1.9 prologue house 

I never see the matron. 

She is following me through the confusing mansion. Wires to electric lights are cut by a masked hand, hunting blade. Been in the dark for hours. 
She’s like a breath, hot and sudden on the nape of my neck, always close. 

I pass rooms hidden from curious eyes. Inside, I believe there are urgent prayers being said, tenants on their knees by the edge of unmade sick beds, sweating profusely. Afraid. (Are the doors locked to keep them in, or invaders out?) 

A bloodline runs dense through the mansion (I have read ledger books, historical accounts from burned down libraries, names of cousins, uncles, grandparents, elders, younglings.)

I remain within this mystery because I am the best man of the friend who married into this family. He is no where, possibly far away with his pregnant wife and their first child. This is a good thing. I am not given the chance to go with them. Or I choose not to be given this respite. I remain, wandering the dark hallways, listening intently to the clocks that outnumber me in the family house. 

Somewhere is the right time. Not at midnight, not at three. Somewhere in the death throes of four. 

There is this inexplicable family smell of talcum powder, piss, age, greydom, antibiotics seething through skin, wafting down narrow flights of stairs, secret passage ways, bookshelves that twist into walls to reveal hidden rooms where other tenants reside, unknown to the owners of the house. 

There are other people still, unbound by kin, strangers on floors above, the unregistered, ushered in by furtive lords, sent quickly through unmarked doors to basements undisclosed in original blueprints. 
The main door has moved since I got lost upstairs. Days, weeks or maybe just hours ago. 

I don’t know which level I am on now. 

There are no numbers on the doors. 

There are voices just beyond the reach of human hearing. I suspect they are pre—recorded, speaking vaguely about treasure chests…

The matron follows me, I can smell the lilac of her hair but no matter how many times I turn, or glance at a mirror as I pass, I cannot see her. 

I do not hear my own footsteps, but I can hear the heavy footsteps of others. Sometimes running, two or six floors above…

Fleeing nowhere, room to room…

A bed is creaking from one of the hidden rooms. There is an intimation of moaning. I follow the sound. The matron feels denser, an almost solid thing behind me, the hair on my arms stand, a chill closing in. 

I find an open door. I do not recall if I had opened it. Figures are moving in the unlit, bodies writhing in bed. 

I crawl in. I join them. 

It is the helper, with the sir. 

The father—in—law who knows me, surely, from the days marrying off his only daughter. I was there, drinking tea with him. Now we’re in the same bed. His face is a pale worry. 

He looks past my naked shoulder. The maid, undressed, has no meaning in her face. 

He looks beyond me, trying to sense the lurking of his wife. He speaks softly, concerned. 

“Don’t tell her you have the key.” 

This is clarity to me. I am here to open the locked chamber, to find them nude but never in disarray. 

He points to his own face, then to the face of the helper. I see the resemblance. 

The father loves his daughter. 

She is showing him photographs, blindly and furtively taken. The pictures are blurred, dark, angled wrongly, poorly reproduced. It’s hard to extract real faces. Only bare skin, inner thighs, a shadow hanging over supple breasts. 

How did she end up in bed with her father? In this house which she cleans for less than minimum wage? No one knows if the matron knows, but if she is really following me…

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