Though most of the brownstones of Castle Garden today are mere facades—and repaired facades of facades—standing before gutted antique interiors, and therefore not old homes with ancient roots at all, this house was an original. There was not, therefore, a squared corner or a straight line in the place: the house did not stand in the land of ninety degrees. The house creaked, but it also had the grave coziness of a place whose reality had been writ in stone epochs ago. As they all stood there taking in the odd décor—as if blue and white China, a Ugarit heap of obelisks and Arabian automata-machinery had been thrown into a mixer, and then spilled out—Ronnie cried,
Look! Now I am afraid.
There was a large wooden table set in the middle of the room. It was crowned with candelabra that looked like gothic or celtic crowns. Four places were set, silver domes condensed on their warm surfaces four hidden meals.
It’s set for dinner, for four. It’s like they expected us.
That can’t be it. I’m sure the lord and lady of the house are upstairs, ‘dressing for dinner,’ and they’ll be coming down those steps any minute. They just have a very punctual staff.
But no one came down the stairs.
I’m frightened, Mona cried, this is so creepy.
Oh, I don’t know. Bridges chimed in again (chiming in as he always did in his chorus-like life apropos George), a few minutes ago we were stranded out in the cold in the middle of the night, freezing, hungry, lost, worried, now, here we are, welcomed guests, warm, even cozy, if I may say so, and about to sit down to a home-cooked meal.
You can’t be serious. You’re not going to eat these people’s food?
I don’t think it is theirs, I think it was set out for us, I don’t know how, but it’s as if they knew, even though we are so late, they knew we were still coming.
It’s what I feel. As he said this, he lifted up a dome.
Omigod! Flank steak, my favorite.
Now, I’m telling you, I’m frightened. If there’s chicken kiev under this one, I’m leaving, She lifted the dome—there it was.
We have to leave this place, now.
Nonsense, sit and eat. I’ll go find the host. George bounded up the steep creaky stairs with a show of confidence that skidded to stilled caution as soon as he was out of view of the others. The upstairs hall was narrow and seemed to narrow further as it stretched out to the end of the corridor. George smiled, it was one of those delicious old upper hallways lined by heavily-doored rooms, each of which was a fortress of defensive furniture for frightened guests, including apotropaically-carved wood-post canopy beds. He opened one of the bedroom doors—after a brief, bright knock—no one was there. He drank in the musty Nilotic décor, all painted woodwork and obelisk. As he was about to close the door shut behind him, he was caught up short by seeing that some night clothing was laid out on the bed.
He was startled, and for the first time conceded that the sudden freshet of dampness under his arms revealed that he may have been concerned.
Lying, laid out on the bed, was his—his!-favorite robe: red check on silk.
How on earth? He checked the label, he rummaged in the pockets. It was his. How was this possible?
He went back down and called Bridges up.
Can you come up here for a moment?
After showing Bridges the mystery of the clothing, he looked into other rooms. Lain out on those pyramids of mattress, under canopies of silk, were his and even Rona’s night clothes.
When news of this situation reached Ronnie, she pulled her coat closed and began to button buttons.
I’m leaving. There is something terrible about this place. This is not right.
But by this point, all of the others had succumbed to the desire of their physical being for creature comfort and had not only sat down at the table but opened up those domes and not only opened the domes but picked up forks and then cut and speared food and lifted it into their mouths. To complete the chew, suffusing warm satisfaction into them, they opened up a wine bottle and helped themselves to a drink.
Do not do this thing!
This thing! You sound like an ancient prophetess. What can come of it, a meal was set out by an absent or late guest, to help them bide their time until the host arrives. We may not be those guests, but we also may be those guests. So, why shouldn’t we solve our problems, have a nice midnight snack, and graciously accept the hospitality offered us?
Hospitality. You’re not thinking, she said to Don, of spending the night here! You’re not thinking of actually putting on that robe, those pajamas, which obviously belong to someone else.
Oh, I assure you, they are mine, and, yes, I think, all things considered, that we’ve clearly landed on our feet, tonight. Things were headed in the wrong direction, but, right now, sitting here, warm, with a glass of I must say truly excellent wine in my hand, my belly full with maybe the best-cooked serving of my favorite meal ever, why I almost feel like I am back in the warmth of my mother’s recast embrace, yes, I am content, I am happy, I am having, he leaned the chair back, having a good time,
A good time! in a strange house, eating a meal you do not know how it came to exist, at a party that may not even be the party you were invited to? you truly are a vodka vampire, anywhere for a drink, anything for the “experience” of another meal to talk about for the rest of your life.
Don looked embarrassedly at George and Mona, oh, now, no need to get personal, he laughed defensively, Ronnie Dear, just calm down, enjoy yourself.
I cannot, I cannot.
Ostraconus Sequelae (2006), the sequel to Ostracon (2005) is nearly a fan fiction act of translation of Ostracon to Castle Garden, imagined as an unseen thing behind the fabric of neighborhood life.