“Rita, I know it’s a Southern mannerism, but I just can’t let you call me Miss Applegate. It makes me feel like a hundred year-old white matriarch surveying the plantation. Not a feeling I care to cultivate.”
Rita hesitated for only a moment. “Faith, at the risk of being rude,” a small smile played around her lips, “let’s just get right down to brass tacks. Who do you think killed my uncle Charlie?”
Shaherazade and I exchanged a quick look before we settled our eyes on Faith who didn’t seem at all offended. Just sad.
She ran that same bony hand across the waves of her white hair and looked off out the window as if the past could be found on the street outside. “I have a pretty good idea who it was. Proving it would be something else and saying it is harder than anything I’ve ever done aside from burying Rochelle. You see, when you love someone and you know they have done something evil, something so vile and unforgivable, you put that knowledge down and you keep it down. It doesn’t mean you act like it never happened. It doesn’t mean you forgive.” Her face was hard, her faded blue eyes, brittle.
None of us spoke. We could all tell there was a stone inside of her that she was going to have to move aside before she could get to the thing Rita needed to know. The waiter had brought our food and so we all focused on eating for a bit and let Faith reason with herself. That was hard for Rita. The fire she had going about Uncle Charlie wasn’t going to be easily controlled for long.
“Young lady,” Faith addressed me, “You’re not going to be putting this in the newspaper. I will not say another word if you don’t promise me right now that I’m not going to read about this lunch in the Germaine Truth.”
“I’m a journalist, Faith, I’m not making any promises. If you want to have a private conversation with Rita, just say so.” The last thing I wanted to do was leave that table, but here Faith was trying to swear me to secrecy and I couldn’t figure out how hiding the truth about what happened decades ago was in the best interest of my community, especially since I had begun to think that the murder of Charles Sevigny LaFontaine was the worm that was eating away at the soul of Germaine.
Rita dropped her fork. “Good Lord, girl! You can’t talk to your Auntie like that. You got to promise her.”
There was a tug of war going on inside me. Rita was right in some ways, but I was resolved and desperately hoping that Faith didn’t invite me to leave. Even so, I was surprised when Faith began to speak again as if what just passed between us had never happened.
“It’s been 58 years and I think I have spoken to Tim maybe ten times since that night. He is my own brother. He was five years older than me and all my childhood I looked up to him like a god. He was always joking with me. Calling me Hope or Charity as if he had forgotten my name. He told me which one of the Three Sisters Mountains was Faith. He told me I was named after a mountain. When he went off to fight the Germans, the thought I might never see him again kept me awake night after night. He wrote me long letters from Europe. You know the military censored everything and everybody’s letters had big black marks all over them and they took pictures of the letters and shrank them down so that you received this little tiny thing in a little brown envelope. It was called v-mail. For victory.”
I barely noticed that Faith was traveling down a winding memory path because what she was hinting at in her round about way was that her own brother Tim was somehow involved in the murder of Charles Sevigny Lafontaine.