Dr. Robert Helund’s daily schedule was as predictable as a ticking clock. He woke exactly at 6am, dressed, and sat to breakfast by 6:30 am. The maid, Helga, would have his black coffee and oatmeal with raisins ready and waiting. Robert would browse the Times to the music of the grandfather clock in the hall.
At precisely 7:30 am he would done his black fedora and charcoal wool coat, go out the door, turn left, and walk the three blocks to the university, where he spent the morning lecturing on Ancient Greece.
Robert would return home for a lunch of cold sandwiches from 12:30 to 2pm while Helga was out running errands. He would recommence his day at the university with office hours or faculty meetings, depending on the day. At 6 pm he would stroll back to his house, have a simple chicken supper, retire to his study to read the Evening Times and book, all while listening to operatic arias on his record player. The clock would chime 9:30 pm, he would ascend the stairs and prepare for bed. Lights out and asleep by 10pm only to rise and begin again the same way the next day.
March 15th was no different. Robert awoke at 6am and was down to breakfast by 6:30am. However, today’s breakfast consisted of Earl Grey tea brewed to peak strength as well as the traditional oatmeal but with strawberries instead of the usual raisins. If Robert was surprised, he did not show it. As he walked out the door he did not grab his fedora, only his charcoal jacket.
Robert shut his front door, walked down the five steps to the sidewalk, and turned right. Being a Tuesday, he should have turned left, towards the university. However, it was March 15th.
He continued traipsing away from the university and his home for about an hour until he came upon a derelict and abandoned mansion. This place had once been a grand place but no more. Robert trudged up the eight steps to the great mahogany double doors and rested his hand on the ornate knocker. He heaved a great sigh and pounded the knocker three times.
Silently, the right door swung inwards and Robert entered. For all the rundown grandeur on the outside, the mansion was impeccably kept on the inside. The tiled floor of the foyer gleamed with fresh wax. The bannisters of the double staircase shined as if they has just been polished. As Robert proceeded through the foyer into the entrance hall there was portrait on the wall to his left of a serious, grey-haired man. It looked as if had been freshly dusted and paid special attention to by the hidden staff of the house. Continuing through the house, Robert felt enveloped by a scent roses and there was a distinct golden quality to the light.
But Robert lingered on none of this. He was drawn to the music. The seemed to be a great party, complete with a lovely orchestra, coming from the depths of the mansion.
So he made his way to the back of the house and soon found himself in the ballroom. The entrance doors had been flung wide and he could hardly see the small stage where the orchestra sat due to the whirling dervish of dancing that was before him. The combination of music, colors, and laughter would have intoxicated any other man, but Robert was unperturbed. His goal was the open set of glass doors on the other end of the room.
As he made his way through the throng, the one black spot in a sea of rainbows, the whispers began to rise.
“I wonder who it’ll be this year.”
“Why must he be so somber?”
Robert ignored them all and made his way through the glass doors into the rose garden.
This was no ordinary rose garden, if there was such as thing. These blooms came in all colors to be sure but ranged in size from the egg of a hummingbird to fullness of a cantaloupe. And though the blooms were a sight to behold the stems and vines were what needed to be watched. The vines were not so comfortable having visitors in their gardens, especially visitors that were overly interested in the roses.
Robert had no such fears. He was far more interested in the statues. Each statue was of a hideous creature, often a mixture of animals you might find in the world. The statues were also encircles by the vines that never let go, never forgot.
By now, two cockatoos had joined Robert and were seated, one on each shoulder. They had been perched in the ballroom, observing the extravaganza, and had followed him into garden. Robert stopped and examined each statue he passed with great care but he always moved on. After about a dozen statues, Robert paused in front of possibly the most repulsive statue there. It was a wide, 6 foot-tall, green and purple spotted fish with the wings of a bat spread wide and open as if in the middle of an aria.
Robert stood, stepped back, squinted, tilted his head, paced around the statue, before finally and quietly stating, “This one.”
At once, the two cockatoo on his shoulder began to cut the statue free of its vines. When that task was completed they each perched on a bat-like wing and proceeded to sing. It was a glorious, unearthly aria full of light, love, forgiveness, and future. It was not a song that should have been made by two cockatoos.
The fish-bat glowed as if a small sun were threatening to burst from within it. And though no sun came forth, the fish-bat did take a deep breath and it joined the aria of the birds.
Robert stood impassively throughout the entire spectacle, shifting only once to redistribute his weight.
“Come,” he said the the fish-bat, when the song had finished. “It is time.”
Robert led the once-statue as it waddled back towards the mansion and up the patio stairs to the ballroom. The cockatoos had flown ahead and sat on the conductor’s stand to alert him of the situation.
The music stopped abruptly. All the dancers froze and turned towards the glass doors. There was a collective intake of breath as Robert came onto the patio and the fish-bat came into view.
The man and the creature paused. All was suspended for a moment. Then Robert stepped forward and entered the ballroom. The fish-bat followed but tripped and fell as it crossed the threshold. A great gasp came from the crowd but it was nothing compared to the sounds that came after the fish-bat righted itself.
For it was no longer an “it”. Before the host of revelers stood a lanky young man with shoulder-length brown hair and the trappings of an aspiring lawyer. He gazed down on his body in awe and disbelief. Turning to Robert to thank his rescuer, he found his saviour has disappeared.
There was a great cheer from the crowd, many of whom surged forth to greet the newest member of their festivities. Above the din shouts of “Welcome back!” and “Good to see you!” could be heard and the music began anew with fresh vigor.
Robert had almost completed his exit. He had made it to the entrance hall. Here his paused, turned back and closed his eyes. For a moment he felt serenity and deep desire to return to the never ending fete that was behind him. But the moment passed. He knew his duty. He tipped his hat to the portrait of his father in the hallway and proceeded out the front door.
When he finally arrived home, Helga had a pleasant supper of fish and vegetables waiting for him and he did not listen to any operas before bed.