The Marriage of Opposites

Page 110


The air felt as it did when rain would soon begin, a prickly shock of heat with a measure of cold, dampness mixing into the atmosphere.
“Charge me, Rebecca,” Mrs. James said. “Bring me to court. See if what it gets you is worth the trouble. I have the story, and I’ve kept it to myself.”
Mrs. Halevy-Stein studied the maid, then turned to her solicitor. “This is ridiculous. Let’s just deal with the house.”
“But the crates?” Holloway said, confused. “All of your mother’s belongings? Surely they’re worth something.”
“I’m not going to fight with an old woman.” Rebecca Halevy reached for her purse so she could pay off the men who’d brought the crates and donkeys up the hill and were waiting to fill them with furniture and dishes. “I hope you’re happy,” she said to Mrs. James.
“Happiness is for fools.” Helena James shrugged. “So I wish that for you.”
When the unwanted guests had left, and the donkeys and the crates were gone as well, the Pizzarro father and son were given cups of maubie and thanked by the family. Mrs. James went in to get a coconut cake she had made. She signaled for Camille to help her inside. There was a hole in the roof so that the smoke and cooking smells could escape. The stove was tiny, but the oven was clearly big enough for Mrs. James’s baking.
“Your father’s a good man,” she said.
“Yes.” Today Camille had seen the righteousness inside his father that he hadn’t been aware of before. His father was a quiet, solemn man, and Camille had always assumed the battle with the synagogue had been his mother’s doing; now he wasn’t so sure. His father, he now understood, was a fighter.
“I’m going to use the green plates you never saw in Madame’s house,” Mrs. James said. “The cake will look just right on them.”
Because Camille was tall and could reach, she directed him to take the plates from a special place in the cabinet that had once stood in Madame Halevy’s kitchen. She still called him Jacobo, and he didn’t correct her.
“Madame Halevy would be glad you have the dishes,” he said. “They’re in the right home.”
“She didn’t live to tell you all of her story. She thought about it, and we talked about it, then she died. So I can say now that the end of the story was that she died and her daughter never came to see her. But it’s the middle of the story that matters. Rebecca had a baby when she was seventeen. No one guessed; she hid it with her clothes. A lady can do that, up to a point. When the time came and she might have begun to show, she got something from an herb man that made the baby come early. This lady who wanted the dishes that you never saw in Madame’s house, who never came home and never wrote a letter, gave birth all by herself when she wasn’t much more than a girl. It was brave or it was stupid. There was a storm, which brings on childbirth. The air comes down low and brings down whatever is inside you. Mademoiselle hid herself in the woods, and when it was over, she left the baby under a tree outside of the graveyard. Not the Jewish graveyard. Ours. I know because I followed her.
“Maybe somebody would find him and maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe he would be drowned by the rain pouring down or maybe he would swim like a fish. She didn’t know and she didn’t care. She ran away like a shadow or a demon, so fast you’d never know she was there. I had followed her before when her mother directed me to. I knew she had been with a sailor who came from St. Croix. He was not one of your people. He was one of mine.
“I didn’t wait to find out if the baby would drown. I took that baby and brought him to Madame Halevy. Rebecca had already bought her ticket for Charleston. She was staying in the Grand Hotel, where she stained the sheets with blood—I know because my cousin worked there and I had her keep an eye on Rebecca. I thought she might do damage to herself, maybe decide to leave this world, but she wasn’t that kind of girl. She was already in the future. She left the next morning. Maybe she thought good-bye, but she didn’t have the decency to come around and say it to her mother. So Madame Halevy and I considered what would be best for this child and how we could ensure that he would have a good life. He was her grandson, but because I had found him he was mine in a way, too. We both knew he must go to a family where he would be loved. He had blue eyes and we decided that was a sign. We set his fate on that single fact.
Madame had a friend who had lost a baby son at birth. Her friend didn’t care that this baby’s father was an African man. She was in mourning and when she saw this child her mourning lifted. This baby was the man Jestine fell in love with, but couldn’t have because everyone thought he was a member of your faith.”