The Most Recent Strange Peregrination of F. S. Whinkla
. . . being an honest recollection of events as they occurred on the last leg of his return journey to Kleadrap from Dallas, Texas after wandering several months in and around the Orient.
[My planned planting of peas, even the snow peas, and Fava beans was once again cancelled due to frigid, wet weather. As a result I thought I should take advantage of the forced ennui and transcribe another page or two of Whinkla's Dallas/Kleadrap journal. I also turned the day into what the haiku poets of old Japan might refer to as 'a snow-viewing day', though I wrote only a few feeble haiku to commemorate the event.]
Larry, when I left the house a few hours earlier I remember descending a flight of stone steps. I remembered because of the carved marble lions, but when I went back to fill my water bottles I could not for the life of me find those ‘Lions of Judah’, nor the stairs, instead, I passed a large, harp-like sculpture that reminded me of Barbara Hepworth, and then, almost by accident, discovered steps that went down, down instead of up. And flanking those stairs were two beautiful alabaster urns overflowing with last years nasturtiums and trailing verbena, black and crisp from their winter ordeal. The bas relief carvings covering their sides were as beautiful as anything by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and I could feel, without touching, the twining grape vines, hear panpipes, and the unrestrained laughter of fauns, maenads, a satyr (perhaps Ampelos), and what looked like Bacchus holding aloft a thyrsus. Trapped in stone they danced round and around beneath the gnarled branches of an ancient olive grove. I thought the very presence of the urns an invitation, and at least the stairs would take me into the house. At the bottom of the steps was a wooden door, also carved, but in the poor light I could only determine, with my fingers, that the design seemed abstract. I needed water, and abandoning all hope, slipped inside where I found myself in a marble-floored foyer. A hallway, opposite the doorway, seemed to stretch several times the width or length of the house, as I remembered it from the outside. Tealight candles, held in glass dishes, burned in the foyer and at intervals along the hall, and as I could see they had been recently lit assumed someone must be nearby. I called out, but getting no answer began to walk along the hall, looking for someone who might direct me to the kitchen, or a bathroom. I can hear you thinking Larry, and you’re right, I was rather distressed, but perhaps that’s too strong a word, concerned might be more appropriate, or troubled, but it was disconcerting that the only person I had seen since my arrival had been Mr. Lucien Tu Fu Smith.
I started walking down the hallway and couldn’t help notice the wooden floor was covered with Berber carpets, not the cheap, modern, mass produced abominations but traditional, hand-made rugs, probably from Morocco judging by the colourful designs and the distinctive knotting. Recognizing a good carpet is one of the things I learned from my father at an early age. As the doorways on both sides of the hall seemed alike I finally picked one at random, number seven on the left as I recall, and knocked. There was no answer, which didn't surprise me, so I tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked. On the other side I encountered a narrow spiral of descending wooden stairs, and having few choices decided to continue The stairwell, which made two complete, counter-clockwise circles, was lighted every eight to ten feet with raku-glazed sconces, and I noticed some of them used those new energy saving bulbs which somehow reassured me. At the bottom another short hallway ended in two identical doors. Well, I thought, another choice. I opened the door on the right, hoping it was right, and entered what must have been a library. It was a big room filled from floor to ceiling with wonderful wooden bookcases overflowing with books. The room must have been thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide, and at least fifteen feet in height. There were two groups of five leather-covered chairs, each group surrounding a central table. Several floor lamps, only one of which was turned on, were scattered around the room. The comforting smell of leather, lanolin, and printers ink gave the room an ambiance that was quite welcoming. I walked to the nearest bookshelf on my right and scanned the titles. My god, I thought, I must be dreaming. I ran my nervous hands over what appeared to be complete runs of Paideuma, Deus Loci, Nexus, the D. H. Lawrence Review, Under the Sign of Pisces/Café in Space, the James Joyce Quarterly, and many other literary journals I had only imagined existed in university libraries. Then I found an entire shelf of Goethe, including what looked like the 1829 edition of Essai sur la Métamorphose des Plantes! I didn’t dare touch it. I had bought a reprint of this book when I was fourteen. Suddenly I was in my boyhood bedroom with the book cradles in my hands, dreading my mother’s call to dinner. Then I passed shelf after shelf of modern novels, and more books of poetry than anyone could hope to read. Then an entire section on Astronomy, one on Architecture, then philosophy, and several feet of mythology, Abyssinian to Zaire, then, surprisingly, two or three shelves of erotica and a shelf on boat building. Larry, I don’t think there was a discipline or genre of art or literature not represented. But I was after water and needed to find the kitchen, or a bathroom. And while I was standing, dumfounded in the library, I realized again I had not seen or heard another living thing since entering the house. I considered shouting as loud as I could to see if anyone would respond, but the library forbade it. I moved further into the room along the shelves, trying to ignore the titles reaching out to me, and discovered at the opposite end of the room a door not like others I had passed. This one was less than five feet tall and covered in copper and what might have been silver, or platinum, or, at this point, mithril. I was growing tired, and my thirst had passed the point of being simply an inconvenience. I ducked my head and passed through the door. I wasn’t surprised to be greeted on the other side by another flight of descending stairs, however, these turned in a clockwise direction and were unlit. I felt my way down a dozen or so risers to a stone-lined room lit only by the accidental light that had managed to follow me. There appeared to be only one exit, a door even lower than the one before. I found the doorknob, turned it, ducked, and stepped to the other side. A blaze of light left me stumbling blindly into the room.
To be continued