Part one of a short story inspired by a visit to Spain … please note, all characters are invented.
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’No worry, ‘he said during my first viewing. ‘ Solo tiene valor sentimental para la señora …’ meaning, I guessed, the semi-detached part of the house had only sentimental value for the old lady. He was cautious with words, and my Spanish dismal or I would have pushed for more information. By chance, the elderly expat owner of a local restaurant was more forthcoming.
‘Hacienda Colina, you want to buy the abandoned place? I remember Señora Ruiz Gonzales. She dined here on rare occasions, with her artist friend, a mysterious man. There was gossip.’
She had offered bait, I asked, ‘What about?’
‘They weren’t married.’ I shrugged my shoulders. She nodded. ‘People are biased. I heard her parents died young. She grew up in a convent. When she returned to live here with her painter, she was, well, let’s say mature,’ a laugh escaped her, ‘like me.’
‘What happened, why did she leave?’
‘Her lover died. Let’s see … sixteen years ago.’ The woman pressed a hand to her heart. ‘The señora moved to Barcelona.’ It seemed rude to pry further. A last snippet came. ‘She returns annually to commemorate her friend.’
The discreet agent had hinted at an unfinished tale. And, as if anticipating a resolution, he promised, ‘You get first right to buy semi,’ stressing it was not a financial issue.
Hoping to learn more, I had asked him. ‘Can I look inside?’
‘Sorry, no key.’
Not even a glimpse. Window- shutters were closed and secured. My obvious disappointment and desire to buy made him agreeable to let me camp in the main house for a week. I assured him I would make do with the poor facilities. It was a blind bet, but I wanted to know the spirit of the place.
A writer’s dream – the worn two-story house nestling against the hill in the afternoon sun had golden mean proportions that intuitively appealed and captured my heart yet again. There was rightness about this spot in the hills of Granada. I would put my English home on the market as soon as had clarity about this property, especially the wing I wanted included in the sale.
Navigating potholes during the last stretch, I scraped the exhaust of my rental car. A four-wheeler, like the agent’s, would have been sensible. As well I brought all basic supplies for the week, including incense, candles and broom. Water and power were laid on but not connected, a small matter. I carried bottled water, gas-cooker and blankets. And stored in a shed smothered by rampant honeysuckle, there was plenty of wood, though no fires had been lit in the dwelling for years. The agent had been philosophical. ‘Smoke in room means birds have built nest in chimney.’
One hour of sunlight left. I parked at the arched side gate, turned off the engine and savoured the silence, made exquisite by the murmur of a small stream close by. A familiar inner voice scoffed – the peace will be ruptured if anyone were to occupy the semi. I warned the critic – get lost – and walked round to the front. No fancy terraces here, Spanish peasants had worked hard to survive and overcome the prejudice against olive oil.
They would have found scarce time to laze and adore the gnarled trees, their crowns iridescent like clouds of dragonfly wings against the slanting rays of the sun. Beyond, the south-western valley filled with muted light. I would build French doors and a balcony to the upstairs bedrooms, providing a covered porch below. The design was clear in my mind, down to the wine and fig plants growing up the posts. And a dip further down the slope was asking for the purple rain of a jacaranda tree. I already saw myself sitting under the porch, writing my next novel.
Work to be done before nightfall. I let myself in to the hall and opened the window in a front room that had a large fireplace. I gathered an armful of kindling from the olive orchard and set it alight in the hearth. First victory, no bird nests blocked the flue! I brought in chunky logs from the shed and stoked up the fire.
Before getting food and bedding from the car, I swept dust and litter into one corner where there was already a pile of rags. Once I had placed candles all round and set out generous amounts of my favourite Japanese incense the room was transformed. With a little bread, cheese and a bottle of Merlot, I sat out front on a rock to watch the hills sharpen to black topped by luminous purple.
My desire for change was urgent. I felt overwhelmed by excess information, excess communication and excess demands, having lived in one place for far too long. But what was I doing here, in this desolate spot, discounting the probable myth of a Spanish ancestor, what was I seeking to unearth through solitude?
Inside, the fire glowed and crackled. I pushed an old table to the window and sat on a rickety chair looking up at the darkening sky. The empty page of a notebook remained just that, empty. Grimy walls swallowed the light my sea of candles might otherwise have reflected. I grabbed a blanket and went outside. With only a faint sliver of moon, the brilliant copula of stars dispersed my fussy mood. Yes, I wanted solitude, the rawness of nature and an open link with the cosmos, vast space to connect up the most vibrant threads of my life, to create stories that made sense. Instead of spinning more silk, I was going to weave inspired tapestries.
I locked the outer gate and, from habit, left the inner doors ajar. Bliss – days ahead with no junk through the letterbox, no e-mails, no obligations – a week of reflection and tranquillity. I unfolded the camping bed, arranged my blankets and blew out all candles. The glowing logs cast a ring of mellow light. Images returned, from today’s hectic shopping spree for my survival kit. Sleep did not come. The warren of empty rooms played tricks on me. What had possessed me to come here alone?
Twisting shadows pranced across the ceiling. I shut my eyes, imagining the colours and fabrics I would transport here to soften the place.
A scream pierced the silence, something outside, an animal. The window had none of the iron grids usual for this area, and it was open. High enough, I thought. Nobody could climb through unless they used a ladder. Of course, a bat or an owl could fly in. Gosh, where did all these stupid thoughts come from? A flash alerted, not of light, but of a dark shape intercepting the illuminated space before the fire. My food bags must have attracted a rat. The shape swelled in size and seemed to retreat into a corner. My rational voice demanded I shine my torch onto the creature. My torch, I realised, was at the hotel, the last item on the table, left behind …
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