Penfriends

It had seemed such a good idea. Daisy and Molly had been corresponding via social media for a year and having similar interests and being at a “sensible” age, meeting up seemed like a nice risk-free idea.

Daisy knew that Molly was a “sensible” age only from the content of her posts. Molly argued that she was not photogenic and hinted at some medical issue which made her shy of cameras; her profile pictures tended towards images of turquoise calligraphy surrounded by pink flowers. Admittedly Daisy’s own profile picture had once been a cartoon hippo, but nowadays she displayed herself as she was: fine lines, wrinkles, grey hair and all.

Daisy had formulated a mental image of Molly as a glamorous woman, surrounded by antiques and fine china, writing romantic tales at midnight in turquoise ink and digitising them afterwards. Judging by the times of her posts and emails, Molly was a night owl, slumbering till late morning like a lady of leisure. She alluded to regular holidays in the Mediterranean and Daisy imagined her home would be luxurious and her IT equipment state of the art, despite the turquoise ink. Now and again Molly mentioned a shadowy man and while Daisy envisioned a butler or bodyguard, she sometimes wondered if his role was purely domestic. Molly wrote novels, which while apparently sweet, held an undercurrent of some hidden passion.

So all in all, when the opportunity finally arose when they could meet in person, Daisy was thrilled. She checked out the address Molly provided on “streetview” and noticed that it was in a very leafy suburban avenue. So leafy in fact that it was hard to make anything out clearly, although it seemed rather grand. Molly’s final email before the trip spoke of fine foods from her continental estate and Fetească Neagră from her own vineyard. Daisy looked up Fetească Neagră and salivated at the thought of blackcurrant richness. Reconsidering the £4.99 bottle of pinot grigio she had planned to take as a gift, Daisy splashed out on some Harrods chocolates instead. Then she went to a charity shop in an upmarket district for a designer outfit, so that she wouldn’t look as impoverished as she actually was.

The day finally arrived. After a long journey by train, Daisy turned left at the station as Molly had directed and walked in the late afternoon autumn sunshine until she found the entrance to the avenue. Dusk was falling rapidly, darkened further by immense plane trees and tall walls. Were there several houses or was the wall for just one house?

Daisy hesitated, standing on the corner in her pre-loved Christian Dior and shifting the Harrods bag from hand to hand.

“You don’t want to go down there, love,” said a passer by, making her jump, “it’s always a bit foggy and all them high walls and trees give me the creeps. Plus they’re a bit posh for the likes of us.”

A little worried that perhaps she looked like second-hand Rose, Daisy remembered that she was a rational woman. It was darker and lonelier in her country hamlet with the nearest police station twenty miles away. She messaged Molly to say she was about to arrive and plunged into the avenue.

The house, seen through the enormous gates was certainly very impressive. Perhaps Daisy was surprised to see dragons on the gate posts instead of horses’ heads or pineapples but she was more surprised to find the gates open before she’d even pressed the intercom and to discover that crunching her way across the gravel drive took less time than it looked as if it ought to.

There was a fountain in the driveway but it wasn’t running and the water, under late evening skies looked dark and viscous. Hearing the flick of a tail as she passed, Daisy would have peered into it, but a creak drew her attention to the heavy oak front door which was opening under a porch of ivy and virginia creeper. Beyond it she could see nothing but darkness, lit only with candles. Again, Daisy hesitated, but telling herself not to be silly, she mounted the steps.

A man awaited her, the butler presumably. As she had suspected he was young, very handsome and just looking into his dark lashed eyes made Daisy blush and her heart beat faster. Molly was a lucky, or clever, woman.

“Welcome,” he purred in velvet tones, taking my gift, “her ladyship is just rousing from her… nap. Perhaps you’d like to freshen up a little after your journey?”

In a small cloakroom, Daisy looked for a mirror and found none. Coming out into the empty hall, she found no mirror there either. She really wanted to check her appearance and feeling a little guilty, crept up the stairs to find a bathroom. The bathroom, opulent and ornate, also had no mirror and Daisy decided to sneak back downstairs and hope no-one had seen her. As she passed a bedroom, she heard voices low and throbbing:

A woman said “what is she like, Gilbert?”

“Nice and plump but hardly in her first flush; though she’s younger than you, by a century or three.”

“Don’t be so cheeky!” the woman chuckled and Daisy heard a creak, not of springs but of hinges.

Peeping through the crack in the door, Daisy saw not a bed but an open wooden chest. At least… it looked like a chest.

As fast as she could, Daisy started to tiptoe along the landing, and then in desperation, slid down the banisters to avoid capture.

Catching her breath in the hall, she hobbled to the door and turned the handle … but it would not budge.

Behind her languorous footsteps sounded on the stairs.

“Lovely to meet you at last!” called a soft voice.

At that moment, Daisy managed to open the door and stared out into the darkness.

How had night fallen so quickly? She looked towards the impossibly distant gates. Weren’t the dragons facing the other way? Had their eyes been lit up before, flickering irregularly? Daisy heard a gloop in the pond under the fountain.

“Don’t stand about getting a chill, there’s snacking to do,” Molly said, grasping Daisy’s arm.

Daisy turned to look into the face of a woman so pale, she was almost transparent. In the shadow of the door her lips were the colour of blackcurrants and her eyes were… turquoise.

Daisy kicked off her fake Jimmy Choos.

“Oh good, you’re making yourself at home,” purred Molly but Daisy was legging it down the drive, the gravel cutting her fancy tights and soft feet.

As Molly watched Daisy trying to climb the gates despite the fact that she clearly hadn’t been remotely nimble for at least two decades, she sighed.

“Rescue her before she breaks her neck, Gilbert,” she said, “I thought she was dippy, but didn’t think she was actually mad. We all need a stiff drink.”

“I told you to get the electrics fixed before she came, Grandma,” said Gilbert, “and I really think you’re too old for coloured contact lenses and goth make-up.”

“Maybe you’re right,” conceded Molly, as Gilbert ambled down the drive. She noticed the glooping in the pond and frowned. Gilbert was right, the electrics needed to be fixed, it really wasn’t wise to deprive water dragons of oxygen for too long. They could ruin everything.

dragons-eye

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

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