The Mirrors (part thirteen)

Posted by ractrose on 16 Aug 2022 in Fiction, Novels
Oil painting of Luna moth with female figure




The Mirrors
(part thirteen)



“And did your friends have any other gossip we could use?”

He fell a step or two behind, not answering. She wondered whether a man’s tavern talk would not bear the word “gossip”, or if (no, it had) her stress on “friends” had sounded disapproval.

“Well,” she said, “Miss Roback’s street is pretty ordinary. When did their bank fail, the last time? There was a crash in thirteen, the year I got married…”

Married, why say it? Because Mr. Wright had mentioned a speakeasy. Because Mrs. Demorest was respectable. “I live there. But we’re going on, to my Aunt Esta’s.”

Hers was a good house, not much smaller than Carolee’s. It was a good neighborhood…but maybe if Miss Roback came down this way, people would open their front doors, step onto their porches. Charmante’s yard sat flat and lower than the road, and tended to flooding. Just September the water was up, but a broom and bucket got the mud off her clapboards. She salted the weeds out of her brick walk. Her roof was in good order, her windows shined, their boxes planted with lantana.

She was proud of her little place. “I grew up at Esta’s, but when my father was around I lived in town.” Her pause drew him back to her side. “I was Miss Bonheur. Well…you know the time I mean…a lot of the men they arrested got sent to the work gangs. And so many were killed, of course. They laid them out, for the wives to come see…you remember that.”

“Your father was one of them disappeared, never turned up?”

“My mother died, two years after. What I’m really saying…”

She saw him doff his hat, to scratch his head, an embarrassed sign telling her he was sorry for her, and that he didn’t know her well.

“I had to tell Marian she could mention Esta to Carolee. I didn’t see any other way. Esta, William, stands on manners like no one I’ve ever known. I have no idea how upset she’ll be. I only know she wouldn’t herself, in a thousand years, have sought out one of the Robacks. You understand.”

“Hey, now! Who you brung, Charmante?”

“Hey, Mrs. Parkins! This is William Wright.”

And since it was no use holding back, she added, ushering him onto Esta’s porch: “He does the odd jobs for Mr. Rothesay.”

In the icebox were chopped chicken parts, floured on a pair of dinner plates. Charmante at the hotplate spooned bacon fat into her aunt’s skillet, getting the supper going, and told Wright he could peel potatoes.

He laughed. “That’s all I done in the war, ma’am, boiling pots in the kitchen. Never got to Gay Paree. I was on that island…think you said was where your folk lived, St. Hubert. They made an army hospital out there, keep everyone with the grippe quarantined.”

“Have you been telling me the truth, then, William? Dumain…” Which one had said it?

“Yeah, I saw Dr. Dumain. You’re not thinking I spoke to him.”

Carmine. But Dumain’s having the flu himself, the strain of a poor recovery tipping him into recklessness, had been Rothesay’s thought. Hadn’t the odd vision under the garden wall suggested, though…?








“Did people talk about him? Was he bad-tempered, kindly?”

Wright worked his knife.

“Slice thin,” she told him. “I’ll fry them in the fat, after the chicken.”

He laughed approval. “Now I think of it…a little crazy, maybe.”

Voices, Esta’s, as Charmante knew, and Mrs. Parkins’s, as William might recognize, came through the side window.

“…does the odd jobs for Mr. Rothesay.”

“Oh, yes, oh yes,” Esta said.

Charmante cocked her head at William, returning his smile. “People thought he was crazy.”

“So I say. Well, you got me thinking. Haven’t done that for a while.”

“Think,” she said, “of another thing, for just a second. You surely saw the house, up there on the high point of the island. I don’t know why you didn’t tell me.”

Wright glanced at the window. They were talking about Esta’s old woman.

“…she says every day she’ll take care of me in her will.”

“No bad luck on it, but if they all can’t go live with her…”

“Never mind,” Charmante said. “They’ll be at it.”

“I didn’t, cause it seemed like going farther into things than there was any sense doing. People always did say Dumain’s had a ghost. Always been talk he might not have killed his self.”

William’s face, and the slowness with which he drew these sentences out, told Charmante each was a question. To question was only reasonable…was she in fact trying to solve a mystery? Before she went on badgering Carolee, she’d better have worked this out.

“But the truth is, I only feel danger. Don’t you? Someone’s in trouble. I don’t know why…why it seems me being called… Are you religious at all, Mr. Wright?”

“Oh, I think God’s got you on his list, like the government. If you don’t pay him his due, he’ll still be coming after it.”

Mrs. Parkins, making a little show of ostentation, not to impose on “family”, did not come in.

“She’s got you married off,” Esta said.

Over the supper, Charmante let Esta treat this guest as she chose, and Esta gleaned little more than her niece.

He was from the city, all his life. “Far end of Main Street. But no more, the house we lived ain’t there.”

Esta put another question.

Well, he’d done every kind of odd job, never learned much of use in the army, was on the trolley line longest. And something new: “I live with my sister, way down Dumain. Just the three of us, now her kids are grown.”


Charmante said: “Should we go out on the porch, for dessert?”






The Mirrors

Oil painting of Luna moth with female figureThe Mirrors (part fourteen)
















(2020, Stephanie Foster)




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