Thursday 31 October 2019

The Curious Affair of The Palvine Residence

By Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik 

  marshmallow mocha

As I walked down Old Oakbourne Street my eyes turned to the large manor house almost silhouetted against the whiteish sky. An odd chilled wind echoed as a concealed whisper through the twilight air, piercing it like a mirror hitting the hard ground and shattering into a thousand glistening shards of nothingness. The Palvine Residence. It stood detached between the empty cross road and the old nursery with two huge gates standing open as if to welcome unknowing visitors into their confines. The gates themselves, I noticed as I came to halt adjacent to them were comprised of tall wrought iron bars standing proudly, though harshly bent and disfigured in places with thick brown rust infecting their flesh. It was strange, that place had always somehow scared me though I cannot recall its existence before I was thirteen, though it undoubtably must have been there. odd how the mind is so selective in what it remembers. But since Halloween, it’d particularly caught my notice: I had seen no movement from the house until that day but it came to my attention that, despite the fact that no lights were on, a singular small pumpkin had been left alight outside on the doorstep, beside it, a small bowl of what looked like sweets, though I hadn’t had the courage to investigate further. I wondered who must’ve left them there.
This question had perplexed me so much over the next weeks that I had begun to ask around as to if anyone lived in the house or knew if the house even belonged to anyone and was directed to a quinquagenarian lady who’d spent the last fifty years living in a rather small cozy house with a lilac cream exterior and window frames the colour of melted butter. I was informed her name was Rita Pearlhall and that if anyone could tell me about the odd house on Old Oakbourne Street, it would be her. So it was for this reason that after school on an unusually warm day at the end of November, I arrived at the her door in my smartest black dress and jacket with a camera bag and note pad and told her that I was a local investigative journalist, a lie she had readily believed.
She had invited me into her home with an offer of biscuits and a hot chocolate if I’d like one, I obviously obliged. I followed her through the Cornish cream carpeted hallway and up the wide shallow staircase to a large brown door, behind which there was a lounge-like room with three white sofas, an armchair, a coffee table and a bureau with several odd items and photos on top of it. The walls of the room were perfect white with large windows that allowed the dying daylight to seep in. She’d invited me to sit down on the sofa furthest from the door and asked what I wished to investigate , to which I was not sure how to respond, so I began by asking if she’d noticed anything strange in the weather patterns to which she told me that she had and the wind was very strong for this time in the season and swiftly moved onto the topic of comings and goings in the neighborhood to which she had responded “ Well, there ain’t been much going on round here recently, except crying since the girl at number ten had her baby…” She trailed off “I really must pay her a visit sometime, which reminds me, I promised you hot chocolate didn’t I?” 
I smiled at her, she was a traditional cockney sparrow of a lady, lively bright green eyes and greying hair with a cheerful willing smile. She bustled off back down the stairs to where I assumed the kitchen was and disappeared from my view. It was at this point, against my better judgment that I decided to take a look around the room, gently spinning the old globe, at a loss for anything notable, so I continued to pour through Rita’s things listening keenly for footsteps outside. It was then that my attention turned to the photos on the bureau, in old dusty frames holding moments, one was of what looked like a much younger Rita in a long white dress outside a church kissing a strangely handsome man with curls who looked scarcely more than a teenager, another was of her holding a small baby what looked like thirty years ago and one was of her all in black with a hat and a handkerchief which looked rather more recent. My heart skipped a beat as I suddenly heard heavy footsteps outside the door and quickly tried to rush back to my seat upon the sofa.
I didn’t make it, she opened the door with a tray laden with hot chocolate and biscuits to find me with old photos in my hands.
“What are you doing?” she questioned abruptly. 
“I’m sorry” I stammered. 
Rita placed the tray upon the table calmly and indicated for me once more to sit down “You’re here about The Palvine Residence aren’t you?” she said in a hushed tone. 
“Do you know anything?” I asked unsure of how she felt on the subject. 
“As a matter of fact there is a lot I could tell you about that place, but I warn you, it’s the sort of thing a young girl ought not to be getting involved in…” she whispered as if afraid someone might hear her. 

“Please tell me what you know… I’m just interested as I’ve never seen anyone go in or out or anything but there was a pumpkin outside on Halloween and…” I stopped “I know this all sounds very odd.”
"Yes, it does, I didn’t think he was still living there, ” she murmured.  
“What ever do you mean? Who lives there?” I said rather too excitedly.  
“A teenager, well he was a teenager when I last saw him, when anybody last saw him for that matter, must be a young man now, we all thought he’d gone… didn’t think the family would let him stay on the estate after what he done…”
“What did he do?” 
“Well, all these strange things are connected you seen… think about it; first, all the noises at night, then the couple opposite that house have a daughter die, then there was that incident with the nursery and then…” she stopped speaking “and then my husband passed away.” She sighed as she finished her sentence. 
“I’m so sorry…” 
“Oh don’t worry, the man had it coming to him… my late husband may have been a wonderful man for me, but others were so fond of Lieutenant Miles Pearlhall as I was.”
 Deciding not to pry, I asked no more of her late husband. “Who did all this?” I asked, carful not to seem too interested. 
“Sylvester Spence Palvine. At least that’s what I knew him as, whether that’s his real name I don’t know. He was about sixteen at the time of the death of that little girl Clara and at the time of the indecent assault and seventeen when my dear Miles died. No one has seen him since. No one goes into that place. No one leaves. You know, I’m sure that pumpkin was just a stupid joke. He can’t still be there, that’s all I’m willing to say on the matter. If you’re stupid enough to want to know more then you should find the parents of poor little Clara, but you already know too much, you’re not going to like what you’ll find.” 
“But please Rita, if all this has happened surely Sylvester is in jail? Or he’s at least moved a very long way away?” I shouted.
“My husband was poisoned. But when they went to find Sylvester, he was gone. Vanished. No one could find him anywhere. Now I’d like you to leave.” She finished. 
“I know it is stupid to continue with this, but what are Clara’s parents’ names?” I said calmly. 
“Florence Parker is her mother. He father is long gone.”
I thanked Rita Pearlhall readily and left her home.
I had spent the next three days being intimate with my phone book – calling every Florence Parker I could find. No success. Then every Florence Parkes, Parke and Park. No success. But everyone I called I left a message with them of my name, address and phone number and the idea that I might know something about the death of Clara Parker. Nothing. I got the increasing sense that I wasn’t going to get an answer to all this. Perhaps all this about Sylvester Spence Palvine is just a fairy story. Perhaps there is no Clara Parker. Perhaps Miles Pearlhall died of old age. Perhaps The Palvine Residence is empty and someone put the pumpkin there as a joke. Or Perhaps Sylvester wanted to be found.
Nothing had happened on the front of The Palvine Residence for about a month and I had a wonderful Christmas without him in my life.
I began to forget out all I had heard as my inquiries had so clearly come to a dead end.
That was until the new year on a particularly miserable grey day when a small note lay in my front porch. My first thought was how did that get into my house, then I realized it came in via a medium know as a letter box. I picked it up and read it carefully;
I got your message on my answering machine. I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you sooner, I don’t use my land line much anymore. Please meet me tonight under the willow tree on the corner of Addison Avenue at 10pm. Come alone. I’m so sorry you’ve been involved in this.
So, I did just that. I came alone. Against my better judgment I waited in the cold under the willow tree that night until I saw a surprisingly young woman with waist length auburn curls in a long trench coat and red heels. 
“Hello” I whispered. 
“Are you here to meet me about Clara?” she murmured.  
I nodded and she lead me to a cold alley way with very little street lighting and it suddenly dawned on me that she might be intending to mug me. She took my arm and pulled me up a flight of metal steps to a small white panel door which she opened with a key and locked firmly once we had entered.
“What do you know?” she said oddly calmly as she indicated to me to sit down on a plastic chair beside a dining table. 
This room was quite different to that at Rita Pearlhall’s house;indeed, this was much less neat and tidy and had a much darker colouring with photos on the walls without frames and a small fluffy blanket on a red sofa. 
 “Can I be completely honest with you, Florence?” I asked kindly. 
She nodded.  
“I met with a lady a short while ago about a very strange place called The Palvine Residence… she seemed to think it was deserted by a young man called Sylvester Spence Palvine about five years ago, but I have reason to suspect it's not. She told me that she believes he murdered her husband with poison… but the police couldn’t find him. She also told me that if I wanted to know more, I needed to find you. And that’s what I've been trying to do for about a month. She seems to think that the death of your little girl Clara might be somehow related to Sylvester Spence Palvine…” I paused for breath “Does this make any sense?” 
“No. I don’t know what happened to my daughter, but I don’t think she was murdered by my lover,” she responded. 
“What? Sylvester? Then you must have some idea what happened to him.” 
“I don’t know what happened to Sylvester. How should I? The last I saw of him was when he showed up here when I had Miles over and worked out little Clara wasn’t his… yes he was angry but I don’t believe for a moment he’d kill Clara.  He loved her.” 
Then it began to make sense. For of course Sylvester had killed both of them, the man his lover had cheated on him with and the product of her betrayal. “I’m sorry Florence, but do you know what happened to Miles?” I whispered, checking if my assumptions had been correct. 
“Unfortunately I don’t. I saw him again a few times after that walk in but not much longer. Three months if I had to guess. Then he just stopped picking up my calls and I couldn’t find him.” She shook her head as she finished her sentence 
“What if I told you Miles was married… his name was Miles Pearlhall and he died about five years ago. He was the husband of the woman I met,” I whispered shyly.
 “Oh I knew Miles was married. Those two got married when he got back from Vietnam but his future wife was beautiful when he left and shed found herself a lover and they had a child sortly after he came home, her and her lover, which, rumor has, he killed. That’s why she kidnapped a baby from the old nursery down on Old Oakbournne Street before it closed down.” 
I was astonished at what she’d told me. She began to weep a little. “Are you alright?” I asked.  
“Yes yes just surprised he's dead… I always thought he’d stopped seeing me because Clara was gone.” 
Seeing the time had passed 11pm, I told her I must leave and she unblocked the white door and took me back to the willow tree on the corner and said goodnight.
It had become clear to me now. If I was to ever find Sylvester Spence Palvine, I would have to go to the Palvine Residence – a place which had scared me so much and confront the man himself. And if the man was indeed no longer in residence, then I'd hope the building itself would provide some answers. This prospect did not fill me with relish. Tomorrow night was the night. I would go alone. Armed with my wits, my camera bag and – if the situation required it – a swift kick in the balls with my stilettos.
As I walked down Old Oakbourne Street my eyes turned to the large manor house almost silhouetted against the sky. An odd chilled wind echoed as a concealed whisper through the twilight air, piercing it like a mirror hitting the hard ground and shattering into a thousand glistening shards of nothingness. The Palvine Residence. It stood detached between the empty cross road and the old nursery with two huge gates standing open as if to welcome unknowing visitors into their confines. The gates themselves, I noticed as I came to halt adjacent to them were comprised of tall wrought iron bars standing proudly, though harshly bent and disfigured in places with thick brown rust infecting their flesh.
I bit my lip as I stepped across the threshold to the pathway of sickly mud and grey rough cobblestones. Oddly, the mud was bone dry despite the subtle dew in the air. I walked softly. Suddenly very conscious of my breath rate. Why had I got myself involved in this? Couldn’t I just see the house on Halloween and think oh look, there’s a pumpkin like a normal person? It would seem not. I stood at the black front door which grew thickly with moss and leafy waxy green ivy and swallowed as I felt a lump growing to the size of a golf ball in my throat. I blinked in case I was about to wake up one last time and then I reached out an arm to knock on the door with he iron lion head knocker. Once. Twice. Three times I knocked. Nothing. It was at this time that it came to my attention that the door wasn’t locked. Or even closed. Gulping, I pushed the door open with a rusted creak and stepped into The Palvine Residence and closed the door behind me. “Hello…” I whispered, taking the phone out of my bag to use as a torch “Is anybody in here?” I continued walking through an old slightly dusty hall, as I cast the glow of my phone torch around, it came to my attention that someone obviously lives here. The place was in a fairly good condition; no cobwebs or broken things or other items would one associate with an ‘abandoned’ house “Hello, I’m not here to hurt you…” I shouted. I started walking up a huge flight of stairs “I know who you are… You’re Sylvester Spence Palvine. You’ve been alone for so long… I’m just here to talk to you…”. The stairs creaked as I walked and as I assented into the blackness, I noticed a strange tinkling sound: the patter of grand piano keys playing Eine Kleine Nacht Musik perfectly. It grew louder the higher I climbed. I stood outside a door with brassy fixings which separated me from the source of the noise. Me from a murderer.
I pushed the door as softly as I dared, careful not to startle such a man. I was so unsure as to what to expect. What does a murderer look like? How could one creature be capable of such evil and be personified into a man? No, barely a man, he’d be only a matter of years older than myself. I finally opened the door to its fullest to reveal a black shining polished grand piano central to a dark room, mostly shrouded in inky black shadow. Any possible light from the large windows was blocked out by sweeping crimson curtains which were suspended by golden rails deathly still. He sat lightly upon an oak piano stool gazing intently at the crisp white sheet music before him as he played. His dark waves of hair hung beautifully about his face, framing his pale handsome features as a waxy portrait. His blue eyes flashed delicately over the piano keys as he tinkled them softly until he calmly turned to face me.
I froze.
He wasn’t as I had imagined at all. He was beautiful. “Hello…” I whispered, half hoping he wouldn’t hear this utterance. But he had, for Sylvester Spence Palvine was a man who heard everything, and nothing. He was like me in that way. 
“Come into the darkness, ” he said in a strong clear voice. Shaking somewhat, I obeyed. Stepping across the floor, I become very conscious of the sharp thud my heels made as I stepped. “Good evening my dear” he said softly, his ruby lips allowing the words to slip out. I gulped and greeted him likewise then preceded to tell him who I was but was cut off by a sharp utterance of “I know who you are. You know who I am. Why on earth would you suppose I don’t know who you are. You saw my pumpkin on Halloween. You were meant to.” I looked at him perplexed and he continued “I needed someone to come here. Someone suitably nosy who’d look into it and realize that I am not a murderer.” I looked at him totally blankly. “Think about it. You’re a clever girl, who would kill those innocent people. Not me. I loved Florence with all my heart, and I loved Clara even more. I was undoubtedly angry with her betrayal of me, but I was just a teenager at the time. I didn’t kill Miles. And I’m not responsible for taking the child from the nursery.” 
Then it hit me. How could I have been so stupid. Of course, is wasn’t Sylvester. It was Rita. Rita had kidnapped the child after Miles had killed the child she'd had with another man. She had then discovered his affair and the offspring of his affection and murdered them both. With poison. Seeing this in my face he then began “why would I kill them? Do you take me for a fool? I am innocent. Sylvester Spence Palvine is an innocent man who has had his life ruined because he was an easy target. Now I live here; in the darkness, with only my music for company. While she lives in the Lilac House to torture me and mock an orphan’s disappearance. I’d had such a wonderful time you know. I’d left school and worked on my music for hours and then I’d visit Florence and when she had Clara, I dreamed one day her and I would be wed. But one night I came and found her with another man. I never saw her again,but I heard of Clara’s death and then the death of her lover. I was shocked. Twisted with grief. I locked myself in this place. I never imagined it’d be eternal solitude. Oh, how I wish I could know a lover’s comfort again.” He sighed as he finished. 
A heavy patter of rain began on the roof.
“You can’t leave now. It’s dark outside and it’s pouring with rain. At least stay here until the morning,"  he whispered as he stood up from the stool. 
“But I must find Rita! We have no evidence, but I can at least confront her. Get her to drop the charges on you, then you’d be free. You could be happy Sylvester. Not alone anymore.” 
“All that can wait until morning. You are here and you are the first human face I have seen in about four years. At least stay the night.” His eyes seemed to twinkle as he spoke and I realized that while I may never be able to clear his name, I could keep him company. He walked towards me slowly, as if scared he’d frighten me. “Well I wouldn’t be being a very gentlemanly host if I didn’t offer you a seat and a drink.” He directed me to a scarlet velveteen armchair by the lit fire and I perched upon it gently and swiveled to face him as he walked to a small dusty drinks cabinet with oaken embossed swirling patterns and poured us two large glasses of what looked like golden rich brandy. I noticed Sylvester was a tall man with broad shoulders and large arms as he walked towards me with the glasses. Pulling up his piano stool, he sat beside me, folding his legs.
“My dear, I hope you like brandy... I have a few other drinks in the cabinet for later...” he whispered as he passed me the glass. 
“I’ve never had brandy before” I murmured softly as I looked into his eyes, which, despite the darkness, shone clearly. 
“It’s a good drink to start a long night with if it’s a night you intend to remember... Florence told me that when I was your age...” He took a sip from his own glass “but enough about her... I want to know about your love life...” 
“Well...” He looked keenly at me.  “There isn’t much to say... I’ve always been scared by all this ‘doing it’ because I think it must be so much nicer to make love, if there is such a thing, it’d be far more intimate and loving,” I said rather shyly. “So you’ve never tried it?” 
I shook my head permissively. 
“Well, I suppose you’re curious in different ways than I was at sixteen. I wanted to make love and play music every minute, simultaneously if I could, but you go around looking for rough pumpkins.” 
I saw a strange smile creep over his face as he laughed at his words. We continued to talk like this for some time on topics such as his music and his anecdotes on love making and he poured many more drinks until he noticed the time. My mind grew weaker as I drank, and strange thoughts swam into my head. Perhaps he was an angel. An angel of music. This place was his heaven. And I’m an unworthy earthly winner of his affection. As he noticed the time, he suggested we get some sleep and took an old white night dress out of a wooden trunk for me to sleep in. “Where should I change into this?” I asked. 
“Wherever you want. I have never been one for shyness.”
Before I knew it, Sylvester was undoing his coppery belt buckle and pulling his white shirt over his to reveal ripping muscles and huge defined shoulders. “Sylvester, what are we doing?” I gasped as I stared at him. 
“I was hoping to share with you the benefit of my experience. It has been years but I doubt my skill has deteriorated," he whispered softly. “As I said, I was quite the lover in my day.” He was looking directly into my eyes .
“But doesn’t it bother you that I’m a virgin?” 
“Of course not. Virginity is simply a societal construct, build only to stop us from engaging in passion.” He smiled at me softly as he stepped slowly towards me. 
I blushed as he reached out and gently ran his soft hand over my cheek and whispered to me that I had ‘a virgin’s blush’ to which I replied that he had a soft loving innocence about him. He permissively leaned his head forward towards me. I leaned into him. Our ruby lips met in a pure moment of lust and lust and passion and simple, harmless curiosity. And it was heaven. Everything I’d ever wanted. It seemed to wipe my guilt and worries and fears away until there was nothing but him. Only him.
As he broke away, he slipped his hand up my thigh. Our eyes met once more as he suddenly stopped and brushed his head into my dark hair “My dear, are you sure this is what you want?” he whispered as his soft words slithered into my ear and calmed all my thoughts. 
Sylvester had the sort of voice you only hear once in your life; pure, true and hopelessly passionate. “Of course, Sylvester. This is perfect and it may be wrong. t I’ve only just met you but in trying to discover your history for so long I almost feel as if I’ve known you all my life. But please take it slowly with me… I’ve heard it hurts…” I finished looking away from him, hoping he didn’t think I was a child. 
“I’ve been told it hurts… but I hope to suppress  the pain with pure passion. Please tell me if the pain is too much for you, my dear.” 
I felt he was true and sincere in his words. I smiled at him as he looked me up and down. "The dress undoes from the back…,” I whispered. 
He turned me around slowly so I faced the glowing hearth. Gently he began to undo the zip on my black dress and allowed it to flutter to the floor and began to kiss and caress my neck as he placed his other had on my hip. Before I knew it, I was undoing the fastenings on his trousers slowly and he’d led our naked forms to the black thick animal skin rug by the fire. We allowed a passionate embrace to lead us to making love. For the first time.
We finished gently at the same moment and French kissed for a time as we held each other. “That was wonderful, my dear,"  he whispered as I relaxed my head into his muscular chest. I felt he knew I agreed because as he spoke I clutched his strong body a little closer to mine, almost in the hope we could become one again. As we left the room to go to bed, a million thoughts rushed through my head and as I looked around the room with its old iron candelabra, odd phantasmal black hangings about the bed frame, my thoughts turned to the implications of the act we’d just performed. Our bodies lay, still warm, between the crisp white sheets, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant: did Sylvester Spence Palvine love me? Did I love him? Is he capable of love? Was I capable of caring for him truly and passionately? I wonder ed if love is like how its written in books; so desperate and wanting and so perfect when achieved. Or was it as I had experienced; so desperate and wanting and so perfect when achieved but so boring once attained. I prayed it was the former and began to fall asleep in his arms.
I woke up with the delicate sunlight peeping in from between the harsh black drapes. His body shone as the pure rays danced upon it. He was mine and I was his and it would be this way forever. He awoke with a sudden heave of breath into his lungs and immediately looked own to see me resting against his form and running my left hand permissively over his chest, my eye bracing to the morning light. “Good morning, my dear. I see you stayed the night, did you sleep well?” 
“Indeed I did Sylvester,” I replied .
“Did you enjoy last night?” he continued. 
“Of course… it was perfect... it was the stuff of fiction…” I whispered, imagining I was in some sort of romantic novel.
“But… why the sudden formality? Do you regret what happened?”
 “No! Never, my dear! It was heaven…” he trailed off. “Look out of the window, ” he said, changing the subject “what do you see?"
I gazed out of the window pane and was shocked at the sight. Cherry blossoms. The Palvine Orchard was fully in bloom. And it was wonderful. I had been a part of the two most beautiful things I’d ever had in my life in one day. “It's what has kept me sane. My orchard. I always wished I could plant a blossom tree in the front… make the place a little more homely… but I cannot. If I’m seen…” he trailed off once more. “The blossoms are beautiful” he said in a very ‘matter of fact’ sort of way. 
I nodded. “Oh God! I forgot! I have to find Rita!” I shouted in shock. 
“No, ” he said in the same matter of fact tone. “That cannot help. She knows what she did and you bothering her will not do any good.” 
"But I could clear your name! You could be free.” 
“No. I couldn’t. You have granted me more freedom in this night that I could’ve hoped for in a lifetime without you.”
I didn’t understand that. How could such a young man not dream of freedom?
As I left the Palvine Residence, I couldn’t believe what had happened. I had lived my own story. I had learned that it is not always what seems important that is important. I had learned to love. And I would make that man happy and as free as he would allow me every day. Forever. Until I died. 
It was that day after school that I returned to the house. But I couldn’t find him. I ran around the old, empty rooms but nothing. He was gone. Had he run away for a better life in Vienna or Florence or Venice? Run away to be a musician? I prayed that to be the case. I went to the room where I had first found him and, with tears in my eyes, I sat at his piano to run my hand over his sheet music where I saw a note in place of it:
My Dear, know that I love you. I love you too much to curse you to live here with me forever. You will not see me again. But know that I will love you and miss you and dream of you forever. Until we can meet in heaven. There is only one way to truly be free. 
My hot tears blotted the black ink so it ran down the parchment. He was gone. But why? I survived but doing the one thing I could for him, to make him happy, maybe attract him back home to me. I planted a blossom tree. In the front. And I prayed one day he’d see it. 
But In my heart, I knew he never would.

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