The girl opened the door and called out, “Mama?”
We heard the clap, clap, clap sound of slippers as Mrs. Horowitz came down the stairs. Having removed her square-shouldered jacket, the woman looked rumpled. Her brown shirt hung limply over a hunched back, and the front was equally ill tailored. It drew attention to the way her breasts dangled down, which reminded me of rumpled balloons with the air gone out of them, bouncing against each other as they hover in midair the day after a party is over.
Mrs. Horowitz stomped over and looked me in the eye. I thought she would say something about the car rolling downhill, or ask if it got damaged, but all she said instead was, “You again?”
I said not a thing and smiled at her as charmingly as I knew how, which must have done something to disarm her, at least for a moment. She let me in and asked Natasha to make coffee for our dear guest and a cup of tea for her, and on second thought no, not tea but hot, boiling hot water with a heaping teaspoon of honey, and on second thought no, just half a teaspoon, and not to forget, a squeeze of lemon, too.
I took a step over the threshold. The living room was huge, and the furniture—highly decorative, giving you the impression that you were transported, somehow, around the other side of the world and back in time, to a palace built in the second half of the eighteenth century in Russia. Every piece was gilded in a variety of hues: red-gold, green-gold, even silver. Here and there, some of the gold leaf was damaged, but that did not detract from the richness of the decor.
I was especially overwhelmed by the eclectic combinations of ornamental motifs. There were carved garlands of flowers and foliage, rosettes, shells, urns, harps, even sphinxes.
And yet there was something about the place that made it look not only in disrepair but also about to be deserted.
It felt—oh, how would I put it in words?—as if it didn’t belong to this family anymore, as if they had stopped caring for it, for some reason. The floor was covered with dust. The iron chandelier hanging above the staircase had half of its light bulbs missing.
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