The Mirrors (part nine)
But here was a sheet of stationery paper, folded. Typed on.
I promise I made the story up. Please don’t accuse me of being better than that. I’m sorry I must have preyed on your mind far more than I could have known. Of course, she wasn’t anything like my silly romance. You know what we are. Where would I ever hear such moonshine, or what would my mother have to do with such a place? Please try to think so that I can believe you’re well. No, I apologize, but I’m afraid I will never want to see you. For so many reasons, but most of all because, you know it, I’m not good enough. I lose patience. I will do you some other mischief, and at the time I do it, I won’t care.
It was impulse, saying his name. As though she could ask him this question, his shade join her on the sofa opposite, the two of them talk about his misery in love.
What had the woman…well, what had Carolee, why pretend…
What had his cousin lied to him about?
Rain came pelting the zinc roof of the porch. The day was gloomy. Mr. Wright had no cause to take leave of Rothesay’s housekeeper. Why stay, since he could no longer work?
They were friends now, Charmante thought, thawed past formalities…
But not such friends he’d wait, and walk her to her bus.
She was alone. Alone, she would rather meet a ghost during daytime hours, with people on the street.
She felt the draw of the cracked door. A watermark lay on the rug, that shimmered for the eye just leaving it. She wasn’t ready for the mirrors. Embarrassed, but confident no one really heard, she knocked at Carmine’s bedroom door, and called: “Hello!”
Here was a chronicle of a warming season, draped to the tipping point, a tweed suitcoat and trousers, a shetland pullover, gabardines, a thinner cardigan, an oxford-cloth shirt. Carmine shed them nightly onto his armchair.
She saw the bedspread hem bowed by the heel of a boot. An empty binocular case hung on his dresser mirror, the glasses themselves butting a stack of quarter-fold newspapers, a few of her missing dishes, an ashtray. A wad of chewed gum with a toothpick stuck in marred the varnish.
Charmante looked hard at the mirror.
Rothesay’s schema seemed able to erase you from your own sight, made you watch your detached self like a third party. In the mirrored room were you, your reflection, and the interloper.
But even if she were thirty years younger, and trying her best to spook herself…
In the middle of Carmine’s jumble, it would take some doing. Moiréed by the sheers, a street tree clawed a slow-motion dance. Movement, but nothing of moment. An uncomfortable lot of traffic noise Carmine had to bear with.
The attic rooms were all Rothesay’s, except the back west corner.
What did it mean that he preserved Dumain’s, kept it empty…had done nothing here but trace diagrams on the floorboards with chalk? The rug was rolled against the wall, the stove in the fireplace painted white. Those were all the furnishings. She felt suddenly that she ought to have knocked at Rothesay’s door.
Another fantastic thought…horrid…
By rights, unentertainable. She was seeing him capable of these things. Of wanting rid of Carmine…of not going away, after all, only pretending…
She said aloud: “Now just stop!”
And felt the dusty tension of the room relax.
The windowsills would not be broad enough. She crouched, and placed the letter and photo just inside the door.
Tuesday, Carmine was waiting for her at the kitchen table. “I’ve got Sir Christopher in a basket. Not knowing how you’d feel.”
He added: “Kit, you see, for short.”
She watched him squat to ease up the lid. A nose came nudging his fingers, a muzzle pushed advantage. Whiskers sprang, then toes and a curl of claws under a chin.
“Go ahead, let him loose. I don’t know why Mr. Rothesay doesn’t want a cat for the mice, anyway. Whenever I find one of those traps gone off, and can’t do more than throw the poor little thing in the garden…”
Kit was white, tabbied on one ear and the tip of his tail. He took stock of freedom, sniffed the length of the baseboard, flopped to paw under the icebox. He jumped to the table, which could not be allowed.
“Cats can see spirits. So they always say. They, I mean…the folklorists… Not that cats say it of themselves. Perhaps they do…” Carmine cleared his throat. “I’m not really concerned about Dumain. That is, to find I’m sharing the house with him. He seems a sort of collateral to the mirrors’ energy. I just don’t like being snuck up on.”
Charmante was at the practical task of filling a saucer with milk, which Kit as she bent spilled with a head butt. But he cleaned up his own mess.
Carmine was goodhearted. If she offended by questioning him; if he said something to Rothesay… She would simply agree. “I was prying where I’ve got no business, and I don’t excuse it.” Rothesay would admit belief in Dumain’s ghost, hint at his purpose for the mirrors—
Or not. He might tell her, “Don’t encourage Carmine.” He might tell her that he no longer required her services.
“Where did you hear about Dumain…that he shot himself out there?”
Well…that was coming full circle. “I have a connection to Dumain,” she told him. “You got me started. I went over Sunday to see my aunt.”
He reddened, imagining—could he?—some antebellum impropriety.
“Dr. Dumain was cousin to my aunt’s old people, the Robacks. You said the Dumains were a family. The Robacks were too, in their day. I don’t know any are left…I suppose Carolee was an only child, after all…”
Something thocked, like a cabinet door swinging shut. Kit, the likeliest suspect, came at the object sideways, tail puffed.
“It’s your angel fell. The wings are a lost cause, I’m afraid.”
Of course, she wasn’t anything like my silly romance. You know what we are. Where would I ever hear such moonshine…
(2020, Stephanie Foster)