The Mirrors (part twenty)

Posted by ractrose on 13 Oct 2022 in Fiction, Novels
Oil painting of Luna moth with female figure

 

 

 

The Mirrors
(part twenty)

 

 

Questions about assimilation, in the forty years since the war, a comparative study of northern and southern populations, cities chosen for the nearness in size of these. Harold must return—that had been the arrangement—because there was no telephone he could use. Just go back, and see if she needed him that day.

“Go back, and knock on that same door?”

Charmante envisioned a tentative test, the door found unlocked. Harold choosing to go in, his feet slowing, the darkness under the stairs uneasing. The dead quiet of the hallway, and Harold, coaching himself to courage, calling out—

Climbing to an upper floor, vanishing.

 

The mansion sat hard by the walk, older than the widening of its street for the rails. But it could never have had much frontage, nothing like the walled yards and sprawling oaks of neighborhoods farther north. Dumain preferred this perch; if he had come to want land, he owned it already…those unlucky plots below, where two of his family’s ventures had burned.

Here was a sign, surprising Charmante not at all, in naming this the Metropolitan Cultural Institute. A window rattled above their heads.

“Mr. Carmine, is that you? Stay where you are!”

“I ought to warn you,” William said.

But the woman had flown downstairs, it seemed. The front door was swinging before Charmante knew of what she ought to be warned.

“Why! William Wright. Do I remember?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Mr. Carmine, you look a little under the weather. Would you like to come indoors?”

At the tap of her finger, he said, “Veronica.”

“That’s right. How is Dr. Rothesay?”

Carmine looked himself over, patted his clothing, drew a wallet and stared at it, his face blanched in the sunlight, bewildered. “Is Rothesay back…when?”

“Come inside and sit.” She patted a sleeve, Charmante’s. “Hello!”

This was vexing, but Charmante said, “How do you do, ma’am?”

A knowing laugh. “Veronica Dumain. Are you not…”

Ignoring Carmine’s answering of himself in a mumble, “When did he leave, though?”, Veronica hooked his arm and ushered him to the steps. When over her shoulder she saw that William and Charmante stood in place, she finished:

“…the housekeeper, over at Charleton’s? Mrs. Demorest? No, you two, come on up to my office. Miriam.”

“Warn me what?”

“That. It’s her. Hired me.”

Veronica yoohooed from her desk. They found her shuffling index cards, her hand directing them to the sofa where Carmine sat. “I’ve done it again…don’t tell! Marian.”

 

 

44

 

 


 

 

“Oh… Marian from Miss Roback’s.”

“I need to give Carolee a call. I think she’ll come get us in her car. Well! This is it, huh? Let me make two calls.”

Charmante gave William the barest sidelong look; he returned a warm nod. Carmine cradled a pillow, fingering the curtain that blocked his view…he peered at this fabric as though he’d woken in a strange land and studied a map.

“Don’t, if it will take very long,” Veronica was saying. “Oh, good! Then do…” She pitched across her desktop onto elbows. “Nat! Would you like to go up to my apartment and listen to music?”

“I don’t like this house.”

A knock, and the gap of the door inched wider.

“Susie, I’ll take care of all that. I told Mr. Carmine you’d show him to the guest room and play him some gramophone records. Susie won’t leave you alone, Nat. And you know…he can only be in one place.”

Veronica spoke to the operator again, while Charmante, in this little room crowded to capacity, took custody of the coffee tray, and William changed places with Carmine, getting him to his feet, shifting his arm into Susie’s grip.

Veronica cupped the receiver: “I thought we’d all drive out of the city some ways, and just have our little talk.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

45

 

 


The Mirrors

Oil painting of Luna moth with female figureThe Mirrors (part twenty-one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2020, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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