Saturday, June 11, 2016

a visit

by emily de villaincourt

illustrations by danny delacroix

the doorbell rang.

“that must be semiramis and her mother,” said ms barker.

she got up and went through the drawing room to the front hall and opened the door.

“good afternoon,” the woman at the door said, “you must be ms barker.”

“indeed, i am. and you must be ms waters-lee. and this must be semiramis.”

semiramis was a naturally polite child, besides being well brought up, and she stepped right up and smiled and made eye contact with mrs rogers. “i am indeed semiramis and i am pleased to meet you.”

“come in, come in,” ms barker said. “before it starts to rain.” the sky behind the two visitors was cloudy, and a few leaves and even a piece of paper were blowing down the street.

“this is hecate,” ms barker announced as she ushered the guests into the drawing room.

hecate, who was as well brought up as semiramis, was already standing up and smiled and offered her hand to the visitors.

“i know you two will get along wonderfully together,” ms barker told the two girls.

ms barker and ms waters-lee went off together, to the seminar on cultural cross-pollination that they were co-chairpersons of.

semiramis and hecate stared at each other. semiramis had taken a seat on an old-fashioned divan colored a deep royal blue. when she had leaned back she had almost been swallowed up by the soft cushions, so she quickly sat up straight.

hecate, meanwhile, had reseated herself on a gold-embroidered high-backed armchair.

a glass coffee table lay between them, on which sat a small laptop computer and a few old-fashioned school composition books and some pencils.

“are we alone?” semiramis asked.

“oh no!” hecate exclaimed. “my old governess is up in her room, watching documentaries, which is something of a ritual with her at this time of day. and my physician is here of course, and so is my personal trainer, who has chosen to stay in tonight even though it is one of her nights off. and there are security personnel in the basement and on the top floor.”

“of course,” semiramis replied. “i do not know why i asked. it must be that - i felt a strange silence. something - oh, i don’t what i felt.”

“that is quite all right - i often feel that way myself in this curious old building, which is many centuries old. “

“is it haunted?” semiramis asked.

“ha, ha!” hecate responded. “it is funny that you should ask, because the building does in fact have a reputation for unexplained phenomena.” she pointed to the laptop and the composition books. “in fact, i have been using it as one of the starting points for a book i am writing about the fractal exposition of the human brain since the time of aristotle.”

“that sounds very interesting,” semiramis replied. “i, too, am writing a couple of books. one of them is of such a deeply personal nature that i would prefer not to go into detail. the other is a novel about a shamaness in the six dynasties period of chinese history, and the poet tao yuanming.”

“i would love to read it,” hecate said. “but, here i am being a bad hostess. would you like some lemonade? or some cookies?”

“thank you, that would be very nice. do you mind if i ask you a sort of personal question?”

“um - go ahead.”

“the security personnel here - do you get along well with them?”

“why, of course! we have equality hall here, we are all great chums.”

semiramis hesitated. “the reason i ask, i heard of a rather unpleasant incident in a building on the west side, involving security people.”

“but that is terrible. you must tell me all about it, if you would care to.”

“i think i would rather talk about something more pleasant, if it is all the same to you.”

“certainly, if that is your wish. but here, let me get those cookies and that lemonade.”

hecate returned with the refreshments, and the evening passed pleasantly. they both described their literary and other projects, and had a lively discussion of the world political situation, seen mostly in inverse-aesthetic terms.

nothing more was said about the unpleasant incident on the west side.

eventually ms barker and ms waters-lee returned.

“good-bye, semiramis," said hecate. "i had a lovely and most informative time, and i do hope we can renew our acquaintance before too much time passes.”

“and i feel the same, hecate, and very much look forward to our meeting again.”

“well, girls,” ms barker interjected, “i know you both have very busy schedules, but i am sure something can be arranged.”

ms waters-lee smiled and nodded her assent. “yes, that sounds like a good plan.”

and so the two girls parted - not for the last time.

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