I've always wondered about actors and writers who become recluses - and thought Greta Garbo was one of the greats who did this; and I wondered why. This is one idea of why.
“Who are you?” her lilting voice asked over the intercom.
“Good afternoon, Ms Garbo, I’m from ‘Life’ Magazine. We talked yesterday morning regarding an interview.” I answered as the rain hammered onto the roof of my car.
“Aaah yes! Please come in.” There was a buzzing sound and the gates swung open from the middle and I eased the car between them and up the gravel drive, wound past the huge mansion and around the back where there was a line of garages all locked up except one – where there was a man waiting for me to show up.
He stood in front of my car as I pulled it into the garage, out of the dreadful weather, and he opened the car door for me, “Good afternoon, Miss Leary, the lady of the house is waiting for you in her studio.” He put out his hand for my keys, “I’ll take care of your car.”
“I’ll clean it off, check the oil and vacuum the inside, of course.” He smiled, “And your keys will be returned to you promptly.” He turned and there was a house-keeper, “Mrs Ackers will take you to the lady of the house.”
I grabbed my bag and stepped to one side, allowing the man into my car and walked over to Mrs Ackers, “Good afternoon, I’m...”
“Miss Leary, I know.” She smiled thinly and led me through a back door and along a hallway into the back of the house, where there were coats, hats and scarves hung up, “Leave your things here. You won’t need them in the house.”
I hung up my coat and scarf on a spare hook, wiped my shoes on the large mat and took up my bag again, “Okay, lead on.”
Mrs Ackers lead me through another door and into another hallway, filled with old photographs on the walls of Mrs. Garbo. They were amazing, and in black and white. I paused at one but Mrs Ackers turned at the stairs, “No stopping, you’ll see all of that soon enough.”
“Sorry.” I quickly caught up with her and followed her up two flights of stairs, along long, carpeted hallways and silent rooms with closed doors, until she came to a door at the end of the third hall, and rested her hand on the door knob, “She paints at this time of day. But she has allowed you to interview her, just this once. Ms Garbo doesn’t give interviews very often.”
“I understand this. But I’ve Googled and it says she’s dead.”
“Well, she expected you to do that.” She smiled thinly again, then knocked twice on the door.
“Yes, Mrs Ackers, do come in.” Her thickly accented voice called through the door.
She opened the door, “Ms Leary is here to see you, Ma’am.”
The woman turned from the easel, pallet in one hand, brush in the other, dressed in a paint-spattered white smock over some old black clothing, “Of course! Welcome, Ms Leary! Do make yourself at home.”
I walked over to the fainting couch and sat near the fire, “It’s cold outside.”
She watched me as she put down her art things and removed her smock and handing it to her house-keeper, “Indeed.”
“I shall return with tea and afternoon tea.” Mrs Ackers said hanging up the smock nearby.
“Yes, you do that.” Ms Garbo muttered as she sat next to gracefully and a silence engulfed us like none other. She watched me become more and more uncomfortable under her stare as we waited for her house keeper to return, and I feared she never would, “Why are you so nervous?”
“I Googled you and it says you died in 1990.”
She smirked, “It does.”
“But you’re here very much alive... and you can’t be one of your children, because you never had any.”
Pulling her feet up under her long dress, she smiled, “Oh you have done your research, my dear. And there is a good reason why I have hidden from life better than Elvis Presley ever has.”
The door opened and Mrs Ackers returned with a tea trolley filled with a silver tea service. The coffee table in front of us was moved closer and cleared off, and the tea was served up there, then she left the trolley and Mrs Garbo poured the tea for me and handed me my cup.
“Elvis is alive?”
“Well, yes, of course he is. But he does a dreadful job of hiding himself. He’s become – how does one say it – restless, in his old age.” She giggled, “Me on the other hand, I am quite accustomed to being alone. I didn’t give many interviews and almost no autographs. I hated being photographed with anyone.”
“Yes, I research says this too... but I’m here to find out why.” I said, looking down at my notebook. As I looked up, her eyes were fixed on mine, “And my last colleague didn’t return from here.”
“Oh yes he did, he got himself killed.” She took a sip from her cup, licked her lips and placed it back down on the tray on the coffee table, before leaning back and smiling at me, “Is your tea hot enough?”
I wrapped my hands around the cup, “Yes, thank you.”
“You haven’t drunk any.”
Looking down into it, I smiled, “I like the smell of tea, but not the taste. And I like the warmth it gives off... it’s a strange thing I’ve done since I was in my teens.” I glanced up to find her expression had faltered, “Is there something wrong?”
“I was hoping you’d drink the tea.”
“Well, William was good at one thing... communication. It was before you found the wire on him that he said something was in his tea.” I put the cup back on the tray, “And you did something to him.”
Ms Garbo suddenly stood, “The interview is over.”
I stood as quickly as she did, “We haven’t even started... you haven’t told me anything I don’t already know.”
She turned and was startled to see me on my feet, took a few steps back before muttering, “What do you want to know?”
“Well, for one thing, why don’t you look like somebody who is well over a century old and still look as though you’re in your forties? And exactly what was in that cup of tea?” I didn’t take my eyes off her as I pointed to the tray behind me.
Ms Garbo smiled knowingly, “Your dear friend William did teach you one or two things about me. Never take your eyes off me and don’t drink my tea.”
“Tell me about your secret life... and I’ll turn it into your true biography.” I offered.
“Nobody would ever believe it!” she sneered.
“Nobody has to but you and me.”
She sniffed, “When I was around forty or so, I was doing a film and in my off-time, I met a lovely man. He was so old-fashioned, and sweet and he... had a side to him I did not realise. He was a vampire, and he turned me.”
She cast a sideways glance in my direction, “Well, yes, indeed. I was just taking off into the movies – the talkies – and I was turned into something which never ages me. I couldn’t have children and it forced me to live alone.”
“And so, you couldn’t do interviews because of the silver in the development in the photographs.”
“Okay, you’ve covered the things of why you have had no children, why you live alone and how you stayed so young and away from the public.” I said softly, “But what was in my tea?”
“Belladonna... but only enough to make you sleepy.”
“Where is your sire now?”
Looking down at her hands, she fiddled with her nails, “He lost his head a few years ago.” She looked over at me, “But, that doesn’t mean I can’t carry on his legacy.”
“I have to leave.”
“That’s what your William said, and he never did.”
“He’s been reported dead.”
She turned toward the back of the room, “Oh, William!”
From the shadows came my old colleague, lover and flatmate. I hadn’t seen him in over a year. He hadn’t changed at all – but there was something not right about him, “Sharon... what are you doing here?” he took my hands and kissed them.
“I had to take over your role at work.” I said, “And find another border at home.”
“Oh Sharon, what was the one thing I told you not to do while you were here?” he whispered into my face.
I looked at him, “Take my eyes off her.”
The sun streamed through the windows when I woke on the floor a day later of that old mansion. The police had busted into the place and found me, their voices were muffled and wanted to move but they told me to not get up.
“I have to find them.” I said.
“Find who?” the ambulance woman asked, “This place has been abandoned for decades.”
“Who’s house is this?” I asked.
“Greta Garbo’s.” She replied, “It’s September 19th. Yesterday was her birthday. There’s a legend that she haunts this house one day a year and lures somebody in each year. Most of them don’t survive... looks like you will.”
“Where’s William? I saw him.”
The ambulance woman looked up at the cop standing nearby, “You didn’t. You’ve got Belladonna in your system. It’d make you see all kinds of things.”
But I knew I saw Greta Garbo... and I saw my William... I just have to find them. Looking out the barred window of my secure room of the psych hospital, I can’t do it from in here.
I have a year to get out of here before she does this again.