The village

One could see smoke coming out of the chimney barely peeping behind the clump of trees. Just a thread of smoke, white and subject to the wind’s whims from that cloudy day of May. In front of the trees were elegantly rusting the flowers of an iron fence which hadn’t been painted in years, embraced by the tender vines of some ivy bush that were trying to sneak through the uncared-for rods.

I told you that the old man wasn’t dead yet, mumbled Kira softly, with a light poke in her husband’s ribs. With a somehow incredulous look, he raised his sight which was resting among the hairs of the mare’s crest and gazed at the smoke rising in the air, proof that in that place some man’s hand had stroke a light.

I don’t know what to say, he spoke after a few moments. But if the old man is still alive, that means that death must have forgotten his name, I, for one, have lost the track of the years that passed since he shut himself inside that yard and didn’t come out again. Only God knows what he’s living on.

Kira shrugged her shoulders without replying and the two of them went slowly on their way, allowing the mare to pull the cart at will. Somehow though, the sight of that thin white flue had managed to send chills down the spine of both of them.

The old man of which the woman had spoken used to have a name sometime in the past, but nobody recalled it any longer. They were afraid even to try and remember who had seen him last – just like Aaron said, for many years now he had latched himself inside his yard and had never come back out since.

Why he had run away from the world nobody knew, and after a while, wanting to know about his fate, some of the braver villagers had tried to reach him, but gave up quickly. All had said that the silence beyond the fence was deathly deep, and none of them had the guts to go beyond the gate.

After some time people just forgot about him, and few still knew that on the land behind the oaks there was a house and, as lately proved, even a living human being.

In the same evening, at the tavern in the village, Aaron didn’t waste the chance to let everybody know what he had seen with his woman, and immediately people gathered around tables, each chipping in with their opinions and trying to understand the meaning of that fact.

Not small was the surprise of those who passed the next day through the old man’s front gate to notice that, aside the smoke coming out of the chimney, there were now other proofs of life – the iron fence had been completely derusted, and the ivy and all the other herbs around it had been weeded out. When did all that happen from one day till the next, nobody could understand, for it was a huge one-day task even for a young and strong man, not to speak of an old one. And again people shuddered.

On the third day the fence had been already painted and the path on which one could cross through the oaks towards the old man’s house had been properly cleaned and here and there, where time had eroded its stones, those had been replaced.

In the fourth day people put aside all shame and came in packs to stare at the young oaks which suddenly seemed to allow light to flow among them. No more weeds were filling the ground, only here and there some raspberry bush almost smiled to them, happy to have been released from the cuffs of weeds. Even the house could be slightly guessed beyond the trees, but aside that, no living creature was seen in the yard for as long as people stared, and many of the villagers crossed themselves and said that this was not something right.

Day five came, and those with a good sight were able to notice that the old man’s house was brightly white, and they all understood that now the cleaning had moved in that area.

On day six nothing new was seen from the gates, but people were sure that other things had changed in the house and yard.

On day seven, during the religious service, a young boy burst into the church and barely gasping for breath, yelled:

The gates are opened! The gates are opened!

When he heard him, the priest threw an “Amen” on the run to close the sermon somehow, followed by a „God forgive us” because of the slight remorses for being so curious, and then all people together with him marched to the old man’s land. When they arrived, they stopped in front of the wide opened gates, looking in an idiotic way at the path elbowing among the oaks. On its stones, coming slowly towards them was a young woman, with long black hair tied in a pony tail. Nobody knew who she was, and nobody dared to make a step or to say a word.

The woman neared them slowly, and when she was right in front of them, all villagers could sense that her hair smelled like lavender and see that the white dress that she wore hadn’t the tiniest spot of all. The woman looked at all of them, silent, soaking her gaze into the eyes of each of them, and then she smiled and beckoned them to follow her. Countenance lost, people poked each other, not daring to cross the line of the gate. The unknown woman turned at them again and a single word came out of her mouth:

Come!

As if pushed from behind by the woman’s voice, the villagers began to slowly move forward, advancing somehow undecided on the path in front of them, following the woman at a short distance. While getting closer to the house that could be seen beyond the cluster of oaks, they could all feel that something was happening to them, but none was able to understand what exactly was. The silence around was pierced only by the song of some birds and by the sound of their slow steps. Even the priest, mute, was trailing his footsteps along with all the rest. Something inside was telling him that maybe he should have turned away and leave…turn away…leave…why turn away?…where to go?…

The woman continued to walk ahead of them, followed step by step by all the people, and she didn’t stop until they reached in front of the house. There she turned and looked at them, and they stopped too, as if commanded, gazing at the unusual flowers hanging from some clay pots and at the bright whiteness of the walls, and feeling ashamed about the collywobbles they all had when they smelled food, freshly baked bread and cakes. The woman smiled again and led them behind the house, where a huge table was laid, for all of them. Not even a fork was missing, and slowly people cheered up, sat on the chairs and started to eat, first with a certain shyness, and then with hunger, from all the relish in front of them. Sitting aside, the women kept smiling, silent, watching them with the contentment of a mother watching her children. Aaron turned his eyes towards her, stood up slowly from the table and came to her:

Well ma’am…if you don’t mind me sayin’…but won’t you come join us?

The woman smiled upon him without replying, but Aaron was sure that he heard a voice in his head, letting him know that she had already eaten, so he went back to his place and minded his own plate.

After a while, with the good meal under their belts, people’s tongues started to loosen and they began to laugh and to joke. Women stood up and cleared the dishes, while men began to blather, dipping their words in the glasses of wine in front of them.

Hey folks, asked the priest at some point. But where’s that woman?

What woman, your grace? They’re all in the kitchen, giggled a young man aside. You want the lady vicaress to hear you?

The priest looked at an empty chair isolated in a corner. He was sure that earlier there had been a person sitting on it, but now he couldn’t remember who that had been. Somehow he felt it must have been a woman…

How did we get here? mumbled the priest, slightly dizzy.

But…we didn’t, replied Aaron slowly. We were always here.

Seeing the vicar’s lost gaze however, he stood up and went to him.

Do you want to go inside and rest a little, father? Maybe the wine at the table was too strong…

The priest nodded, and helped by the man beside him he got inside the house, and then in one of the rooms, with the easiness of one who knew the place forever, like the inside of his own pockets.

Aaron left the priest to sleep, and then he went to the kitchen and pulled Kira aside:

You woman, talk to the other lasses and see if you can make some pies for tomorrow at noon, but you know, pies like those that only you can make.

Kira’s eyes laughed while she turned Turk towards her man:

Go away husband, shoo! The kitchen is women’s place; you go out and mind your own business with the others. You tell me, pies…is there anything else aside food that your mind thinks about?

With his moustache trembling and chuckling because of the woman’s fake anger, Aaron returned to the other men and they continued with their stories, one funnier than another.

Evening came slowly, and eventually they all went to sleep in the many rooms of the manor. Tired, Kira put on her night gown and before tucking herself to bed she looked through the window, towards the clear sky. From outside, the song of a nightingale got to her. Sighing with satisfaction, she lied in bed and whispered to Aaron:

We’re gonna make those pies tomorrow, you can sleep in peace. But you guys have a lot of things to do yourselves. Ana is going to birth that baby soon, and the child will need a cradle and others.

Aaron didn’t answer, but she felt his rough cheeks tamed by a smile. She smiled back and soon they were both sleeping in the deep silence of the house.

***

On the country road one could hear horses, and soon the faces of two men appeared. One of them kept looking with a puzzled mine in all directions.

Wasn’t there a village on this road?!

Maybe, I wouldn’t know about that.

It was only a few months ago when I passed on this road and I remember there were houses, people, animals, gardens…how would all that disappear without a trace?!

Maybe they all went to the other world, the other man gibed him.

The first one swallowed the irony and didn’t dare to reply, for fear of his companion sarcasm. Then they pinched their horses and kept riding, although the first one’s mind continued to turn about the truth of his memories. From some indefinite direction a slight scent of lavender reached his nostrils, and for a tiny moment through the cluster of trees he saw something that could have been taken for a fence. But in the next second the other man rushed him, reminding him that they had to hurry. The whiff of lavender vanished the same way as it had appeared, melting within the silence of the place, and suddenly the man knew for sure that not even the shadow of a ghost had ever lived in these parts.

© Liliana Negoi

originally written in Romanian

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Comments
One Response to “The village”
  1. ch3815h says:

    such a long way this metamorphose!
    it shows us that the time is following a cyclic path in the meaning of aging ever since first breath taken with a tremendous cry kept in the live memory through the pass of decades by generations of ancestors!
    for you to have another good day, a special one as matter of fact it is the day of the sun, let it smile for you! kind regards! 🙂

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