The Mirrors (part two)
“We’ve installed viewing lenses, in the bath and the adjoining bedroom. Slowly, Mrs. Demorest, you will take a turn about, and come back to the doorway.”
She looked at Carmine. “You said two or three times.”
“Yes…and we’ll need a signal.”
“Oh, don’t elaborate, Nat. She will surely hear me call, from there by the sink.”
From the first, Charmante found that she was following herself. And again, she was ahead of herself, disappearing, to pop in a flash opposite. Stealthy Charmantes darting concerted in a continual dance…
She felt wobbly.
“Mrs. Demorest!” Carmine’s voice came in an unnecessary shout. “Will you try keeping your eyes above the mirrors…and your pace a little quicker, and steady?”
She obeyed, rather than shout back. This took effort, fighting an urge to flight, clandestine movements playing at the corners of her eyes, her feet striking unnatural rhythms. Instinct, that of a hunted thing…the figures made her heart beat…
She found she hadn’t tracked the circuits, might have started on her third or fourth. A scientific glimmer of her own came, that little shocks anticipated must be masterable; that the effect could be acclimated to…
And another thought…is mirror time future or past?
But here was Carmine coming to fetch her. “Ah, the mirrors. We are very definitely on to something.”
He sat with the angel in his hand.
“I’m ready to go upstairs,” she told him. “If it’s time.”
He looked puzzled. “Oh. You’re thinking of the bedroom. Yes…as I said, that was Dumain’s. Rothesay, I take it you have nothing against Mrs. Demorest’s absorbing a touch of history?”
Rothesay was in the hall, hands in his jacket pockets, weight on the balls of his feet. Itching to get on with it, not coming in. She saw they were both in the hall, and she had been facing Carmine here, over the threshold…
Not the kitchen table.
“I hope,” Rothesay said, “Carmine didn’t overstate the case to you. Suicide…nervous breakdown. Dumain himself had had flu…the idea was he could visit the poorest cases in their homes, perfect candidate… He hadn’t recovered in full, and being not in his first youth, was worked to excess. Suffered it, from duty or wanting to keep up…”
He was leading the way—Carmine in the wrong somehow, and trailing—to the center of the hall where the staircase rose.
They seemed not to have noticed…
And what, Charmante stopped herself, would I have shown? Probably nothing. Probably nothing had happened. Just the mirrors had made her head spin.
She left an hour ahead of the bus, having taken herself along the route mentally, fallen asleep to it. A stretch of empty road ran between the city outskirts and her town. Her bus, caught at the crossroads gas station, picked up a gang of laborers; a few minutes after, it stopped at the canning factory. The distance was probably an extra mile or two, and she could walk so far…
Today she would board at the gate. The weather was all right, her shoes were sturdy. She put her mind to the problem at once, not wasting time. A property title would tell what? Only that the house had been Dumain’s and had become Rothesay’s. Old maps, the city as it lay…a census or a survey done in 1900…this seemed a certainty…
Newspapers, mention of Dumains, days the old squirearchy was still exalted.
She thought no one would allow her to see these things.
Who is this woman hunting after this family? Above herself, out for trouble…thinks she’s connected to them. That would be their notion. Wanting money.
There must be no money. There might not be a living Dumain…
But there were other ways, easier. Did she know someone who kept every newspaper, never threw one out? Those old folks who saved up all their odds and ends, hoarded gossip too…
Esta. Charmante passed her own along to her aunt, who read a little, who clipped recipes and hints…and passed the rest to the neighbors. But for a start she would ask Mr. Wright. In stages she would stoop to bypass her scruples. Because, she told herself, here was the thing…once you took up with a mystery, you were investigating it anyway. She had crossed Dumain Street a hundred times. She had given its story the barest thought—and knew she never would again.
The boy from the grocery bore his boxes to the kitchen. Charmante paid him Rothesay’s tip…and was alone, able to think. Conscious of it, as she’d told herself she would be, that you could enter the house through the area, lock the door behind you or not…
But you would not get to the wall at back, except you had passed indoors, by either the low way or the high. Dumain, with all the keys, could pass as he saw fit.
She’d have shaken her head, forced off temptation, if it were ten on the dot. Started the percolator going…she found herself eager, for the first time ever, to draw the men down with her cooking, hear what they’d concluded overnight.
But she heard Wright rattling in the tool shed. Wise to ask now, have him chew on it while he cut the grass, oiled the shutter hinges… Catch him again when his memory was well-jogged, and he’d thought of a name or two.
She left the kitchen and tapped at his door.
He put his head out. “How you like that angel?”
“Mr. Carmine helped me fix it up. You see it there, in the window.” It showed at a half-angle, the wings in their contrivance a little clumsy. “I did mean to come thank you… Mr. Wright, I was just hearing about Dr. Dumain, who used to own this place.”
His face showed only that he waited for her to go on.
“I suppose you came to work for Mr. Rothesay a year or two ago.”
“Rothesay? Nah, I been here probably four or five.”
Her spare minutes were ticking away. He suspected what she was up to, anyway, challenge in his silences and short answers. She would have to bear the onus for prying. And whom did she offend? Her aunt’s rules—her aunt’s idea of belonging to the house you served, conducting yourself to reflect propriety on your people—were another kind of matter. Who was to say they were rules at all?
Carmine was not local…and he’d got his rumor-mongering from someone.
“Dr. Dumain,” she said, “shot himself out there in the garden.”
“They say. Show you the place.”
“I haven’t got time. I’d kind of like to hear the story.”
“Well, come knocking.”
1912 Dumain St. Light housekeeping. Address enquiries to Mr. A. R.
She had come knocking in late winter…because the advertisement didn’t give a telephone number or box. Because the street was iffy; no reason to take an engagement there if you didn’t like the looks. First she had asked Mr. Rothesay if he had particular hours in mind. He had not much of anything in mind, but that the place was large for a bachelor, and he wasn’t managing to keep up.
She’d asked him if he wanted any cooking. If you had plates, she told Rothesay, after scrounging the makings of pancakes for his lunch, I’d bake you a couple of pies. You’d have something for evening times that way.
He had blinked at Charmante, considering this novelty of pots and pans.
“It grows complicated, Mrs. Demorest.” An embarrassed laugh. Rothesay didn’t know how to shop for such things. She was feeding him before he’d yet hired her, spoken of wages…or of duties, other than “these rooms down here”.
“Well, I can bring you a few of my own.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)