The Mirrors (part two)
To waste a few minutes, then, and litter her clean counter with a toothpick and tube of glue, Charmante undertook the odd little project. She let a drop fall between the wing-stubs, pressed the dead moth to its back. The best place for this creation must be the windowsill. Wright would see it, passing where a sort of gatehouse gave entry to the basement. This was his tool shed.
She was cagey with the odd-job man. She had seen him simple, and she had seen him shrewd. A wooer easy and honest would be just fine… Charmante was widowed, comfortable, had money put by. She could please her fancy, set her cap high or low. She smiled. Mr. Wright tended to think she put herself above him.
A huffing of breath that was Carmine’s, and corresponded to shoes clattering down stairs, rose in volume. Next, came the mothball scent that was his jacket’s. He skirted the table.
“Ah, what’s that? Curious.”
The unset wings tumbled; Carmine stooped after them. He failed at getting the glue to take again.
“Curious,” he said, handing the parts to her.
She returned both to the counter. “Are you ready for me? I’ll go do the cupboard if you aren’t.”
“Just let me see if I can’t fix that… Mrs. Demorest, do you know who owned this house, at one time? There.”
The word was promising. Charmante had consigned the fragile corpse to the trash. She looked, and Carmine held up the angel, bewinged.
“Not the Rothesays?”
“No. I don’t think the Rothesays are a family, especially. Of course, fire did for the old clinic, that was the start of it. Or better to say, the end. Seems like ancient history and it’s not, really. Aught-one. Thirty years ago. But, Dr. Dumain…the Dumains…they were a family.”
They were, to be sure. The very street was named for them.
“Fire keeps threading its way through the tale, somehow. Dumain had enlisted, honorary officer, gone forty at least…” Carmine laughed. “But then, half the troops down with flu…”
He cast an uneasy glance at Charmante.
“And so he was away from his house, off at one of the camps…”
“Forty, I suppose, is young for a specialist…”
“Well. He was supposed to be in convalescence. Dumain, I think, had a valet, given a night out. They sounded the alarm, neighbors across the way who saw the first flare of it, in that sitting room just over our heads.”
He half-rose and pointed, his sleeve toppling the angel. “Bollocks!”
He said in a moment: “Awful of me, I apologize…”
“A lamp fell over?”
“A thought, Mrs. Demorest! Yes, I suppose that was apparently the case. But his body was found well away from the blaze. The fire had burned up by way of the chimney, into the bedroom above, his. But Dumain was down here…that is…out there, under the wall, shot in the head.”
This was quite a story Mr. Wright had never given her.
“Well, there’s your mystery. It’s not been proved, so far as I’ve heard, whether he had made his way outdoors…addled, maybe, for breathing smoke… But why the gun? If the accident was planned, it had all gone wrong. Back door locked, front door unlocked. And you’ll appreciate, you can’t get to the garden wall, except by exiting the back way.”
Carmine, Rothesay’s friend, could gossip if it pleased him. Charmante tucked the angel behind the curtain, picked up her notepad, and found her place. She lifted, weighing each in turn, the sugar and flour canisters. She hadn’t thought of an intelligent question, not over-inquisitive.
“I wonder, Mrs. Demorest, if you have any sensitivity to atmospheres, as is sometimes said? I ought to have asked if the place did not seem haunted to you, rather than give the game away.”
“I thought your work was scientific.”
“Ah, the mirrors. We are definitely on to something. What…we can only hope to learn by putting them to the test.”
Charmante wished too that Carmine had thought better of introducing tragedy.
The men’s workroom, Dumain’s study, was a part of the house Rothesay didn’t ask her to enter. (“Nothing upstairs, Mrs. Demorest. People don’t go upstairs…”)
She thought she smelled smoke. She thought this must be by suggestion. The sheers were yellowed from the sun, the ceiling plaster stained…work done a little slapdash, that the house be saleable. Rothesay, having got his price, hadn’t cared to improve it.
Twenty or more mirrors ringed the walls. A few were fixed on stands…all slightly angled, each towards the next. The blinds were hooked closed.
“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 can surely hear me call, from there by the sink.”
Charmante noticed first that she was following herself. And again, she was ahead of herself, disappearing, to pop back 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?”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)