The Mirrors (part three)
She obeyed, rather than shout back. This took effort, fighting an urge to flight, clandestine movements playing at the corners of her eyes, her feet striking unnatural rhythms.
Instinct driven, heartbeat of a hunted thing…
She found she hadn’t tracked her circuits, and might have started a third or fourth. A scientific glimmer of her own came, that little shocks you could anticipate must be masterable; that such effects could be acclimated to—
Another thought…is mirror time future or past?
But here was Carmine coming to fetch her. “Ah, the mirrors. We are definitely on to something.”
He sat with the angel in his hand.
“I’m ready to go upstairs,” she told him. “If it’s time.”
He looked puzzled. “Oh. You’re thinking of the bedroom…yes. As I’d said, that was Dumain’s. Rothesay, I take it you have nothing against Mrs. Demorest’s absorbing a touch of history?”
Rothesay was in the hall, hands in his jacket pockets, weight on the balls of his feet. Itching to get on with it, not coming in. She saw they were both in the hall, and she had been facing Carmine here, over the threshold…
Not the kitchen table.
“I hope,” Rothesay said, “Carmine didn’t overstate the case to you. Suicide…nervous breakdown. Dumain himself had had flu. The idea was he could visit the poorest cases in their homes, perfect candidate. We can surmise he hadn’t recovered in full, and being not in his first youth, was worked to excess. Suffered it from duty, or wanting to keep up…”
He was leading the way—Carmine in the wrong somehow, fallen back and scuffing his shoes—to the center of the hall where the staircase rose.
They seemed not to have noticed…
And what, Charmante stopped herself, would I have shown? Probably nothing. Probably nothing had happened. Just the mirrors made her head spin.
She left an hour ahead, having taken herself along the route mentally, drifted asleep to it. A stretch of empty road ran between the city outskirts and her town. Her bus, caught at the crossroads gas station, picked up a gang of laborers; a few minutes after, it stopped at the canning factory. The distance on foot, walking on to the factory gate, was probably a mile or two, and she could manage this…barring accidents, with time to kill.
The weather was all right, her shoes were sturdy. She put her mind to the problem at once. A property title would tell what? Only that the house had been Dumain’s and become Rothesay’s. Old maps, the city as it had lain…
A census or survey, done in 1900, seemed a certainty.
Newspapers, mention of Dumains, from days the old squirearchy was still exalted…
She thought no one would allow her to see these things.
Who is this woman hunting after this family? Above herself, out for trouble, thinks she’s connected to them. That would be their notion. Wanting money.
There must be no money. There might not be a living Dumain—
But there were other ways, easier. Did she know someone who kept every newspaper bundled in the closet, never threw one out? Those old folks who saved up all their odds and ends, hoarded gossip too…
Esta. Charmante, collecting Rothesay’s New York and Washington papers, along with the local Clarion, passed these to her aunt, who read a little, clipped recipes, clipped movie house advertisements with glamorous faces…and passed the rest to neighbors. But for a start she would ask Mr. Wright. In stages she would stoop to bypass her scruples. Because, she told herself, here’s the thing. Once you take up with a mystery, you’re investigating it anyway. She had crossed Dumain Street a hundred times, given its story the barest thought…and knew she never would again.
The boy from the grocery trailed her indoors, carrying her boxes to the kitchen. She paid him Rothesay’s tip, shooed him with a graham cracker in his pocket…and was alone, able to think. Conscious of it, that you could enter the house through the main or the servants’ door, lock it behind you or not…
But you could not get to the wall at back, but by an inside hallway, high or low. Dumain, possessing all the keys, could have gone as he saw fit.
Now, if it were ten on the dot, she would have shaken her head, forced off temptation, started the percolator going… She found herself eager, for the first time ever, to draw the men down with her cooking, hear what they’d concluded overnight.
But she heard Wright rattling in the tool shed. Wise to ask now, let him chew on it while he cut the grass, oiled the shutter hinges. Catch him again when his memory was well-jogged, and he’d thought of a name or two.
She left the kitchen and tapped at his door.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)