4 weeks ago

Barbaria: A Short Story By Ilsa Carter

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Barbaria beguiled. Ask anyone who stared in to the pair of sapphires that were his eyes. A fringe of thick black lashes sheltered them from the glare of a sweltering noonday sun, and after a while, one could be forgiven for experiencing a supernatural sensation of falling, through the pin holes which were his pupils. No blacker for being contracted down to the size of laquered rosary beads, they sparkled with a splendour similar to the dark glass that, once extruded from the violence of an erupting volcano, flows till it slows down, pooling and cooling as it becomes solidified obsidian.

Impervious to an interloper’s opinion of his dust-caked dungarees, what the humble homesteader lacked in stature, he more than made up for with a rare intensity. His toothless grin promised a justified pause on that less travelled dirt road which twisted its way past his property to an abrupt end, culminating in a cliff, punctuated by its precarious drop, to the unrelenting tides biting at its base below.

As he spoke, his animated expressions appeared to propagate auxiliary wrinkles. On top of the ones already lining his leathered face, which was the same colour as the coffee they served at Bar Centro, on the village square in the capital called San Francisco. On the smaller of a pair of islands that the Romans, relying on Greek, termed The Pitiusas. Provoked by what after shadeless days at sea, the thirsty legions must’ve regarded as a plethora of pine trees.

Though hard to follow, due to his predilection for departing from standard Castilian Spanish, in favour of the island’s own dialect, his shrewd curiosity combined with an open demeanour, made for a conversation engaging enough, that one might not have been distracted by the magical manifestation, seemingly out of nowhere, of a woman you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming to be his wife, allowing for the exception that she was the spitting image of himself. A fraternal twin couldn’t have come closer to him on each physical dimension, her disposition and comportment matching his in every way. Much like bookends, they began to mirror one another, gesturing with ample enthusiasm on all points proffered, nodding in unison. 

The crescendo of this encounter was a synchronised por favor to savour the windfall of fruit from their tree which, by its own shameless display dangled those handfuls of fuzzy amber flesh over a stone wall, and in to the right-of-way, beckoning the sporadic pedestrian to avail of these abundant apricots that, in a slanting light, proceeded to bleed from the spontaneous splitting of their thin velvet skins.

Like something sinful stolen on a serpent’s advice, pants pockets were enticed to profit from an embarrassment of god-begotten golden gifts. With Muchas Gracias repeated ad nauseam, an awkward disembarkation commenced, not seen since the apricots accrued tumbled down Mount Ararat, in the process of poor old Noah parking his ark.

Much like bookends, they began to mirror one another, gesturing with ample enthusiasm on all points proffered, nodding in unison.

Rudeness would prevent an interlude of this calibre from being shared that evening, in the island’s most exclusive restaurant, located off the road that led through ancient vineyards, olive groves and almond trees, to a headland known as Cap de Barbaria, and its lighthouse, which crowned the highest ground of a promontory facing Africa. Built for the sole purpose of warning vessels away from those perilous peaks which, without protruding the tranquil aquamarine surface, would otherwise pierce the hull of a boat as easily as they would a bird’s egg, and bring it down, to descend in to the darkest depths, where it would be wrapped in soft seaweed, for safekeeping, to sleep away the centuries.

Habitually solicitous, the ponytailed patroness of this restaurant didn’t flinch, as she listened to a tale that, in its entirety, probably carried on longer than was necessary, at the expense of her service to tourists on the first timers’ terrace. Not a patio for purists, and seekers of shade who only peeked out from an inner sanctum reserved for those who didn’t shirk the way this island really works.

Pressing an index finger against her lips, with a firmness that implied she was privy to vital intelligence on the topic, she deferred to a protocol which precluded any disruption that might disabuse the storyteller of his fastidious denouement. Concluding the saga, he appraised her with an overwhelming expectancy. One so demanding of her approval, that she hesitated to fortify his foreigner’s knowledge about a man she was well aware of, considering the proximity of his farm to her residence, in all its elegance, at the end of a road which terminates on a precipice, in Cap de Barbaria.

“No. No, she was not his wife. You must’ve met the sister. She has the same eyes. Together, the two of them own everything around there now. People whisper the widower poisoned his poor wife with those finger-licking apricots of his. Terrible lie to tell about an old farmer, isn’t it? A landowner. Stupid to say. Of course, he did no such thing.”

Intensified by compassion, her eyes took on the colour of the surrounding sea, before reading, from left to right, the formal dining room she’d conjured from the remains of an antique finca. Now bulging with undisclosed intrigue, like a couple of conspirators, those eyes returned to the table, just as that silvered orb of summer, a moon soundless in all its roundness, and ably framed by the open door, chose to hover above her head.

Amelia’s pout was pregnant with particulars that saw their way out, when her bejewelled hands grasped something unseen in mid-air, and for one shining second, she seemed to see across time, performing a pantomime from the past, one dared not repudiate. And if an emotion like love or hate harboured in the features of her face, it was chased by the neutrality of her words which were deep but numbered only six …He smothered her. With a pillow

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