My eyes fly open and I try to sit up all at the same time. Antonio pushes me back down on the bed and wipes at my forehead none too gently with a wetted rag. I begin to recall the events, from—
How long have I been here?
Fortunately, he confirms it’s only been a few minutes.
Whatever happened to the adage: never hit a woman?
He reminds me I have also forgotten the adage: women should be seen, not heard.
I thought that was children.
He lifts the rag, examines the wound, and makes a face.
Is it bad?
He gets up, goes through the open door, and returns with a shaving mirror a few moments later. I make an attempt to sit up in the bed so I can lean against the wall, but the effort gives me a moment of nausea. I try a second time and succeed. I hold up the mirror in one hand and use the other to pull at the cut—which causes it to resume bleeding. Antonio curses at me and pushes the rag at the wound—even less gently than before.
It’s not the first time. Not likely to be the last—unless I do start spending more time being seen than heard.
[Not bloody likely.]
Antonio tells me he has to get back to work. His boss was already upset that he threw me over his shoulders like a sack of flour and carried me up the stairs to my apartment, across the hall from his own.
Yes, go. I’ll be fine. I have an appointment to attend.
I wait for him to leave and shut the door before trying to stand. It’s slow going; the nausea from moments before returns with a vengeance. I sit on the edge of the bed with my feet on the floor, and make several efforts to stand, after the fourth of which I am granted a modicum of success.
I take note of my opened bodice and unlaced corset. That didn’t take long. Bleeding to death, but Antonio takes the time to open my clothing. I wonder if that was the extent of his liberties.
In real danger of being late, I attempt to redress and gather myself, but am forced to sit more than once as I watch the minutes tick away. Finally, after nearly half an hour, I’ve made it down the steps to stand at the edge of the busy Brooklyn sidewalk. I cross to the other side so I will not been seen by any witnesses who still remain in the butcher’s shop, where the incident occurred, and I think of the burly Irishman with a hammer fist as I go.
It is a typical attorney’s office. A brick building, like a dozen others I’ve been in over the last year, and every bit as threatening—given all that has happened. I walk up the stairs leading from the sidewalk to the lobby, open the door, and find the firm’s name on the directory.
I creep up the stairs—like a punished child—the sense of dread increasing with every step.
Will this finally be the day they dispel my defense and arrest me?
The glass door is neatly painted in all capital letters—as though the shape of the letters should command respect. Oddly, it does seem more official—authoritative, even—which only serves to increase my sense of dread; though obstinacy is also growing, I realize. I open the door and cross the large room to the secretary’s desk. She is handwriting a letter, though next to her sits a bulky typewriter. She levels a curt glare to silence me—just in case I was considering interrupting her.
She finishes her writing and looks up. As politely as I can muster, I tell her I am here to see Mr. Blankenship. She looks at the cut above my eye and tsks at me, as though she were my mother, and checks her book for my appointment. She indicates I should have a seat while she informs him I have arrived. I turn to look at the handcrafted leather chairs behind me, and wonder if she thinks I’m worthy of sitting in one. I decide to sit in it just to irritate her—I couldn’t care less what she thinks. After far more than a polite amount of time—and well past the appointment—she marshals me down the hall and into the office of a very round man.
The room is nothing short of luxurious. Heavy velvet drapes hang at all of the many windows overlooking Wall Street below, which I can hear, but not see, from where I stand. The attorney is smoking a long, fat cigar and drinking liquor—before lunch—while rifling through a stack of papers. A full bookcase is behind him, stretching from wall to wall and ceiling to floor. Not a single one of the books appears to have ever been read, the spines in perfect condition.
[Just another ignorant moron in control of my freedom and future.]
I continue to stand, expecting acknowledgment. As dismissive as the secretary, Mr. Blankenship barely looks at me before waving his hand in the general direction of the two opulent chairs facing his desk. I sit on the closest—made even more irritated by his demeanor. I look around the room and at the obviously expensive rug—no doubt paid for by corrupt men like my father. I can see indentations in the wool marking where this chair usually sits, and wonder if he moved it away from the desk due to my presence. I have a full view of his bald head as he continues to lean over the papers and read. I consider the collective amount of rudeness I’ve received over the past three years, and know his—or his secretary’s—behavior barely measures. I pull a lace handkerchief from my reticule and dab at the cut, just in case it has started to bleed again. It has.
Without any introduction he turns back to the first page in the stack, looks in my direction, and points to the page. As though I can see what it says from the distant chair, he informs me my father’s sister, Hortense Arceneaux, has died and I am to receive a portion of her estate. He pushes the documents toward me, still without meeting my eyes, and I must stand to retrieve them from his desk. I return to the chair and skim them quickly. Beyond the Last Will & Testament at the top, is a deed to property near New Orleans. Various other documents follow, some in small type, some handwritten, many in French, some in Spanish, and a few in English.
He permits me only a few moments to look through them before asking if I have any questions. As I begin to ask the first of many, he takes a long puff on his cigar, and blows the smoke directly at me while standing to indicate our meeting has finished. Without so much as a civil—or otherwise—wish for a good day, he walks toward the door and opens it—ushering me out with a sweep of his arm and leaving a trail of smelly smoke, which I am left to walk through in order to exit. It clings to me like a bad perfume and follows me into the hall.
More annoyed than before, I stand, stride through the doorway, and resist the urge to reopen the door and give him a large serving of the curses I am screaming in my thoughts. My wound pounds as a reminder of the last such effort and I choose instead to retreat down the hall, pass the secretary without acknowledgment—who again glares at me—and step out the door into the main hall.
I stand at the top of the stairs and hold the rail—dizzy with relief or the head injury; I am not certain. I risk another brief look at the documents I’m holding. The sizeable stack includes a property description, a property list, and contact information for the company that has provided management of the property for the last 87 years—surely an error—among others. I shake my head—regretting the movement immediately—and leave the building, glad to escape the dreadful environment, made more so by my anxiety about attending in the first place.
I take the few steps down to the street and join others on the busy sidewalk, pondering the topic as I go. I remember my father’s sister—Aunt Hortense, a spinster—but only barely. I can recall having met her just once when I was ten or maybe a little older. I cannot imagine why she would provide for me, a niece with whom she has had no contact in all these years since.