“Lucky we’re not going to war or we would be late.” The old man grumbled readjusting his shabby tartan hat. He wore an over-sized threadbare coat, had three day old silver stubble on his chin and smelled like sweet whiskey, but he was of course right. The tram was filled with on edge people all thinking the same thing, why is this bloody tram going so slow? To his left an alluring lady had started to badger a gangly, pimply, private school kid to give up his seat. She was surprisingly glamorous with her faux fur coat, black lace gloves, swinging red parasol and husky voice.
“Move over for a lady, don’t you have any manners son?” She cooed, her breath smelling like spiced cigarettes. The boy scrambled out of the way looking ashamed, he was trying to hide from her glance behind his greasy hair. The grumpy man was watching her and sat up a little straighter as she gazed at him. In front of them a couple were kissing with gusto. Their hand groping, lip smacking and giggles were disrupting most of the tram. Surprisingly both the old grumpy man and the opulent lady seemed to be enjoying the great show of lust. “Third date?” The glamorous lady probed the man.
“What? Ah yeah, kids today, when I was his age.”
“Save it honey, neither of us have time for that.”
“My name is Audrey,” she twinkled holding out a laced and bejewelled hand.
“Montgomery.” He grunted back, grasping her hand for a little longer than necessary but avoiding her bright eyes. To my right a gorgeous half Chinese boy, Bastian, sat. He had shiny dark hair tied tight into a topknot and beads of sweat dripping down his tanned forehead. This was bizarre as it was winter in Cullen and the inside of the old tram was no warmer than the outside. The tram spluttered along like an old smoker with pneumonia. The noise, smell and temperature of the tram made it an unpleasant place to be, but it was cheap and frequent. I gripped the $20 bottle of red wine I was holding and tried to look out of the smudged grimy window, and wondered about the night that was to come. I watched the flowing river which divided the great city. The sparkling water was moving slowly, undisturbed and untouched. Couples sat beside it illuminated by dull street lights, but no one dared to swim in it, even on the hottest of days. The clear water tricked new comers into thinking it was safe to swim in. But the chemicals used to keep it looking clean were almost as deadly as the pollutants that made it undrinkable. I tore my eyes away from the world beyond my window and looked to the floor. Between Bastian’s long legs was a black bag. He was clasping it tightly between his shins and systematically adjusting it this way and that. Montgomery was glaring at him under thick grey eyebrows from across the tram.
“Oi, what have you got in there?” he growled rising from his chair and hobbling over leaning heavily on a dented walking stick. Bastian had his head in the bag again and jerked it out looking guilty.
“No do tell.” Audrey insisted gracefully rising from her seat as well. Montgomery’s watery grey eyes watched her swaying hips as her curvy body moved rhythmically with the tram.
“Can’t be too careful these days.” he growled his eye returning to Bastian with some effort. “Didn’t you see what happened in Boston?”
“I did. But I’d rather not show you, it is not the sort of thing I like to share.” Bastian pressed.
“Listen here sonny Jim, you better show me what’s in that bag now or I’ll stop this tram and make you show me!” Montgomery balled his wrinkled hand into a tight chubby fist and brandished it in front of Bastian’s shocked face.
“Alright, alright.” Bastian hissed agreeing only to shut Montgomery up.
I glanced at the people around the tram; most were starting to glimpse up from their absorbing eBooks or Smartphones. Audrey had reached Montgomery’s side and they both leaned in to take a peek in the bag. The mixed scent of these two strangers was overpowering yet wonderful, like a fine spiced rum.
“Oh,” Audrey gasped. “Where did you get that?”
“How did you get that is more to the point?” Montgomery growled accusingly.
“Shush Montgomery, I didn’t even know they still roamed this city and anyway it could breathe some life back into you old man.”
“So could you,” he flashed a cheeky, whiskey soaked grin at Audrey before glaring at Bastian again. “Where did you get that? And why are its wings strapped down?”
“Shh, I found him.” Bastian hissed zipping his bag back up and returning it to the safety of his legs.
“You mean he found you.” Audrey interjected her eyes rested on Bastian, then on me, then the bag and her already beautiful face lit up.
“Do you know if there is more still wandering around?” Montgomery’s less than beautiful face was furrowed and he frowned even more as he interrogated Bastian.
“Monty come back to your seat dear and leave these three alone, I feel you and I have some things to discuss.”
Begrudgingly Montgomery turned to escort Audrey back to their seats, I could tell he wanted to keep pressing Bastian about our secret, but the allure of Audrey overpowered his desire to question him. Alas their seats were now occupied by a splayed, spaced out junkie. The blotto man was shouting something about a curly haired woman at two frightened school girls who sat huddled together across from him.
“Oi,” Montgomery shouted brandishing his crooked walking stick and going red in the face. “What are you playing at? Move it you scoundrel!”
“It’s fine my stop is soon anyway.” Audrey’s husky voice sounded and she tugged at Montgomery’s arm trying to calm him down. “But I feel like I have seen that man’s face somewhere before.” Her green eyes rested on the junkie, she was trying to look into his eyes but he was blinking sleepily and could barely keep them open.
“Man? This is no man; this is a rotten, hopped up junkie! I’ll make him move for you.” Montgomery was like a wasp getting agitated and ready to sting.
“Montgomery calm down I need to speak to you, will you listen for a moment.” Audrey insisted but Montgomery would not sit down; he was getting redder and angrier.
“What’s the big deal gramps? The seat was free,” the junkie slurred blinked at Montgomery.
“Gah!” Montgomery jumped forward at being addressed so casually by this misfit and attempted to whack him on the head with his stick but in one quick movement the man avoided the swinging stick and rose nimbly to his feet. His face and eyes were now bright and he was suddenly very alert. He had long legs, jet black hair and bright green eyes, just like Audrey’s.
“Look mate, I know what’s in the kids’ bag and what they can mean.” He glanced at Bastian and I then whispered into Montgomery’s ear. “We are on the same side, save your strength for the battle to come.” He pointed to a chunky gold ring on his finger and gave Montgomery a wink. Montgomery just stood there, mouth agape at the symbol that I couldn’t quite make out. Before Montgomery had a chance to gather his thoughts and respond the junkie disappeared down the noisy and crowded tram and out of sight. The tram squeaked piercingly as it jolted around another bend away from the glowing city. It suddenly stopped and screeched every few minutes so that a sad soul could board or depart, this far from the city more people were disembarking than embarking. The tram slowly emptied and the seat Montgomery had so gallantly fought for remained empty. There was only a few seats still filled and none of them by the junkie, he must have jumped off after stunning Montgomery into silence with whatever was on his ring. Audrey and Montgomery were swaying by the door engrossed in conversation, their heads were very close together and they seemed to be speaking at the exact same time in hushed whispers. Their lurking eyes glanced in our direction every few murmured words and they were making me feel very uncomfortable. I patted Bastian’s bag and checked my phone, but I was really just trying to distract myself from their gaze but I guess that’s the main reason why anyone looks at their phone on the tram, to avoid other commuters gaze or worse, conversation.
“I hate public transport, why couldn’t we just drive or take a taxi?” Bastian moaned beside me, we had had this argument before.
“Because it is cheaper to jump on a tram and we are both planning to drink tonight aren’t we? And anyway you can’t deny that this trip was been quite educational.” I was curious to know what these two seemingly strangers knew about the contents of our bag, and each other for that matter. They had recognized what was in Bastian’s bag at once and so far they were the only two that had. Bastian let out another huff as the tram ground to a stop again. I grabbed his smooth hand and gave it a kiss. His beautiful fingers were long and tan, they were the fingers of a musician. Bastian once had been the finest cellist in Cullen, before his family was lost and with them his desire to play. I had always loved the way my creamy white skin and nails that were always painted black contrasted with his light brown fingers. I grasped his hand with both of mine and placed it in my laced lap, we had both dressed up for this evening’s party. The anonymous invitation had said ‘dress lovely’ so I was wearing my favourite outfit. It was a black lace slip over a champagne colored bodice. It really hugged the curves of my body and flared out at the bottom. The dress moved with me as I walked, Bastian had bought it for me for our anniversary, but I barely had such an occasion to wear it. Over the top of that I had wrapped myself in a thick hooded black coat, winters seemed to be getting colder and longer in Cullen. Bastian looked svelte dressed in all black, he was wearing a tailored suit and matching waistcoat. The backpack cradled between his feet took away from the charm of the suit but of course was essential to hide Marvillo. Bridge Road a disembodied voice crackled over the old speakers as the tram ground to a bumpy halt again. The doors snapped open letting in a gush of cold air; collectively the commuters on the tram groaned and the wind made people grab at the collars of their coats and pull their scarves a little tighter.
“This is me.” Audrey whispered into Montgomery’s ear before eyeing us off again. She leant across the walkway and handed me a card. “I don’t think you know what this means love,” she nodded towards Bastian’s bag, “when you realise what’s going on, give me a call.” She teetered on her tall heels slightly before swinging around to face the door again, she gave Montgomery a slow green eyed wink, “sure you don’t want to join me Monty, we have more to discuss?” Her long black eyelashes kissed her heavily rouged cheeks. Using all of his self-control Montgomery shook his head and stared hard at his walking stick, Audrey shrugged her shoulders and let out a sigh and turned to get of the tram, the rusty doors stood open expectantly letting in waves of cold air, I felt like the whole tram was waiting for Audrey to get off, and for Montgomery to follow her. She pursed her plump red lips and started to descend the steps slowly, her many necklaces tinkling with each step. The scent of spiced cigarettes lingered in her path, following her like a long shadow in the setting sun. Audrey was well over fifty but every man, woman and awkward teenager on the tram was watching her rounded hips sway down each step. Montgomery had taken his shabby bowler hat off and was roughly gripping and twisting it in his hands. Audrey jumped off the last step and the doors started to close, Montgomery finally found the courage to follow her and pulled his warped hat on. He thrust his arm and walking stick through the doorway and into the night as the doors slammed shut, he let out a howl of rage as they jammed on him again trying in vain to close.
“Can’t a man get any respect around here? Open the bleeding doors you fool!” He shouted at the faceless instructor. The doors squeaked back open and he clambered out after Audrey. She was already heading down a dark cobblestone laneway, she was rhythmically swaying her hips and doddering in her red Mary Janes, she knew many eyes were on her and I think she liked it. Montgomery hobbled after her his stick up under his arm, I saw him reach her and put an arm around her shoulder before the tram started to struggle up another hill and the two of them disappeared out of site. Just like Audrey, Montgomery had left a strong scent on the cold tram. Their scents lingered and mixed together long after they got off, like fragrant ghosts of their presence.
“Next is us, got everything?” Bastian asked shoving his phone into his waistcoat and prodding me in the arm. I ignored his nudging and looked at the card Audrey had handed me. In purple scrawling letters it read; Audrey Hazel, Proficient in other things, Call when needed.
“There is no number, how do I call her?” I huffed and turned the card over, I saw the letters AS printed on the back, that was it.
“Bea we gotta go.” Bastian pulled me gently as the tram started to fly down the hill we had just slowly putted up, it was gaining speed at a slightly terrifying rate, almost like we were just rolling or free falling. I wasn’t sure whether anyone was really driving the tram or if it was going on its own momentum. Bastian fingered the buzzer and thankfully the tram skidded to a halt once more. We descended the dirty metal steps and jumped out into the brisk night; it was so cold that it felt as though the fingers of the dead were reaching inside my coat and up my sleeves, their icy fingers grabbed at any warmth my heart and body had created. I shoved my hands deep into my pockets and turned when I heard footsteps behind me, it was the dishevelled kissing couple from the tram, I knew Bastian wouldn’t be impressed that they had stepped off with us. “We’re catching a cab home,” Bastian muttered glowering at them, he never was one for people that displayed too much affection in public, or people of any nature for that matter.
Once we were in the dark green park by the side of the road Bastian knelt down and waited for the pair to pass. When they were at a safe distance he unzipped his bag and carefully placed it on the ground. Out tumbled Marvillo, he was excited to be in the fresh air and yapped happily rolling in the grass. Marvillo was black and furry he had white markings on his face and paws and had a big white splodge on his chest. He had smooth leathery black wings on his back that he was trying to stretch out and flap. We had bound his wings to him so he wouldn’t draw any attention, but I felt so cruel doing it. He was clearly frustrated about not being able to fly and rolled over again and again trying to free himself. I hated strapping his wings down but it had to be done. When they were pinned down he looked like a normal dog from afar, I didn’t know what he was, or why he had wings but I knew if we told someone, anyone, they would probably take him away from us - for fame, for experiments, for fun, people were greedy and mean in this world.
Bastian had his phone out again and was searching for the address on our invitation, “how did you find your way around before these things?” I teased his artificially aglow face.
“This way.” He snapped ignoring my jab. We strolled in the direction of the house through the moonlight dappled park. Marvillo had given up on trying to free his wings from their binds and was now frolicking joyfully in the long wet grass and pouncing on tree roots like a normal puppy should.
The snogging couple were sauntering along slowly in the direction we were heading and we had quickly caught up to them. Bastian always said I walked too fast and powered on ahead like I was in a race, they were now only a few meters in front of us and for the first time I wished my pace was a little slower too.
“Hey do you know where Hyacinth Street is?” the girl asked groping the boy’s bum. Her name was Lydia, she had long brown hair, beautiful tanned skin and deep amber eyes. When her face wasn’t mashed up against the boys she was quite striking. The boy, Johnny, was not so lucky in looks; he had pale skin, crooked teeth and greasy, slicked back hair. I shouldn’t judge so quickly but I had to wonder how they ended up together - his smile was not a pleasant one.
Bastian slowly turned his head and huffed. “Heading to a Secret Garden Party are you?”
“Yup,” Lydia giggled and grasped Johnny’s bony hand. “I’m Lydia, and this is Johnny, have you been to this house before? Hey you have one too!” Lydia exclaimed looking down at Marvillo.
“No we haven’t been her before, but the street is just down here,” I said to Lydia, and then whispered in Bastian’s ear. “Maybe we should ask if they know what this is all about. She has a, a whatever Marvillo is.”
“They won’t know, our invitation was a riddle, I’m sure theirs is the same, and maybe she just thinks he’s a dog… let me see the invite again.” He took the invitation out of my hand, roughly unfolded it and read;
To those that hold a secret treasure,
Come tomorrow night no matter the weather.
A Secret Garden Party awaits those I choose,
Come along and discover, you have nothing to lose.
If you decide to ignore this letter,
Your life will not be for the better.
So come and enjoy some good food and wine,
And I’ll make sure your life will be divine.
Address: 36 Hyacinth Street
Dress Code: Lovely
Bring: Your Treasure
“I think it is more of a threat than an invitation… and how does she know about Marvillo, did you tell anyone?” I said reading over Bastian’s shoulder.
“Of course not Bea, we don’t even know for sure if he is the treasure the invitation is referring too, we just guessed.”
“Well it does have a flying dog drawn on the front, so I think it is him. Hey, we are here.” The four of us stopped in awe outside of house number 36 Hyacinth Street. It was a gargantuan, old ivy covered building. The house was very dark and had been created with massive stones that were the colour of coal, even the beautiful stained glass windows were the inkiest black. The house reminded me of when I had explored the enchanting Barri Gotic, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The roof was covered in turrets, it was as if Antoni Gaudí himself had come back from the dead to work on this house. On either side of the arched front door long bared windows glowed softly behind thick bronze bars. The front yard was wild and menacing, the dim garden was overflowing with exotic plants and gold statues. Tucked away in a corner surrounded by the black stone wall was an old marble fountain. It was cracked and worn but still chatted away beautifully as the water spilled out of the mouth of a statue. The statue was that of a dog, a dog that had long feathered wings protruding from between its shoulder blades. It had the letters ZS branded on its chest, the same letters that were on our invitation. All the other houses in Hyacinth Street were small and manicured, the typical Cullen suburban home. I had to wonder if other people could even see this house, but then again why wouldn’t they be able to? Perhaps I had read Harry Potter too many times.
With trepidation Bastian pushed open the low steel gate, it let out a long metallic sigh at his touch like it was annoyed to be pushed open. It looked out of place so small and fragile between the great snaking stone wall. Staying close together the four of us entered the yard and walked up the overgrown path in a little cluster. We climbed the large steps together, as if we were suddenly one. The stone steps were higher than the average stairway and my thighs burned with our slow spider-like ascent. Reaching the door first I was faced with the bell. I pressed the small gold button sticking out of the wall and quickly fell back into the group but I didn’t hear a sound. Glancing at Bastian I moved forward again and picked up the round knocker protruding from the centre of the door, with a nod of encouragement I dropped it with a heavy clunk. It knocked against the bronzed lion face that was staring out at me from beneath it. I could hear a clang echoing inside what sounded like a high ceilinged room before the great door swung open bathing us with light and music. Still in our tight cluster and with no host to greet us we peeped through the door. Like the echoing had suggested the entrance hall was great and very high. I stood with my mouth open and gaped at the grandeur. Enter, sung out a magnificent voice from I don’t know where, and let the party begin!