I’ve always hated noises that go bump in the night …especially if it’s not a head board. I was dozing off, my book still open in my lap; when a noise pricked my consciousness. I heard the sound of someone tripping over furniture and then Rumi mumbling a chorus of expletives. I should have changed the lock.
“He’s foundering in the dark, Dear. He just needs someone to turn on the lights,” I could hear Grams murmur.
“Is that why I’m here?” I wanted to ask.
How do you ask a ghost a question? As much as I loved Grams, I was still wondering why she left me this place. Perhaps it was a vain attempt to make me more grounded. Ha, only coffee is grounded I wanted to say. As morning set in, it occurred to me that if I wanted an answer from my grandmother’s ghost my best bet would be to explore one of her old haunts. Love of art was something I always shared with Grams and even when we were at odds, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) was always our place. I felt connected to her.
My intention was to visit the impressionist paintings on display at the museum. The MFA had one of the largest collections of Monets outside of Paris…but as I stared at the Sargent Murals at the top of staircase I felt a tug in another. I could hear the tap…tap…tap of my heels on the floor, certain that my pumps had decided to set their own course. Two hot pink Prada shoes guided me to the Art of the America’s wing and instead I found myself staring at The Daughters of Edward Darley (or Portraits d’enfants) by John Singer Sargent. The painting depicts four young girls in their family’s Paris apartment. The girls are arranged so that the youngest, a four-year-old girl sits on the floor. Her eight-year-old sister stands at her left, and the two oldest sisters aged twelve and fourteen, stand in the background, partially obscured by shadow. The painting was not one of my favorites. The daughters seemed more like dolls, or inanimate objects rather than children… perhaps even ghosts peering into a world that they were no longer a part of. Did the sisters share a secret… did they see Grams following me?
The stillness of the room seemed to vibrate and I began to listen. My spine began to tingle, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and the accusing eyes of the four-year old girl held my gaze, clamping her feet to the ground. It was a gentle tap. So gentle that I was inclined to dismiss it, had it not been followed by a, “pardon me.”
I turned around expecting to see the ghost of a four year child but instead there was a man whose strange features were not all together displeasing. He was tall without being gangly. His plain brown hair was cropped short and on anyone else would seem mousy but on him seemed to work. The stubble on his face had begun to creep in giving him a slightly weathered appearance. He was wearing a deep aubergine blazer over a black shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. I had to admit he was alluring in an ‘interview with a vampire’ kinda way.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he apologized. His voice carried the lilt of a British accent. Something about the way he spoke spelled boarding school.
“Not at all,” I said regaining my composure.
“You looked so engrossed I didn’t want to disturb you at all. Intriguing piece,” he said looking at the portrait.
“It’s one of my favorites too. Did you know the daughters never did marry and essentially lived their lives alone? Two may have also suffered from debilitating mental illness.”
Wow…a little unnerving, I thought. I wondered why this stranger was bothering me with such morbid I could easily pick up from Wikipedia.
“Do you have time to take a break? There is something I would like to discuss with you. I’m sorry my name is Armand Shirazi,” he said as if this made everything self-evident
“I knew your grandmother, he said a little awkwardly. I helped her acquire a piece of art. I recognized you from her description and the pictures I saw of you.”
“Oh, are you a buyer? Do you own a gallery?”
“No, nothing like that, but she knew my great aunt well. An acquaintance of mine had a painting she was interested in and well I was simply the go between.”
Then with a smile that was boyish and charming and embarrassed all at the same time he said, “Let’s talk more at lunch.”
Despite the brooding vampire appearance Armand seemed ill at ease in the New American Café that resembled a mausoleum more than a restaurant. On sunny days the floor to ceiling windows that helped to take the greyness out of the stone walls, today was not one of those days.
We were seated in the corner. I wondered how I got roped into this…lunch date. The narrow table and Armand’s large frame gave us an involuntary sense of intimacy. I could now smell his cologne – a fresh gardeny even medicinal scent. I could see the fibers on his blazer. His hand rested on the table and I noticed the intricacies of his Rolex that was silver but accented with gold. His broad frame seemed to block my view making want to nudge my chair a few inches back.
Finally, the awkwardness was suspended as we explored the lunch menu. If Armand was anything he was someone who appreciated his cuisine. He mulled over the particularities of the lunch menu finally settling on the grilled chicken sandwich, with red onion marmalade, baby arugula, fontana cheese on a brioche bun. As I munched on cornmeal crusted fried oysters and field greens.
As he began re-telling the story of how he knew my grandmother and I recognized the name of this his aunt – now there was a gypsy if I ever knew one. She was also a dear friend of Grams and myself.
“Auntie, Rukhsana had said that if I run into you I must introduce myself and tell you that you must ring her up for tea. I laughed but it is funny how she has an uncanny knack for predicting these things. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I was wrong,” he said motioning for the bill and then taking out his card and sliding it towards me.
I tried not to look down at his long slender fingers or the slowness and ease at which he moved so that his card rest just beside my wine glass. I was still sitting there as he turned to leave.
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