The Mirrors (part twenty-three)
There was trash, quite a lot of it—floating oil cans and tires, bottles and medicine tins… A little raft of soaked cardboard signs, opposition work from the coroner’s race. And driftwood, fencing in everything.
William poled them onwards. “There ain’t gonna be a beach, ma’am.”
“Don’t trouble,” Veronica said. “Get me up to that bank, and I’ll jump. So we can all get out.”
She snugged them close as the rope could be tightened…but the getting out remained a business. Veronica locked forearms with Carolee, who skidded onto a knee, streaking her shin with mud.
“Come on, Marian.”
“Back away, that’s the help I need from you.” Marian shooed Veronica and reached for Charmante.
William said: “Best we get the boat out the water and turned over. I don’t know that driftwood won’t keep slamming and knock a hole in it.”
We, he did not mean. The women made room for the man of the group to solve this.
“Do they keep up the house at all?” Charmante asked.
“Not so much there’d be electric, or phone service. Or, I don’t think so. It belongs to the government, Charmante. I don’t know what they get up to.”
“Why don’t we walk this road,” Veronica said. “And I’ll tell you an old story, one you’ve heard before. A boy and a girl get married, and after a while they have a baby. When the boy sees the color of the little child’s skin, he thinks his wife is guilty…of the most shame-making sin he knows. He locks the door against her. She takes the baby and drowns herself. But the poor wife was innocent. She was a little bit colored, and the husband was a little bit colored. And the young ones had never been told the old family secrets. White folks like to scare themselves with a yarn like that…
“Now let’s talk about two little boys, three and two years old. One looked like a little white boy, the other had a yellow skin and wooly hair. Old Duman had just one son, one that counted. When Joseph’s wife gave birth, and the baby didn’t live, and the wife didn’t live, and Joseph told his father he would never marry again, Old Dumain saw his estate going to…”
“Godfrey.” Carolee said it. “My half-brother. My cousin.”
The path dwindled and pitched, roots of trees making stairsteps. Tangles of wild grape fell in their way, that Marian, leading as William brought up the rear, buffeted clear with a stick. One by one, they bent and passed through.
And here the acreage showed, a good broad stretch, the house on its rise surveying rectangle after rectangle of a different weediness, of dryer, deader earth, tall grasses and aster clumps.
“Where the tents was,” William said.
“Is there a guard?” Charmante asked Carolee.
“Not a soul I know of.”
“And nothing left that has any value now… All the furniture gone?”
“No, I don’t think so. But in a minute we’ll see.”
A pattern frayed in shaggy seedheads, a path, of herringboned bricks…
The outer walls of the manse looked bleached, netted over with dead vines. Someone had walked the perimeter with poison to stop them fingering back. But little green trails crept through the lawn.
Lower windows were boarded over. Porch columns peeled, roof tiles sat streaked with rust. A greenhouse lay in parts, its broken frame, a mosaic of glass shards, pots crumbling into a mound of terra cotta.
Are you sad, Carolee? Charmante wanted to ask it.
Carolee said: “We’ll go inside. I think there’s rain coming.”
And so they were to climb those stairs, that Esta had stood at the foot of.
The scrolled slabs of doors were locked, brass plate to brass plate. Carolee strode past them, past the curve of the veranda. Steps led down to the lawn, and up, to the top of a double porch.
Here torn screens were crowded with mimosa, and a climbing rose, tepid pink, riddled with black spot. Birds had left seedy droppings everywhere, their abandoned nests under the rafters. Cushioned wicker remained, its stuffing picked out, the smell of mouse strong.
“Well, I’m sorry! I guess this won’t do. Don’t get your hopes up, but we’ll see what’s to be found in the front hall.”
Not sad…the wreckage of her childhood home made Carolee smile.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)