Sleep of the Lion, 3

A few moments later she was just lowering her hand from pushing a golden shock of hair from her face when the door opened. Though she did not immediately recognize him, she smiled at the man standing there. He wore a floor-length smoking jacket of blood red silk, emblazoned from hem to shoulder with ornate embroidery like elaborate jade fire. His face wore a pleasing inquisitive look.

“Dr. Leoniss?” she asked, hesitantly. “I’m here with your book. To return it.”

For a moment, their eyes fixed on each other and she was certain the man was Dr. Leoniss. It was his eyes, she remembered, that first drew her to him, warm eyes like pools of fine whiskey, a rich amber color sparkling with  light and energy when they were fixed on a thing, when they studied something intently, as they were studying her right now. Patient eyes, full of the wisdom of long experience, watchful, content to wait for what they wanted.

His silver hair was combed back along his temples, its natural wave restrained by comb and brush only to become a luxurious tangle in the back, flowing over the collar of his jacket.

He took the book from her and held it to read its spine. He spoke softly, almost to himself. “I’d almost forgotten where this one had gotten to. It’s very rare. How did I ever lend it out? Thank you. You’re very kind to return it.” He stepped aside and, still looking at the book, motioned her into his apartment.

Beyond his outstretched hand, the apartment presented a long, unlighted corridor stretching away from the door. The corridor was unremarkable, and with the exception of a few doors and arched doorways, featureless. The lines of intersection between walls and floor and ceiling converged in perspective to some imagined meeting point away in the darkness.

She hesitated before stepping inside, dizzy and just a bit alarmed, though she didn’t know by what. She was uncertain; the impulse that stopped her feet was sharp but too momentary and faint to be easily defined. The apartment, framed as it was by the door casement, seemed to materialize like a time-lapse movie of a painter’s canvas or the slow unfolding of an origami swan.

Some sense within her was disoriented by the apparent spaciousness of the apartment within the doorframe and what seemed possible given the building’s and the outside hallway’s dimensions. She looked down the hallway then back at the apartment, back and forth, several times, dumbfounded by the trick of depth perception.

The hallway outside his apartment extended to the left twenty feet at the most. Midway down the hallway, a single, bare fluorescent bulb blinked and stuttered, casting everything in a sickly yellow strobe. At the end of the hallway was a dirty window and through it she could see several windows of the apartment in the next buildings, only feet apart across a narrow alley. Yet, the corridor leading through his apartment seemed to extend forever.

The hallway seemed to close in around her. The man patiently extending his hand in welcome looked pale and drawn in the flickering yellow light. He smiled.

“Please,” he said, “Come inside. Escape that hideous light.”

She stepped into the room and felt the space expand to accommodate her.

“When did I give you this?” he said, passing the book in front of her face, as if trying to distract her from looking around his apartment.

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