- Inside the Great House
Crazy Old Cassie had been a nun. This much we all knew. The old men said the Archbishop placed her in the convent because she said she had seen the face of God. The old women all said she had seen the face of the Devil. Some joked she had simply seen the other face of the Archbishop Castillo. No one could say with any certainty why she was eventually asked to leave the convent. But everyone knew Old Cassie was to be avoided. And she made it easy on us. She was rarely ever seen away from the house at the bottom of what we called Mutton Hill.
Old Cassie’s real father had been a plantation owner. When he died, he left the land to his son and his son’s family. But none of them lived much longer than a couple of years after the old man died. Accidents, sickness, and malady: that is what lived on that land before Cassie did. And now the only person there was Old Cassie. There wasn’t even another house near that hill. All of the land there, the entire hill, belonged to Cassie and her sister Flora. And Flora had long fled the island, moved somewhere in California. Maria Consuela went over there each morning to drop off milk and groceries, to clean up the house; she was usually gone by noon. She told others she rarely ever saw the old woman. And Derrick, the butcher’s brother, went there twice a week to take care of the lawn and gardens. Only cats came and went regularly besides those two people. Oh, there would be the occasional person who went there to seek help from the old woman, but Maria Consuela and Derrick were the only folks who dared to go there regularly. They had been chosen. They had been, in a sense, summoned. [End Page 489]
People were usually warned not to look up at the house. Occasionally, foreigners would arrive on large boats and ask about the house, ask whether or not it was for sale. But the only response any of us could give was that the house was “unsafe,” at which these wealthy foreigners would look somewhat confused. They wanted to meet the owner. They imagined the owner had to be an Englishman. But this was not the case and hadn’t been the case for many years. There is no one there except Old Cassie. And no one here seeks her out unless they absolutely have to do so. They say if Old Cassie looks you dead in the eye, she will know things about you, about your future. But Miss Simpson jokes that people confuse Cassie and her sister, that it was the sister who could do that. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was we feared Cassie, and Cassie liked it that way. Miss Simpson once told me how many years ago, before Flora left, Cassie had cured a man of gangrene. As he was leaving the house, Flora looked at him and then pronounced that he would soon be wealthy but would then lose it all. The man went to visit a relative in Miami a few weeks later. While he was there, he won the lottery. 65 million dollars. He could have done anything he wanted to do on the island. He could have built a big villa on one of the hillsides, could have owned a fleet of cars. Hell, he could have owned just about everything. But he didn’t come back. Well, not at first. He flew all over the world in private jets, stayed in unbelievable resorts, and ate only the finest foods. He lived the extravagant life; but when he did come back, he was broke. He actually owed money to a few banks. The lesson here? Everything with those sisters comes at a price.
But Flora is long gone, leaving her sister to preside over us. Every morning, when Maria Consuela climbs part way up the hill to the Great House to drop off the groceries and clean up, the morning light, the sun behind...