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Amber, part 2

07 Nov

“Are you sure the castle’s around here?” I could feel Amber’s eyes on me, but I didn’t turn to look. We drove on winding blacktop roads, unlit and recently surfaced.

“Of course I’m sure.” I coughed. I was pretty sure. At least she hadn’t started asking me whether I’d made it up.

She seemed recovered from the car accident, but she stayed quiet. I wondered whether that signified concussion while filling the silence with stories about nothing. I wondered how stories about nothing would affect someone who’d been concussed. We had met about thirty minutes earlier at a BP station in Blue Ash, a blandly upper-middle-class enclave north of Cincinnati. A private Catholic girls’ high school squatted in the background on the hill overlooking the lot where Amber waited.  As a point of interest, I had once been banned from the premises of that private Catholic girls’ high school for flipping off a janitor there. He’d informed me that I was an asshole. I’ve always responded poorly to criticism.

I chose to keep that particular coincidence to myself.

Much of the memory is hazy. We called a tow truck, that much seems clear. She’d been able to limp her car to the gas station, but crumpled metal dragged against her tire, ensuring a blowout if she tried to drive it anywhere. She sat on the hood of her car, all snarled bumper and smashed fender. While she phoned her mom, I moved things from the back seat of her car to the back seat of mine, thereby ruining the back seat for its more stereotypical date-night use. By the time I’d finished, she’d placed her phone back in her pocket, and we had a brief discussion about whether to continue our date or to drive her to where she was staying. We reached a decision to continue the date for reasons of what the hell.

“Well, the restaurant is probably closed by now,” she said. “What should we do instead?”

“Do you want to see the castle?”

“Sure.” What the hell.

Loveland, Ohio indeed has a castle. Until recently, I’d forgotten about it, but I desperately needed something to show Amber apart from my basement corner. Somewhat unimaginatively, most people call this place Loveland Castle. Somewhat pretentiously, its caretakers call it Château Laroche. I’m not fully clear on what is and is not a chateau, so I won’t contest the point. It stands, craggy and crenellated, on the shores of the Little Miami river, overlooking a scenic garden and a less scenic unlined parking lot, reachable by car only with a steep, switchbacked one-lane road. Every Halloween, the castle becomes a popular haunted house, and school buses make their terrifying way up and down this road, ferrying patrons between the castle and their cars. Beginning in the 1920s and using flagstones from the river bank, a man named Harry built it by hand as a replica of European fortifications, lovingly reproducing continental machicolations and murder-holes. He died before finishing it. Now, the people who live there call themselves knights and support the castle through tourism. A sign hangs on the gate to the path leading up to the front door. Mostly the sign gives the dates and hours the castle is open. Also it asks the local kids not to harass the people who live there.

While I was still in college, a red-haired girl from Toledo came to visit me for a few days. Sometimes, late at night in the Ohio suburbs, novel entertainment becomes a challenge. I thought then that maybe parking with her in the empty lot of an improbable castle might afford me the opportunity to talk her out of her overalls.

In this thought, I had proven correct.

Perhaps a similar tactic would prove effective with Amber. Not that she wore overalls, but she was cute and she had driven hours to see me. I hoped that the castle would be sufficiently unusual to change the evening’s momentum. Any existing mood had been wrecked along with her car.

Amber fidgeted in her seat and looked out her window into textured suburban darkness. The houses here were stacked fairly densely together, but a line of trees near the road screened them and gave the impression of uninhabited woods.

“Are we lost?”

 

 

 
 

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