Chapter 34 – Breathing Room

The rest of the day, we tried to make things as normal as possible for Caleb. Noel put Caleb in his play clothes and changed his suit for jeans and a T-shirt, as they normally did after church on Sundays. We went for a walk after lunch, read together until Caleb’s nap time, and played outside in the afternoon as Tumnus stalked insects and thunderclouds gathered on the horizon. Mrs. Bell made Caleb’s favorite dish for supper, roast chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans, and apple pie for dessert. Caleb didn’t sulk or refuse his food, which was a good sign he was coping with this well, probably better than the adults.

The storm hit by Caleb’s bedtime. Mrs. Bell had taken him upstairs for his bath, and Noel followed with his valise. Restless, I went through the house, making sure the windows were closed and the curtains drawn. Mrs. Bell had already stopped the clocks and Willie had covered the mirrors during the afternoon, but it seemed to me that these precautions only made the ever-present whispers seemed louder and harder to ignore.

The note Emmanuel had taken from Noel’s room still lay on the floor of the vestibule, forgotten in all the commotion. I picked it up and unfolded it to read the words again, and then folded it and put it away in my sketchbook. It meant as much to me as it had the night I wrote it, but after all of this I didn’t know if Noel would want to keep it.

Upstairs, I hesitated at Emmanuel’s room, and then went in to close his curtains. Before I crossed the room to the window, my attention was drawn to his bureau, a heavy wood piece with a square mirror fixed on top which was now covered with a blanket. Along with the storage boxes for his watches and a valet tray for his cufflinks and tie pins, there was a single picture frame. I had never been in Emmanuel’s room before this; I felt bold enough to pick up the frame.