Chapter 3: The Room Without Walls
Est. Reading Time: 6 Minutes
After miles of walking a long road, Almondine came upon a field that gave way to a copse of trees, and there she discovered a room without walls.
Vast Persian rugs sat flat and smooth in the otherwise wild sea of grass. Atop one carpet two well-stuffed armchairs sat across from a wide tufted couch, book-ended by a white fireplace and mantle that lacked a chimney or any other kind of structural accompaniment. There was nothing but a darkening blue sky and a chorus of grasses whispering behind it. Fat pillar candles sat inside the fireplace grate and hurricane lamps along the top of the mantle. Velvet cushions were scattered like rubies and emeralds beside the seats, and between them there were tables that bore everything from a solitary chess board to a bird cage full of yet more candles.
On the other carpet, set closer to the trees at the start of a small wood, a long table draped in white cloth held a waiting feast. Platters of food sat untouched next to cakes on stands. Bouquets of flowers peppered the table- the sort of thing one did to bring the outdoors inside, as though the background for the table wasn't already flowers and trees. A two tiered cart sat parallel to the table where rows of bottles and decanters caught the last of the sunlight, transforming the liquids within them into glittering elixirs. Stemmed glasses in royal purples and deep ceruleans lined the top of the cart waiting to be filled. The long arm of a nearby tree stretched above the table, hanging a crystal chandelier above the dining area. Almondine felt as though the space before her was waiting for something, and that she was waiting too.
As the sun dropped further, lighting everything with a golden light, Almondine heard the sound of laughter in the distance. A group of people appeared out of the woods, the first among them leading them out with a small torch of flame. Each person wore shades of cream and white. Men in cream vests and white shirts and trousers laughed with each other while women in high-waisted dresses glided like white swans across the grass, arm in arm as they enjoyed shared confidences.
The person with the torch went about lighting all the candles while another tended to the lamps. And with a magic flourish the chandelier came alive in a blaze of sparkling light, eliciting cries of delight from the group as they took in the splendor. Almondine tucked herself behind a tree to watch, wondering what they had all been doing in the moments before they appeared on the scene. The group of eight walked around their domestic island unaware of the sole curious stare from across the field.
One of the revelers reached for bottles on the cart and poured them into the glasses, handing them out as the others began to find places to sit and perch. The wind stole their words. Almondine saw a pantomime of talking, mouths opening and closing, a head titled in question or tipped back in laughter. They settled with their glasses into the armchairs and couch, and one woman settled on a cushion on the carpet, allowing her white skirts to blossom around her. A man with rolled up sleeves and a woman with white gold curls stayed by the cart talking with the man who had been pouring the drinks. They seemed to never run out of things to talk about and Almondine seemed to never catch a word that was spoken.
She couldn't bear to walk closer, to pierce the air of privacy they seemed to have despite their semi-public location. She felt it would be rude to walk up to them outright, and she somehow sensed that they would likely go stiff and changed in her presence, unable to keep engaging in the strange fun their were having until after they were certain she was gone.
When the sun truly disappeared and the sky revealed the distant stars, the party moved over to the table to begin their feast. A woman raised her violet glass in a toast,and the others followed suit. When they all spoke the same thing in unison it made it loud enough for Almondine to hear. "To the Wilders," they all declared and clinked their glasses together one after another. They began to pass trays and eat the food from the table. More comments were made and laughter given freely but it was still just faint sound with little meaning from where Almondine sat. She watched the birdlike hands of people gesturing to punctuate their stories and the way they leaned toward one another when the conversations occasionally separated into little twosome.
Once the meal ended the group pushed their chairs back and stood. The candles on the fireplace were blown out and the chandelier turned off. Then the hurricane lamps were taken up and held aloft as they each picked their way into the woods, back to wherever they had come from earlier. Their light and their voices disappeared were consumed by the trees and soon they were another kind of mystery to Almondine. She stood, puzzled by the enchanting scene that she hadn't been able to leave. The tables and chairs and rugs were still there. She imagined that these lovely items would be ruined by the weather if left outside. Already she noticed a flash of red darting past the table as a fox sniffed out adventures in the night. Perhaps some magic had been worked to make it all appear and someone would appear to wave it all away shortly. Whatever the case Almondine could not stand at the tree any longer, tiredness had settled over her like a blanket draped over a sleeping cat. She decided to lay her blanket down under the tree where she stood and rest there for the night. Perhaps she would learn more about the party, both in the case of the people and their little indoor outside world.
When Almondine awoke in the morning it was because she heard a clattering sound, something mechanical. She sat up and saw that a large truck sat in the field, next to the outdoor living room, and a crew of serious-faced people in black shirts and pants were dismantling the scene. The glasses were put in crates, as were the plates and platters of food. Men lifted the arm chairs into the back of the truck while another stood atop a tall ladder to disconnect the chandelier. Within minutes everything that had sat on the carpets was stacked in the truck while people methodically rolled up the carpets. Once the carpets were loaded onto the truck as well a man patted the side of the truck with two firm thwacks and it began to rumble away. The crew of people walked in a slow clump behind it as it disappeared over the other side of the field. Except for a wide rectangle of trampled grasses it looked as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened here. It was simply a field.
The wind gusted and delivered a thin white ribbon to Almondine's blanket. She picked it up. It smelled like freesias and Almondine imagined it must have come from one of the women's outfits. Rolling it into a loop, she tucked it inside her bag. She sat in the new quiet emptiness of the morning and decided she had better start walking again if she wanted to find some breakfast.