The lobby remained the grand space that was engraved in my memory. It was mesmerizing how it was exactly as I remembered it, as if all those years that I had been away had been a mere stroll out and around the house and now I was back inside and I would run upstairs to my room to finish the puzzle before it was dinner time. The puzzle with the deer standing in the middle of a forest trail somewhere in winter.
Even the Chinese-like vase that I broke in hundreds of pieces, which my father ordered me to glue back together, a task I enjoyed more than he might have anticipated, was sitting on the same spot, between the same lamp and the same empty cupboard.
The first thing that attracted the attention of a newcomer was how the space seemed to extend upwards without end. The uninterrupted height of three floors created a sense of levitation, a desire to fly. At the back of the lobby a short flight of stairs ascended to a wide landing, continuing into two lateral and longer flights of stairs, both of which led to a balustraded balcony on the second floor. The balcony ran along the back and side walls of the lobby, and one could grip the railing and follow the progression of the people coming and going across the lobby or look up into the large space above. I many times thought of that balcony as a door of sorts. On the center of the right and left walls a long corridor started from the balcony and penetrated into the insides of the house.
Reymond kept clearing his throat, unable to find any right words to utter, it seemed. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again.
“Sorry to keep you there waiting,” he said after a long silence that I hadn’t been in any hurry to break. “Should we go to the library? There’s a fire going on.” He walked towards the library and I followed him.
The collection of paintings in the lobby, hanging from the four walls at different heights, was as numerable as forgettable. Mostly portraits of serious people, bucolic landscapes, animal studies, and bouquets of flowers. Nothing to inspire a searching imagination. There was only one painting that had attracted my interest for years. It had always been next to the library door. It was still on the same location. Painted only with different tones of blue, there was a square and emanating lines coming out from it, and a floating face looking at an indeterminate four-legged creature. Studying it now for a few seconds I thought that it belonged to me and that I should take it with me when I returned to Barcelona.
In the library nothing struck me as out of place or different from how I remembered it. The same book collection seemed to fill the bookshelves. I recognized the familiar knick-knacks on the fireplace mantle shelf. The two armchairs facing the fireplace and the sofa by the window didn’t look like they had been upholstered since the last time I had been in this room.
Reymond stood by the armchair farthest from the door, still and expecting, the perfect depiction of a butler. I could have sat on one of the armchairs and ordered a cup of tea and a piece of cake, and I think he would have run to the kitchen without delay and with a smile on his face. He would have preferred that to what was happening now. Whatever it was that was happening now. I myself felt I was floating on water, unable to proceed as usual.
I stood by the other armchair. I didn’t have any desire to sit down, even though the fireplace was inviting. The fire burned vigorously, with recently placed logs that were heating up, producing crackles and whistles. Any other time I would have loved poking at the abundant cinders under the logs.
I smiled. Reymond didn’t, but that seemed like the right thing for him to do, and I felt appeased.
“How are you doing, Reymond?” I asked, surprising myself with the intonation of my voice. Without it being my intention my question had came out at a slow and condescending pace. Tiredness from my part, I thought, such a long day, so many scenes I had traversed and hues I had analyzed.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m fine.”
I looked down. Sitting on the armchair next to me there was a closed book. Red leather and golden lines along the borders. No title on the cover and the spine was away from me. The bookmark was inserted somewhere in the first third of the book. I picked this book up and read the title on the spine: “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Wonderland,” in golden and blocky letters. A stylized rabbit in profile sat at the bottom of the spine, golden and pressed against the leather.
“Are you reading it?” I asked, showing the book to Reymond.
“Yes.” When I was a kid Reymond told me once that I had to read as many books as I could because it would be good for my brain, but that he himself hated them and was happy never to open any other book again.
“I thought you didn’t like to read.”
“I don’t. But it was the book that your father was reading when he disappeared.”
“I see.” I flicked through the pages, looking for some obvious clue, some easy mystery unfolding right in front of me. “What have you discovered?”
“I have rediscovered that books are a waste of time. It’s just pages and pages about this person I don’t care about.”
“I see. Maybe it will get more interesting.”
“I doubt it. Maybe you can read it instead,” Reymond said.
I browsed through the pages again. There were illustrations every fifty pages or so. Etching, only black ink, not much detail, mostly strong lines for the outlines and much thinner and crossed lines for the shadowing. Only one character in each illustration, always the same, walking through a path, sitting by a window in a library, standing on a hill overlooking a valley.
I put the book down on the armchair, the rabbit looking towards the fire.
“I’m fine, thanks, not my type of thing either.” My father and I had always had very disagreeable opinions and tastes on art, literature; everything, really, down to gardening and food preferences. There was not a chance I would find that book, or almost any other book in his library, of my liking.
“I’ve prepared a room upstairs for you. It may be better if you try to get some sleep. You look tired, maybe it’s better to talk tomorrow.”
“My old room?” I couldn’t remember much about my old room, only the window with the deep sill where I used to sit and observe the garden, the trees and the distant hills.
“No, your old room was vacated soon after your departure,” Reymond said. “Your father had one wall knocked down to join that room with the guest room next to yours, to make that guest room larger, but he decided against that idea after knocking the wall down. Since then we have been using both rooms for storage of this and that. I have prepared the largest of the guest rooms on the top floor. I thought you would like to have the extra space.”
I thanked him for that and my gaze fall again upon the book on the armchair. I could see my father sitting on that armchair and reading that book, possibly without enjoying the whole process.
“You should finish the book, Reymond, and then you can tell me what’s all about for a change.” As a child I started this thing in which I would run around the house to find Reymond as soon as I had finished a book to tell him all the best pieces before I forgot them. Something my father didn’t appreciate. Reymond, however, always seemed to follow my jumbled narration with interest, even interrupting me from time to time to ask for clarifications, especially concerning the relationships between characters.
“That sounds good,” he said. The pile of logs in the fireplace collapsed and a fume of red sparkles attracted my attention for a while. I love to watch fire. Reymond knew that. It must have been the only reason for starting such a decent one in a room that nobody was going to use. Unless Reymond had taken reading more seriously than he had let on.
“What time do you want to be awaken tomorrow?” Reymond asked.
“I’ll leave that to you. People have taken so much control of my life today that I don’t feel I have it in me to make any such big decision.” Reymond didn’t smile. I guess it hadn’t come out sufficiently as a joke.
“Good night,” I added, making it back towards the lobby. At the threshold I turned around and saw the older version of a man I loved with a sincere half smile on his face.
“It’s nice to see you again, Reymond,” I said.
I headed towards my room, leaving Reymond in the library, wondering if he would retrieve the red book, sit down on an armchair, go back to reading the book without any enjoyment. Just like my father would have done. That was a peaceful thought, that a better version of my father would rule the house now. I wouldn’t have any trouble falling asleep with that thought in my head.