The Mirrors (part nineteen)
Old Dumain descends from his manor house, uses his key, and climbs the staircase. No one knows what he does up there. That something will become of the wretched clan, Bonheur never doubts. The more Dumains in one place, the more unearthly the atmospheric hum. He is a scientific man and puts these thoughts aside.
“I’ll need to close things down, lock up…”
Joseph must be left to guard the building, see to the patients. There will be wounded, poor whites and blacks alike who don’t deserve dirty nails and shaking hands, probing.
Leonce tries the door. The lever under his thumb goes down and up. Got a bolt on. “Go round knock at the window,” he tells Godfrey.
“No. He’d sooner open for you.”
They stand silent. Both alive to the next step, of commitment.
Leonce has no conscience, none as to thieving, none to murder. He has the coolness to steal these drugs, and be tempted by them never. Nothing in his professional life does he intend sharing, or in effect performing, before the eyes of Godfrey Roback. If the bolt will fly, he’d like it Godfrey’s boot prints itself on the door. If the glass wants smashing, Godfrey’s blood on the floor.
Godfrey fidgets and sweats. Leonce has an idea.
He might count it a holy vision…it makes him smile. “God. Old man’s in there.”
Godfrey looks bloodshot at Leonce.
“Nobody’d ever know it, in the morning when the fires burn down, and they start clearing out the rubble, how someone or some other got killed.”
A hot gust touches him from the left, and he steps to put Godfrey between himself and the rising shouts. He has spoken of the devil twice, now the riot seems ready to run before dark. He can’t help grinning. Granddaddy caught upstairs, no time left to get safe away. “Don’t it all belong to you? Old man dies…”
“No. Charleton…” Godfrey says this much, and wonders if Leonce just fished him.
“Oh, now, that’s true. Easy touch, Charleton. Try to lift you up, if you kneel down and repent.”
He watches a smile play at the grandson’s upper lip. Whelp. Makes him curl his, disgusted. Leonce shoves Godfrey along the side path. Dumain’s lock tumbles to the shank he keeps in the seam of a sleeve placket, his body and bent head blocking all of Godfrey’s view. “You go say hello. I’m right down the hallway. God!”
Godfrey farts with the suddenness of his arrested feet, and mutters, “Fuck you!”
“What you got on you?”
“Hell you need money for?”
Leonce chuckles, very inwardly. He withdraws to the stoop, pleased to, points the sumbitch to the brick serving as stopper. “Don’t have to take that, but you ought.”
God is too stupid not to come pick it up himself.
You peer at an upper landing, a floor once a factory loft, alight with day. Noises of watchfulness, anxious rustles under sheets. Curtained partitions all you see…but that voice, you hear. “By all means. Take up your bed and walk.”
He laughs, his affable, colonial laugh. “Or, otherwise, stay. This is an easy way to earn money, lying on your back…I would think a simple enough equation to work out for yourself. And if the medicine makes you woozy, it won’t last. However, in fact…”
You hear a slither of metal. Papers being paged aside.
“I’ll dismiss you. I can’t use you if your heart’s not in it. And so I can tell you now that you’ve been on the placebo. Young man, your symptoms are imaginary.”
“But…” the young man says. “I get paid.”
Grandfather doesn’t answer.
You reverse yourself, to the closet at the foot of this flight. He is coming down, coming this way, passing by. You pad from the closet and follow.
Think, someone says. Picture yourself where you are. Charmante, reach out a hand…
The hand closes on a key.
The time, this opening through time, was brief. The key had never left her fingers. From letting herself and William inside the house, she had fondled it, turned it forwards and back, telling Esta’s story.
William was nowhere now. To Charmante, the motive power to open her mouth and call would not come. Rothesay at the foot of the stairs lay, arms parenthetical to head. Blood spattered over a white sleeve.
The knob behind her rattled.
Leonce, you observe, makes no move, and the old devil, spry, disappears. A crack’s view shows him in the tiny lobby, able to work a lock faster than your partner. You stand foolish in your spying place, no one of consequence—no one at all—to see your clumsy issue. You burst…and stagger on the waxed floor. Hold yourself a moment, waiting laughter.
None. Kill Leonce another time. But he’s gone and left you.
You hear breaking glass, taut, swallowed speech, a command as to an idiot, muffled against clanging bells that signal authority…an idiot’s answer back: “Get that!”
A wrench, wrench of metal, a cabinet pummeled and twisted. A clatter and clink. Clink a dozen times more, a host of little bottles smashed.
Pounding of a nightstick at the clinic’s Dumain entrance.
Brick clutched fierce in your fist. You have had it this while. Find him…
Someone has set a fire. You hesitate and the door flies, you fall…the men that thunder off are followed by a dark billow of smoke.
Charleton. A strangled voice whispers this. So it is, your cousin nearby, speaking answer to a question. So in shock, so atremble, so mad. You smile at this one thing. Negligible Charleton wants to die for Carolee. If he puts himself in the way, he will…
For nothing. Nothing but your pleasure. Flames crawl in a pool of something spilt. Your skin blisters, your eyes sting and weep…but the air is tolerable, not itself blistering. The old man totters, keeps his feet.
The door flies.
When her feet began to run, she knew all this had come before. The dining room, the kitchen, the garden door. The pursuing figure. Both hands pulling at the knob, frantic, and remembering, thinking even to admonish herself for stupidity, the fixed bolt…
The pursuer boomed, entering her flesh and out again. Accompanied by a blinding light. No, the light of a mirror’s flash.
She stood wildly disheveled, mission-driven confidence in the set of her jaw, and with clenched fingers hung the mirror on the dining room wall. That lightspeed union had left Charmante with Godfrey’s sight…suffering for chemical burns, strength pumped by held breath, by will to survive. And bringing down the brick. Hands on the neck, then, choking the life out. But…
The devil lived. At Godfrey’s feet fell not his grandfather.
In agony, he booted Joseph facedown.
“Why is William not here with us?”
“That I can’t say. At the moment I don’t know where poor Nat is.”
“And…” Charmante took a kitchen chair, saying the words anyway. “I need to sit down. Is Rothesay dead, do you think? We can’t waste time, calling an ambulance.”
Veronica sat, and tamped her face with a shirt cuff. “Will you help me take down one more mirror? If they don’t suck us back in, yes, we’ll look at Rothesay…and do whatever we can for him.”
“Is he Dumain? Or if he was…if he’s dead…does Dumain leave the world that way?”
“Chamante, you and I are learning together. How could I know?”
“I’m sorry.” She owed Veronica an apology for more than one thing. For not saying at once, how are you? Instead she said: “Because you’re stronger than the rest of us. I could never have gone in that room and come out again. And because…”
“Oh, yes, you could.”
“Because of the institute. Because of Dumain.”
“Because I had secret information, is that it? Did you think I could be Dumain?”
“But, Veronica…you’ve never felt he has power in his old house?”
“Of course he does. That is, he haunts a little. I warn the kids, and they take it for a joke. The place is too busy…and I only allow mirrors built into the furniture, that can’t be moved.”
She rose, patting down her skirt. “As I guess…not knowing…the old devil’s here, because his conduit is here. Worse on the island. And what we’ll do about that, Carolee and I haven’t decided.”
It was necessary to step around the figure of Rothesay. It did not open an eye or stir, or seem to breathe. The hum, though…not even audible, just present. Charmante caught Veronica’s elbow, and passed her on the stairs.
The ring of mirrors showed its single gap. But they were far from victory….the hum grown to a mockery here, of thin glassy voices. Charmante aimed for the one belonging to Mr. Carmine’s room, easiest to put in its place. Veronica, behind her, seized the nearest at hand.
“Close your eyes.”
Advice come too late.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)