Lenore’s hands searched in the dark for the small button. Although Gloria’s family home had been wired for electricity for more than twenty years, Gloria, herself, had never gotten in the habit of using very much of it.
‘Particularly the fixture above her front door,’ Lenore thought wryly.
She raised the wrought-iron knocker, sculpted in the visage of a falcon bearing the eye of Horus, but then thought better of it. The knocker was the home’s only outward sign of Gloria’s late father’s keen interest in Egyptian history and his vast collection of relics. It had been a favorite of Gloria’s for many years. The home was large enough that Gloria may not even hear it and Lenore would feel awful if she damaged it.
Then, luckily, the headlamps from Lenore’s departing cab passed over the porch of Gloria’s house, briefly painting the large oak door, and its surrounding features, in amber light. Lenore found the small doorbell hidden amidst the ornate wooden carvings she’d been futilely pressing.
She pushed her thumb to the button and was rewarded with a deep three note chime emanating from inside her friend’s home. The taxi had just turned left at the end of the block when the lock clicked firmly and the door swung open.
“Gloria!” Lenore stepped over the threshold and wrapped her arms around the other woman. “I was so happy to hear from you. Thank you for inviting me over.”
Lenore kissed the air on either side of Gloria’s cheeks noticing how impeccable her makeup was tonight. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. We were, all of us, beginning to get quite worried. It’s been over a month after all.”
She took both of Gloria’s hands in her own and looked at her face, noticing the distant look in the other woman’s eyes. “Gloria? You are better aren’t you? Didn’t the doctor say so?”
Gloria inhaled sharply and there was a strange light in her eyes. “Yes” she said quietly. “Doctor Sondergaard has cured me. I am very grateful.”
Lenore studied her a moment. “You seem… tired perhaps?”
“The treatments…” Gloria breathed, a slightly pained expression on her face, “are very… strenuous.”
Lenore nodded gravely. “If you aren’t feeling up to a visit I can come another time. I could telephone for another taxi to take me home.”
“No,” Gloria said, her fingers gripping Lenore’s tightly. “You must come in and stay.”
Lenore smiled and let herself be drawn into the foyer of Gloria’s home. The front door groaned as it closed behind them.
Lenore followed Gloria into the sitting room and joined her on a plush sofa. “Well all the women back on Holden Street will just be thrilled when I tell them you’re up and about again. Did you know Governor Zaleska managed to make it back for a Sunday brunch a few weeks ago? She asked after you personally.”
Gloria’s eyes were far away again. “I will contact the Governor soon. Not yet though.”
Lenore nodded her agreement. “No, you’ll want to recover your full strength I’m sure. You must have been so poorly, you didn’t sound at all like yourself in your letters. If I didn’t know your handwriting so well, I would’ve doubted it was you writing them.”
“Yes I wrote them,” Gloria said dully. “I had to write them.”
“Oh I know dear, I just meant it must’ve been dreadful dealing with this… What was it exactly you were diagnosed with again?
Gloria’s eyes were far away again. “It is a very rare, very serious condition,” she recited.
“Is?” Lenore asked, turning towards her on the sofa. “You’re still suffering with it?”
Gloria took several deep breaths. “I… I require regular treatments,” she finally managed to reply.
Lenore took her hand. “Oh my, I’m sorry I didn’t realize that. Is that why you’re so tired? All the traveling?”
Gloria seemed confused by this. “I… I must not leave.”
Lenore cocked her head. “Is… is the doctor traveling here for your treatments?”
Gloria’s eyes were pulled up to the wood paneling in the high ceiling above them. Her voice was a whisper. “Doctor Sondergaard is my guest while I am in her care.”
Lenore followed her gaze up, then things clicked into place for her. “Oh! She’s staying here at the estate? Wonderful! And, goodness knows you have the room for a guest.”
This close, Lenore could see how tired Gloria was. Still, she was wearing her best diamond necklace and a flawless gown… she clearly had been in the mood for company.
“And, lucky with the timing too,” she continued. “It seemed like you fell ill just as you’d finished dealing with that whole mess surrounding your inheritance. It would’ve been awful if you’d succumbed after you’d finally won what’s rightfully yours.”
Gloria nodded deeply, “Doctor Sondergaard diagnosed me just in the nick of time. I am very grateful.”
Lenore squeezed her hand and smiled wickedly “I am too dear. Without you there, I’m the wealthiest person in The Women’s League and I don’t think I could bear the burden of all that funding without your help!”
She laughed mischievously and for a moment it seemed Gloria was about to join her. A shadow of a smile crossed her face but then the large clock behind them tolled forcefully.
Gloria’s hand tightened in Lenore’s and her body went rigid as the bell chimed. The deep sound reverberated off the wooden surfaces in Gloria’s sitting room and hung in the air for several long moments.
Gloria stood slowly, her body quite straight. “It is time for my treatment,” she said with an odd fervor.
Lenore began to pull herself of the sofa. “Of course I completely understand. I can come visit another time if you’re-”
“You must stay,” Gloria said with more force than Lenore had heard from her all evening.
““Well of course I’m happy to… if you’re sure I won’t be in the way?”
Gloria stepped over to a writing desk opposite the sofa and took up a carafe filled with red wine. She poured it into two glasses.
Lenore let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness. I was worried the doctor was one of those modern sorts who insists on abstaining. All rubbish I say. My grandmother lived to be one hundred and three and she had a glass every single day of her life.”
Lenore took the wine from Gloria’s outstretched arm. “Best thing for your health I think.” She raised her glass, then sipped the burgundy drink and made a lewd sound. “Oh my, that is superb!”
Lenore took another drink, longer this time. She gestured to Gloria’s glass. “And, there is no complication with the medicine you’re being administered? One of your letters mentioned injections.”
Gloria shook her head slowly. “I… no longer require the injections. They have served their purpose.”
Lenore nodded as she took another draught. “That’s good. Because having this in the house and not being permitted would be quite cruel.” She smiled and tipped her glass again. “Aren’t you going to drink yours?”
“I… must switch this on,” Gloria murmured, setting her glass down beside an odd wooden box that sat centered on top of the desk.
“I was going to ask about that earlier” Lenore said between sips. “I’ve never seen a jewelry chest with a plug before.”
Gloria took up a black cord that was coiled on the desk. One end was capped with a round electric plug, the other disappeared into the ornate box through a small hole on the side.
Gloria took the plug and pushed it into the wall socket nearby. Light instantly spilled out from within the box, glowing and twisting in the dim room.
Lenore realized that the features on the front were actually doors. The light peeked out through the gaps in the design carved into the wood. “Is it some sort of miniature radio?”
“It is for my treatment,” Gloria said, a hint of excitement in her voice. She turned a round dial on the side until it clicked into place. There was a faint sound then, like the whirring mechanisms of a master-built clock.
“It’s beautiful,” Lenore breathed, watching the light twist and fold in on itself endlessly behind the doors.