. From early Christian to Pop Art, this area had it all. At the back wall, one of the many Rembrandt self-portraits was lit by a single bulb, amplifying its already haunting quality. We reached the painted canvas and Jean-Pierre stopped to smile at me. After all this time, he wants to have an intimate moment—now—in front of all these people. What’s this guy’s problem? Does he need an audience? Even so, I smiled in return, and with that smile a small bit of anger that I had been holding onto for so long was released.
He placed his right hand at the lowest part of my back and lifted his left hand to the light fixture. A button that I never noticed before now prominently stood out for me to see. He pressed it and a whole world opened up to us. It was like being in Doctor Who’s Tardis—meaning, it’s bigger on the inside! There was no way that this could be here, because this wall meets up with the next door neighbor’s home, and this was most certainly not their home. I have been there many times for tea. This was a continuation of our home. Furthermore, this room would definitely seat a hundred guests. How could this be?
I kept my thoughts to myself. I decided it was more important to take in all the nuances of the room. Sparkly champagne colored table linens draped over round tables. The tables fit no more than six people to give a sense of intimacy juxtaposed with the unified crowd. The gold colored wood of the Chiavari chairs adds to the elegance of the room. The ivory colored cushions of the chairs coordinate with the ivory colored napkins. At each table’s centerpiece rests four martini glass style vases in differing heights—all low enough for the guests to see across the table, but dramatic enough to show off the hundreds, if not thousands, of red roses that were in this room. Another homage to the color red. Maybe the other vampires were all in on my little ‘blood’ joke too.
There wasn’t a single modern lightbulb anywhere to be seen. Instead, sparkles of light twinkled all over the room emanating from the dozens of golden candle holders filled with ivory candles. Over the first course, I learned there were actually 100 candles in the room. That number and that year seem to be relevant somehow for these people.
Overwhelmed by the beauty of this previously unknown space, I just stared at every little aspect. A tear filled each of my eyes. Martha really had gone through a lot of trouble for me. Between her efforts and Jean-Pierre’s sudden interest, they were making it hard for me to want to follow through on my resolution. Maybe I shouldn’t leave after all. But that little voice inside my head started to interfere. “No…Stick to the plan…Enjoy the party…Feign sleep…Leave in the middle of the night…You’re still going to go!”
Admittedly, however my resolve for that plan, was starting to waver.
The food was divine and we had several courses. Since I have a penchant for Italian, Martha created a feast fit for Caesar himself. The appetizers arrived. We had a slew of bruschetta, olives, salami, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, along with some prosciutto and melon. The soup course consisted of a piping hot bowl of minestrone. Next came the asparagi bianchi e verdi (translation, green and white asparagus) prepared over medium heat with garlic and virgin olive oil. Deliciosa! The main course had a little bit of everything. I have become a vegan, so she prepared a scrumptious vegan lasagna, eggplant parmesan (with vegan parmesan, of course), brown macadamia nut butter gnocchi, pasta primavera, along with baskets overflowing with the most scrumptious, hot from the oven, French bread saturated in garlicy rosemary infused olive oil.
Dessert followed all the rest. And, of course, Martha created my new favorite—chocolate mousse cake served with a piece of biscotti. I never seemed to lose the taste for a good piece of chocolate anything. I want to savor every bite until each taste melts in my mouth. Since becoming a vampire, I can eat two pieces without any repercussions of gaining weight. I would rather have three pieces, but I thought that it might be a bit too gluttonous, even for me. So, I am sticking with just the two.
The food delighted my senses, but the laughter that prevailed throughout the event made it fun. I can honestly say, I have never had a more enchanting evening.
And this was just the beginning. Part one, as it were.
At five minutes to twelve a glass chandelier-like clock descended from the ceiling to the center of the room. It hung perhaps twenty feet above the tables and its glass flickered all the candlelight in the room. I didn’t bother asking why it was there. With so many secrets in this house, I doubted anyone would ever tell me and I didn’t want to ruin this night by getting mad. I watched as the longer hand moved with each passing minute. I was mesmerized—in almost a trance state.
Instead of chimes, the music of Ravel began playing. After seeing the movie "10" in the seventies, I quipped that I would like to make love for the first time with the sound of Bolero in the background. Was it going to happen now? Here? In this room? No way! I would not do that! Never! If that is what he has in mind, I am throwing back on my Victorian puritanical values, thank you very much.
Thankfully, that’s not what he had in mind.
Instead, the man I have loved for so long clasped my hand within his. He turned the palm upward and caressed it in the most sensual manner, simply by using his thumb. At first he drew feather light circles, which turned into hearts. Maybe he really did love me, after all. Jean-Pierre gazed into my eyes. There were those windows to the soul again. It may have been a long time since we shared this kind of intimacy, but it felt like the most natural thing on Earth.
“There is something I wish to discuss with you,” he announced in his now nearly perfect English. I suppose one hundred years of practice will make you pretty much perfect at anything.
At this point, the ten years of anger almost vanished. “Very well,” I said.
He lifted up my hand as he did a hundred years before, and guided me out of the Dr. Who-Tardis-Bigger-On-The-Inside-Room to yet another room within the walls of our home that I didn’t know existed. Only this time, we traveled a little differently than before. We didn’t walk. Well, not really anyway. It was more like we rocketed at the speed of light up the stairs and to the third floor—the third floor that I never noticed before. How could they hide a whole floor? More to the point, in only an instant we were up the stairs and in this strange room that was luxuriously appointed with a king-sized poster bed made from mahogany. It was adorned with a magenta colored duvet, coordinating silk sheets, along with pillows of various sizes. The silk draperies were made from a thicker version of the same colored silk. They covered the windows and reached from the twelve foot high ceiling down the length of the wall to a pool of fabric on the floor.
Crystal candle holders and ivory candles of every size and shape filled the room and created a glowing backdrop for one hundred pink roses. My favorite. The collective beauty of the image and the scent truly inspires love—not that I needed any more inspiration at this point. But first things first. I may have noticed the room, but my curiosity got the best of me. I was far more interested in how we arrived. We had never travelled at such speeds before. I didn’t even know that it was possible.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“There is so much you don’t know about vampires and weren’t allowed to know until now. Among other things we can walk at very fast speeds. Have you wondered how I arrived from Paris?”
“I had assumed it was by boat, of course.’
“That is impossible. You can’t walk over an ocean!”
“But that is where you are wrong. I can walk and I did walk. Since I can walk at incredible speeds, I can walk over an ocean and it only took me a few minutes to do so.”
“A few minutes!”
“A few minutes, to walk across an ocean and less than a moment to climb up a wall into a little girl’s room.”
“Wait a minute. Walk up a wall to a little girl’s room? Do you mean my room? Were you actually there in my room with me? Were you more than just a never-ending dream that I had as a child? Was it really you? Were you my angel?”
He then put his hand on my forehead and said, “Remember.”
My eyes opened from a slight meditative trance. I gazed into his tear-filled eyes and mine began to glisten, as well. “I remember now.”
“I remember you visiting me. I remember it as real events, not just a string of dreams. But why did I forget they weren’t real in the first place? Why did you come visit me as a child? Why did you make me believe you were an angel? And was it you who left the ruby earrings for me tonight?”
“Yes, it was. They are my gift to you. The red is to show my undying passion for you. As for the rest it, it has been a hundred years since I have wanted to tell you this story. Longer if I count when you were a child.”
“Why haven’t you then?”
“I couldn’t. We are not allowed. Not until now anyway. But for me to tell this story, I must start from the beginning.
“I had just recently arrived from France. In fact, it was my first evening there. I hadn’t had time to settle into any sort of lodgings and I found myself wandering through the various new streets. The joviality of the Americans celebrating all around me, did not exactly match my mood. I had left my beloved country, because I had to hurt someone whom I loved very much and I was sad.”
“You loved someone else?”
Tears formed in Charlotte’s eyes and it stabbed me in the heart. This woman was the love of my life and now she thought there was another. I rushed to comfort her. As she sat on the edge of the bed, I got on my knees on the floor in front of her and wrapped my arms around her.
“There has only been you. You are the love of my life.”
More tears formed in her eyes, but these were happy tears. My smile matched hers. I brushed my hand across her face to wipe away the sole tear that plummeted from her right eye. That tear held all the emotion I have felt for this woman for so long.
“My darling, Charlotte, I have wanted to touch you for so long, but as I mentioned, I was not allowed. But I do not wish to get ahead of myself in the story. Please let me continue.”
“I did love another woman, but not in the way she loved me. She wanted me as her husband, I thought of her as my sister. A friend only. There were no romantic stirrings within me. She was not the one that my heart rushed towards. So, it could not ever be.”
Charlotte didn’t say it, but I could see in her eyes that she was both internally and externally, breathing a sigh of relief.
However, during the midst of my melancholic state, a window in my mind opened up. A small golden light began to filter in. I could visibly see it. It was accompanied by a small girl’s voice humming a tune. I looked up and saw a lovely little girl playing with her doll in a window. I was intrigued by her joyful playing. More importantly I was intrigued by the golden light that surrounded her. I decided to meet this child. I ran up the side of the wall and climbed into her window. I was in her room in a quick moment.
“That little girl was me.”
“Bien sûr, ma chère. It was indeed you. You thought I was an angel, so I decided that was as good a cover story as any.”
“I had a golden light?”
“Yes and I had never seen anyone with that light before.”
“How come I could not see my light?”
“You may not have been able to see your light, but you did see my golden light. Do you remember?
“That’s right! Your golden light, I could see it. But why haven’t I been able to see it since I was a child.”
“I am not certain why you were able to see it at all. You are only supposed to see it after you reach your hundred year anniversary as a vampire. Maybe children are different though. Maybe they can see it. Or maybe it’s just because you were special, Charlotte. You had an intuitive gift to see things that others cannot see very easily.”
“Now that I am paying attention, I am starting to see it again, but it’s faint. It may not be as bright as I remember when I was child, but it’s like a light switch is slowly turning on making it become brighter.”
“That is because you have reached your pivotal night. You will see many things that you could not see before.”
“Like the fact that we can travel so quickly. You were able to disappear and reappear inside my room because of your speed.”
“That is correct.”
“Why did you not tell me this before?”
“You are getting ahead of my story. All in good time, ma chère.”
“Very well, carry on.”
This little girl was so charming and I enjoyed her company. I know that it may seem disturbing that a man would want to be with a child, but I assure you there was nothing elicit in my intentions.
“I know that.”
“For just over ten years we met nightly. That little girl who was you even professed her love for me when she was 10 years old. I couldn’t help but be touched, but of course, she was just a child. I would never want to hurt her. I would never want to hurt you. I tried to explain that I was a man—or rather I was an angel—and she was a child and that we could only be friends, but then she announced that someday she would marry me. I couldn’t help but be amused by her forthrightness. But she said that I just need to wait and see, because this is going to happen. You certainly were a determined little girl.”
“I still am.”
“That you are.
“Then, it was just after her 16th birthday, I saw her differently for the first time, not as a child, but as a woman. It scared me. She was always a pretty little girl, but now she was becoming a beautiful woman and in an instant I realized I was passionately in love with her. It was impossible. She was far too young for me. Even though it was common in those days for a woman to be married at 16, I had stopped aging at 38 and wanted to be with someone closer to my own age. I wanted to have common interests that only age can bring to people. So, I set out to wait until she was older. I told her she was tired and needed sleep and she fell asleep. I tucked her into bed as I often did, and as she slept I placed my hand on her forehead. I told her that she would not remember that I was a real person until I allowed her to remember. I told her to subconsciously always remember me. I didn’t know how that would be. I didn’t realize you thought of me as a dream until you just told me. And lastly I said that neither of us should marry until we meet again. After that, I was gone.
“So you are able to practice magic?”
“Some might call it magic. It’s not like I can create world peace, but there are certain things that we can do. We can travel at the speed of light, making us invisible. We can make areas totally sound proof. We can create spaces that are bigger on the inside and can be hidden. In fact, the originator of the Dr. Who series back in the sixties was a vampire. That’s how he came up with that idea.”
“Yes, it is true. He, of course, couldn’t stay with the show, because he always looked young. Fifty years of youth is too much for a human.”
“So what’s the deal with this golden light anyway?”
“Well, it’s not always golden. It is golden for us. You and me.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“The light that is shown is a marker for two soul mates. I don’t mean just friends that are soul mates, but two partners who have been together in lifetime after lifetime. Instead of two halves of a whole, like humans call romantic partnerships, they are two whole beings that come together to create a powerful force.”
“Our light is golden, but what about the others?”
“Martha and George’s light is plum. Jonathon and Peggy Sue’s was lime green.”
“So they were soul mates. I knew it. But wait a minute. If the lights mark the vampire’s soul mate, how did you become a vampire?”
“Mistakes can be made. Although if I weren’t a vampire I wouldn’t have met you, so in reality it wasn’t a mistake at all. But here is what happened.
“In the year 1776, when the Americans were signing their Declaration of Independence, I was a lawyer in Paris. Never one to like the taste of alcohol, I usually avoided going to pubs. But on this night, my partner, Claude Durand, was getting married the following day and he wanted to have one last night as a single man. It’s not that he was with another woman, but he did have too much to drink. Alcohol was much stronger in those days and he over did it. I made sure to walk him home so that he would arrive safely and not end up the victim of some thugs out for some late night shenanigans.
On the way home, a woman stood across the street waiting for me. I didn’t know her, but her blue gown was very fine and she looked as though she could be a member of the royal family. At the very least she was a part of the aristocracy. She approached me and she was beautiful, but as I mentioned before I had no interest in her in a romantic sort of way.”
“This is the woman who made you sad?”
“Yes. Her name was Chantelle. It wasn’t a good idea for a lady to be out alone so late at night. So, I did what any gentleman would do. I escorted her home. When we arrived, instead of reaching for my lips she reached for my neck and bit me. I awoke several days later in a home at the top of Montmartre. She, of course, could not tell me why she bit me for another 100 years.”
“The day we met.”
“Yes. The day we met. After my Centennial Celebration, she guided me to a hidden room very much like this one. I, too, began to see her light, but it was a faint orange. She told me she loved me and I said that I loved her too, but not in that way.
“To say that she became angry would have been an understatement. She was enraged. I have never seen anyone so overwrought in all my life. She threw the 100 violets in the room against the wall. Violets were her favorite flower, just as the pink rose is yours. It’s important to have the favorite flower of the woman in the room and there must be 100 of them. I do not know exactly why, that is just how it is. Anyway, the violets were scattered haphazardly on the floor and she began stomping on them. I tried to comfort her, but she threw a book at me. She told me that she would forgive me some day, but for now, she couldn’t see me. That’s when I walked across the ocean.”
“Have you communicated with her at all since then?”
“Actually, yes. I saw her twelve years later in New York City. She had met the man who was actually her soul mate. He had the faint orange light too. She had mistaken my golden light to match hers, and of course, it could never work. But she was happy to have found her man. He hasn’t reached his centennial yet, but she is happy.”
“So a vampire must be accepted for it to work out. I get that, but who was the first vampire and how did it happen?”
“The first vampire to ever transform was George.”
“Yes. He was struck by lightning.”
“But others have been struck by lightning and they didn’t turn into vampires.”
“No they haven’t. You are right. But this lightning was different. It occurred at the full moon. It occurred while he was at Stonehenge, during a ceremony dedicated to the harvest and abundance. He was a Druid and priestesses were dancing around him as he laid on a slab of rock that had been previously filled with magical intentions. That’s when the lightning struck him. After the bolt flashed through his body everything changed. Something in the magical ceremony gave him certain powers—immortality, moving at a fast pace, having the ability to create spaces that are larger on the inside, not to mention all the rest.
“He didn’t know what he was, so when he craved the comfort of a woman, he would bite them. It was his natural instinct now. And they, in turn, would bite others. That’s why there are so many of us. But things weren’t right. Some people were exploding. Some people lived long lives, but it turns out their lives were long because they were unknowingly following the rules.
“Martha was the one who figured it all out. Well, it actually took Martha and George together to figure it all out. He was so afraid of hurting her after that first bite, that he didn’t touch her for a 100 years. When they celebrated her 100th year of transition, the magic started unfolding around them. Their light shined brightly and so on. So, George and Martha gathered all the vampires around the world and had a meeting on how it should be handled from now on.”
“And what about Peggy Sue? Why did she have to die?”
“I know it’s hard. It’s hard for any of us to lose a comrade vampire, but for you and for Jonathon, her death was felt even more deeply. As for why she had to die, she didn’t have to die. She should still be with us, but unfortunately, it is not an easy task to keep a young vampire alive for the first century. That is why we have such a grand celebration when it happens. When they reach maturity, we want to make it a big deal, because it is a big deal.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You see, vampires don’t bite their victims like they do in the movies. Instead, their fangs come out only to bite the person they are meant to spend the rest of their days with. My fangs only came out the one time. With you. If you accept me, your fangs will only come out the one time to bite me.”
“Of course, I accept you! You have to ask after all this time?!”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“But let me continue on and finish telling the story, before anything more happens.”
“You’re right. Sometimes impatience still gets the best of me.”
“There is something chemical within us vampires. It lays dormant, but it can come alive within us.”
“What is it?”
“For the first one hundred years, after we make the bite with our beloved, we are not allowed to be romantic with them in any way, shape or form. If we do, the chemical reaction will be turned on. It sears its way through the veins until it reaches the heart and the brain. Once it does that, it swirls in those spaces at the speed of light. It is basically telling the physical body that it can no longer be here. The body agrees and lights into a fire that turns into an explosion. It leaves little trace of the body, outside of a few ashes.”
The tears started pouring out of Charlotte as though she were reliving that horrible night in the present.
“Oh my God, she and Jonathon tried to be together that day. Is that right?”
“My heart goes out to him. Now, I understand his pain. He feels guilty for losing her. It was his fault. Well, it was their fault, but he is the one that knew better. We have to do something for him. He can’t go on like this forever. He must forgive himself. Maybe we can have some magical ceremony or something.”
Instead of being mad at Jonathon, she felt compassion. That is one of things I love so much about her. She always finds the good in everyone.
“There is something we can do, but we had to wait for all members of our commune to reach the age of maturity. Now that that has happened, we can proceed—but not tonight. Tonight is about us.”
Her smile seemed to clear away the tears.
“That is why you never touched me. That is why you ran away from me that day in Golden Gate Park. When I professed my love for you in the Rose Garden, you looked so sad and so scared. Peggy Sue had just died and you knew the same would happen to me if we did anything about it.”
“I can’t tell you how painful it has been for me for the last ten years, knowing full well at any moment you were going to leave us. You are an unusually strong person. I wasn’t sure you would last the first century with all the secrets we have to have. If I were to have told you the truth, that same chemical reaction would have happened in you. And I would rather see you alive somewhere else, than not around at all.”
“I was planning on leaving after my party tonight.”
“And now? Is this still your plan?”
At this point, I got up from the floor and joined her on the side of the bed. I clasped onto her hands. I didn’t want to let her go.
“Why did I get so sick that time? We aren’t supposed to get sick and yet, Martha tells me I could have died.”
“I think it has to do with what happened in the rose garden. The hardest thing I have ever had to do, was to reject you that day. I wanted you more than anything, but I knew what would happen. It was like my body was having an internal war trying to figure out what to do.”
“So you ran away. Before anything could happen.”
“I ran away. But a few hours later, you fell ill. I stayed with you the whole time. I didn’t bathe. I barely ate. We just lost Peggy Sue and I couldn’t lose you.”
“You were one of the faces I saw. I guess I saw all of your faces, but it’s all a haze to me. And now? Can you kiss me now?”
“I cannot kiss you unless you accept me.”
That’s when I saw her fangs starting to elongate.
“How is this happening?” she asked. “I am not doing anything.”
“It’s part of a vampire’s chemical reaction. After 100 years, you can tell your brain that you want to accept your partner. If you do, the chemicals flow through your body until it reaches the canine teeth. They are only elongated for a few minutes. One has to make their decision pretty quickly. If they do not bite their potential partner, they will never be together.”
She gazed into my eyes. It was like a thousand years passed between us. I could swim in those emerald green eyes of hers. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I could almost see into hers.
She lifted her hand to caress my cheek. She brushed her index fingers over my lips, before placing her hand behind my neck. She guided my neck towards her and I leaned back slightly in the other direction so that she would have room.
That’s when I felt it. The punctures left behind from the newly formed fangs. We were linked. It has finally happened. She is my mate for life.
She lingered at my neck for some time, observing the holes that she had just made. They seemed to be her prized possession.
“I can see the golden light between us more fully now,” she says, “It is so bright. I cannot believe I didn’t notice it before. The light surrounds us individually, but it seems to surround us both together, as well.”
She stood up and walked to the other side of the room. While our individual lights are strong, there is a soft golden light that links between us. I have never noticed this linking light in the others. Perhaps, this was part of what only the couple is able to see.
“Will I be able to see other vampire’s lights now?”
“I can’t wait, but not tonight. Tonight is for you and for me.”
She walked towards me. And we kissed…
Charlotte’s Story—September 1st, 2018
(148 Years Old)
I awoke to the sounds of Jean-Pierre making his espresso. I never did acquire the taste for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy its smell. I also like hearing my man joyfully singing some song or another every morning as he makes his java. The coffee smell and his singing are my alarm clock. Those two things together tell me it’s time to rise from my blissful slumber.
I hear my computer in the room adjacent to our sleeping chambers telling me I have an email, but it can wait. I open the contemporary blinds with the little black remote that sits inside my nightstand. Ah, I have a room with a view. It may not be of the ocean anymore, but it is of The Eifel Tower. I finally made it to Paris. The city I have dreamed of for so many years. Jean-Pierre tells me that I probably always wanted to go, because we were somehow linked even when we didn’t see each other. Once I became a vampire he couldn’t admit that we could travel at such fast speeds. So, after learning the truth, we left for our honeymoon and never moved back.
We still visit Martha, George and Jonathon. They are our family after all. However, Jonathon no longer lives with Martha and George either. The children have flown the proverbial coop. Two other vampires have taken up residence there and it’s fun to see their story unfold.
As for Jonathon’s well-being, I made sure to find out how to remedy his situation right away after that first night of bliss with Jean-Pierre. I set a meeting to find out what could be done.
Under the glow of the following full moon, we circled together out in the Japanese Tea Garden. It was Peggy Sue’s favorite place, so it seemed appropriate. We made sure to keep our vibration high, so that the mortals couldn’t see us intruding after hours.
Each of us had to bite our own fingers. This time without the help of our canine teeth since those can only be used one time. I had to use my molars to sink my teeth hard enough to form blood. After we were all ready, we each had to bite Jonathon’s finger and pour our blood from our own fingers into his. I suppose Bram Stoker did actually know that blood somehow played a role for us. Its role was to heal a person who lost their beloved.
After receiving each of our blood, Jonathon stood at a standstill for several minutes. It was as though he was frozen in ice. His face was locked in the expression of shock, like he just saw a ghost or something. After a short period of time, his body shook wildly. His arms, his head, and his legs all moved in whatever direction they chose to. It’s as though he was shaking off the remorse as well as shaking off the attachment to Peggy Sue.
It’s not as though he has forgotten about her. He still loves her, but he was able to move on. He even found another prospective mate. She can’t ever be a vampire, of course. But he can be with her in a romantic sort of way. He just won’t be able to tell her the full story about who he is. He hasn’t done anything about it yet. He wants to make sure. Only time will tell.
As for us, Jean-Pierre and I couldn’t be happier. We travel all the time. Today, we plan to head to India to visit an ashram in India I have been hearing about. Afterwards, we shall spend time at the Taj Mahal, as well. We have seen it three times before, but I never tire of it. I like the meaning behind that structure. The emperor, Shah Jahan, created it for his beloved. It’s a testament to the strength of their undying love.
I suppose the bite marks that are not visible to the human eye are the testament to the strength of the undying love between Jean-Pierre and myself.
…and that is good enough for me.
Note from the author:
Approximately 90% of this story came from a dream that I had in 1998. The remaining 10% is literary flourish. This dream had so much depth I knew I had to put pen to paper. However, while I wrote an initial draft of this story after the dream in question, I had a difficult time figuring out how to make Jean-Pierre’s presence in a little girl’s room not seem creepy. Eighteen years later, while out on my walk, I had a thought about the golden light. Then later that same day a friend told me to make him a spiritual entity. Those two ideas were the inspiration behind making him Charlotte’s angel in her youth. In the dream, Charlotte is actually me. While the character of Jean-Pierre was the French actor Tchéky Karyo, circa 1990 (think Le Femme Nikita).
That being said, I am reminded of another author who wrote her amazing story based on a dream that she had. It is to her, Mary Shelley, that I dedicate The Angel In My Room, as well as to Emily F. who gave me the idea for the spiritual entity.
Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author uses historical names such as the chef Louis Fauchere “The Crazy Frenchman”, the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Astors, the mayor of New York City William H. Wickham, Governor Samuel J. Tilden, and Bram Stroker these are in no way to be considered accurate portrayals of these figures.