An American Family

When Clarion Woodbury was a boy, we’re talking the early 1960s, the New Orleans house of his grandmother was a not very wide, three-story building set on the northwest corner of a shady block. This was his maternal grandmother, from the Corbiere side of his family (pr. Core-bee-air) who had lived in Louisiana for as long as anybody could recall, his long ago ancestors members of le gens de couleur libre, the free people of color, although by the 1960s only a few relatives ever used that term. Clarion’s grandmother was one who did because she believed in keeping with what she saw as the old ways. For instance, she had no air conditioning in her home because she considered such conveniences a sign of weakness. There had been no such contraptions in her day, she said, with their boxy shapes protruding hideously from windows like goiters, ruining the flow and lines of a house while at the same time rudely droning on and on and on. Clarion’s Grand Ma-Mere, as she was called in the family, said proudly that she was not weak when it came to heat. She often sat out the warm and humid summer afternoons with the tall and narrow shutters of the tall and narrow windows pulled closed and the shutter rungs lifted slightly to let in air from the slightly parted panes; Grand Ma-Mere reading from a big book in the diminished light—some Balzac or Zola or Baudelaire (in French of course)—with a sweating glass of ice tea, flavored with mint leaf and within easy reach, as she sat in her favorite tall back chair with the faded pink fabric. In terms of its worn condition, the chair matched the faded peach walls of the living room that had last been painted long before Clarion’s birth and featured patterns and blotches, like the patois you might find on the surface of a stone. The rest of the room’s furniture was like the favorite chair, somewhat worn but still functional, the original grandeur of the pieces—the legs and armrests and backrests—still evident in the dark, wood-stained, hand-carved arches and curves that were warmish to the touch on those summer afternoons with no air conditioning units, which in addition to the aforementioned aesthetic failings, also drove one’s voltage bill, as Grand Ma-Mere called it, to ungodly heights. She was very proud of her frugality, which she viewed as a kind of piety, like not eating or drinking too much. Of course other folks, like Clarion’s other grandmother, his daddy’s momma, Grandma Woodbury, sneeringly said that frugal was just a nice way of saying cheap, which to her mind was one of the worst things you could say about a person, which is why she said it about Grand Ma-Mere, who by the way she never called Grand Ma-Mere because in her humble opinion (and Grandma Woodbury was very proud of her humility) all that French stuff from Clarion’s mother’s side of the family, the Corbieres, was nothing more than the arrogant putting on of pathetic airs. But then what could one expect, said Grandma Woodbury, of a woman who came from a Louisiana family that for—Fifty years? A hundred years?—had gone around claiming they were part French when everybody knew damn well they were just ofay, light skin colored. The bunch of them chattering all the time in French, raising Clarion and his two siblings—an older brother Anton, a younger sister Anne-Catherine—to speak that “mumble mouth of a language,” which forced Grandma Woodbury to set the hard and firm ground rule that while visiting her orange brick ranch house in Cleveland (which also always happened in summer) all visitors were to keep an English tongue in their mouths, which Clarion always did, for as a boy he’d been nothing if not obedient. The same couldn’t be said for Anton, who was short for his age and sad-eyed like their mother, Grand Ma-Mere’s oldest child Frances. Anton, on those visits to Cleveland, liked to tease Grandma Woodbury at the dining room table by pointing out to her that whenever she used words like pie a la mode, or blond or brunette, or souvenir, she was speaking French, and Grandma Woodbury, their daddy’s momma, would cross her arms and set her bulldog jaw at a defiant angle (although slender, she was mighty) and calmly reply that she never used any of the words Anton had cited. Firstly, she did not like fruit pie of any kind and so had never asked for pie ala-whatever, and she had nothing to do with White women if she could help it, so she’d never had any need to make comment on the color of their hair—yellow, brown, or otherwise; finally, as Anton could plainly see, if he just used the eyes God had given him, nowhere in her ranch house (apple green walls and plastic-covered living room furniture) were there any tacky mementos—gaudily colored plates or bells or coffee cups—obtained while on vacation from some smiling vendor, the items more than likely made by exploited child labor, poor little boys and girls working from can’t see in the morning till can’t see at night, the little angels trapped in some sweaty Hell-hole of a factory earning pennies a day, like something out of David Copperfield. And did Anton know, Grandma Woodbury would continue, that those French their other grandmother loved so much had been part of the slave trade too? Oh yes, they had been in it right up to their parlez vous francais from the very start. “How do you suppose those folks in Haiti wound up speaking French? I bet that saucy Mrs. Corbiere never talks about that.” And Anton grinned and said, “Saucy, Grandma—more French.” And she lightly slapped the back of his head, “The root of saucy is Latin, not French.” And Anton kept grinning, and Clarion, who even before the boys reached their teens was taller than his older brother (as well as cover boy handsome like their father) grinned too, and then Grandma Woodbury grinned because Anton, her first ever grandchild, was her favorite, even if he did look just like his momma, who Grandma Woodbury was even less crazy about than she was about the kids’ other grandmother. Which is not to say that Grandma Woodbury did not know her limits. She never ran down the children’s mother in their presence, vain goose though she thought their mother to be. As a boy, whenever Clarion heard Grandma Woodbury speak ill of Grand Ma-Mere, which was the only way she ever spoke of her, he would inevitably think of Grand Ma-Mere down in New Orleans, wondering what she was doing right at that moment. If it were morning, he saw her in his mind’s eye at the table of her cramped kitchen with the greasy blue walls and the moist, conglomerate aroma of onions and garlic and brown sugar, leaning forward a bit in her chair as was her habit, with her gray hair in two roped braids woven in a curl either side of her head, her wrinkled lips pursing to first blow a cooling breath before pursing for a gentle sip from her café au lait in a china cup. And if it was midday he saw her on the way to “make marketing,” as she called it, her face with the small beak of a nose—just like his mother’s, just like Anton’s—and her blotchy complexion and the baggy crescents under the eyes, and pale blue horn rim glasses, shaded by the wide circular awning of her straw hat; and if was late afternoon he saw her sitting on the wizened couch in that shaded living room with a hardback book and yellowed pages, her wrinkly lips moving slowly and her voice inaudible as she read, the partially opened windows granting passage to the ever-so-often breeze that undulated the sheer curtains (also faded peach in color, faded almost to complete transparency), the breeze also carrying in evidence of the outside world, the occasional voices of unseen passersby on the nearby sidewalk or unseen motor vehicles slowing slightly at the intersection before rolling on. Clarion’s imaginings were based on the second summer trip that he and his siblings always made in August to New Orleans where in the afternoons he would lie face down on one of the worn rugs while reading a book. Down there, the house’s dominant fragrance, a dusty and vinegary smell carried through the old rooms by an endless blizzard of motes, was most abundant. It played with Clarion’s nose, just enough to tickle, but not so much as to cause a sneeze. He’d read only a foot or so away from Grand Ma-Mere’s long feet, his book in French too for he was as fluent as she. As for Anton and Anne-Catherine, their French was not nearly as sharp, and as Clarion read, those two would be off somewhere, maybe in the weedy backyard that smelled of damp earth where they climbed the old tree and sat on a sturdy branch, high enough to see over the stone wall running alongside the yard, their legs dangling as they made comments on people walking by, usually Anton saying something snide with Anne-Catherine giggling in response, for she idolized Anton, liked to follow him around everywhere, and he returned her adulation with all manners of kindness and no teasing or making fun at her expense. Calling her “mon sucré petite.” And Clarion did not mind in the least not being a part of that, for back then he loved having Grand Ma-Mere all to himself in the living room because he was her favorite, even though he looked as if his father had spit him out, as the saying goes, the same early height, the same full nose and wide face the color of dry sand, and succulent lips that were almost, but not quite, pouty, that face causing old women at schools and churches and parties (nuns included) to smile helplessly at the first sight of him. Sometimes on those lazy afternoons, Anton and Anne-Catherine still would be outside somewhere, maybe out of the tree and off on one of their “walk-around-abouts,” as Anton called them. Armed with sketch books and pencils, they’d stroll all the way to the levee where they’d skip rocks on the water (the stones taken from the backyard), or over to the cemetery where the tombs lined either side of the wide grassy lanes like little stone houses, or all the way south to the river bend where folks fished from the grassy land’s end and pulled catfish the size of big cats out of the currents. Big brother and little sister would sit at these places sometimes and sketch and draw, Anton very good at his replications and Anne-Catherine trying her best, while back at the house, Clarion and Grand Ma-Mere, their reading done for the day, would be sitting side-by-side at the massive dining room table, looking through the photo albums of the family’s days-gone-by, which Anton never much liked: “Who wants to gaze at all those moldy oldies,” was how he put it, and since he didn’t like perusing the photo albums with Grand Ma-Mere, Anne-Catherine, ever loyal, did not like perusing them either. Which was fine with Grand Ma-Mere, who despite what Grandma Woodbury might say, was not one to force children to do what they didn’t want to, which was a big reason why her grandchildren enjoyed visiting her so much. She and Clarion would sit close despite the close air of the humid day and look over the albums with their black and heavy pages. At some point she was sure to say: “Remember, child. Your last name may be Woodbury, but you are a Corbiere.” He would nod yes to show that he understood and they would continue, she pointing with a wrinkled forefinger (the rounded fingernail clear) at the image of this or that ancestor, each one carrying some sort of story. There was this one (“Isn’t she beautiful, Clarion?”) who had eyebrows like bird wings in flight and dimples, who had run off with a man to Mexico, and that one, a slack-jowl fellow with granny glasses and a thin mustache who had shot a man in a duel because the other man had enjoyed the affections of his wife. “It was a matter of honor, Clarion,” said Grand Ma-Mere. “He refused to be humiliated, to be made a fool of.” The stories she told about his long-gone ancestors were like the stuff you read in novels or saw in the movies, heady tales of high emotions and dramatic actions. Later on, when they were home in Chicago, in the vast brick home on the far Southside that had once been a day school for White girls, Clarion would excitedly repeat to his mother one of these tales he had heard, and his mom, Frances Corbiere Woodbury, would gaze at him over the tops of her glasses and say idly, “Your Grand Ma-Mere” (a pause here for dramatic effect) “exaggerates more than somewhat.” And the following summer, when Clarion was back in New Orleans, and he told Grand Ma-Mere what his mother, her only living child, had said, Grand Ma-Mere just chuckled and said that Frances had always been, “How shall we say, reluctant to own up to some of the more dramatic aspects of our family, what happened before she met and married your father, joining that Woodbury political power up there with our Corbiere money. She likes to stay up there in Chicago where nobody knows what happened down here. Up there she can cavort like the grande dame.” Then a shrug from Grand Ma-Mere to show Clarion that she meant no ill will towards his mother: “To each his own. We alls have to live our own way,” and then it was back to the photo album and another story about some long-gone relative who had discovered gold in California. There were charcoal drawings of a relative who had served in the army during the Civil War. “He was an officer, Clarion, in the Louisiana Native Guards. He was not among any of those wrongheaded fools who volunteered for the Confederate army in 1861, but the regiment of free Negroes and runaway slaves that fought for l’Union. Oh how some Whites, both allies and foe, scoffed and sneered as the regiment marched down Canal Street, but they did not scoff for long.” An ancestor who’d served in the regiment, Henri Bernard Corbiere, had a full-bodied mustache and sideburns, with eyes narrowed slightly in steely determination (or so Clarion thought) under the brim of his kewpie hat. “With an arm in a sling from a bullet wound, Henri marched in the funeral procession for Captain Cailloux, the hero of the Battle of Port Hudson.” It was at such times that Clarion would ask to handle the sword, which was displayed prominently on the peach wall over the living room fireplace. Grand Ma-Mere would nod yes and they’d walk to the hearth, Grand Ma-Mere having to rise only slightly on tiptoe to gently grasp the scabbard-encased, slightly curved weapon, with both hands. He would hold out both of his hands, palms up, to receive the weight, which was not insubstantial, making him think that his warrior ancestor must have been a very strong man to wield such a thing, Grand Ma-Mere sliding the blade out, the metal moving against metal and making an extended and delicious hiss, the grooved blade shiny and resplendent, even in the diminished light, the handle as ornate as some of the hand-carved furniture with flowered engraving in the silver. And Grand Ma-Mere would again tell him the story, no less thrilling to Clarion for his having heard it before, of how “Henri used this very blade to drive a slave monger through. Right through the guts you see, at Port Hudson, where the regiment proved their bravery and established their honor. No Whites laughed at them ever again.” And there were other war stories about other warrior Corbieres, like the one who had been among the Black soldiers, said Grand Ma-Mere, “Who saved the hides of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, and whose bravery has been written out of the history books by vindictive Whites.” And another who had commanded an artillery battery in the Great War, “His unit of Black soldiers was awarded the Croix de guerre avec palme from the government of France for their combat accomplishments.” There were photos of these and other family men in uniform, and they were Clarion’s favorite group of photos, but just barely. His second favorite group was kept in a special, sky blue, leather-bound book. These were the family’s Mardi Gras photographs. The krewe the Corbieres belonged to wasn’t the largest in New Orleans by any means, but Grand Ma-Mere assured Clarion it was by far the finest. Les Fleurs l’Afrique, The Flowers of Africa, their colors sky blue and white, Clarion fascinated by the pictures of his mother as a child of seven or eight, a black and white photo of her staring flatly at the camera with several other boys and girls done up in silken capes and wide skirts and pantaloons and little crowns. The other children, all light in skin tone like his mother, stood with flat expressions, as if they weren’t quite sure what they were doing there. And in another photo, a colored photo, taken many years later, there was his mother again, this time a sweet sixteen girl; his mother in a white, hoop skirt, floor-length dress, the white silk bodice with accompanying veils of white see-through stuff reminded Clarion of cotton candy pulled thin; his mother smiling in this picture, but the smile not wide, not like what he was used to seeing, the picture smile was tentative, showing just the top front teeth with the slight overbite, but she looking beautiful nonetheless, and he experienced that odd sensation that a boy on the verge of puberty sometimes feels when he sees a photo of his momma in her heyday, the boy struck by the recognition of what his father must have seen, what his father must have coveted. When he was ten, Clarion asked Grand Ma-Mere when he could come for Mardi Gras. He wanted to stand in the crowd and catch doubloons or beads or coconuts tossed from the floats into the crowds packing the streets. To this Grand Ma-Mere gave a tisk and said: “Les Fleurs l’Afrique toss, we do not catch.” To which Clarion responded, “Okay, toss then.” And she said he would have to ask his parents, and upon returning to Chicago he did. He was told he’d have to wait until he was older. He asked how old and his father said sixteen. As far as Clarion was concerned, his dad, who by then was a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, might as well have said he’d have to wait until he was twenty-five. Anton was three years older than Clarion, just three years from the magic birthday, and when Anton did hit sixteen, he was allowed to go to Mardi Gras. He did not ride with the other Corbieres but made his way to the mostly White, mostly touristy mob in the French Quarter. (Grand Ma-Mere did not think much of that part of town, referring to it snidely as “le paradis d’un fou,” a fool’s paradise.) Anton had by then grown himself a brown puffball of an Afro which their mother detested, and he had a scruff of hair on his chin that the still smooth-faced Clarion greatly envied; Anton’s maturing face a mirror image of their mother’s though a bit paler. Along with that small beak of a nose it had not much of a chin and a thin mouth, the face judged by people to be more of an interesting feature than a handsome one. (Clarion envied the Afro too, he unable to grown one because his own hair was too limp.) When Anton came back to Chicago, he and Clarion sat in the sun swept back yard under the weeping willow, on the shaded side of the massive trunk, Anton in a tee shirt and denim overalls (the overalls another thing their mother did not care for: “You look like a field hand.”) while Clarion wore a pair of cuffed chino slacks and a blue polo shirt. They faced the sunlit back of the red brick house which loomed over them three stories high with many windows and chimneys, the two far enough away from the open kitchen door so they couldn’t easily be overheard by their parents or the hired help who kept up the place, Anton lightly kissing the pressed fingertips of his own right hand and then flinging the fingers wide apart. “Mardi Gras was magnifique, little brother,” which is how he still saw Clarion in relation to himself, despite the height difference in Clarion’s favor. Clarion still saw it that way too and Anton went on to tell of the Mardi Gras humanity massed so thickly you could only move in baby steps, so close you smelled whatever the people immediately around you smelled like, from the sweetest perfume to funk so bad you wondered if the stinker had ever heard of soap. “And there were some women, not all or most, but some, who just lifted up their shirts and showed off their pairs, and no one minded in the least. A lot of them were as roaring drunk as the men, and you bet a lot of fellows took full advantage of the situation.” And here Anton made a clasping gesture with that right hand, with those tapered fingers that would one day deftly wield paintbrushes against canvases—much to his parents’ chagrin. (Clarion by age thirteen was artistic too, some days playing jazz on the family’s grand piano—trying as hard as he could to copy Tatum, and Evans, and Monk the King—until his fingers throbbed and his forearms ached.) Clarion arched his eyebrows as he watched Anton’s fingers close and he asked: “Did you take advantage?” and Anton smiled a toothsome smile. “When in Rome…” and the two of them laughed so loud that Mathilde, the Haitian cook, her rich brown head in the kitchen window, looked up from the vegetables she was washing in preparation for supper and gave them a curious glance, causing the boys to clasp hands over their guffaws. To be on the safe side they moved around to the sun side of the tree and out of direct sight of the house, Anton going on to say how before long he was as roaring drunk as anybody. There had been this one woman, he said, a White woman, of course, wearing a red mask/headdress with three yard-long plumes flouncing high above her head, “Whose bottom was very shapely for a White girl. It was right there.” After Anton had gotten himself a handful of her rump, he said she had turned to him so fast that she caught sight of his retreating arm, proof of his guilt. But instead of getting angry, she lifted her pullover, also red, to reveal a prodigious pair with awesome nipples, “The nipples were the size of your thumb tips, Clarion, and pink as raspberries, I swear to God.” And Clarion asked what happened next and Anton said: “She says to me: ‘Well go on and finish the job.’ So I did.” And Clarion paused a few seconds to take that in, the image of his brother’s tapered fingers delicately stroking the woman’s firm pinkies (for surely they had to be firm, he thought), then he asked: “Was that all?” And here Anton paused for dramatic effect, the way their mother liked to do when she told stories, and he said, “No, that was not all,” but before he could say more Anne-Catherine arrived, the kitchen screen door banging behind her. Like Clarion she was tall for her age, that afternoon still in her school outfit: dark plaid skirt, white blouse, navy blue socks to the knees. When she reached her brothers on the other side of the tree she was met by a perturbed expression on Anton’s face and a sheepish one on Clarion’s, which caused a curious expression to come across her own, her face so conventionally pretty in its arrangement of eyes, nose, and mouth that many predicted, even though she was then only ten years old, that one day she would be a model or actress, some job where people had to pay good money to look at you because you were so conventionally beautiful. (As it turned out, Anne-Catherine would surprise everyone many years later by choosing a life married to Christ in a religious order of African-American nuns.) Before she could say a word, Anton said sharply: “We’re talking.” And Anne-Catherine said: “About what?” And Anton said even more sharply: “About none of your business.” The shock and surprise of the rebuff hit Annie Cat (her family name) like a slap, for Anton had never spoken so harshly to her before, and without another word she turned swiftly around, but not so fast that the boys couldn’t discern the hurt on her face. Their guilt, however, did not last long, their sister’s pain quickly forgotten, Anton waiting until they heard the kitchen door bang again before leaning toward Clarion and softly saying: “Her name’s Jenifer. She’s way older. Twenty-five.” And Clarion whistled in appreciation and leaned closer still. What followed was a wild tale of virginity at long last lost in a green car parked behind a shotgun house with some large dog barking occasionally a yard or so away, the backseat area of the rusted sedan aromatic, Anton said, with the mixture of perfume, liquored breaths, and her aroma “from down there,” which while strong, did not smell like fish as he had heard older boys claim. And Clarion, who had never even heard of the fish comparison, sat in wonder, never once doubting the story (just as he had never once doubted any of Grand Ma-Mere’s stories) and he felt himself hard in his trousers, the suddenness of this change a little unnerving, but no less exciting, and he asked Anton, hoping for more, if Anton and the woman had “done it” any other times, but Anton said no, it had just been that once. And Clarion suddenly thought, he did not know why, of their Grand Ma-Mere, and he wondered what she was doing at that very moment. (A rush of guilt suddenly swept his thoughts for thinking of her while in such an aroused condition, and he made a promise to himself to come clean about all this the next time he went to confession, which was a couple of days away.) In the New Orleans spring he imagined, the weather would be warm but not overwhelming, and he bet Grand Ma-Mere had her windows open and the shutters flung free. This late in the afternoon she would have finished with her reading, she’d be in the small kitchen with the greasy blue walls, standing over the black metal stove most likely, stirring something spicy and thick in a pot with one of her weathered wooden spoons. This reverie was broken by Anton, who elbowed him lightly on the arm and asked: “Where’d your thoughts wander off to?” But Clarion didn’t want to share his image, even though Anton had just shared so much with him, and so he gave a shrug to show his thoughts had gone nowhere important while at the same time thinking that it would be another three-and-a-half months before he’d be down there again. August seemed so very long off, but that’s how Clarion was back then, typically young when it came to estimating time in those years before it all changed, before he disappointed his parents like Anton did, not by choosing a life as an artist (which his parents thought a foolish trail that would lead to obscurity and poverty), but by going into the Army (which they viewed as bordering on the insane). The military choice (by way of college ROTC) their Grandma Woodbury would blame on Grand Ma-Mere and her romantic tales of Corbiere wartime glories (“She’s filled the boy’s head with nonsense”), while their mother, in the privacy of the bedroom she shared with Judge Woodbury that was as large as some people’s apartments, would tearfully demand that her husband “Do something,” Judge Woodbury subsequently pulling every string someone politically connected to officeholders from the South Side of Chicago to Washington D.C. could pull, which would not result in getting Clarion out of going to Vietnam, for Clarion had volunteered and passed airborne training, but did get him from being assigned to anything slaughterhouse certain like leading an infantry platoon. His posting as an adjutant to a brigade commander would keep him away from the worst of it, explained his father, though Frances would remain unconvinced, she predicting in the privacy of that bedroom with the marble hearth fireplace and canopied bed big enough to sleep five, that if Clarion went to Vietnam, he would die, she could feel it in her bones. But, as luck would have it, she would be wrong, Clarion would get through his year in Vietnam (and a drunken R&R in Thailand) with hardly a physical scratch (though he would have many troubling memories that would haunt him a lifetime). As it turned out, it would be Anton who would die young, overdosed and alone in a New York hovel while Clarion was overseas. Anton, beloved by the prime, petite woman that Clarion had loved first and loved deeper, but who chose Anton because, as she put it that first time she and Clarion spoke after his return home, “Anton needed me more.” And what could Clarion say to that? This conversation will take place on a patio not far from the willow tree, in the late morning, in early fall—the air cool, the sky sunlit, and yellow flakes of falling willow leaves wafting about. (The woman, Winifred Laudermilk, was a longtime family friend, her people not as wealthy as Clarion’s but wealthy enough with a multiple bed and bathroom house in the city and a summer place hard on Lake Michigan in the Michigan Harbor Country. Winifred was by then back some months from New York, the rest of the Woodburys unaware of what had gone on between her and Anton, leaving Clarion to wonder how they could all be so naive.) On that late morning Winifred will look across the un-shaded table at Clarion, who will be in civilian clothes but still with the close military haircut, and his head and neck and arms darkened to the color of wet sand, the comfort of the clean fresh civvies feeling odd on his body. With a look of sincere sympathy on her own face—milk-in-coffee coloring, a longish upturned nose, doe eyes—Winifred will ask how he had managed to keep himself together over there. And Clarion will pause, his calm expression hiding his tumultuous emotions, hiding his rage: rage at his choice of the Army and going airborne, the foolhardiness of which had become perfectly clear to him his second day in country when he’d seen his first death, another officer who an enemy sniper had chosen to shoot instead of himself or the brigade commander as the three had made their way quickly across a field; rage at his parents for being right; rage at the world of comfort he had returned to, his parents and Anne-Catherine and Winifred and the entire civilian lot, war protestors included, who had no idea, not the slightest clue, as to how awful it really was; more rage at himself for being so gullible in the face of so many family exaggerations; and most of all, rage at Anton for offing himself, so to speak, and thus robbing him, Clarion, of the chance to confront him, to punch him in the nose maybe, after which they might have gotten on with their lives more or less as before. Clarion at that point sure of only one thing: that Winifred having been Anton’s lover had not dampened his love for her, which will both please and surprise him. Yes, all of this will be in crescendo behind Clarion’s calm face in the few seconds it takes for him to carefully choose his words,for him not to say that it had been thoughts of Winifred that had sustained him, though that was, in fact, the truth. He will instead say that it had been things like thoughts of his Grand Ma-Mere (by then in a nursing home) and her house in New Orleans, thoughts of his parents, of Anne-Catherine, of Anton, that had sustained him. Clarion saying this even as the wrenching realization hits him that Winifred’s sincerely sympathetic expression, like one would give to a child who has bumped his knee, means that for her, sleeping with one brother will make it impossible for her to sleep with the other. And through it all Clarion will not waver, his outer calm will hold as he continues telling her of a particularly favorite memory—Anton sixteen and he thirteen, Anton just back from his first Mardi Gras,the two of them with their backs to the willow tree over there, just the two of them talking about nothing in particular on the sunny end of a spring afternoon, talking and talking until their confab is broken by Mathilde calling to them, through the kitchen’s screen door, in her Haitian-accented French, that it was time to come in for supper.

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