The car crept up the hill through a wrought iron gate and parked under the light of a lamppost beside a small dark gatehouse. Rain sloshed over the windshield. The driver of the car waited inside, tapping the dashboard, his eyes fixed forward. No one came to greet him.
The man rolled his car window down and stuck out his head into the wet night. Tepid spattering raindrops quickly formed a river in the brim of his hat.
“Is anybody there?” he shouted. He opened the car door and stuck one foot out, then the other, a long slicker shielding him from the rain. Wind ruffled his clothes. He tilted his head into the slashing rain and walked to the gatehouse, rattling the door uselessly.
A feminine voice called out to him in the dim light. A beautiful woman dressed in a white satin robe with her hair in curlers jogged toward him. Suede pumps made her tilt dangerously forward as she made her way over the uneven driveway. Rain poured over her hair and face, and soaked her robe. The light from the lamppost overhead lit up her skin and set a pair of diamonds glinting from her ears. The woman stopped several yards away from the man and motioned for him to come closer.
“Are you the host of the party?” the man asked, watching her carefully.
The woman nodded then smiled warmly, enticingly.
“I have to get my equipment.” The man stepped slowly back to his car, not taking his eyes off the woman. He grabbed a leather camera bag and walked to her side. “I’m sorry I’m late,” he offered.
“Don’t worry, my husband is late. I’m just glad you could make it.” Her voice came out warm and smooth. “You’re Gregory?”
The man nodded. “Do I need to move my car?”
“Don’t worry about that.” She motioned in the direction she had come, then tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. They began walking in an unhurried pace side by side up the driveway.
“The unveiling is at ten, it’s the most important moment of the evening. My life’s work. You’ll be sure to capture it.” There was no question in the woman’s voice.
“I won’t miss it,” said Gregory.
The two of them walked silently the rest of the way up the driveway. Within minutes they stood in front of an expansive stone mansion.
The woman moved confidently up the steps and pushed open the front door. Live orchestra music passed through the entryway and escaped out into the night. The woman smiled again at Gregory as he halted on the top step, then walked through the door.
A young woman waited inside wearing a black dress and white apron. She reached for Gregory’s coat and hat, shaking them over the rug, never taking her eyes from the woman in curlers.
“Thank you,” Gregory said to the maid.
“Madam?” the maid said.
“Yes?” The woman in curlers moved beside Gregory, the cuffs of her robe sliding up her arms, revealing goose bumps.
“The cook says we’ve run out of the bisque.”
The woman in curlers leveled her gaze at the maid. Her mouth tightened. “Just see that everything else is the way he wants it.” She paused. “I’ve got to finish getting dressed. Show Gregory to the ballroom.”
Gregory and the maid watched as the woman strolled up the staircase.
“This way,” the maid pointed.
The two walked down a long hallway out of the foyer. A line of slender sconces created the shadows of arms drawing them forward. The music grew louder. The maid’s heels clacked and echoed in the narrow hall.
The maid pushed open a swinging door at the end of the hallway where cold air squeezed past them and suddenly the room opened up, overlooking a grand ballroom one story beneath them. They stepped out on a walkway that circled the perimeter of the room. The maid stood back as Gregory stepped to the railing and stared.
On the other side of the room, a wall of windows two stories high glared back. Branches scratched wildly at their outsides. On the floor below, a hundred or more people, unaware of Gregory’s presence, moved gracefully. Dressed in pearls and furs and tailored tuxes, their riches swirled around on a polished dance floor. An alcove to the side enclosed an orchestra that swelled with music. Delicate crystal chandeliers hung on spidery cables from the ceiling.
In the middle of the room, a tall structure was draped under a white canvas sheet. Behind it, nearer the windows, a curved row of nine nude male figures, each with matching likenesses, stood guard. The life-sized figures had been immortalized in varying poses representing nearly every medium from bronze to wood, clay, plaster and wire.
“It’s freezing in here.” Gregory glanced back to the maid who had crossed her arms in front of her body.
“That’s the way she wants it tonight,” the maid muttered.
Suddenly, she appeared, the hostess, only now her curls had been swept up with ivory combs. The music stopped, everyone quieted, stared. She stood at the top of a staircase, swathed in a dark red dress that billowed out from her hips. She smiled warmly to her audience but her eyes looked across from her into Gregory’s face. She nodded.
Gregory reached into his leather bag and pulled out his camera, fumbling to get the strap around his neck. Flashes of light stole over her as he began to capture her image. The woman waited at the top of the stairs.
“He should be with her,” the maid mumbled.
“Perhaps there’s trouble in paradise,” Gregory commented.
Finally, the woman held out her arms as if to embrace her guests. “Thank you all for coming.” She paused, sweeping her gaze from one side of the room to the other. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate the anniversary of the day Anthony and I began our lives together than by recreating the special night we shared ten years ago. In just a few moments I have a special surprise for you; the unveiling of my latest sculpture, dedicated, like all the rest, to Anthony.” Her voice slipped out over the crowd like honey.
Below, people clapped, watching the woman intently, but their necks began to strain, looking beyond her. Whispers rose over the crowd and people began to turn around; their eyes peered into the balcony, through doorways and arches, searching.
The woman shivered, sliding her hand across her arm. “I can see you are all worried about Anthony; he’ll be with us soon. In the meantime,” she gestured to a waiter at the foot of the stairs who gracefully leapt up the staircase, “let us be merry.” She deftly took a glass of champagne off the silver tray the waiter held out to her. “To love and marriage.” She held her glass high and then slowly lowered it to her mouth, taking a sip.
Everyone in the crowd sprinted to find a drink and a collection of clinking glasses filled the room. The woman descended the stairs and wound her way through the guests. People returned to their activities, music from the orchestra began again and one by one, guests approached her, praising her for the magical evening, her eye for detail, her good fortune in marrying Anthony.
Above on the walkway, the maid excused herself and Gregory strode around the perimeter of the room, and then down the stairs and among the guests, catching every angle of the woman in red, the exquisite centerpieces, the dancers and the sheet- draped statue.
The clock in the hall struck ten. The crowd fell into a hush as the woman in red walked over to the statue in the middle of the room. The guests crowded around her, standing on tiptoe for the best view of the new statue.
The woman waited beside her sculpture, circled around it slowly, her hands behind her back. Then without words she yanked on the sheet, letting it fall on the floor.
The flash from Gregory’s camera went off. Gasps and shrieks spread through the room.
The woman looked into the crowd, her eyes bright, her smile beaming. Towering above her, glistening under the chandeliers, stood the figure of a naked man frozen inside a block of ice.