The Mirrors (part thirty-eight)
She sat, though itching to tidy, equally to call after Carmine, making the garden door her own vigil…both entries covered. “Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe somehow it’s over. But this word comes from Polly.”
As she told him, hushed, she felt the island’s hum—with them, in town.
“Esta held that inside, then and all the years after. She couldn’t tell Charles, and wouldn’t tell Livie. Livie would have been terrified to death.”
The bell rang.
William stirred. “I’m right along beside you.”
They went through the library, to the foyer, together. The bell rang again, and Charmante heard the voice of…someone. The truth, he said. The answerer seemed Leonce. She hoped it was not that way.
“Open up!” Cheerful, and Veronica. “William! How do!”
She swept indoors. “Charmante! I know you wanted this little friend back home, but you forgot to take him along when you went off with Paul. Go, baby.”
She let Sir Christopher drop from the flap of her mackintosh. Charmante pivoted, thinking of his saucer of milk, that he’d scurry off expecting it, and his can of sardines…
He didn’t go to the kitchen. He went for the mirrors.
The cat’s tail whipped round the newel post, and Rothesay from the shadowed hall materialized, ahead of Carmine.
“What sort of emergency is this?” Bass now, raspy and southern. “What does that fellow want, Mrs. Demorest?”
Tetchiness was the feeling, the voice conveyed, as to why protocol should be flouted? Perhaps, in his town clothes…who William was?
Rothesay cleared his throat at William, asking. And why did Veronica stand there, chin lifted, staring him down?
“How do like that?” She knocked Charmante on the arm. “I believe I can introduce you. Grandfather, don’t you know what we’re after?”
Carmine at the top of the stairs stalled, his face working oddly…against his will, was Charmante’s thought. But she thought again, not so…poor Nat hasn’t got one. This was Leonce in possession, at battle with another.
Rothesay descended nearer, a step nearer. Power gathered in the eyes, the mouth. Charmante fixed Old Dumain with a stare of her own, remembering wanting to know this, what stamped a man’s features as he annotated horror in his mental book, threading out details into new planned horrors…
Veronica, not caring, shoved past.
Her shoulder bumped Carmine. Then she was gone, into the mirrored room. Charmante choked back a cry, deciding Veronica could not be commanded. Who was to tell a Dumain she endangered herself?
Either Leonce, or his enemy, won. Carmine dove for Rothesay; Rothesay flew bang into the stair-rail, the two tumbling to stillness. That was all.
The ugly false front, the gable that is no gable.
An apex of façade-work…it has a flavor of the low country… Of Europe, brick yellow and red.
Approaching from the trolley stop, you see this, the old man’s house. There would be parts of France, too, where such architecture, such refusal to be lovely, such Protestant disdain…for you, the non-elect…exemplified Home. A migrant might carry this masonry oceanbound in memory, recreate it as American comfort.
Comfort, the devil you know. You return to the garden, or arrive there, wonder, shudder, at the candy-pink spirea, the waxy pachysandra. Why the unerring eye, Grandfather? Cussedness? Fear of a rival god? A Dumain’s towering arrogance, that he shall decree a thing, and you believe it?
And if you cannot, how interesting. Human nature, let us study it.
Under a no-more-compatible mimosa, dropping blossoms the pink of sunburnt white flesh, a bench. Concrete. Greened, blackened. Fungal colonies bore into its pittings. You will look at this bench, look at this bench, and see yourself. For a flickering of air that embodies the form of a man, you see your father. He should be Joseph. You are Charleton.
But he is Benjamin Oriah Bonheur. A youth…
To a daughter of forty-two, he seems so. He looks afar off, over the river, at peace. Half-dozing. Once so wise, so young. You today are older than he…
You have never totted up accounts. Did not, when three years ago you reached his last recorded one, of thirty-nine.
For that is to suppose him dead.
You fought. Miracle like an iridescent bubble floating. But the mist of it evaporated; you had not seen the day it burst. You might be Esta’s age, seventy-two, and then you would of course resign yourself. Esta had been cautioned, but had birthed the boy on St. Hubert. Ought she to have clung to Charles, begged him to row her across?
Joseph stands, sneering. His neck is broken; he laughs…the noise lolls out in saliva and villainy. Life’s been hard on you, son? Go have a gander. Put your head right inside that well.
The well wants to vapor out something bluish, a sulphurous incandescence.
The smell is deeply foul. Joseph smells also, fatty and charred. See him. He won’t have you cast aside responsibility. See, Charleton, here comes Godfrey. He belongs to this rehearsal. Your head turns, though you force your muscles tight. Joseph puts his back to you, all undressed, flesh not like a blackened log in a fire-grate…more part-skinned, part bronzed. Mottled yellow and red.
I don’t care. I have only one care. I see we are in the clinic. I remember it. Was my father murdered? He could have done nothing but try to help.
You see a white stucco house with clay tile roof, an engineer’s aerie. Below, the shantytown, thrusting angles of jerry-built dilapidation, wind-blown mosquito netting tangling in palms, metal tanks of water…or fuel, rusted. You go barefoot. The air is almost wet against your skin. A doctor not of much help here…they believe African blood is proof against the yellow fever. Proof against this sweating suffocation of labor. It isn’t.
But the dead are replaced.
Blue-jowled Godfrey out of the well, follows the clamp of hands on its coping. Fingers without nails, bone-ends. In this guise, he is eyeless…the lips so flaccid as to tear themselves free. The fingers strain and separate, two or three fall to lodge on a creeping vine, a jessamine. But his mood is merry, like Joseph’s. Only too happy to tell you his accident matters, it must be known.
Ha. Who cares about Lil? Dowager queen of boxed remains, doyenne of Robacks in their graves. Remember, Mrs. Demorest, how satisfied they were, to have me gone for good? I was melting away down there. Why, if you hire a man to dig, my twelve-years’ disintegrating corpus might still be found. Where truth is found.
Ha and ha, again.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)