The Mirrors (part six)
“We were on a sort of sea-cliff, our place. No electric. Rainwater, caught in a cistern. Chores continual. I liked Rothesay, I looked forward to his coming. He brought me books by the dozen. And he would always say, first day after settling in, come along for a walk, Nat. And so with the dogs we’d go off tramping. The terrain on the coast is, you might say, scoured. Great sweeping views. A northern sea, always gathering itself…not like here, where you almost feel the salt water ooze its way in by stealth…
“He gave me a binocular. He gave me a telescope. He gave me lab equipment…the real goods, not some boys’ chemistry kit. Because, you see, he had a sort of pan-scientific scope of knowledge, Rothesay… And so I learned the birds, and the constellations, the reasons plants adapt themselves, mutate as they do…how to assemble a jumble of bones into a skeleton…all sorts of things…
“I’m in the position…why I tell you this…of being unable to regard Rothesay as other than employer. But yet, of course, I obey. Against my better judgment, it may be. I have no choice.”
“Then where will you go…? If it all begins to seem dangerous?”
“Home.” He shrugged. “Not for long, I don’t think. I couldn’t go back, in spirit…I have nothing to fall into anymore. She can’t well have kept all the chores waiting…” Carmine laughed. “I say that, and at once I picture it being just so. No, I suppose the thing is, I’d have to broach it. Mother dear, what about Rothesay? In a way, I want the story. And in so many ways, I don’t.”
“Then…can you tell me something? Is that what Mr. Rothesay is, a scientist? Or is he really a doctor, in the way Dumain was?”
“More the way, to hear him tell it, Dumain’s grandfather, the scary old patriarch, was. But I don’t get the joke, myself. You wonder, Mrs. Demorest, what’s the aim? Why the mirrors?”
He swung on his seat towards the house, and gazed up, as she’d done sharing Esta’s trove with Wright, to the attic bedroom. “Did you get the sense, for a moment, before the ghost wafted in, that…our conversation…it wasn’t only saying the thing said before… It was being there. Before. Wasn’t it?”
“You think this happened to me when I walked the mirrors, too.”
“Not then…I didn’t think so at the time. But now, yes.”
Wright and his progress across the lawn caught their ears. Both fell silent, Carmine scooting to the end of his bench. Wright sat next to him, gesturing he would not interrupt their talk.
“And, you think,” Chamante said, “this is part of the plan? Mr. Rothesay understands something about the mirrors, some way time gets upset by them?”
“He understands more than he tells. More than I know. All the acoustics, the tricks of the eye…he is curious to learn whether the madman could not hear the voice of his keeper as a benevolent god, rather than a petulant one… Find himself instructed to do good, to follow orders. All quietened down, without the need for drugs. Rothesay’s investigations are not meant to be secret. If you search out the literature, you’ll find he writes extensively on his special subject, this theory about lunatics. One of his interests, isolated populations…do they…”
His glance aside included Wright. “As plants will, you know, alter to such a degree they can’t survive elsewhere? The visits to Argyle were with this study in mind, not for my sake and my mother’s only.”
Wright looked a commiseration that was for her to understand, and patient with Carmine. No, it seemed unlikely either of them would be searching out doctors’ literature. She was feeling appalled, in a slowly encroaching way, suspecting Rothesay of bringing his son out from isolation to observe him adapt…or fail. But Carmine’s face showed only that mild ruefulness, there when he’d told her he obeyed for having no choice.
“Now you two. Let me leave you a minute.”
She hurried, a little jealous of what they might say, as though Carmine and his mystery were hers, and if Wright, for being a man, took it over…
Up the stairs, stalked by Kit, and down again, until he darted into the mirrored room. She replaced the letter and carried the photo outdoors. Had either been moved? A wiser person would have chalked outlines on the floor.
“Who are they?”
“Well…” She was testing Carmine, and the impulse hadn’t felt shameful when she’d conjured it. “I thought since you’d just got a look at Dumain…”
“Ah. This one, I will guess, under the awning.”
“If I’m not wrong, ma’am, you was wanting to know bout that Carolee.” Wright tapped the face. “Well, I figured…between all the ones I known, all my years of work, and all the ones they might known here and there, somebody heard of her, if she’s anyplace to be heard of.”
“And somebody did?”
He glanced at Carmine’s distracted silence, seemed to give some idea up. “Whatever time you’re free.”
These were bungalows…nice, of a middle-class type…a block of them. Brick, front parlors shortening the porch, a slope of banked front lawn, telling the tract had been built on this century. It was the fashion in Carolee’s neighborhood to have an ornamental tree, a crepe myrtle or mimosa, a magnolia…demure little Saucer…
The trees were all planted in circles of brick. Each house had the oddity of a fence, wrought-iron and painted white, running between properties, apparently nowhere. Every several sported a lawn jockey.
“We’ll see if we can just take a walk down the street,” Wright said, low-voiced. They had come partway, on the only possible bus.
“You getting out here?” the driver had asked. “You know where you’re going?”
“Now, don’t you all make me late, starting work.”
Wright had thought to say this. Charmante was wary, and working on anger. After sitting his empty bus at the stop until they’d reached the end of the block and crossed to the next street, the driver finally eased himself off. They walked three of the six blocks on, to the suburb where Wright’s source had discovered Miss Roback.
During the ride, he’d murmured a confidence or two…but keeping an eye out.
“First name Carolee, that’s right. Now, you don’t think it’s some other lady.”
“No, I would doubt it.”
This was sounding formal, another sample of that hauteur keeping her better-educated self on her own side of the aisle, which Charmante kept deploring, unable wholly to quash.
“I don’t know your first name,” she said.
“I don’t know yours.”
“Well, I might have heard someone say, but I never heard you say.”
She stared back at a man who’d got to his feet looking down the bus at them, as though he thought they should fall silent, see him off at his stop with respect.
Wright said, “William.”
They walked now, and this sleepy neighborhood, empty of traffic, its doors and windows shut, changed…like a spell cast…not in their wake, but up ahead. One or two people came out on their front porches. A woman with a broom. A woman carrying a table phone, trailing its long cord, wanting to show off she had it, chatting in the open air. One could suppose. A man drove past and slowed down.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)