This is the fifth and final part of a short story inspired during a recent visit to Spain. If you enjoyed the read, and are so inspired, please leave me some much needed feedback in the comment section. I’m happy to return the favour, and will soon do reviews again. If you have come here for the first time, you might want to scroll down the home page to get to ‘part one’ of the short story, posted on April 30th. Thanks you dear readers who followed the evolving narrative, and those of you who left comments and/or pressed the ‘like’ button.
I’m still learning how to operate this site, but this is post no 80 since I started this blog last April … hurrah! And I have another reason to celebrate. A dear friend helped me today clean up the first three chapters of my novel, Course of Mirrors, a final leap towards sending out queries. No more excuses.
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Here then the final instalment of … Lap of Fate…
… The weight of my revelation receded like a wave sucked back into the sea. Confused by the señora’s flat response, I latched onto the distraction of soft paws resounding from the spiral stairs. Abu, the dog, poked his head through the opening to sample the mood. Neck tilted, he sneaked towards me and pushed his wet snout into my lap. Touched by his show of affection, I stroked his pelt, at which he burst into a whirling dance, trying to catch his own tail. Abu’s antics dispersed the static air around my chest. I cried and laughed in one.
The senora’s worried face softened to a smile. ‘What a pretty dog.’
Straightening her back, she regarded me as if seeing me for the first time. ‘My dear child,’ she said. ‘You released a ghost I created. Antonio may or may not have believed my story. The truth is, I miscarried at four months, there was no Juanita, but I had so strongly wanted her to exist in the world, like a fresh and blameless me, I made her up.’
I flinched, recalling my own painful miscarriage, when a river of hormones came to a drastic halt and left a dark hole in my body, like a consuming abyss. I had other children, who thrived. Though my past held secrets, it never detained me from living, unlike the señora, whose child was held captive in the tabernacle of this studio.
‘Antonio cherished me. He was intuitive. He sought to restore my creative spirit by painting me expectant.’ Her shoulders dropped. ‘He died. I was desolate and clung to my old story, imagining Juanita out there in the world having a better chance at life. I must have dreamed you into being.’
The synchronicity of our longing astounded. ‘When I learned of my adoption, I started daydreaming too, convinced my birthmother was out there somewhere regretting her decision to abandon me. I imagined her looking for me, wanting me back.’
Her eyes shone as she took my hands. ‘Does it matter – mi angel?’ she said. ‘All children, born from mind or body, are wanted by life. They deserve to be loved.’
A car horn sounded.
‘Oh dear, we must apologise to the agent,’ she said.
I begged her to stay on, offering a lift to her hotel later in the day. The senora accepted, which freed the agent to drive back to town. His wide grin showed he was happy my break-in had been absolved, and I had made friends with his client.
Alma was her name. Alma Ruiz Gonzales. First, we opened all shutters of the studio to let the sun in and more – a peculiar hint from heaven. Light coming from a far window hit a round mirror standing at an angle on the wall. The reflection in the glass rebounded to cast a circular sunspot on one of the paintings, framing the cardinal with the girl sitting on his lap.
Alma shrieked – with excitement, struck by a sudden idea. With her dazzling crown of hair she looked like a crazed woman as she rummaged in a toolbox. In triumph, she held up a Stanley knife. I thought for a moment she was going to lash out and slash the painting. Instead she found a sharp pen, marked the lit area on the canvas, cautiously inserted the knife, and began to cut with small sawing movements round the curved line. It may have been poor eyesight, but it seemed as if she put her ear to the cleaving sound of the blade. Her lean and leathery hands nudged along with amazing precision, until the severed circular shape could be lifted from the canvas. Her dedication was riveting. Moving on to the second painting, of the cardinal with the snake in his lap, she cleanly sliced out another circle. Both canvases now had a hole large enough to crawl through, edged only by the backdrop of lavish chandeliers, a facet of the cardinal’s scarlet skull-cap and his polished shoes.
‘Why waste good frames?’ she said.
I shook with laughter, bringing Alma to the edge of hysterics. She slumped on a chair to clutch her belly. Our unrestrained mirth thoroughly cleared the air of any lingering ghosts.
I suggested we eat something. Alma opened the backdoor to an enclosed courtyard adjoining the semi. She wiped clean a bench and table, while I fed Abu more of my chocolate and prepared a snack for Alma and me. We had our meal in the yard and chatted about mundane things, like the weather, and neighbours.
I poured us some Merlot. During an isle of silence, the chime bells in a nearby branch moved to a breeze. The melodious ring unsealed more tragedy. Alma shared she had given birth to an actual child, from Antonio, a son, who was stillborn.
‘It’s odd, but at the time I thought of the cardinal’s fixation on me,’ she said, ‘it could have been him … trying to return. Maybe his soul feared I would make his life a misery.’
Mother, Son and a not-so Holy Ghost, I thought. There is no end to the novel ways we make sense of what happens to us. And until we mourn our losses and move on, the meaning we give to what life throws at us could be right, or wrong.
After our meal we went to work. During sunset, the art world was impiously deprived. The cut-out centrepieces of two magnificent paintings, depicting a cardinal’s obsession, were released into the ether. The fire was moderate, and held in check by a bed of stones. Leaning on her cane, Alma watched the flames lick at the snake and gnaw at the flawed beatitude of her abuser. ‘May his soul find peace,’ she said.
The historic aura of the paintings mingled with the cooling air in the hills of Granada and rearranged the past. Brilliant purple, white and scarlet paint simmered and charred, turning canvas into a crumbly leaden tablet with white markings that looked very much like a snake eating its own tail.
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