“‘RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light,’” I say, quoting Dylan Thomas.
“But, what can be done now to see if that theory about toxins is true?” Meredith asks.
“I asked the doctor about exhuming the body for an autopsy; while he was skeptical, he did not dismiss it. Instead, he said that if a family member requests it, and there is even a remote possibility of treachery, it could be done. It would take a court order.”
Our food is delivered by a smiling young woman who is thor- ough, prompt, and absolutely accurate in every detail. Char grins at what I am sure is the contrast from the kids who serve her daily at Bigelow.
Wally checks on us, and we nod in appreciation of the tasty food. I admit sneaking intermittent glances at Meredith; assertive and out- spoken as she is, her eating habits are delicate, almost dainty, and I wonder at her parental influence in that. One of my strong aversions is to people who eat ugly, especially with their mouths open. I see ballplayers on TV chewing with open mouths all the time, and I some- times yell at the screen, “Your momma didn’t teach you right!” My private obsession.
“I think we should raise the coffin,” Meredith says. “Grand- mother’s death needs to be explained.”
Charlotte’s head bobs up and down. “I agree. Knowing Claire as I did, the unusual nature of her death makes little sense.”
It is time to pay our check, and I am reminded of some reading I did a few weeks earlier. In theseventeenth century–the time of Des- cartes–in Sweden, during the reign of King Gustav Adolph, a mone- tary unit, a coin, was typically the size of a dinner plate, unwieldy and made of copper. The culture used mainly a barter system, taxes paid to the King in the form of cattle, oats, and hides.
We’ve come a long way, yet our typical barter unit today is an intrinsically nonvaluable piece of plastic–though to be sure, eventually we must cough up the green stuff, also only symbolically valuable.
On this day, in New Hope, Pennsylvania, Wally Burt does not let us pay a penny for our meal.
“A tribute to Claire,” he says. “You know this, Charlotte; she was my favorite. Blind and all, she saw more than most people with twenty-twenty.”
I realize, in this moment, that Wally is a man with uncommon nostalgia, or at least a soft spot for those with disabilities. I hadn’t noticed, but now do, that he has one blue eye and one a pale, faded gray–that Wally has vision in only one eye.
He motions our server over and says, “Don’t know if you ever met my eldest. This is Jessica, my daughter.” Jessica turns shy, and says softly, “It was a pleasure serving you.”
Wally hugs each of us when we leave–even me, which is okay, since in my line of work we do it often.
I leave a ten-dollar bill for Jessica, and as we walk in the cool mid-day air of this charming little hamlet, Meredith says, “Hard for me to absorb that grandmother never clued me in about this place, about Wally.”
Charlotte says, as she waves to a gentleman across the street, “Claire was a most private person inmany ways, and had the capacity to compartmentalize her life. That is why, I am certain, I knew so little about you. She was discrete and completely confidential.” She stops, then calls out, “Hello there, Delbert!”
The man is close to elderly, perhaps a bit younger than Charlotte, and is sitting at the entrance to a women’s clothing shop, smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. He waves back and hollers loudly, “Hey there, honey, got your whole entourage with you today! Except for Claire. Awful about her going out likethat.”
“You know a lot of people, Sis,” I say.
“Delbert Kraus owns Go Fur It!, which is a misnomer, because he won’t sell animal fur. All hisclothing is woven wool or cotton, with some faux fur trims. The store’s name is a come-on. I’ve met his wife, too, Evangeline, an introverted and sad person. Delbert and Wally are like neighborly business colleagues.”
“Seemed to know Claire,” Meredith says.
“Uh…yes,” Charlotte says absently, her mind elsewhere. Period- ically, Charlotte will seem to turn inward as if pondering some ele- mental issue, as if working to figure out some distant conundrum. I’m sure it’s what makes her such a keen problem solver.
We spend a moment taking in the art treasures of this charming resort town on the Delaware River,and at our return to our car I say, “What bewilders me is who in hell would want to harm Claire.”
My wise sister replies, “Clandestine acts are often the products of warped minds. It does little good to apply logic to dementia.”
When she says dementia, my thoughts immediately go to a good percentage of the population ofBigelow Village. Certainly not all, but some, of the elderly living there suffer some form of dementia. That notion puts a whole new twist on the mystery.
We motor slowly through the main street, now filling with tour- ists, and as we drive out of town, Charlotte says as if to herself, “…saw more than most people with twenty-twenty.”
If you’re enjoying CHARLOTTE and would like to blog about book two in the series, ACCIDENT, please contact my publisher who will hook you up with a free copy!