The Mirrors (part five)
Tuesday, Carmine was waiting for her at the kitchen table. “I’ve got Sir Christopher in a basket. Not knowing how you’d feel.”
He added: “Kit, you see, for short.”
“The truth is…”
She watched him squat to ease up the lid. A nose came nudging his fingers, a muzzle pushed advantage, whiskers sprang, then toes under a chin and a curl of claws.
“Go ahead, let him loose. The truth is, I don’t know why Mr. Rothesay doesn’t want a cat for the mice anyway. Whenever I find one of those traps gone off… And I can’t do more than throw the poor little thing in the garden.”
Kit was white, tabbied on one ear and the tip of his tail. He took stock of freedom, sniffed the length of the baseboard, flopped to paw under the icebox. Then he jumped on the table, which could not be allowed.
“Cats can see spirits. So they always say. They, I mean…the folklorists…not that cats say it of themselves. Perhaps they do…” Carmine cleared his throat. “I’m not really concerned about Dumain. That is, to find I’m sharing the house with him. He seems a sort of collateral to the mirrors’ energy. But I don’t want to be snuck up on.”
She was at the practical task of filling a saucer with milk, which Kit as she bent spilled with a head butt. But he cleaned up his own mess.
Carmine was good-hearted. If she offended by questioning him…if he said something to Rothesay…
She would simply agree. “I was prying where I’ve got no business, and I don’t excuse it.” Rothesay would then admit belief in Dumain’s ghost, hint at his purpose for the mirrors.
Or not. He might tell her, “Don’t encourage Carmine.”
He might tell her—it was possible—that he no longer required her services.
“Where did you hear about Dumain…that he shot himself out there?”
“Ah. From Rothesay.”
Ah. Well…that was coming full circle. “I have a connection to Dumain,” she told him. “You got me started. I went over Sunday to see my aunt.”
He reddened at this. Some antebellum impropriety, did he imagine?
“Dr. Dumain was cousin to my aunt’s old people, the Robacks. You said…when we talked…the Dumains were a family. The Robacks were too, in their day. I don’t think there are any left. I wonder…I suppose Carolee was an only child, after all…”
Something thocked, like a cabinet door swinging shut. Kit, likeliest suspect, came at the object sideways, tail puffed.
“It’s your angel fell. That wing bit is for it, I’m afraid.”
Of course, she wasn’t anything like my silly romance. You know what we are. Where would I ever hear such moonshine…
Charmante stooped for the angel, its porcelain, for all the bustle of its recent life, unharmed. The moth’s remains she brushed off above the waste can. She could dare one more question. Too much would be too much out of order, plain nosiness. And because she had that connection to Dumain, she might not avoid involving Esta…
Without permission she had no right. It would need Carmine inviting her.
She sat, facing him across a corner of the table. “What sort of conversation were you having with Rothesay when he told you the story?”
This younger brother, did he suppose himself victor?
He struck the watching Dumain as containing himself, palpitating, but mildly (…but he must do that). With avidity he inventoried this carcass he’d inherited, its nerveless limbs coming to rest, pinning small, scurrying things…
Perhaps Rothesay wasn’t well described in such terms. Dumain followed, and Rothesay pottered, bright-eyed like a jaybird, spotting this sign and that.
There’d been that angry moment when destroying the rooms seemed best, and Dumain had tried it. He’d ripped the guts out of Aunt Lil’s portrait. The effort sapped his energy, and after a rest he’d seen from the stairs the mad effect of it, hatchet winking on the foyer rug, paper and plaster gouged, Lil’s right eye on a twisted strip of canvas leering up at him. Clyde might at any time come through that way…he might traverse the living quarters as he liked, as he pleased.
Others…Leonce…would like reading into this the family’s grinding defeat, a fresh blood-letting turn of the wheel. Dumain had found the number in the directory then, and hired the downstairs furniture taken. First he’d carried the painting up to his bedroom, put Lil in the hearth, her face to the bricks.
But he could retain some sense of time’s passage, and knew these events playing themselves off, moving-picture-like, against an encroaching opacity, were old. He knew there had been a year, 1919, and it had been the end of the world.
On the grounds of his home, the living came and went.
Sometimes they scaled the wall, with its niches easily done, and took snapshots…oftener with no curiosity as to the place. Dr. Dumain, the suicide, forgotten. And so the years had gone. Leonce had gone. Leonce, if he had died, had not returned.
He came once, and walked the rooms with a woman. She held a book in her hands notated with dimensions. Bedroom, west-corner, squiggle-mark, twelve by fourteen, bedroom, east-corner…bedrooms street, attic…
Rothesay inquisitive, one of those.
She had not curbed his listening at walls with his stethoscope, his shining of a penlight into crevasses, not at all. She’d yawned at it, while the noise shimmered around Dumain’s self-sense, forming words:
“You’re taking on boarders?”
“I hadn’t thought of it. Probably you’re right, though. I ought.”
“Oh, please,” she said. “I’m being clever. But then, come to think of it, why shouldn’t you? You, now…you’re straight on to me.”
She bantered, Rothesay all seriousness. She tapped his shoulder. “But, do you think there’s real danger of a hidden will, envelopes of money…compromising photographs?”
“They were sharing a house, keeping secrets from each other, either with freedom to search the other’s rooms…so, at any rate…” He cut off, for she hadn’t, now they’d settled something between them, taken him up. “If you had anything…useful, we’ll say, perhaps more than compromising…you would need to hide it. In that circumstance.”
“And is that why the fire? He’d given up? He was going to put a stop to it all?”
“Well, I don’t know. How would I know?”
Let injustice lie, Dumain thought.
On another occasion, there was a boarder. A young fellow with reddish hair, a ninny. But in a way, sly. There were great waves of noise, Dumain shouted from the premises, battered, knocked to the clouds, aswim on a tide…of furniture vans, of Rothesay’s trunks and boxes, then of his drilling in the walls. The tide receded. Dumain was sucked indoors again.
Rothesay, living in his attics, was feeding pipes through holes. The boarder on hand…on hands and knees…never alacritous enough at the coupling and the feeding up. A pipe dropped to clatter behind the lathwork its path to the cellars. Rothesay at fault.
He was silent, and Carmine said, “No help for that. Shouldn’t make any difference, though?”
“You’ll need to go to the basement and see if you can’t retrieve it.”
Of his quarters, Dumain was jealous. His surgery, where he’d endured the dismal ache of continuation. The years had died to him, with love…the hope of. Life left no purpose but to serve. Any other use not atonement….he must suppose himself born to atonement. A man of such ripe profligacy as his grandfather, iron-sided himself, fire-proofed…sowed that his victims reap.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)