[Original Novella] The Lonely Road, Part 7
This is Hell, surely? But then, why do I feel as if it's also home? There has never been such a natural fit for someone of my disposition. No matter how many accept me into their lives, fundamentally I still feel like I am on the outside of that world, looking in.
There is such safety and comfort in that conspiratorial feeling of existing in the world, but not participating. Like a silent observer, documenting what I see but never becoming too involved.
When night falls, I feel as if I am backstage of the world, moving discreetly through it’s service access corridors to better perform my work.
Part of me longs for a return to sunshine, bright colors and happy faces. But within my heart, there is also a nameless conviction that none of those things were ever meant for me. That my part to play is the lonely ghost who moves from shadow to shadow, at once in the world and separate from it, with the Moon as his only companion.
My internal explorations were interrupted when, as I came upon a large puddle, I saw something reflected in it. Something just ahead of me. I lifted my gaze slowly, disbelieving. Worried, I suppose, that it might prove to be a cruel mirage like the gas station.
Instead, it proved to be a lantern. One at first, but then a second was revealed behind it as I drew closer. The two lanterns hung to either side of a wrought iron gate, inset in a filthy brick wall...with an address number to one side.
There are plenty of private residences out here, but typically clustered together. What’s this one doing by its lonesome? One of the digits of the address hung loose from the placard, askew compared to the others.
Might be derelict. That would make life easier for me. If anybody’s home, I don’t imagine they’ll appreciate my trespassing. On the other hand, it’s an emergency and I couldn’t see any “no trespassing” signs. Perhaps they’re the legalistic type and will let me off on a technicality.
That’s assuming I don’t get my ass blown off by some sort of mountain man with a sawed off in one hand and a jug of moonshine in the other. The house which became more and more clearly visible as I drew near, as if slowly rising to the surface of a murky pond, did not look like the dwelling of a country bumpkin.
It also didn’t look abandoned, as all the windows were intact...but nor did it look especially well maintained. Still, whoever lives here must be loaded. I counted three stories, plus an attic window. I passed through an elaborate landscaped garden on my way to the porch, full of wilted flowers and scraggly weeds.
The porch was, by itself, larger than my apartment. Who would buy a house like this and let it fall into such disrepair? I tried the doorbell but it made no discernible noise. Next I tried the knocker, cast from brass in the shape of a lunar crescent.
Still no reply. I’d seen no cars in the driveway. Could they be out? Might this be an infrequently used vacation home? Or worse, a safehouse for dangerous people. Human traffickers, the mob, members of a cartel. Probably just my imagination running wild, I convinced myself as I jiggled the doorknob.
To my surprise, it was unlocked. I scanned the inside rim of the portion of roof overhanging the porch, searching for security cameras. Spotting none and reasoning it would be easier to ask forgiveness than permission in a situation like this, I let myself inside.
The interior was dark, but clean. No dust, no cobwebs. Somebody must visit to vacuum, dust, mop and so forth. I passed a staircase with a gnarled, natural looking bannister made from what had been carved to resemble a single contiguous piece of driftwood.
A stately looking grandfather clock stood against a nearby wall...still ticking. Somebody must come by to wind it, then. Yet the hour hand rested on seven, contradicting my phone. The minute hand moved freely, but even after making a full rotation, the hour hand stayed put.
I poked around in the kitchen, finding no telephone, before continuing to search in the living room. The furniture was old fashioned but in remarkably good shape. Professionally restored antiques if I had to guess. The throw pillows bore embroidered crescents.
Everything looked posh and unexpectedly maintained for what seemed to be an abandoned property. If not, the owner would understandably assume they were being robbed, should they discover me snooping around in the dark.
That realization heightened my anxiety as I headed up the stairs. Seven black and white portraits spaced evenly along the wall of the stairwell depicted a married couple. Their smiles appeared subtly strained. Probably just because photographs in those days took hours, during which time the subjects had to remain uncomfortably still.
But another interpretation occurred to me as I studied their features. I could not help but weave my own narrative. I mean, look at this place! I couldn’t fathom the things he must have done to make such a fortune. Feathering the nest in hopes of romantic fulfillment.
After all that back breaking work, just to accumulate the physique, possessions and portfolio necessary to warrant a second look from the woman in the photo, I couldn’t imagine he was totally happy with the situation. “Why did I need all this?” He seemed to be thinking. “Wasn’t I good enough before?”
Of course, the process of self improvement necessary to achieve so much by that age was in many respects its own reward. But if my hunch was right, he’d done it defensively, following the string of painful rejections common to the youth of all but the most beautiful men.
Don’t get sad, they say. Get buff. Get rich. Get nice wheels. Nobody wants a man with “potential”. They want one who has already arrived. And since women are the choosers, they can narrow their search to only the men who already satisfy their criteria. There is no room for negotiation, then. No room for patience, nor compromise.
How is a man meant to emerge from this brutal cycle of rejection and defensive self improvement without feeling at least some small shred of resentment, even after he succeeds? Having painstakingly reforged himself into what women are after, just so he can compete effectively for the attention of women who earn less and weigh more?
How do you love somebody unreservedly, when you weren’t good enough for them as you were? When you’re not even on their radar until you exceed them by every metric? As overvalued and artificially scarce as the diamonds they expect in their wedding rings.
The poor bastard! All of this, a lifetime of labors, so he could just barely snag his equal. Had the photograph been in color, there was no doubt in my mind that stress would’ve turned more than a few of his hairs grey. What did they use to treat stress induced ulcers back then? Cocaine, probably. They both looked like they could use some.
Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into the facial expressions of the strangers in this photograph. I’ve been known to project now and again. Continuing up the stairs, I came upon the master bedroom. It was taken up largely by a vanity mirror and collection of seven wire frame upper body mannequins adorned with frilly, antiquated garments.
There was just no space left for the husband’s things, so they were tucked here and there among the beauty related equipment wherever they would fit. So inextricably entangled, it would be a nightmare to divide it if the two had ever divorced.
Then again, divorce laws were different back then. Not coincidentally, divorce was also much less common. The way those laws have changed since then are one of the biggest reasons that marriage terrifies me.
When I revealed this to Diane, she told me it was a “toxic opinion” which seems to translate to anything that irritates women. However she also said I was assuming any marriage I entered into was doomed to failure, which would only ensure that outcome due to the lack of trust. An observation which only wounded me because it rang true.
What am I so afraid of divorce for, anyway? I scolded myself in Diane’s place. What would any woman hope to gain, materially, from divorcing me? I am hardly a wealthy man. On the other hand, because I have so few assets, I couldn’t survive losing half of them for any reason. Is my fear really not justified?
On the dresser sat another photo of the married couple. They sat in a gazebo, surrounded by a garden I recognized as the one I’d passed through on my way to the front door. I didn’t remember seeing any gazebo out there however, must’ve burnt down or something.
Stay Tuned for Part 8!