The House of Everard: part three
Peggy had quit her wicker rocker. The penance she imposed on herself required the assumption of her husband’s place; the stain of his last year’s existence drawn through the cotton of her dress, transfiguring him into her flesh, as her flesh smothered the last traces of him.
Verbena had been set to scouring with lye soap all Malcolm Everard’s other haunts. At length his rebuking odor would rise―from the mattress of the marriage bed, from the horsehair of the fireside chair, from the floorboards along the way between―only on days when rain fell heavily. But Peggy knew, and Richard knew, because he’d helped her do it, how she’d pinioned her husband in this chair, in the final days of his delirium.
And that was what she’d meant, when she’d told Richard about not minding. “You know that soon enough, I will be dead myself. God will hold me to blame.”
She’d confided to Richard that she dreamed of Malcolm, seeing him wrench against his bonds, suffocate in the folds of the comforter they’d wrapped tight round his arms, hemmed edges folded again behind his back, so it was his own weight kept him from rising. But her husband had been restrained in his house…and that was kindness, all that was left of kindness, not forcing Old Everard out of his chair, not leaving him among strangers, not pouring medicines down his throat.
He could not, fancying that it made faces at him, lunge after the lion’s-head andiron; he could not shatter the mirror, because he had caught sight of himself and saw a savage peering through the window. He could not hurl Peggy’s teacups across the room, or cast her mending basket into the fire.
And Richard could not accept Peggy’s valuation of Verbena.
Verbena was capable, when confronted with disorder, of setting wise priorities, of righting those upended things fallen within her charge; she could choose so, not under direction, but by her own judgment. When she could no longer ask questions of Old Everard, and the interpreting of his needs had required a new language, Verbena had learned through touch, and the reading of his eyes, what he wanted, what comforted him.
Richard watched Verbena, in the days after his father’s burial. She had no deceit in her, no eye to size up circumstance to her advantage.
Molly, Peggy’s day help, walked up the road from Chambliss, Monday through Saturday. She collected wages from three households; she was thus something of an entrepreneur. So long as she remained strong and able, Molly had some choice in her position; she could jettison the worst of her three lots, and draw another.
“I don’t see why, ma’am,” she had told Peggy, “you won’t have her to help Naomi with getting the dinner on. It gives me a turn to find that creature following me when I’m about dusting…and what’s the use of having me to do the washing, when that one has done it already?”
The House of Everard
(2017, Stephanie Foster)