I did not know what to do; my family was in a great predicament and my friend had advised me not to think too much about it, yet it was the only thing on my mind; a forgotten acquaintance had invited me to a party, and my friend pressed me to go, though a blizzard came down heavy upon us. I was living overseas and my friend, who happened to live with me, was the only person I knew. So in the end I succumbed to his incessant beckoning, and we left the warm apartment in a rush, barely catching our overcoats.
When we came out it was colder than what I had thought; the icy winter still endured and no trace of spring was to be seen, even though it was early March. So I wrapped myself more closely in my coat and followed him to his car. It was fully covered in snow.
My friend desperately shoved the snow out of the hood and windshield, but it was hopeless. By the time he dispelled the snow from one segment of the car, another became crowded with it. More and more snow kept coming down, making us more and more immobile.
“There’s no use,” I said, almost yelling.
“It’s true,” my friend said, dropping the last bundle of snow he had in his hands. “Let’s take the subway.”
It was an easy ride, slow but secure. There were only a handful of people in the wagon, and most of them kept their gaze down and their words to themselves. All save one lonely man in the corner who had a long, dark beard and a twisting mass of hair that covered his head up to his shoulders. He was bundled up in newspapers and zealously guarded several bags of garbage which lay next to his feet. Once in a while he coughed and banged his fists against the window, but it did not break. He would then gaze down and pronounce unintelligible words which nobody seemed to be concerned about.
“Don’t think about it, anymore, okay?” My friend said once we were walking down the street.
I remained silent and kept on walking. It was a hard thing to breathe. I had to press the collar of my coat against my mouth and nose so that the icy wind wouldn’t fill my lungs.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Must be around nine,” my friend said. He was also wrapped in his overcoat but did not have a hat. The snow kept piling up on top of his head, which he removed, every now and then, with a swift pass of his hand.
Finally we got to the door. It was a strange feeling. We were quite far away, but I had barely noticed the trip.
The door was a large, wooden piece, with doorknobs in the form of a lion and a frame with a serpent pattern. It was an old townhouse, well conserved overall, considering the weather. And we stood there for a while staring at it, having already knocked on it twice. There was a small, circular hole on one side, at about the height of our waists, but we couldn´t figure out its purpose.
“Are you sure it’s nine? It must be later than that,” I said, but before he could respond, someone opened the door.
My acquaintance stood before us. We greeted each other with a warm handshake and I introduced my friend. I smiled and looked warmly at him, shaking my body, trying to make him realize we were standing under the heavy blizzard.
“Oh, God, it’s snowing,” he said as if suddenly realizing the weather. “Come on in.”
We entered and he closed the door behind us. We took off our coats and hung them on the hooks on the wall, which were painted all scarlet. The house was almost entirely made out of wood, except for the floor, which was made out of hard marble and had a checkered pattern that pervaded also on the stairs which stood straight from the entrance and which circled all the way to the second and third floors.
“Can I use the toilet?” My friend suddenly asked.
“Sure, follow the hallway, third door to your right.”
My friend nodded and walked away. I followed him with my sight until he disappeared inside the corridor, at which point I turned and smiled at my host.
“So, how’ve you been?” I said, for some reason feeling unfathomably stupid.
He looked down on me, smiled and tapped me on the shoulder, then he led me in the opposite direction to where my friend had gone.
“Rosa and the others are here, too,” he said. “You remember Rosa, don’t you?”
I might have said yes but the fact is that soon I found myself in a wide, luxurious living room. The hard marble had transformed into a maroon carpet on which there lay, perfectly ordered, the fantastic furniture that completed the room. On the far side, under a glittering frame that revealed a woman draped in fur, there was a red, velvet couch, on which there sat a man, dressed in peculiar formal wear. Next to it there was a cool, black, woman-shaped lamp that emitted a dim, orange light. Further to the right, there was a wide window, facing the street, though the curtains were shut and prevented any light from the outside from coming in. Given the angle by which I had entered the room, the last thing I noticed was the girl—a slim, grey-eyed teen who sat in a comfortable armchair and who wore an elegant night dress. On her lap there was a small greyhound that she stroke slowly and smoothly.
I said hello but I was barely heard; still my acquaintance motioned me to sit on the couch and so we both did. I could hear a soft, soothing music, but as I looked around, I could not guess where it came nor I could pinpoint its exact nature. While I scanned the room, my eyes met the girl’s for a second, but I quickly looked away.
My acquaintance had begun to talk to the well-dressed man, who was reading a magazine. They talked about something or other, but I did not take notice as I was wondering where my friend had gone and where the music was coming from. But as I began to stress my thoughts, the recollection of my family and their terrible situation popped into my head—they had been deceived out of all their possessions and driven to the edge of monstrosity. My father’s flourishing business was doomed and I, his appointed successor, had left for a more glamorous life.
As my thoughts gathered more and more steam, I thought about leaving, bidding farewell to my hosts and run all the way back home, but my friend soon came back, almost rushing into the living room, and sat right next to me, giving me a strong hug that lasted more than what I had expected.
As he sat, I picked up the ongoing conversation, but I was unable to comprehend anything they uttered. They spoke a strange language; the words sounded as shrieks proper of a berserk animal, even though their manners were perfectly social and familiar. From time to time they turned towards me, gave me what I considered to be a condescending smile, and spoke to me in plain words. They asked me about my job and my life, but they quickly returned to their conversation.
My friend, however, seemed perfectly at ease with the situation, and followed their eyes as if he were following a simple game of Ping-Pong. Therefore, knowing myself cast off, I stopped listening and turned my attention towards the girl, who sat lonely with her dog. Her gaze was aimed towards the long, draped curtains but, noticing my gaze, she quickly turned towards and smiled. But her smile was not aimed at me, not at anyone else; instead it hovered across the room as if she had her mind focused on an entirely imagined life.
“You’re Rex’s friend?” She said.
“I believe so,” I answered, still vexed on the way her hands went hither and thither from the animal’s head and back.
“It was a good thing that you came, all things considering,” she said, blinking slowly.
For a second I thought she was talking about my family, but soon I understood she referred to the unmerciful weather that could still be heard coming down strongly.
“It’s been a long time. I hadn’t seen Rex in a long time,” I said, becoming suddenly aware that my hands were uncontrollably rubbing my knees.
“When did you meet?”
“Oh, I’ve known him for a long time,” I said, and tried to remember where I had met him, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember when and where. He was an elusive memory. Once or twice he had come back in a conversation with my family, but always as a side-note. His name I had completely forgotten and the name Rex seemed somewhat unfamiliar.
“And now here you are. I guess you never know what you’ve got in your own house, don’t you?” She said, and laughed strongly.
The laugh reverberated through the room and those that were sitting next to me turned at us. I quickly looked back, as if guilty of something, and noticed that Rex’s friend was missing. I began to wonder where he had gone, but the thought lasted no more than a second, for instantly he appeared next to me, with two cups of wine, one of which he was offering to me. I took it instinctively and drank a sip. I enjoyed its flavor, but couldn’t pronounce what was grape it was, even though when small I had been an outstanding taster, able to identify any smell or flavor.
“So, are others coming?” I asked, more to me than to anyone else.
“In a while; you never know who might come popping in your doorstep,” Rex said. And as he did so, he got up, walked towards Rosa and kissed her on the mouth.
I tried to ignore this, but the act offended me; and as he came back to the couch, I could not help my stern countenance.
“But honestly,” Rex said, as if withholding my threat against him, “I wanted to understand your situation. You are a doctor, as I believe.”
“Lawyer,” I say, glancing back at Rosa who had remained unmoved by Rex’s kiss.
“Basically the same thing, isn’t it?” Rex said and chuckled. “Anyhow, we have a situation. You see, our Rosa here is a wonderful lady, but she is hard to satisfy. She is ill. We need you to see what’s wrong with her.”
Rosa’s dog suddenly detached itself from her and came up to me, sticking his head in between my legs. He was a charming dog, curious and with a loving expression. And I was about to pet him when Rex came rushing to me, yelled out something in that strange language, picked it up and put it back on Rosa’s lap.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said, coming back to me. “As I said, she needs someone to take a look at her.”
“But I’m not a doctor, you see, a lawyer is someone who—”
“She has moments,” Rex interrupted me in a sharp tone. “She has moments when we she gets this feeling as if she were about to fade, as if nothing could keep here standing. We have brought doctor after doctor, but when they sit with her, they are sickened by her illness and rush to the bathroom, wanting to throw up, as if that could free them from her, from that black shapeless mass that surrounds her at times, sort of like a crazed chimp trying to break loose of its bars.”
I slowly turned towards her with an aching feeling that I would look upon a monstrous figure, deformed and abominable, but she remained as she was, a good girl, Rosa, her lose hair falling beautifully down her neck, mixing with the dog’s fur that was healthy and lustrous.
“I don’t see anything wrong with her now, are you sure—”
“He can’t see it! He can’t see it!” And as he said this, his friend picked me up and began searching inside my pockets. I tried to restrain him, but Rex took my arms from behind and held them tight. His friend went through everything and destroyed all that I had in my pockets. And when he was done, they both released me.
I tried to reach my friend, but just then I noticed that he had gone up to the window and had stuck his head in between the curtains, so that all but his head remained on this side.
“You pigs!” I yelled, but my voice sounded utterly ridiculous. “I am not a doctor—have never been. I am a—”
“Look upon her!” Rex cried, and immediately called his friend, who took me by my arms and carried me all the way to Rosa’s armchair. “Look upon her. Heal her. Heal her. And if you don’t” he turned to his friend, “then kill him.”
I was still shocked by the sudden turn of events when I felt her hand touch my shoulder. I looked down on her and for a moment she seemed like the most beautiful thing in the world, genuine and pure, as if incapable of any violence whatsoever.
But suddenly I heard someone get closer to me and whisper, “Please, let me die.” And as I heard this, I noticed her sad, pale face. I peered back to see if no one had heard her, but nobody had. Now she looked decrepit and weak, but she still had her hands running on the dog’s back.
“What are you talking about?” I whispered. “You are a healthy girl, somewhat skinny, but with your whole life ahead of you. Don’t listen to them.”
She straightened herself and picked up her earlier expression. Rex and his friend had left their spot and were now close to my friend, who still had his head stuck inside the curtains. As they caught my eyes, they revealed a huge axe. They showed it to me and began to play with it, swinging it from side to side. Quickly I turned to Rosa and pleaded her to stop them, but she was only focused on her dog.
Ultimately, she appeared to listen to me and put her lips close to my ear. “You know, I have lost all faith in you. You thought you knew what you were doing. You were so secure of what you knew. But if you have such friends as Rex, you should never have abandoned your family. Before you only knew about yourself. Now you know what else is there beside you. And your family is out there, in this icy winter, suffering the frost, while you’re about to be beheaded by the stroke of the axe.”
“You joker! Everything has been an act!” I shrieked upstarting. “My friend tricked me into coming here. And what for? So I could forget my grieving family and watch all of you perform around me?”
Rosa looked at me with a sudden compassion, and said, “That axe is not so bad. It creates a sharp wound around your neck. You could barely hear it if you were lost in the forest.”
“Of course, not bad at all!” I said, mocking her, but the words sounded deadly earnest.
There was a loud bang outside and I turned towards the window, but I had forgotten the curtains were shut and nothing could be seen. My friend was still in the same position, and Rex was now sharpening the axe.
When I came back to Rosa, she had already taken off all her clothes, and lay naked in the armchair. Quickly, I pulled a blanket and covered her, but the dog, becoming suddenly vicious, tore it apart.
“I would love to scratch your brains out,” she said, moistening her lips.
And at that moment the axe was brought down. I could hear the head falling on the other side, but when I looked, my friend’s body remained still in the same immobile position. It was just then that I remembered my family. So I gathered all my remaining strength and unglued myself from Rosa. I rushed towards the door, and attempted to unhook my coat, but it was stuck in the rack, so I left it.
I rushed out the door and ran. I thought about my family, how I, the prodigal son, the pride of my parents, had abandoned them. I knew I couldn’t go back to my apartment, my key was useless now. So I kept running, aware that none of my fellow coworkers would come to my aid. I had been deceived. Once you have ignored the alarm of the night bell—it can never be made good.