From somewhere outside his agony, Antonio heard a voice.
Opening his eyes, he found Eudora sitting in front of him.
Taking one of his battered hands, she held it tightly, “Father, why are you cryin’?”
With his free hand, he wiped the wetness from his cheeks. “I am a failure.” He answered his words thick from alcohol.
“I do not understand.” She answered, scootching close to lay her cheek against his knee.
“Dora, do you believe I love you?”
“Oui.” Her voice held no subterfuge, only innocent adoration.
“I wish I knew if any of your siblings felt the same.”
“Well, I tell them you do.” She said, sitting up double-quick.
He had not anticipated her to respond and leaning forward, he asked, “Who do you tell?”
Her fingers twisted furiously at the hem of her dress and looking at it, she said, “sometimes they cry too.”
Closing his eyes, Antonio listened to the steady beat of the whiskey hammering through him until his entire body felt like it was swaying in time. Rather than feeling more alive, he felt each pulsation was a reminder of his failures. Losing his self to the steady beat, it brought back the feeling of the cold weight of the pistol he had stuck in his mouth for far too many nights running after his wife’s death. ‘Ah Gena, I was so weak, so lost. I knew you would not want our children divided amongst relatives who were strangers to them. I knew you would never forgive me for that and the knowledge stayed my hand each night. I had to leave. I could not stand being here without you. I convinced myself my purpose was to swell Sienna’s wealth: to provide for our brood: to insure they would want for anything. Yet following this ambition rather than my obligations, I not only failed them but lost them, too.’
Tapping her Father on the arm to garner his attention, Eudora asked, “Why do you think they get so sad?”
“I imagine, because I have not been a good Father and I have spent too much time away,” He said, pulling her around to sit beside him, allowing him to unkink his aching knees.
“Oh.” She said, snuggling closer. “Well, I am sad when you are gone.”
“I apologize, sweetie.” He said, laying his cheek across the top of her head.
“It is all right. You are here now.”
‘Eudora believes in me because she is still a child,’ he thought. ‘For once, her broken mind has been a blessing for her. My neglect has not harmed her as the others. I am here now and to her that is all that matters.’
“Why do you leave?”
“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have given you a handful of reasons involvin’ the race stock. However, I came to realize, I was trying to outrun the sadness I felt from you Mère going to heaven.”
“That is silly.”
“I suppose it was.”
Eudora leaned against him, her hands laced in her lap, studying the room, she asked, “What was Mère like?”
“Why, I know Mams has told you bushels of tales.” He drawled.
“She has. But you never have,” she said, pulling back, her green eyes searching his face.
Seeing her, he looked beyond his daughter, recalling her Mother.
“Tell me about her, s’il vous plaît.”
“Your Mère was a spitfire; a very determined soul. Once she set her mind, nothing could budge her. Y’all have her stubborn nature. I pity the person who tries to cross any one of you.”
Laughter burst from Eudora and elbowing him, she said, “You hit the nail on the head there.”
“Oh, I know. I have seen it in all of you.” Antonio said, a bemused look coming to his eyes, “I recollect a time when Katharine was itty-bitty. I fell to calling her ‘Kitty Cat’.
“I like that.”
“Your Mère took an immediate disliking to it. She informed me we had named our daughter Katharine and Katharine was what we would call her, not some trifling pet name.” A small rumble of laughter rose from him. “My goodness, what she would have to say about all the pet names ’round here. She was big on formal names; said it gave a person character to live up to.” He laughed again, “Would you believe she would not let me see Gabriel, until I agreed she could name him as she wished? Talk about stubborn.”
“And, she named him Gabriel Matthew.” Eudora stated. “It is a good name.”
“Oh no.” Antonio chortled. “She named him more than that.”
Eudora scratched her head, “Huh?”
“His baptismal name is Gabriel Matthew Antonio Maximillian.”
Eudora’s eyebrows rose as far as they could go.
Antonio nodded, “it is.”
“I did not know Gabe has quatre names.”
“She wanted five; I whittled her down some and fought harder on the rest of you. Still, I have to say she was right... he is living up to all the character she placed on him. Her strong spirit seems to shine through him the most.”
Eudora tilted her head, “What about Katharine?”
“What about her?” He asked fuzzily, feeling safe next to his daughter.
“How is she like Mère?”
“Katharine Lorraine Abigail is full of grace like her Mother. All who visited Sienna loved Gena Lorraine just like they do Katharine.” He nodded, “Yes, Katharine has her grace.”
“Lafayette Henri Begnoir... I have always seen him being more like me. He looks like me and over-analyzes himself, the way I do myself.” Recalling what Gabriel said men were calling his son, Antonio frowned.
Seeing his frown, she asked, “Is over-analyze bad?”
“Sometimes yes and sometimes no, it means you think too much.”
She giggled, “Lafe does that. It is sad he does not have any of Mère in him?”
“I did not say that Dora. For without a doubt, he has her savoir faire.”
“Savoir faire?” She shook her head.
“It means to be a good talker, to be able to do or say the right thing at the exact right moment in time.”
“You mean the way Mams says Lafe could talk St. Peter into letting Lucifer through the gate or the way he stops fights before they begin.”
“Exactly,” Antonio answered with a laugh. “Josephine Michelle Antoinette, now she is like her Mère in that she agonizes over a person liking her and will go to great lengths to make another happy.”
“Jo is so good to me and always makes me laugh.” Eudora said, her smile turning into a frown. “I miss her.”
“Me too,” chatting with his youngest, he could feel his drunkenness fading. “That is all of you, right?” He asked with a smile that caused the corners of his thick mustache to quiver.
“Non silly... you forgot me and Taddy.”
“Eudora Gena Lorraine you are her. Times are when I come down the drive and you run out waving to me… for a second, I think you are my Gena. I want you to know, I do not shine you on whenever I say you look like your Mère.”
“Except, for my eyes.”
“Apart from your eyes,” he kissed the top of the head. “I have not the slightest notion where y’all got them green, green eyes.”
She grinned, “and, Taddy?”
Antonio took a deep breath, rubbing a finger along the bridge of his nose. ’I rarely consider the boy. Hell, for years, I could not even look at ‘em, without hearing Gena’s agonized screams. When they brought him to me, I could not bear to touch him, I left him on the floor in the hallway.’ Goosebumps rose up and down Antonio’s body recollecting what he had done, ’Jesus wept, my first words to him were, ‘I do not want you if it means losin’ her.’ I stood there wishing God to take him and give me her back. How can I ever be forgiven? He was... is our son, the son Gena gave her life for and would have done again without a second thought. Tad, my poor boy, I never gave you a proper chance. I left you for Lorraine to name and Simone to raise.’ Mortified by what he had done, tears slid down his face disappearing into his thick mustache.
“Father, you are cryin’ again.”
Looking into Eudora’s beautiful face, he thought. ‘Despite what I felt or feel for Tad... I have always loved her. Why?’ He bit his lower lip, wishing for another drink
“Are you all right, Father?”
He tried to smile, ‘I must answer her... I love her and he is the most important part of her life. I must find something good and true to say of him.’ Running over all he knew of his youngest son, Antonio could not bring to mind a single-unique detail. Seeing apprehension filling her eyes, he began rambling in hopes of figuring something out. “Well, he has pound-for-pound as much grit as Gabe. Seems no one can remain angry with him and he makes friends wherever he goes, so he must have as much charm as Katharine.
Eudora smiled, nodding in agreement.
Seeing this he felt a little better. “And, I have heard enough tales of his adventures to know he is a silver-tongue trickster like Lafe.”
Eudora nodded more.
He thought, “Maybe I know him better than I reasoned. Oh, and like Josie he will bend over backwards to make others happy.” Then a cold realization hit him and he gasped, “My God, Tad!”
“Why have I never seen it before?”
Eudora leaned forward excited, “What???”
“He too is a mirror copy of your Mère. You may look like her, but he carries more of her traits than the rest of you, making him more like her than any one of you. Sweet Jesus, in her parting she left herself tucked away inside of ’em.” Antonio’s mouth fell open, and looking to his daughter’s smiling face, he mumbled, “Dora, you are very lucky to have him as a brother.”
“I have always known that. He is the beatingest frère ever.” Then her brow furrowed, making her even more an image of her twin, “If Taddy is so like Mère; well I see why her goin’ to heaven made you so sad. I am sad, I never met her.”
“Thank you, Dora. She would have loved both of you ever so much.”
“But still, there is some of her in all of us. So in a way she is still here.”
Taking her in his arms, he pulled his daughter close feeling his guilt come full circle. ‘I stayed away because it was so painful being here without her. When Gena was here all along, pieces of her spirit tucked away in our children. How did I not detect her?’ He thought, ‘I have failed not only as a Father, but as a husband.’ Kissing the top of Eudora’s head, he swore to himself, ‘By God, I will undo the damage I have wrought. I will do it, Gena, for you and for me.’