I remember one morning my mother was out with all of us – her entire brood. Max was fifteen at the time, followed by Andrew aged thirteen, Aaron at nine, Valentine aged six and I was only five.
My brother Aaron was squeezing my hand too tight so I started to pull at my mother’s huge skirts. She lifted me up so I could settle on her hip. Max put Val up on his shoulders. My mother’s helper Grace walked with Max and Andrew. My teenage brothers were already turning heads and Grace kept the owners of those heads from making any suggestions or passing messages of any kind.
I remember looking over my mother’s shoulder at Grace and smiling. She smiled back in her funny closed mouth way so she wouldn’t show her teeth. A man outside of the bank hissed, “Rat girl,” under her breath as Grace passed by. My mother whipped around, ribbons flying on her hat and took the man by his shoulder.
“Never do that again,” she said low and deliberate. “Apologize to the lady.”
The man wanted to resist but I suppose the increasing pain in his head and chest and the tightening of his throat made him take my mother’s suggestion serious.
“I beg your pardon Miss. I didn’t mean to offend you,” the man gasped out.
“But you DID mean of offend her,” said my mother. Then an odd thing happened. The man staggered back a few steps and fell onto the ground, blood coming from his nose.
“Max, Andrew, Aaron, Valentine, walk ahead,” she ordered my brothers. Max tried to protest but he received the dreaded icy dagger look.
With me still on her hip and Grace’s hand in hers, Mother stepped aside into the doorway of a leather goods shop. I craned my neck to see the commotion in front of the bank. An icy hand turned my small face back away from the scene. “Juliette, do not stare. Look away child.”
At that point I was looking straight at Grace. I liked her odd face and quiet ways. Grace was the perfect name for the girl.
My mother told her, “Forget men like him. He is nothing but dirt under your feet. Stand proud girl. Stand proud.”
I’ll always remember the first night Grace came into our lives. My father brought her home from a trip in San Francisco. It was 1865 so of course everything was right in them middle of everything. Anyway, he brought a young woman home. There was some sort of story about how he couldn’t leave her. I heard the words disgrace and sad and unfortunate whispered between my parents and our head housekeeper Mrs. Morgan.
I’d been playing with my dolls under a table and froze as quiet as death to see who this slight figure my father brought home was.
Her face was long and narrow, almost weasel like with a tiny mouth, long teeth, a little nose and small dark eyes. Even her hair was a mousey ash color. A slight flush of pink on her nose was the only color on her pale white face. The ashen hair was scraped back into a tight bun on the back of her neck. Cracked spectacles sat on the bridge of her nose. The dress she wore was nothing more than a long sack with a belt high on her waist. What an odd creature she was, especially for a girl. I’d seen plain women without decoration or charm but she was beyond that. She was like a dust rag or a fur ball the cat had choked up.
“You can’t be called Ratty or Rat. That is a degradation of both your character as a woman and a Vampire. What is your given name?”
“The name your parents gave you.”
“Rat. I’ve always been called Rat.”
Rat didn’t have a last name either. So my mother told her that she’d answer to Grace.
“Is Grace like us?” I whispered that loudly in my mother’s ear.
“Yes Juliette, Grace is like us.”
I found out later that the former Rat had been abandoned as a small child and passed around, bought and sold, worked too hard and hardly educated. Still she kept her wits and spirit all the while pretending to be an idiot. When she was barely in her teens she became like us – a Vampire. Unfortunately she wasn’t with Vampires like us, at least not until about six months before my mother renamed her.
Grace stayed with us for several years. The girl who looked like a rat leaned how to fix her mousey hair and how to make magic with the right color and the cut of a gown.
“All women are beautiful,” my mother said. “It is just a matter of knowing what to do to make it happen.”
Once I heard Grace say, “Nobody loved me because I was ugly.” That was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. Later that night I curled up next to her and said, “I love you Grace.”
And I really did.
Today she is considered one of the most unique and fashionable women in the country. I won’t divulge her name. To me she’ll always be Grace.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman