The Mirrors (part twenty-one)

Posted by ractrose on 20 Oct 2022 in Fiction, Novels
Oil painting of Luna moth with female figure

 

 

 

The Mirrors
(part twenty-one)

 

 

x.

 

 

Their road sagged low, following the river’s course where the towpath had run. Marian drove Carolee’s car; Veronica and her guests crowded the back seat.

“The Robacks were never so bad…that is, you think of them on their island, going back…”

Popping sounds came, of tires breaking twigs.

And Miss Roback said on: “We bred our own, as we used to say. Outsiders, visitors, would have to be invited by a protocol. So there could be no happenstance, no dropping by, no trespass. Everything ran as they had ordered it, my grandparents; everything theirs, the food they ate, the famous horses, the music…”

A moment of conscience, giving pause. Who would the musicians be, after all, or the dancers, entertaining?

“The hunts, Charmante. Believe it or not, my father’s dogs were set after otters. We ladies played capture the flag. The cousins held tourneys at tennis. And being from a place in the world where you had no truck with anyone but your own… My father’s friends were his prospects, his amiable competitors. He was courted by his mayor and his senator, he allowed his schemers to think he favored them. Those would be the planters, the shippers, the railroad men, the hoteliers. The Dumain relatives, building their clinics. Well, you know, bank loans among that group…they would shake hands on an understanding, during these visits… Or, what do you call them? Junkets.”

Charmante did not know bank loans, or island holidays. But Miss Roback lit on phrases; what anyone, in their conversation, did. “It was all very insular, you mean.”

“It was a nuthatch! No, that doesn’t seem right. A weird effect of the same people coming back by the year, slowing aging. Dying offstage. When I got to be eighteen or so, I thought…”

Marian stopped the car before a slough of mud. “Ma’am, I don’t know if I ought to.”

“We all should get out, take the weight off.” William popped his door.

And Veronica said: “Let’s not chance it. We’ll get a boat for sure, but the car’s all we’ve got for getting home. Marian, back it up to that little rise we just came down.”

The river spread wide, grey-blue in its placidity, a looking glass until it lapped at knees of bald cypress, claiming a crescent of road for itself. Fools joyriding up this way often drowned, as you couldn’t know, shooting over a rise, where the water sat.

“When you were eighteen…” Charmante prompted.

Carolee returned a thin smile. “I thought I would get away, if I had to row across that river myself.”

“You don’t think there’s any trouble, ma’am, leaving the car.”

“William,” Veronica said, “I’m looking to hire someone to keep an eye on it. But I don’t know any reason why Marian needs to go across. Maybe…”

 

 

46

 

 


 

 

“Veronica, there’s only some of your plans I’d go along with. And anything you thought of just this minute, no. That’s Leonce in her.”

Marian spoke to William, who had known Leonce, this nodding intimacy doing something to Charmante. But first things first. “Veronica!”

“You heard right. Leonce was my own father.”

Carolee draped a scarf over her hat, and from a pocket pulled a bottle. “Do the mosquitos bother you, Charmante?”

A dumbstruck moment. Carolee waggled the bottle.

“Oh! Yes…thank you!”

Here was a social question never encountered, how much of a stranger’s expensive lotion to use before her eyes. Veronica had plunged ahead, imprinting heel-marks along the road.

She was singing out, “Heyo! Heyo…!”

“Please hang onto that.” Carolee spun to follow the same narrow margin…her feet in white tennis shoes. Charmante wondered if she’d really been given a gift.

“William,” Marian said, “keep a lookout for me, so I don’t slide off the edge. You first, Charmante.”

Behind, Charmante heard them laugh, a slam of the door, the engine rev up.

This mud was the sumpy, sticky kind…it took resolution to put the soles of her shoes heel-to-toe; and not—spiting unexpected help and generosity—to walk hard, feeling insulted. The other pair also talked privately, standing at a sandy cut above a shoal. Just shoal enough for the boatman, his bare feet sinking to his cuffed dungarees, to wade ashore with a string of fish.

His head, sharp and small like a blue-eyed brown wren’s, angled, seeing her walk up. The corners of his mouth turned down. He didn’t like Miss Roback’s manners, or the pep of Veronica…or Charmante on sight…

Or the most of humanity, it might be. A pontoon dock floated chained to a tree, the chain long lipped over by bark. A rowboat sat moored; fish scales, glued everywhere, glinted a pearly light.

“They’s a lot you all. Four women. Your boy comin?”

“Too much weight for your boat?”

“But you’s wantin someone look after that car.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Veronica said. “We can row ourselves over. Five dollars rent. Sit on the dock and clean your fish if you’d rather. Only you better be speedy on your feet if there’s trouble. He doesn’t like even setting foot on the island, he says.”

Veronica said this to Charmante, laying a hand on her shoulder. “So we’ll have to hire him to watch the car. Marian, how much is in the tank?”

“Oh, the tank is full. I’d never be coming out here not thinking of that. But you’d hardly notice what we used so far. Maybe just a little hair off.”

“Good enough. William, I’m going to give you a five-dollar bill. You take a look at it. Then you give it to Mr. Brasher.”

 

 

47

 

 


The Mirrors

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2020, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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