“I’m innocent,” Gillian cries.
Sally and the aunts exchange a look; they don’t know about that.
“In this case,” Gillian adds when she sees their expressions.
“What killed him?” Sally asks the aunts.
“It could have been anything.” Jet shrugs.
“Alcohol,” Kylie proposes. “Years of it.”
“His heart,” Antonia suggests.
Frances announces that they may as well stop this guessing game; they’ll never know what killed him, but they’re still left with a body in the yard, and that is why the aunts have brought along their recipe for getting rid of the many nasty things one can find in a garden—slugs or aphids, the bloody remains of a crow, torn apart by his rivals, or the sort of weeds that are so poisonous it’s impossible to pull them by hand, even when wearing thick leather gloves. The aunts know precisely how much lye to add to the lime, much more than they include when they boil up their black soap, which is especially beneficial to a woman’s skin if she washes with it every night. Bars of the aunts’ soap, wrapped in clear cellophane, can be found in health-food stores in Cambridge and in several specialty shops along Newbury Street, and this has bought not only a new roof for their old house but a state-of-the-art septic system as well.
At home the aunts always use the big cast-iron cauldron, which has been in the kitchen since Maria Owens first built the house, but here Sally’s largest pasta pot will have to do. They’ll have to boil the ingredients for three and a half hours, so even though Kylie is always nervous that someone down at Del Vecchio’s will recognize her voice as the one belonging to the wise-acre who had all those pizzas delivered to Mr. Frye’s house a while back, she phones in and asks for two large pies to be delivered, one with anchovies, for the aunts, the other cheese and mushroom with extra sauce.
The mixture on the back burner starts to bubble, and by the time the delivery boy arrives, the sky has grown stormy and dark, although beneath the thick layers of clouds is a perfect white moon. The delivery boy knocks three times and hopes that Antonia Owens, whom he once sat next to in algebra, will appear. Instead, it’s Aunt Frances who yanks open the door. The cuffs of her sleeves are smoky, from all the lye she’s been measuring, and her eyes are as cold as iron.
“What?” she demands of the boy, who has already clutched the pizzas tightly to his chest simply because of the sight of her.
“Pizza delivery,” he manages to say.
“This is your job?” Frances wants to know. “Delivering food?”
“That’s right,” the boy says. He thinks he can see Antonia in the house; there’s somebody beautiful with red hair, at any rate. Frances is glaring at him. “That’s right, ma’am,” he amends.
Frances reaches into her skirt pocket for her change purse and counts out eighteen dollars and thirty-three cents, which she considers highway robbery.
“Well, if it’s your job, don’t expect a tip,” she tells the boy.
“Hey, Josh,” Antonia calls as she comes to collect the pizzas. She’s wearing an old smock over her black T-shirt and leggings. Her hair has turned to ringlets in all this humidity and her pale skin looks creamy and cool. The delivery boy is unable to speak in her presence, although when he gets back to the restaurant he’ll talk about her for a good hour before the kitchen staff tells him to shut up. Antonia laughs as she closes the door. She’s gotten back some of whatever she’d lost. Attraction, she now understands, is a state of mind.
“Pizza,” Antonia announces, and they all sit down to dinner in spite of the awful smell coming from the aunts’ mixture boiling on the rear burner of the stove. The storm is rattling the windowpanes and the thunder is so near it can shake the ground. One big flash of lightning, and half the neighborhood has lost its electricity; in houses all along the street, people are searching for flashlights and hurricane candles, or just giving up and going to sleep.
“That’s good luck,” Aunt Jet says when their electricity goes as well. “We’ll be the light in the darkness.”
“Find a candle,” Sally suggests.
Kylie gets a candle from the shelf near the sink. When she passes the stove she holds her nose closed with her fingers.
“Boy, does that stink,” she says of the aunts’ mixture.
“It’s supposed to,” Jet says, pleased.
“It always does,” her sister agrees.
Kylie returns and places the candle in the center of the table, then lights it so they can go on with their supper, which is interrupted by the doorbell.