More walking. It makes me think of that time I read the Hobbit, well the dozens of times, because every time I sat down, I got through ten pages and felt compelled to nap. I’m not quite sure if it was from boredom or being tired for the characters. I suppose I’m a bit like Bilbo Baggins, whining and wishing for the comfort of home, a home to which I might never return. I hear that he becomes a hero in the end. Based on the beginning, I find that very unlikely but I suppose I will never know if I don’t read it. Surely nobody in this group is going to tell me. I begin to wonder if I will become a hero by the end of this, whatever this is, because I have never been told. Unlikely as well.
I do always carry that book with me, wherever I go in case I will finish it. Not finishing a book haunts me. Unfortunately, I left without any warning and left it behind on the stand. I picture it now, sitting there on the finely polished mahogany, the ink shining in the lamp light. I can feel the smooth edges of its cover at my finger tips and the rough edges of those dog-earred pages where I gave up on it so many times. I feel myself open the book and look at the title of its first page: “An Unexpected Party.” I think about my own unexpected party and the irritating silence of knowing nothing when I know my home so well I can walk through it a hundred miles away. I begin to stare at the map and to look at it. I hear steady, familiar footsteps in the hallway, the sturdy soles of my father’s boots as he walks in to change. I hear the joyful, warm, laugh of my mother from her study. She is probably reading one of my grandmother’s letters from Prague, lively letters about her days in the year before she got sick. Now and then when my mother begins to miss her or forget that thing she used to say (what was it?), she will read them and store them in a safe place for the next time.
I feel her hand on my shoulder now as a I read, only to realize that it is Louis’s soft paw. I pinch it and he licks me. I once read somewhere that to dogs, hugs are a sign of power and dominance and they don’t interpret them as an expression of love. That may be true but still I wonder, if all he has to judge from is my body language, if he knows from the way I put my cheek on his head as I carry him and stroke his paw that maybe he knows how much I love him, even now, already, because until further notice, he is all I have and I love him for that. All the same, I put him down for a bit to walk beside me. He prances and periodically runs into my leg, bouncing off my shoe.
We make four more turns and then hit a dead end. The old man just blankly stares at the red, wooden wall in front of him and the super-spy stands behind me, staring vigilantly back down the alley. The old man scratches his head and looks up. I vaguely begin to feel… exposed. I look above and see balconies on either side of the once lifeless alley. A calico sits on the balcony above me, her tail twitching slowly and confidently, as if she is conducting her latest masterpiece. She turns and walks through an open door. I pick up Louis. Within moments, the entire red, wooden wall swings backward from invisible hinges and in we walk. James Bond takes the horse by the reins and leads it into a stall. The old man walks straight through and beckons me with a wave over his shoulder. Louis and I follow. Bond puts an arm out in front of me and silently gestures for me to put Louis in with the horse. “I’m not leaving him in here.” I grip Louis and step around Get Smart, walking into a stone room before he can stop me.
There is a red table with benches and the old man is sitting at it alone. I sit down beside him and he rubs Louis behind the ears. Secret Service stands by a door with his hands at his sides. So much personality, that one. Then in steps the most fierce creature I have ever seen.
She steps up to the head of the table and puts her hands down upon it. Looking straight into the old man’s eyes. Her’s are a sharp, brilliant emerald green. Her jet black hair is tied back in a very tight, and seemingly painful, French-braid. Deep, fierce pieces of solid, unnaturally red, the color of blood, hairs weave throughout the darkness of the braid. Her features are all very sharp and her face very stoic. She wears black combat boots, black military pants, and a fascinating sort of fabric that shifts color as she moves in and out of what little light there is coming through holes in the slats of the wooden ceiling. I don’t know whether to avert my gaze or stare.
“I see you made it.” She has a surprisingly soft, patient voice.
The old man looks at me and nods. “Without much difficulty as well.”
“Wonderful. Are you hungry?”
“Starving.” The word is out of my mouth before I can consider whether I should speak.
“I highly doubt that but you must be very hungry. I’ll have dinner brought in.” She looks to the corner of the room, “Sit down, Peter, nobody is going to be coming through that door, I assure you.” Peter? I would have sooner expected Ivan the Terrible. Whether it was from the distraction of my thoughts or something else, he is seated before I have seen him move and the woman is gone. It’s very strange to me that they both have the same stealth of a jaguar, both quick and in some unspoken way, predatory.
Louis takes one look at Peter and crawls into my messenger bag. With those jet black eyes picking me apart, I don’t blame him.