My good friend Rave, despite being a first-class student of mathematics, had read a great deal of the works of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who had developed the notion of Archetypes as a model of human behaviour. Personally, I was less convinced of the veracity of this representation, but this disagreement had resulted in nothing more serious than a few spirited late-night philosophical debates.
The old house had been our pleasant home for many months during the dark days of autumn and winter, as well as the first shoots of spring which carved their cautious way though the undergrowth of the south Manchester microclimate. In the first weekend of the second week of April, after most students had returned from their Easter vacation, we planned our Archetypal Party.
The party was intended to be the last and greatest of our affairs, one last blow-out before knuckling down to the serious business of swotting for the final exams in a few months time. I had already declared that I wanted to be admitted to the postgraduate Physics school to study the newly-emerging subjects of optical fibres and modulated lasers. Rave too seemed set on an academic career in Mathematics, a trajectory which would allow him to pursue the research Fellowship he so coveted.
As it turned out, this was a larger and more unruly gathering than we had normally hosted. Apparently news of the fabulous mansion had spread far and wide, and several times more people turned up than we had invited. Lights blazed and music blared as guests spilled out of the kitchen and found their way all over the house in couples and small groups, their glasses charged with a poisonous species of fruit punch I had concocted with the aid of a bottle of 100% Ethanol I had "liberated" from the Chemistry stores.
It was also the occasion when Rave seemed finally to admit to himself that he preferred boys to girls and was soon to be seen openly snogging at least two of the slender young men who had turned up, invitations or not. Rave was noticeably absent for an hour or two during the course of events, although he did re-emerge after midnight with a huge grin on his face and a noticeable swagger in his stride.
The party lasted, as these things always do, late into the night. Both Rave and I were still just sober enough, when the energy had run down and the booze had run out, and the last of the guests had staggered off into the night, to repeat a ritual which we took to be part of our duty of care. Together, we toured the house, checking that all the exterior doors were locked and bolted, and that all the windows were firmly closed. After evicting one last straggler who had fallen asleep on the stairs, we found ourselves standing on the first floor landing. In a few words, we congratulated each other on the wild success of the party, then turned to make our separate ways to our respective rooms.
I might have been more drunk than I recall. As I turned, I stumbled on a ruck in the worn carpet on the landing and staggered. I flung out an arm to steady myself, by chance landing on the locked door. The locked door which now swung inwards slightly under my hand. Somehow, during the party, the door had become unlocked.
Rave too saw the door open and rejoined me at once. I pushed the door open further, the hinges stiff with disuse but missing any ominous creaking. I could see little inside, just the shape of the uncurtained window outlined in the yellow sodium lamp on the street filtered by the trees. I glanced at Rave: his mouth was a round "O" of astonishment; no doubt some similar expression of surprise adorned my own.
I reached around the edge of the doorframe, my questing fingers finding a switch. Something to my surprise, a light came on at the touch. There was an ornate electric candelabra in the centre of the high ceiling, the fitting set with many bulbs, all but one now blacked and burned out. In that dim illumination Rave and I got our first view of the inside of that hitherto inaccessible room.
The first and almost overwhelming sense was one of extreme pinkness. There was no bed or any other kind of moveable furniture. Yet every vertical surface except the door, the bay window and the space where the bed-head would have fitted had been panelled floor to ceiling with built-in cupboards and drawers, every one faced with shiny pink Melamine which would have been fashionable a decade before.
There was very little space left for wallpaper but such that there was visible was patterned in vertical stripes of cerise and white, while the carpet, obviously once very expensive and luxurious but now worn and stained in places, was even now a virulent shade of carmine. Every drawer and cupboard stood open, no two to the same degree, giving the impression that somebody had hurriedly packed a huge quantity of clothes, cosmetics and shoes, and then left with great urgency.
"Wow," Rave exclaimed, "Who on earth lived here?"
I didn't know, of course. But everything I saw screamed one message: this was a room formerly occupied by a woman.