English Drawing Room of the Modern Period
Heavens, what a day! Was I knackered. I had just gotten home from a gala at Truffaut’s – a celebration whose particulars I had spent every waking moment of the last month arranging. And ‘twas a wondrous success! Eminent expressionist William McQueen, in our very own gallery! He’s quite my favorite painter. It was such a thrill, finally meeting him. What a dear – though an older gentleman, he looked smart as could be in a pinstriped tweed three-piece, feathered fedora, pocket watch and chain, boutonnière. Elegant, but not obnoxiously posh. The retrospective’s opening went off without a hitch. (Well, almost: one of the patrons had terrible “indigestion” in the Gents, but he escorted himself out with the aid of his driver.) I was more than a wee bit weary after everything, so I headed to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Next I went into the drawing room to relax on the sofa with my book until George came back from work. We’d have a gin and tonic, supper, and tuck in early.
As I entered the drawing room, I went straight to the windows to pull the curtains closed – I simply cannot stand the idea of some peeping tom peering in from a building across the way. I had thought buying a place on the tenth floor would obviate that possibility, but you wouldn’t believe the speed with which taller and taller buildings are flying up around our great metropolis. My fingers lingered on the velvet pleats as I gazed out at the city night sprinkled with electric lights. I did love London. Despite the construction and the hectic pace of life, ‘twas a lovely town, and I couldn’t imagine making a home elsewhere.
Then I turned. I turned, and almost jumped out of my skirt! For instead of the normal wall, with its normal Defoe painting, a single sheet of glass now gleamed… and behind the glass, an enormous face. Something out of nightmares! Its expanse filled the view pinkly, with its forehead escaping past ceiling and its chin past floor. Two giant sinkhole pupils stared out of even larger hazel irises; a monstrous nose almost abutted the glass, and a lippy mouth hung agape. Every pore would swallow my fist.
I must have gone barmy. I was off my trolley!
“Heavens!” I screeched, and “George!” for I’d heard him in the hall. I stood, feeling horribly claustrophobic, and read to swoon. I was terrified and transfixed by this most vivid of visions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
My inner child was about to declare total (albeit temporary) domination over its adult. Anticipation currented electrically through me. I remembered them so well: French Boudoir of the Louis XV Period (1740-60)… California Living Room (1935-1940)… Tennessee Entrance Hall (1835)… Design details winked around in my memory like resurrected summer-night fireflies. That scalloped red-blue-gold ceiling trim of the room where tiny curved and geometrical carmine chairs waited for tiny rear-ends to occupy them… That crystal chandelier dangling its two-fingernail length… That distant sun-lit lake and brown-green hills beyond (a watercolor backdrop warped alive by my overactive imagination). There were milkpaint-yellow walls, potted plants the size of jellybeans, floors of glossy mud-colored two-ants-width tiles, and squat kitschy goldenrod lamps that could only be illuminated by a Lilliputian hand.
I hadn’t seen the Thorne Miniature Rooms for a good twenty years, but I was finally headed back. As a child obsessed with teensy things and unreal worlds, the Rooms had sparked bonfires of glorious make-believe in my mind. What mysteries would be prompted by spaces no bigger than shoeboxes!
I arrived at the Art Institute and quickly descended to the basement. Before long I was staring into the minute confines of my enduring favorite, English Drawing Room of the Modern Period (1930s). A theme of cream and black: eggshell walls with molded columns and floral bas-reliefs, opalescent glass lamps, a boxy beige sofa near the ebony fireplace, and dramatic charcoal curtains flanking high, modern windows the length of my palm. It shed stylized luxury – but also coziness. I peered across the room, out the windows to distant golden lights poking through the darkness, and got goose-bumps. I began extrapolating whimsically, mentally sketching the people who’d inhabit this apartment… Certainly cosmopolitan and sociable. Well-educated, impeccably dressed, veterans of the stiff, classy cocktail. I was losing my sense of time, my sense of magnitude…
Suddenly, a minuscule woman walked into the scene. I froze. My ears popped, as if all air had been sucked out of the exhibit room, and then they filled with a low, white-noise crackle. She was blond, svelte, in black tucked blouse, white pencil skirt, black heels. Those heels were smaller than sunflower seeds shelled. Her back was to me. She went to the windows to draw the curtains closed. Then she turned towards the glass of the shadow-box. Her bitsy body immediately convulsed and stiffened. A faint, extraordinarily high-pitched squeak cut through my aural field of snow, then another. Her eyes were sentence periods. They were too small to pick out the color.
This had to be the most incredible hallucination.