The Mirrors (part fifteen)
The day came up with a busy humidity in the air, a striated purple framing a sun ugly with rosiness. Thunder, Charmante thought. It was early in the season for a hurricane, but she could believe in one looming, with a sky like that.
They had let him go. Proof to Esta of an undying reality.
“Laws are only made. Here we got all this trouble again with the banks. You know the ones up in Washington can decide whatever thing they like. If there ain’t enough for everybody, too much work goes begging, nothing left to pay folks with…maybe they just change the law, Charmante. They do, whenever it makes sense to em.”
But Charmante had left with her aunt’s blessing.
When he’d recognized her house, and hadn’t say goodbye, she had asked William to stop inside. Important things needing debate could not be touched on any further. Of small talk…she had not much will to dream any up.
“Sweet little place.”
He feinted side-looks at the big portrait of Clell, filling an alcove where a cupboard, her curio table, and the door to her bedroom met to form it. On the table were the two of them, young, in a gold-plated frame—her wedding picture.
William might have been thinking, how did he die? They always wondered. He might have been thinking, he was a handsome man. Yes, for that she’d forgiven Clell a great deal. He had caught her eye; she had taken what she wanted—she couldn’t excuse it.
“That was Mr. Demorest,” she said finally.
William gulped down his coffee and said, “Work tomorrow.”
She wouldn’t cross his path at all, coming up to the front door, and today Charmante wished William could enter at her side. Not just the weather, but signs speaking to other senses warned…seemed warning.
The door skimmed over the rug. She stood awkward, yanking at the key, sticky, worrisome if she were pursued. Even for a moment came a vision, herself in mad flight, heaving over the hall tree to block the way, hauling open the kitchen door, but—
Misleading him, flying instead to Dumain’s surgery.
A voice not completely familiar grunted, else muttered low. The tree had a mirror attached, and the face reflected was Carmine’s.
“Now you, I’m thinking, be the one stirs trouble. Charleton has got the notion it won’t be allowed, our plan. Won’t be allowed…?”
He said this last mannered, as one who acts a conversation. He had answered, he wanted Charmante to know, baitingly. She would like to smile at Carmine. She could play along, without needing to be told why they played.
But his eyes were as she’d never seen them. Knowing, implacable. The register of his voice was different; not lower, but more potent. The musical drawl…
He held her gaze with an arched brow. Come to the realization. He was wishing this on her, making her hear the thought somehow.
“I think we haven’t met,” she said.
“Call me Leonce, ma’am.”
“I’d be sorry to cause trouble for anyone. I was pretty fond of Mr. Carmine.”
Leonce puffed air through his teeth, and waved a dismissive hand.
“I’m going to start making lunch,” she told him.
“Mm-hmm, why not?” He allowed it, her passing into the kitchen.
Why not? The corporeal Carmine must eat. Which, she asked herself, is Leonce? And who would know?
Kit came weaving, wanting to jump in the icebox. “Sure now, baby, you hold on and I’ll pour you a saucer of milk.” Was the milk even fresh, still sitting on the back step? Carmine would not have neglected feeding his cat…but it was seeing a ghost he’d been confident he could bear.
She crouched, and stroked the cat, and thought at least he might stay by her side, raise hackles, a mild heralding of Leonce, if he came back…
She was hearing bustle in the rooms behind. Her own name. Kit puffed, and darted to the dining room, around the legs of Rothesay. Rothesay entered—and while she’d had no impulse to greet him with delight, the face composing itself to say, “Why, here you are back!”, froze.
The eyes stayed locked on hers, while nimbly he skirted the table’s edge. The lips were almost smiling. But the smile, and the stare—
…like he’d just snatch you up.
“My granddaughter hired you. Or have I got it wrong? I heard her say to that son of mine she would take care of it all, he would have the help he needed. I don’t like Rothesay. If I had my choice…”
He let this trail. He was amiable; he expected her to sympathize.
“I was hired by Mr. Rothesay, whether you like him or not. You don’t mean Carolee…?”
He was watching her, her face doing interesting things…fearful, defiant, questioning things, perhaps…and his smile altered, the jaw lowering, the teeth coming out. He grinned.
“No, Mrs. Demorest, she I do not refer to. I think the woman’s name is Veronica. I don’t much like Veronica, coming down to it…but I doubt it’s money she wants.”
He shook his head and drew so near, Charmante could only tilt hers back, or refuse to meet his eye. “This is all some stupidity…Lil’s girl party to it, yes…some foolery of righting wrongs which have not been done. I don’t expect my work to be understood, but I might ask nonetheless—I think, fairly—that cretins don’t disturb me at it.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)