Élucide: part three
Jerome sat in stiff awareness of having gained an audience. He’d been using his fish knife to winnow out a bone; this he’d placed so neatly on the plate’s rim that its curved shape and the pressed scroll design seemed, in geometrical proportion, to echo each other.
He lowered his poised fork, eyes on Mrs. Horace. His shirt-cuff brushed the bone to the cloth.
“I apologize, Mr. Jerome. I don’t mean a thing by asking.”
“Madame, no, I will apologize. No, the question is not an offense. I am an American myself.”
Horace cleared his throat. “You suggest, Mr. Jerome, that by virtue of your status…”
“It is a year, I think, Clotilde has been here. Monsieur,” he turned to Horace, “what you wish to know…I will tell you that her English is poor. But, madame”―Jerome turned again to Mrs. Horace; and in the earnestness of his argument, seemed not to notice his cuff resting now over his buttered asparagus―“she is quite safe. I have not left her without a friend.”
“Mr. Jerome, sir. I won’t take your plate until you say you’re done.”
Robert had moved to the right of Jerome’s chair; he spoke softly, as though for Jerome’s ears only, but his reminder served for the table. All of them sat back from their plates.
“No, monsieur, certainly, thank you.” Jerome lifted his and offered it to Robert; and Robert, a damp napkin concealed already behind his back, brought his hand forward and dabbed at the cloth, as he leaned to take the plate, making the sprucing of Jerome’s place simultaneous with the clearing of it.
A space was made at the table’s head for the admiration and carving of the birds. Papa rose from his chair. He accepted from Robert his fat-bladed knife and horn-handled fork, and bent over the first capon to slice the skin. They were laid breast-side up, their cavities stuffed with onions and oysters, their legs aligned to square the curve of the silver gravy boat at the platter’s center. They numbered four―with nine dining, this made not quite a half chicken each. Heaped round the platter’s perimeter was a mix of boiled potatoes, squash, and beets, shining with butter and dotted with black pepper.
What might, had Jerome been an easier conversationalist, have passed for light table talk, instead weighed silence over the Gremots and their guests. Ranilde leaned to catch her mother’s eye.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)