A family at breakfast scene. Probably Victorian. I go closer to it. A man with rosy red cheeks is spooning egg into his mouth; some of it is dropping off his spoon. He is holding the egg cup very close to his chin. I realize that it is not a picture that is meant to depict the family as dignified or grand, but is a parody of unparalleled and uncouth greed. It is also ironically a celebration of greed.
My hands glide down the polished banisters.
I try to imagine Blake as a boy running in these spaces as I pass the music room with its priceless antique furniture, its rare objets d’art, and its tables of exotic orchids and feel a kind of lingering sadness. Nothing truly happy has happened in this house. Not even the children who ran through these rooms were happy. The entire house is crying out for the sound of laughter.
I pass another room where the heavy drapes are still shut and enveloped in the same sort of despairing gloom. Through that room I can see the main reception room. In the foyer, which looks like the inside of a snail, hangs a Salvadore Dali, blue black with naked ritual dancers. It looks almost like an orgy to me. I cross the black and white checked marble floor and go out of the front door.
Outside it is warmer than inside the house. The sun is filtering through the trees. The vista is as magnificent as that of any old stately house. I walk around the side of the building, admiring the lay of the land. There I come upon a massive, industrial-size greenhouse. Flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit are plentiful. Some reach the ceiling. In the middle of it is a large hydroponic pond.
At the side of the glass structure, I meet a peacock. I have never seen a peacock before and I slowly inch closer. Suddenly it opens its tail and I am shocked by how beautiful it is. A pure white peacock comes to join it. I wish it would open its tail too, but it doesn’t. Instinct makes me look up and I see Blake standing at the door leading to the stone balcony outside the room we slept in.
He is looking at me.
I wave to him. He does not wave back, but opens the door and walks out onto the balcony. Shirtless, he stands looking down at me. I gasp at the sight. The way the house frames him, draws him in as part of it. I feel the privilege of his background swirl around him like an unseen hand and grasp him in its invisible clutches. He belongs here in these splendid surroundings. In every way he is different from me. I imagine what he must see. A woman wrapped in a blanket. I am not regal or imposing. I am the outsider.
After a grand breakfast Blake takes me to meet his sister.
The reception room we wait for her in has been painted in soft pink. She is accompanied some a woman in a nurse’s uniform and dressed in a long dress and blue sweater. A butterfly pin sits in her hair. Her eyes are as blue as Blake’s, but otherwise she is nothing like him. Her brow is low and juts out and her skin is very pale.
‘Hello, Bunny,’ Blake says softly.
She drops her chin shyly and points at him.
‘That’s right. Your brother has come to see you. Isn’t that nice of him?’ the nurse says.
She nods vigorously.
‘Would you like to show him your zoo?’
Again she nods and smiles.
‘Perhaps you’d like to show him some of the tricks you have taught your animals to do.’
She beams with excitement.
Blake walks up to her. ‘Will you show your animals to my friend too.’
For the first time her eyes come to rest on me. I smile. ‘Hello,’ I say.
She begins to rock her head and smile shyly.
‘Come on then,’ Blake says and holds his hand out to her.
She puts her pale hand into it, and we go outside towards a white marquee where there are seats all around it and a sandy enclosure in the middle. We take our seats and Elizabeth goes to the podium like structure at the entrance of the sandy enclosure. She claps her hand and a horse runs in. It gallops around the enclosure a few times and comes to a stop a few feet in front of her. She raises her hand and the horse rises to its hind legs and paws the air. She drops her hand and the horse ambles towards her. From her pocket she produces a cube of sugar and holds her hand out. The animal accepts the treat delicately and she turns around to smile proudly at us.
‘Well done,’ congratulates Blake.
Elizabeth claps her hands with delight.
I am truly amazed. It is very impressive to see a woman with the mental capacity of a child successfully train animals to perform tricks and obey her. Afterwards we watch Elizabeth’s Indian elephant sit on a stool and turn around in a circle on his hind legs, a cute dog dance on command, and her pet monkey ride a bicycle.
When the show is over Elizabeth grabs Blake’s hand and starts pulling him out of the tent. Blake gestures with his other hand for me to follow them. She takes him to her bedroom, a pink room filled with dolls, children’s books and a rocking horse specially made to accommodate an adult. Taking a hairbrush from her dressing table she puts it into his hand and like a child runs eagerly to the bed and sits sideways on the edge of it.
At first Blake looks surprised that she should remember a ritual from so many years ago, but then he goes and sits behind her. With gentle hands he takes the butterfly clip out of her hair, and begins to brush her luscious, dark hair with long, sure strokes.
The girl clutches at his shirt and sobs, when it is time for us to go. She becomes hysterical when the nurse and a servant try to pry her away and they have to sedate her. In the car Blake is very silent and lost in his own thoughts. The way she had clung so desperately to him had distressed me too.
‘It’s great how she trained all those animals, though, isn’t it?’ I say, in an attempt to take him away from his unhappy thoughts.
‘She doesn’t train them. An animal trainer works with them and everybody just pretends that she has trained them.’
‘Oh! Whose idea was it to do that?’
The brevity of his answer tells me not to go there. As ever, any talk of his family makes him clam up. I turn my head and gaze at the countryside and think of the fraught child locked away in that sad house, and the woman who won’t acknowledge her child’s existence, but who will go to elaborate lengths to create a private circus, which her daughter can ringmaster.
It is a Monday night. Blake has already phoned to say he will be late. He has a meeting. I am in bed reading when he comes in. He stands for a moment at the doorway simply looking at me. He seems different. Not so held together.
‘What’s the matter?’ I ask.
‘Just admiring your beauty.’ Even his voice is drowsy and very appealing. This Blake is like nothing I know. He begins to walk towards me. Sits on the bed beside me and his liquored breath hits me instantly. I suck in my breath.