Today is the anniversary of the old man’s death. Miss Mary pauses when she hears this, her fingers caught turning pages of The Cat’s Table. She looks to the door where Mother stands, pulling on her coat. Miss Mary says nothing. What else is there to say?
-Are you coming? I want to light a candle.
There are blank spaces in her memory that still need to be filled in and forgiveness is a tricky thing.
She can’t concentrate. That night Miss Mary becomes a nomad in her home, swaddled in blankets, moving from her bed, to a chair, to the floor, to a couch. She thinks she can smell the old man’s stale breath on her skin. Miss Mary climbs the staircase to Charlie’s room hoping he is still awake. She knocks on the door. Yeah? His muffled voice can be heard over Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger. He usually lets a movie play while he does his homework. She closes the door behind her as Lemmon, older and weary, says, Walk in that kind of rain that never washes perfume away. Miss Mary glances at the screen and smiles faintly. Charlie finishes a thought, tosses his pen onto the desk and ruffles his hair with both hands, sighing. Then he stands. There is a twitch of his eyebrows at her asking, what’s up? She shrugs and takes his chair. Spins. Play something? He turns on Sydney Bechet. Miss Mary brings her knees up to her chest and tells him what she learned this morning.
-For how long?
Charlie doesn’t answer. He raises a hand for a moment and leaves the room. She can hear him downstairs moving around the kitchen. Five minutes later he comes back with two cups of tea. Charlie puts one on the desk in front of her and she picks it up gratefully. He moves to sit on his bed.
Sydney Bechet hits notes that swell through the speakers and Miss Mary starts telling a story she read about Bechet. So he’s in Paris and in the middle of his set a man in the audience accuses him of playing a false note. Bechet is pissed. He stops everything and challenges the man to a duel. Pistols flash, bullets fly and a stray hits an innocent girl on her way to work. So Bechet is deported.
Charlie smiles his quiet smile.
-You doing okay?
Miss Mary says nothing.
Charlie changes the song. There are a lot of complicated feelings, he says. What do you mean? I mean it’s not black and white. Miss Mary watches the shelf, the bed, the door, the desk as the chair spins her in place. The shelf. The bed. The door. The desk. The shelf again. Now Jelly Roll Morton is talking about his gal Sal through the speakers. Miss Mary says, When they told the old man he couldn’t come back here he said he didn’t do anything wrong. Did Mom ever tell you that? Did you know that? He never thought what he did was wrong.
Charlie sighs, ruffling his hair. She can tell he is trying to grasp the right words to say. Don’t let it get to you. He’s gone leave it at that. Miss Mary says nothing to this. What else is there to say? She picks up Charlie’s watch that he has left on the desk. Brings it up to her ear. It ticks steadily.
Miss Mary sets the chair spinning with her foot. The shelf the bed the door the desk the shelf the bed the door the desk. The shelf. The bed. The door.