I sat behind a large mahogany desk, tracing my finger over the grain of the wood and the raised patterns adorning its edge. My eyes lazily rolled back almost disappearing into the top of my head.
The ceiling was starting to crack around the terracotta molding, resembling lightning. The cracks seemed to be emitting from the cherubs and peacocks carved at the top of the bookcases.
Damn those French provincial designers, what ugly work they did. The peacocks looked like mutant pigeons and the cherubs resembled Curly from the Three Stooges.
I'll never get used to living in a museum. This was far from the studio apartment I lived in while I was in Chicago.
This is really my wife's house, though she is seldom in it. Taking care of an arthritic husband never became a priority in her life. I have spent many long lonely winters here with the staff.
They are little comfort, my wife had long since whipped them into submission. I don't have many visitors since most of my friends are back in Illinois.
Most nights, I sit around it my robe and slippers, like tonight.
A tree brushed against the window, grabbing my attention. It seemed as if it were trying to claw its way in. It's leaves were just starting to fall.
The moon glowed like a saucer of radium through the skeleton of branches. A full moon for Halloween, how trite. It was not a very inspiring moon, I'm not surprised there has never been a song called "Connecticut Moon". I can't think of a song with "Connecticut" in the title at all.
I leaned back in the high backed leather chair. The black hide crackled with age and the wooden frame creaked against the stuffing and springs. A warm breeze lapped at my face.
Somebody once told me that ghosts often took presence in a room using the form of a pocket of warm air. If it was a ghost, I would do nothing to exorcise it. After all, it was its holiday, not mine.
Another rapping came at the tall picture window.
It was a elderly gentleman in a beige business suit. Surprised, I pulled myself out of the chair and crossed the room. My fingers fumbled with the latch. As it turned, pieces of black paint fell to the floor. After some resistance the window rattled open.
I looked at the man standing in the dormant vegetable garden.
"Yes?" I stammered "Can I help you?"
The lamplight from my library drew long shadows across his rodential features. He was a very little man, about five feet tall, and built like Mr. Salty from the pretzel packages.
He seemed to look through me, "It is awful cold out here."
It was a pathetic sight. Like a puppy in the rain, and he looked just as scared. I reached out my hand, grabbed his tiny wrist, and helped him up the six inches to the window sill.
His gaunt frame folded like a piece of patio furniture as he balanced on the bottom of the sill. He looked like a child as he shook his foot at the floor. I put my arm around his waist to offer more support. The man was warm like a cat, almost feverish.
I asked, "How did you wind up here?"
"I live down the road. By the old church."
His fragile body heaved as he choked out a cough. "I was out for my evening constitutional and lost track of time. Had I not seen your light in the distance I might have slept on the side of the road."
My eyes grew heavy thinking about his pathetic form pressed against a mossy rock. "You could freeze to death."
"I know", was his frosty response.
I didn't know how much of his story was true, but I could sense his peril. His clean suit was ill fitting and probably a handout. He wore a salt and pepper five o'clock shadow which barely covered some pink pimples.
"There is an extra room upstairs, would you like to rest here for the evening?"
I closed the windows and walked back across the room to my desk. As I sat, I gestured at the small chair across the table. "Please have a seat."
My guest toddled over to the chair like a penguin with athlete's flipper and sat down. He silently traced the walls with his intense gaze. His black ball bering eyes slowly rotated in their deep settings.
The skin on his hands and face was bumpy and showed his veins, but it had a healthy glow. I felt jealous.
He was at least twenty five years older than me but could still go out for walks. Getting lost is a small sacrifice for freedom.
"My name is Victor Templeton." I smiled "This is my home." I thoughtlessly stroked by long brown beard and found a crumb, it was probably from lunch.
A few years back I had a nervous episode in a barber shop. A small boy was getting his hair cut.
He was sitting on a padded board balanced over the arms of the barber chair. The child had a smock on, he looked like a head growing out of a small tent. His mother was trying to keep him from crying.
I don't know what happened next. Somebody must have moved or been moved, because just then the barber's scissors slipped piercing the kid's right shoulder. The mother wrapped her child in the bloody smock and ran out the front door, both of them screaming.
I blacked out from fright and have not shaved or cut my hair since. My guest had only a ring of greasy black and white hair around his head.
I smiled at him. "You can call me Vic. What can I call you?"
"My friends call me Murray."
"Well Murray, can I offer you something? Maybe you'd like to use my phone?"
Murray slowly turned to me. For a moment his eyes were trained on me. "No thank you. But a sherry would be nice."
He looked at my bar. The crystal decanter I'd brought back from Mexico sat on top. There was still some "Chateau Rebenneck" sitting in the bottom.
I lifted myself from the chair, my back muscles held me down. I had been a high school varsity runner. Now I was reduced to wrestling with furniture.
I heard the sound that my father used to make whenever he would get up. Only now, it was coming from me. "This is a clever little libation, I picked up in New Orleans."
The small glasses rattled on the brass tray, as I escorted the set to the little table by Murray's chair. I sat in the chair on the opposite side of the table and poured us each a full glass. "The crystal is from Mexico City. They use silver in their crystal instead of lead. I think it makes a nicer spectrum."
As he drank, his wrinkled face smoothed like peanut butter under a knife. I thought if I connected all the liver spots on his face with a pen, he would look like a Jackson Pollack Painting.
He wiped the last drops of sherry from his lips using his thin pink tongue. "Thank you."
His eyes seemed to draw some life from the cocktail. Slowly, he smiled, and for the first time he had an actual expression.
I reached to the phone and picked up the receiver. The asterix activated the intercom. "Peter, please come to the library."
Murray and I sat in silence. The door opened, I turned to see Peter the caretaker of the house standing in the doorway, dressed immaculately in a sweater and slacks.
"This is Murray," I said. "He will be staying in the extra bedroom. Will you please make the bed?"
"Very good sir." he replied.
I turned back to my guest to see that the chair was empty. The glass of sherry that I had just seen him drink, was still full. "Never mind Peter."
Peter obediently replied, "Yes sir." and left me, alone in the room.
I drank the second sherry and stared out the window.
Murray was pleasant company. I hoped that he would come back soon.
Was that him? No it's just the branches again.
©1999 Rev Jay Goldstein