Spring 2012
A Weekend at Golden Hills
by Daniela Albu 

I decided to sell the Golden Hills country house. I knew it embodied my mother's dream of perfection. It had been her safe haven. But she was long gone and I hated how objects would ridiculously outlive their owners. The place was too far to reach by car just for week-ends, with traffic and all. Sometimes I had fun there and I even wrote part of my research work in that peaceful atmosphere, still its maintenance was a nuisance. It was not that I couldn't afford it, but I felt the need for a complete change in my life. Moreover, the house had witnessed my sad love affair with Peter and there were too many things there that kept reminding me of it.

The real estate agent had found a reliable client; he had seen the place and liked it. Since Mr. Stouten was an extremely busy local business man, he promised that his office would take care of all the paper work and we were supposed to meet at Golden Hills in two weeks time, on a Saturday, for the final formalities.

I was pretending to watch a movie in my apartment that evening, sipping my green tea with Tealc, my cat, dozing in my lap. Its shiny black fur and mysterious green eyes inspired me to give him an unusual exotic name such as that of the famous "Star Gate" character. Suddenly the same question popped in: "if our dear ones that are dead, loved us so much, why did they give us no sign of where they went? What if it's all nothingness? Is there any truth in the souls' journey after death?" I startled when the phone rang. It sounded so loud in the silence of my living. Just in time for me not to indulge in these atheistic thoughts.

"Hi there, it's Katy! Do you have any plans for this week-end? If not, will you take me to Golden Hills? I have so much inspiration, and you know I'm drawing and painting like crazy there, as in no other place! I'll do the shopping on Thursday evening and I promise to clean after myself as if no painter ever "trespassed" on your property".

"It's all right for this week-end, Katy. I had no other plans. I'll bring the wine."

"Million thanks. We'll go in my car, I'll pick you up on Friday, early afternoon.

"OK. Bye".

What was the use of telling her about the sale? I would have spoiled her enthusiasm. Like most artists, she is so selfish. She did not even ask how I was doing; she would always speak about herself, her feelings, her love affairs, her dilemmas and depressions. There is no more room for me and my uninteresting life of a boring researcher in the history of Romanian literature surrounded by books that almost no one (or at least no normal people) would read nowadays, not to speak that one could hardly make a living out of it. I love Katy. She is my best friend and such a talented artist. The combination between her extrovert personality and my owl behavior brought a stain of color into my life and a good listener into hers. I would never say how much I suffered after the separation from Peter while she would tell me every small detail of her life, but I knew that she was sincerely sympathizing with me. I could feel it. Katy was so full of life that she would not let anything disturb her balance. Her "joie de vivre" was contagious. She was my best cure against depression.

While I rarely spoke to her about my life, she had an intriguing talent to know or rather to sense everything. She knew for instance, that I hated the toaster which witnessed so many breakfasts with Peter at Golden Hills, and the two champagne glasses, and his photo on the mantelpiece. Under one pretext or other she managed to get rid of all of them with time, and I realized that I felt much better not having to see all these, although I most resented when she clumsily broke one of the glasses. Returning from a successful exhibition that she had in Vienna, she brought me for my birthday a nice white leather bag with a small bottle of champagne and two delicate glasses. Soon after, while we were doing some cleaning before closing the house for winter, she pretended to have misplaced Peter's photo and I did not insist too much to look for it. That was Katy, and I knew how much she cared about me.

I was not very enthusiastic about this week-end at Golden Hills but on Friday, when her small silver Peugeot 206 parked in front of my window, I already felt invigorated by her warm smile and tonic spirit. I fetched Tealc and jumped into the car. I needed no luggage since there were still lots of sports clothes there. Tealc loved Golden Hills, but I was not inclined to ponder too much on this aspect.

We finally arrived after two hours driving. I got out of the car to open the gates but Tealc was already in the middle of the plum orchard. Katy parked as badly as usual that I did not even bother to tell her.

"Oh, Lizzie, I adore this soft golden honey afternoon light. The contours expand and the whole world becomes softer and yet more real!"

"I'll make some coffee for us", I said grumpily.

"Lizzie, what's wrong? Did Peter call you recently, or what?"

"It's nothing. I'm just tired", I said. I was still not prepared to give her the news about the upcoming sale of the house, because I knew how she would plead against it and I just wanted to relax and have a good time.

Katy furiously sketched while I perpared the barbecue fire.

Late at night we were still in the middle of the orchard sitting by the garden table, enjoying our wine and gazing at the stars. At Golden Hills they would always seem closer to earth. It was mid August and I spotted the sign of Leo, thinking of my father who taught me to see the constellations. The closest people in my life were gone and with them all that special warmth of kindred spirits. I would see no sign from above, nor hear any voice dictating me to do otherwise. I concluded that time has come to start something new and went to bed at peace with myself, leaving Katy in the living room bent over an A4 cardboard paper resembling a sort of parchment in texture and color.

Next morning, while enjoying a long breakfast in the front garden, Katy showed me the sketches and to my surprise, all of them were representing Tealc in different hypostasis. I thought she would draw the roses, or the slender magnolia in front, or some still life inside the house, but she enthusiastically portrayed in so many ways Tealc's joy of life at Golden Hills.

"I was thinking this could replace Peter's portrait on the mantelpiece!" She said shyly but with a playful smile in her eyes, while proudly handing to me the parchment over which I saw her bending with so much concentration last night. It was Tealc drawn in charcoal. She had perfectly captured his mysterious eyes glow.

"Thank you so much, Katy".

"I have one more favour to ask", she said.

"Please let me paint a still life with your mother's rosewood box."

"Ah, the famous box, all right, go ahead."

The rosewood box was in the chest of drawers between the two front windows of the living room. I gently handed it to Katy. I knew that she was a fan of my mother's box. My mother, who had been a famous poet and a talented actress kept many trifles and memories there, things of more or less value that were all so dear to her. The rosewood box was shining as new. It contained her life's essence and it was the only object that I intended to take with me after selling the house. Katy painted it on a coffee table and then, with my permission she opened it and painted again with its contents revealed. It took her the whole morning. There were a couple of jewels, two books of my mother's poetry, my grandfather's gold pocket watch, some love letters bound with a blue ribbon, which I never had the courage to read, and many other objects that my mother treasured. Katy worked at these two paintings for hours and I had to improvise lunch.

"You can take one of them. It's my gift. You'll have Tealc's portrait on the mantelpiece here, and the rosewood box at your apartment."

I thanked her, looking in amazement at how the rosewood box became a strong presence, almost a character, in Katy's brilliant artwork.

Then nothing special followed. We washed the dishes and cleaned the house, locked it as usual and drove to town before dark.

A boring week passed. I decided to leave for Golden Hills late Friday since I did not want to spend too much time there. I left Tealc in the apartment, asking my neighbor who had my spare keys to check on him. I intended to come back on Saturday.

It was a quiet night. I prepared herbal tea, ate some cheese and had a long peaceful sleep, away from the city turmoil. I woke up fresh and determined to finish this business as soon as possible. Mr. Stouten arrived together with the agent and a notary. I invited them onto the front terrace and offered them coffee and cookies. I carefully read all the papers. They were in perfect order and already signed by Mr. Stouten. All I had to do was to sign under "Elisabeth Hampshire". "Where's my pen?" I kept wondering while fetching for it in my purse. I was sure I placed it in its upper small pocket.

"Is there anything wrong, Mrs. Hampshire? Are you all right?" Mr. Stouten inquired, slightly worried.

"Just a minute," I said, rushing into the house. I fetched for the rosewood box and opened it in a hurry. My mother's silver pen was there - a gift from her parents when she published her first book of poetry. I took the pen and almost sensed her hand in the ethereal space. I cannot say if it had been a sound, the perception of an almost untraceable movement, or just the leaves rustling in the wind. I shivered and felt my face draining of color and a short, wild pain in my chest. From the place I was standing, I could see Tealc's portrait on the mantelpiece. I went back to the terrace, took a deep breath and said:

"Sorry, Mr. Stouten, Golden Hills is not for sale anymore."

Daniela Albu is a writer and novelist living in Bucharest

With special thanks to MoonWillow for the  artwork.