June 13, 2014
It was really the museum’s fault.
The clouds were piled and hanging low, like macroscopic versions of the oyster shells that littered the path we walked up to the old manor house. There were several cars parked in the driveway, so I figured it had to be open. We walked up to the door. Michael bent down and looked at the sign.
"Closed Tuesdays and Thursdays. We came al this way for nothing."
"What are all the cars doing here then?" That’s when I noticed they were all black and dark blue high-end cars, even a couple of limos. A guy in a suit sat in the front seat of one sleeping. "Maybe it’s a typo. Maybe they changed the schedule and didn’t update the sign." I pulled on the door and it opened.
"Hey, we can go in."
"Maybe it’s a special event," said Michael. "Come on, let’s go."
I stepped inside. "Come on. I’ll pay your admission fee." I don’t think Michael knew there was no admission fee. They only asked for donations, but I stopped and put a five in the wooden box by the door.
It’s the oldest house on the island, built in the 19th century. The style is described as "American Victorian". More like American gothic. Some people said it was the house that inspired Edward Hopper’s "House By The Railroad", which in turn inspired the design of the Bates house in "Psycho", but there’s no record that either Hopper or Hitchcock ever came here. It’s survived hurricanes, floods, even a fire. It’s even survived being made into a museum and hundreds, well, dozens of tourists tramping in and out throughout the year. At one time it was used for scientific research. Now they’ve moved all the research to the sea lab, a big concrete building next to the manor, where students still go to do graduate work.
All this wasn’t really Michael’s thing, though. He was hanging back.
"Come on," I said, starting up the main staircase. "They have some cool old art, and you should see the view you can get of the island from the upstairs windows. They even let you go up in the attic!"
"Get back down here!" hissed Michael.
"Because I don’t think we’re supposed to be here right now."
I walked along the balcony. "Check this out. Here’s a picture of Maria Van Der Meer. She’s the one who built this place."
Michael came and stood next to me.
"Not by herself," I went on. "I mean, really, she just paid for it." We considered the picture for a moment. "You know, I never noticed before how much she looks like Margaret Dumont."
"What are you two doing?"
The voice was shrill and came up the stairs to us. We went to the railing and looked down, and I swear it was Lady Dame What’s-Her-Name, from all those English historical dramas. Right there in the flesh. She was even walking with a cane, like she does in that show.
"Are you with catering?" she asked. "You should have come in the back door to the kitchen."
I thought that shrill voice she did was just an act, but it’s not.
"This is so cool!" I whispered to Michael. "Do you know who that is?"
"We really should leave!" he whispered back.
"I mean it, because I can’t remember her name."
A man in a suit joined Lady Dame What’s-Her-Name. I didn’t recognize him. Maybe he’s never been in any of those historical dramas. "Gentlemen, you shouldn’t be here. The museum is closed today. I have to ask you to leave." I guess hanging out with someone who pretends to be British royalty made him think he could give orders. I was going to argue, but Michael started down the stairs, so I followed him.
"I’m really sorry," he said, walking by them. I was going to ask Lady Dame What’s-Her-Name if I could get her autograph, but she was already headed back into the back part of the house. The man turned and followed her as Michael opened the door.
"Come on," I said to him. "This way." I moved to the basement stairs.
"Stop it! We’ve got to leave! They said so!"
"What are they gonna do, call the cops? A hundred people live on this island. What do you think the jail looks like?"
"I don’t want to find out!"
"This is so cool, us being the only ones here."
"We’re not the only ones here!" Michael was following me down the stairs now. "There’s a fundraiser or function or something going on! We have to leave!"
"We can’t leave without seeing the basement first. This place was used for scientific research for a while. They have biological specimens down here. Some of them are more than a century old!" The basement was unlit except for the gray, gloomy light coming in through the windows. It cast long shadows through the shelves of specimens. I stopped to look at a ghostly looking jellyfish in a jar. "Cnidaria fluorensis." I read the yellowed, faded label at the base of the jar. "Interesting. I wonder if this was collected right out there in the bay. Makes you think twice about going swimming, doesn’t it?"
"We need to leave!"
I picked it up. "Do you think if I shake it It’ll light up like a glow stick?"
"Put it down now!" Michael almost yelled.
I moved on. "Check out this weird looking crab."
There were footsteps on the stairs and I heard the voice of the man we’d seen earlier.
"Who’s down there? I thought I told you two to leave!"
Michael grabbed my arm. "What else do you need? Let’s go now!"
"Fine, fine." I headed toward a door at the far end of the basement.
"Where are you going? Why don’t we go out the way we came in?"
"Why not go this way? It says ‘Exit’."
"It also says ‘Employees Only’."
"When no one’s working anybody can use it. Don’t you know that rule?"
"That’s not a rule. You’re making that up."
"Come on." I pressed the bar that opened the door. We stepped out into a courtyard surrounded by a high wooden fence. The wind had picked up and a light rain started to fall. I turned around. The door had closed and automatically locked behind us.
I looked around. A crane standing out in the yard looked back at us. Then it spread its wings and took off. As it flew up it went past an upstairs window of the sea lab. There was a man up there pointing in our direction and talking.
"What’s he saying?" I asked.
"It looks like he’s telling us to stay where we are and he’ll be down in a minute."
"Finally, it’s about time we got some service in this place."
"What’s wrong with you?"
There was a door into the sea lab directly across from us that looked promising, so I started walking over to it. Michael followed, hissing and muttering something to me. The door opened, and I went in, and held it open for Michael. It led us into a narrow cinderblock corridor. There were doors to the left and right. The fluorescent lights buzzed.
"Left or right?" I felt like I’d left Michael out of the decision process, so I thought I’d give him a chance, but then the door to our right opened. A young guy with a knitted cap wearing jeans and a t-shirt came in. He ambled by us and said, "’Sup."
"Good," I said. He continued on to the door on the left, so I turned and grabbed the door he’d just come through before it could close. We came out into a combination den and kitchen, with some couches on one side and a refrigerator, stove, and a small table on the other. There were several people, young, in their early twenties maybe, sitting around. They looked a little bit stunned by our entrance.
"Hi!" I said. "We took a wrong turn." Which way’s the way out?"
A guy sitting at the table pointed to a corridor past the stove.
"Oh, thanks, duh, I should have seen the sign that said ‘Exit’." I turned to Michael. "Next time we’re paying for the complete tour package."
The corridor led us to the front door and we found our way out. The wind had died down and the sun was starting to come out. We’d parked at the public beach a mile and a half away, but with the weather turning it was a pleasant walk. Still Michael complained the whole time, saying he doesn’t understand why he lets me get him into these things. I don’t know what he meant. If it was anybody’s fault it was Lady Dame What’s-Her-Name’s.