<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 127 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 17, 2003

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or Bengali Bats in the Belfry

Neeman A Sobhan

I am inspired by my younger son's creative assignment this weekend for his script-writing course at Brown. He tells me on the phone that the students have been asked to write a play centred on the word 'Hotel Room', which could figure in the location, the plot, the dialogue, the name of a character or whatever, as long as the words are incorporated into the script! Then in the same breath son asks me what I am writing these days just as I am about to doodle around my grocery list which I have been jotting down desultorily on the back of my dental appointment card while I chat. And this, just moments after I was smarting from his earlier question to which my reply had revealed that I had not read the particular Borges story on his Latin American fiction course list which he was raving about--- I, who had introduced Jorge Luis to him, I, who had been the Latin literature expert in my home, I…anyway, I needed to reinstate myself in my son's eyes. Recklessly I blurted with a shrug in my voice: 'Oh! I'm experimenting with neo-gothic naturalism.' My son is young. 'Wow!' He obliged. But he is not that impressionable and so he asks me to please email him a copy of it so he can decide what he thinks of it.

And thus I find myself here, scaring myself into producing this scary story about a haunted Abbey and a fiend in an Umbrian farmhouse. It is based on facts (I refrained from writing 'true' facts) and this, ahem…neo-whatwasit-gothic magical realism or naturalism or whatever story, will be told from quadruple (that's four, right?) or three, no, two points-of-view. To distinguish between them, one will be in Italics (this, let me add as a soothing footnote, is for those of my readers who come to the magazine after a very late night and need everything spelt out) and the rest will be in medieval Italian, okay, okay, Times New Roman (why are these fonts thusly named?)

* * *

'Here are the keys to our home,' My artist friend Ginda hands me a set of three keys. She and her husband Mike have driven down to Rome from their 300 year old farmhouse-converted home in Umbria and are stopping with us on their way down south to Calabria. We have two visitors whom we are planning to take up north to Tuscany, and Ginda has graciously given us the use of her home up in the hills, in her absence.

Mike gives us some last minute advice. 'The orange key matches the rusted main gate to the property, the purple key is to the studio and matches the wisteria vine on the door, and the third key is to the main house. We have made up twin beds for your guests in the studio, but there are also two bedrooms with double beds in the main house, use whatever configuration suits you all.' As they wave goodbye and get into the car I ask idly, 'Any quirks about the house we should know?' There is a pause. Then Mike starts the car and says with a laugh 'Well, we have been told there is a violent creature in the garden. If it looks starved feed it. It usually stays away.' I can't tell whether he is pulling my leg. 'What kind of animal?' I ask over the sound of the revving engine. Mike's words are lost as he backs away and the car is gone.

We leave the next weekend. The undulating countryside with its vistas of stone villages and olive groves unwind before us. The sun pours its oil of contentment on the fresh salad of our expectations….hmmmm… nope, lets leave that sentence behind unread and drive on. We arrive in the village of Umbertide around three in the afternoon and start ascending to Ginda's house through the breathtaking scenery of vineyards and valleys. The gravel road up to her gate is a series of Italian paintings and chapters from English novels about the Italian countryside. We have exhausted the 'oohs' and 'aahs' and are fresh out of the vocabulary of appreciation. Quietly we unlock the main gate with the orange keys and enter the steep path leading up to the poetic stone house spilling Vermillion geraniums from ledges and terracotta urns.

I saw them enter the driveway, but kept very quiet. I did not like this intrusion. No, this was very annoying. But I calmed myself and decided to bide my time. Nothing would ruffle my feathers yet. I kept myself away.

As soon as the overnight cases were in, we dragged chairs on the lawn, brought out tea and wine and cheese and crackers and cakes and set about on a renewed bout of 'oohs' and 'aahs'. The rolling country from this high up was spectacular. We planned to dine that evening at the Abbey down in the valley, which Ginda had recommended. Then we discussed desultorily the sleeping arrangement. The studio attached to the house but separate from it with its own entrance near the garden was a charming room filled with Ginda's paintings and redolent with the fragrance of oranges, cloves, varnish and dried flowers. The two women guests were quite happy to sleep there, one of them even said, 'I am not used to sharing a bed with anyone and the twin beds are ideal.' If I were a bad writer I would underline this statement as famous last words. But I shall urge my readers to ignore this for now and continue to the next sentence. Anyway, hospitably my husband and I still offered the ladies the two bedrooms in the main house with the double beds in each, while also angling for a chance to stay in the romantic studio. But it was decided that the guests would sleep in the studio and we in one of the rooms in the house. Soon after that we locked up again and left for a drive to Perugia and then dinner at the Abbey below.

I saw them leave, but something told me they would be back. I came out of hiding and strolled around the grounds. There were some crackers left on the table. I munched on that as I peeked into the windows. I wondered how long they were here for. I felt laughter rise in my throat like bile. Not very long, I chuckled to myself as I found a corner of the garden by the studio to doze and await the return of the ill-fated intruders.

To Be Continued Next Week, Promise.



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