Bats in the Belfry
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
To Be Continued Next Week, Promise.