The Mirrors (part thirty-one)

Posted by ractrose on 3 Jan 2023 in Fiction, Novels
Oil painting of Luna moth with female figure

 

 

 

The Mirrors
(part thirty-one)

 

 


Warning: A character in this episode, within a passage of dialogue, uses a racial epithet.

 


 

 

Closing the door, he said, “My father is…” He said, his voice regained: “We need to lock the drug cabinets. Here at the back, maybe have bars fixed on the windows. If someone were wanting in from the yard…”

“Well, I always do lock the cabinets.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I suppose I was thinking aloud…not suggesting… Anything, sir, my father… I believe he is not to be trusted around narcotics. Or intoxicants.”

Bonheur, cautious: “I notice if he comes down here, or if he turns up in the yard, it can be a little bothersome to the patients. There is only myself and Mrs. Turner to look after things. I don’t know that your father inclines to much natural respect…that is, about the places he puts his head into, or the ways he speaks to people.”

To be sorry for this was less a complexity, and Charleton apologized. “I don’t want him here. I don’t know how to be rid of him.”

“Bars,” Bonheur said, “might be an idea.”

They had agreed on that, their last conversation.

It was Mrs. Turner who saw the pregnant women, coaxed from them what they kept to themselves, even from Dr. Bonheur. That, Charleton understood, might be the woman’s wish to end it. Mrs. Turner performed abortions.

But upstairs, we know nothing about it.

His habit was early rising, leaving home without breakfast, reaching his grandfather’s office while it sat empty, gaining two hours of study before nine a.m., and rounds. He disliked that in the grand house were servants, that overcoats and hats needed handing over, summoning the return of; that coffee and sandwiches needed requesting, and faces popping in to learn if your tray could be collected.

And that, the poor staff being blameless, it was fair to say you were going when you went…

Grandfather in the way of tyrants was encyclopedic of knowledge. Under his preceptorship, when Charleton visited the hospital’s charity ward, a question…

“What do you notice about the eyes?”

“Would you call that crepitation?”

…sprang often as a calculated trap. Charleton pored in defense over patient files. When he had memorized them in gist, he went to the journals, teaching himself what he could about the diagnoses.

He knew no one in this city where he’d grown up; he walked in thought of professional concerns alone. He began to notice Leonce.

Leonce was not then a young man who had a name. He was colored, light-skinned, light-haired, handsome. He dogged Charleton’s steps, touched his cap sardonically.

 

 

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“Hey, there, brother.”

He made these words a habit, and Charleton answered only, “Hello.” He said one morning: “How do you do?”

“Oh, dandy. Not too bad. Got a little daughter, needs looking after.”

So…the object was begging. But having nothing against alms, Charleton rooted in his pocket.

“Charleton Dumain, what’re you thinking of? I wonder if you know me.”

“Ought I to?” The arm went lank, the bill between two fingers catching the breeze.

Leonce grinned. “Gracious, now. Listen to that. Ought I to.”

He put a hand on Charleton’s shoulder, and they walked side by side.

 

Charleton found himself pulled off the walk before his foot could touch his grandfather’s lowest step. He went with Joseph into the garden, to the well.

Joseph swayed on his feet, threw his head one direction and another, an alcoholic’s bargain with balance. “Why’s it so rank? Get that brick. Drop it in.”

Seated, Charleton waited for him to make sense.

Elbows across the well’s coping, Joseph listened. “See there? Where the hell it goes?”

True, the brick took time, splashing. The well from its depths billowed something putrid.

And what if Joseph, in his curiosity, tipped in? Charleton, knowing what he felt, decided whatever his father’s business, he would take up his own. “I can’t let you have Godfrey visit. Not at the clinic. Have him in your room if you like.”

“I don’t recollect calling you down to say hello.”

“I saw you from the window.”

“Don’t like your cousin? Don’t think he’s good enough for you?”

“Sir, I was up in the attic.”

“Up in the attic, soon down the stairs…”

A harangue now, that built while the two stared on, into the hole. A heavy flood would push what was discarded there, up to bob along the street, to eddy, tapping at basement windows. To lay itself out drying on the grass…

And what would it be? Tiny bones? Needles and bottles?

The abyss told Charleton’s mind these things. He forced hearing, and his father was saying: “Bonheur’s got no respect for you. You don’t know the coloreds. Bonheur’d never have any time of day for your brother, neither.”

He broke and turned to laugh, looking at his son.

“I don’t think Grandfather denies it. He gives Leonce money.” Charleton felt bold enough to say this, and calm.

“Well, Leonce got too much nigger blood to hide. You, he had some use for.”

 

 

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The Mirrors

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2020, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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