The Mirrors (part twenty-five)
“Sometimes I think it was Polly warning me,” Carolee said. “It began when I was fifteen or so, when God started…I ought to say Godfrey…started frightening me. We always made allowances for God because he was the one who’d found her. He had waded down into the water and tried for an hour to drag her out. The cold, or the hysterics, caused some kind of spell that lasted months. I suppose you’d call it a nervous breakdown… In a ten-year-old boy that seems extreme. But it’s easy to think no one had quite the right seriousness in treating him. If God could ever have been rescued, they’d lost that chance. But you know, barring discoveries, I can call my brother normal…”
She smiled a little at her hands on her lap, shrugged when thunder pealed. The room had been darkening all the while. “I’ll take my own advice and say it frankly. Godfrey was not inbred. But he was the worst, every other way…he seemed defective. I don’t know when they started needing to lock the cabinets. There was nothing, not the kitchen syrups, not poor Aunt Livie’s cough medicine, not even plain peroxide. Not the paint thinner your Esta’s Charles kept in his shed, Charmante. And God was cruel, nasty cruel. A story I heard…they caught him throwing a little dog, that was his mother’s, into the river. It would swim back, and he’d heave it into the current again. Trying to wear it out, curious to know how many times it would fight to live. Charles, I think, put a stop to it. God was twisted…deviant… He didn’t pity anything in the world.”
Thunder again, and Charmante remembered her father singing a song, one—but she realized it only now—he had made up himself, just to stop her being scared.
When he had been home to sing it.
I will keep myself out of the storm, yet I know I’ll pass this trial
I will keep myself safe and warm, yet if you ask me Lord
I’ll walk this mile
I can’t mind a little noise
When I see the light of Heaven
For my heart does more rejoice
And the last rhyme eluded…but…
It had been pledged, pledging.
Pledging what? Faith. Fealty. They were lyrics with some polish to them—that weary trek from Tennessee in the colored car, her Daddy fining up his verses for his little girl.
“Did you want to go up now? Just get it over with?” Taking yes for granted, Veronica sprang, and Carolee stood.
“I’m not going,” Marian said.
Carolee wasn’t either, only joining them at the landing, as a hostess would walk a guest to the door. Charmante patted William’s arm and passed him by.
Under a tall window, Veronica at hall’s end crooked a finger, playful. This floor was done in apartments, double-doored parlor rooms with second and third rooms branching off. Grand guest chambers, or living quarters for half-dependent sons and daughters.
“Sakes,” Charmante said, “my whole house would fit inside one of these.”
She watched William put his head around doors, looked herself, and commented, wanting mostly not this silence from him, wanting him not worried about ghosts, superstitious of springtime thunder.
“Now see. Here’s one they didn’t get the furniture out of. They didn’t even take off the bedclothes.”
“Maybe hasn’t been that long.”
“A billiard room,” she said next. “I guess people really have them. And a fish tank!”
He offered her nothing for this, but crossed to peer at the few inches of water. Charmante crossed too, with a glance at the wall. A fresher rectangle where a thing had been taken down…
“No dead ones in there,” William said.
She murmured an inanity. “Poor things.”
Then afraid suddenly that she and William were alone, Charmante hurried to the hall.
“Don’t look, dear. I know what you’re thinking!” Veronica called. “Never mind, they’re all in here.”
“William! But no… I’m acting like you’ve seen what I have. You’ve never been upstairs. At Rothesay’s.”
She kept her hand where it was, restraining him by the wrist. Veronica slipped inside. The mirrors were better matched in size, placed with a dead uniformity. The strange hum seemed to dance from surface to bright surface.
“Do you feel the pull?”
“Veronica, when did you know…? Or why would you have let Mr. Rothesay start the same business in town…or…”
“Look, though. Look!” William loosed his arm and entered the ring, moving to and fro in a blind search. “More than one in there… I see a woman…”
And then he froze and lifted a warding hand. “Oh, what’s it mean?”
“Veronica, help! Come out, William! Don’t you see it’s dangerous?”
“Rance is in there. I have to know if they got Harold.”
Charmante lunged for his shirttail. Something brushed her ankle.
A little cat, white, tabby-striped on one ear. She had seen Sir Christopher go into Rothesay’s room…
A shock of noise came, and a flash.
She stood amazed at the rocketing reduplication of it, the pink veining, the tree that showered sparks. A blue-blackness. White sheets of light. And yes, a woman. At riverside, where William had upended their boat. She was bent there, reading the water’s surface.
“Come along, there is not time,” she said.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)