Photo by KB HURST
Some people fall in love with another human being, much like the couple at the new favorite restaurant in town who got engaged over dessert.
We long to belong and be beautiful, and when you are in love, you feel gorgeous, especially if we have that other person feel the same way about us as we do them.
Some people fall in love with their pets and post them all over social media.
Some people fall in love with a cause like global warming and humanely protest their life away.
Others fall in love with their jobs and work until they die, happily.
Some people fall in love with places like the Rocky Mountains or the beaches of Hawaii.
They all fall in love with the traits of the person or the thing. Maybe it’s because we see ourselves in the other person or thing. Perhaps it is the longing for something that makes us fall in love. Some people spend their entire lives chasing that one thing that they fell in love with.
For me, I fell in love with a house.
The sun rose over the Pacific as I looked out the window of our fancy hotel suite that towered over the water. It was the perfect LA morning, and room service had just brought my fiance and me a tray of coffee and cream.
“Do you like this tie with this jacket?” asked Neil in his usually insecure way.
I looked at him and smiled. He was adorable when he was serious, which was often these days since we had come to Los Angeles to visit his family, although initially from Bristol, England. They had purchased a small company in California that had something to do with engine parts of Porsche. I didn’t understand any of it because I was a curator for a small art museum in upstate New York.
Besides visiting his family in LA, we were planning a wedding, and in three short months, I was going to be Mrs. Neil Habernathy. The most exciting part was that today I was finally going to visit the home of Sylvia Stanton and her Artist House.
The house had become an obsession of mine since I discovered it in one of my art history books at NYU. I recall sitting in my professor’s class, staring out the window until he called on me to read aloud chapter 35 Stanton Artist House. I was bored to tears as I read until I turned the page and saw the portrait of one Miss Sylvia Stanton.
Her back turned toward the artist as she glided up a staircase, her head turned only so slightly you could barely make out her upturned nose. Black hair as dark as Vivien Leigh’s and her dress, a glorious piece of art itself, in typical 1940’s avant-garde. She had once been a famous Hollywood actress, who after a brutal divorce, quit acting altogether, taking up painting.
Sylvia went off the grid only to pop up some twenty years later when her home was featured in an Architecture Magazine. Sylvia Stanton had supposedly designed her home all by herself. She was rumored to have had no formal architectural training, and yet her home was perfect in every way. Every measurement and eloquent emblem perfectly arranged. From her Mayan Inspired design to the garden behind her house, it was only a 13 by 13 foot home standing above a large cement block that resembled a Mayan pyramid, hidden in the Hollywood Hills. The garden was a circular stone garden with strange symbols placed strategically around it. In the center was a wood-burning pot surrounded by a small pond of water. At certain times of day, the water looked like blood pouring out in all of its vermillion splendor.
I studied the dress of the actress wearing it and then felt overcome with admiration I cannot explain. I fell hook line and sinker for Sylvia Stanton’s artist house. For years I had wanted to visit it, but I never could escape my life for one reason or another. Either it was caring for my sick father when he became ill, or it was my job.
Now that I was engaged, Neil had promised to take me, and I had been more excited than ever before. Today was that day of all magnificent days. I struggled to find the perfect outfit because, after my visit to the Artist House, we would be having dinner with Neil’s parents at some posh place.
“Are you done yet, darling?” Neil asked in an overly sweet tone, which meant he was annoyed by my taking so long to get ready.
“Yes, just trying to find something to wear in front of your mother. She hates me!”
“All British people hate Americans; don’t fret it is just in our genes, Tess.” he joked.
“Except you or you wouldn’t be marrying a silly American.”
“Oh no, I do hate them too, but you put an evil spell on me, and now I have no choice but to marry you.” he kissed my neck, and I laughed, pushing him away while I finished my makeup.
I fiddled with my long red hair and then put on a white flower dress that barely touched my knees. Forever the artist, I threw on a large dramatic sun hat and green sandals, and then we headed out toward the Hollywood Hills West district of Los Angeles.
It was a place that held so much occultic history, and yet it cast a perfect spell over me that morning. The sun blazed on top of the car, but I let in fresh air through a crack in the passenger side window. The breeze was perfect, and the sky was blue, like a postcard. The trees all along the valley below the driveway of Silvia’s home were perfect and green. You could tell the staff tended to them very well.
There was nothing spectacular in regards to the driveway going upward toward the home. The property was hidden among larger homes of the Hollywood elite, and other business tycoons. You could miss the tiny drive that leads up to the house, which was surrounded by trees. The driveway itself, while barely wide enough to fit Neil’s BMW Coupe through the many trees and bushes that seemed to hang over the narrow passage. Finally, there was an opening at the end of the drive and there in front of me in the center of two of the most massive Palm Trees I had ever seen was Artist House.
I cannot express my awe at finally looking at the beautiful home even from the outside. Neil parked and got out of the car and walked over to open the door for me.
“Tess, are you sure you want to get out in this hot sun? You may get all sweaty, and it will mess up your makeup.” he joked with me, trying to keep me in the car longer.
“Oh no, you don’t. I am getting out to see this glorious house. I have waited twenty years at least to see it. Nothing you can say will deter me from it.”
Neil helped me out of the vehicle, and we walked up towards the stairs of the mini Mayan temple. The outside was breathtaking. The broad wide stairs that went to the front door surrounded the entire house as a Mayan pyramid would. Intricate designs and patterns were decorating the stairs that looked like they had been dusted with gold and other colorful gems. The photos I had seen all those years ago did not do the home justice. I slowly walked towards a large wooden door that also had symbols etched into the design of it. There were potted plants all over the front of the top level of the porch. I put my hand on the door handle, and Neil and I walked inside. There was a gust of wind that blew the door shut behind me. When it closed, it startled me, and I caught hold of my breath immediately starting to cough. A woman came over wearing an official museum polo shirt and smiled at me.
“Hello, I’m sorry many visitors get that way when they first enter Stanton Artist House. Dear would you like a bottle of water?”
I nodded, still coughing my lungs out as she quickly walked over to a small fridge, taking out a bottle of water, and handed me a bottle with a photo of the house on the side and a telephone number for the Artist House museum on it.
“Thank you,” I said, finally able to grasp for air.
“Eight dollars.” she smiled and looked from me to Neil.
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
“It’s eight for the water.” she smiled.
Neil pulled out a wad of cash and handed her a fifty dollar bill.
“Oh, thank you so much, sir. Let me grab your change unless you plan on taking a tour?”
“Yes, we do plan to take a tour,” Neil said, looking at the woman who was still smiling.
“Perfect, that will just be another thirty-eight dollars.”
“Thirty-eight dollars?” I could see Neil was getting highly annoyed.
“Yes, it was eight for the water, and it is forty dollars a person for the tour.” she stood still smiling.
“This is some customer service,” Neil said, handing the woman another fifty dollars. “Keep the change and donate it to the museum,” he said, smiling sarcastically.
“It’s a private tour. Our busy season is usually in late October during El Día De Los Muertos. Any other time we have a charge per person, what we would charge an entire ten-person guided tour. It’s on our website.” She smiled
I looked at Neil, and he sighed, and then at the woman. She took out two booklets from behind a tiny counter next to the small fridge she had retrieved the water from and then gestured for us to follow her.
Our tour guide handed us each one of the two booklets as she opened the door to the foray. Nothing about this house was small, on the inside. On the outside, it appeared very tiny.
Neil let me in front of him, and both of us followed the woman. The first room in the house was much larger than it appeared it would be from outside. The room was the same one that Sylvia Stanton had painted of herself going up the staircase. The strangest thing about it was that while in the portrait, the staircase seems to ascend to the second floor, but there was no second floor. The staircase was nothing more than a prop. The second strangest thing was the walls. All over was the same portrait of herself going up those stairs in that gown.
Our tour guide smiled, “Welcome to Sylvia Stanton’s Artist House if you haven’t already noticed the staircase. Well, she believed in the idea of out of body experiences, and so she would often focus on herself walking up the staircase when her soul would leave her body and then descend the staircase when she returned to it.”
Neil looked at me and rolled his eyes.
The tour guide continued as I walked around the room, looking at each hand-painted portrait.
“If you notice each one of her portraits seemed to appear as though she had an extraordinary brushstroke? Well, that is because she painted everything with dots using a Q-tip. There is not one single stroke of a brush on any of these but look at the precision. She was as much a unique individual as any other artist. Many people wonder why she would paint the same portrait every day and hang each one up on that big white wall. She did it to mark each day as though it were a calendar.”
“You mean she only painted herself?” Neil asked with a curled lip showing his disbelief.
“Yes, each portrait was to represent herself. She also was a recluse who never left. No one saw her again after she retired from acting. She had very few visitors but never showed her face even when she did. When she did interviews, which was rare, she only did it through letters and correspondence. Sylvia Stanton wanted everyone to remember her as she was when she was young, glamorous, and beautiful.”
“She never changed anything about the portraits, not even the lighting,” I said, walking around and looking at the dates at the bottom of each one. Each portrait is the same except for the date in which they were painted.
“Artist liberty.” Our tour guide laughed.
We followed her into a short hallway leading to a tiny kitchen that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the home. Then to two small bedrooms, which neither had actual beds. One only had a table and a narrow couch that stretched from one side of the room to the next.
“These were Sylvia’s guest rooms. If you notice there is no bed in either room. She was rumored to have a rare disease that rendered her unable to sleep permanently called Fatal Insomnia. It is said that is what initially killed her, although her body was never found, and it was never recorded that she ever died. Although it is said, she did die.”
“You mean no one ever collected a death certificate? No family?” Neil asked.
“No, she had no known family. She also never left her home. She was very unconventional. Let me show you the gardens now. I think this will be your favorite part. It is often the favorite of all the visitors.”
Our tour guide did not fib in the least. When Neil and I approached the gardens, another world entirely opened up. There was a large ten-foot stone wall that wrapped itself in a circle around the back of the house. In the center of the ring was a small round patch of grass. In the center of the green was a stone patio with some sort of drain that also went into a circle labyrinth around a tiny pond with 13 medium-sized Koi fish in the center of it. Some multiple plants and trees were all around the garden walls, which grew tall, creating a canopy of green at the top.
“If you look at the trees and plants, there is an opening at the top so that the moon will be center stage at night. It hits the pond directly when it is full. There is a swirling drain that leads towards the street when it rains, but the collected water can appear as though blood is dripping from it. Please, won’t you look at the red sandstone around the pond? This pond was Sylvia’s ultimate creation. Feel free to look around as this does end our little tour. If you walk out that back gate, you will go right back to the driveway where you came in. Have a wonderful day, and thank you so much for coming to the artist’s house. There is also a donation box near the gate for the upkeep of the gardens should you feel so inclined.” with that, she walked back into the house, leaving Neil biting his tongue.
“You ready?” he asked me.
“Yes, I am, but I just want one more look at the garden. I want to take a couple of pictures. Why don’t you start the car get it cooled off, and I will meet you there in a moment.
“Don’t be too long dearest our meeting with my parents is in a little over an hour.”
I nodded and waited for Neil to leave. I just wanted a single moment with this maze of beauty. I stood watching the pond and the pretty koi as they swam around it doing their little figure eights around each other in the water. I bent over the edge and peered into the water. Lillys floated along the border, and as I stopped over, I felt transfixed. I didn’t realize I was losing my balance until I fell over. I scraped my knee up against the circular maze around the pond. The gash began to bleed almost uncontrollably. Luckily I kept bandaids and tiny wipes in my purse. I managed to clean myself up, but as I did, I felt small raindrops on my skin. I looked down at the ground as the blood from my injury melted in with the rainwater. It began to swirl around the stone maze, and to my utter amazement flowed around it until it was released into the pond. The koi seemed to gulp at the strange water mixed with my blood as it fell into the pond. I stood there watching in a daze until I heard a lightning crash.
The lightning startled me, and I realized that some time had passed since Neil had gone to the car. I ran towards the gate, which I found hard to open. I had to jerk it a few times before I managed to push it open. I ran to Neil’s car and hopped inside.
“What the hell happened to you?”
“I fell, but I’m okay,” I said, trying to sort myself out in the car as he sped out of the driveway.
He said nothing until we got into the main road and then he started.
“You stayed behind so long now we are almost late. You know my mother hates whenever someone is late. What were you doing? I waited in the car for forty-five minutes!”
I looked at him, stunned. “No, Neil. It was only a few moments longer. I swear!”
“We got here at eleven. It’s now a quarter till one. I thought I was going to have to come to get you.”
I looked at the clock in the car, stunned that it had been longer than I thought. How long had I stared at that pond?
Shrugging it off, I stared out the window. I can’t explain how I felt at that very moment, but I was saddened to be leaving the Artist House. It was like meeting your soulmate and then having to leave the person behind.
We got to the LemonGrass Grill restaurant, and when we got inside, Neil’s parents were there waiting along with his brother, Don, and his wife, Cheryl.
Neil’s mother, Bernie, as they called her sat next to his father, a man in his late 70’s, had already begun napping in his chair. Bernie hit him in the shoulder, “Reginald, Neil’s here!”
“Oh, what is that the socks are missing?” He asked, beginning to sit up straight as though he had been awake the entire time. It was comical to watch them.
Bernie rolled her eyes and stood to hug her son. She hugged me too in her halfhearted way, and we all sat down at a large round table in the middle of the restaurant.
“Vanessa, we have some other guests to add to the guest list.” She said to me before I could order my wine and calm my nerves. The woman made me a nervous wreck.
“You can call me Tess. No one calls me Vanessa.” I corrected her politely. “Go ahead and email me the names and addresses I’ll be sure that I get the invites sent.
“There’s no need, dear. I have taken the liberty of doing so myself. Your bridal shower is in two months. I wanted to get a head start.”
”Thank you.” I said, not knowing what else to say.
It was uncomfortable being around Neil’s family. I had not grown up wealthy. There were times that to make ends meet; my parents would take their belongings to the local flea market in town and sell them. I once had to give up all my Barbie dolls so my mom could sell them. Whenever I got a new one, I had to ensure they were kept in pristine shape in case my mother needed to sell them or pawn them.
I wasn’t used to having people wait on me for everything. Even something as simple as a small bridal shower was now being taken care of by my future mother-in-law. I didn’t mind it, but it felt strange. I had a very independent nature.
Lunch was over, and plates were being cleared. I sat listening to Neil and his brother discussing something about business, and I sat demurely trying to appear interested. From the corner of my eye, I saw a tall woman in a black dress. I continued to eye her. Then she turned ever so slightly in my direction. She wore a black veil, but I could see her smiling.
“Did you get the joke?” Neil was asking me.
I snapped out of my strange daze.
“What?” I asked, almost annoyed that he took me from the eyes of the enchanting stranger. When I looked back, she was now gone.
“You ready to go? You seem tired.” Neil was now asking.
“Mmhmm,” I responded, looking around the restaurant for the woman.
It was strange she had been here only moments ago. I let Neil lead me away from the table. We said our goodbyes to his family and went back to the hotel.
Neil wanted to spend the rest of the day lounging at the pool. I was completely fine with that idea.
By the end of the day, we were settling in bed. It had been a long day.
It was shortly after eleven when I woke up to Neil snoring. The hotel room was warm, and I needed some fresh air. I opened the patio door and shut it, sitting on the deck overlooking the city lights. I yawned thinking of the day. That is when an overwhelming urge to leave cane over me.
I found myself in Neil’s car, driving down the highway, headed to Sylvia Stanton’s artist’s house.
I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but I had to go back. It was like something was calling me again.
When I pulled into the gravel drive, the house was pitch black. No lights were illuminating the house. It had a ghostly aura about it. I didn’t mind the darkness as I got out of the car, still in my nightgown, and walked towards the house.
I walked towards the back where the garden was, and to my delight, the gate was unlocked. I looked around for security cameras but saw none. There was no one watching over the house, either. It felt like I was meant to be here.
I stood in the garden, looking around. It was so different at night. The light that was coming in was from a very bright half moon that was shining above the garden archway. The pond in the center seemed to reflect it like a mirror. I peered over the edge and looked inside.
It was so sleek, and evanescence glow drew me into it. I felt dizzy in the way a small child would after spinning around in circles. There was ecstasy to it. I could have stayed here forever. I began to see visions of rainbows and silent moving clouds. I was part of it, and I felt like Sylvia must have felt as she meditated, envisioning her soul, leaving her body.
I heard my name whispered behind me as a light breeze kissed my cheek. I closed my eyes, letting the wave of pleasure take over me. I soon felt my body vibrate in what I could only describe as a full-bodied orgasm. There was nothing sexual about it, though, it was just pure and pleasant.
I was there so long that I barely noticed the sun rising behind me.
I felt something behind me, and as I blinked for the first time in hours, I heard a truck. I slowly turned and saw a large garbage truck collecting trash from the dumpster behind the garden. It was a crude alarm to me after being struck with such bliss.
I felt a sharp stab of pain, looking down at my right foot. There I was standing on thorns from the rose bush. The blood seemed to gather once again inside the pool around the pond. Snapping out of it, I quickly made haste before I got caught.
I got into Neil’s car and sped out of the driveway.