The Mirrors (part eighteen)
“And when you were hired, you were only to come in as far as the lower hall, and the cellar stairs?”
“They had the house shut up. Nothing to do with me.”
“See, you all out there, maybe you never got to hear things. You didn’t know what Mr. Meeker had to say…all that was news to you. Well, in town, everybody knew for a long time.” A pause; a breath. “They had three boys in jail. Lynching party spose to get got up, drag em off. Police turn a blind eye.”
He was speaking, suddenly, about the riot.
Walking safe with her hand in his, her father’s, that intersection that had made her giggle as a child, Dumain and Main… This, Charmante recalled, and her parents careful not to talk at home. The backend of the Dumain Clinic, the only doctor who served people like the Wrights, if young William ever saw a doctor.
“You said she, the woman who hired you…”
The kitchen door opened, and Carmine came out. That lift of the chin, though. “Billy Wright, if it ain’t.”
Wright looked at Carmine’s smile, at Carmine’s thumb hooked in a vest pocket. “I feel like I know that voice.”
“You told me one time you didn’t want me riding your car. Had to be stubborn like that, Billy. Wouldn’t just be in with me, I don’t know why. Wasn’t me that lost.”
“This is Leonce,” Charmante told William.
And he answered: “Leonce Dumain.”
She folded her arms. The impetus of emotion stalled itself, between assuming the worst, abandoning them all to their fates…and a glimmer of trust for William. That what he was hiding must yet be honorable, not part of an old evil.
“Leonce, ma’am, used to run the numbers. How come he made his shop at the back of my car. See, it went 6th to 20th, so that was one way they worked out who won. That, and some tangled-up sh… Like springtime, first person at a corner not wearing a coat, or…”
He stopped, again embarrassed.
“Slick-haired gal. Ofay from over to the hospital, sometime come down this way.”
“I have no idea.” Leonce had spoken, but she answered William.
“Had the police cut in, I guess. Got me canned.”
“But you know, I can’t tell you where I went to, Billy.” Charming again, a wistful smile. “I can’t say. Be easy like that, maybe, for Old Devil… How can I know til I catch him?”
He added, just when, neither of them caring much for Leonce’s conversation, his rhetorical question had dropped into silence, “Now, he thinks he’ll catch me. But he won’t.”
Had Leonce told her his Godfrey story from knowledge? Was the spirit side like a reference library of all that had ever been? Had he known Clell, even, in life? His ways were jesting, spiked with retribution. The world’s making winners of the lucky-born entertained Leonce, but still he felt it, the malchance of his own birth.
She could believe this. Yes, he knew, and had wanted to jimmy at her buried things with the tip of a knife. He would do that to anyone.
She asked: “Is your grandfather up in the house?”
Sly, Leonce glanced over his shoulder, the corner of his mouth drawing towards that watchful room upstairs—and at Dumain’s bedroom window was Rothesay.
In figure. The whites of the eyes framed pupils with a mad, cool intensity.
Leonce and Dumain wanted to kill each other.
Did a ghost, able to possess a living man, care if he spoiled his host? Any particular host, where any weak-willed or willing party would do?
She would have to disobey, break ordinary rules of conduct. “Leonce, William and I are taking a walk. You come too.”
“Come on now.” William caught him by the sleeve. Leonce pulled back, manifesting reluctance he seemed unable to express…
To force into expression through Carmine. The glib Leonce faded from Carmine’s chin and brow, an entityless blank coming over these. They ushered him by the servant’s passage. At the door leading to the surgery something struggled in Carmine to wake.
“A little time,” he said. Charleton, perhaps.
Escorting him in this way would have drawn attention in a neighborhood like Carolee’s, Charmante with an elbow around Carmine’s slack arm, William steering him by the shoulder. They made for the change in fortunes dividing Dumain from Centre; and distanced from the house, Carmine straightened, walking with them as a companion.
But unspeaking, cloudy-eyed.
“What do you call that?” Charmante asked William. “That big house over there?”
“I don’t mean you. What does one?”
For once and for all! she told herself. “William, I used to teach school. I got invited to a wedding, and I met Clell. My husband was a musician.”
Maybe to say so was to say everything. She had pitied Clell enough to send money; sent it also because she hadn’t wanted him back. At length came a letter, the writer striking every attitude of veiled contempt. A girlfriend…who wanted, to be clear about it, absolutely nothing from Clell’s wife. Here was a clerk’s copy of the death certificate, notarized. Here (hand scrawled) was a copy of the undertaker’s bill. So that Mrs. Demorest would understand Clell had friends in Chicago, friends who would not see him buried in a potter’s field. His friends were not swindlers; she was not asked to pay, no, not a dime if she didn’t care to, towards her husband’s interment.
Four-hundred and fifty dollars had seemed high.
But in the greater scheme of things, Charmante didn’t grudge it to a man she’d loved. A good love, for a year or two. She weighed sending an even five. But that would be giving insult for insult, and she didn’t know these people.
“It was his trouble that cost me my job. Reputation.” She shrugged. “I couldn’t control him. They wouldn’t have liked me better divorced. I had the little house, Esta’s money down, only if it was in my name alone. So it wasn’t…” William’s word, canned, was not of her vocabulary. “My being told to resign…it wasn’t the end of the world. I had money in the Post Office. That was a thing I wouldn’t do either, let Clell get hold of my savings.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)