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September 27, 2011 / Samuel DiPaola

The Room

Chapter 1

Dream Journal

March 21, 1992

The room had no door, which is not to say that it was missing or off the hinges; it didn’t exist.  All four walls consisted of smooth plaster.  The men who troweled them were truly artists; sculpting flat, smooth, perfection.    Machines may be able to create the same linear precise surfaces, but they would still lack the vision, life, and energy of man.  The walls sang, and the plaster moved continuously, never static, vibrating in syncopation, ebb and flow, to natural rhythms.

The floors were hardwood, oak, stained to a medium red-brown pigment; each strip a fingerprint unto itself; such the beauty of wood grain.  The boards placed side by side made up a grand mosaic or pattern of what seemed to be brain waves, each representing lost memory, permanently etched out for future generations to someday decode and understand.

The chair sat near the center of the room.  There were no other furnishings aside from the three-legged side table to its right.  The chair’s upholstery was solid red, textured in a thick diagonal weave.  The arms were wide and flat; the cushions, thick.

She sat; legs crossed right over left, and stared at me with a frozen intensity.

Moonlight, passing through the only window, reflected off a fluted wine glass, sending star patterns and beams of light splashing to the floor and surrounding walls.  The glass -half-full -sat on the side table, inches from her hand.  A healthy bead of moisture clung to the upper rim, cemented by a small stain of red lipstick.  The slightest vibration should have sent it downward, splashing, but still it sat, looking out over the top edge, clearly observing the empty room, no longer hindered by the carnival mirror distortions of the glass interior.

Who was she, and how did I get myself into this situation?

June 23, 1992

I dreamt last night that I was dead.  But I wasn’t in heaven – I was in a restaurant bar.  There was a man delivering supplies who I knew from years past, but could not recollect his name.  Even the restaurant staff seemed to know me.  One of the waitresses passed by and told me that she was glad to see me – it had been years – she smiled – everyone seemed to be no older than thirty-five.

I sat at the bar holding a gin and tonic.  I knew I had come from work, but couldn’t remember any of the details.  In fact, none of my past memories were retrievable.  Did I have any place to go? No.  I didn’t have to be anywhere, and that was fine.  I was simply content with the surroundings and the familiarity of long-lost friends.

I was wearing a black sports jacket, white shirt, black pants, and my Frey boots.  Everyone else was dressed in similar business casual, evening attire.  The waitress stopped by to tell me that dinner would be served in the dining room whenever I was ready.  I was told to take my time – there was no rush.  The truth was that I was waiting for someone, but I couldn’t remember who it was.  I just knew that I’d recognize her when I saw her – Lola – Yes! It was Lola. But that’s all I could recall at that moment.

The bartender was a woman.  She wore a white shirt, black vest, and black trousers.  She asked me if I needed a refill, and smiled.  I said, no, maybe later.  She nodded and turned to pour a beer from the tap for another customer.  The tap handles were all gold.  Even the mirrors along the back of the bar were gold-backed reflecting a warm inviting glow.  The bar was made of solid mahogany, with a gold rail running along the outside edge.  The beer was dark, with thick, creamy foam, and sweet smelling; as it poured the aroma of fresh gingerbread seemed to fill the room.

“So how long have you been here?”

I turned to my left.  She was sitting next to me, checking her face in a small, gold compact.  When done, she clicked it shut, and placed it inside of a black handbag sitting on the top of the bar in front of her.  The handbag appeared to be made of miniature beaded pearls, weaved into a tight fabric; the clasp resembled gold butterfly wings.

“Lola!” I said.

She smiled a smile that could light up the room and threw her arms around me.  I kissed her and asked, “What would you like to drink?” She said, “A vodka martini, with a bit of lemon peel.”

It was at this point the phone woke me.

End of dream journal

When the phone rang, I was still kissing Lola, and was not pleased by the disruption.  Getting back to where one left off was the hardest part.  I must write it down immediately before the details slip from my memory.  I quickly jotted down a few fast notes, and redialed the caller ID.

My sister had called.  It was to tell me that my grandmother had slipped in the kitchen while making morning coffee and hit her head.  The funeral was going to be in three days.  Until then, they were going to be laying her out in her living room.  She wanted it that way, according to old family tradition.  The problem was that no one wanted to stay in the house to watch over her until the burial.  The dead never seemed to bother me, so I agreed to watch over her and the house until she was ready for her last ride to the cemetery.

When I arrived the next day, friends and family were already lining up outside the house waiting to get in to pay their last respects.  I parked my car along the street, four houses down, took my bag from the trunk, and began walked up the sidewalk.  The neighborhood had been run down significantly since the last time I was there.  A little boy across the street was throwing rocks at the side of a red brick building.  The building had once been a popular neighborhood bar and grill, but had been long abandoned.  The old sign above the front entry was hanging half off as the rock ricocheted, causing it to clang like a gong.  The boy was dirty and barefoot, and stopped to stare at me with a curious intent.  I now realized it wasn’t the dead that my family should be so worried about.

The house had a silver, chain link fence around it.  I opened the latch on the front gate and let myself into the front yard.  I made my way past the line at the front door, and went around the side to the back entrance of the house.  The house did not have a back yard, just a concrete patio that butted up against another fence, behind which led up to the back steps of a Presbyterian church.  I made my way through the back door which led into the kitchen.  My sister was at the oven pulling out a tray of hors d’oeuvres.  She put the tray on the top of the stove, put down the oven mitt and reached out for a hug and kiss.

She said, “Well it’s about time! I was beginning to think you got lost again.”

I was indignant, “That hasn’t happened since I was 17 and I still can’t live it down.”

“Well, you never did have a good internal compass.”

I reached for the tray of hors d’oeuvres and she slapped my hand away, “Those are for the guests, go put your things in the upstairs bedroom, the room on the left.”  She pushed me out the open entryway into the living room, “and hurry back, I need you to fill the ice and get more wine and beer.”

When I walked into the living room, I realized that the house had a fresh, sweet smell to it, one I’ve remembered and loved all these years.  It was old, and lived in, and precious.  I took in the aroma like a breath of fresh air.

My grandmother was laid out in the back parlor.  Both rooms, including the front living room, were already crowded with friends and family.  My Uncle Don walked up to me as soon as I entered the room.  “Dylan, good to see you, although I wish that it were under better circumstances.”   We shook hands, “Good to see you, Uncle Don.  I’ll be back down in a few minutes; I want to put my bag upstairs.”  I walked straight ahead to the hallway, and turned right to go up the stairs.

There were two bedrooms upstairs, one to the right, and one to the left of the landing.  I turned left, entered the room through the open door, and put my bag down on the large queen-size bed, just inside the entry to the left.  A side dresser sat beside the bed, so I took a few minutes to unpack some of my clothes, as well as hang some shirts and trousers in the small, corner closet.  The smell of moth balls filled the air as I opened drawers and doors.

The room had a single window to the right of the closet that looked out over the back church yard.  After hanging my trousers, I walked over to the window and moved the lace curtains aside to peer out.  The scene was quiet and still.  I was about to back away from the window when I noticed that something was sitting on the outside edge of the sill.  I unlocked the window and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge.  Obviously, it had been sealed shut from many years of paint.  Not to be dissuaded, I pulled a small pocket knife from my pocket and proceeded to run it along the inside edges of the frame.  I gave the window a few quick raps with my fist, and it came loose.  The window lifted with a groan and I reached out to pick up the object.  It was an old hypodermic needle.  I shook my head in disbelief and leaned out to see what else I could find.  A second-floor roof overhang ran along the back side of the house, just a couple feet below my window.  I could see that the surface of the roof was littered with more abandoned hypodermics.  I was just about to pull my head inside when I stopped to notice another window to my right.

“What are you doing?”

The question startled me, and I hit my head on the window frame while coming back inside the room.

My sister was standing behind me.  I rubbed my head and said, “Just curious . . . look what I found.” I held up the hypodermic from the sill and said, “This neighborhood should be condemned!” then I turned to close the window behind me.  “Did you know there’s a window to the right of this room?”

She said, “Yeah, but you can’t get to it.  That part of the house was walled off years ago.”

“What?  How strange.  Why would they do that?”  The bedroom I was standing in was connected to a storage room on the wall just opposite the bed.  I walked up to the door and opened it.  The room was full of old furniture, dismantled bed frames and mattresses.  I looked to the left, to where the window should have been, but found only a blank wall.  The room stopped just three feet to the left of the door.  I pulled my head back and closed the storage room door.

“Why would someone wall off part of the house?”  I realized I was still holding the used hypodermic syringe and tossed it in the trash bin on the floor to my right.

“How should I know?” She said, sounding a bit irritated.  “Can you please come on down and help me?  We have a lot of people downstairs.”

 To Be Continued

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