Lilith Bloom had a peculiar feeling that the rose garden wanted to eat her. She surveyed it through the open car window, unable to look away. The garden surveyed her back. It looked enormous. Its red blanket surrounded a solitary mansion at the end of Rose street, Rosenstrasse in German, as it said on the sign. No other houses stood in sight, only a distant forest. Apart from tires grating on the gravel, it was eerily quiet, too quiet for a hot summer afternoon.
Their rental sedan pulled into the motor court in front of the mansion, joining a long line of cars. A sudden gust of wind washed over Lilith’s face. She expected it to smell like roses. She was wrong. It reeked of rotten sweetness, as if something died and slowly decomposed. Lilith rolled up the window.
“Panther,” she whispered.
“Panther Bloom Junior! Will you kindly wake up?”
She shook a black shape curled to her left. The shape yawned, revealing a long tongue and rows of pearly teeth, then promptly sat up, blinking innocently. It wasn’t exactly a dog, not in the most typical sense of how one would describe it. It was a cat in a dog’s body, or, in proper canine terms, a whippet, Lilith’s pet and only friend. He possessed a unique gift. He talked, as Lilith ascertained her parents. Of course, they refused to believe her.
Lilith’s father, Daniel Bloom, an avid whippet breeder and dog race enthusiast, deemed Panther as the runt of the litter. Too softhearted to part with the puppy, he gave it to Lilith last summer for her twelfth birthday. Since then they became inseparable, disappearing on long walks in Boston neighborhoods and arriving this fine sunny day in Berlin, after Lilith point blank refused to go anywhere without Panther, especially not to Bloom family reunion at her grandfather’s house.
“You’d think a herd of elephants died here.” She whispered.
Panther raised a brow.
No matter how much Lilith pleaded with him to talk in front of her parents, he viciously disapproved of the idea, lest they decided to parade him in some freak show like an otherworldly miracle.
“Don’t look at me like this. I hate it when you don’t answer.” Lilith said dejectedly, loud enough for her parents to hear. They exchanged a painful glance.
“Here we are, my puppies. Looks like we made the cut.” Said Daniel Bloom cheerily, attempting to diffuse the mood. When nervous, he spoke in dog show lingo.
“Lilith, did you take your pills?” Said Gabby Bloom, twisting in the passenger seat and gazing at her daughter through metal-rimmed glasses, her fingers momentarily paused from knitting.
Panther studied Lilith with interest.
Lilith studied the seat in front. “I thought we agreed that pills are for sick people, mother. I must assure you that currently I don’t feel sick in the slightest.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, missy. Look at me when I talk to you. I asked you a question. Did you or didn’t you?”
Panther continued to study Lilith.
Lilith continued to study the seat.
Gabby’s lower lip began to tremble. She looked like a lost squirrel perched on top of a roof, not knowing how she got there and how she ought to get down. Her brown hair could pass for fur standing on end. A couple knitting needles were stuck behind her ears from where they liked to drop at most inconvenient moments.
“Lilith, don’t be puppyish. Answer your mother.” Daniel muttered, patting his pockets in at attempt to look busy.
Awkward silence filled the car.
“I flushed them down the toilet, on the plane. By accident. They’re excruciatingly slippery.” Lilith said with an innocent face. She liked using sophisticated words like excruciatingly when purposefully annoying her mother.
“You what? Daniel, are you listening? Did you hear what she said?” Gabby faced her husband.
He squinted at something out the window. “I’m sure she didn’t mean for it to happen, love. We just crossed the Atlantic, effectively gaining six extra hours. She can skip a day, can’t she? For time adjustment purposes?”
“That’s ten dollars down the drain! Have you forgotten what happened last time?” A frenzy of activity followed. Gabby’s hands performed an intricate dance of opening her bag, taking out rolls of wool, one half-knit sweater, another half-knit sweater, a handful of needles, and an orange vial of pills.
Lilith and Panther exchanged a glance.
Gabby stuffed the vial into her daughter’s hands and watched her reluctantly open it and take out two blue capsules.
“Now.” She said.
Lilith stuck the pills under her tongue, miming a fake swallow.
Meanwhile, escaping his wife’s mounting fury, Daniel stepped out of the car and busied himself with the luggage. Tall and scrawny, he looked like a whippet himself, missing perhaps only the tail.
Eager to spit out bitter tablets, Lilith made to follow.
“Wait a second, missy. Show me your tongue.” Gabby leaned in for closer inspection.
Lilith opened her mouth and, without dislodging the pills, said with a practiced smile. “Sorry, mom.”
“Do not do this again.”
“Good. Out you go. We’re late as it is.” Gabby hurried out of the car, her motherly duty done.
Lilith and Panther exchanged another glance and clambered after, looking around.
They stood at the end of a perfectly round court crammed with cars of all types, Bloom’s inexpensive rental the very last.
Panther pretended to scratch at something on the ground. Lilith squatted next to him, pretending to investigate. After a moment she stood, wiping her mouth, a triumphant smile on her face. Slender and petite, she dressed meticulously. Taking forever to pick out clothes calmed her whirring mind, although it caused Panther to lose his. Today she sported a navy skirt, a striped sailor shirt, red Mary Janes and a matching beret knit by her mother.
Lilith had a collection of these. A rosy one for ballet lessons, a black one for walking Panther, a blue one for reading, and a red one for special occasions. Festive outings rarely happened in her life, but whenever they did, she always wore red, for confidence.