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Mexican Gothic / (by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020) -

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Mexican Gothic /   (by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020) -

Mexican Gothic / (by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020) -

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: 366
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Mexican Gothic / (by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020) -
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2020
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Silvia Moreno-Garcia
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Frankie Corzo
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upper-intermediate
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10:56:14
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Mexican Gothic / :

.doc (Word) silvia_moreno_garcia_-_mexican_gothic.doc [4.31 Mb] (c: 6) .
.pdf silvia_moreno_garcia_-_mexican_gothic.pdf [2.57 Mb] (c: 7) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Mexican Gothic

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1 T he parties at the Tunons house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy. Their chauffeurs, rather than waiting outside the Tunons house in vain, had systematized the nights. They would head off to eat tacos at a street stand or even visit a maid who worked in one of the nearby homes, a courtship as delicate as a Victorian melodrama. Some of the chauffeurs would cluster together, sharing cigarettes and stories. A couple took naps. After all, they knew full well that no one was going to abandon that party until after one A.M. So the couple stepping out of the party at ten P.M. therefore broke convention. Whats worse, the mans driver had left to fetch himself dinner and could not be found. The young man looked distressed, trying to determine how to proceed. He had worn a papier-m?ch? horses head, a choice that now came back to haunt him as theyd have to make the journey through the city with this cumbersome prop. Noemi had warned him she wanted to win the costume contest, placing ahead of Laura Quezada and her beau, and thus hed made an effort that now seemed misplaced, since his companion did not dress as she had said she would. Noemi Taboada had promised shed rent a jockey outfit, complete with a riding crop. It was supposed to be a clever and slightly scandalous choice, since shed heard Laura was going to attend as Eve, with a snake wrapped around her neck. In the end, Noemi changed her mind. The jockey costume was ugly and scratched her skin. So instead she wore a green gown with white appliqu? flowers and didnt bother to tell her date about the switch. What now? Three blocks from here theres a big avenue. We can find a taxi there, she told Hugo. Say, do you have a cigarette? Cigarette? I dont even know where I put my wallet, Hugo replied, palming his jacket with one hand. Besides, dont you always carry cigarettes in your purse? I would think youre cheap and cant buy your own if I didnt know any better. Its so much more fun when a gentleman offers a lady a cigarette. I cant even offer you a mint tonight. Do you think I might have left my wallet back at the house? She did not reply. Hugo was having a difficult time carrying the horses head under his arm. He almost dropped it when they reached the avenue. Noemi raised a slender arm and hailed a taxi. Once they were inside the car, Hugo was able to put the horses head down on the seat. You could have told me I didnt have to bring this thing after all, he muttered, noticing the smile on the drivers face and assuming he was having fun at his expense. You look adorable when youre irritated, she replied, opening her handbag and finding her cigarettes. Hugo also looked like a younger Pedro Infante, which was a great deal of his appeal. As for the restpersonality, social status, and intelligenceNoemi had not paused to think too much about all of that. When she wanted something she simply wanted it, and lately she had wanted Hugo, though now that his attention had been procured she was likely to dismiss him. When they arrived at her house, Hugo reached out to her, grasping her hand. Give me a kiss good night. Ive got to run, but you can still have a bit of my lipstick, she replied, taking her cigarette and putting it in his mouth. Hugo leaned out the window and frowned while Noemi hurried into her home, crossing the inner courtyard and going directly to her fathers office. Like the rest of the house, his office was decorated in a modern style, which seemed to echo the newness of the occupants money. Noemis father had never been poor, but he had turned a small chemical dye business into a fortune. He knew what he liked and he wasnt afraid to show it: bold colors and clean lines. His chairs were upholstered in a vibrant red, and luxuriant plants added splashes of green to every room. The door to the office was open, and Noemi did not bother knocking, breezily walking in, her high heels clacking on the hardwood floor. She brushed one of the orchids in her hair with her fingertips and sat down in the chair in front of her fathers desk with a loud sigh, tossing her little handbag on the floor. She also knew what she liked, and she did not like being summoned home early. Her father had waved her inthose high heels of hers were loud, signaling her arrival as surely as any greetingbut had not looked at her, as he was too busy examining a document. I cannot believe you telephoned me at the Tunons, she said, tugging at her white gloves. I know you werent exactly happy that Hugo This is not about Hugo, her father replied, cutting her short. Noemi frowned. She held one of the gloves in her right hand. Its not? She had asked for permission to attend the party, but she had not specified shed go with Hugo Duarte, and she knew how her father felt about him. Father was concerned that Hugo might propose marriage and shed accept. Noemi did not intend to marry Hugo and had told her parents so, but Father did not believe her. Noemi, like any good socialite, shopped at the Palacio de Hierro, painted her lips with Elizabeth Arden lipstick, owned a couple of very fine furs, spoke English with remarkable ease, courtesy of the nuns at the Monserrata private school, of courseand was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting. Therefore, to her father, any pleasant activity must also involve the acquisition of a spouse. That is, she should never have fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband. Which would have been fine and well if Father had actually liked Hugo, but Hugo was a mere junior architect, and Noemi was expected to aspire higher. No, although well have a talk about that later, he said, leaving Noemi confused. She had been slow dancing when a servant had tapped her on the shoulder and asked if shed take a call from Mr. Taboada in the studio, disrupting her entire evening. She had assumed Father had found out she was out with Hugo and meant to rip him from her arms and deliver an admonishment. If that was not his intent, then what was all the fuss about? Its nothing bad, is it? she asked, her tone changing. When she was cross, her voice was higher-pitched, more girlish, rather than the modulated tone she had in recent years perfected. I dont know. You cant repeat what Im about to tell you. Not to your mother, not to your brother, not to any friends, understood? her father said, staring at her until Noemi nodded. He leaned back in his chair, pressing his hands together in front of his face, and nodded back. A few weeks ago I received a letter from your cousin Catalina. In it she made wild statements about her husband. I wrote to Virgil in an attempt to get to the root of the matter. Virgil wrote to say that Catalina had been behaving in odd and distressing ways, but he believed she was improving. We wrote back and forth, me insisting that if Catalina was indeed as distressed as she seemed to be, it might be best to bring her to Mexico City to speak to a professional. He countered that it was not necessary. Noemi took off her other glove and set it on her lap. We were at an impasse. I did not think he would budge, but tonight I received a telegram. Here, you can read it. Her father grabbed the slip of paper on his desk and handed it to Noemi. It was an invitation for her to visit Catalina. The train didnt run every day through their town, but it did run on Mondays, and a driver would be sent to the station at a certain time to pick her up. I want you to go, Noemi. Virgil says shes been asking for you. Besides, I think this is a matter that may be best handled by a woman. It might turn out that this is nothing but exaggerations and marital trouble. Its not as if your cousin hasnt had a tendency toward the melodramatic. It might be a ploy for attention. In that case, why would Catalinas marital troubles or her melodrama concern us? she asked, though she didnt think it was fair that her father label Catalina as melodramatic. Shed lost both of her parents at a young age. One could expect a certain amount of turmoil after that. Catalinas letter was very odd. She claimed her husband was poisoning her, she wrote that shed had visions. I am not saying I am a medical expert, but it was enough to get me asking about good psychiatrists around town. Do you have the letter? Yes, here it is. Noemi had a hard time reading the words, much less making sense of the sentences. The handwriting seemed unsteady, sloppy. he is trying to poison me. This house is sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment. I have tried to hold on to my wits, to keep this foulness away but I cannot and I find myself losing track of time and thoughts. Please. Please. They are cruel and unkind and they will not let me go. I bar my door but still they come, they whisper at nights and I am so afraid of these restless dead, these ghosts, fleshless things. The snake eating its tail, the foul ground beneath our feet, the false faces and false tongues, the web upon which the spider walks making the strings vibrate. I am Catalina Catalina Taboada. CATALINA. Cata, Cata come out to play. I miss Noemi. I pray Ill see you again. You must come for me, Noemi. You have to save me. I cannot save myself as much as I wish to, I am bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin and its there. In the walls. It does not release its hold on me so I must ask you to spring me free, cut it from me, stop them now. For Gods sake Hurry, Catalina In the margins of the letter her cousin had scribbled more words, numbers, shed drawn circles. It was disconcerting. When was the last time Noemi had spoken to Catalina? It must have been months ago, maybe close to a year. The couple had honeymooned in Pachuca, and Catalina had phoned and sent her a couple of postcards, but after that there had been little else, although telegrams had still arrived wishing happy birthdays to the members of the family at the appropriate times of the year. There must have also been a Christmas letter, because there had been Christmas presents. Or was it Virgil who had written the Christmas letter? It had, in any case, been a bland missive. Theyd all assumed Catalina was enjoying her time as a newlywed and didnt have the inclination to write much. There had also been something about her new home lacking a phone, not exactly unusual in the countryside, and Catalina didnt like to write anyway. Noemi, busy with her social obligations and with school, simply assumed Catalina and her husband would eventually travel to Mexico City for a visit. The letter she was holding was therefore uncharacteristic in every way she could think of. It was handwritten, though Catalina preferred the typewriter; it was rambling, when Catalina was succinct on paper. It is very odd, Noemi admitted. She had been primed to declare her father was exaggerating or using this incident as a handy excuse to distract her from Duarte, but that didnt seem to be the case. To say the least. Looking at it, you can probably see why I wrote back to Virgil and asked him to explain himself. And why I was so taken aback when he immediately accused me of being a nuisance. What exactly did you write to him? she asked, fearing her father had seemed uncivil. He was a serious man and could rub people the wrong way with his unintended brusqueness. You must understand I would take no pleasure in putting a niece of mine in a place like La Castaneda Is that what you said? That youd take her to the asylum? I mentioned it as a possibility, her father replied, holding out his hand. Noemi returned the letter to him. Its not the only place, but I know people there. She might need professional care, care that she will not find in the countryside. And I fear we are the ones capable of ensuring her best interests are served. You dont trust Virgil. Her father let out a dry chuckle. Your cousin married quickly, Noemi, and, one might say, thoughtlessly. Now, Ill be the first to admit Virgil Doyle seemed charming, but who knows if he is reliable. He had a point. Catalinas engagement had been almost scandalously short, and theyd had scant chance to speak to the groom. Noemi wasnt even sure how the couple met, only that within a few weeks Catalina was issuing wedding invitations. Up until that point Noemi hadnt even known her cousin had a sweetheart. If she hadnt been invited to serve as one of the witnesses before the civil judge, Noemi doubted shed have known Catalina had married at all. Such secrecy and haste did not go down well with Noemis father. He had thrown a wedding breakfast for the couple, but Noemi knew he was offended by Catalinas behavior. That was another reason why Noemi hadnt been concerned about Catalinas scant communication with the family. Their relationship was, for the moment, chilly. Shed assumed it would thaw in a few months, that come November Catalina might arrive in Mexico City with plans for Christmas shopping and everyone would be merry. Time, it was merely a question of time. You must believe she is saying the truth and he is mistreating her, she concluded, trying to remember her impression of the groom. Handsome and polite were the two words that came to mind, but then theyd hardly exchanged more than a few sentences. She claims, in that letter, that he is not only poisoning her but ghosts walk through walls. Tell me, does that sound like a reliable account? Her father stood up and went to the window, looking outside and crossing his arms. The office had a view of her mothers precious bougainvillea trees, a burst of color now shrouded in darkness. She is not well, that is what I know. I also know that if Virgil and Catalina were divorced, hed have no money. It was pretty clear when they married that his familys funds have run dry. But as long as they are married, he has access to her bank account. It would be beneficial for him to keep Catalina home, even if shed be best off in the city or with us. You think he is that mercenary? That hed put his finances before the welfare of his wife? I dont know him, Noemi. None of us do. That is the problem. He is a stranger. He says she has good care and is improving, but for all I know Catalina is tied to her bed right now and fed gruel. And she is the melodramatic one? Noemi asked, examining her orchid corsage and sighing. I know what an ill relative can be like. My own mother had a stroke and was confined to her bed for years. I also know a family does not handle such matters well at times. What would you have me do, then? she asked, daintily placing her hands on her lap. Assess the situation. Determine if she should indeed be moved to the city, and attempt to convince him this is the best option if that is the case. How would I manage such a thing? Her father smirked. In the smirk and the clever, dark eyes, child and parent greatly resembled each other. You are flighty. Always changing your mind about everything and anything. First you wanted to study history, then theater, now its anthropology. Youve cycled through every sport imaginable and stuck to none. You date a boy twice then at the third date do not phone him back. That has nothing to do with my question. Im getting to it. You are flighty, but you are stubborn about all the wrong things. Well, its time to use that stubbornness and energy to accomplish a useful task. Theres nothing youve ever committed to except for the piano lessons. And the English ones, Noemi countered, but she didnt bother denying the rest of the accusations because she did indeed cycle through admirers on a regular basis and was quite capable of wearing four outfits in a single day. But it isnt like you should have to make up your mind about everything at twenty-two, she thought. There was no point in telling her father that. Hed taken over the family business at nineteen. By his standards, she was on a slow course to nowhere. Noemis father gave her a pointed look, and she sighed. Well, I would be happy to make a visit in a few weeks Monday, Noemi. That is why I cut your party short. We need to make the arrangements so youre on the first train to El Triunfo Monday morning. But theres that recital coming up, she replied. It was a weak excuse and they both knew it. Shed been taking piano lessons since she was seven, and twice a year she performed in a small recital. It was no longer absolutely necessary for socialites to play an instrument, as it had been in the days of Noemis mother, but it was one of those nice little hobbies that were appreciated among her social circle. Besides, she liked the piano. The recital. More likely you made plans with Hugo Duarte to attend it together, and you dont want him taking another woman as his date or having to give up the chance of wearing a new dress. Too bad; this is more important. Ill have you know I hadnt even bought a new dress. I was going to wear the skirt I wore to Gretas cocktail party, Noemi said, which was half the truth because she had indeed made plans to go there with Hugo. Look, the truth is the recital is not my main concern. I have to start classes in a few days. I cant take off like that. Theyll fail me, she added. Then let them fail you. Youll take the classes again. She was about to protest such a blithe statement when her father turned around and stared at her. Noemi, youve been going on and on about the National University. If you do this, Ill give you permission to enroll. Noemis parents allowed her to attend the Feminine University of Mexico, but they had balked when she declared shed like to continue her studies upon graduation. She wanted to pursue a masters degree in anthropology. This would require her to enroll at the National. Her father thought this was both a waste of time and unsuitable with all those young men roaming the hallways and filling ladies heads with silly and lewd thoughts. Noemis mother was equally unimpressed by these modern notions of hers. Girls were supposed to follow a simple life cycle, from debutante to wife. To study further would mean to delay this cycle, to remain a chrysalis inside a cocoon. Theyd clashed over the matter a half dozen times, and her mother had cunningly stated it was up to Noemis father to hand down a decree, while her father never seemed poised to do so. Her fathers statement therefore shocked her and presented an unexpected opportunity. You mean it? Noemi asked cautiously. Yes. Its a serious matter. I dont want a divorce splashed in the newspaper, but I also cant allow someone to take advantage of the family. And this is Catalina we are talking about, her father said, softening his tone. Shes had her share of misfortunes and might dearly need a friendly face. That might be, in the end, all she needs. Catalina had been struck by calamity on several occasions. First the death of her father, followed by her mothers remarriage to a stepfather who often had her in tears. Catalinas mother had passed away a couple of years later and the girl had moved into Noemis household: the stepfather had already left by then. Despite the warm embrace of the Taboadas, these deaths had deeply affected her. Later, as a young woman, there had been her broken engagement, which caused much strife and hurt feelings. There had also been a rather goofy young man who courted Catalina for many months and whom she seemed to like very much. But Noemis father had chased him away, unimpressed by the fellow. After that aborted romance, Catalina must have learned her lesson, for her relationship with Virgil Doyle had been a paragon of discretion. Or maybe it had been Virgil who had been more wily and urged Catalina to keep mum about them until it was too late to disrupt any wedding. I suppose I could give notice that Ill be away for a few days, she said. Good. Well telegraph Virgil back and let them know you are on your way. Discretion and smarts, thats what I need. He is her husband and has a right to make decisions on her behalf, but we cannot be idle if he is reckless. I should make you put it in writing, the bit about the university. Her father sat down behind his desk again. As if Id break my word. Now go get those flowers out of your hair and start packing your clothes. I know itll take you forever to decide what to wear. Who are you supposed to be, incidentally? her father asked, clearly dissatisfied with the cut of her dress and her bare shoulders. Im dressed as Spring, she replied. Its cold there. If you intend to parade around in anything similar to that, you better take a sweater, he said dryly. Though normally she would have come up with a clever rejoinder, she remained unusually quiet. It occurred to Noemi, after having agreed to the venture, that she knew very little of the place where she was going and the people she would meet. This was no cruise or pleasure trip. But she quickly assured herself that Father had picked her for this mission, and accomplish it she would. Flighty? Bah. Shed show Father the dedication he wanted from her. Perhaps hed come to see her, after her successfor she could never picture herself failingas more deserving and mature. 2 W hen Noemi was a little girl and Catalina read fairy tales to her, she used to mention the forest, that place where Hansel and Gretel tossed their breadcrumbs or Little Red Riding Hood met a wolf. Growing up in a large city, it did not occur to Noemi until much later that forests were real places, which could be found in an atlas. Her family vacationed in Veracruz, in her grandmothers house by the sea, with no tall trees in sight. Even after she grew up, the forest remained in her mind a picture glimpsed in a storybook by a child, with charcoal outlines and bright splashes of color in the middle. It took her a while, therefore, to realize that she was headed into a forest, for El Triunfo was perched on the side of a steep mountain carpeted with colorful wildflowers and covered thickly with pines and oaks. Noemi sighted sheep milling around and goats braving sheer rock walls. Silver had given the region its riches, but tallow from these animals had helped illuminate the mines, and they were plentiful. It was all very pretty. The higher the train moved and the closer it got to El Triunfo, though, the more the bucolic landscape changed and Noemi reassessed her idea of it. Deep ravines cut the land, and rugged ridges loomed outside the window. What had been charming rivulets turned into strong, gushing rivers, which spelled doom should anyone be dragged by their currents. At the bottom of the mountains farmers tended groves and fields of alfalfa, but there were no such crops here, just the goats climbing up and down rocks. The land kept its riches in the dark, sprouting no trees with fruit. The air grew thin as the train struggled up the mountain until it stuttered and stopped. Noemi grabbed her suitcases. Shed brought two of them and had been tempted to also pack her favorite trunk, though in the end she had judged it too cumbersome. Despite this concession, the suitcases were large and heavy. The train station was not busy and was barely a station at all, just a lonesome square-shaped building with a half-asleep woman behind the ticket counter. Three little boys were chasing one another around the station, playing tag, and she offered them some coins if they helped her lug her suitcases outside. They did, gladly. They looked underfed, and she wondered how the towns inhabitants got by now the mine was closed and only the goats provided the opportunity for a bit of commerce. Noemi was prepared for the chill of the mountain. The unexpected element was therefore the thin fog that greeted her that afternoon. She looked at it curiously as she adjusted her teal calotte hat with the long yellow feather and peered onto the street looking at her ride, for there could hardly be any mistaking it. It was the single automobile parked in front of the station, a preposterously large vehicle that made her think of swanky silent film stars of two or three decades earlierthe kind of automobile her father might have driven in his youth to flaunt his wealth. But the vehicle in front of her was dated, dirty, and it needed a paint job. Therefore it was not truly the kind of automobile a movie star would drive these days, but seemed to be a relic that had been haphazardly dusted off and dragged onto the street. She thought the driver might match the car and expected to find an elderly man behind the wheel, but a young fellow of about her age in a corduroy jacket stepped out. He was fair-haired and paleshe didnt realize anyone could be that pale; goodness, did he ever wander into the sun?his eyes uncertain, his mouth straining to form a smile or a greeting. Noemi paid the boys who had helped bring her luggage out, then marched forward and extended her hand. I am Noemi Taboada. Has Mr. Doyle sent you? she asked. Yes, Uncle Howard said to pick you up, he replied, shaking her hand weakly. Im Francis. I hope the ride was pleasant? Those are all your things, Miss Taboada? Can I help you with them? he asked in quick succession, as if he preferred to end all sentences with question marks rather than commit to definite statements. You can call me Noemi. Miss Taboada sounds so fussy. Thats the sum of my luggage, and yes, Id love some assistance. He grabbed her two suitcases and placed them in the trunk, then went around the car and opened the door for her. The town, as she saw it from her window, was peppered with winding streets, colorful houses with flower pots at their windows, sturdy wooden doors, long stairways, a church, and all the usual details that any guidebook would call quaint. Despite this, it was clear El Triunfo was not in any guidebooks. It had the musty air of a place that had withered away. The houses were colorful, yes, but the color was peeling from most of the walls, some of the doors had been defaced, half of the flowers in the pots were wilting, and the town showed few signs of activity. It was not that unusual. Many formerly thriving mining sites that had extracted silver and gold during the Colonia interrupted their operations once the War of Independence broke out. Later on, the English and the French were welcomed during the tranquil Porfiriato, their pockets growing fat with mineral riches. But the Revolution had ended this second boom. There were many hamlets like El Triunfo where one could peek at fine chapels built when money and people were plentiful; places where the earth would never again spill wealth from its womb. Yet the Doyles lingered in this land, when many others had long gone. Perhaps, she thought, theyd learned to love it, though she was not much impressed by it, for it was a steep and abrupt landscape. It didnt look at all like the mountains from her childhood storybooks, where the trees appeared lovely and flowers grew by the road; it didnt resemble the enchanting place Catalina had said she would live in. Like the old car that had picked Noemi up, the town clung to the dregs of splendor. Francis drove up a narrow road that climbed deeper into the mountains, the air growing rawer, the mist intensifying. She rubbed her hands together. Is it very far? she asked. Again he looked uncertain. Not that far, Francis said slowly, as if they were discussing a matter that had to be considered with much care. The road is bad or Id go faster. It used to be, a long time ago, when the mine was open, that the roads around here were all in good shape, even near High Place. High Place? Thats what we call it, our home. And behind it, the English cemetery. Is it really very English? she said, smiling. Yes, he said, gripping the wheel with both hands with a strength she would not have imagined from his limp handshake. Oh? she said, waiting for more. Youll see it. Its all very English. Um, thats what Uncle Howard wanted, a little piece of England. He even brought European earth here. Do you think he had an extreme case of nostalgia? Indeed. I might as well tell you, we dont speak Spanish at High Place. My great uncle doesnt know a word of it, Virgil fares poorly, and my mother wouldnt ever attempt to stitch a sentence together. Isis your English any good? Lessons every day since I was six, she said, switching from Spanish to English. Im sure Ill have no trouble. The trees grew closer together, and it was dark under their branches. She was not one for nature, not the real thing. The last time she had been anywhere near a forest had been on that excursion to El Desierto de los Leones when they went riding and then her brother and her friends decided to do some practice shooting with tin cans. That had been two, maybe even three years before. This place didnt compare to that. It was wilder here. She found herself warily assessing the height of the trees and the depths of the ravines. Both were considerable. The mist thickened, making her wince, fearing theyd wind up halfway down the mountain if they took a wrong turn. How many eager miners hunting for silver had fallen off a cliff? The mountains offered mineral riches and a quick death. But Francis seemed secure in his driving even if his words faltered. She didnt generally like shy menthey got on her nervesbut who cared. It was not as if shed come to see him or any other members of his family. Who are you, anyway? she asked, to distract herself from the thought of ravines and cars crashing against unseen trees. Francis. Well, yes, but are you Virgils little cousin? Long-lost uncle? Another black sheep I must be informed about? She spoke in that droll way she liked, the one she used at cocktail parties, and that always seemed to get her very far with people, and he replied as she expected, smiling a little. First cousin, once removed. Hes a bit older than me. Ive never understood that. Once, twice, thrice removed. Who keeps track of such a thing? I always figure if they come to my birthday party we are related and thats it, no need to pull out the genealogy chart. It certainly simplifies things, he said. The smile was real now. Are you a good cousin? I hated my boy cousins when I was little. Theyd always push my head against the cake at my party even though I didnt want to do the whole mordida thing. Mordida? Yes. Youre supposed to take a bite of the cake before it is cut, but someone always shoves your head into it. I guess you didnt have to endure that at High Place. There arent many parties at High Place. The name must be a literal description, she mused, because they kept going up. Did the road have no end? The wheels of the car crunched over a fallen tree branch, then another. Yes. Ive never been in a house with a name. Who does that these days? Were old-fashioned, he mumbled. Noemi eyed the young man skeptically. Her mother would have said he needed iron in his diet and a good cut of meat. By the looks of those thin fingers he sustained himself on dewdrops and honey, and his tone tended toward whispers. Virgil had seemed to her much more physical than this lad, much more present. Older, too, as Francis had indicated. Virgil was thirty-something; she forgot his exact age. They hit a rock or some bump in the road. Noemi let out an irritated ouch. Sorry about that, Francis said. I dont think its your fault. Does it always look like this? she asked. Its like driving in a bowl of milk. This is nothing, he said with a chuckle. Well. At least he was relaxing. Then, all of a sudden, they were there, emerging into a clearing, and the house seemed to leap out of the mist to greet them with eager arms. It was so odd! It looked absolutely Victorian in construction, with its broken shingles, elaborate ornamentation, and dirty bay windows. Shed never seen anything like it in real life; it was terribly different from her familys modern house, the apartments of her friends, or the colonial houses with fa?ades of red tezontle. The house loomed over them like a great, quiet gargoyle. It might have been foreboding, evoking images of ghosts and haunted places, if it had not seemed so tired, slats missing from a couple of shutters, the ebony porch groaning as they made their way up the steps to the door, which came complete with a silver knocker shaped like a fist dangling from a circle. Its the abandoned shell of a snail, she told herself, and the thought of snails brought her back to her childhood, playing in the courtyard of their house, moving aside the potted plants and seeing the roly-polies scuttle about as they tried to hide again. Or feeding sugar cubes to the ants, despite her mothers admonishments. Also the kind tabby, which slept under the bougainvillea and let itself be petted endlessly by the children. She did not imagine they had a cat in this house, nor canaries chirping merrily in their cages that she might feed in the mornings. Francis took out a key and opened the heavy door. Noemi walked into the entrance hall, which gave them an immediate view of a grand staircase of mahogany and oak with a round, stained-glass window on the second landing. The window threw shades of reds and blues and yellows upon a faded green carpet, and two carvings of nymphsone at the bottom of the stairs by the newel post, another by the windowstood as silent guardians of the house. By the entrance there had been a painting or a mirror on a wall, and its oval outline was visible against the wallpaper, like a lonesome fingerprint at the scene of a crime. Above their heads there hung a nine-arm chandelier, its crystal cloudy with age. A woman was coming down the stairs, her left hand sliding down the banister. She was not an old woman although she had streaks of silver in her hair, her body too straight and nimble to belong to a senior citizen. But her severe gray dress and the hardness in her eyes added years that were not embedded in the flesh of her frame. Mother, this is Noemi Taboada, Francis said as he began the climb up with Noemis suitcases. Noemi followed him, smiling, and offered her hand to the woman, who looked at it as if she was holding up a piece of week-old fish. Instead of shaking her hand, the woman turned around and began walking up the stairs. A pleasure to meet you, the woman said with her back to Noemi. I am Florence, Mr. Doyles niece. Noemi felt like scoffing but bit her tongue and simply slid next to Florence, walking at her pace. Thank you. I run High Place, and therefore, if you need anything, you should come to me. We do things a certain way around here, and we expect you to follow the rules. What are the rules? she asked. They passed next to the stained-glass window, which Noemi noted featured a bright, stylized flower. Cobalt oxide had been used to create the blue of the petals. She knew such things. The paint business, as her father put it, had provided her with an endless array of chemical facts, which she mostly ignored and which, nevertheless, stuck in her head like an annoying song. The most important rule is that we are a quiet and private lot, Florence was saying. My uncle, Mr. Howard Doyle, is very old and spends most of his time in his room. You are not to bother him. Second of all, I am in charge of nursing your cousin. She is to get plenty of rest, so you must not bother her unnecessarily either. Do not wander away from the house on your own; it is easy to get lost and the region is puckered with ravines. Anything else? We do not go to town often. If you have business there, you must ask me, and Ill have Charles drive you. Who is he? One of our staff members. Its a rather small staff these days: three people. Theyve served the family for many years. They went down a carpeted hallway, oval and oblong oil portraits on the walls serving as decoration. The faces of long-dead Doyles stared at Noemi from across time, women in bonnets and heavy dresses, men in top hats wearing gloves and dour expressions. The kind of people who might lay claim to a family crest. Pale, fair-haired, like Francis and his mother. One face blended into another. She would not have been able to tell them apart even if shed looked closely. This will be your room, said Florence once they reached a door with a decorative crystal knob. I should warn you there is no smoking in this house, in case you partake in that particular vice, she added, eyeing Noemis chic handbag, as if she could see through it and into her pack of cigarettes. Vice, Noemi thought and was reminded of the nuns who had overseen her education. Shed learned rebellion while muttering the rosary. Noemi stepped inside the bedroom and regarded the ancient four-poster bed, which looked like something out of a Gothic tale; it even had curtains you could close around it, cocooning yourself from the world. Francis set the suitcases by a narrow windowthis window was colorless; the extravagant stained-glass panes did not extend to the private quarterswhile Florence pointed out the armoire with its stash of extra blankets. We are high up the mountain. It gets very cold here, she said. I hope you brought a sweater. I have a rebozo. The woman opened a chest at the foot of the bed and took out a few candles and one of the ugliest candelabra Noemi had ever seen, all silver, a cherub holding up the base. Then she closed the chest, leaving these findings on top of it. Electrical lighting was installed in 1909. Right before the revolution. But there have been few improvements in the four decades since then. We have a generator, and it can produce enough power for the refrigerator or to light a few bulbs. But its far from suitable lighting for this whole house. Accordingly, we rely on candles and oil lamps. I wouldnt even know how you use an oil lamp, Noemi said with a chuckle. Ive never even been camping properly. Even a simpleton can understand the basic principles, Florence said, and then continued talking, giving Noemi no chance to reply. The boiler is finicky at times and at any rate young people shouldnt have very hot showers; a mild bath will do for you. There is no fireplace in this room, but a great large one downstairs. Have I forgotten anything, Francis? No, very well. The woman looked at her son, but did not give him any time to reply either. Noemi doubted many people got a chance to utter a word with her around. Id like to speak to Catalina, Noemi said. Florence, who must have thought this was the end of their conversation, already had a hand on the doorknob. Today? the woman asked. Yes. Its almost time for her medication. She wont stay awake after she takes it. I want a few minutes with her. Mother, shes come so far, Francis said. His interjection seemed to have caught the woman off guard. Florence raised an eyebrow at the young man and clasped her hands together. Well, I suppose in the city you have a different sense of time, running to and fro, she said. If you must meet her forthwith, then you better come with me. Francis, why dont you go see if Uncle Howard will be joining us for dinner tonight? I dont want surprises. Florence guided Noemi down another long hallway and into a room with another four-poster bed, an ornate dressing table with a three-winged mirror, and an armoire large enough to hold a small army. The wallpaper in here was a diluted blue with a floral pattern. Little landscape paintings decorated the walls, coastal images of great cliffs and lonely beaches, but these were not local views. This was England, most likely, preserved in oils and silver frames. A chair had been set by a window. Catalina sat in it. She was looking outside and did not stir when the women walked into the room. Her auburn hair was gathered at her nape. Noemi had steeled herself to greet a stranger ravaged by disease, but Catalina did not seem much different from when shed lived in Mexico City. Her dreamy quality was perhaps amplified by the d?cor, but this was the sum of the change. She is supposed to have her medication in five minutes, Florence said, consulting her wristwatch. Then Ill take those five minutes. The older woman did not seem happy, but she left. Noemi approached her cousin. The younger woman had not glanced at her; she was oddly still. Catalina? Its me, Noemi. She placed a hand gently on her cousins shoulder, and only then did Catalina look at Noemi. She smiled slowly. Noemi, youve come. She stood in front of Catalina nodding. Yes. Father has sent me to check up on you. How are you feeling? Whats wrong? I feel awful. I had a fever, Noemi. Im sick with tuberculosis, but Im feeling better. You wrote a letter to us, do you remember? You said odd things in it. I dont quite remember everything I wrote, Catalina said. I had such a high temperature. Catalina was five years older than Noemi. Not a great age gap, but enough that when they were children, Catalina had taken on a motherly role. Noemi remembered many an afternoon spent with Catalina making crafts, cutting dresses for paper dolls, going to the movies, listening to her spin fairy tales. It felt strange to see her like this, listless, dependent on others when they had all once depended on her. She did not like it at all. It made my father awfully nervous, Noemi said. Im so sorry, darling. I shouldnt have written. You probably had many things to do in the city. Your friends, your classes, and now you are here because I scribbled nonsense on a piece of paper. Dont worry about it. I wanted to come and see you. We havent seen each other in ages. I had thought you would have come visit us by now, to be frank. Yes, Catalina said. Yes, I thought so too. But its impossible to get out of this house. Catalina was pensive. Her eyes, hazel pools of stagnant water, grew duller, and her mouth opened, as if she were getting ready to speak, except she did not. She drew her breath in instead, held it there, then turned her head and coughed. Catalina? Time for your medicine, Florence said, marching into the room, a glass bottle and a spoon in hand. Come now. Catalina obediently had a spoon of the medication, then Florence helped her into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. Lets go, Florence said. She needs her rest. You can talk tomorrow. Catalina nodded. Florence walked Noemi back to her room, giving her a brief sketch of the housethe kitchen was in that direction, the library in this other oneand told her theyd fetch her for dinner at seven. Noemi unpacked, placed her clothes in the armoire, and went to the bathroom to freshen up. There was an ancient bathtub there, a bathroom cabinet, and traces of mold on the ceiling. Many tiles around the tub were cracked, but fresh towels had been set atop a three-legged stool, and the robe hanging from a hook looked clean. She tested the light switch on the wall, but the light fixture in the bathroom did not work. In her room, Noemi could not locate a single lamp with a light bulb, though there was one electrical outlet. She supposed Florence had not been joking about relying on candles and oil lamps. She opened her purse and riffled through it until she found her cigarettes. A tiny cup decorated with half-naked cupids on the night table served as an impromptu ashtray. After taking a couple of puffs, she wandered to the window, lest Florence complain about the stench. But the window would not budge. She stood, looking outside at the mist. 3 F lorence came back for her promptly at seven with an oil lamp in her hand to light the way. They went down the stairs to a dining room weighed down by a monstrous chandelier, much like the one in the hallway entrance, which remained unlit. There was a table big enough for a dozen people, with the appropriate tablecloth of white damask. Candelabra had been set on it. The long, white, tapered candles reminded Noemi of church. The walls were lined with china cabinets crammed with lace, porcelain, and most of all with silver. Cups and plates bearing the proud initial of their ownersthe triumphant, stylized D of the Doylesserving trays and empty vases, which might have once gleamed under the glow of the candles and now looked tarnished and dull. Florence pointed to a chair, and Noemi sat down. Francis was already seated across from her and Florence took her place at his side. A gray-haired maid walked in and placed bowls filled with a watery soup in front of them. Florence and Francis began to eat. Will no one else be joining us? she asked. Your cousin is asleep. Uncle Howard and Cousin Virgil may come down, perhaps later, Florence said. Noemi arranged a napkin on her lap. She had soup, but only a little. She was not used to eating at this hour. Nights were no time for heavy meals; at home they had pastries and coffee with milk. She wondered how shed fare with a different schedule. ? langlaise, like their French teacher used to say. La panure ? langlaise, repeat after me. Would they have four oclock tea, or was it five oclock? The plates were taken away in silence, and in silence there came the main dish, chicken in an unappealing creamy white sauce with mushrooms. The wine theyd poured her was very dark and sweet. She didnt like it. Noemi pushed the mushrooms around her plate with her fork while trying to see what lay in the gloomy cabinets across from her. Its mostly silver objects in here, isnt it? she said. Did all of these come from your mine? Francis nodded. Yes, back in the day. Why did it close? There were strikes and then Francis began to say, but his mother immediately raised her head and stared at Noemi. We do not talk during dinner. Not even to say pass the salt? Noemi asked lightly, twirling her fork. I can see you think yourself terribly amusing. We do not talk during dinner. That is the way it is. We appreciate the silence in this house. Come, Florence, surely we can make a bit of conversation. For the sake of our guest, said a man in a dark suit as he walked into the room, leaning on Virgil. Old would have been an inaccurate word to describe him. He was ancient, his face gouged with wrinkles, a few sparse hairs stubbornly attached to his skull. He was very pale too, like an underground creature. A slug, perhaps. His veins contrasted with his pallor, thin, spidery lines of purple and blue. Noemi watched him shuffle toward the head of the table and sit down. Virgil sat too, by his fathers right, his chair at such an angle that he remained half enveloped in shadows. The maid didnt bring a plate for the old man, only a glass of dark wine. Maybe hed already eaten and had ventured downstairs for her sake. Sir, Im Noemi Taboada. Its nice to meet you, she said. And I am Howard Doyle, Virgils father. Although youve guessed that already. The old man wore an old-fashioned cravat, his neck hidden under a mound of fabric, a circular silver pin upon it as a decoration, a large amber ring on his index finger. He fixed his eyes on her. The rest of him was bleached of color, but the eyes were of a startling blue, unimpeded by cataracts and undimmed by age. The eyes burned coldly in that ancient face and commanded her attention, vivisecting the young woman with his gaze. You are much darker than your cousin, Miss Taboada, Howard said after he had completed his examination of her. Pardon me? she asked, thinking shed heard him wrong. He pointed at her. Both your coloration and your hair. They are much darker than Catalinas. I imagine they reflect your Indian heritage rather than the French. You do have some Indian in you, no? Like most of the mestizos here do. Catalinas mother was from France. My father is from Veracruz and my mother from Oaxaca. We are Mazatec on her side. What is your point? she asked flatly. The old man smiled. A closed smile, no teeth. She could picture his teeth, yellowed and broken. Virgil had motioned to the maid, and a glass of wine was placed before him. The others had resumed their silent eating. This was to be, then, a conversation between two parties. Merely an observation. Now tell me, Miss Taboada, do you believe as Mr. Vasconcelos does that it is the obligation, no, the destiny, of the people of Mexico to forge a new race that encompasses all races? A cosmic race? A bronze race? This despite the research of Davenport and Steggerda? You mean their work in Jamaica? Splendid, Catalina was correct. You do have an interest in anthropology. Yes, she said. She did not wish to share more than that single word. What are your thoughts on the intermingling of superior and inferior types? he asked, ignoring her discomfort. Noemi felt the eyes of all the family members on her. Her presence was a novelty and an alteration to their patterns. An organism introduced into a sterile environment. They waited to hear what she revealed and to analyze her words. Well, let them see that she could keep her cool. She had experience dealing with irritating men. They did not fluster her. She had learned, by navigating cocktail parties and meals at restaurants, that showing any kind of reaction to their crude remarks emboldened them. I once read a paper by Gamio in which he said that harsh natural selection has allowed the indigenous people of this continent to survive, and Europeans would benefit from intermingling with them, she said, touching her fork and feeling the cold metal under her fingertips. It turns the whole superior and inferior idea around, doesnt it? she asked, the question sounding innocent and yet a little bit mordant. The elder Doyle seemed pleased with this answer, his face growing animated. Do not be upset with me, Miss Taboada. I do not mean to insult you. Your countryman, Vasconcelos, he speaks of the mysteries of aesthetic taste which will help shape this bronze race, and I think you are a good example of that sort. Of what sort? He smiled again, this time his teeth visible, the lips drawn. The teeth were not yellow as shed imagined, but porcelain-white and whole. But the gums, which she could see clearly, were a noxious shade of purple. Of a new beauty, Miss Taboada. Mr. Vasoncelos makes it very clear that the unattractive will not procreate. Beauty attracts beauty and begets beauty. It is a means of selection. You see, I am offering you a compliment. That is a very strange compliment, she managed to say, swallowing her disgust. You should take it, Miss Taboada. I dont hand them out lightly. Now, I am tired. I will retire, but do not doubt this has been an invigorating conversation. Francis, help me up. The younger man assisted the waxwork and they left the room. Florence drank from her wine, the slim stem carefully lifted and pressed against her lips. The oppressive silence had settled upon them again. Noemi thought that if she paid attention, she would be able to hear everyones hearts beating. She wondered how Catalina could bear living in this place. Catalina had always been so sweet, always the nurturer watching over the younger ones, a smile on her lips. Did they really make her sit at this table in utter silence, the curtains drawn, the candles offering their meager light? Did that old man try to engage her in obnoxious conversations? Had Catalina ever been reduced to tears? At their dining room table in Mexico City her father liked to tell riddles and offer prizes to the child who piped up with the correct answer. The maid came by to take away the dishes. Virgil, who had not properly acknowledged Noemi, finally looked at her, their eyes meeting. I imagine you have questions for me. Yes, she said. Lets go to the sitting room. He grabbed one of the silver candelabra on the table and walked her down a hallway and into a large chamber with an equally enormous fireplace and a black walnut mantel carved with the shapes of flowers. Above the fireplace hung a still life of fruits, roses, and delicate vines. A couple of kerosene lamps atop twin ebony tables provided further illumination. Two matching faded green velour settees were arranged at one end of the room, and next to them there were three chairs covered with antimacassars. White vases collected dust, indicating that this space had once been used to receive visitors and supply merriment. Virgil opened the doors of a sideboard with silver hinges and a marble serving surface. He took out a decanter with a curious stopper shaped like a flower and filled two glasses, handing her one. Then he sat on one of the stately, stiff, gold brocade armchairs set by the fireplace. She followed suit. Since this room was well illuminated, she was presented with a better picture of the man. They had met during Catalinas wedding, but it had all been very quick and a year had passed. She had not been able to recall what he looked like. He was fair-haired, blue-eyed like his father, and his coolly sculpted face was burnished with imperiousness. His double-breasted lounge suit was sleek, charcoal gray with a herringbone pattern, very proper, though hed eschewed a tie, and the top button of his shirt was undone as if he were trying to imitate a casualness it was impossible for him to possess. She was not sure how she should address him. Boys her age were easy to flatter. But he was older than she was. She must be more serious, temper her natural flirtatiousness lest he think her silly. He had the stamp of authority here, but she also had authority. She was an envoy. The Kublai Khan sent messengers across his realm who carried a stone with his seal, and whoever mistreated a messenger would be put to death. Catalina had told her this story, narrating fables and history for Noemi. Let Virgil understand, then, that Noemi had an invisible stone in her pocket. It was good of you to come on such short notice, Virgil said, though his tone was flat. Courtesy, but no warmth. I had to. Did you really? My father was concerned, she said. There was her stone, even as his own badge was all around him, in this house and its things. Noemi was a Taboada, sent by Leocadio Taboada himself. As I tried to tell him, there is no need for alarm. Catalina said she had tuberculosis. But I dont think that quite explains her letter. Did you see the letter? What did it say exactly? he asked, leaning forward. His tone was still flat, but he looked alert. I did not consign it to memory. Enough that he asked me to visit you. I see. He turned his glass between his hands, the fire making it glint and sparkle. He leaned back against the chair. He was handsome. Like a sculpture. His face, rather than skin and bone, might have been a death mask. Catalina was not well. She ran a very high fever. She sent that letter in the midst of her sickness. Who is treating her? Pardon me? he replied. Someone must be treating her. Florence, is she your cousin? Yes. Well, your cousin Florence gives her medicine. There must be a doctor. He stood up and grabbed a fireplace poker, stirring the burning logs. A spark flew through the air and landed on a tile dirty with age, a crack running down its middle. There is a doctor. His name is Arthur Cummins. He has been our physician for many years. We completely trust Dr. Cummins. Doesnt he think her behavior has been unusual, even with tuberculosis? Virgil smirked. Unusual. You have medical knowledge? No. But my father did not send me here because he thought everything was as usual. No, your father wrote about psychiatrists at the first possible opportunity. Its the thing he writes about, over and over again, Virgil said scornfully. It irritated her to hear him speaking in such a way about her father, as though he were terrible and unfair. I will speak to Catalinas doctor, Noemi replied, perhaps more forcefully than she should have, for at once he returned the poker to its stand with a quick and harsh movement of his arm. Demanding, are we? I wouldnt say demanding, exactly. Concerned, more like it, she replied, taking care to smile, to show him this was really a small matter that might be easily resolved, and it must have worked, for he nodded. Arthur comes by every week. Hell stop by Thursday to see Catalina and my father. Your father is also ill? My father is old. He has the aches that time bestows on all men. If you can wait until then, you may speak to Arthur. I have no intention of leaving yet. Tell me, how long do you expect to remain with us? Not too long, I hope. Enough to figure out if Catalina needs me. Im sure I could find lodging in town if Im too much of a nuisance. Its a very small town. Theres no hotel, not even a guesthouse. No, you can remain here. Im not trying to run you out. I wish youd come for another reason, I suppose. She had not thought there would be a hotel, although she would have been glad to discover one. The house was dreary, and so was everyone in it. She could believe a woman could sicken quickly in a place like this. She sipped her wine. It was the same dark vintage shed had in the dining room, sweet and strong. Is your room satisfactory? Virgil asked, his tone warming, turning a bit more cordial. She was, perhaps, not his enemy. Its fine. Having no electricity is odd, but I dont think anyone has died from a lack of light bulbs yet. Catalina thinks the candlelight is romantic. Noemi supposed she would. It was the kind of thing she could imagine impressing her cousin: an old house atop a hill, with mist and moonlight, like an etching out of a Gothic novel. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, those were Catalinas sort of books. Moors and spiderwebs. Castles too, and wicked stepmothers who force princesses to eat poisoned apples, dark fairies cursing maidens and wizards who turn handsome lords into beasts. Noemi preferred to jump from party to party on a weekend and drive a convertible. So maybe, in the end, this house suited Catalina fine. Could it be it had been a bit of a fever? Noemi held her glass between her hands, running her thumb down its side. Let me pour you another glass, Virgil said, playing the role of the attentive host. It could grow on you, this drink. Already it had lulled her into a half sleep, and she blinked when he spoke. His hand brushed hers as he made a gesture to refill her glass, but she shook her head. She knew her limits, traced them firmly. No, thanks, she said, setting the glass aside and rising from the chair, which had proven more comfortable than she might have guessed. I shall insist. She shook her head prettily, defusing the denial with that tried and proven trick. Heavens, no. I will decline and wrap myself in a blanket and go to bed. His face was still remote, yet now seemed infused with more vitality as he surveyed her very carefully. There was a spark in his eye. Hed found an item of interest; one of her gestures or words struck him as novel. She thought it was her refusal that amused him. He was, likely, not used to being refused. But then, many men were the same. I can walk you to your room, he offered, smooth and gallant. They went up the stairs, him holding an oil lamp hand-painted with patterns of vines, which made the light emanating from it turn emerald and infused the walls with a strange hue: it painted the velvet curtains green. In one or other of her stories Catalina had told her the Kublai Khan executed his enemies by smothering them with velvet pillows so there would be no blood. She thought this house, with all its fabrics and rugs and tassels, could smother a whole army. 4 B reakfast was brought to her on a tray. Thank goodness she did not have to sit down to eat with the whole family that morning, although who knew what dinner might bring. The chance for solitude made the porridge, toast, and jam she had been served a bit more appetizing. The drink available was tea, which she disliked. She was a coffee drinker, preferred it black, and this tea had a definite, faint, fruity scent to it. After a shower, Noemi applied lipstick and lined her eyes with a little black pencil. She knew her large, dark eyes and her generous lips were her greatest assets, and she used them to excellent effect. She took her time going through her clothes and picked a purple acetate taffeta dress with a full, pleated skirt. It was too fine to be worn as a day dressshe had rung in 1950 in a similar outfit eight months beforebut then she tended toward opulence. Besides, she wanted to defy the gloom around her. She decided that this way her exploration of the house would be more entertaining. There certainly was a lot of gloom. Daylight did not improve High Place. When she walked the ground floor and opened a couple of creaky doors she was inevitably greeted by the ghostly sight of furniture covered with white sheets and draperies shut tight. Wherever the odd ray of sun slipped into a room, one could see dust motes dancing in the air. In the hallways, for every electrified sconce with a bulb there were three that were bare. It was obvious most of the house was not in use. She had assumed the Doyles would have a piano, even if it was out of tune, but there was none, and neither could she find a radio or even an old gramophone. And how she loved music. Anything from Lara to Ravel. Dancing too. What a pity that shed be left without music. She wandered into a library. A narrow wooden frieze with a repeating pattern of acanthus leaves, divided by pilasters, encircled the room, which was lined with tall, built-in bookcases stuffed with leather-bound volumes. She reached out for a book at random and opened it to see it had been ravaged by mold and was perfumed with the sweet scent of rot. She clapped the book shut and returned it to its place. The shelves also contained issues of old magazines, including Eugenics: A Journal of Race Betterment and the American Journal of Eugenics. How appropriate, she thought, remembering Howard Doyles inane questions. She wondered if he kept a pair of calipers to measure his guests skulls. There was a terrestrial globe with countries names out of date in a lonesome corner and a marble bust of Shakespeare by a window. A large, circular rug had been placed in the middle of the room, and when she looked down at it she realized it showed the image of a black serpent biting its tail against a crimson background, with tiny flowers and vines all around it. This was probably one of the best maintained rooms in the housecertainly one of the most used, judging by the lack of dustand still it seemed a tad frayed, its curtains faded into an ugly green, more than a few books blighted by mildew. A door at the other end of the library connected with a large office. Inside it, the heads of three stags had been mounted on a wall. An empty rifle cabinet with cut-glass doors was set in a corner. Somebody had hunted and given it up. Atop a desk of black walnut she found more journals of eugenics research. A page was marked in one of them. She read it. The idea that the half-breed mestizo of Mexico inherits the worst traits of their progenitors is incorrect. If the stamp of an inferior race afflicts them, it is due to a lack of proper social models. Their impulsive temperament requires early restraint. Nevertheless, the mestizo possess many inherent splendid attributes, including a robustness of body She no longer wondered if Howard Doyle had a pair of calipers; now she wondered how many he kept. Maybe they were in one of the tall cabinets behind her, along with the familys pedigree chart. There was a trash can next to the desk, and Noemi slid the journal she had been reading into the can. Noemi went in search of the kitchen, having been informed of its location by Florence the previous day. The kitchen was ill lit, its windows narrow, the paint on its walls peeling. Two people sat on a long bench, a wrinkled woman and a man who, though noticeably younger, still sported gray in his hair. He was fifty-something, surely, and she probably closer to seventy. They were using a round brush to clean the dirt off mushrooms. When Noemi walked in, they raised their heads but did not greet her. Good morning, she said. We werent introduced properly yesterday. Im Noemi. Both of them stared at her mutely. A door opened and a woman, also gray-haired, walked into the kitchen carrying a bucket. She recognized her as the maid who had served them during dinner, and she was of an age with the man. The maid did not speak to Noemi either, nodding instead, and then the couple who were seated on the bench nodded too before placing their attention back on their work. Did everyone follow this policy of silence in High Place? Im Were working, the man said. The three servants then looked down, their wan faces indifferent to the presence of the colorful socialite. Perhaps Virgil or Florence had informed them Noemi was someone of no importance and that they should not trouble themselves with her. Noemi bit her lip and stepped outside the house using the back door the maid had opened. There was mist, like the previous day, and a chill to the air. Now she regretted not wearing a more comfortable outfit, a dress with pockets where she could carry her cigarettes and her lighter. Noemi adjusted the red rebozo around her shoulders. Did you have a good breakfast? Francis asked, and she turned around to look at him. Hed also come out through the kitchen door, wrapped in a snug sweater. Yes, it was fine. Hows your day going? Its all right. What is that? she asked, pointing at a nearby wooden structure, made hazy by the mist. Thats the shed where we keep the generator and the fuel. Behind it is the coach house. Do you want to take a look at it? Maybe also go to the cemetery? Sure. The coach house seemed like a place that might have a hearse and two black horses inside, but instead there were two cars. One was the luxurious older vehicle that Francis had driven; the other was a newer but much more modest-looking car. A path snaked around the coach house, and they followed it through the trees and the mist until they reached a pair of iron gates decorated with the motif of a serpent eating its tail like the one shed seen in the library. They walked down a shady path, the trees so close together only a smattering of light made it through the branches. She could picture this same graveyard once upon a time in a tidier state, with carefully tended shrubs and flower beds, but now it was a realm of weeds and tall grasses, the vegetation threatening to swallow the place whole. The tombstones were blanketed with moss, and mushrooms sprouted by the graves. It was a picture of melancholy. Even the trees seemed lugubrious, though Noemi could not say why. Trees were trees. It was the sum of it, she thought, and not the individual parts that made the English cemetery so sad. Neglect was one thing, but neglect and the shadows cast by the trees and the weeds clustered by the tombstones, the chill in the air, served to turn what would have been an ordinary collection of vegetation and tombstones into a fiercely displeasing picture. She felt sorry for every single person buried there, just as she felt sorry for everyone living at High Place. Noemi bent down to look at a headstone, then another, and frowned. Why are all these from 1888? she asked. The nearby mine was managed by Spaniards until Mexicos independence and left alone for many decades because nobody believed much silver could be extracted. But my great uncle Howard thought differently, Francis explained. He brought modern English machines and a large English crew to do the work. He was successful, but a couple of years after reopening the mine there was an epidemic. It killed most of the English workers, and they were buried here. And then? What did he do after? Did he send for more workers from England? Ahno, no needhe always had Mexican workers too, a large contingent of thembut theyre not all buried here. I believe theyre in El Triunfo. Uncle Howard would know better. A rather exclusive spot, then, though Noemi supposed it was for the best. The families of local crew members probably wanted to visit their loved ones, to leave flowers on their graves, which would have been impossible in this place, isolated from the town. They walked onward until Noemi paused before a marble statue of a woman standing on a pedestal, flower wreaths in her hair. She flanked the doorway to a mausoleum with a pedimented doorway, her right hand pointing at its entrance. The name Doyle was carved in capital letters above this doorway along with a phrase in Latin: Et Verbum caro factum est. Whos this? The statue is supposed to be the likeness of my great aunt Agnes, who died during the epidemic. And here, the Doyles are all buried here: my great aunt, my grandfather and grandmother, my cousins, he said, trailing off, dipping into an uncomfortable silence. The silence, not only of the cemetery but of the whole house, unnerved Noemi. She was used to the rumble of the tram and the automobiles, the sound of canaries chirping in the inner courtyard by the gleeful fountain, the barking of the dogs and the melodies pouring from the radio as the cook hummed by the stove. Its so quiet here, she said and shook her head. I dont like it. What do you like? he asked, curious. Mesoamerican artifacts, zapote ice cream, Pedro Infantes movies, music, dancing, and driving, she said, counting a finger as she listed each item. She also liked to banter, but she was certain he could figure that out on his own. Im afraid I cant be much help with that. What kind of car do you drive? The prettiest Buick youve ever seen. A convertible, of course. Of course? Its more fun driving without the hood on. It makes your hair look movie-star perfect. Also, it gives you ideas, you think better, she said, running a hand through her wavy hair jokingly. Noemis father said she cared too much about her looks and parties to take school seriously, as if a woman could not do two things at once. What kind of ideas? Ideas for my thesis, when I get to it, she said. Ideas about what to do on the weekend, anything really. I do my best thinking when Im in motion. Francis had been looking at her, but now he lowered his eyes. Youre very different from your cousin, he told her. Are you also going to tell me I lean toward a darker type, both my hair and coloration? No, he said. I didnt mean physically. Then? I think youre charming. A panicked look contorted his face. Not that your cousin lacks charm. You are charming in a special way, he said quickly. If youd seen Catalina before, she thought. If hed seen her in the city with a pretty velvet dress, going from one side of the room to the other, that gentle smile on her lips and her eyes full of stars. But here, in that musty room, with those eyes dimmed and whatever sickness had taken hold of her bodybut then, perhaps it wasnt that bad. Perhaps before the illness Catalina still smiled her sweet smile and took her husband by the hand, guiding him outside to count the stars. You say that because you havent met my mother, Noemi replied lightly, not wishing to voice her thoughts on Catalina. She is the most charming woman on Earth. In her presence I feel rather tacky and unremarkable. He nodded. I know what that is like. Virgil is the familys heir, the shining promise of the Doyles. You envy him? she asked. Francis was very thin; his face was that of a plaster saint haunted by his impending martyrdom. The dark circles under his eyes, almost like bruises against that pale skin, made her suspect a hidden ailment. Virgil Doyle on the other hand had been carved from marble: he exuded strength where Francis irradiated weakness, and Virgils featuresthe eyebrows, the cheekbones, the full mouthwere bolder, entirely more attractive. She could not judge Francis ill if he wished for that same vitality. I dont envy him his ease with words or his looks or his position, I envy his ability to go places. The farthest Ive ever been is El Triunfo. Thats it. Hes traveled a bit. Not for long, hes always quick to return, but its a respite. There was no bitterness in Franciss words, only a tired sort of resignation as he continued speaking. When my father was still alive hed take me to town and Id stare at the train station. Id try to sneak in to look at the sign with the departure times. Noemi adjusted her rebozo, trying to find warmth in its folds, but the cemetery was terribly damp and chilly; she could almost swear the temperature had dropped a couple of degrees the more theyd pressed into it. She shivered, and he noticed. Im so stupid, Francis said, removing his sweater. Here, have this. Its fine. Really, I couldnt let you freeze for my sake. Maybe if we start walking back Ill be better. Well, fine, but please, wear it. I swear I wont be cold. She put on the sweater and wrapped the rebozo around her head. She thought he might pick up the pace since she was now walking in his sweater, but he didnt rush back home. He was probably used to the mist, the shady chill of the trees. Yesterday you asked about the silver items in the house. You were right, they came from our mine, he told her. Its been closed for a long time, hasnt it? Catalina had said something about that; it was why Noemis father had not been keen on the match. Virgil seemed to him a stranger, maybe a fortune hunter. Noemi suspected hed let Catalina marry him because he felt guilty about driving away her previous suitor: Catalina had loved him truly. It happened during the Revolution. Thats when a host of things happened, one thing led to another and operations ceased. The year Virgil was born, 1915, that was the absolute end of it. The mines were flooded. Then he is thirty-five, she said. And you are much younger. Ten years younger, Francis said with a nod. A bit of an age gap, but he was the one friend I had growing up. But you must have gone to school eventually. We were schooled at High Place. Noemi tried to think of the house filled with the noise of childrens laughter, children playing hide and seek, children with a spinning top or a ball between their hands. But she couldnt. The house would have not allowed such a thing. The house would have demanded they spring from it fully grown. Can I ask you a question? she said, when they were rounding the coach house and High Place was visible, the curtain of mist having parted. Why the insistence on silence at the dining table? My great uncle Howard, hes very old, very delicate, and very sensitive to noises. And the sound travels easily in the house. Is his room upstairs? He cant possibly hear people talking in the dining room. Noises carry, Francis said, his face serious, his eyes fixed on the old house. Anyway, its his house and he sets the rules. And you never bend them. He glanced down at her, looking a little perplexed, as if it had not occurred to him until now that this was a possibility. She was certain hed never drunk too much, stayed out far too late, nor blurted the wrong opinion in his familys company. No, he said, once again with that resigned note in his voice. When they walked into the kitchen, she took off the sweater and handed it back to him. There was one maid now, the slightly younger maid, sitting by the stove. She did not look at them, too occupied with her chores to spare them a single glance. No, you should keep it, Francis said, ever polite. Its rather warm. I cant be stealing your clothes. I have other sweaters, he said. Thanks. He smiled at her. Florence walked into the room, again decked in a dark navy dress, her face severe, glancing at Francis and then at Noemi, as if they were small children and she was trying to determine whether they had scarfed down a forbidden box of sweets. If youll come with me for your lunch, she said. This time it was the three of them at the table; the old man did not materialize and neither did Virgil. The lunch was conducted quickly, and after the dishes were cleared Noemi went back to her room. They brought up a tray with her dinner, so she supposed the dining room had been just for the first night and the lunch was also an anomaly. With her tray they also brought her an oil lamp, which she set by the bedside. She tried to read the copy of Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande, which shed brought with her, but kept getting distracted. Noises did carry, she thought, as she focused on the creaking of floorboards. In a corner of her room there was a bit of mold upon the wallpaper that caught her eye. She thought of those green wallpapers so beloved by the Victorians that contained arsenic. The so-called Paris and Scheele greens. And wasnt there something in a book shed read once about how microscopic fungi could act upon the dyes in the paper and form arsine gas, sickening the people in the room? She was certain shed heard about how these most civilized Victorians had been killing themselves in this way, the fungi chomping on the paste in the wall, causing unseen chemical reactions. She couldnt remember the name of the fungus that had been the culpritLatin names danced at the tip of her tongue, brevicaulebut she thought she had the facts right. Her grandfather had been a chemist and her fathers business was the production of pigments and dyes, so she knew to mix zinc sulfide and barium sulfate if you wanted to make lithopone and a myriad of other bits of information. Well, the wallpaper was not green. Not even close to green; it was a muted pink, the color of faded roses, with ugly yellow medallions running across it. Medallions or circles; when you looked at it closely you might think they were wreaths. She might have preferred the green wallpaper. This was hideous, and when she closed her eyes, the yellow circles danced behind her eyelids, flickers of color against black. 5 C atalina sat by the window again that morning. She seemed remote, like the last time Noemi had seen her. Noemi thought of a drawing of Ophelia that used to hang in their house. Ophelia dragged by the current, glimpsed through a wall of reeds. This was Catalina that morning. Yet it was good to see her, to sit together and update her cousin on the people and things in Mexico City. She detailed an exhibit she had been to three weeks prior, knowing Catalina would be interested in such things, and then imitated a couple of friends of theirs with such accuracy a smile formed on her cousins lips, and Catalina laughed. You are so good when you do impressions. Tell me, are you still bent on those theater classes? Catalina asked. No. I have been thinking about anthropology. A masters degree. Doesnt that sound interesting? Always with a new idea, Noemi. Always a new pursuit. Shed heard such a refrain often. She supposed that her family was right to view her university studies skeptically, seeing as shed changed her mind already thrice about where her interests lay, but she knew rather fiercely that she wanted to do something special with her life. She hadnt found what exactly that would be, although anthropology appeared to her more promising than previous explorations. Anyway, when Catalina spoke, Noemi didnt mind, because her words never sounded like her parents reproaches. Catalina was a creature of sighs and phrases as delicate as lace. Catalina was a dreamer and therefore believed in Noemis dreams. And you, what have you been up to? Dont think I havent noticed you hardly write. Have you been pretending you live on a windswept moor, like in Wuthering Heights? Noemi asked. Catalina had worn out the pages of that book. No. Its the house. The house takes most of my time, Catalina said, extending a hand and touching the velvet draperies. Were you planning on renovating it? I wouldnt blame you if you razed it and built it anew. Its rather ghastly, isnt it? And chilly too. Damp. Theres a dampness to it. I was too busy freezing to death last night to mind the dampness. The darkness and the damp. Its always damp and dark and so very cold. As Catalina spoke, the smile on her lips died. Her eyes, which had been distant, suddenly fell on Noemi with the sharpness of a blade. She clutched Noemis hands and leaned forward, speaking low. I need you to do a favor for me, but you cant tell anyone about it. You must promise you wont tell. Promise? I promise. Theres a woman in town. Her name is Marta Duval. She made a batch of medicine for me, but Ive run out of it. You must go to her and get more. Do you understand? Yes, of course. What kind of medicine is it? It doesnt matter. What matters is that you do it. Will you? Please say you will and tell no one about it. Yes, if you want me to. Catalina nodded. She was clutching Noemis hands so tightly that her nails were digging into the soft flesh of her wrists. Catalina, Ill speak to Shush. They can hear you, Catalina said and went quiet, her eyes bright as polished stones. Who can hear me? Noemi asked slowly, as her cousins eyes fixed on her, unblinking. Catalina slowly leaned closer to her, whispering in her ear. Its in the walls, she said. What is? Noemi asked, and the question was a reflex, for she found it hard to think what to ask with her cousins blank eyes upon her, eyes that did not seem to see; it was like staring into a sleepwalkers face. The walls speak to me. They tell me secrets. Dont listen to them, press your hands against your ears, Noemi. There are ghosts. Theyre real. Youll see them eventually. Abruptly Catalina released her cousin and stood up, gripping the curtain with her right hand and staring out the window. Noemi wanted to ask her to explain herself, but Florence walked in then. Dr. Cummins has arrived. He needs to examine Catalina and will meet you in the sitting room later, the woman said. I dont mind staying, Noemi replied. But hell mind, Florence told her with a definite finality. Noemi could have pressed the point, but she elected to leave rather than get into an argument. She knew when to back down, and she could sense that insisting now would result in a hostile refusal. They might even send her packing if she made a fuss. She was a guest, but she knew herself to be an inconvenient one. The sitting room, in the daytime, once she peeled the curtains aside, seemed much less welcoming than at night. For one it was chilly, the fire that had warmed the room turned to ashes, and with daylight streaming through the windows every imperfection was laid bare more strikingly. The faded velour settees appeared a sickly green, almost bilious, and there were many cracks running down the enamel tiles decorating the fireplace. A little oil painting, showing a mushroom from different angles, had been attacked, ironically, by mold: tiny black spots marred its colors and defaced the image. Her cousin was right about the dampness. Noemi rubbed her wrists, looking at the place where Catalina had dug her nails against her skin, and waited for the doctor to come downstairs. He took his time, and when he walked into the sitting room, he was not alone. Virgil accompanied him. She sat on one of the green settees, and the doctor took the other one, setting his black leather bag at his side. Virgil remained standing. I am Arthur Cummins, the doctor said. You must be Miss Noemi Taboada. The doctor dressed in clothes of a good cut, but which were a decade or two out of fashion. It felt like everyone who visited High Place had been stuck in time, but then she imagined in such a small town there would be little need to update ones wardrobe. Virgils clothing, however, seemed fashionable. Either he had bought himself a new wardrobe the last time hed been in Mexico City or he considered himself exceptional and his clothes worthy of more expense. Perhaps it was his wifes money that allowed a certain lavishness. Yes. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, Noemi said. Its my pleasure. Now, Virgil says you have a few questions for me. I do. They tell me my cousin has tuberculosis. Before she could continue, the doctor was nodding and speaking. She does. Its nothing to be concerned about. Shes been receiving streptomycin to help her get over it, but the rest cure still holds true. Plenty of sleep, plenty of relaxation, and a good diet are the true solution to this malady. The doctor took off his glasses and took out a handkerchief, proceeding to clean the lenses as he spoke. An ice bag on the head or an alcohol rub, thats really what all this is about. It will pass. Soon shell be right as rain. Now, if youll excuse me The doctor stuffed the glasses in the breast pocket of his jacket, no doubt intending to leave the conversation at that, but it was Noemis turn to interrupt him. No, I wont excuse you yet. Catalina is very odd. When I was a little girl, I remember my aunt Brigida had tuberculosis and she did not act like Catalina at all. Every patient is different. She wrote a very uncharacteristic letter to my father, and she seems unlike herself, Noemi said, trying to put her impressions into words. She has changed. Tuberculosis doesnt change a person, it merely intensifies the traits the patient already possesses. Well, then, theres definitely something wrong with Catalina, because shes never possessed this listlessness. She has such an odd look about her. The doctor took out his glasses and put them on again. He must not have liked what he saw and frowned. You did not let me finish, the doctor muttered, sounding snappish. His eyes were hard. She pressed her lips together. Your cousin is a very anxious girl, quite melancholic, and the illness has intensified this. Catalina is not anxious. You deny her depressive tendencies? Noemi recalled what her father had said in Mexico City. Hed called Catalina melodramatic. But melodramatic and anxious were not the same thing at all, and Catalina had definitely never heard voices in Mexico City, and she hadnt had that bizarre expression on her face. What depressive tendencies? Noemi asked. When her mother died, she became withdrawn, Virgil said. She had periods of great melancholy, crying in her room and talking nonsense. Its worse now. He had not spoken until then, and now he chose to bring that up, and not only to bring it up but to speak with a careful detachment, as if he were describing a stranger instead of his wife. Yes, and as you said her mother had died, Noemi replied. And that was years and years ago, when she was a girl. Perhaps youll find certain things come back, he said. Although tuberculosis is hardly a death sentence, it can still be upsetting for the patient, the doctor explained. The isolation, the physical symptoms. Your cousin has suffered from chills and night sweats; theyre not a pretty sight, I assure you, and codeine provides temporary relief. You cannot expect her to be cheery and baking pies. Im concerned. Shes my cousin, after all. Yes, but if you begin to get agitated too, then we wont be better off, will we? the doctor said, shaking his head. Now, I really must be going. Ill see you next week, Virgil. Doctor, she said. No, no, I will be going, the doctor repeated, like a man who has become aware of an impending mutiny aboard a ship. The doctor shook Noemis hand, grabbed his bag, and off he went, leaving her upon the grotesque settee, biting her lips and not knowing quite what to say. Virgil took the spot the doctor had vacated and leaned back, aloof. If there ever was a man who had ice in his veins, it was this one. His face was bloodless. Had he really courted Catalina? Courted anyone? She could not picture him expressing affection toward any living thing. Dr. Cummins is a very capable physician, he said with a voice that was indifferent, a voice that indicated he would not have cared if Cummins was the best or worst physician on Earth. His father was the familys doctor, and now he watches over our health. I assure you, he has never been found lacking in any way. Im sure he is a good doctor. You do not sound sure. She shrugged, trying to make light of it, thinking that if she kept a smile on her face and her words were airy, he might be more receptive. After all, he seemed to be taking this whole matter lightly. If Catalina is ill, then she might be better off in a sanatorium close to Mexico City, somewhere where she can be tended to properly. You dont believe I can tend to my wife? I didnt say that. But this house is cold and the fog outside is not the most uplifting sight. Is this the mission that your father gave you? Virgil asked. That you would come here and snatch Catalina away? She shook her head. No. It feels like it, he said briskly, though he did not sound upset. The words remained cold. I realize that my home is not the most modern and most fashionable there is. High Place was once a beacon, a shining jewel of a house, and the mine produced so much silver that we could afford to cram armoires with silks and velvet and fill our cups with the finest wines. It is not so anymore. But we know how to take care of ill people. My father is old, hes not in perfect health, yet we tend to him adequately. I wouldnt do any less for the woman Ive married. Still. I would like to ask, perhaps, what Catalina needs is a specialist in other matters. A psychiatrist He laughed so loudly she jumped a little in her seat, for until now his face had been very serious, and the laughter was unpleasant. The laughter challenged her, and his eyes settled on her. A psychiatrist. And where might you find one around these parts? You think he might be summoned out of thin air? There is a public clinic in town with a single doctor and nothing more. Youll hardly find a psychiatrist there. Youd have to head to Pachuca, maybe even to Mexico City, and fetch one. I doubt theyd come. At least the doctor at the clinic might offer a second opinion, or he might have other ideas about Catalina. Theres a reason why my father brought his own doctor from England, and its not because the health care in this place was magnificent. The town is poor and the people there are coarse, primitive. Its not a place crawling with doctors. I must insist Yes, yes, I do believe you will insist, he said, standing up, the striking blue eyes still unkindly fixed on her. You get your way in most things, dont you, Miss Taboada? Your father does as you wish. Men do as you wish. He reminded her of a fellow shed danced with at a party the previous summer. They had been having fun, briskly stepping to a danzon, and then came time for the ballads. During Some Enchanted Evening the man held her far too tightly and tried to kiss her. She turned her head, and when she looked at him again there was pure, dark mockery across his features. Noemi stared back at Virgil, and he stared at her with that same sort of mockery: a bitter, ugly stare. What do you mean? she asked, challenge peppering the question. I recall Catalina mentioning how insistent you can be when you want a beau to do your bidding. I wont fight you. Get your second opinion if you can find it, he said with a chilling finality as he walked out of the room. She felt a little pleased to have needled him. She sensed that he had expectedas had the doctorthat she would accept his words mutely. That night she dreamed that a golden flower sprouted from the walls in her room, only it wasntshe didnt think it a flower. It had tendrils, yet it wasnt a vine, and next to the not-flower rose a hundred other tiny golden forms. Mushrooms, she thought, finally recognizing the bulbous shapes, and as she walked toward the wall, intrigued and attracted by the glow, she brushed her hands against these forms. The golden bulbs seemed to turn into smoke, bursting, rising, falling like dust upon the floor. Her hands were coated in this dust. She attempted to clean it off, wiping her hands on her nightgown, but the gold dust clung to her palms, it went under her nails. Golden dust swirled around her, and it lit up the room, bathing it in a soft yellow light. When she looked above, she saw the dust glittering like miniature stars against the ceiling, and below, on the rug, was another golden swirl of stars. She brushed her foot forward, disturbing the dust on the rug, and it bounced up into the air again, then fell. Suddenly, Noemi was aware of a presence in the room. She raised her head, her hand pressed against her nightgown, and saw someone standing by the door. It was a woman in a dress of yellowed antique lace. Where her face ought to have been there was a glow, golden like that of the mushrooms on the wall. The womans glow grew stronger, then dimmed. It was like watching a firefly in the summer night sky. Next to Noemi the wall had started to quiver, beating to the same rhythm as the golden woman. Beneath her the floorboards pulsed too; a heart, alive and knowing. The golden filaments that had emerged together with the mushrooms covered the wall like a netting and continued to grow. She noticed, then, that the womans dress was not made of lace, but was instead woven with the same filaments. The woman raised a gloved hand and pointed at Noemi, and she opened her mouth, but having no mouth since her face was a golden blur, no words came out. Noemi had not felt scared. Not until now. But this, the woman attempting to speak, it made her indescribably afraid. A fear that traveled down her spine, to the soles of her feet, forcing Noemi to step back and press her hands against her lips. She had no lips, and when she tried to take another step back she realized that her feet had fused to the ground. The golden woman reached forward, reached toward her, and held Noemis face between her hands. The woman made a noise, like the crunching of leaves, like the dripping of water onto a pond, like the buzzing of insects in the pitch-black darkness, and Noemi wished to press her hands against her ears, but she had no hands anymore. Noemi opened her eyes, drenched in sweat. For a minute she didnt remember where she was, and then she recalled she had been invited to High Place. She reached for the glass of water shed left by the bedside and almost knocked it down. She gulped down the whole glass and then turned her head. The room was in shadows. No light, golden or otherwise, dotted the walls surface. Nevertheless, she had an impulse to rise and run her hands against the wall, as if to make sure there was nothing strange lurking behind the wallpaper. 6 N oemis best bet for obtaining a car was Francis. She didnt think Florence would give her the time of day, and Virgil had been absolutely irritated with her when they had spoken the previous day. Noemi remembered what Virgil had said about men doing as she wanted. It bothered her to be thought of poorly. She wanted to be liked. Perhaps this explained the parties, the crystalline laughter, the well-coiffed hair, the rehearsed smile. She thought that men such as her father could be stern and men could be cold like Virgil, but women needed to be liked or theyd be in trouble. A woman who is not liked is a bitch, and a bitch can hardly do anything: all avenues are closed to her. Well, she definitely did not feel liked in this house, but Francis was friendly enough. She found him near the kitchen, looking more washed out than the previous days, a slim figure of ivory, but his eyes were energetic. He smiled at her. When he did, he wasnt bad looking. Not quite like his cousinVirgil was terribly attractivebut then she thought most men would have had a hard time competing with Virgil. No doubt thats what had hooked Catalina. That pretty face. Maybe the air of mystery hed had about him too had made Catalina forget about sensible matters. Genteel poverty, Noemis father had said. Thats what that man has to offer. Apparently also a rambling, old house where you were liable to have bad dreams. God, the city seemed so far away. Id like to ask you for a favor, she said after theyd exchanged morning pleasantries. As she spoke she linked her arm to his with a fluid, well-practiced motion, and they began walking together. I want to borrow one of your cars and go into town. I have letters Id like to post. My father doesnt really know how Im doing. You need me to drive you there? I can drive myself there. Francis made a face, hesitating. I dont know what Virgil would say about that. She shrugged. You dont have to tell him. What, you dont think I can drive? Ill show you my license if you want. Francis ran a hand through his fair hair. Its not that. The family is very particular about the cars. And Im very particular about driving on my own. Surely I dont need a chaperone, and youd make a terrible chaperone, anyway. How so? Who ever heard of a man playing chaperone? You need an insufferable aunt. I can lend you one of mine for a weekend if youd like. Itll cost you a car. Will you help me, please? Im desperate. He chuckled as she steered him outside. He picked up the car keys hanging from a hook in the kitchen. Lizzie, one of the maids, was rolling bread upon a floured table. She did not acknowledge either Noemi or Francis even one bit. The staff at High Place was almost invisible, like in one of Catalinas fairy tales. Beauty and the Beast, that had been it, had it not? Invisible servants who cooked the meals and laid down the silverware. Ridiculous. Noemi knew all the people who worked in her house by name, and they certainly were not begrudged their chatter. That she even knew the names of the staff at High Place seemed a small miracle, but shed asked Francis, and Francis had obligingly introduced them: Lizzie, Mary, and Charles, who, like the porcelain locked in the cabinets, had been imported from England many decades ago. They walked toward the shed, and he handed her the car keys. You wont get lost? Francis asked, leaning against the cars window and looking down at her. I can manage. True enough. It wasnt as if one could even attempt to get lost. The road led up or down the mountain, and down she went, to the little town. She felt quite content during the drive and rolled her window open to enjoy the fresh mountain air. It wasnt such a bad place, she thought, once you got out of the house. It was the house that disfigured the land. Noemi parked the car by the town square, guessing both the post office and the medical clinic must be nearby. She was right and was quickly rewarded with the sight of a little green-and-white building that proclaimed itself the medical unit. Inside there were three green chairs and several posters explaining all matter of diseases. There was a receiving desk, but it was empty, and a closed door with a plaque on it and the doctors name in large letters. Julio Eusebio Camarillo, it said. She sat down, and after a few minutes the door opened and out came a woman holding a toddler by the hand. Then the doctor poked his head through the doorway and nodded at her. Good day, he said. How can I help you? Im Noemi Taboada, she said. You are Dr. Camarillo? She had to ask because the man looked rather young. He was very dark and had short hair that he parted down the middle and a little mustache that did not really age him, managing to make him look a bit ridiculous, like a child mimicking a physician. He also wasnt wearing a doctors white coat, just a beige-and-brown sweater. Thats me. Come in, he said. Inside his office, on the wall behind his desk, she indeed saw the certificate from the UNAM with his name in an elegant script. He also had an armoire, the doors thrown open, filled with pills, cotton swabs, and bottles. A large maguey lay in a corner in a yellow pot. The doctor sat behind his desk and Noemi sat on a plastic chair, which matched the ones in the vestibule. I dont think weve met before, Dr. Camarillo said. Im not from around here, she said, placing her purse on her lap and leaning forward. Ive come to see my cousin. Shes sick, and I thought you might take a look at her. She has tuberculosis. Tuberculosis? In El Triunfo? the doctor asked, sounding quite astonished. I hadnt heard anything about that. Not in El Triunfo proper. At High Place. The Doyle house, he said haltingly. You are related to them? No. Well, yes. By marriage. Virgil Doyle is married to my cousin Catalina. I was hoping youd go check on her. The young doctor looked confused. But wouldnt Dr. Cummins be taking care of her? Hes their doctor. Id like a second opinion, I suppose, she said and explained how strange Catalina seemed and her suspicions that she might require psychiatric attention. Dr. Camarillo listened patiently to her. When she was done, he twirled a pencil between his fingers. The thing is, Im not sure Id be welcome at High Place if I showed up there. The Doyles have always had their own physician. They dont mingle with the townsfolk, he said. When the mine was operational and they hired Mexican workers, they had them living at a camp up the mountain. Arthur Cummins senior also tended to them. There were several epidemics back when the mine was open, you know. Lots of miners died, and Cummins had his hands full, but he never requested local help. I dont believe they think much of local physicians. What sort of epidemic was it? He tapped his pencils eraser against his desk three times. It wasnt clear. A high fever, very tricky. People would say the oddest things, theyd rant and rave, theyd have convulsions, theyd attack each other. People would get sick, theyd die, then all would be well, and a few years later again the mystery illness would strike. Ive seen the English Cemetery, Noemi said. There are many graves. Thats only the English people. You should see the local cemetery. They said that in the last epidemic, around the time the Revolution started, the Doyles didnt even bother sending down the corpses for a proper burial. They tossed them in a pit. That cant be, can it? Who knows. The phrase carried with it an implicit distaste. The doctor didnt say, Well, I believe it, but it seemed there might be no reason why he shouldnt. You must be from El Triunfo, then, to know all of this. From near enough, he said. My family sold supplies to people at the Doyle mine, and when they shuttered it, they moved to Pachuca. I went to study in Mexico City, but now Im back. I wanted to help the people here. You should start by helping my cousin, then, she said. Will you come up to the house? Dr. Camarillo smiled but he shook his head, apologetic. I told you, youll get me in trouble with Cummins and the Doyles. What can they do to you? Arent you the towns physician? The health clinic is public, and the government pays for bandages, rubbing alcohol, and gauze. But El Triunfo is small, its needy. Most people are goat farmers. Back when the Spaniards controlled the mine, they could support themselves making tallow for the miners. Not now. Theres a church and a very nice priest here, and he collects alms for the poor. And I bet the Doyles place money in his contribution box and the priest is your friend, Noemi said. Cummins places the contributions in the box. The Doyles dont bother with that. But its their money, all the same, everyone knows it. She didnt think the Doyles had much money left; the mine had been closed for more than three decades. But their bank account must have a modest balance, and a little bit of cash might go a long way in an isolated town like El Triunfo. What to do now? She thought it over, quickly, and decided to take advantage of those theater lessons her father had considered a waste of money. Then you wont help me. Youre afraid of them! Oh, and here I am without a friend in the world, she said, clutching her purse and standing up slowly, her lip quivering dramatically. Men always panicked when she did that, afraid shed cry. Men were always so afraid of tears, of having a hysterical woman on their hands. At once the doctor made a placating motion and spoke quickly. I didnt say that. Then? she pressed on, sounding hopeful, giving him the most fetching of smiles, the one she used when she wanted to get a policeman to let her go without a speeding ticket. Doctor, it would mean the world to me if you helped. Even if I go, Im no psychologist. Noemi took out her handkerchief and clutched it, a little visual reminder that she could, at any moment, break into tears and start dabbing at her eyes. She sighed. I could head to Mexico City, but I dont want to leave Catalina alone, especially if theres no need for it. I may be wrong. Youd save me a long trip back and forth; the train doesnt even run every day. Will you do me this little favor? Will you come? Noemi looked at him, and he looked back at her with a dose of skepticism, but he nodded his head. Ill stop by Monday around noon. Thanks, she said, standing up quickly and shaking his hand, and then, remembering the fullness of her errand, she paused. By the way, do you know a Marta Duval? Are you going around talking to every specialist in town? Why do you say that? Shes the local healer. Do you know where she lives? My cousin wanted a remedy from her. Does she? Well, I suppose it makes sense. Marta does a lot of business with the women in town. Gordolobo tea is still a popular remedy for tuberculosis. Does it help? Its fine enough for coughs. Dr. Camarillo bent down over his desk and drew a map on his notepad and handed it to her. Noemi decided to walk to Duvals house, since he said it was nearby, and it turned out to be a good idea, because the path that led to the womans house would have been no good for a car and the way there was a little convoluted, the streets following no plan, growing chaotic. Noemi had to ask for directions, despite the map. She spoke to a woman who was doing her laundry by the front door of her house, scrubbing a shirt against a battered washboard. The woman put down her bar of Zote soap and informed Noemi she had to go uphill a little farther. The towns neglect was more obvious the farther you moved from the central square and the church. The houses became shacks made of bare brick, and everything seemed gray and dusty, with scrawny-looking goats or chickens stuck behind rickety fences. Some dwellings were abandoned, with no doors or windows left. She supposed the neighbors had scavenged whatever wood, glass, and other materials they could take. When theyd driven through town, Francis must have taken the most scenic of roads, and even then her impression had been of decay. The healers house was very small and stood out because it was painted white and was better taken care of. An old woman with her hair in a long braid, wearing a blue apron, sat outside by the door on a three-legged stool. She had two bowls next to her and was peeling peanuts. In one bowl she threw the discarded shells, in another she threw the peanuts. The woman did not look up as Noemi approached her. She was humming a tune. Excuse me, Noemi said. Im looking for Marta Duval. The humming ceased. Youve got the prettiest shoes Ive even seen, the old woman said. Noemi glanced down at the pair of black high-heeled shoes she was wearing. Thank you. I dont get many people with pretty shoes like that. The woman cracked another peanut open and tossed it into the bowl. Then she stood up. Im Marta, she said, looking up at Noemi, her eyes cloudy with cataracts. Marta went into the house carrying a bowl in each hand. Noemi followed her inside, into a small kitchen that also served as the dining room. On a wall there was a picture of the Sacred Heart and a bookshelf held plaster figurines of saints, candles, and bottles filled with herbs. From the ceiling there also hung herbs and dried flowers, lavender and epazote and branches of rue. Noemi knew there were healers who made all sorts of remedies, gathering herbs for hangovers and herbs for fevers, and even tricks to cure the evil eye, but Catalina had never been the type to seek such cures. The first book that had gotten Noemi really interested in anthropology had been Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande, and when she tried to discuss it with Catalina, Catalina would not hear of it. The mere word witchcraft gave her a fright, and a healer of Duvals sort was two steps removed from witchcraft, not only handing out tonics but also curing the susto by placing a cross of holy palm on someones head. No, Catalina wouldnt have been the type to wear a bracelet of ojo de venado on her wrist. How had she ended up at this house, talking to Marta Duval, then? The old woman placed the bowls on the table and pulled out a chair. When she sat down there was a sudden fluttering of wings, which startled Noemi, and a parrot swooped onto the womans shoulder. Sit, Marta said, taking a peeled peanut and handing it to the parrot. What do you want? Noemi sat down across from her. You made a remedy for my cousin, and she needs more of it. What was it? Im not sure. Her name is Catalina. Do you remember her? The girl from High Place. The woman took another peanut and gave it to the parrot, which cocked its head and stared at Noemi. Yes, Catalina. How do you know her? I dont. Not really. Your cousin used to come to church once in a while, and she mustve gotten to talking with someone there because she came to see me, told me that she needed something to help her sleep. She visited me a couple of times. Last time I saw her she was agitated, but wouldnt tell me about her problems. She asked me to mail a letter for her, addressed to someone in Mexico City. Why didnt she mail it herself? I dont know. She said, Come Friday, if we dont see each other, mail this, so I did. Like I said, she wouldnt discuss her problems. She said she had bad dreams, and I tried to help with that. Bad dreams, Noemi thought, recalling her nightmare. It wasnt hard to have bad dreams in a house like that. She placed her hands on top of her purse. Well, whatever you gave her must have worked, because she wants more of it. More. The woman sighed. I told the girl, no tea is going to make her feel better, not for long. What do you mean? That family is cursed. The woman touched the parrots head, scratching it, and the bird closed its eyes. You havent heard the stories? There was an epidemic, Noemi said cautiously, wondering if she meant that. Yes, there was sickness, much sickness. But that wasnt the only thing. Miss Ruth, she shot them. Whos Miss Ruth? Its a famous story around these parts. I can tell it, but itll cost you a little. Youre rather mercenary. Im already going to pay for the medicine. Weve got to eat. Besides, its a good story, and no one knows it as well as I do. So youre a healer and a storyteller. Told you, young miss, we got to eat, the woman said with a shrug. All right. Ill pay for a story. You have an ashtray? she asked, taking out her cigarettes and her lighter. Marta grabbed a pewter cup from the kitchen and placed it before her, and Noemi leaned forward, both elbows resting on the table, and lit her cigarette. She offered the old woman a cigarette and Marta took two, smiling, but she did not light either one, instead tucking them in her aprons pocket. Perhaps shed smoke the cigarettes later. Or even sell them. Where to begin? Ruth, yes. Ruth was Mr. Doyles daughter. Mr. Doyles darling child, she wanted for nothing. Back then they had many servants. Always lots of servants to polish the silver and make teas. The bulk of those servants were people from the village, and they lived at the house, but sometimes they came down to town. For the market, for other things. And theyd talk, about all the pretty things at High Place and pretty Miss Ruth. She was going to marry her cousinMichael, it wasand theyd ordered a dress from Paris and ivory head combs for her hair. But a week before the wedding, she grabbed a rifle and shot her groom, shot her mother, her aunt, and her uncle. She shot her father, but he survived. And she might have shot Virgil, her baby brother, but Miss Florence hid away with him. Or maybe Ruth had mercy. Noemi hadnt seen a single weapon in the house, but then they must have tossed the rifle. There was only silver on display, and she wondered, incongruously, if the bullets the murderess had used might not have been made of silver. When she was done shooting them, she took the rifle and killed herself. The woman cracked a peanut. What a morbid tale! And yet, this was not a conclusion. Merely a pause. Theres more, isnt there? Yes. Youre not going to tell me the rest? One has to eat, young miss. Ill pay. You wont be stingy? Never. Noemi had placed the box of cigarettes on the table. Marta extended a wrinkled hand and took another one, again tucking it in her apron. She smiled. The servants left after that. The people who remained in High Place were the family and trusted folks theyd employed for a long time. They stayed there, stayed out of sight. Then one day Miss Florence was suddenly at the train station, off on vacation when she had never set a foot outside the house. She came back married to a young man. Richard, he was called. He wasnt like the Doyles. He was talkative; he liked to come down to town in his car and have a drink and chat. Hed lived in London and New York and Mexico City, and you got the feeling that the house of the Doyles wasnt his favorite place of them all. He was talkative, all right, and then he started talking strange things. What sort of things? Talk of ghosts and spirits and the evil eye. He was a strong man, Mr. Richard, until he wasnt, and he looked rather shabby and thin, stopped coming into town and disappeared from view. They found him at the bottom of a ravine. Therere lots of ravines here, you might have noticed that, well, there he was, dead at twenty-nine, left behind a son. Francis, she thought. Pale-faced Francis with his soft hair and his softer smile. Shed heard nothing of this long saga, but then she supposed it was not the kind of thing anyone would like to discuss. It all sounds tragic, but Im not sure Id call it a curse. Youd call it coincidence, wouldnt you? Yes, I suppose you would. But the fact is everything they touch rots. Rots. The word sounded so ugly, it seemed to stick to the tongue, it made Noemi want to bite her nails even though shed never done such a thing. She was particular about her hands; ugly nails wouldnt have done for her. It was odd, that house. The Doyles and their servants were all an odd lot, but a curse? No. It couldnt be anything but coincidence, she said, shaking her head. Could be. Can you make the same remedy you made for Catalina the last time? Its no easy thing. Id have to gather the ingredients, and it would take me a little while. It wouldnt solve the issue. Its like I said: the problem is that house, that cursed house. Jump on that train and leave it behind, thats what I told your cousin. I thought shed listened, but what do I know? Yes, Im sure you did. Whats the price of this remedy, anyway? Noemi asked. The remedy and the stories. Yes, that too. The woman named a sum. Noemi opened her purse and took out a few bills. Marta Duval might have cataracts, but she saw the bills clearly enough. It would take me a week. Come back in a week, but I make no promises, the woman said, extending her hand, and Noemi placed the bills in her palm. The woman folded them and tucked them in her aprons pocket. Can you spare another cigarette? she added. Very well. I hope you like them, Noemi said, handing her one more. Theyre Gauloises. Theyre not for me. Then for whom? Saint Luke the Evangelist, she said, pointing to one of the plaster figurines on her shelves. Cigarettes for saints? He likes them. He has expensive tastes, Noemi said, wondering if she could find a store that sold anything even close to Gauloises in town. Shed have to replenish her stock soon. The woman smiled, and Noemi handed her another bill. What the hell. As shed said, everyone had to eat and God knew how many customers the old lady had. Marta seemed very pleased and smiled even more. Well, Im off, then. Dont let Saint Luke smoke all the cigarettes at once. The woman chuckled, and they walked outside. They shook hands. And the woman squinted. How do you sleep? the woman asked. Fine. You have dark circles under your eyes. Its the cold up here. It keeps me awake at night. I hope its that. Noemi thought of her odd dream, the golden glow. It had been a rather hideous nightmare, but she had not had time to analyze it. She had a friend who swore by Jung, but Noemi had never understood the whole the dream is the dreamer bit, nor had she cared to interpret her dreams. Now she recalled one particular thing Jung wrote: everyone carries a shadow. And like a shadow the womans words hung over Noemi as she drove back to High Place. 7 T hat evening, Noemi was summoned once again to the dreary dinner table with its tablecloth of white damask and the candles, and around this ancient table the Doyles gathered together, Florence, Francis, and Virgil. The patriarch would have supper in his room, it seemed. Noemi ate little, stirring the spoon around her bowl and itching for conversation, not nourishment. After a little while she could not contain herself any longer and chuckled. Three pairs of eyes settled on her. Really, must we tie our tongues all dinner long? she asked. Could we speak perhaps three or four sentences? Her voice was like fine glass, contrasting with the heavy furniture and heavy drapes and the equally weighty faces turned toward her. She didnt mean to be a nuisance, but her carefree nature had little understanding of solemnity. She smiled, hoping for a smile in return, for a moment of levity inside this opulent cage. As a general rule we do not speak during dinner, as I explained last time. But it seems you are very keen on breaking every rule in this house, Florence said, carefully dabbing a napkin against her mouth. What do you mean? You took a car to town. I needed to drop a couple of letters at the post office. This was no lie, for she had indeed scribbled a short letter to her family. She had thought to dutifully send a missive to Hugo too, but then reconsidered. Hugo and Noemi were not a couple in the proper sense of the word, and she worried if she did send a letter he might interpret it as a sign of an impending and serious commitment. Charles can take any letters. Id rather do it myself, thank you. The roads are bad. What would you do if your car was stuck in the muck? Florence asked. I imagine Id walk back, Noemi replied, setting down her spoon. Really, its not a problem. I imagine it isnt for you. The mountain has its dangers. The words did not seem outright hostile, but Florences disapproval was thick as treacle, coating each and every syllable. Noemi felt suddenly like a girl whod had her knuckles rapped, and this made her raise her chin and stare back at the woman in the same way she had stared at the nuns at her school, armored with poised insurrection. Florence even resembled the mother superior a little: it was her expression of utter despondency. Noemi almost expected her to demand she take out her rosary. I thought I explained myself when you arrived. You must consult with me on matters concerning this house, its people, and the things in it. I was specific. I told you Charles was to drive you into town and, if not him, then perhaps Francis, Florence said. I didnt think And you have smoked in your room. Dont bother denying it. I said it was forbidden. Florence stared at Noemi, and Noemi imagined the woman sniffing at the linens, examining a cup for traces of ashes. Like a bloodhound, out for prey. Noemi intended to protest, to say that she had smoked but twice in her room and both times she had intended to open the window, but it was not her fault it wouldnt open. It was closed so tight youd think theyd nailed it shut. Its a filthy habit. As are certain girls, Florence added. Now it was Noemis turn to stare at Florence. How dare she. Before she could say anything, Virgil spoke. My wife tells me your father can be a rather strict man, he said, all cool detachment. Hes set in his ways. Yes, Noemi replied, glancing at Virgil. At times he is. Florence has managed High Place for decades, Virgil said. As we do not have many visitors, you can imagine shes quite set in her ways too. And its quite unacceptable, dont you think, for a visitor to ignore the rules of a house? She felt ambushed; she thought they had planned to scold her together. She wondered if they did this with Catalina. She would go into the dining room and offer a suggestionabout the food, the d?cor, the routineand they would politely, delicately silence her. Poor Catalina, who was gentle and obedient, as gently squashed down. She had lost her appetite, which had been scant to begin with, and sipped her glass of sickly-sweet wine rather than attempt to converse. Eventually Charles walked in to inform them that Howard would like to see them after dinner, and they made their way up the stairs, like a traveling court off to greet the king. Howards bedroom was very large and decorated with more of the weighty, dark furniture that abounded around the rest of the house, and thick velvet curtains that could conceal the thinnest ray of light. The most striking feature of the room was the fireplace, with a carved wooden mantelpiece adorned with what at first glance seemed to be circles, but revealed themselves to be more of those snakes eating their tails that shed spotted before at the cemetery and in the library. A sofa had been set in front of the fireplace, and upon it sat the patriarch, swaddled in a green robe. Howard looked even older that evening. He reminded her of one of the mummies shed seen in the catacombs in Guanajuato, arranged in two rows for tourists to peek at. Upright they stood, preserved by a quirk of nature, and dragged from their graves when the burial tax was not paid so that they might be exhibited. He had that same withered, sunken aspect, as though he had already been embalmed, the elements reducing him to bone and marrow. The others walked ahead of her, each of them clasping the old mans hand in greeting, then stepping aside. There you are. Come, sit with me, the old man said, motioning to her. Noemi sat next to Howard, giving him a vague, polite smile. Florence, Virgil, and Francis did not join them, instead choosing another couch and chairs on the other end of the room to sit down. She wondered if he always received people in this manner, picking one lucky person who would be allowed at his side, who would be granted an audience, while the rest of the family was brushed aside for the time being. A long time ago this room might have been filled with relatives, friends, all of them waiting and hoping Howard Doyle would curl a finger in their direction and ask them to sit with him for a little while. She had seen photographs and paintings of a large number of people around the house, after all. The paintings were ancient; maybe they were not all of relatives who had lived at High Place, but the mausoleum hinted at a vast family or, perhaps, the assurance of descendants who would find their way there. Two large oil paintings hanging above the fireplace caught Noemis eye. They each depicted a young woman. Both were fair-haired, both very similar in looks, so much so that at first glance one might take them for the same woman. However, there were differences: straight strawberry blond hair versus honeyed locks, a tad more plumpness in the face in the woman on the left. One wore an amber ring on her finger, which matched the one on Howards hand. Are these your relatives? she asked, intrigued by the likeness, what she supposed was the Doyle look. These are my wives, Howard said. Agnes passed away shortly after our arrival to this region. She was pregnant when disease took her away. Im sorry. It was a long time ago. But she has not been forgotten. Her spirit lives on in High Place. And there, the one on the right, that is my second wife. Alice. She was fruitful. A womans function is to preserve the family line. The children, well, Virgil is the only one left, but she did her duty and she did it well. Noemi looked up at the pale face of Alice Doyle, the blond hair cascading down her back, her right hand holding a rose between two fingers, her face serious. Agnes, to her left, was also robbed of mirth, clasping a bouquet between her hands, the amber ring catching a stray ray of light. They stared forward in their silk and lace with what? Resolution? Confidence? They were beautiful, were they not? the old man asked. He sounded proud, like a man who has received a nice ribbon at the county fair for his prize hog or mare. Yes. Although Although what, my dear? Nothing. They seem so alike. I imagine they should. Alice was Agness little sister. They were both orphaned and left penniless, but we were kin, cousins, and so I took them in. And when I traveled here Agnes and I were wed, and Alice came with us. Then you twice married your cousin, Noemi said. And your wifes sister. Is it scandalous? Catherine of Aragon was first married to Henry VIIIs brother, and Queen Victoria and Albert were cousins. You think youre a king, then? Howard reached forward and patted her hand; his skin seemed paper-thin and dry, smiling. Nothing as grandiose as that. Im not scandalized, Noemi said politely and gave her head a little shake. I hardly knew Agnes, Howard said with a shrug. We were married and before a year had passed I was forced to organize a funeral. The house wasnt even finished back then and the mine had been operating for a scant handful of months. Then the years passed, and Alice grew up. There were no suitable grooms for her in this part of the world. It was a natural choice. One could say preordained. This is her wedding portrait. See there? The date is clearly visible on that tree in the foreground: 1895. A wonderful year. So much silver that year. A river of it. The artist had indeed carved the tree with the year and the initials of the bride: AD. Agness portrait sported the same detail, the year carved on a stone column: 1885, AD. Noemi wondered if they had simply dusted off the old brides trousseau and handed it to the younger sister. She imagined Alice pulling out linens and chemises monogrammed with her initials, pressing an old dress against her chest and staring into the mirror. A Doyle, eternally a Doyle. No, it wasnt scandalous, but it was damn odd. Beautiful, my beautiful darlings, the old man said, his hand still resting atop Noemis as he turned his eyes back toward the paintings, his fingers rubbing her knuckles. Did you ever hear about Dr. Galtons beauty map? He went around the British Isles compiling a record of the women he saw. He catalogued them as attractive, indifferent, or repellent. London ranked as the highest for beauty, Aberdeen the lowest. It might seem like a funny exercise, but of course it had its logic. Aesthetics again, Noemi said, as she delicately pulled her hand free from his and stood up, as if to take a closer look at the paintings. Truth be told she didnt like his touch, nor did she much enjoy the faint unpleasant odor that emanated from his robe. It might have been an ointment or medicine that hed applied. Yes, aesthetics. One must not dismiss them as frivolous. After all, didnt Lombroso study mens faces in order to recognize a criminal type? Our bodies hide so many mysteries and they tell so many stories without a single word, do they not? She looked at those portraits above their heads, the serious mouths, the pointed chins and luscious hair. What did they say, in their wedding dresses as the brush stroked the canvas? I am happy, unhappy, indifferent, miserable. Who knew. One could construct a hundred different narratives, it didnt make them true. You mentioned Gamio when we last spoke, Howard said, grabbing his cane and standing up to move next to her. Noemis attempt at distance had been in vain; he crowded her, touched her arm. Youre correct. Gamio believes natural selection has pressed the indigenous people of this continent forward, allowing them to adapt to biological and geographical factors that foreigners cannot withstand. When you transplant a flower, you must consider the soil, mustnt you? Gamio was on the right track. The old man folded his hands atop his cane and nodded, looking at the paintings. Noemi wished that someone would open a window. The room was stuffy, the conversations of the others were whispers. If they were conversing. Had they gone quiet? Their voices were like the buzzing of insects. I wonder why you are not married, Miss Taboada. You are the right age for it. My father asks himself that same question, Noemi said. And what lies do you tell him? That you are too busy? That you esteem many young men but cannot find one that truly captivates you? This was very close to what shed said, and perhaps if hed intoned the words with a certain levity it might have been constructed as a joke and Noemi would have clutched his arm for a moment and laughed. Mr. Doyle, she would have said, and they would have talked about her father and her mother, and how she was always quarreling with her brother, and her cousins who were numerous and lively. But Howard Doyles words were harsh and his eyes had a sickening sort of animation to them. He almost leered at her, one of his thin hands brushing a strand of her hair, as if doing her a kindnesshed found a bit of lint and tossed it awaybut no. No kindness at all as he moved that lock behind her shoulder. He was a tall man even in his old age, and she didnt like looking up at him, she didnt like seeing him bend toward her like that. He looked like a stick insect, an insect hiding under a velvet robe. His lips curved into a smile as he leaned down closer, peering carefully at her. He smelled foul. She turned her head, and she rested a hand against the mantelpiece. Her eyes met those of Francis, who was looking at them. She thought he was a scared bird, a pigeon, the eyes round and startled. It was very hard to imagine he was related to the insect-man before her. Has my son shown you the greenhouse? Howard asked, stepping back, and his eyes lost their unpleasantness as he turned toward the fire. I didnt know you had a greenhouse, she replied, a little surprised. Then again, she hadnt opened every door in the house, nor had she looked at the place from every angle. She hadnt wanted to, beyond her first cursory exploration of High Place. It wasnt a welcoming home. A very small one and in a state of disrepair, like most things around here, but the roof is of stained glass. You might like it. Virgil, Ive told Noemi you will show her the greenhouse, Howard said, the loudness of his voice so shocking in the quiet room that Noemi thought it might cause a small tremor. Virgil merely nodded and, taking this as a cue, approached them. Ill be glad to, Father, he said. Good, Howard said, clasping Virgils shoulder before he set off across the room, joining Florence and Francis, and taking up the seat Virgil had been occupying. Has my father been bothering you, telling you what he considers to be the finest type of manhood and womanhood possible? Virgil asked, smiling at her. The answer is tricky: the Doyles are the finest specimens around, but I try not to let it go to my head. Noemi was a little surprised by the smile, but she welcomed the warmth after stomaching Howards odd leer and his sharp grin. He was talking about beauty, she said, her voice charmingly composed. Beauty. Of course. Well, he was a great connoisseur of beauty, once, although now he can barely eat mush and stay up until nine. She raised a hand and hid her grin behind it. Virgil traced one of the snake carvings with his index finger, looking a bit more serious as he did, his smile subdued. Im sorry about the other night. I was rude. And earlier today Florence made a fuss about the car. But you must not feel badly about it. You cant be expected to know all our habits and little rules, he said. Its fine. Its stressful, you know. My father is very frail and now Catalina is ill too. Im not in the best of moods these days. I dont want you to feel we dont want you here. We do. We very much do. Thank you. I dont think you quite forgive me. No, not quite, but she was relieved to see not all the Doyles were so damn gloomy all the time. Maybe he was telling the truth, and before Catalina had fallen sick Virgil had been more disposed to merriment. Not yet, but if you keep it up I may erase a mark or two on your scorecard. You keep score then? As if youre playing cards? A girl has to keep track of a number of things. Dances are not the only ones, she said with that easy, genial tone of hers. Ive been given to understand you are quite the dancer and the gambler. At least, according to Catalina, he said, still smiling at her. And here I thought you might be scandalized. Youd be surprised. I love surprises, but only when they come with a nice, big bow, she declared, and because he was playing nice, she played nice too and tossed him a smile. Virgil in turn gave her an appreciative look that seemed to say, See, we may yet become friends. He offered her his arm, and they walked toward the rest of the family members, to chat for a few more minutes before Howard declared he was much too tired to entertain any more company, and they all disbanded. She had a curious nightmare, unlike any dream shed had before in this house, even if her nights had been rather restless. She dreamed that the door opened and in walked Howard Doyle, slowly, each of his steps like the weight of iron, making the boards creak and the walls rumble. It was as if an elephant had trampled into her room. She could not move. An invisible thread anchored her to the bed. Her eyes were closed but she could see him. She gazed at him from above, from the ceiling, and then from the floor, her perspective shifting. She saw herself too, asleep. She saw him approaching her bed and tugging at the covers. She saw this, and yet her eyes remained shut even when he reached out to touch her face, the edge of a nail running down her neck, a thin hand undoing the buttons of her nightdress. It was chilly and he was undressing her. Behind her she felt a presence, felt it like one feels a cold spot in a house, and the presence had a voice; it leaned close to her ear and it whispered. Open your eyes, the voice said, a womans voice. There had been a golden woman in her room, in another dream, but this was not the same presence. This was different; she thought this voice was young. Her eyes were nailed shut, her hands lay flat against the bed, and Howard Doyle loomed over her, stared down at Noemi as she slept. He smiled in the dark, white teeth in a diseased, rotting mouth. Open your eyes, the voice urged her. Moonlight or another source of light hit Howard Doyles thin, insect-like body, and she saw it wasnt the old man standing by her bed, studying her limbs, her breasts, staring at her pubic hair. It was Virgil Doyle who had acquired his fathers leering grin, who smiled his white smile, and who looked at Noemi like a man observing a butterfly pinned against a velvet cloth. He pressed a hand against her mouth, pushing her back against the bed, and the bed was very soft, it dipped and swayed and it was like wax, like being pressed into a bed of wax. Or perhaps mud, earth. A bed of earth. And she felt such sweet, sickening desire flowing through her body, making her roll her hips, sinuous, a serpent. But it was he who coiled himself around her, swallowed her shuddering sigh with his lips, and she didnt quite want this, not like that, not those fingers digging too firmly into her flesh, and yet it was hard to remember why she hadnt wanted it. She must want this. To be taken, in the dirt, in the dark, without preamble or apology. The voice at her ear spoke again. It was very insistent, jabbing her. Open your eyes. She did and woke up to discover she was very cold; she had kicked the covers away and they tangled at her feet. Her pillow had tumbled to the floor. The door lay firmly closed. Noemi pressed both hands against her chest, feeling the rapid beating of her heart. She ran a hand down the front of her nightdress. All the buttons were firmly in place. Of course they would be. The house was quiet. No one walked through the halls, no one crept into rooms at night to stare at sleeping women. Still, it took her a long time to go back to sleep, and once or twice, when she heard a board creak, she sat up quickly and listened for footsteps. 8 N oemi planted herself outside the house, waiting for the doctor to arrive. Virgil had told her she could get a second opinion, so she had informed Florence the doctor would be stopping by and that she had obtained Virgils permission for this visit, but she didnt quite trust any of the Doyles to greet Dr. Camarillo and had decided to serve as a sentinel. As she crossed her arms and tapped her foot she felt, for once, like one of Catalinas characters in their childhood tales. The maiden gazing out the tower, waiting for the knight to ride to the rescue and vanquish the dragon. Surely the doctor would conjure a diagnosis and a solution. She felt it necessary to be positive, to hope, for High Place was a place of hopelessness. Its shabby grimness made her want to push forward. The doctor was punctual and parked his car near a tree, stepping out, doffing his hat and staring up at the house. There wasnt much mist that day, as if the Earth and sky had cleared up in advance of this visitor, though it served to make the house look more forlorn, unshrouded and bare. Noemi imagined Julios house was nothing like this, that it was one of the shabby yet colorful little houses down the main street, with a tiny balcony and wooden shutters and a kitchen with old azulejos. Well, this is the famous High Place, Dr. Camarillo said. About time I saw it, I suppose. You havent been here before? she asked. No reason for me to come. Ive been past where the mining camp used to be. Or whats left of it, at any rate, when Ive gone hunting. Theres plenty of deer around, up here. Mountain lions too. You have to be careful on this mountain. I didnt know that, she said. She recalled how Florence had admonished her. Could she have been worried about mountain lions? Or was she more worried about her precious car? The doctor grabbed his bag and they went inside. Noemi had been afraid Florence might come running down the stairs, ready to glare at both Dr. Camarillo and Noemi, but the staircase was empty, and when they reached Catalinas room they found the woman alone. Catalina seemed in good enough spirits, sitting in the sunlight, dressed in a simple but becoming blue dress. She greeted the doctor with a smile. Good day, Im Catalina. And Im Dr. Camarillo. Im pleased to meet you. Catalina extended her hand. Why, he looks so young, Noemi! He must be hardly older than you! You are hardly older than me, Noemi said. What are you talking about? Youre a little girl. This sounded so like the happy Catalina of days past, bantering with them, that Noemi began to feel foolish for bringing the doctor to the house. But then, as the minutes ticked by, Catalinas ebullience began to fade and turn into a simmering agitation. And Noemi couldnt help but think that even though nothing was exactly wrong, something was definitely not right. Tell me, how are you sleeping? Any chills at night? No. I feel much better already. Really, theres no need for you to be here, its such a fuss over nothing. Over nothing, truly, Catalina said. Her vehemence when she spoke had a forced cheerfulness to it. She repeatedly rubbed a finger across her wedding band. Julio merely nodded. He talked in a steady, measured tone while he took notes. Have you been given streptomycin and para-aminosalicylic acid? I think so, Catalina said, but she responded in such haste Noemi didnt think shed even listened to the question. Marta Duval, did she also send a remedy for you? A tea or herb? Catalinas eyes darted across the room. What? Why would you ask that? Im trying to figure out what all your medications are. Im assuming you saw her for a remedy of some sort? Theres no remedy, she muttered. She said something else, but it wasnt a real word. She babbled, like a small child, and then Catalina suddenly clutched her neck, as if shed choke herself, but her grip was lax. No, it was not choking, but a defensive gesture, a woman guarding herself, holding her hands up in defense. The movement startled them both. Julio almost dropped his pencil. Catalina resembled one of the deer in the mountains, ready to dart to safety, and neither knew what to say. What is it? Julio asked, after a minute had gone by. Its the noise, Catalina said, and she slowly slid her hands up her neck and pressed them against her mouth. Julio looked up at Noemi, who was sitting next to him. What noise? Noemi asked. I dont want you here. Im very tired, Catalina said, and she gripped her hands together and placed them on her lap, closing her eyes, as if to shut her visitors away. I really dont know why you must be here bothering me when I should be sleeping! If you will the doctor began. I cant talk anymore, Im exhausted, Catalina said, her hands trembling as she attempted to clutch them together. Its really quite exhausting being ill and its even worse when people say you shouldnt do anything. Isnt that odd? ReallyitsIm tired. Tired! She paused, as if catching her breath. All of a sudden Catalina opened her eyes very wide and her face had a terrifying intensity to it. It was the visage of a woman possessed. Therere people in the walls, Catalina said. Therere people and therere voices. I see them sometimes, the people in the walls. Theyre dead. She extended her hands, and Noemi gripped them, helplessly, trying to comfort her, as Catalina shook her head and let out a half sob. It lives in the cemetery, in the cemetery, Noemi. You must look in the cemetery. Then just as suddenly Catalina stood up and went to the window, clutching a drape with her right hand and looking outside. Her face softened. It was as if a tornado had struck and spun away. Noemi didnt know what to do, and the doctor appeared equally baffled. Im sorry, Catalina said evenly. I dont know what I say, Im sorry. Catalina pressed her hands against her mouth again and began coughing. Florence and Mary, the oldest maid, walked in, carrying a tray with a teapot and a cup. Both of the women eyed Noemi and Dr. Camarillo with disapproval. Will you be long? Florence asked. Shes supposed to be resting. I was just leaving, Dr. Camarillo said, collecting his hat and his notepad, clearly knowing himself an unwelcome intruder with these few words and Florences lofty tilt of the head. Florence always knew how to cut you down with the succinct efficiency of a telegram. It was nice meeting you, Catalina. They stepped out of the room. For a couple of minutes neither one spoke, both weary and a little rattled. So, whats your opinion? she finally asked as they began walking down the stairs. On the matter of tuberculosis I would have to take an X-ray of her lungs to get a better idea of her condition, and I really am no expert in tuberculosis in the first place, he said. And on the other matter, I warned you, Im not a psychiatrist. I shouldnt be speculating Come on, out with it, Noemi said in exasperation, you must tell me something. They stopped at the foot of the stairs. Julio sighed. I believe you are correct and she needs psychiatric attention. This behavior is not usual with any tuberculosis patient Ive met. Perhaps you might find a specialist in Pachuca who could treat her? If you cant make the trek to Mexico City. Noemi didnt think theyd be making the trek anywhere. Maybe if she spoke to Howard and tried to explain her concerns? He was the head of the household, after all. But she didnt like the old man, he rubbed her the wrong way, and Virgil might think she was trying to overreach. Florence certainly would be of no help to her, but what about Francis? Im afraid Ive left you with a worse conundrum than before, havent I? Julio said. No, Noemi lied. No, Im very thankful. She was dispirited and felt silly for having expected more of him. He was no knight in shining armor nor a wizard who might revive her cousin with a magic potion. She ought to have known better. He hesitated, seeking perhaps to provide her with more reassurance. Well, you know where to find me if you need anything else, he concluded. Do seek me out if its necessary. Noemi nodded, watched him as he got into his car and drove away. She recalled, rather grimly, that certain fairy tales end in blood. In Cinderella, the sisters cut off their feet, and Sleeping Beautys stepmother was pushed into a barrel full of snakes. That particular illustration on the last page of one of the books Catalina used to read to them suddenly came back to her, in all its vivid colors. Green and yellow serpents, the tails poking out of a barrel as the stepmother was stuffed into it. Noemi leaned against a tree, standing there with her arms crossed for a while. She walked back inside the house to find Virgil standing on the staircase, his hand on the banister. There was a man to see you. It was the doctor from the public health clinic. You did say he could visit. Im not admonishing you, he told her as he finished climbing down the stairs and stood in front of her. He appeared a little curious, and she guessed he wanted to know what the doctor had said, but she also guessed he would not ask yet, and Noemi didnt want to blurt it all out either. Do you think youd have time to show me the greenhouse now? she asked diplomatically. Gladly. It was very small, the greenhousealmost like the postscript at the end of an awkward letter. Neglect had flourished, and there were dirty glass panels and broken glass aplenty. In the rainy season the water seeped in with ease. Mold caked the planters. But a few flowers were still in bloom, and when Noemi looked up she was greeted by the striking vision of colored glass: a glass roof decorated with a twining serpent. The snakes body was green, the eyes were yellow. The sight of it quite surprised her. It was perfectly designed, almost leaping off the glass, its fangs open. Oh, she said, pressing the tips of her fingers against her lips. Something the matter? Virgil asked, moving to stand next to her. Nothing, really. Ive seen that snake around the house, she said. The ouroboros. Is it a heraldic symbol? Its our symbol, but we dont have a shield. My father had a seal made with it, though. What does it mean? The snake eats its tail. The infinite, above us, and below. Well, yes, but why did your family pick that as your seal? Its everywhere too. Really? he said nonchalantly and shrugged. Noemi tilted her head, trying to get a better look at the snakes head. I havent seen glass like that in a greenhouse, she admitted. Youd expect transparent glass. My mother designed it. Chromic oxide. Id bet thats what gives it that green coloration. But there must also be some uranium oxide used here, because, see? Right there, it almost seems to glow, she said, pointing at the snakes head, the cruel eyes. Was it manufactured here or shipped piece by piece from England? I know little of how it was built. Would Florence know? Youre an inquisitive creature. She wasnt sure whether he meant it as a compliment or a defect. The greenhouse, hmm? he went on. I know its old. I know my mother loved it more than any other part of the house. Virgil moved toward a long table that ran along the center length of the greenhouse, crammed with yellowed potted plants, and to the back, to a bed box that held a few pristine pink roses. He carefully brushed his knuckles against the petals. She took care to cut out the weak and useless shoots, to look after each flower. But when she died, nobody much cared for the plants, and this is whats left of it all. Im sorry. His eyes were steadfast on the roses, pulling a blighted petal. It doesnt matter. I do not remember her. I was a baby when she died. Alice Doyle, who shared her initials with that other sister. Alice Doyle, blond and pale, who had been flesh once, who had been more than a portrait on a wall, who must have sketched on a piece of paper the serpent that curled above their heads. The rhythms of its scaly body, the shape of its narrowed eyes, and the terrible mouth. It was a violent death. We have a certain history of violence, the Doyles. But we are resistant, he said. And it was a long time ago. It doesnt matter. Your sister shot her, she thought, and she could not picture it. It was such a monstrous, terrible act that she could not imagine that it truly had happened, in this house. And afterward someone had scrubbed the blood away, someone had burned the dirty linens or replaced the rugs with the ugly scarlet splotches on them, and life had gone on. But how could it have gone on? Such misery, such ugliness, surely it could not be erased. Yet Virgil seemed unperturbed. My father, when he spoke to you yesterday about beauty, he must have spoken about superior and inferior types too, Virgil said, raising his head and looking at her intently. He must have mentioned his theories. Im not sure what theories you refer to, she replied. That we have a predetermined nature. That sounds rather awful, doesnt it? she said. Yet as a good Catholic you must believe in original sin. Perhaps Im a bad Catholic. How would you know? Catalina prays her rosary, he said. She went to church each week, before she got sick. I imagine you do the same, back home. As a matter of fact Noemis eldest uncle was a priest and she was indeed expected to attend mass in a good, modest black dress, with her lace mantilla carefully pinned in place. She also had a tiny rosarybecause everyone didand a golden cross on a matching chain, but she didnt wear the chain regularly, and she had not given much thought to original sin since the days when she was busy learning her catechism in preparation for her first communion. Now she thought vaguely about the cross and almost felt like pressing a hand against her neck, to feel the absence of it. Do you believe, then, that we have a predetermined nature? she asked. I have seen the world, and in seeing it Ive noticed people seem bound to their vices. Take a walk around any tenement and youll recognize the same sort of faces, the same sort of expressions on those faces, and the same sort of people. You cant remove whatever taint they carry with hygiene campaigns. There are fit and unfit people. It seems like nonsense to me, she said. That eugenicist discourse always makes my stomach turn. Fit and unfit. We are not talking about cats and dogs. Why shouldnt humans be the equivalent of cats and dogs? We are all organisms striving for survival, moved forward by the single instinct that matters: reproduction and the propagation of our kind. Dont you like to study the nature of man? Isnt that what an anthropologist does? I hardly want to discuss this topic. What do you want to discuss? he asked with dry amusement. I know youre itching to say it, so say it. Noemi had meant to be more subtle than this, more charming, but there was no point in evasion now. Hed entwined her in conversation and pushed her to speak. Catalina. What about her? Noemi leaned her back against the long table, her hands resting on its scratched surface, and looked up at him. The doctor who came today thinks she needs a psychiatrist. Yes, she very well may need one, eventually, he agreed. Eventually? Tuberculosis is no joke. I cannot be dragging her off somewhere else. Besides, shed hardly be accepted in a psychiatric facility considering her illness. So, yes, eventually we might evaluate specialized psychological care for her. For now she seems to be doing well enough with Arthur. Well enough? Noemi scoffed. She hears voices. She says there are people in the walls. Yes. Im aware. You dont seem worried. You presume a great deal, little girl. Virgil crossed his arms and walked away from her. Noemi protesteda curse, delivered in Spanish, escaping her lipsand quickly moved behind him, her arms brushing against brittle leaves and dead ferns. He turned abruptly and stared down at her. She was worse before. You did not see her three or four weeks ago. Fragile, like a porcelain doll. But shes getting better. You dont know that. Arthur knows that. You can ask him, he said calmly. That doctor of yours wouldnt even let me ask two questions. And that doctor of yours, Miss Taboada, as far as my wife tells me, looks like he cant even grow a beard. You talked to her? I went to see her. Thats how I knew you had a guest. He was correct on the point of the doctors youth, but she shook her head. What does his age have to do with anything? she replied. Im not about to listen to a boy who graduated from medical school a few months ago. Then why did you tell me to bring him here? He looked her up and down. I did not. You insisted. Just as you are insisting on having this extremely dull conversation. He made to leave, but this time she caught his arm, forcing him to turn and face her again. His eyes were very cold, very blue, but a stray beam of light hit them. Gold, they looked for a flickering second, before he inclined his head and the effect passed. Well, then I insist, no, I demand, that you take her back to Mexico City, she said. Her attempt at diplomacy was a failure and they both knew it, so she might as well speak openly. This silly, creaky old house is no good for her. Must I You are not going to change my mind, he said, interrupting her, and in the end shes my wife. Shes my cousin. Her hand was still on his arm. Carefully, he took hold of her fingers and pried them loose of his jackets sleeve, pausing for a second to look down at her hands, as if examining the length of her fingers or the shape of her nails. I know. I also know you dont like it here, and if you are itching to get back to your home and away from this creaky house, youre welcome to it. Are you throwing me out now? No. But you dont give the orders around here. Well be fine as long as you remember this, he said. Youre rude. I doubt it. I should go right away. Throughout this whole conversation his voice had remained level, which she found very infuriating, just as she despised the smirk that marked his face. He was civil and yet disdainful. Maybe. But I dont think you will. I think its in your nature to stay. Its the dutiful pull of blood, of family. I can respect that. Maybe its in my nature not to back down. I believe you are correct. Dont bear me a grudge, Noemi. Youll see this is the best course. I thought we had a truce, she told him. That would imply weve been at war. Would you say that? No. Then everything is fine, he concluded and walked out of the greenhouse. He had a way of parrying her words that was maddening. She could finally understand why her father had been so irritated by Virgils correspondence. She could imagine the letters he wrote, filled with sentences that feinted and amounted to an irritating nothing. She shoved a pot from atop the table. It broke with a resounding crash, spilling earth upon the floor. At once she regretted the gesture. She could smash all the crockery, it would do her no good. Noemi knelt down, trying to see if the damage might be fixed, grabbing pieces of ceramic and seeing how they fit together, but it was impossible. Damn it and damn it again. She pushed the pieces away with her foot, under the table. Of course he had a point. Catalina was his wife, and he was the one who could make choices for her. Why, Mexican women couldnt even vote. What could Noemi say? What could she do in such a situation? Perhaps it would be best if her father intervened. If he came down here. A man would command more respect. But no, it was as shed said: she wasnt going to back down. Very well. Then she must remain for a while longer. If Virgil couldnt be persuaded to assist her, maybe the loathsome patriarch of the Doyle family might rule in her favor. She might be able to drag Francis onto her side of the court, she suspected that. Most of all she felt like leaving now would be betraying Catalina. Noemi stood up, and as she did she noticed that there was a mosaic on the floor. Stepping back and looking around the room she realized it circled the table. It was another of the snake symbols. The ouroboros slowly devouring itself. The infinite, above us, and below, as Virgil had said. 9 O n Tuesday, Noemi ventured into the cemetery. Catalina had inspired this second tripYou must look in the cemetery, shed saidbut Noemi did not expect to find anything interesting there. She thought, however, that she might have a smoke in peace, among the tombstones, since Florence wouldnt abide a cigarette even in the privacy of her bedroom. The mist gave the cemetery a romantic aura. She recalled that Mary Shelley had rendezvoused with her future husband in a cemetery: illicit liaisons by a tomb. Catalina had told her this story, just as she had gushed over Wuthering Heights. Sir Walter Scott, that had been another favorite of hers. And the movies. How shed delighted in the torturous romance of Maria Candelaria. Once upon a time Catalina had been engaged to the youngest of the Incl?ns but had broken it off. When Noemi had asked her why, since he seemed for all intents and purposes a very agreeable man, Catalina had told her she expected more. True romance, she said. True feelings. Her cousin had never quite lost that young-girl wonder of the world, her imagination crowded with visions of women greeting passionate lovers by moonlight. Well, except now. There wasnt much wonder in Catalinas eyes, though she did seem lost. Noemi wondered if High Place had robbed her of her illusions, or if they were meant to be shattered all along. Marriage could hardly be like the passionate romances one read about in books. It seemed to her, in fact, a rotten deal. Men would be solicitous and well behaved when they courted a woman, asking her out to parties and sending her flowers, but once they married, the flowers wilted. You didnt have married men posting love letters to their wives. Thats why Noemi tended to cycle through admirers. She worried a man would be briefly impressed with her luster, only to lose interest later on. There was also the excitement of the chase, the delight that flew through her veins when she knew a suitor was bewitched with her. Besides, boys her age were dull, always talking about the parties they had been to the previous week or the one they were planning to go to the week after. Easy, shallow men. Yet the thought of anyone more substantial made her nervous, for she was trapped between competing desires, a desire for a more meaningful connection and the desire to never change. She wished for eternal youth and endless merriment. Noemi rounded a small cluster of tombs with moss covering the names and dates on them. Leaning back on a broken headstone, she reached into her pocket for her pack of cigarettes. She saw movement nearby, on a mound, a shape half hidden by the mist and a tree. Whos there? she said, hoping it wasnt a mountain lion. That would be her luck. The mist did not allow her to glimpse anything properly. She squinted and stood on her tiptoes, frowning. The shape. She almost thought it had a halo. A yellow or golden coloring, like light refracted for a quick second It lives in the cemetery, Catalina said. The words had not frightened her. But now, standing outside, with only a packet of cigarettes and a lighter, she felt exposed and vulnerable, and she couldnt help but wonder exactly what lived in the cemetery. Slugs, worms, and beetles, and nothing more, she told herself, sliding her hand into her pocket, clasping her lighter like a talisman. The shape, gray and lacking definition, a blur of darkness against the mist, did not move toward Noemi. It remained still. It might be nothing but a statue. A trick of the light might have made it appear as if it were moving. Yes, no doubt it had been a trick of the light, just like with the quickly glimpsed halo. She moved away, eager to retrace her steps and head back to the house. She heard a rustling in the grass and, turning her head sharply, she noticed the shape had vanished. It couldnt have been a statue. She was suddenly, unpleasantly, aware of a buzzing, almost like a beehive but not quite. It was loud. Or no, loud was not the right word. She could hear it very clearly. Like the echo in an empty room it seemed to bounce back to her. It lives in the cemetery. She ought to get back to the house. It was that way, to her right. The mist, which had seemed insubstantial and thin as she swung the gate open, had thickened. Noemi tried to think hard whether it was to her right or her left that she should head. She did not want to end up following a wrong trail and bumping into a mountain lion or sliding off a ravine. It lives in the cemetery. Right, it was definitely right. The buzzing was also toward the right. Bees or wasps. Well, what if there were bees? It wasnt as if theyd sting her. She wasnt going to paw at their hive to get honey. The sound, though. It was unpleasant. It made her want to go in the opposite direction. Buzzing. Maybe it was flies. Flies as green as emeralds, their fat bodies atop a piece of carrion. Meat, red and raw, and really, why must she think these things? Why must she stand like this, with a hand in her pocket and her eyes wide, anxiously listening You must look in the cemetery. Left, go left. Toward that mist, which seemed even thicker there, thick as gruel. There came the crunching of a twig under a shoe and a voice, pleasant and warm in the coldness of the cemetery. Out for a stroll? Francis asked. He wore a gray turtleneck and a navy coat and a matching navy cap. A basket dangled from his right arm. He always seemed rather insubstantial to Noemi, but now, in the mist, he appeared perfectly solid and real. It was exactly what she needed. Oh, I could kiss you, Im so happy to see you, she said merrily. He blushed as red as a pomegranate, which was not becoming and was also, frankly, a little funny because he was a bit older than her, a man made. If anyone should play the bashful maid, it should be her. Then again she supposed there werent many young women fawning over Francis in this place. She figured if she ever got him to a party in Mexico City he would be utterly thrilled or petrified, only one of two extremes. Im not sure Ive done anything to deserve that, he said, half mumbling the words. You deserve it. I cant seem to figure out where is what in this mist. I was thinking Id have to spin around and hope there wasnt a gully nearby and Id go tumbling right into it. Can you see anything? And do you know the location of the cemetery gates? Of course I know it, he said. Its not that hard if you look down. Therere all kinds of visual markers to guide you. It feels like having a veil thrust over your eyes, she declared. I also fear there are bees nearby and they might sting me. I heard a buzzing. He glanced down, nodding, looking at his basket. Now that he was with her, she had regained her levity, and she peered curiously at him. What do you have there? she asked, pointing at the basket. Ive been collecting mushrooms. Mushrooms? At a cemetery? Sure. Theyre all around. As long as you dont plan to make them into a salad, she said. What would be wrong about that? Only the thought of them growing over dead things! But then mushrooms always grow over dead things in a way. I cant believe you are strolling around in this fog hunting for mushrooms growing on graves. It sounds grim, like youre a body snatcher from a nineteenth-century dime novel. Catalina would have liked that. Perhaps shed gone mushroom hunting in the cemetery too. Or else she simply stood in this same spot, smiling wistfully as the wind toyed with her hair. Books, moonlight, melodrama. Me? he asked. Yes. I bet you have a skull in there. Youre a character out of Horacio Quirogas stories. Let me see. He had draped a red handkerchief over the basket, which he removed to allow her to inspect the mushrooms. They were a bright, fleshy orange with intricate folds, soft as velvet. She held a small one between her index finger and her thumb. Cantharellus cibarius. Theyre quite delicious, and they were not growing in the cemetery, but farther away. I merely cut through here to get back home. Locals call them duraznillos. Smell them. Noemi leaned down closer to the basket. They smell sweet. Theyre quite lovely too. Theres an important connection between certain cultures and mushrooms, you know? The Zapotec Indians of your country practiced dentistry by giving people a mushroom which would intoxicate them and serve as an anesthetic. And the Aztecs, they too found mushrooms interesting. They consumed them in order to experience visions. Teonan?catl, she said. The flesh of the gods. He spoke eagerly. You know about fungi, then? No, not really: history. I was thinking of becoming a historian before I detoured and settled on anthropology. At least that is the plan now. I see. Well, Id love to find those little, dark mushrooms that the Aztecs ate. Why, you dont strike me as that type of boy, Noemi said, handing him back the orange mushroom. What do you mean? Theyre supposed to make you feel drunk and induce a great lust. At least thats what the Spaniard chroniclers said. Do you plan on snacking on them and going on a date? No, well, I would not want them, not for that, Francis quickly babbled. Noemi liked to flirt and she was good at it, but she could tell by the renewed redness in Franciss cheeks that he was a novice at this. Had he ever gone dancing? She couldnt picture him heading to town for a festivity, nor could she see him sneaking kisses in a darkened cinema in Pachuca, though Pachuca was unlikely in the first place since hed never traveled far. Who knew. Maybe shed kiss him before the trip was over, and he would be utterly shocked by the gesture. But then, she was discovering she actually enjoyed his company and didnt wish to torture the young man. Im joking. My grandmother was Mazatec, and the Mazatec ingest similar mushrooms during certain ceremonies. Its not about lust, its communion. They say the mushroom speaks to you. I understand your interest in them. Why, yes, he said. The world is filled with so many extraordinary wonders, isnt it? You could spend a lifetime peering in forests and jungles and never see one tenth of natures secrets. He sounded so excited, it was a bit funny. She didnt have a naturalist bone in her body, but rather than judging his passion ridiculous she was moved by his fervor. He had such life when he spoke like that. Do you like all plants, or are your botanical interests limited to mushrooms? I like all plants and have pressed a large share of flowers, leaves, ferns, and such. But mushrooms are more interesting. I make spore prints and draw a little, he said, looking pleased. Whats a spore print? You place the gills on a paper surface and they leave an impression of it. Its used to help identify mushrooms. And the botanical illustrations, they are beautiful. Such colors. I mightperhaps Perhaps what? she asked when he didnt continue. He clutched the red piece of cloth in his left hand tightly. Perhaps youd like to see the prints sometime? Im sure it doesnt sound exciting, but if you find yourself terribly bored it might be a distraction. I would like to, thanks, she said, helping him out since he seemed to have lost all knowledge of words and was looking mutely at the ground, as if the right sentence might sprout there. He smiled at her, carefully setting the red handkerchief back on top of the mushrooms. The mist had thinned as they spoke, and now she could see the tombstones, the trees, and the shrubs. At last, I am no longer blind, Noemi said. There is sunlight! And air. Yes. You could make your way back on your own, he replied, a note of disenchantment in his voice as he looked around. Although you could keep me company for a while longer. If you are not too busy, he added cautiously. She had been eager to leave the cemetery a few minutes before, but now it was all peaceful and quiet. Even the mist seemed pleasant. She couldnt believe shed been scared. Why, the figure she had seen must have been Francis walking around and poking at the ground for mushrooms. I might have a cigarette, she said and lit one with nimble fingers. She offered him the pack, but Francis shook his head. My mother wants to have a chat with you about that, he said, looking serious. Is she going to tell me smoking is a filthy habit again? Noemi asked as she took a puff and tilted her head up. She liked doing that. It enhanced her long, elegant neck, which was among her finest features and made her feel a bit like a movie star. Hugo Duarte and all the other boys fawning around her certainly thought it was a charming detail. She was vain, yes. Though she didnt think it was a sin. Noemi looked a bit like Katy Jurado when she struck the right pose, and of course she knew what exact pose and angle to strike. But shed abandoned the theater classes. Nowadays she wished to be a Ruth Benedict or a Margaret Mead. Maybe. The family insists on certain healthy habits. No smoking, no coffee, no loud music or noises, cold showers, closed curtains, mild words and Why? Its the way its always been done at High Place, Francis said blandly. The cemetery sounds more lively, she said. Maybe we should fill a flask with whiskey and have a party here, under that pine tree. Ill blow smoke rings your way, and we can try and find those hallucinogenic mushrooms. And if it turns out they do indeed induce a sort of lust or frenzy and you get fresh with me, I wont mind one bit. She was joking. Anybody would have known it was a joke. Her tone of voice possessed the dramatic intonation that takes place when a woman is giving a grand performance. But he took it all wrong, no longer blushing but paling. He shook his head. My mother, she would say thats wrong, to suggestits wrong He trailed off, though it was not necessary that he elaborate. He seemed plainly disgusted. She pictured him talking to his mother, whispering, the word filth on his lips and both of them nodding, agreeing. Superior and inferior types, and Noemi did not belong in the first category, did not belong in High Place, did not deserve anything but scorn. I dont care what your mother thinks, Francis, Noemi said as she dropped the cigarette and crushed it under the heel of her shoe with two vicious stomps. She began walking briskly. Im headed back. Youre a complete bore. A few steps later she stopped and crossed her arms, turning around. He had followed her and was close behind. Noemi took a deep breath. Let me be. I dont need you to show me the way. Francis bent down and carefully picked up a mushroom that she had accidentally trampled over in her mad dash toward the cemetery gates. It was satiny-white, the stem had broken off from the cap, and he held both in the palm of his hand. A destroying angel, he muttered. Sorry? she asked, confused. A poisonous mushroom. Its spore print is white, which is how you can distinguish it from an edible one. He placed the mushroom back on the ground and stood up, brushing away the dirt from his trousers. I must seem ridiculous to you, he said quietly. A ridiculous fool clutching his mothers skirts. Youd be right too. I dare not do anything to upset her, or to upset Great Uncle Howard. Especially Uncle Howard. He looked at her, and she realized that the contempt in his eyes hadnt been meant for her, but for himself. She felt awful, and she remembered how Catalina had told her she was capable of leaving deep scars in people if she didnt watch her scalding tongue. For all your intelligence, you dont think sometimes, Catalina had said. How true. There she was, making stories up in her head when he had said nothing cruel to her. No. Im so sorry, Francis. Im the fool, a court jester, Noemi said, attempting a sort of lightness in the delivery, hoping he understood she hadnt meant it, that they might laugh this silly quarrel away. He nodded slowly, but did not seem convinced. She stretched out a hand, touching his fingers, which were dirty from handling the mushrooms. I really am sorry, she said, this time eradicating any flippancy. He looked at her with great solemnity and his fingers tightened around hers, and he gave her a little tug, as if to pull her closer to him. But just as quickly he released her and stepped back, grabbing the red cloth he carried atop his basket and handing it to her. Im afraid Ive dirtied you, he said. Yes,Noemi looked at her hand, smudged with soilI guess you have. She wiped her hands clean on the cloth and handed it back to him. Francis tucked it in a pocket and set the basket down. You should go back, he said, glancing aside. I still need to collect more mushrooms. Noemi didnt know if he was telling the truth or was still upset and merely wanted her gone. She couldnt blame him if he was sore with her. Very well. Dont let the mist swallow you, she said. She reached the cemeterys gate soon enough and swung it open. Noemi looked over her shoulder and saw a figure at a distance, Francis with his basket, the curling wisps of mist making his features vague. Yes, he must have been the silhouette she had spied in the cemetery earlier, and yet she felt it couldnt have been him. Maybe it was a destroying angel of a different kind, Noemi mused, and immediately regretted such an odd, morbid thought. Really, what was wrong with her today? She retraced her steps, followed the trail back to High Place. When she walked into the kitchen she found Charles sweeping the floor with an old broom. Noemi smiled in greeting. Just then, Florence walked in. She wore a gray dress, a double strand of pearls and her hair up. When she caught sight of Noemi she clasped her hands together. Finally, there you are. Where have you been? Ive been looking for you. Florence frowned, glancing down. Youre trailing mud inside. Take off those shoes. Im sorry, Noemi said, looking down at her high heels, which were crusted with dirt and blades of grass. She took them off, holding them in her hands. Charles, take those and clean them, Florence ordered the man. I can do it. Its no problem. Let him. Charles put the broom aside and walked toward her, extending his hands. Miss, he said, the one word. Oh, Noemi replied and handed him the shoes. He took them, grabbed a brush that lay upon a shelf, and sat on a stool in the corner of the room and began brushing the dirt off her high heels. Your cousin was asking for you, Florence said. Is she all right? Noemi asked, immediately worried. Shes fine. She was bored and wanted to converse with you. I can go upstairs right away, Noemi said, her stockinged feet moving quickly against the cold floor. Theres no need for that, Florence said. Shes taking her nap now. Noemi had already stepped into the hallway. She looked back at Florence, who was walking toward her, and shrugged. Perhaps you could go up later? Yes, I will, Noemi said, but she felt deflated and a little bad for not having been around when Catalina wanted her. 10 I n the mornings Florence or one of the maids came by to deliver Noemis breakfast tray. She had tried to converse with the maids, but they did not offer anything but curt yeses and nos to Noemi. In fact, when she encountered any of the staff of High PlaceLizzie or Charles or the eldest of the three servants, Marythey inclined their head and kept walking, as if they were pretending Noemi did not exist. The house, so quiet, with its curtains drawn, was like a dress lined with lead. Everything was heavy, even the air, and a musty scent lingered along the hallways. It felt almost as if it were a temple, a church, where one must speak in low voices and genuflect, and she supposed the servants had acclimatized to this environment and therefore tiptoed along the staircase, unwilling nuns who had made vows of silence. That morning, however, the quiet routine of Mary or Florence knocking a single time, walking in, and setting her tray on a table was interrupted. There were three knocks, three soft rapping noises. No one walked in, and when the knocks were repeated Noemi opened the door to find Francis there, bearing her tray. Good morning, he said. He quite surprised her. She smiled. Hello. Are you short staffed today? I offered to help my mother deliver this, since shes busy seeing about Great Uncle Howard. Hes had pain in his leg last night, and when he does hes in a foul mood. Where should I set it down? Over there, Noemi said, stepping aside and pointing at the table. Francis carefully set the tray down. Afterward he slid his hands into his pockets and cleared his throat. I was wondering if youd be interested in looking at those spore prints today. If you have nothing better to do, that is. This was a great chance for Noemi to ask him for a ride, she thought. A bit of socializing and he was sure to do as she said. She needed to go into town. Let me talk to my secretary. I have a very full social agenda, Noemi replied cheekily. He smiled. Should we meet in the library? In, say, an hour? Very well. It was close to a social outing, this trek to the library, and it invigorated her, for she was an eager social creature. Noemi changed into a polka-dot day dress with a square neck. She had misplaced the matching bolero jacket and really she ought to have been wearing white gloves with it, but their location being what it was, it was not as if a little faux pas like that would be noticed and make it into the society pages. As she brushed her hair she wondered what everyone was up to back in the city. No doubt her brother was still behaving like a baby with that broken foot of his, Roberta was probably trying to psychoanalyze their whole circle of friends as she always did, and she was sure by now Hugo Duarte had found a new girl to take to recitals and parties. The thought needled her for a second. Hugo was, truth be told, a good dancer and decent company during social functions. As she descended the stairs she was amused by the thought of a party at High Place. No music, of course. The dancing would have to take place in silence, and everyone would be dressed in gray and black, as if attending a funeral. The hallway that led to the library was profusely decorated with photographs of the Doyles rather than paintings, as was the case on the second floor. It was hard, however, to look at them because the hallway was kept in semi-darkness. Shed need to hold a flashlight or candle to them to see anything properly. Noemi had an idea. She walked into the library and the office and pulled the curtains aside. The light filtering out through the open doors of these rooms lit up a stretch of wall, providing her a chance to examine the images. She looked at all those strange faces that seemed nevertheless familiar, echoes of Florence and Virgil and Francis. She recognized Alice, in a pose very similar to the one she sported in the portrait above Howard Doyles fireplace, and Howard himself, rendered young, his face devoid of wrinkles. There was a woman, her hands tightly held in her lap, her light hair pinned up, who regarded Noemi with large eyes from her picture frame. She looked about Noemis age, and perhaps it was that, or the way her mouth was set so hard, somewhat between aggrieved and doleful, that made Noemi lean closer to the photograph, her fingers hovering above it. I hope I havent kept you waiting, Francis said as he approached her, a wooden box under one arm and a book under the other. No, not at all, Noemi said. Do you know who this is here? Francis looked at the picture she was examining. He cleared his throat. That isthat was my cousin Ruth. Ive heard about her. Noemi had never seen the face of a killer; she wasnt in the habit of perusing the newspapers for stories about criminals. She recalled what Virgil had said, about people being bound to their vices and how their faces reflected their nature. But the woman in the photograph seemed merely discontent, not murderous. What have you heard? Francis asked. She killed several people, and herself. Noemi straightened herself up and turned to him. He placed the box on the floor, and his expression was distant. Her cousin, Michael. Francis pointed at a picture of a young man standing ramrod straight, the chain of a pocket watch glinting against his chest, his hair neatly parted, a pair of gloves in his left hand, his eyes rendered almost colorless in the sepia photograph. Francis pointed at the photograph showing Alice, who looked like Agnes. Her mother. His hand darted between two pictures, a woman with her light hair swept up and a man in a dark jacket. Dorothy and Leland. Her aunt and uncle, my grandparents. He went quiet. There was nothing more to say; the litany of the dead had been recited. Michael and Alice, Dorothy, Leland, and Ruth, all of them resting in that elegant mausoleum, the coffins gathering cobwebs and dust. The thought of the party without music, the funerary clothes, now seemed extremely morbid and apt. Why did she do it? I wasnt born when it happened, Francis said quickly, turning his head away. Yes, they must have told you something, there must have been I told you, I wasnt even born then. Who knows? This place could drive anyone crazy, he said angrily. His voice sounded loud in this quiet space of faded wallpaper and gilded frames; it seemed to bounce off the walls and return to them, scraping their skin with its harshness, almost booming. It startled her, this acoustic effect, and it also seemed to affect him. He hunched his shoulders, shrank down, trying to make himself smaller. Im sorry, he said. I shouldnt raise my voice like that. The sound carries here, and Im being very rude. No, Im being rude. I can understand you wouldnt want to talk about such a thing. Another time, perhaps I might tell you about it, he said. His voice was now velvet soft and so was the silence that settled around them. She wondered if the gunshots had boomed through the house just as Franciss voice had boomed, leaving a trail of echoes, and then the same plush silence. You have a devious mind, Noemi, she chided herself. No wonder you dream awful things. Yes. Well, what about those prints you have with you? she told him, because she did not want any more grimness. They went into the library, and he spread on a table before her the treasures he carted in the box. Sheets of paper with brown, black, and purplish blotches upon the surface. They reminded her of the Rorschach images Robertathe same friend who swore on Junghad shown her. These were more accurate; there was no subjective meaning to be assigned. These prints told a story, as clear as her name written on a chalkboard. He also showed her pressed plants, lovingly collected between the pages of a book. Ferns, roses, daisies, dried and catalogued with an immaculate handwriting that put Noemis shabby penmanship to shame. She thought their mother superior would have adored Francis, with his neatness and his organized spirit. She informed him of this, told him how the nuns at her school would have fussed about him. I always got stuck at I believe in the Holy Spirit, she said. I couldnt name its symbols. There was the dove and maybe a cloud and holy water, and oh, then Id forget. Fire, which transforms whatever it touches, Francis said helpfully. I told you, the nuns would have loved you. Im sure they liked you. No. Everyone says they like me well enough, but thats because they have to. No one is going to declare they hate Noemi Taboada. It would be crass to state such a thing while youre nibbling at a canap?. You have to whisper it in the foyer. Then, in Mexico City, at your parties, you spend the whole time feeling people dont like you? I spend the time drinking good champagne, dear boy, she said. Of course. He chuckled, leaning against the table and looking down at his spore prints. Your life must be exciting. I dont know about that. I have a good time, I suppose. Aside from the parties, what do you do? Well, Im attending university, so that eats up much of my day. But youre asking what I do in my spare time? I like music. I often get tickets to the Philharmonic. Chavez, Revueltas, Lara, theres so much good music to listen to. I even play a little piano myself. Do you, truly? he asked, looking dazzled. That is amazing. I dont play with the Philharmonic. Yes, well, it still sounds exciting. Its not. Its so dull. All those years of scales and trying to hit the right keys. Im so dull! she declared, as one must. To seem too eager about anything was a little vulgar. You arent. Not at all, he assured her quickly. Youre not supposed to say that. Not like that. You sound much too honest. Dont you know anything? she asked. He shrugged, as if apologizing, unable to match her high spirits. He was bashful and a little odd. And she liked him in a different way than she liked the bold boys she knew, different than Hugo Duarte, whom she liked mostly because he danced well and resembled Pedro Infante. This was a warmer feeling, more genuine. You think me spoiled now, she said and allowed herself to sound rueful, because she actually did want him to like her, and it wasnt for show. Not at all, he replied, again with that disarming honesty, as he leaned down on the table and fiddled with a couple of spore prints. She rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward, smiling, until her eyes were level with his. They looked at each other. Youll think it in a minute because I have to ask you for a favor, she said, unable to forget the question she had on her mind. What? I want to go into town tomorrow, and your mother said I cant take the car. I was thinking you might give me a ride there and pick me up, say, a couple of hours later. You want me to drop you off in town. Yes. He looked away, evading her gaze. My mother will not have it. Shell say you need a chaperone. Are you going to chaperone me? Noemi asked. Im not a child. I know. Francis slowly walked around the table, stopping close to her and leaning down, inspecting one of the plant specimens on display. His fingers brushed lightly over a fern. Theyve asked me to keep an eye on you, he said, his voice low. They say youre reckless. I suppose you agree and you think I need a babysitter, she replied, scoffing. I think you can be reckless. But maybe I can ignore them this one time, he said, almost whispering, his head lowered as if to reveal a secret. We should leave early tomorrow, around eight oclock, before theyre up and about. And dont tell anyone were going out. I wont. Thank you. It is nothing, he replied and turned his head to look at Noemi. This time his gaze lingered on her for one long minute before, skittish, he stepped back and rounded the table again, returning to his original position. A bundle of nerves is what he was. A heart, raw and bleeding, she thought, and the image lingered in her mind. The anatomical heart, like in the Loteria cards, red, with all veins and arteries, rendered bright crimson. What was the saying? Do not miss me, sweetheart, Ill be back by bus. Yes, she had spent many lazy afternoons playing Loteria with her cousins, declaiming the popular rhyme that went with each card as they played and made their bets. Dont miss me, sweetheart. Could she get Loteria cards in town? It might give her and Catalina an activity to pass the time. It would be something theyd done before, which would conjure memories of more pleasant days. The door to the library opened and Florence walked in, Lizzie following her behind with a pail and a rag. Florences gaze swept across the room, coldly assessing Noemi and settling on her son. Mother. I didnt realize youd be cleaning the library today, Francis said, quickly standing up straight and shoving his hands in his pockets. You know how it is, Francis. If we do not keep on top of things they fall apart. While a few may consign themselves to idleness, others must observe their duties. Yes, of course, Francis said and began gathering his things. Id be happy to watch over Catalina while you do your cleaning, Noemi offered. Shes resting. Mary is with her, anyway. Theres no need for you. Still, Id like to make myself useful, as you say, she declared, uttering a challenge. She wasnt going to let Florence complain that she did nothing. Follow me. Before Noemi exited the library, she glanced over her shoulder and shot Francis a smile. Florence marched Noemi into the dining room and gestured to the display cases crammed with silver. You were interested in these items. Perhaps you might polish them, she said. The Doyles silver collection was quite staggering, each shelf lined with salvers, tea sets, bowls, and candlesticks that sat dusty and dull behind glass. A lone person could not hope to tackle this whole task alone, but Noemi was determined to prove herself in front of this woman. If you give me a rag and some polish, Ill do it. Since the dining room was very dark, Noemi had to light several lamps and candles in order to see exactly what she was doing. Then she set about meticulously working the polish into every crevice and curve, sliding the rag over enameled vines and flowers. A sugar bowl proved to be exceedingly difficult, but for the most part she managed well. When Florence returned, many pieces lay gleaming on the table. Noemi was carefully polishing one of two curious cups that were shaped in the form of stylized mushrooms. The base of the cups was decorated with tiny leaves and even a beetle. Maybe Francis could tell her if this was based on a real mushroom species and which one. Florence stood there, watching Noemi. Youre industrious. Like a little bee, when I feel like it, Noemi replied. Florence approached the table, running her hands over the items Noemi had polished. She picked one of the cups up and spun it between her fingers, inspecting it. You expect to win my praise this way, I think. It would take more. Your respect, perhaps. Not your praise. Why would you need my respect? I dont. Florence set the cup down and clasped her hands together, her eyes admiring the metal objects, almost reverently. Noemi had to admit it was a bit overwhelming to look at so many glittering riches on display, though it seemed a pity they had all been locked away, dusty and forgotten. What good were mountains of silver if you didnt use them? And the people in the town, they had so little. They didnt keep silver locked in cabinets. Most of this is made from silver from our mines, Florence said. Do you have any idea how much silver our mine produced? God, it was dizzying! My uncle brought all the machinery, all the knowledge to dredge it from the dark. Doyle is an important name. I dont think you realize how lucky your cousin is to be part of our family now. To be a Doyle is to be someone. Noemi thought of the rows of old pictures in the hallway, the dilapidated household with its dusty alcoves. And what did she mean that to be a Doyle meant to be someone? Did that make Catalina no one before she came to High Place? And was Noemi therefore confined to a faceless, luckless band of nobodies? Florence must have noticed the skepticism in Noemis face, and she fixed her eyes on the young woman. What do you talk about with my son? the woman asked abruptly, clasping her hands again. Back there, in the library. What were you talking about? Spore prints. Thats all? Well, I cant recall it all. But now, yes, spore prints. You talk about the city, perhaps. Sometimes. If Howard reminded her of an insect, then Florence brought to mind an insectivorous plant about to swallow a fly. Noemis brother had once owned a Venus flytrap. It had scared her a little, as a child. Dont give my son any ideas. They will bring him pain. Francis is content here. He doesnt need to hear about parties, music, and booze, and whatever other frivolities you choose to share with him about Mexico City. Ill be sure to discuss with him the preapproved subjects you dictate. Perhaps we can erase all the cities on the terrestrial globe and pretend they dont exist, Noemi said, because although Florence was intimidating, she was not willing to hide in a corner, like a baby. Youre very cheeky, Florence said. And you think you have a special power simply because my uncle thinks you possess a pretty face. But thats not power. Its a liability. Florence leaned over the table, looking at a large, rectangular serving tray with a border of stylized floral wreaths. Florences face, reflected on the silver surface, was elongated and deformed. She ran a finger around the trays border, touching the flowers. When I was younger, I thought the world outside held such promise and wonders. I even went away for a bit and met a dashing young man. I thought hed take me away, that he would change everything, change me, Florence said, and her face softened for the briefest moment. But theres no denying our natures. I was meant to live and die in High Place. Let Francis be. Hes accepted his lot in this life. Its easier that way. Florence fixed her blue eyes on Noemi. Ill put away the silver, no further assistance is required, she declared, ending their conversation abruptly. Noemi went back to her room. She thought about all the times Catalina had narrated fairy tales. Once upon a time there was a princess in a tower, once upon a time a prince saved the girl from the tower. Noemi sat on the bed and contemplated the notion of enchantments that are never broken. 11 N oemi heard a heart beating, as loud as a drum, calling for her. It woke her up. Carefully she ventured outside her room to find the place where it was hiding. She felt it beneath her palm, when she pressed her hand against the walls; felt the wallpaper grow slippery, like a strained muscle, and the floor beneath her was wet and soft. It was a sore. A great sore she walked upon, and the walls were sores too. The wallpaper was peeling, revealing underneath sickly organs instead of brick or wooden boards. Veins and arteries clogged with secret excesses. She followed the beating of the heart and a thread of red on the carpet. Like a gash. A line of crimson. A line of blood. Until she stopped in the middle of the hallway and saw the woman staring back at her. Ruth, the girl from the photograph. Ruth, in a white dressing gown, her hair like a golden halo, her face bloodless. A slim, alabaster pillar in the darkness of the house. Ruth held a rifle between her hands and she stared at Noemi. They began walking together, side by side. Their movements were perfectly synchronized; even their breathing was identical. Ruth brushed a lock of hair away from her face and Noemi brushed her hair too. The walls around them were glowing, a dim phosphorescence that nevertheless guided their steps, and the carpet underneath their feet was squishy. She noticed, too, markings on the wallswalls that were made of flesh. Traceries of fuzzy mold, as if the house were an overripe fruit. The heart kept beating faster. The heart pumped blood and groaned and shivered, and it beat so loudly Noemi thought shed go deaf. Ruth opened a door. Noemi grit her teeth because this was the source of the noise, the beating heart lay inside. The door swung open, and Noemi saw a man on a bed. Only it wasnt truly a man. It was a bloated vision of a man, as if hed drowned and floated to the surface, his pale body lined with blue veins, tumors flowering on his legs, his hands, his belly. A pustule, not a man, a living, breathing, pustule. His chest rising and falling. The man could not possibly be alive but he was, and when Ruth opened the door he sat up in bed and extended his arms toward her, as if demanding an embrace. Noemi remained by the doorway, but Ruth approached the bed. The man extended his hands, his greedy fingers quivering, while the girl stood at the foot of the bed and stared at him. Ruth raised her rifle, and Noemi turned her head away. She did not want to see. But even as she turned she heard the horrid noise of the rifle, the muffled scream of the man followed by a throaty moan. He must be dead, she thought. He has to be. She looked at Ruth, who had walked past Noemi and was now standing in the hallway, and the young woman looked back at Noemi. Im not sorry, Ruth said, and she pressed the rifle against her chin and pulled the trigger. There was blood, the dark splatter marking the wall. Noemi watched Ruth fall, her body bending like the stem of a flower. The suicide, however, did not unnerve Noemi. She felt that this was the way things should be; she felt soothed, she even thought to smile. But the smile froze on Noemis face when she saw the figure standing at the end of the hallway, watching her. It was a golden blur, it was the woman with the blur of a face, her whole body rippling, liquid, rushing toward Noemi with a huge open mouthalthough she had no mouthready to unleash a terrible scream. Ready to eat her alive. And now Noemi was afraid, now she knew terror, and she raised her palms to desperately ward off A firm hand on her arm made Noemi jump back. Noemi, Virgil said. She looked quickly behind her, then back at him, trying to make sense of what had happened. She was standing in the middle of a hallway, and he stood in front of her, holding an oil lamp in his right hand. It was long and ornate, and its glass was milky green. Noemi stared at him, speechless. The golden creature had been there a second before, but now it was gone! Gone, and in its stead it was him, wearing a plush velvet robe with a pattern of golden vines running up the fabric. She was in her nightgown. It was supposed to be part of a gown-peignoir set, but she was not wearing the cover-up. Her arms were bare. She felt exposed and she was cold. She rubbed her arms. Whats happening? she asked. Noemi, he repeated, her name so smooth on his lips, like a piece of silk. You were sleepwalking. One is not supposed to wake a sleepwalker. They say it can cause the sleeping person a great shock. But I was worried youd hurt yourself. Did I frighten you? She did not understand his question. It took her a minute to comprehend what he was saying. She shook her head. No. Thats quite impossible. I havent done that in years. Not since I was a child. Maybe you hadnt noticed. I wouldve noticed. Ive been following you for a few minutes now, trying to decide whether to shake you awake or not. I wasnt sleepwalking. Then I must have been mistaken, and you were simply walking around in the dark, he said coolly. God, she felt stupid, standing there in her nightgown, gawping at him. She did not want to argue with him; there was no point in it. He was right, and besides, she dearly wished to get back to her room. It was too cold and dark in this hallway; she could hardly see anything. They could be sitting in the belly of a beast for all she knew. In the nightmare, they had been in a belly, had they not? No. A cage made of organs. Walls of flesh. Thats what she had seen, and who knew. If she tried to touch the wall right now it might ripple beneath her palm. She ran a hand through her hair. Fine. Maybe I was sleepwalking. But She heard it then, a throaty moan like in her dream, low but undeniable. It made her jump again, jump back. She almost collided with him. What was that? she asked and looked down the hallway, then turned to stare at him anxiously. My father is ill. Its an old wound which never quite healed and pains him. Hes been having a rough night, he said, looking very composed, adjusting the flame of the oil lamp, making it bloom a little brighter. She could now see the wallpaper, its drawing of flowers, faint traces of mold marring its surface. No veins pumping through the walls. Damn it, and yes, Francis had told her something similar earlier that day, about Howard being ill. But was she in that area of the house, close to the old mans bed? So far from her room? She thought she might have taken a few paces outside her door, not wandered from one side of the house to the other. You should call for a doctor. Like I explained, sometimes it pains him. We are used to it. When Dr. Cummins stops by for his weekly visit he can examine him, but my father is simply an old man. Im sorry if he startled you. Old, yes; 1885 was when they arrived in Mexico. Even if Howard Doyle had been a young man back then, almost seventy years had passed. And how old was he, exactly? Ninety? Closer to a hundred? He must have been an old man already when he had Virgil. She rubbed her arms again. Here, you must be cold, he said, setting the oil lamp down on the floor and untying his robe. Im fine. Put this on. He took off the robe, placing it around her shoulders. It was too large. He was tall and she was not. It never bothered her much, tall men. She simply looked them up and down. But she did not feel very confident right this second, still unnerved by that ridiculous dream. Noemi crossed her arms and looked down at the carpet. He picked up the oil lamp. Ill walk you back to your room. You dont have to. I do. Otherwise youll be liable to hurt your shins in the dark. And its quite dark. He was, once again, correct. The few wall sconces with working bulbs gave off a dim light, but there were large pools of blackness in between them. The glow of Virgils lamp was an eerie green, but on the other hand she felt grateful for its more potent illumination. This house, she was sure, was haunted. She wasnt one for believing in things that go bump in the night either, but right that second she firmly felt every spook and demon and evil thing might be crawling about the Earth, like in Catalinas stories. He was quiet as they walked, and even if the silence of the house was unpleasant, and the creaking of each board made her wince, it was better than having to talk to him. She simply could not converse at a time like this. Im a baby, she thought. Boy, would her brother laugh at her if he saw her. She could picture him, telling everyone Noemi now practically believed in el coco. The memory of her brother, her family, Mexico City, it was good. It warmed her better than the robe. When they got to her room, she finally felt at ease. She was back. All was well. She opened the door. If you want, you can keep this, he said, pointing to the lamp. No. Then youd be the one hitting your shins in the dark. Give me a minute, she said, reaching for the top of the dresser, by the door, where shed left the gaudy silver candelabra with the cherub. She grabbed the box of matches and lit the candle. Let there be light. See? Its fine. She began to take the robe off. Virgil stilled her, setting a hand on her shoulder and then carefully running his fingers down the edge of the wide lapel. You look very fine in my clothes, he said with that voice that was made of silk. The comment was mildly inappropriate. In the daylight, with other people, it might have been a joke. At night, and the way he said it, it didnt seem at all decent. And yet, though subtly wrong, she found herself unable to reply. Dont be silly, she thought to say. Or even, I dont want your clothes. But she didnt say a thing, because it wasnt really that bad of a comment, a few words, and she didnt wish to start a fight in the middle of a dark hallway over what amounted to almost, but not quite, nothing. Well, good night, then, he said, unhurriedly releasing the lapel and taking a step back. He held the oil lamp at eye level and smiled at her. Virgil was an attractive man and the smile was a pleasant smilealmost teasing, in a good-humored waybut there was an edge to his expression that the smile could not mask. She did not like it. She was suddenly reminded of her dream, and she thought of the man in the bed holding his arms outstretched, and she thought there was a golden cast to his eyes, a glimmer of gold among the blue. She turned her head abruptly, blinking and staring at the floor. You wont bid me good night? he asked, sounding amused. Nor grant me a thank-you? It would be rude not to. She turned toward him, looking at him in the eye. Thanks, she said. Better lock your door so you dont end up wandering around the house again, Noemi. He adjusted the level of the oil lamp once more. His eyes were blue without a hint of gold when he gave her a final glance and stepped away, marching back down the hallway. Noemi watched the green glow float away with him, the sudden flash of color disappearing and plunging the house into darkness. 12 I ts funny how daylight could change her mind so utterly. At night, after her sleepwalking episode, Noemi had been scared, pulling the covers up to her chin. Contemplating the sky through her window, scratching her left wrist, she found the whole episode embarrassing and prosaic. Her room, when viewed with the curtains wide open and the sun streaming in, was worn and sad, but couldnt conceal ghosts or monsters. Hauntings and curses, bah! She dressed in a long-sleeved button-down blouse in pale cream and a navy skirt with a kickpleat, put on a pair of flats, and headed downstairs long before the predetermined hour. Bored, she once again walked around the library, pausing before a bookcase filled with botanical tomes. She imagined Francis must have obtained his knowledge of mushrooms this way, scavenging for wisdom among moth-eaten papers. She brushed a hand along the silver frames of the pictures in the hallways, feeling the whorls and swirls beneath her fingertips. Eventually, Francis came downstairs. He wasnt very talkative that morning, so she limited herself to a couple of comments and fiddled with her cigarette, not quite willing to light it yet. She didnt like smoking on an empty stomach. He dropped her off by the church, which, she gathered, was where theyd dropped off Catalina each week when she went into town. Ill pick you up at noon, he said. Will that be sufficient time? Yes, thank you, she told him. He nodded at her and drove away. She made her way to the healers house. The woman who had been doing the washing the other day wasnt out; her clothesline lay empty. The town remained quiet, still half asleep. Marta Duval, however, was awake, setting out tortillas to dry in the sun next to her doorway, no doubt to be used for preparing chilaquiles. Good morning, Noemi said. Hello, the old woman replied with a smile. Youve come back at exactly the right time. You have the remedy? I have it. Come inside. Noemi followed her into the kitchen and sat at the table. The parrot was not there that day. It was only the two of them. The woman wiped her hands against her apron and opened a drawer, then placed a small bottle in front of Noemi. One tablespoon before bedtime should be enough for her. I made it stronger this time, but theres no harm in two tablespoons, either. Noemi held the bottle up, staring at its content. And itll help her sleep? Help, yes. It wont solve all her problems. Because the house is cursed. The family, the house. Marta Duval shrugged. Makes no difference, does it? Cursed is cursed. Noemi set the bottle down and ran a nail across the side of it. Do you know why Ruth Doyle killed her family? Did you ever hear any rumors about that? You hear all kinds of things. Yes, I heard. Do you have any more cigarettes? Ill run out of them if I dont ration them. I bet you were going to buy more. I dont think you can buy these here, Noemi said. Your saint has expensive tastes. Wheres the parrot, by the way? Noemi took out her pack of Gauloises and handed one to Marta, who placed it next to the statuette of the saint. Still in his cage under his blanket. Ill tell you about Benito. Do you want coffee? Its no good telling tales without a drink. Sure, Noemi said. She still wasnt hungry, but she supposed coffee might restore her appetite. It was funny. Her brother said she always breakfasted as if food was going to go out of fashion, and yet for the past two days shed hardly touched a morsel in the mornings. Not that shed had much in the evenings, either. She felt slightly ill. Or rather, it was the preface of an illness, like when she could predict she was about to get a cold. She hoped that was not the case. Marta Duval set a kettle to boil and rummaged among her drawers until she produced a small tin can. When the water boiled, she poured it into two pewter mugs, added the proper amount of coffee, and placed both cups on the table. Martas house smelled strongly of rosemary, and the scent mixed with the scent of the coffee. I take mine black, but do you want sugar in yours? Im fine, Noemi said. The woman sat down and settled her hands around her mug. Do you want the short version or the long one? Because the long means going back quite a bit. If you want to know about Benito, then you need to know about Aurelio. That is, if you want to tell the tale properly. Well, I am running out of cigarettes but not out of time. The woman smiled and sipped her coffee. Noemi did the same. When the mine reopened, it was big news. Mr. Doyle had his workers from England, but those werent enough to run a mine. They could oversee the work and others could work in the house he was building, but you cant open a mine and build a house like High Place with sixty Englishmen. Who used to run the mine before him? Spaniards. But that had been ages ago. People were happy when the mine reopened. It meant work for the locals, and folks came from other parts of Hidalgo for the chance at a job too. You know how it is. Where theres a mine, theres money, the town grows. But right away folks complained. The work was tough, but Mr. Doyle was tougher. He treated the workers poorly? Like animals, they said. He was better with the ones building the house. At least they were not in a hole beneath the earth. The Mexican mining crews, he had no mercy on those. Him, Mr. Doyle, and his brother, both of them bellowing at the workers. Francis had pointed Leland, Howards brother, out in the photos, but she could not recall what he looked like, and anyway, all the people in the family seemed to have that similar physiognomy, which she was dubbing in her head the Doyle look. Like the Habsburg jaw of Charles II, only not quite as concerning. Now that had been a case of severe mandibular prognathism. He wanted the house built quickly and he wanted a great garden, in the English style, with rose beds. He even brought boxes filled with earth from Europe to make sure the flowers would take. So there they were, working on the house and trying to mine the silver, when there came a sickness. It hit the workers at the house first and then the miners, but soon enough they were all heaving and feverish. Doyle had a doctor, who hed brought along, just like his soil, but his precious doctor didnt help much. They died. Lots of the miners. Some of the people working at the house, and even Howard Doyles wife, but mostly a great deal of miners dropped dead. Thats when they built the English cemetery, Noemi said. Yes. Thats right. Marta nodded. Well, the sickness passed. New folks were hired. People from Hidalgo, yes, but having heard there was an Englishman with a mine here, there also came more Englishmen who were working around other mines, or were simply trying to make their fortune, lured by silver and a good profit. They say Zacatecas is for silver? Well, Hidalgo does well enough too. They came and again there were full crews and by now the house was finished, which meant it had a large staff for a proper large house. Things went along well enoughDoyle was still hard, but he paid on time and the miners also got their little quota of silver, which is the way its always been done around hereminers expected the partido. But it was around the time Mr. Doyle married again that things started to turn sour. She recalled the wedding portrait of Doyles second wife: 1895. Alice, who looked like Agnes. Alice, the little sister. Now that she considered it, it was odd that Agnes had been immortalized with a stone statue, while Alice received no such treatment. Yet Howard Doyle had said he hardly knew her. It was his second wife who had lived with him for many years, who birthed him children. Did Howard Doyle like her even less than his first wife? Or was the statue insignificant, a memorial created on a whim? She tried to remember if there had been a plaque near the statue discussing Agnes. She didnt think so, but there could be. She hadnt looked closely. There was another wave of sickness. Lord, it hit them worse than before. They were dropping like flies. Fevers and chills and quickly to their deathbeds they went. Is that when they buried them in mass graves? Noemi asked, remembering what Dr. Camarillo had told her. The old woman frowned. Mass graves? No. The locals, their families took them to the cemetery in town. But there were many people without kin working the mines. When someone didnt have family in town, they buried them in the English cemetery. The Mexicans didnt get a headstone, though, not even a cross, which I guess is why people talked about mass graves. A hole in the ground with no wreath nor proper service might as well be a mass grave. Now that was a depressing thought. All those nameless workers, buried in haste, and no one to ever know where and how their lives had ended. Noemi set her pewter cup down and scratched her wrist. Anyway, that was not the only problem at the mine. Doyle had decided to end the custom of letting the workers have a bit of silver along with their wages. There was a man and his name was Aurelio. Aurelio was one of the miners who didnt like the change none, but unlike others who would grumble to themselves, Aurelio grumbled to the others. What did he say? Told them what was obvious. That the camp where they worked was shit. That the doctor the Englishman brought with him had never cured anyone and they needed a good doctor. That they were leaving behind widows and orphans and hardly any money for them, and on top of that Doyle wanted to fatten up his pockets more so hed taken away their partido and was hoarding all the silver. Then he asked the miners to go on strike. Did they? Yes, they did. Of course, Doyle thought he could bully them back to work real easy. Doyles brother and Doyles trusted men, they went over to the mining camp with rifles and threats, but Aurelio and the others fought back. They threw stones at them. Doyles brother got away by the skin of his teeth. Soon after that, Aurelio was found dead. They said it was a natural death, but no one really believed that. The strike leader dies one morning? It didnt sound right. There was an epidemic, though, Noemi pointed out. Sure. But people who saw the body said his face looked awful. Youve heard about people dying of fright? Well, they said he died of fright. That his eyes were bulging and his mouth was open and he looked like a man whos seen the devil. It scared everyone good, and it also ended the strike. Francis had mentioned strikes and the closure of the mine, but Noemi had not thought to ask him more about them. Perhaps she should remedy that, but for now she focused her attention on Marta. You said that Aurelio was connected to Benito, though. Who was that? Patience, girl, youll make me lose my train of thought. At my age, its no easy thing to try and remember what was when and how it happened. Marta took several long sips of her coffee before speaking. Where was I? Oh, yes. The mine went on. Doyle had remarried and eventually his new wife gave birth to a girl, Miss Ruth, and many years later a baby boy. Doyles brother, Mr. Leland, he also had children. A boy and a girl. The boy was engaged to Miss Ruth. Kissing cousins, again, Noemi said, disturbed by this notion. The Habsburg jaw was a more apt comparison than shed thought, and things had not ended well for the Habsburgs. Not much kissing, I think. That was the problem. That is where Benito comes in. He was a nephew of Aurelio and went to work in the house. This was years after the strike, so I suppose its not like Doyle cared that he was related to Aurelio. Or a dead miner didnt matter to him none, or else he didnt know. In any case, he worked in the house, tending to the plants. By that time instead of a garden the Doyles had settled on a greenhouse. Benito had a lot in common with his dead uncle. He was smart, he was funny, and he didnt know how to keep out of trouble. His uncle had organized a strike, and he did an even more horrifying thing: he fell in love with Miss Ruth and she fell in love with him. I cant imagine her father was pleased, Noemi said. Hed probably given his daughter the eugenics talk. Superior and inferior specimens. She pictured him by the fireplace in his room admonishing the girl, and she with her eyes fixed on the floor. Poor Benito had not stood a chance. It was funny, though, that if Doyle was truly that interested in eugenics hed insist on all these marriages to close relations. Maybe he was imitating Darwin, whod also married within his family. They say when he found out he almost killed her, Marta muttered. Now she pictured Howard Doyle wrapping his fingers around the girls slim neck. Strong fingers, digging deep, pressing hard, and the girl incapable of even uttering a protest because she couldnt breathe. Papa, dont. It was such a vivid image that Noemi had to close her eyes for a moment, gripping the table with one hand. Are you all right? Marta asked. Yes, Noemi said, opening her eyes and nodding at the woman. Im fine. A little tired. She raised the cup of coffee to her lips and drank. The warm liquid was pleasant in its bitterness. Noemi set the cup down. Please, go on, she said. Theres not much more to say. Ruth was punished, Benito vanished. He was killed? The old woman leaned forward, her cloudy eyes fixed on Noemi. Even worse: disappeared, from one day to the next. Folks said hed run off because he was afraid of what Doyle would do to him, but others said Doyle had done the disappearing. Ruth was supposed to get married that summer to Michael, that cousin of hers, and Benitos disappearance didnt change that one bit. Nothing would have changed that. It was the middle of the Revolution, and the upheaval meant the mine was operating with a small crew, but it was still operating. Someone had to keep the machinery going, pumping the water out, or it would flood. It rains so much here. And up at the house, someone had to keep changing the linens and dusting the furniture, so in many ways I guess things hadnt changed over a war, so why would they change over a missing man? Howard Doyle ordered trinkets for the wedding, acting as though nothing was amiss. As though Benitos disappearance didnt matter. Well, it must have mattered to Ruth. None can be sure what happened, but they said she put a sleeping draught in their food. I dont know where she got it from. She was clever, she knew many things about plants and medicine, so it could be she mixed the draught herself. Or perhaps her lover had procured it for her. Maybe in the beginning she had thought to put them to sleep and run away, but afterward she changed her mind. Once Benito disappeared. She shot her father while he slept, because of what hed done to her lover. But not just her father, Noemi said. She shot her mother and the others. If she was avenging her dead lover, wouldnt she have only shot her father? What did the others have to do with that? Maybe she thought they were also guilty. Maybe shed gone mad. We cant know. Theyre cursed, I tell you, and that house is haunted. Youre very silly or very brave living in a haunted house. Im not sorry, thats what the Ruth in her dream had said. Had Ruth been remorseless as she wandered through the house and delivered a bullet to her kinfolk? Just because Noemi had dreamed it, it didnt mean it had happened that way. After all, in her nightmare the house had been distorted and mutated in impossible ways. Noemi frowned, looking at her cup of coffee. Shed taken few sips. Her stomach was definitely not cooperating that morning. Trouble is theres not much you can do about ghosts nor hauntings. You might burn a candle at night for them and maybe theyd like that. You know about the mal de aire? Your mama ever tell you about that in the city? Ive heard one thing or another, she said. Its supposed to make you sick. Therere heavy places. Places where the air itself is heavy because an evil weighs it down. Sometimes its a death, could be its something else, but the bad air, itll get into your body and itll nestle there and weigh you down. Thats whats wrong with the Doyles of High Place, the woman said, concluding her tale. Like feeding an animal madder plants: it dyes the bones red, it stains everything inside crimson, she thought. Marta Duval rose and began opening kitchen drawers. She grabbed a beaded bracelet and brought it back to the table, handing it to Noemi. It had tiny blue and white glass beads, and a larger blue bead with a black center. Its against the evil eye. Yes, I know, Noemi said, because she had seen such trinkets before. You wear it, yes? It might help you, cant hurt. Ill be sure to ask my saints to watch over you too. Noemi opened her purse and placed the bottle inside. Then, because she didnt want to hurt the old womans feelings, she tied the bracelet around her wrist as shed suggested. Thank you. Walking back toward the town center, Noemi considered all the things she now knew about the Doyles and how none of it would assist Catalina. Ultimately even a haunting, if you accepted it as real and not the result of a feverish imagination, didnt mean anything. The fear of the previous night had cooled away, and now all there was left was the taste of dissatisfaction. Noemi pulled her cardigans sleeve up, scratching her wrist again. It itched something awful. She realized there was a thin, raw, red band of skin around her wrist. As though shed burned herself. She frowned. Dr. Camarillos clinic was nearby, so she decided to stop by and hope he didnt have a patient. She was in luck. The doctor was eating a torta in the reception area. He didnt have his white coat on; instead he wore a simple, single-breasted tweed jacket. When she stopped in front of him, Julio Camarillo quickly set the torta on a table next to him and wiped his mouth and hands on his handkerchief. Out for a walk? he asked. Of a sort, she said. Am I interrupting your breakfast? Its not much of an interruption, seeing as its not very tasty. I made it myself and did a bad job. Hows your cousin? Are they finding a specialist for her? Im afraid her husband doesnt think she needs any other doctor. Arthur Cummins is enough for them. Do you think it might help if I talked to him? She shook her head. It might make it worse, to be honest. Thats a pity. And how are you? Im not sure. I have this rash, Noemi said, holding up her wrist for him to see. Dr. Camarillo inspected her wrist carefully. Odd, he said. It almost looks like you came in contact with mala mujer, but that doesnt grow here. Its a sure recipe for dermatitis if you touch the leaves. Do you have allergies? No. My mother says its almost indecent how healthy I am. She told me when she was a young girl everyone thought it was very fashionable to suffer a bout of appendicitis and girls went on a tapeworm diet. She must have been joking about the tapeworm, Dr. Camarillo said. Thats a made-up story. It always did sound quite horrifying. Then Im allergic to something? A plant or shrub? It could be a number of things. Well wash the hand and put on a soothing ointment. Come in, he said, directing her into his office. She washed her hands in the little sink in the corner, and Julio applied a zinc paste, bandaged her wrist, and told her she should not scratch the affected area because it would make it worse. He advised her to change the bandage the next day and apply more zinc paste. Itll take a few days for the inflammation to go away, he said, walking her back toward the entrance, but you should be fine after a week. Come see me if it doesnt improve. Thanks, she said and placed the tiny jar of zinc paste hed gifted her inside her purse. I have another question. Do you know what could cause a person to begin sleepwalking again? Again? I sleepwalked when I was very young, but I havent done it in ages. But I sleepwalked last night. Yes, its more common for children to sleepwalk. Have you been taking any new medication? No. I told you. Im scandalously healthy. Could be anxiety, the doctor said, and then he smiled a little. I had the oddest dream when I was sleepwalking, she said. It didnt feel like when I was a kid. It had also been an extremely morbid dream and then, afterward, the chat with Virgil had not helped soothe her. Noemi frowned. I see Ive failed to be helpful once again. Dont say that, she replied quickly. Tell you what, if it happens again you come and see me. And you watch that wrist. Sure. Noemi stopped at one of the tiny little stores set around the town square. She bought herself a pack of cigarettes. There were no Loteria cards to be had, but she did find a pack of cheap naipes. Cups, clubs, coins, and swords, to lighten the day. Someone had told her it was possible to read the cards, to tell fortunes, but what Noemi liked to do was play for money with her friends. The store owner counted her change slowly. He was very old, and his glasses had a crack running down the middle. At the stores entrance sat a yellow dog drinking from a dirty bowl. Noemi scratched its ears on the way out. The post office was also in the town square, and she sent a short letter to her father informing him of the current situation at High Place: shed obtained a second opinion from a doctor who said Catalina needed psychiatric care. She did not write that Virgil was extremely reluctant to let anyone see Catalina, because she did not want to worry her father. She also did not mention anything about her nightmares, nor the sleepwalking episode. Those, along with the rash blooming on her wrist, were unpleasant markers of her journey, but they were superfluous details. Once these tasks were done, she stood in the middle of the town square glancing at the few businesses there. There was no ice cream shop, no souvenir store selling knickknacks, no bandstand for musicians to play their tunes. A couple of storefronts were boarded up, with For Sale painted on the outside. The church was still impressive, but the rest was really quite sad. A withered world. Had it looked this way in Ruths day? Had she even been allowed to visit the town? Or was she kept locked inside High Place? Noemi headed back to the exact spot where Francis had dropped her off. He arrived a couple of minutes later, while she sat on a wrought-iron bench and was about to light a cigarette. Youre quick to fetch me, she said. My mother doesnt believe in tardiness, he said as he stood in front of her and took off the felt hat with the navy band hed put on that morning. Did you tell her where we went? I didnt go back to the house. If I had, my mother or Virgil might have started asking why Id left you alone. Were you driving around? A bit. I parked under a tree over there and took a nap too. Did anything happen to you? he asked, pointing at her bandaged wrist. A rash, Noemi said. She extended her hand so that he might help her up, and he did. Without her monumental high heels, Noemis head barely reached his shoulder. When such a height difference presented itself, Noemi might stand on her tiptoes. Her cousins teased her about it, calling her the ballerina. Not Catalina, because she was too sweet to tease anyone, but cousin Marilulu did it all the time. Now, reflexively, she did that, and that little meaningless motion must have startled him, because he let go with the hand that had been holding his hat, and a gust of wind blew it away. Oh, no, Noemi said. They chased after the hat, running for a good two blocks before she managed to get hold of it. In her tight skirt and stockings this was no small feat. The yellow dog shed seen at the store, amused by the spectacle, barked at Noemi and circled her. She pressed the hat against her chest. Well, I suppose now Ive done my daily calisthenics, she said, chuckling. Francis seemed amused too and watched her with an unusual levity. There was a sad and resigned quality to him that struck her as odd for someone his age, but the midday sun had washed his melancholy away and gave color to his cheeks. Virgil was good looking, Francis was not. He had an almost nonexistent upper lip, eyebrows that arched a little too much, heavy-lidded eyes. She liked him nevertheless. He was odd and it was endearing. She offered him the hat, and Francis turned it in his hands carefully. What? he asked, sounding bashful, because she was looking at him. Wont you thank me for rescuing your hat, dear sir? Thank you. Silly boy, she said, planting a kiss on his cheek. She was afraid hed drop the hat and theyd have to chase it again, but he managed to hold on to it and smiled as they walked back to the car. You finished the errands you needed to run in town? he asked. Yes. Post office, doctor. I was also talking to someone about High Place, about what happened there. You know, with Ruth, she told him. Her mind kept going back to Ruth. It really should be no concern of hers, this decades-old murder, but there it was, the nagging thought, and she wanted to talk about it. Who better than him? Francis tapped the hat twice against his leg as they walked. What about her? She wanted to run away with her lover. Instead, she ended up shooting her whole family. I dont understand why shed do what she did. Why didnt she run away from High Place? Surely she could have simply left. You cant leave High Place. But you can. She was an adult woman. Youre a woman. Can you do anything you want? Even if it upsets your family? Technically I can, even if I wouldnt every single time, Noemi said, though she immediately remembered her fathers issues with scandals and the fear of the society pages. Would she ever risk an outright rebellion against her family? My mother left High Place, she married. But she came back. Theres no escaping it. Ruth knew as much. Thats why she did what she did. You sound almost proud, she exclaimed. Francis placed the hat on his head and looked at her gravely. No. But truth be told Ruth ought to have burnt High Place to the ground. It was such a shocking pronouncement that she thought she must have heard him wrong, and she would have been able to convince herself this was the case if they had not driven back to the house in a bubble of silence. That piercing silence more than anything affirmed his words. It underlined them and made her turn her face toward the window. In her hand she held her unlit cigarette, watching the trees, light streaming through the branches.

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  • Pinocchio /  (Disney, 2012)    Pinocchio / (Disney,
  • Cinderella /  (Disney, 2006) -   Cinderella / (Disney,
  • The Universe in a Nutshell /     (by Stephen Hawking, 2001) -   The Universe in a Nutshell /

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