by Annette Schwindt
Passing by she often had looked at it as it sat inthroned on the small hill in the midst of a wildly growing garden. The wrought-iron wings of the gate to the garden were tightly shut and even if there had been a key found somewhere, they would not have given the way through being so rusty, so overgrown.
The house itself hat three floors and was built of brown bricks that had been laid to a geometric relief under the roof as one can see it often on old factory buildings. In fact there had once been a champagne factory near by that had since been replaced by modern apartment houses growing bigger and bigger.
The remains was only the house on the hill. There was no-one living inside it anymore as far as visible. The wheathered slat-shutters of the windows always remained shut, by day and by night. It seemed to her as if the house was lying in some fairytale sleep that nobody, not even the cranes and the construction noise could disturb. The thought of it risking to be awoken soon caused a hollow melacholy in her everytime she passed by.
She wanted to show it to him. It was a mild early summer evening that brought the first sunrays for days with it. It was a mild early summer evening that brought the first sunrays for days with it. The street was still wet from the previously incessant rain, in the glittering puddles bizzarre cloud-shreds mirrored. Everything glowed in the bright evening sun.
They entered the estate through the construction site surrounding it. “Enter at your own risk”, the wheather-washed plastic sign said. It was hanging on only one wire left at the construction fence, moving silently in the evening wind causing a tender ringing everytime it hit the metal stakes. The loamy soil had got all sodden having turned into a yellow slippery mud that made their feet sink in a bit.
All around new buildings, appartements that were not ready to live in yet. Only on the side that was away from the house they saw curtains in the windows and plants on the balconies. The part of the buildings that almost touched the house was only structurally completed. Naked grey blocks with fluttering plastic awnings.
He was fascinated, too. Together thy crossed the deserted construction site where rubble was spread all over the place. Crumbled bricks, broken roof beams, empty bottles that the workers had probably thrown away, bent wires and rotten plastic buckets. All this half sunken in the silt and doubled by the distorting mirrors of muddy puddles. And as if the wild garden around the house tried to spread, there were weed, thistles and marguerites growing everywhere, more and more the nearer they got to the house.
The excavators had built an artificial hill at the gable side, almost hiding the house. They climbed on the hill finding out that on the front side the regular row of windows continued. Now that they were so close to the house, they could see round ornaments directly under the roof line, stone-eyes that guarded the sleep of the house.
The backside of the house was structured in the same way. But as they slipped down to it, they discovered two ebony-coloured gateways shut tight. On the floors above some window glasses were missing but had been replaced by wooden planks.
There seemed to have been an extension of the building once but the only thing left was a tower with two floors. It didn’t fit with the house not being built with bricks but apparently being older, like a part of some castle that had never been here. The blue-grey plasterwork was interrupted by formerly painted sandstone elements, sills and windows, their colour flaking off so much that they could impossibly identify it. The window curves rested on Corinthian capitals, the sills had cracked in several places having left long fissures in the walls.
The strangest thing about it was that the room on the ground floor had no opening, no stairs on which it would have been possible to access the floor above. Probably this room had been only accessible through the extension that wasn’t there anymore. But going around the tower they couldn’t find a door anywhere.
They turned to the house again and arrived at the other gable side from where they could find a way to the garden. The impression they had had seeing it from the street was confirmed here. Everything was growing wildly so that they had to move throuhgh high grass.
Behind some trees there was a large high pavillon jutting out, all made of wood and in former times probably painted green. Like a Gothic chapel the fine carved walls entwined themselves above, growing together in thin floral ornaments carrying the roof that had already fallen down in parts.
After they had roved through the garden, they returned to the gable side where they had found a stairway into the cellar of the house. The inside of the house was visible from this place because one of the window shutters was splintered. Behind the window there was a heavy red velvet curtain just admitting to get a glance of the high stucco walls of the room.
She was tempted by the stairway to the cellar. As he did not dare to enter the house, they seperated. He went back into the garden in order to examine the pavillon more closely. She stepped down the stairs.
The night sank down slowly. In the diminuating light the garden turned into a djungle, the trees seemed to move, the flowers whispered to him. He didn’t remember how long he had been sitting on the steps to the pavillon dreaming from the old days when there had been a string quartet playing here and ladies in white dresses with big hats and tiny umbrellas had made conversation with mustachioed gentlemen in striped suits sipping on the house-champagne.
He began to ask himself where she was. It had to be dark inside the house already, most of the windows not letting light in at all. He went back to the stairway, went down and tried to open the door. In vain. Hadn’t she entered the house at all? He went around the house but couldn’t find her anywhere. He rattled at the wooden gates on the backside, tried to see her in the tower, but no. Had she been locked in the house? Had a door hooked behind her and now she was looking for another exit? He took some small stones and threw them against the windows calling her name. No answer. He listened carefully, tried to catch some cry for help. But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Finally he quit. It was late at night already and he couldn’t even see his hand in front of his eyes. Perhaps she had just gone away.
When he returned to the construction site and looked back at the house, he thought to see the blinking reflex of two eyes in the upper room of the tower. An owl, he supposed, and went back home.
He slept restlessly that night and awoke bathed in sweat the other morning. A dream of something rattling on his shutters. Had there been a thunderstorm and the wind had caused this noise? He talked about it with his neighbour who said that it had been a calm and starlit night. He tried to call her on the phone but no-one answered.
He wanted to return to the house but as he was about to enter the construction site, the workers told him unequivocally that he was not allowed to do so. So he came back on the street looking up to the house that calmly sat inthroned on the hill as always.
He drove to her appartement, rang, knocked, but nobody opened. He drove back home, asked the neighbour if somebody had asked for him, no, went to the answering machine, nothing.
Apparently he had fallen asleep, it was already dark. Still lying there he groped for the button of his bedside table lamp when he noticed that he wasn’t alone in the room.
She approached him in the dark, took his hand: “Come!”.