The Mirrors (part nine)
She weighed reasons for this balking…Rothesay did not make classes among his servants, so far as Charmante had seen; she herself could bear up with seeing ghosts…even the cat could…and—a thought more generous-hearted—it would rain in a minute, so why not have a cup of coffee in the kitchen? His shoes would do for the kitchen.
Or, was it none of these things?
“Rothesay didn’t hire you. You said so. You said you’d been here…”
“Five or six years.”
Her smile was tight, but caught assuming too fast, his face with a saving humor lightened. “And when you were hired, you only came in as far as the lower hall, and the cellar stairs?”
“She didn’t ask no more. They had all the house shut up, no one come to clean…she told me they didn’t want it. Nothing to do with me.”
“See, you all out there, maybe you never heard. You didn’t know what Mr. Meeker had to say—all that was news to you.”
“No…yes. I didn’t know, I mean.”
“Well, in town, everybody did for a long time. The riot got started cause there was some, nobody knew where from…come to stir up trouble. They had three boys in jail. Lynching party was supposed to get up, drag em off, police turn a blind eye.”
Her mother, the years she’d gone on living, had said it often: “There was so much bound to blow up. I just knew it would.”
Walking that intersection that had made her giggle as a child, Dumain and Main…
This, Charmante recalled, and her father careful not to talk at home. Her father, here, at the back end of the Dumain Clinic, the only doctor who served people like the Wrights, if young William ever saw a doctor…
“She…” she began. The kitchen door opened. Carmine came out.
That lift of the chin, though. “Billy Wright, if it ain’t. Trolley man.”
Wright looked at Carmine’s smile, at Carmine’s thumb hooked in a vest pocket. “I feel like I know that voice.”
“You told me one time you didn’t want me riding your car. Had to be stubborn like that, Billy, wouldn’t just get on in with me. I don’t know why. Wasn’t me that lost.”
“This is Leonce,” Charmante told William.
And he answered: “Leonce Dumain.”
She folded her arms. The impetus of emotion stalled itself, between assuming the worst, abandoning them all to their fates; and a glimmer of trust for William…that what he was hiding must yet be honorable, nothing to do with an old evil.
“Leonce, ma’am, used to run numbers. How come he made his shop at the back of my car. See, this went 6th to 20th, so that was one way they worked out winners. That, and some fancy sh… Like springtime, first person at a corner not wearing a coat, or…”
He stopped again, more embarrassed.
“Slick-haired gal. Ofay from over to the hospital, sometime come down this way.”
“Oh, that sort of thing.”
Leonce had spoken, but she answered William.
“Had the police cut in, I guess. Got me canned.”
“But, you know, I can’t tell you where I went to, Billy.” Charming again, a wistful smile now. “I can’t say. Be easy like that, maybe, for old devil… How can I know til I catch him?”
He added, just when, neither of them caring much for Leonce’s conversation, his pause had dropped into silence. “Now, he thinks he’ll catch me. But he won’t.”
Had Leonce told her his Godfrey story from knowledge? Was the spirit side like a reference library of all that had ever been? Had he known Clell, even, in life? His ways were jesting, spiked with retribution…the world’s making winners of the lucky-born entertained Leonce, but still he felt it, the malchance of his own birth. She could believe this. Yes, he knew something, and had wanted to jimmy at her buried things with the tip of a knife. He would do that to anyone.
She asked him if his grandfather was up in the house. Sly, Leonce shot a glance over his shoulder, the corner of his mouth drawing towards that watchful room upstairs, and there in Dumain’s bedroom window was Rothesay.
In figure…the whites of the eyes framed pupils with a mad, cool intensity.
They wanted to kill each other.
Did a ghost, able to possess a living man, care if he spoiled his host? Any particular host, where any weak-willed or willing party would do?
She would have to disobey, break her ordinary rules of conduct. “Leonce, William and I are taking a walk. You come too.”
“Come on now.” William caught him by the sleeve. He pulled back, manifesting reluctances he seemed unable to express…
To force into expression through Carmine. The glib Leonce faded from Carmine’s chin and brow, an entityless blank coming over these. They ushered him through the servant’s passage to the street. At the door leading down to the surgery something struggled in Carmine to wake.
“A little time,” he said. Charleton, perhaps.
The two of them escorting him in this way would have drawn attention in a neighborhood like Carolee’s; Charmante with an elbow around Carmine’s slack arm, William gripping and steering him by the shoulder. They made for the change in fortunes that divided Dumain from Centre. A block from the house Carmine straightened, put his hands in his pockets, and came with them of his own accord.
He said nothing.
“What do you call that mansion, that school over there?”
“William, I don’t mean you. What does one?”
For once and for all, Charmante told herself. “I used to teach school. I got invited to a wedding, and I met Clell. My husband was a musician.”
Maybe to say so was to say everything, William knowing already that Clell was dead.
“It was his trouble that cost me my job. Reputation.” She shrugged. “I couldn’t control him. They wouldn’t have liked me better divorced. I had the little house, Esta’s money down, only if it was in my name alone. So it wasn’t…”
William’s word was not of her vocabulary.
“Being told to resign…it wasn’t the end of the world. I had my money in the Post Office. That was a thing I wouldn’t do either, let him get hold of my savings.” She was getting places, hardly arriving. “We were married thirteen years. We were together nine. We had a pretense I would go up to Chicago, when he got himself settled. William, my father was Dr. Bonheur. You must have heard of him.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)