The house felt so dead, so washed out by the persistent rain, that I knocked on the door without expecting any response. Who was going to hear my call anyway, being muffled by the noise of the storm around me? I considered my options for getting into the house. I could methodically check the windows from the ground level, hoping to find an unlocked one. I could also inspect the protruding conservatory on the other side of the building, where some small windows always seemed to be left open. I could even climb to the top of the conservatory and try some of the windows on the first floor, although with the rain there was the danger of slipping, falling on the glass ceiling and making a quite dramatic entrance into the house, the glass shards slashing my surface and the blood flowing along the canals between the pieces of the floral mosaics, the roses, the orchids, the irises and the tulips.
Before I decided to leave my cover and start running towards the conservatory, a rusty crack was followed by a scratching crescendo emanating from the hinges, and the door was halfway opened. Filling up most of the threshold an aging man stood with the body of a bear wrapped in a black suit, the bowtie oversized but well-balanced. The composure of a butler but with an overgrown and unkempt beard and an unruly bush of hair.
I didn’t recognize the man at first, but as soon as he talked I remembered his name, Reymond, and all the different facets that I used to like about him, main among them his rare but resonating laughter, his patience and his stubborn optimism. It was mostly the salt-and-pepper beard that had thrown me off. During all the years I spent in the house, from my first memories until I left, I could only remember him brandishing a freshly shaven face, almost like an accessory that complemented the impeccable condition of his suit and shoes. Besides his beard and general scruffiness, his tired expression had also gotten in the way of my memory of him.
“Franz, is that you?” he said. A warm feeling irradiated from my core and I felt the urge to hug him. I could have put my arms around his broad shoulders and let myself cry, release all the tension on a friendly embrace. “Oh Franz, it’s so nice to see you again. We were told that you would come, but I wasn’t sure.” His deep voice was exactly as I remembered it, but he was talking very slowly now, without the convincing and articulated cadence that I used to imagine as a pack of horses galloping out from his mouth and into the air.
“Yes, Reymond, it’s me,” I said, “it’s also nice to see you. It has been a long time.” Now I realized that one of the main things I lost when I left the house was my daily interactions with Reymond. He was what I always thought my father should have been like.
Reymond placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed feebly, without conviction.
“I’m sorry you have to see the house like this,” he said gesturing with his free hand, like it was obvious what he was referring to. “I’m so sorry about everything.”
“What do you need to be sorry about?” I said. “Nothing, I’m sure.”
“I just hope that you were here in happier times. And that you could see your parents.”
My parents. I had totally forgotten about my parents. I couldn’t remember at which point they had slipped out from my mind.
“What happened to them?” I asked.
“Don’t know, Franz, I don’t really know.”
“But are they dead?”
“I personally don’t think so, although if they are alive, where are they?”
“So they’re not dead for sure?”
“Oh no. No,” Reymond said.
“So they simply disappeared? I had kind of been told that they were dead.”
“There’s people that think that they are dead, that seems to be the easiest thing to go with. I think they are still there somewhere, but I cannot imagine where. That said, there’s a war, and people die easily all over the place.”
I stopped myself from asking “what did exactly happen?” because I had the feeling I had already asked that question so many times. Before I could ask something more trivial, Reymond moved to a side and putting his arm around my shoulders dragged me away from the threshold and into the lobby.