Ruins

Ruin with LightAs if she’s walked straight out of a 70’s brochure. The stench of her perfume will linger long after she’s gone, it’s clawing its way into my nostrils. Her hair doesn’t dare to move, it’s  frozen on the spot, thousands of strands intimidated by hairspray.

“Hi.” I greet her and smile, but that is more because Enraged Enrique is by her side. He’s probably rang her.

Word goes that the gypsies have tried to enter the house she has inherited from her uncle. She doesn’t live in the village, she lives in the city. She’s got a piece of land, the house and a shed here.

She’s put the house on the market for an extortionate price.There haven’t been many viewers. This could have something to do with the fact that I scowl at strangers coming into the village and when they ask if there are any houses for sale my answer is always no.

The house itself is slowly but steadily disappearing under a thick layer of brambles, climbing the stairs, hanging around on the balustrade. Brambles give me hope, the promise of nature to return everything to its former state.

“Just a quick something.” I say to her. She looks startled, her face muscles obey reluctantly to the order her brain must have given them; her mouth curls up somewhat.

“It’s about the big shrub which is growing out of your shed at the lane.” I gesture behind my house. “There are lots of wasps and bees living in it, as well as hornets, they keep entering my house. It needs cutting down.”

She quickly glances at Enraged Enrique, who remains expressionless. “Well that’s fine. You have my permission to go and cut it down.” She throws what seems like an actual smile in for good measure at the end.

“I’m not going to cut it down,” I tell her, “It’s your responsibility, you do it.”

Her smile would have disappeared in thin air if it wasn’t thick with her perfume.

The corners of her mouth are now pointing downwards, seemingly dragging her cheeks with them. “You really think I am going to do it? I’ll pay someone to do it. And I would like to know who entered my shed. Because that door is open.”

She’s accusing me. “Oh come off it. That was the wind!” I reply. How ironic to be accused. Whenever I’ve seen anyone hovering near that shed I’ve told them to go away. On occasions when gypsies came looking for scrap metal I’ve told them not to touch it. I’ve seen it slowly but steadily caving in from my house over the years. A year or two ago I heard a huge rumble after rain, indicating that the beams finally had given way. “Besides, it’s half fallen down. You’re lucky it didn’t fall on the lane, or god forbid on one of the kids.”

The expression on her face is now blank, or maybe cold, but I don’t care anyway.

Enraged Enrique helps her to put some padlocks on the doors of the house.

Later that day, after she’s left, Villager J claims it was definitely the gypsies, as another neighbour had seen them with a white van and that scum will take anything. I shrug my shoulders and reply that there is plenty of Spanish scum around too.

They’re just not always easy to recognise.

Tarmac

fieldThe truck with Tarmac narrowly misses the balcony of Villager Who Lives Abroad. I had no idea trucks could sigh, I’m sure it just did.  It seems bored to be at such peasant type place.

I want it to go back where it came from.

I hate progress.

The work men send me some curious looks when I walk past them. The fish monger has arrived minutes before. There is a narrow spot left between the Villager who Lives Abroad’s granite wall and growling metal.

I slip through.

The fish monger is just opening the back of his van, we greet each other. Although I like this fish monger, I preferred the previous one because the banter between him and villager O over prices was always far more epic. I stare with some disinterest at  the fish in the back of the van, then back at the truck which has started to transform the old lane into modernity. It’s going to look obscene. I know it is. I might joke about going to buy roller skates but I hate the thought of  this lane being turned into Possibility Streetview.

I don’t want my village on Streetview.

It is as if the truck is spilling hot chocolate sauce on  the lane, the 100% pure variety. That  observation perks me up slightly, although it doesn’t change reality.

*

The end result is modernity indeed but a rather clumsy one. The patch in front of Villager S’s house has not been done because the truck couldn’t turn correctly, she tells me, and that gives me hope. “It will turn grey soon.” she reassures me.

And strewn with hay.  Maybe I should trust that the village is similar to the forces of nature, a bit of concrete and tarmac isn’t really going to stop it.  Not really. Not yet.

Just like the laws coming from Europe doesn’t stop the villagers from washing the pig tripe in the river during the yearly pig slaughter. It doesn’t stop them from selling fresh eggs in the local shops. It doesn’t stop them from selling their homemade liquor to the bars in the cities.

I walk down to the spring  to get water when I see them.

The big deep hoof prints of villager T’s horse in the newly laid tarmac.

And if I didn’t love this place enough, I suddenly love it a bit more.

The Joke

“There is a saying in English, to do with watching paint dry and being bored.” I comment to villager T while we’re watching his cousin at work, standing on the scaffolding. ”Here it’s actually interesting.”

We all laugh.

Villager T’s wife wanted a dark red. I told her I didn’t like it when she showed everyone the samples.

I told her that if I had it my way I’d paint my house pure hippy on the outside but that I didn’t because I wanted to take the rest of the village in consideration.

The scaffolding is rickety and my mind skips playfully down that accident prone path,  imagining the cousin on the concrete below, broken bones,  Make shift ER until an ambulance turns up. Villager J’s son once fell out of an oak tree he was trying to cut and had those metal pins everywhere  in his leg after they operated him and I knew I shouldn’t stare at those but I felt entranced by the sight.

“I have no idea how he does it.” I say to his wife. It’s only a few metres up, 4 metres if that but still.

“How much is he paying you?” I know the answer. It’s the predictability, I think, which I like. “In alcohol.” he shouts back. We’re going out tonight  but he’s not allowed to drink so he can watch me getting drunk.”

We all laugh.

We’re discussing the crisis while the cousin, whose age I’d not correctly guessed but is mid 60’s, continues painting. ”Some people have had to live in crisis all their life though.” Villager T points out. ”Indeed, your wife, being married to you.”  I say, quick as a flash.

We all laugh.

I take my daughter to the pool later that day, otherwise we might melt.

There is enough shade at the side of the pool and I take out a book by Kundera which I am still trying to understand. I always hope to understand it, I try to grasp it but his sentences are elusive.  I felt like that too when I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and when I stood in front of those rooms full of hair in Auschwitz.  I tried to understand.

I open the book at a chapter which I hadn’t finished yet, this is a book about novels, and the novels he describes, apart from Tolstoy, I haven’t read,  which makes it even more impossible to understand.  For a second I look up, and stare at the water of the pool in the distance, the ripples in the water before reading.

“Every true novelist listens for that suprapersonal wisdom, which explains why great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors. Novelists who are more intelligent than their books should go into another line of work. But what is that wisdom? What is the novel? There is a fine Jewish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. 

But why does God laugh at the sight of man thinking? Because man thinks and the truth escapes him. Because the more men think, the more man’s thought diverges from another’s. And finally because man is never what he thinks he is.”

The moment I realise I’ve understood what he meant, it’s already slipped out my fingers and replaced by doubt. But it’s a nice doubt now.  Because I know now that whatever I write, maybe I don’t need to understand it in entirely anyway.

And God must be falling over himself laughing at my attempts to think.

Ruins

Enraged Enrique's Cow

Enraged Enrique’s Cow

“Abuella,” I say, sitting down next to her. “Tell me a story.”

I rub her shoulders, I can feel the bones through the black sweater. It’s 30 degrees yet Abuella wears a black sweater. She’s always cold, she says.

She glares at me as far as it is possible with her one working eye, not in a nasty way, she just glares, she always does. I guess too, when you only have one eye, the other maybe tries to take in more and that gives out the impression of glaring.

“Oh I don’t know.” she protests. “I don’t know any stories.”

“You must do.”

“No. We just used to have lots of cows and we used to take them to the fields and we had to give them water.  And we didn’t have running water so we had to get  the water from the well, from over there. And we got up early. Very early. Have you made dinner yet?” I lie that I have.

“‘But you must have other stories, good stories, things that have happened.”

“I can’t remember them.”

Villager C walks past,  accompanied by the noise of his squeaking wheelbarrow.  I greet him with a ”C, what.” Not because I’m rude, but that’s how one greets each other. A head jerk and mumble in reply. I want to ask him if it is different now without his donkey.  But I think better of it and  watch him pass. He’d got rid of the donkey last week. I was in the childish belief it had been sold. But my neighbour’s donkey had gone too. To  the same place. “The man who took them has lots of dogs so he could do with the meat.” My neighbour told me a few days later.

I’m not sure if it means I’m hardened that I didn’t cry about it.

“I better be off.”  I get up and touch her shoulder again, that last bony relic of the village.

“Making dinner.”

“Yes.” I smile.

I walk back past Enraged Enrique’s house, the door of the stable which he painted a new blue last year but I preferred the old blue, past the neatly stacked  firewood, his oxcart, his hysterically sad and at the same time happy dog which leaps up from behind the low wall as always.

I find my daughter playing with M’s granddaughter. ”Sit down.” M says. Her legs are stretched out in front of her. ”It’s hot.” I sit down on the what was once white plastic chair next to her.

We talk medical stuff. It’s one of those subjects which always lingers,  even when it isn’t directly talked about it is always present in the form of sighs and moans. Legs, backs, she broke her leg last year. And nerves. She needs to go back for a check up.  Her nerves are better though.

“I always think of him you know.” She says. He’s always there, whatever I do, he’s always there, in my thoughts.” Her husband died 15 years ago, only in his late 40’s.

“How did you meet?”

Those words time warp her and I feel instantly guilty for having asked her,  but she’s back there.  “At a village party.” she says, “We danced together.”

I can see her back there, it can all be read in her eyes when she continues her story, a warm smile on her face.

“I never go out anymore.” she told me earlier this week while I was doing my washing at the big stone tank which is in the middle of the village. “I’ll take you to the next party.” I promised her. “My legs will hurt but I want to dance.” She laughed.

He’ll be with her too, no doubt, if only to relive those times.

The whatifs and shouldhavedones

View from a rock

View from a rock

I Went into the hills today followed by a bunch of whatifs and shouldhavedones. Some days they don’t leave me alone. It felt as if I went out with a horde of them in tow, they made so much noise they distracted me from looking at the summery happenings around me. “I don’t want you to come with me when I go into the hills. You should have stayed at home.” I told them. “We wanted to come.” they said.

I quickened my pace, which was hard in my wellies. They kept up. I wore wellies because the weather has been crazy lately. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s indecisive. It’s having identity problems. Maybe that fuels the whatifs and shouldhavedones.

The shouldhavedones told me that I ought to have a proper job, that embarking on life as I have done so far was risky at best, idiotic at worst. Shouldhavedones wear designerclothes. I guess they do that to point out the fact that I don’t. The way they speak seems rehearsed, but it isn’t. They’re just that good at speaking. “Why is it inferiority complex? mine is quite simple.”
I joked, trying to distract them. They didn’t laugh.

The whatifs pointed out, list in hand, all the things that could go wrong, backed up with statistics, taking into consideration all the things which had gone wrong in the past and the disastrous effects. I tried to ignore them.

When I arrived at my favorite lookout point in the hills, they were still with me. This annoyed me. They normally tend to give up half way. Now they were blocking  my view.

I like my view. I found this particular lookout spot a few years ago, when looking for petroglyphs. I sometimes fall asleep on the rocks, or sit there staring in the distance, entertaining the thought that one of the hills in the distance isn’t a mountain, but a man-made pyramid.  That’s s not a strange thought. Word goes that one of the hills nearby isn’t a hill either but man-made, and that there are still remnants of an old fort there. It’s near the priest’s house I wrote about before.

No one messes with my view. So I told the shouldhavedones and whatifs a few things, gave them a piece of my mind. It got a little ugly, I might have sworn. But back off they did.

I walked back with a sense of relief, alone.

The whatifs and shouldhavedones are probably still there in the hills, they’ll be on their way back soon but for now they are silenced, marveling at the view instead.

I like that thought.

Charles the 4th

Villager J’s cat skipped after me today while I made my way to the tank in the middle of the village, to do the washing.

I like J’s cat, Charlie, he is a Siamese cross. He’s useless at catching mice. He doesn’t land on his feet. Fearless or stupid, I can’t quite make up my mind. Cute, sure.

I call him Charles the 4th, as an ode to his predecessors who all died untimely deaths. Charles the 1st was a lovely ginger cat who followed J’s wife everywhere she went, and often spend time in villager S’s shed, catching mice. One day he disappeared and never returned. I mentioned to villager J’s wife that people ought to stop putting poison down for the mice, that cats often died in that process too. She since blames villager S for killing Charles the 1st.

Charles the 2nd was brought in as a replacement shortly after Charles the 1st’s disappearance. It was a kitten. I took one look at it and said it would die. In a way this made me feel terrible, as if with those words I condemned it to death, but it had those eyes. Kittens with those eyes tend to die. When the next day I was informed that indeed Charles the 2nd had passed away they looked at me with slight suspicion, or maybe I merely imagined that.

I wasn’t going to pass my opinion on Charles the 3rd, but I looked at him long enough to conclude with some relief that at least he had healthy eyes.

Charles the 3rd  made it into a young cat. He followed Villager J’s wife everywhere just as Charles the 1st used to do and was an excellent mice catcher.

He died more or less in my arms, while I screamed at the dog whose attentions now had been turned to villager S’s chickens.  I had arrived too late for Charles the 3rd, but just in time to see him dragging himself into villager S’s shed with his broken back. I had been alerted by villager S’s hysterical yelling.

He was purring and his eyes had already misted over when I brought him to Villager J’s wife.  It was one of those days where I hated the village and all the villagers with it.

Villager J’s wife told me it was no use to fall out with the dog’s owners over the death of her cat. I let it known anyway to anyone who wanted to listen that if it had been my cat it would have been an eye for an eye, a cat for a dog kind of situation. I didn’t mean that in the slightest. I liked the dog who killed Charles the 3rd, Toby, it wasn’t his fault, but I thought it was a suitable village reply. It seems to have worked. They’ve kept the dog tied up most of the time ever since.

Charles the 4th came from the petshop. They let it out of its box, and this gorgeous Siamese fluff ball clawed villager J’s granddaughter before disappearing into the pine forest.

I thought that it was probably a record. It wouldn’t stand a change. I told villager J and his wife I’d go and find it. The birds were indicating there was a cat around but it remained hidden under the undergrowth. I gave up when it was too dark. The day after I spotted it and stalked it, every time getting a bit closer, but he kept running off, undomesticated and unwilling. When I had finally managed to get within catching distance he clambered into the tree next to him.

I knew he’d survive with that skill. He went back to villager J’s house once his empty belly had gotten the better of him later that evening.

He’s grown into a lovely young cat and regularly comes to visit me. He’s the overenthusiastic toddler type who comes running up to you to tell you lots of stories and will always say hello to you.

I was just in time to chase the dog off last week.

I can only hope there won’t be a Charles the 5th anytime soon.