The Marriage of Opposites

Page 15


When I asked for a tour, they showed me all the rooms they planned to show their new stepmother.
“Let’s run,” they said. “We’re usually not allowed.”
I laughed and chased them down the hall. I let them think I was the laundress; it was the best way to observe their true natures. The older boy, David, was outgoing and talkative. Samuel was the quieter one, who had green eyes, the color of the sea. There was a sadness sifting through him. He seemed older than his age, which was less than four, but I was soon reminded of how young he was. Sometime during the tour of the house, he took my hand, quite naturally. The truth was I liked the feel of his hand in mine, the heat and weight of it.
• • •
THE BOYS SHARED A room. The window opened to a stand of banana trees. From here it was possible to watch the bats at night, for those creatures love this kind of fruit, opening the peels with their hands as if they were small people. I sat with the children on the bed and heard David’s stories of the bats he had seen—one that had red eyes, one that had pointed teeth, one as large as a cat that darted through the shadows to sit on the window ledge so it might peer inside the room, licking its lips. Samuel crept into my lap during this story. He shivered and kicked his feet. I leaned down and said, “Your brother is making up these stories. If he saw a bat as big as a cat it was indeed a cat. He was probably too sleepy to tell the difference.”
After that Samuel seemed calmer. I thanked the boys for showing off the house.
“It’s one of the prettiest on the island,” I said.
“Our mother made it that way,” Samuel told me.
When he let go of my hand, I felt empty. They went off to play, and I continued along the corridor so I might glance into Monsieur Petit’s room. It was very neat and clean, with a huge mahogany bed. There was white mosquito netting hanging down, held in place through a hook in the wooden rafters. The duvet was a pale mint green of very soft cotton. It seemed Monsieur Petit and his wife had slept together, for she hadn’t her own bedroom, as many married women did, only the nursery next door. I peered inside. The room was dark, and I wondered if I would see Madame Petit’s ghost if I reached out to her, for I knew I could call spirits to me so that they flickered over my palms.
Because of this, I kept my hands closed.
I suppose I was nervous about what she might say to me. What if she warned me away? What if she uttered a jealous curse?
I found my way downstairs easily enough. I wanted to see what else I would discover in this house that had held so much sorrow, perhaps a sign that would tell me whether I should stay or go. In the parlor there was a small piano, painted white. I ran my hands over the keys without making a sound. Then I listened to a bee, tapping against the window, struggling to get inside. I could spy the sea from this room, as green as Samuel’s eyes. Perhaps that was all the sign I needed.
The maid was in the kitchen, the baby in her arms as she cooked a soup for lunch. I could smell curry and chicken gravy. The maid had set out johnnycakes on a platter and was drinking a cup of steaming balsam bush tea. Hot food in hot weather, local people say. Such meals heat you up inside and then when you finish and put them aside, you feel cooler. I recognized the maid from the market—an African woman named Rosalie, who had always lived with the Petit family. Her accent was the same as ours, a rich Creole French. When she turned from the stove to see me standing there, she took a step away. The baby in her arms had golden hair and dark blue eyes, nearly violet in color. She waved her small hands at me. Perhaps this was another sign.
“May I hold her?” I asked.
The maid grasped onto her. “Maybe you’re a spirit,” she said, uneasy.
“I’m not. You know Adelle, who works for us. I’m Moses Pomié’s daughter.”
She wasn’t convinced it was safe to have me in the house. “You might have come to steal her.”
“I didn’t. I was invited to this house by Monsieur Petit.”
“He didn’t invite you to hold this child. As you can see, he’s not here. I am. So it’s my decision.”
I understood that if a person made a pledge to a ghost, she would fear being haunted if she failed to keep her word. I would have to win them both over, the maid and the spirit of the mistress of this house. I gazed at the stove. There was a heavy cast-iron pot, and the fragrance of the food was unmistakable.
“Curried lime chicken soup. That’s my favorite, I must say. I’d like your recipe.”
“I don’t give my recipes to strangers.”
By then we were speaking informally, as if we knew each other. “I’m not really a stranger.” I picked up a wooden spoon from the table. “May I?”