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Vessels

A short story in small instalments: PART XII

Then a letter arrived. It wasn’t his handwriting; but it wasn’t an official letter, either, the kind that announced unthinkable news. She trembled, opening it.

Madame, It said.

I am a friend of Willmar, and I think I should write you this letter, because he says he will not. I found your address in the front of his diary. Willmar met a French lady in North Africa, and they got married and have come to live here in Paris. I am sorry to deliver bad news, but it is only fair for you to know.

Sincerely,

Emil Jean-Baptiste Junot

Married? She was married to Willmar! What?—How?—She could see the words as clearly now as then; feel the letter crushed in her hand, hear the strange sound of her own voice howling. And she remembered all the days after with their confusion and anguish. How she went to the workshop again and again, rolling coils and making pots into which she pounded all her wrath and misery, the vessels collapsing each time until one, at last, lopsided and askew, held together.

And she remembered other things. Her second husband’s dying. The deaths of her parents and nearly all her friends. Her second daughter’s death—Lydia’s mother—just a handful of years ago. So much loss.

All this baptized her, as it had so many times, and as always, she felt threaded to the aches and sighs of all the world. The hyenas stared at her hungrily, their tongues spilling over their dreadful teeth. But they never moved and only mewled quietly, and they had become smaller still.

“Well, it’s no help pretending any of it didn’t happen,” said Caspertina Passala out loud. She stroked Hermes with one hand. He was very old and had seen his share of things, too.

“What’s that, Granny?” called Lydia from the house; and Caspertina Passala heard her granddaughter’s footsteps approach. The hyenas got off their haunches and cantered away, their strange ululations trailing behind.

“What did you say, Granny?” said Lydia, sitting down.

Caspertina Passala wiped dew from the corner of her eye, leaving a streak of grey slip across her cheek. “Nothing. I was just musing about how you can’t leave memories behind. Good or bad, they’re all there, and if you don’t give them their due, well, they grow and fester.”

“What have you been thinking of?”

“Sad memories, Lydia. Terrible memories. Yet, not so terrible anymore. Soon they’ll have no teeth at all.”

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