The Old Manor
Rhonda slammed on the brakes; the tiny Kia skidded to a stop. She peeked out from the passenger-side window, mouth agape and head weaving this way and that to get a better look. Every day she drove past this spot and she knew the corner where she’d stopped had, until yesterday, been a vacant lot.
It had been so for years. She recalled vague memories of sirens and running feet in the night when the Old Manor had burned to the ground. She must have been, what, five, six years old? It had been a great tragedy, and in it, the family had died out. Ever since, that space had remained empty, weeds had overgrown the remnants of the foundations until it looked like any vacant lot.
Now, the Old Manor stood in splendor, just as she’d seen in her grandfather’s pictures. He’d been an avid photographer and had chronicled the Old Manor since its heyday until its blazing demise. The house was a mishmash of different architectural styles, built upon by several generations, complete with turrets, a wide verandah and a widow’s walk.
Rhonda climbed out of her car and gazed around the deserted street. With no one around, the house appeared unnoticed. Crickets and cicadas chirped and buzzed in the trees; the hot sun beat down on her stinging shoulders. Drenched in sweat, her tank top stuck to her body.
She tiptoed into the gated yard, fenced in by tall wrought-iron bars, polished and new, unlike the rusty remnants she’d seen all her life. Glancing every which way, she stepped to the door and searched the wall for a doorbell. She found none and knocked, pressing her ears to the door. She thought she heard footsteps within and a murmur of voices. Rhonda frowned and peeked in the first window on the wide verandah. She gasped.
Rhonda ran back to the door and tried the knob. It opened and, heart beating, she entered. The lavish interior reminded Rhonda of her visit to the Gilded Age mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Yet, unlike those museums, this house felt alive, not a hodgepodge of old-fashioned furniture on display.
She ventured further into the house, following the sounds of voices and music, until she came upon a party.
“What’s happening?” Rhonda murmured, “Is this a play? Are they filming a movie?”
Ladies dressed in lacy high collars, long dresses and elbow gloves danced on the arms of handsome men in three-piece suits and copious mustaches; pearls and feathered fans everywhere. A quartet played a lively waltz.
“Pardon me, madam,” someone spoke at her shoulder. Rhonda turned. A man in butler’s garb and white gloves offered her a drink from a silver tray. Rhonda, always shy and awkward, shook her head and ran back to her Kia.
She sped past the houses she knew so well, screeched to a stop at her house, and, calling for her husband Bert, ran up the driveway.
“The house,” she panted. She pointed and tugged at his sleeved, unable to explain in words what she’d witnessed.
Bert, mild-mannered and easy-going, tried calming her, but she grabbed him by the lapel and shoved him into the car. The Kia lurched and screeched as she turned around. She zoomed past the neighbors walking their dogs or mowing their lawns without a wave of acknowledgment.
Rhonda slammed on the brakes; the Kia skidded to a stop.
“What is it?” Bert asked, alarmed.
Rhonda stared openmouthed at the vacant lot where the Old Manor had burned down long ago.