Rosalyn was relieved to see this person was of normal dimensions. Her wavy blond hair was cut just above her shoulders and she was wearing a pale blue dress with short sleeves.
“Yes, I meant to tell you, Nora,” came the slightly husky voice of Gaétane from behind her. They both came into the room and Gaétane shut the door. “I picked her up when I was out this afternoon. She was stranded on a cloud.”
Nora’s eyebrows flew up in surprise.
Gaétane pulled out the chair at the head of the table and sat down. “So we’ll have to set another place,” she announced.
“Oh yes, of course.” Nora seemed to snap out of a daze and moved to a sideboard from which she took a handful of cutlery and a napkin. She laid two forks on the left, and a knife, and a large spoon on the right and folded the napkin to a sort of pyramid. Gaétane staring at a point on the far wall, pursing and and unpursing her lips as if about to say something but then thinking the better of it.
Finally she said to Rosalyn, “Oh yes, do sit down,” tapping the table beside her. Rosalyn pulled out the heavy wooden chair and sat down on the red and cream striped seat. Dressing up in velvet and lace, sitting down to silver and china and candlelight—this hardly seemed like an appropriate course of action. She sat down awkwardly in her dress and the collar rode up and cut into her neck. She readjusted herself and pulled the neckline of the dress off her throat. Stifling, that’s what this place was.
Nora soon sat down and the three of them sat in such a deep silence you could hear the candle burning. Across the table, Nora gave Rosalyn a brief, apologetic smile, tensely fingering the tablecloth in front of her plate.
Suddenly a little bell chimed and Nora sprang up and slid open a panel in the wall and took out three steaming bowls which she placed in front of them. Gaétane picked up her spoon and said, “Good appetite.”
It was one of those meals, Rosalyn thought, surprised she was even surprised. Her father’s mother was fairly stiff and she thought of all the times her mother would anxiously review the protocol with her father on the drive over there, afraid of embarassing herself by placing her dinner roll on the wrong plate, or drinking from the wrong glass.
“It isn’t Buckingham Palace, dear,” her father would say, “Just be your sweet self and no one will care which spoon you use.”
Her mother would sigh. “Oh, they care all right.”
Rosalyn was grateful she remembered those lessons, putting her napkin on her lap and spooning her soup just as silently into her mouth as the beautiful, blonde woman across from her.
Finally Nora broke the silence. “And how old are you, Rosalyn?”
She smiled and resumed eating.
Gaétane cleared her throat and took a drink of water from her footed crystal glass. “I’m afraid we’ve got a bit of a situation.”
Nora looked sideways at her.
“Yes, well, it’s…” Gaétane trailed off, looking at Rosalyn with her head tilted. “I don’t see what other choice we have, but we are going to have to take this young person into town to help her find her brother.”
Well, that was the first promising word she had heard. However, Nora merely looked at her intently for a few seconds then got up to collect the bowls, putting them back on the shelf in the wall, closing the panel and pressing a button on the wood trim. Only when this task was completed did she ask, “Would you mind telling me what happened? I’m not sure I fully understand.”
Before she could begin, a bell chimed again and Nora opened up the panel to reveal a platter of fish, potatoes and asparagus and a basket of bread.
The fish was flaky and warm, covered in a yellow sauce, flecked with herbs. Between bites, she managed to recount what had happened, Gaétane adding her own perspective and clarification as she ate her asparagus with her fingers. This was a shocker to Rosalyn who wondered what her grandmother would have thought of it. To her amazement, Nora did the same, swirling the tip in sauce before taking a bite.
“We’ll have to go to town and make our own inquiries,” Gaétane said, wiping her fingers off on her napkin and reaching for a slice of bread. That’s when Rosalyn noticed there was no side plate. Would she put the bread on the rim of her plate? No, she ripped off a chunk and placed the rest right on the tablecloth beside her plate. What very odd manners they had. I wonder if I’m shocking them by eating my asparagus with my knife and fork, thought Rosalyn.
“Yes, but it doesn’t look like tomorrow will be traveling weather,” said Nora. “I can feel the change already.”
“When is Alfie delivering? Isn’t it usually tomorrow?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Perhaps he can ask around for us.”
This exchange was incomprehensible to Rosalyn. “But isn’t there anyone we could phone, at least?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound rude.
They looked at her blankly, “What’s that?”
“Do you have a telephone?” she said, enunciating each syllable.
Frowning, they looked at each other, “No, I’m afraid not.”
Oh great, thought Rosalyn. I’m completely stranded here. They haven’t mentioned anything about the police, although surely the police would help in this situation, wouldn’t they? And they won’t even get going to go into town. What does the weather have to do with anything? She couldn’t stand it and burst out with, “But he could be anywhere! How do we know he landed on that ship? What if he’s lying on the bottom of the…” She broke off, not knowing what to say. She still couldn’t get the question out of her mind: was there real water down there or was it like outer space, oxygen-less, dark, practically infinite? She shivered.
“Hmm,”Gaétane said. “Yes, I see. Well, that simplifies things, as a matter of fact. I’m sorry to say he either made it to port on the ship, or there’s nothing we can do for him now.”
The thought was sickening to Rosalyn. How could she say it so coolly? He had to have landed on the boat, he just had to.
The women were sopping up the sauce in their plates with bread, wiping their plates nearly clean. Rosalyn couldn’t eat another bite and twisted the napking around her pointer finger so tight it went numb. The candles in their silver candelabras cast a circle of light that enclosed the three of them, but left the corners of the long room in shadow. He was out there in the darkness somewhere. He may have been found by kind strangers who had a telephone, althought it wouldn’t be any use for getting in touch with her here. He may have enlisted their help to go and find her for all she knew. Maybe they wouldn’t be held back by it not being “traveling weather” tomorrow. What, would they melt in the rain or something? She suddenly felt a shiver of fear. Three women, all alone, in this secluded old house: was it a coven of witches? Is that what the policeman had meant when he said, “There’s a lot we didn’t know, but that confirms it.” And that old cauldron Marcella had kept stirring on the open hearth. Was it for more than tonight’s soup?
Nora gave Rosalyn a sympathetic look as she removed her plate with half the food untouched. “Don’t worry, my dear, between Marcella’s cousin and my shopkeeper we’re bound to hear of anything unusual when we get to town.”
Rosalyn wanted to believe her.
Dessert was served the same way as the preceding courses with the dirty plates going down and a bell announcing the new arrival. It was a chocolate mousse served in shallow pink glass bowls with a lacy fan-shaped cookie stuck upright in each one.
“Mousse!” exclaimed Gaétane. “It’s been an age since old Marcella’s bestirred herself to make any. You must have made a good impression, Rosalyn, but I’m not sure my father would have approved of you having any, since you didn’t manage to finish your plate. However, we don’t want to offend Marcella and send back uneaten chocolate mousse. She’d never make it again, or she’d accuse me of not eating mine and I’d be left washing my own socks for a month.”
Nora said gently, “Do you think you could manage some dessert?”
“Well, I’ll try, if it helps.”
Gaétane made a sound in her throat like a cross between a laugh and a cough. “Even if it doesn’t, I assure you, Marcella’s puddings are worth the effort.”
The mousse was, in fact, fluffy and smooth and the bittersweet flavour did coax back some of Rosalyn’s appetite. Wasn’t there a separate dessert stomach anyway?