This is the way to step inside. The house he lived in with four roommates, ensconced in various room in the old rambling Victorian loomed atop the hill, set slightly above the mid-century modern next door already in decline below. Frank looked out the window of his bedroom, staring at the swimming pool at the neighbors’ house below. The pool was covered with a dark blue tarp, decorated with the season’s leaves.
It was doubtful this would be used again; the neighbors aged rapidly. The husband, a retired professor, recently had a stroke. The night the ambulance was called its orange lights filled his room when it arrived to take the professor to the city hospital.
He read the details in the university newspaper the following Monday.
Ever since, he never saw either out on the patio. They shuttered within their modern, with its sharp angles and rectangle windows, the old tiki torches unlit. No university cocktail parties or family get-togethers. Just silent, reaching a crescendo of quiet except for the stirring of autumn leaves falling on the swimming pool tarp.
His roommates began referring to the neighbors’ home as the Night House. Frank first heard the phrase three months ago, and he nodded, finding it poetic. Wanted to write about it, thinking of how to frame the mystery of a couple now seemingly trapped inside.
As he stood at the window, learning his hands against the glass frame, Frank felt an empathic sympathy for the couple living below. The only visitors were a day nurse who arrived shortly after dawn, leaving at sundown and a weekly delivery from the supermarket. He knew this because he happened to watch enough to assume the rhythm, and Frank paid attention to detail. It was his way—Frank did not like surprises, taking comfort in assumed generalities.
Life was at a young age for him, and he lived it by the slow movement of the clock. He was decades away from his neighbors, where time moves fast now, reaching to the point where they cannot hold back those hands of time, and now, sadly, they cannot hold back the movement of the hands, ticking until they stop in sudden silence.
Running, running goes the clock. When it stops, what then?
Frank woke up to the sound of a party outside. He went to the window, and was shocked to see the tiki torches lit, and the pool, with the tarp off, the water shimmering in the lights.
He had to check it out. He wandered through the hall, down the stairs and walked the short distance to the curve that angled down to the house below.
At the entrance stood a tall man in a dark green suit, holding a tumbler glass, smoking a cigarette, talking with a man wearing a goatee and horned rim glasses. They looked hip, but out of time.
He tried to listen to the conversation. They were discussing French colonial issues, something that Frank knew nothing about, regarding a place called Brazzaville.
They ignored him as Frank passed by and stepped to the double front door.
The doors opened to a long gallery with windows lit by the torches in each window, lending an eerie dancing light that shifted unnaturally with the movement of the flames.
In the center stood the old professor and his wife. They were younger; the man was no older than his thirties, wearing a charcoal suit. His wife was resplendent in a silver lame, scoop neck dress. She smiled gracefully, nodding as she fingered a silver brooch before sliding her hand to the sides.
“Why don’t you join us?” he said. “We know you’ve been dying to visit.”
“I’m not too sure,” Frank replied.
“Ah yes, the Night House. We understand,” the professor said.
He pointed to the ceiling. “We can hear your talking from above.”
“Sorry for the trouble, sir.”
“No trouble at all,” he said. “Your words remind us of life. Life is after all is for the living. A conversation, an exchange of ideas from the banal to the vital; it’s a stream that reminds us all of our human existence.”
“You’re at the university. I’m guessing Philosophy,” he said.
“I was. Changed to undecided for this year. I have until the end of the semester to decide, though.”
“Try literature. I can tell you are a budding writer.”
“You chose to come here.”
Frank began to back away towards the door.
The professor’s wife noticed, nodding. “We understand, but we are glad you stopped by to visit.”
His last words to Frank were when he gestured to his wife, and said, “Lonely, alone I go. Divine, to the divinity. You should look that poet up: an English decadent by the name of Lionel Johnson, and a sadly neglected soul. Maybe you can help keep his name alive by reading him. I tried. Failed.”
“Do take care, and thank you, again,” said the wife.
When he awoke, Frank went to the window. He saw the conclusion to the story of the Night House.
As he watched the black station wagon from the county coroner’s office take away two bodies, Frank understood that when the flow of time begins to hasten, he better have lived a good life, with some small degree of fulfillment.
Months later, Frank attended the estate sale. He came away with several of Dr. Hathaway’s suits, and some of his books, including the Poetical Works of Lionel Johnson.
Before he left, he saw the brooch at the auction table. He touched it. The stone was emerald, and felt warm.
Mike Lee is an editor, photographer, and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Alexandria Quarterly and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for the photography website Focus on the Story.