From a lamppost across the street, it bears telltale signs of a slow yet progressive form of ruination that seems to emanate from within -- limestone walls flaking off in large chunks, roof-tiles falling off the ground with tufts of grass, and a giant iron gate bulging out to the street as if coerced from the inside.
The Blanche Manor has been surveyed for restoration and archived by the City Historical Landmarks Preservation Council as one of the only three Centennial Houses still in-tact after the two wars, in time for the incoming nth anniversary celebration of the city.
Richard opens the window. Just a small crack, that's all he needs to know if traffic is building up this side of the street. His cellphone rings.
"Yup, got the invite, sweetie."
Today, if all else fails, he will try the new trick he learned from the book, "All-New Kamasutra Menu for the Millenial Man" which he ordered online.
I'm all set alright...wait, let me check...two-oh-seven-three, Sunset Drive...alright, see you later, sweet...He winks at himself in the mirror before he rushes down the stairs.
Outside, a cab screeches to a halt by the gate then zooms swiftly away.
Inside, the house instantly hums back to life with the usual airy sighs and whispers of despair.
On the nightstand where Richard had picked up his mobile phone, an invitation card flips open by a sudden blast of air. Sparkling in ornate gilded script, Invitation To: David Blanche, Honourable City Mayor and Family.
Legend of the Hollow Tree
No life will pass unaltered
with the embrace of this beast
hungry prehensile tendrils
stifling every breath, angels
or faeries and wood nymphs, not even
your intelligent high-tech mortals
can wield a power more powerful
than its deadly roots and vines. A kiss
of perdition blossoms with every bud
or leaf crawling inch by inch.
The National Geographic channel had ran a special documentary about an endangered species of hardwood only the natural world is to blame: a parasitic kind of self-rooting strangler fig that derives nourishment from its host tree.
Like a boa constrictor that stranglers its prey, the strangler fig can do the same only a lot slower. It allows itself to grow with the host tree while slowly wrapping itself around the growing trunk with its gnarled vines, eventually depriving it of the much needed light, air and space to grow.
What is left is a chilling paradigm of parasitism: a tree, or in this case, a dead hardwood crumbling to the ground with its second death by termites leaving a hollow trunk inside what looks like a giant tree whose bark is made of the strangler fig's intertwining roots and vines.
After the war, among the many priceless pieces of furniture taken from the Blanche Manor and hauled into the new Museum of History was a nightstand. It was catalogued as manufactured from a rare kind of wood deep from the jungles in the heart of Asia, where Mayor Blanche met Richard during an expedition grant.
He huddles up against the cold wall. Lurching now at a drowsy angle, his shadow melds with the developing darkness. Already to the west, the sun is sliding slowly away into some nether world.
Across the street, a streetlamp flickers to life. His face lightens up. Tonight he will try again.
A stray cat sashays toward a heap of garbage in the corner. A rat bulks. A speeding car looms up the curb.
He raises his hands against the burgeoning headlight. Compelled by some force of unshakable habit, he starts counting his fingers. Suddenly, out of the dark, a cat scrambles into sight.
Distracted, he is back to one.
The city heaves under the hideous glow of the hazy moon.
Those merciless, blinding lights from the vehicles : they remind him of those mercurial, ambitious and lustful eyesâ€¦Behind a spotlessly polished redwood office table, his phone rings.
"A Richard is here Sir."
"Show him in."
He bends down to unplug the phone, pull down the blinds, then the drawer to fish out a small bottle of Drakkar Noir. Ah, the scent of black...and this sordid affair with fevered anticipation.
"You may go now, Sandra. See you tonight at The Ball. Make sure to advise the vice mayor to start right away if I'm not in on the dot."
Tonight, after taking a sponge bath from the puddle in an uncovered pothole, he will try to call his friends again using the cellphone he had picked up from the damp site.