The Mirrors (part four)
He put his head out. “How you like that angel?”
“Mr. Carmine helped me fix it up. You see it there, in the window.” At a half-angle, the wings showed in their contrivance a little clumsy. “I did mean to come thank you… Mr. Wright, I was just hearing about Dr. Dumain, who used to own this place.”
His face said only that he waited for her to go on.
“I suppose you came to work for Mr. Rothesay a year or two ago.”
“Rothesay? Nah, I been here probly four or five.”
Her spare minutes were ticking by. He suspected what she was up to, anyway, challenge in his silences and short answers. She would have to bear the onus for prying. Her aunt’s rules—her aunt’s idea of belonging to the house you served, conducting yourself to reflect propriety on your people—were worries of another kind. Who was to say they were rules at all?
Carmine was not local, and he’d got his rumors from someone. “Dr. Dumain,” she said, “shot himself out there in the garden.”
“They say. Show you the place.”
“I haven’t got time. I’d kind of like to hear the story.”
“Well, come knocking.”
1912 Dumain St. Light housekeeping, general errands. Address enquiries to Mr. A. R.
She had come knocking in late winter. Because the advertisement was that sort, responses going care of the Clarion, Mr. A. R.’s privacy guarded. Because the street was iffy…no reason to take an engagement there if you didn’t like the looks. First, she had asked Mr. Rothesay if he had hours in mind. He had not much of anything in mind, but that the place was large for a bachelor, and he wasn’t managing to keep up.
She had asked if he wanted any cooking. “If you had the pans…” she said, after scrounging the makings of flapjacks for his lunch, “I’d bake you a couple of pies. You’d have something for evening times that way.”
He blinked at Charmante, considering this novelty of pots and pans. “It grows complicated, Mrs. Demorest.”
An embarrassed laugh. Rothesay didn’t know how to shop for such things. She was feeding him before he’d yet hired her, spoken of wages…or of duties, other than “these rooms down here”.
“Well, I can bring you a few of my own.”
A month or so past that familiar pinkening and stammering, and his misunderstanding her altogether (she did not propose to render him beholden, or slyly condemn…she was being practical), he had gone to the depot and brought Carmine home, as workmate and boarder. Rothesay was a man who could not do the common-sensical without a nudge, who wove knots around himself fretting he’d put a foot wrong…
On form, leaving off substance.
“Whenever you want me,” she said.
Company rapped at the edge of her attention…a medicinal odor, a chair moved aside, soles scraping, an intake of breath. Rothesay, she thought, not Carmine. She was rolling shells, one to fill with the chicken stewing on the back burner; one with chocolate pudding, grown with the men to be a great favorite.
Rapping now came distinctly, in the playful way of someone at an open door, when the room’s occupant has her back turned.
“You anticipate me. That’s a good trick. I’m convinced…”
He moved to pantomime over the simmering milk, mock-shaking the cocoa tin.
“You be careful. If that lid wasn’t fixed on… Yes, Mr. Carmine?”
“Convinced you do have an intuition. I’ve seen…you’ll let me confide in you…”
He made a noise then, a tetchy laugh. “But not at once. Here’s Rothesay.”
“Don’t you think it’s a skill you could learn, Carmine…?”
“I, or anyone, I suppose. We might get Mr. Wright.”
“You are being facetious. We aren’t going to bother Mr. Wright. You haven’t, I hope, been bothering Mrs. Demorest?”
“Mrs. Demorest,” Carmine said, “is quite safe. What is it troubles you? The secrecy? Because I submit we don’t know well enough what we’re doing to conceal any crucial aspect that may emerge…and the fellow down at the shop will have got mysteriously ahead of us if he can suss one out.”
“Not secrecy. My point is this, at the camera shop they are trained to correct flaws…to sharpen an image, to bring up contrast, remove flyspecks, et cetera. These are not judgments for others to make.”
Carmine shrugged. “No odds… My own judgment being virgin.”
Rothesay passed this off with a wave of the hand. “Dumain’s old pharmacy will be ideal, nothing there but artificial light. I believe the book gives instruction as to the type one wants in a darkroom. Now, Carmine, are you lazy about the matter? Or will you take it up?”
Charmante carried her plate and glass of tea outdoors to her garden seat. The day looked too much like rain; worse, it seemed building up to thunder. Sprinkles dotted her dress.
She was unhappy with this…
This difference of opinion at the lunch table. She had left Rothesay jotting in his notebook, his lack of material so apparent he fooled not even her, who knew nothing of his sums and projections. Carmine had sat disdainful, leafing Rothesay’s book: Principles of the Photographic Art.
“Seen you out here. So I come by to show you.”
“Mr. Wright. Do you like working for Mr. Rothesay? Suppose you had to find another place?”
It was on her mind their argument might devolve, Carmine leave…that in some way, kind and vague as her employer was, she felt uneasy being alone with him. Wright stood not answering, not obviously pondering either. Baffled, it might be, by a woman so taken up with herself.
“I’m sorry. I was thinking out loud.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)