...I wished they were dead. I would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying. I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true. “It’s wrong to hate them,” Constance said, “it only weakens you,” but I hated them anyway....
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!
She took the groceries carefully from the bags; food of any kind was precious to Constance, and she always touched foodstuffs with quiet respect. I was not allowed to help; I was not allowed to prepare food, nor was I allowed to gather mushrooms, although I sometimes carried vegetables in from the garden, or apples from the old trees.
I must have known what she was going to say, because I was chilled; all this day had been building up to what Helen Clarke was going to say right now. I sat low in my chair and looked hard at Constance, wanting her to get up and run away, wanting her not to hear what was just about to be said, but Helen Clarke went on, “It’s spring, you’re young, you’re lovely, you have a right to be happy. Come back into the world.”
Once, even a month ago when it was still winter, words like that would have made Constance draw back and run away; now, I saw that she was listening and smiling, although she shook her head.
“Another child, my niece Mary Katherine, was not at table.”
“She was in her room,” Mrs. Wright said.
“A great child of twelve, sent to bed without her supper. But she need not concern us.”
I laughed, and Constance said to Helen Clarke, “Merricat was always in disgrace. I used to go up the back stairs with a tray of dinner for her after my father had left the dining room. She was a wicked, disobedient child,” and she smiled at me.
“An unhealthy environment,” Helen Clarke said. “A child should be punished for wrongdoing, but she should be made to feel that she is still loved.”
“First,” she said, “she bought the arsenic.”
“To kill rats,” Constance said to the teapot, and then turned and smiled at me.
... “She cooked the dinner, she set the table.... It was Constance who saw them dying around her like flies—I do beg your pardon—and never called a doctor until it was too late. She washed the sugar bowl.”
“There was a spider in it,” Constance said.
“She told the police those people deserved to die.... She told the police that it was all her fault.”
All the Blackwood women had taken the food that came from the ground and preserved it, and the deeply colored rows of jellies and pickles and bottled vegetables and fruit, maroon and amber and dark rich green, stood side by side in our cellar and would stand there forever, a poem by the Blackwood women. Each year Constance and Uncle Julian and I had jam or preserve or pickle that Constance had made, but we never touched what belonged to the others; Constance said it would kill us if we ate it.
I ate tiny sweet raw carrots while Constance washed the vegetables and put them away. “We will have a spring salad,” she said.
“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.”
“Merricat,” Constance said; she turned and looked at me, smiling. “It’s our cousin, our cousin Charles Blackwood. I knew him at once; he looks like Father.”
“Well, Mary,” he said. He stood up; he was taller now that he was inside, bigger and bigger as he came closer to me. “Got a kiss for your cousin Charles?”
Behind him the kitchen door was open wide; he was the first one who had ever gotten inside and Constance had let him in.... I was held tight, wound round with wire, I couldn’t breathe, and I had to run.
“I really think I shall commence chapter forty-four,” he said, patting his hands together. “I shall commence, I think, with a slight exaggeration and go on from there into an outright lie.”
“In a tree,” he said, and his voice was shaking too. “I found it nailed to a tree, for God’s sake. What kind of a house is this?”
“It’s not important,” Constance said. “Really, Charles, it’s not important.”
“Not important? Connie, this thing’s made of gold.”
“But no one wants it.”
“One of the links is smashed.... what a hell of a way to treat a valuable thing. We could have sold it,” he said to Constance.
“We should have faced the world and tried to live normal lives; Uncle Julian should have been in a hospital all these years, with good care and nurses to watch him. We should have been living like other people. You should...” She stopped, and waved her hands helplessly. “You should have boy friends,” she said finally, and then began to laugh because she sounded funny even to herself.
“My niece Mary Katherine has been a long time dead, young man. She did not survive the loss of her family; I supposed you knew that.”
“What?” Charles turned furiously to Constance.
“My niece Mary Katherine died in an orphanage, of neglect, during her sister’s trial for murder. But she is of very little consequence to my book, and so we will have done with her.”
“Mary Katherine should have anything she wants, my dear. Our most loved daughter must have anything she likes.”
“Constance, your sister lacks butter. Pass it to her at once, please.”
“Mary Katherine, we love you.”
... “Mary Katherine must never be punished. Must never be sent to bed without her dinner. Mary Katherine will never allow herself to do anything inviting punishment.”
“Our beloved, our dearest Mary Katherine must be guarded and cherished. Thomas, give your sister your dinner; she would like more to eat.”
“Dorothy—Julian. Rise when our beloved daughter rises.”
“Bow all your heads to our adored Mary Katherine.”
I brushed the saucer and the pipe off the table into the wastebasket and they fell softly on to the newspapers he had brought into the house.
I was wondering about my eyes; one of my eyes—the left—saw everything golden and yellow and orange, and the other eye saw shades of blue and grey and green; perhaps one eye was for daylight and the other was for night. If everyone in the world saw different colors from different eyes there might be a great many colors still to be invented.
Very carefully he put up his hands and took off his hat saying CHIEF and while everyone watched he walked slowly down the steps and over to the fire engine and set his hat down on the front seat. Then he bent down, searching thoughtfully, and finally, while everyone watched, he took up a rock. In complete silence he turned slowly and then raised his arm and smashed the rock through one of the tall windows of our mother’s drawing room. A wall of laughter rose and grew behind him and then, first the boys on the steps and then the other men and at last the women and the smaller children, they moved like a wave at our house.
One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked.
It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.
“Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.”
“We are on the moon at last,” I told her, and she smiled.
“I thought I dreamed it all,” she said.
“It really happened,” I said.
“Poor Uncle Julian.”
“They came in the night and took him away, and we stayed here on the moon.”
“I’m glad to be here,” she said. “Thank you for bringing me.”
I could feel a breath of air on my cheek; it came from the sky I could see, but it smelled of smoke and ruin. Our house was a castle, turreted and open to the sky.
“She certainly wanted her tea,” I said to Constance when I came back to the kitchen.
“We have only two cups with handles,” Constance said. “She will never take tea here again.”
“It’s a good thing Uncle Julian’s gone, or one of us would have to use a broken cup.”
“Will you sleep in there? In Uncle Julian’s bed?”
“No, Merricat. I want you to sleep in there. It’s the only bed we have.”
“I am not allowed in Uncle Julian’s room.”
She was quiet for a minute, looking at me curiously, and then asked, “Even though Uncle Julian’s gone, Merricat?”
“I was very wicked,” she said. “I never should have reminded you of why they all died.”
“Then don’t remind me now.” I could not move my hand to reach over and take hers.
“I wanted you to forget about it. I never wanted to speak about it, ever, and I’m sorry I did.”
“I put it in the sugar.”
“I know. I knew then.”
“You never used sugar.”
“So I put it in the sugar.”
Constance sighed. “Merricat,” she said, “we’ll never talk about it again. Never.”
I was chilled, but she smiled at me kindly and it was all right.
“I love you, Constance,” I said.
“And I love you, my Merricat.”
“I believe the one you are wearing now was used for summer breakfasts on the lawn many years ago. Red and white check would never be used in the dining room, of course.”
“Some days I shall be a summer breakfast on the lawn, and some days I shall be a formal dinner by candlelight, and some days I shall be—”
“If you let me go this time, you’ll never see me again. I mean it, Connie.... Take a last look,” he said. “I’m going. One word could make me stay.”
I did not think he was going to go in time. I honestly did not know whether Constance was going to be able to contain herself until he got down the steps and safely into the car.... Charles looked back once more, raised his hand sadly, and got into the car. Then Constance laughed, and I laughed... and we held each other in the dark hall and laughed, with the tears running down our cheeks....
“I am so happy,” Constance said at last, gasping. “Merricat, I am so happy.”
“I told you that you would like it on the moon.”
“I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.”
“I doubt if I could cook one,” said Constance.
“Poor strangers,” I said. “They have so much to be afraid of.”
“Well,” Constance said, “I am afraid of spiders.”
“Jonas and I will see to it that no spider ever comes near you. Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.”