Κυριακή, 1 Μαρτίου 2015

THE GRAND ROQUE: THE MEETING


   “Here we are”, the taxi driver told her as he braked in front of a tall gate. She paid him and, as she opened the door, he whispered: “Be careful, kiddo!”
    She stood all alone in a dark block, fenced with huge trees and iron bars that did not let you have a sneak peek inside. A path was traced from the tall, rusted door and she figured that it led to the house. The only light came from a pillar in the corner that had gathered in its bright crown a swarm of hypnotized night insects that flew furiously around it. She straightened her back and took a deep breath. She wrapped the envelope in her suit’s pocket and she was about to look for a bell on the front door, when she saw a shadow coming from the dark path holding a lantern. The figure kept approaching holding keys that rhythmically tinkled. When he reached her, she was able to see clearly an old man with a slow step and weary mood. He brought the lantern to his face to see better under his thick glasses and looked thoroughly at the girl for a few seconds before he started unlocking the gate. It opened with a squeak that tore the silence of the night like thin paper.
   “Come in, Miss Peterson! He’s waiting for you in the garden”, were the only words that came out of that tight-lipped man. He led the way in a stone path that cut a garden with tall trees in two, leaving a dimly lit block at the back that must have been the house. She only saw his hunchback in a dark jacket. She followed him and remained silent leaving the ringing of the keys that he held in his shaky hand give the pace.  She filled in the music of absolute silence by timidly dragging the soles of her flat shoes on the gravel alley. Cypresses, or at least they looked like them, formed a natural corridor up to the two-storey house which was fortunately lighted adequately from within. They went up the stairs that led to the imposing entrance with the black wooden door with the golden knocker. He bent once more to find the keys. He turned and gave her an investigative look before opening. His glasses had slipped to his nose but it didn’t stop him from offering her an enigmatic smile, almost malicious, that made her freeze.
    The hall was minimal with a weary, deep red carpet on the wooden floor and a huge library that covered the whole wall with leather bound books neatly arranged on shelves suffocating from time.  A crystal chandelier scattered light in a corridor with many closed doors and the man hastily disappeared behind one. She assumed that it was the kitchen because sounds of glassware and cupboards opening and closing reached her ears. She approached the library and had a look at the book spines with titles in Latin with that suggested terms of psychiatry and anatomy. She got more confused rather than getting her questions answered. The old man came out in a hurry from the same door holding a serving tray made of stannum with a carafe filled with a transparent liquid and two glasses. His moves were extremely slow because of his age but they hid a precision that could only be conquered by experience. The young lady craved for some kind of reassurance with a smile, but his lips remained tight as if someone had sewed with a needle and thread and condemned them to eternal silence. He made a sign to follow him through the long corridor with the closed doors. She counted about eleven doors on both sides as they walked. The only sound was her low heels on the wooden floor. Her thoughts were thunderous. It looked as if a whisper of danger came out of the cracks and the keyholes. It was too late to step back.
   
She could tell from the open door at the end of the hall that she was about to meet Him. It led to a huge garden. The light from the ornate mental lanterns, that were randomly set as if they had fallen from the night sky, made it look like emerging out of a dark fairy tale. Oversized bushes, colorful flowers that seemed like roses, weeping willows that created shadowy corners with stone benches by their old trunk. The old man slowed down his pace even more to let her admire the unique natural environment and discover Ηim in the landscape. The night chill and humidity made her shiver and regret not having worn that woolen shawl her mother had knitted for her. As she rubbed her hands to get warm, she felt a shadow getting up from the bench in ten step’s distance. A tall, thin figure stood still beneath the weeping willow whose leaves the night air caressed playfully. With every step she felt reality dissolve any kind of illusion shared all these years through letters and chess games with this man. She was there, after his own invitation, and nothing so far seemed like anything she could imagine. Her eyes got used to the light and, as she approached him, she struggled to stay calm and portray his first image. He was tall, upright, he seemed old but in a much better shape than his silent servant. His skin, as much as she could see, seemed transparent, as if a film covered it and hid years, truth and memories. His hair was grey with white brushstrokes that reminded her of clouds before a big storm. He wore a dark suit with a vest and a handkerchief in his lapel in the color of the ocean. He himself had obviously spent some time in front of his mirror that evening. His gaze had just sunk into her and he read her right from the very first chapter. When they were just a handshake apart, the battler put the tray on the bench, turned towards her and with a theatrically discreet bow, headed for the house.
     “I am delighted to meet you, Miss Peterson. Thank you so much for coming tonight”, he said in a trembling voice, revealing his own thrill, and gently kissed her hand. His lips were cold as ice and she shivered. Like a true gentleman, he served her, raising his glass to make a toast.
    
“This is an exceptional distillate that they send me from far away and I keep for special occasions, such as tonight. Let’s drink to our night game, if that is all right with you”, he said in a more determined tone this time. Eliza did the same and tasted a sip. Alcohol burned her palate and, as she was not used to it, she couldn’t hold her cough. She got embarrassed and immediately lowered her gaze.  Mr. E.X. smiled condescendingly.
    “It is a bit strong, but believe me it’s appropriate for a cold night like this. Take it with you, give it another try and follow me to the chessboard”, he said holding her arm as he led her to a small path behind a huge bush. She was about to say something but hesitated. She didn’t feel comfortable. His excessive intimacy was disrupted by his introversion so far and confused her. She followed him in silence and she was angry with herself for not reacting and for letting herself being taken away to hidden paths behind bushes by a man unknown (!) and before finishing her inner monologue she had to firmly grasp his arm in shock.
    Behind the large bush was the chessboard. It was actually a part of the garden with big slabs balancing on the freshly cut grass, playing the roles of squares, and pieces that were her size. They were tall figures whose shadows frightened her. She looked at him as they were getting closer but there was nothing for her to read in his cold eyes. When they got really close, she screamed. The pawns were anthropomorphic and in most of them, as much as she could see with the dim light coming from the back side of the garden, there were female characteristics. The knight had a female torso and a head with long, dark hair, a female centaur.  The rook resembled a curved, female body with stone features. The pawns were in both colors petite, girlish figures that stared at her. Now that she had a closer look at them she could see that, even though they looked still in their positions, they actually were not. She could sense a reciprocating movement of breath, a blink. Oh yes, they were alive!
    “What’s all this? What kind of a sick game do you play?” she asked and was about to run away but couldn’t get her arm free from his tight grasp.

    “Oh, come on Miss Peterson! Don’t be so childish! You have the chance tonight for the most interesting game of your life! I’ll let you have the white pieces. You can start when you‘re ready, he said in a strict way loosening his grip. He had been waiting and planning this night for a decade. There was no way of wasting it. There was no way of letting her go away.
   

1 σχόλιο: