When she left, Aunt Tassi went to the bedroom and saw a bat sucking on Roman's toe. The bat kept moving its big black wings and fanning Roman, who was sleeping soundly. Miss McCartney said the tongue of this bat is shaped like a lancet and when it pierces a vein there is little or no pain so you can sleep right through it while it drinks your blood. My aunt feared the bat was a sign. She threw open the shutters and took up a broom and she drove the creature out into the night. After that, Aunt Tassi did not sleep for worrying. Next morning Roman was still sleeping and we were sitting at the table eating salt fish and hot bake and the sun was filling up the kitchen. I was thinking about my history class with Miss McCartney that afternoon and about my Christopher Columbus project, the picture I had sketched of him which needed coloring in, when my aunt cleared her throat.

"The tree is full of limes. They ready to drop. After school one of you must fill a bag and carry them up to Mrs. Jeremiah." Vera set up her face as if in horror.

"I have extra lessons," Violet said, and I knew at once she was lying.

They all looked at me.

"Celia," Aunt Tassi said.

I put down my fork and finished chewing my buttery bake. I drank some cocoa, sweet and thick. Then I wiped my mouth on my arm and said, "I'm not scared."

The path to Mrs. Jeremiah's house was narrow and thick with brown leaves from the big mahogany tree. There was a damp smell and I saw a lot of mosquitoes. They made a dark cloud over a drum of water and I climbed the steps of the house. I thought the water shouldn't be there—before you know it everyone in Black Rock would be coming down with yellow fever. I was surprised by the pots of bougainvillea on either side of the entrance to the shabby little house. They must have been a gift. Over the doorway was a cross; I couldn't tell if it was made of stone or bone. There were two chairs in the veranda with blue torn cushions and I tried to picture Mrs. Maingot sitting on one of them. There was a bowl of water on a small round table. I wondered if it was holy water. Then I heard someone inside.

"Hello," I said.

"You the orphan girl."

"I brought you some limes." I pushed the curtain where a door should be. "My aunt says sorry about Uncle Roman."

I put down the brown paper bag. It was dark inside and the shutters were closed except for the kitchen where they were slightly open and a little bit of brassy light was slicing its way in. The old woman had her hand on a large book on the table. In that half-light, after the bright afternoon glare, it looked like a little hoof. There was a candle on the table and its flame was low. One of Mrs. Jeremiah's eyes was cast near the door where I was standing.

"She should put him out but he won't last too long anyhow.

Three years or less."


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