The Mirrors (part fifty-two)
But these were in her bedroom window, and she slid round the house to peek up at them, her white shoes scuffing dust along the bricks. Her father had said he would buy her a box camera; now, not at the end of the year—still her reward for good marks.
“You pledge me.”
“Don’t you worry.”
“Cheeky with your old Pa.” He cocked his finger, a sign between them to say, I’ll let you get away with it, this time. The progress of her beans was to be high science, what with the photographic record and Daddy’s microscope and slides…
Two things happened. She remembered disaster coming on that way. Against the blue, black smoke churning up crazily, the smell of it on a sudden gust. Her mother flying feverish to the porch. A creak of the screen and she was there, mouth falling open, hand gesturing.
A man drove up. “Dr. Bonheur sent me. You know me, ma’am.”
He tipped his hat. Her mother nodded, flashed indoors and out, purse under her elbow. She put a hand on Charmante’s shoulder, ushering her to the stranger’s grip. Swung by the forearms into the bed, neighbors coming out to stare… Everyone pointing at the horizon. In thirty years, the implication hadn’t occurred, the privilege of her father’s sending this man to protect them.
What those whose eyes followed their escape might have felt.
The wagon jogged them up streets and down in an S-shaped path, down the long shallow way to the wharf, doglegging to bump over a dirt field, past low sheds.
Then a familiar sight, the road to Esta’s.
The thrill of all this…it was thrilling…the utter silence of the adults, had kept Charmante from looking behind. When the driver cracked his whip, and they rattled off flinging mud, she thought of her father. She saw a line of orange, and the billowing cloud spread wide like a storm…black, br0wn, yellow… Another moment, and they were too far from the city limits, with nothing to see but the arching trees.
Charmante had overwritten her child’s understanding with information gained. The visceral of the orange was a tricky memory to extract. Now and then it came, and the right feeling, the one of awe, only awe, came too.
The house wasn’t burned. It was smashed, looted, their clothing strewn on the floor. The men who’d come to destroy the neighborhood had pissed on all of it. The Bonheur windows were empty squares, Mother’s dishes shattered, and the bean jars. The table legs were amputated, the chairs unstuffed. The stereoscope, the tin box of postcards, her father’s painstakingly-saved-for lab equipment, gone. The hoe, and rake, and shovel, gone. Sandy, abandoned by Charmante since age eleven, when she’d decided grown girls didn’t play with dolls, sat abandoned by the white mob, too. Watching from her shelf…
Charmante grabbed her down, having not much else to save.
She would not have been there but for Esta. “You tell me what good you think it’ll do, Carrie. Look at the age I am, nothing’s changed.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)