My roommate Cleo just appeared one day, out of the ether—which didn’t surprise me too much, because, in my experience, Destiny tends to be quite casual, disdaining pomp and circumstance.
I rent the attic of a grand, airy, but also somewhat ramshackle old house on Nelson Street, in the tonier part of Brook’s Bend. The reserved and elderly owner, Sebastian—a retired tutor specialized in classical rhetoric, now an “independent scholar”—spends his days passionately writing monumental books nobody will ever read about strange and recondite topics such as “The Influence of Milton on Russian Satanism” or “The Baroque Garden as Transcendental Heuristic Trope.” The attic rooms are very cheap, because Sebastian doesn’t really need the money, but of his own admission does get a bit melancholy sometimes, and lonely, so he endeavors to “fill the house with life”: a profusion of plants of every description, which he lovingly tends, constitute a kind of exuberant indoor jungle that competes for supremacy with the books piled on most of the available surfaces; further enhancing the luxuriant natural motif are some canaries, a sun parakeet, and a pair of budgies, free to fly around most of the time, although mainly confining themselves to the ground floor, where Sebastian’s room and office are situated; and “the occasional young tenant, comely of body and soul” chastely to serve as a mild tonic for his sublimated eroticism. I also do a bit of cleaning now and then, but we both agree that this is not my strong suit, so Sebastian charitably has a housekeeper come in every couple of weeks. Ours was an easy, tactful, and mutually benevolent cohabitation. It was on this happy arrangement that Cleo happened to stumble; an arrangement in which she came to play a vital role before disappearing again some time later, but not without a trace.
“Charlotte, my dear, this is Cleo.”
I came home from the gallery one day, and there she was, the goddess Freya—collector of immortal lovers and battle-slain heroes, with her prim flaxen braid, her golden pendant, and the enticingly well-ventilated floral folds of a mod summer frock—sitting in the living room, holding a chipped teacup.
“She has just arrived from the Continent, you see. She’s the grand-daughter of an old friend and colleague.”
Our greeting was warm, if cautiously tentative on my side. But soon, the perfumed cloud of enchantment that, as I would soon learn, always seemed to exude from her presence—the mysterious intoxication that so imperatively pulled everyone in, compelling them to dance—had won me over for good.
“She’ll be staying with us for a while, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, that would be super.”