Waiting Canals – 9

From the basement level, a labyrinth that contained the kitchen and the other service rooms, a flight of stairs ascended directly to a columned lobby. Only a few worn steps separated the plain and bare walls, and the cheap, functional furniture of downstairs, from the extravagance and elegant details of that lobby. Walters first noticed the surrounding, suffocating light entering from the large expansions of glass on both the ceiling and the four walls, then the touches of green throughout, and the sparkles from the polished silver, finally once again that feeling of uneasiness creeping up his back, his neck, and then exploding in his head, that uneasiness that kept coming and leaving through him, only a few seconds at a time, a scurrying creature entering him, heating him, but then sliding away.

The old servant and Jameson, shoulder to shoulder, crossed the lobby without titillation, almost speeding up their pace, their hard soles hitting the marbled floor with a martial rhythm. Walters was impressed by those large panelled windows inviting the sun without restrain, shining on the oriental vases around the walls, the metallic fixtures, and a trophy cabinet filled with silver and gold. At one extreme of the lobby an elongated tapestry hung from the wall, and Walters had only three seconds to inspect it before he followed the two men into a corridor. There were birds flying around a naked woman, a cross formed by roses, and a blue eye on the top, all of it in darken, fading colors. ‘Why an eye?’ Walters wondered, the lobby already behind him, now following Jameson and the old servant along the corridor, where a long succession of portraits were meticulously aligned on one wall, all of those white men in dark clothes, over dark backgrounds, looking through the oversized windows on the other side of the corridor, sheets of glass from floor to ceiling, only partly covered by thick, red-satin curtains. That uneasiness again, but soon gone when Walters remembered ‘Why an eye?’ He was convinced he used to know, the answer was somewhere at the front of his mind, he could almost reach it and comprehend it, but it remained blurred and hidden behind a screen.

“He will meet us in the courtyard in a few minutes,” the old servant said to Jameson as they kept walking. The movement of the old servant, with his head protruding strangely forward and his body swinging sideways around his waist, reminded Walters of a pelican. A pelican somewhere on a beach. Wobbly most of the time, magnificent when standing on one of the poles in the deck over the beach, looking at the horizon, its feet large and elastic. The traces of bourbon on the sides of his tongue. Long feathers sticking out from the neck of the pelican. A thunderous sky, but beautiful clouds. Her hair escaping from under and over the pineapple bandana. The pelican, maybe its name was Roundy, on the center of the deck among all of them sitting on folding chairs and holding full glasses of bourbon, its eyes prospecting its audience, and that woman threw a piece of raw fish into the air and before the piece started its descent it disappeared and the pelican shook its head and danced on the spot, glancing at those humans, their hands, which one of them would contain the next morsel, usually the woman.

At the end of the corridor there were four pairs of French doors, flowers and leafy motifs carved on the glass panels. The old servant opened one of the doors and waited until Jameson and Walters went through it.

Outdoors again, a few stoned stairs led to a ridiculously monumental, square courtyard, the centerpiece for social events. Two sides of the courtyard were walled by the two wings of the main building. A third side was lined with arches overlaid with ivy beyond which there was a geometrical garden. The fourth side, opposite to the stairs that the three men were now descending, was delimited in all its length by a canal. Another mansion, built with pink stone, stood at the other side of that canal. Several generations of reeds had populated the far side of the canal and covered the first two meters of the pink wall, as if the canal were trying to escape its confinement and climb to the top of the building and over the city.

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