Stanton stood calmly at the zebra crossing, mildly distracted by earlier events of the morning… There was really no need for Nicole to carry on and on about the prolonged domino session with the boys. The losses and wins were coming so fast and steadily with all de exciting ol’ talk and mock insults; and the pork stew that Victor had prepared which the men consumed in the middle of the night, like it was a Saturday afternoon or something, had so buoyed them up physically and mentally that nobody noticed that it was past 3.30 in the morning until fatigue prompted Marvin to ask, “Wait, wha time it is doh?”
After all it was not like I had to be up early the next morning and, even so, we were at Eddie’s house, a place she knew well and often visited, being as she was one of Sherrianne’s (Eddie’s wife) closest friends. “Ummm, it’s probably just her menopause causing inexplicable reactions and unusual emotional behaviour again… hormones.” I mused. Nicole could be sehin else when dem flushes hit she and logic run out de room like if it frighten fa she mout. And lately she had been complaining about palpitations of her heart. Fifty one seemed early for menopause but what did I know of such woman tings? I nevah, evah hear my mudda, gran’ muddah or great aunt mention dah word yet… but, come to think of it, I do recall how ol’ Mrs. Codrington (well, she seemed old back then when I was almost a teenager but she cud be ‘roun’ Nicole’s age or mussee lil older) did suddenly fall in love wid a young black fella and was traipsing up an’ down wid he every Sarduh evening, gine to the movies an ting widout a care in de worl’. She wud lef’ ol Codgy home at the small plantation house where we used to go and get cane juice in de yard… an’ Indian corn roun’ Christmas time, as he used to grind all dah. All two o’ dem was only one step away from white, wid two beautiful daughters wid ‘good hair’ in duh early twenties; and nuhbody din’ do dah sorta ting back den ahtall.
I tell ya! Mrs. Codrington buy designer clothes fa dah young fella, an’ dress he up and din care if Good Friday did come pon a Wednesday when de Sarduh evening come. She huggin he up and kissin he all pon de road like a lil teenager dat ain got nuh shame. Boy, she was de talk o’ de town all bout Black Rock, hear.
Looking back now, I say, “She mussee was gine through de same t’ing?” I hope Nicole doan even consider doing neffin so coz, coz I ain even know what tuh tink bout dah dey so.
All de same, it’s funny how nuhbody doan ever warn you about menopause or hysterectomies and fribroids and all dem sorta woman tings before dum happen!” Come to think of it, dum doan prepare ya for the twists and turns of female behaviour before you get married, period. All duh evah tell me was that Mignon cudn’t cook ta save she life but she cud bake real good an’ I woulda got to eat cake fa de res’ o’ my life. Dah was de big joke at de wedding; an she an all she sisters had a good time laffin at me, Joey Proverbs; but I didn’t mind all the jocular hilarity at my cost as I had been a bachelor for many years previous to getting married at 28 years of age, and was perfectly willing to do the cooking wherever and whenever my glowing new bride couldn’t. Um din work out so, but dah is aneddah story altogeddah.
Now I am barely aware of the snatches of conversations of those standing with me at the crossing – a fat, fancy old lady with her hair shortish, grey and hand plaited, high-waisted and roly-poly; and an upright, even older man, brown as a mahogany pod in complexion and standing quietly with the poise of having lived a contented life and being in fairly good health still… a mysterious smile is brightens his face. He carries a brown and black Naugahyde bag, slightly worn with usage. He seems preoccupied with his thoughts. Suddenly, the light changes and we all move as one to cross the street. I rush ahead of the older folk, progress for a bit and enter a tree-lined avenue with no name sign, and continue onward for a while. From there I cross over to what appears to be a prominent realtor’s notice board erected on a front lawn. As soon as I arrive on the other side of the avenue I fully make out the ‘For Rent’ sign through some flowering orange and purple shrubbery at a house obliquely opposite to where I had crossed the street. It is quiet, attractive and painstakingly gardened with the lawn out front finely manicured.
I quicken my step as I approach the entrance. An almost imperceptible frisson of excitement vibrates within me. There, just inside the door to meet me even as I knock, is a tall, remarkably slender man with hair greying at the sides above his ears and a huge affable smile under almond shaped eyes and a clipped moustache which almost causes me to miss his outstretched handshake. I reach out and feel a strong, crisp grip on my fingers.
“Good morning, Mr. Proverbs, Pierre, Pierre Adams, glad to see that you’re early! I like it when a man is on time. You know, I was telling a friend, only just this morning, how much I like it when people arrive on time for an appointment… I once had a guy arrive for a viewing half an hour later than agreed to and he never even apologised… a misunderstanding on both our parts, I suppose, of course; I said to myself, ‘yes, I do prefer a man who arrives on time. A man who arrives on time fills me with gladness and makes it so much easier to have a proper transaction, you know. I like a proper transaction, my ducks in order and all that… Don’t you, Mr. Proverbs?’ But I’m talking too much, aren’t It? Come in, come in; come in and see the place. His formal but open and easy manner leaves me slightly off-balanced, if not a little dizzy.
As I walk in I notice, almost immediately that the place appears to be more spacious than it did from the exterior… and much grander. I am wondering if I can afford it after all. But the advertising did say that the property rental was negotiable. In my head I am prepping myself for a successful negotiation following a stategy as I was taught at a seminar a few years earlier.
And so I think it best to restrain myself and listen as I look around. Pierre is still talking apace; but by now I am becoming so enthralled by my surroundings that I hardly hear a word of his on-going spiel. Then I catch, out of the corner of my hearing, something that sounds like, “One dollar offer… the owner is very well off and really picks whom he wants to be his tenants. He leaves it up to me to analyse and make a decision.” I assume that I have misheard Pierre in my preoccupation with the interior of the house and its surprising character and dimensions. The transformation seems almost, well unnatural.
“One dollar, in what currency…?” I hear myself asking and feel silly immediately. My voice sounds odd somehow, as if my own hearing has become more acute, echoing slightly from some inner chamber, and there seems to be a new sharpness to my vocal chords. The whole atmosphere seems electrically charged and spirited.
It was then that I look more penetratingly around and start taking note of my environment. The height of the ceiling where I stand slopes upward to a good eighteen feet above me, or maybe twenty? For a brief moment I feel a sharp disconnect between this thrilling interior and what I had envisioned before entering the space based on its external aspect. It seems to flee immediately from my mind as I realise that there is the most amazing aroma permeating the house. It strikes me as of organic origin, and yet an admixture of exotic, organic spices and florals unlike anything I have previously experienced – Perhaps a mixture of Patchouli, Ylang Ylang and…? Just as I am about to ask the lingering question Pierre’s rising voice interrupts my musing.
“You will meet him soon enough. He is extremely busy with all his ventures and investments and associates and such; and it takes him far and wide, practically all over the world. His work is literally never done. But for him it is a labour of love.” Pierre seem to be presupposing that I will take the property and I feel myself leaning more and more towards that position myself. But, of course, there is Nicole to consider.
There is much here that I have never, ever seen, indeed have no knowledge of: In the middle of the room into which Charles leads me there is an orb-shaped (I later discover) amber vessel festooned with butterflies with various intensities of light shining through them. It is from here that the fulsome aroma emanates. I still don’t know it yet but the vase is Daum – leaded Crystal, and Pierre is only now warming to his descriptive commentary of this mystifying rental.
“This is a semi-modern styled living room, quite spacious with a winding staircase leading upstairs featuring a glass-panelled stair rail. Of course the bedrooms are nested upstairs, all with their own individual en-suites, but we shall get to them later. Over to your right is a reasonably ornate gold leaf mirror, Rocaille & Company, yes, as the focal point of the room, a suitable accent, won’t you say? And the walls are covered with sisal straw matting as a foil against the extant colouring… The rug, you ask? Agra, of course! Do you like it so far, Mr. Proverbs? I know it will be perfectly suitable to your taste and needs”. My knees feel a bit weak as I hear myself mumble, “It’s unbelievable really.” As I look down to the floor there is a large rectangle of intricately woven repeated abstract flower motifs on the black background of a fabric I have not encountered before either. I instinctively kneel down to rub my hands on it, almost affectionately. I feel an urge to lay on it. It is smooth and silky to the touch of my fingertips. I feel as if I have entered a completely different realm from that which I had witnessed outside, and have by now almost completely forgotten. “I’m sure you will be enthralled by the dining room, Mr. Proverbs, this way, this way, follow me, please.”
“This room is not overly grand, but more like open and comfortable, although spacious nevertheless, hopefully suitable to your preference, Mr. Proverbs.” He bows slightly and sharply, and I notice he is balding tendentiously at the back of his skull as he turns. I follow him entranced. “It’s the heart of the house really”, he rambles on, “There are sash windows with frames painted in an eggshell blue to complement the hint of deeper blue in the walls and repeat the framing, pediment and wainscoting… There are brass details and bleached mahogany panelling on the walls to intermittently break the monotony of painted surfaces.” Bleached mahogany, wha is dah? “Generally the look is eclectic, yes, I would say, eclectic in a most modern yet tasteful manner. I expected you would like it, Mr. Proverbs.” An alabaster trio of lamps hover above the pale finely hand-polished extendable table top casting the softest shade of lilac onto its surface and adding greater depth to its inner sheen. The accompanying chairs are of a bentwood variety of lightly buttoned upholstered pieces which aptly complement the significant table with a patina of a similar lilac. I hardly notice the accent pieces strewn deftly around the room. The robotic nodding of my head is as much surprised stupefaction as affirmation. He seems not to notice. “I love when a house brings joy to the heart. Don’t you, Mr. Proverbs – a marriage of the aesthetic and the unexpected gives me great joy, it does.” He smiles warmly as if my being overwhelmed is the most normal thing in his world.
I am fully caught up now in his descriptive perorations like a small child snared in an enthralling tale detailed by a gifted griot. He continues, “The kitchen, of course, the kitchen. I’m sure it will become your favourite place to entertain the guests. The mood is inviting, earthy and yet relaxed – the engine of the house really, but oh so artfully inventive in its design ergonomics. The fixtures are of the finest function and aesthetic… Smeg, Smeg of course. And the plumbing, oh the plumbing! – All in all it’s a fine marriage of elegance and state-of-arts ingenuity, if I may say so.”
He almost giggles with delight. “Let me get this. I must get this, excuse me please.” As he speaks he pauses to answer a call on his phone casually moving away from where we stand. I discreetly step away and busy myself with the wooden sculpture and metal carvings that punctuate the spaces within the lit shelving of the armoire. As he returns I at last find an opportunity to speak: “This is way beyond anything I am expecting, and you say the owner chooses who will live on his properties and for a mere dollar?” “Just to make it binding, just for the legalities”, he responds. “I am bewildered, but I will certainly have to discuss it with my wife Nicole.” I find myself mumbling.
A twinkling ray of knowingness fills his eyes as he enthusiastically gushes, “Would you believe the dear lady is here, just outside the door actually. A small ripple of laughter escapes his lips. “Nicole? What, here? Where, why, how…?” Words elude me as she walks boldly into the room, seemingly more radiant than I have ever seen her before, “I thought you might need me to get you through all of this. I will tell you all about it in good time.” she says laughingly, perfectly… like when we were much younger and about to relish some new adventure. She adds a distinctive flooding of illumination to the room.
I am quite a bit ahead of the older folk as we cross the street when I hear the roaring sound of a powerful engine. On the periphery of my vision I see the approaching truck and realise it is large, looming, and not slowing down. As the engine grows louder, menacingly closer I mentally hear myself simplistically saying, “So this is how you die in an accident… then the loud crash as it impacts me full on. I am helpless to do anything about it. I feel as though a large hand cradles me as I float obliviously, peacefully, into unconsciousness.
Sat in the marvellously accoutred rental where we have lived for some time now. as we relax on what is our own teal blue, overstuffed sofa, soothing music wafting through the room, and surrounded by all manner of glorious aromas Nicole explains to me, repeating with her full blooded laughter for the umpteenth time, that within the hour after I left home, she felt a searing blade of pain envelop her left arm and make its way into her shoulder. At first fear grips her causing her heart to race and blood pressure to soar. Then she realises almost calmly, detachedly, that she is undergoing a significant heart attack as she succumbs to its numbing of mind and body… She slips limply to the floor as a small beam of light increases in the far distance revealing what appears to be a mansion. A smile diffuses her visage as she recognises me through curtained sash windows in conversation with an erectly standing stranger. She walks boldly across a finely manicured lawn, bordered by splendidly-coloured shrubbery to meet me.