Are You Haunted: part six
She spoke with a preternatural awareness, it seemed to Powell. Her back was against him, so she had not seen his face. She sat again, gazing up, and added, “About Mrs. Drybrook, was it? Something…”
“It wasn’t anything.”
He’d paused for too long, because he was sure she didn’t mean them, these attentions offered under her husband’s eyes, and because he’d seen a teasing look in Isobel’s that shifted his doubts back in the other direction. Along with the welcome smell of Sunday pot roast, Mrs. Lessing’s talk, as she settled Mrs. Drybrook onto the living room sofa, came with clarity to the sun porch. Isobel leaned close, and said to Powell in a low voice, “Her son, Davis the younger, was killed in the accident at the mill. I don’t guess anyone had a reason to tell you.”
He wanted to ask her about the accident, if under his hostess’s roof he could safely do so. He wanted her confidences to go on regardless. He found himself answering tragic news with a nervous laugh.
Tovey sat forward and cleared his throat. This Powell almost admired, the way Tovey’s noise implied both mimicry and contempt. As though Powell had choked rather than chuckle.
“They got a pitcher of ice tea in the ’fridge. Go help yourself.”
“Don’t listen to him, stirring up trouble.”
Mrs. Drybrook’s chair, the tall reading lamp behind it, and her magazine rack, were all the furniture that could be fitted next to the door leading from the glass-enclosed sun porch to the open front porch. Tovey and his settee occupied the remaining space, and Powell, with nowhere to sit, hovered at the threshold. Isobel reached a hand to his arm, her touch keeping him still as she checked the living room.
“Mrs. Lessing,” she explained, leaning again, looking up into his face and speaking softly, “doesn’t want any of us here. All her routines are just so…” Mrs. Lessing, gone for a moment, burst plying the air with her wooden spoon, through the arches that framed the foyer. She eyed Mrs. Drybrook.
“Them gents show up?”
They heard voices, a staccato rhythm of talk, words impossible to make out. Powell saw Summers and another man pass by the glass pane of the door; for a second, cut in slices by the window blind, they stood at a halt, and their voices died. The bell rang.
“Mrs. Lessing, them gents!” Tovey called out, flourishing the gesture of a maître d’ at a fancy club.
“We’ll have lunch now, thank God for that,” Isobel said.
Remnants of some era when the Drybrooks still hosted card parties, folding chairs had been uncloseted. These, a poor match to the dining table’s height, were given to the young people. Isobel and Tovey had continually put him at a disadvantage, and Powell felt a little smug looking at them now, their chins a few inches above their plates. Mrs. Lessing had seated him at the corner, next to the stranger.
(copyright 2015, 2017 Stephanie Foster)