The Maple Cottage
written by: James Marchiori
There is nothing clearer or more defined than a desire. The framework in which we put on display something vaguely determined, that is far from us. The burning passion, the ardent desire for what does not exist. Not yet.
Paul was a loner; he ate away the pavement and the soles, running behind intense chimaeras of the mind, his precious thoughts that belonged to a teacher. This is what Paul was, before the death of his wife, and before the retirement. Now he went along the entire village, from the beginning to the end and back, millions of times every day, passing through the same faces, passing through some new ones, very rare in that village. New people that, like during an alien visit, happened by chance, and almost always, having made the wrong turn. He was inspired by what he saw around him; it represented an inconceivable treasure he used to discover slowly, and he had the privilege to taste it secretly. It was what he thought about everything, from a single drop of rain and its consistency to the design of leaves, all different and with a secret. A hieroglyph speaking secret alphabets.
He was a man of science, in some sense. He used to teach chemistry, he privately studied the forms of particles and their reaction with additives. He had, as every figure in the society has, a rule of divulgation based on subject and knowledge, that he suddenly changed. He joined the costumes of the artists, for which the matter was not a subject, but a vision. It was throughout the vision that he could talk with elements and to speak those secret alphabets.
Paul looked always the same in his trench coat and leather brown lace shoes, his hair in a perennial uprising, soldiers of his tangle thoughts.
Paul had a fixation, or better, something that gave him extreme pleasure. Daily, sometimes twice a day, he used to visit the Maple Cottage, the home of his inspiration, his revelation, and his new love. The place where the tree of the designed leaves lived.
He always knew about the existence of that place, but he ignored it for a long time; now that his heart was involved, it was impossible. Apart from the tree, Lara lived there, the princess of the storms. He named her with that royal moniker after he watched her dry clothes in the open field behind the cottage. Those large white sheets, in stark contrast with the darkness of the sky. He couldn’t understand why she chose that stormy day to put clothes out to dry.
She was Lara, and that was enough. She was an angel, and she could do anything she wanted.
Lara had a pale blue 1969 Morris Minor parked on the path beside the cottage. It was a unique model of beauty, a car in a way of yesteryear; it was perfect for her. Minnie and her car.
Paul used to pass through the Maple cottage, picking a leaf from the ground when he found one, hoping to read a secret message on it. Something Lara had written to him. He wasn’t brave enough to say hi to her; he was too shy, and he didn’t want to look like a molester. Lara was placid in her vest, always the same, like his trench coat. She used to wear a long white vest with dark long hair far over her back; she never glanced or said a single word to him. She was probably on his same dimension; she was content to perceive his presence.
Mrs. Goldfraud was always grumbling in her garden, talking to herself about the day in which the Maple Cottage would have been brought down. Paul couldn’t understand why, why they had to destroy that lovely place and what would become of Lara! Non-sense, the cottage was well fitted and there was no doubt that Lara inherited it as a descendant of an ancient family.
“Who said that to you?” asked Mrs. Goldfraud the day that Paul, tired of hearing those vile insolences, explained his thoughts to her.
“I can feel it, Mrs. Goldfraud, I need not be fed all the time. If I feel something, it’s something that must be.”
Mrs. Goldfraud raised her eyes to the sky, and said, “You’re lost, my dear boy, who told you about Lara?”
“I saw her yesterday, Mrs. Goldfraud, she was in the field behind the cottage to dry clothes, she was there! I told you! I saw her!”
“Oh dear, and what did she say about the demolition of her cottage?” Mrs. Goldfraud was laughing, standing beside the shovel she was using for the garden.
“Oh no Mrs. Goldfraud, I’m not that kind of person, I don’t know her, I don’t want to bother. I’m sure that there’s no project of demolition, hundred percent.”
“That’s wrong, my dear, why you avoid talking? Talk to her, try to approach her, be careful though.”
“About what?” Paul was puzzled.
“Ah, nothing son, nothing, it doesn’t matter, go to Lara now; I have stuff to do here. Say hi to her for me.”
“I don’t talk to her, Mrs. Goldfraud, I told you!”
The old lady ignored his last words, waving at him, raising the volume of the portable radio and focusing her attention on the tomatoes.
He went back to have a look to the cottage; he was staring at the clouds of puffy smoke coming from the chimney. Then he looked at the flowers ordered in tiny colored flowerbeds.
Paul decided to pay a visit to his favorite pub. He didn’t use to drink alcohol; he loved a cup of tea with fresh milk.
Eamon the owner was an acquaintance of his from a long time, while Gemma was the lovely young waitress; for her, he was the best client of “The Old Truthstone Pub”, because he wasn’t the classic wino; he was polite. For that reason, she always had some butter biscuits just for him.
The professor seated at his favorite table in a corner, with a cozy little bench and a small window adorned by flowers all around the years. He watched outside, and he saw the clouds covering the sun, throwing a shadow over the silent village.
Gemma arrived at the table with her beautiful ceramic tea set, decorated with painted flowers. Another way to please the lonesome professor.
“How do you do, Professor Paul?” asked Gemma, leaving the tray on the table.
“Oh, please, just Paul, please. It’s all good, I was at the Maple Cottage today to see Lara, I saw her smokey chimney and her flowerbeds, but no signs of her, today.”
The girl smiled at Paul; she wanted probably to caress him, to comfort him. She stared at him in the way she would at a child intent on the games.
“Maybe tomorrow, Paul?”
“Maybe, maybe,” he answered, blushing for shyness.
“Ok, I’ll leave you with your tea, don’t think too much about her now, enjoy your tea made with love, dear Paul.”
“I will, thank you.”
Paul couldn’t avoid thinking he was blessed; the only one who could be so lucky to live this experience. It was a gift he had. Like everyone else, his life had been a swindle, a rollercoaster, with higher and lower points; the grief that almost destroyed his life. His dear Mary: when she left this world, just a few days before, she prayed him to find a solution, to look forward into the future. He thought Lara represented his future. It was just a matter of time, and something would happen. Maybe he would ask about the beautiful Morris Minor and its perfect state of conservation, despite the years it served on the road. It was a good way to start, he thought. Then he stopped. He lifted his eyes, looking at Gemma busy with the routine tasks at the pub; she asked him to enjoy his tea and avoid putting his head on Lara again; but it was impossible. He couldn’t wait to get out and pay the last visit of the day at the cottage, having a look at the Minor and probably he would have the chance to see her.
He had always the same temper; he burned of desire for something else while he was already doing a thing, forgetting to enjoy the present moment.
His memory was fragmented because of that; at his wedding party, he was thinking of the honeymoon. On the honeymoon, he was thinking about the new house once they were back, and so on.
Never a minute to dedicate to the present, the only genuine moment of our lives, the only moment in which it is possible to declare for sure to be, to exist.
He stood motionless, staring at the spoon on the saucer, using his attention on the detail to save the moment. He was flushing too many things on the back burner of his mind.
He looked outside, and he called it a day. He went closer to Gemma, paying with the exact amount of money in coins. As always, she fixed his lapel’s coat and said, “Go home now, magic professor, it’s wet and dark outside, no point to stay around, I’ll see you tomorrow, perhaps”. He smirked at her and replied, “Maybe, maybe” he went out walking on the empty alleys, he arrived at the crossroad where the Maple cottage was visible on the left, he watched the watery coat on the Minor body, made glossy by the feeble light of the lamppost. He envisioned to get home there, the perfume of the flowers in the garden, the warmth of the fireplace, and the cozy bed where to lie down waiting for a cuddle, for the rejuvenate elixir of the fresh eggs at the morning breakfast.
He had to pass the night, devouring another day with visions as an artist does.
The following morning was bright, while a storm was expected by the late afternoon. He went out early. Mrs. Goldfraud was still inside, probably scared of the weather. Old hag, he thought. His first stop was at the cottage, of course, he stopped at the tree to collect some leaves and look for their secret messages, then he watched the shiny and perfect Minor body and paint. Last but not least he saw the elusive shape of Lara. She seemed to move here and there, to appear and disappear on the field with her laundry. It looked like a dance of the veils, free while the wind was blowing her vest and the clouds. She disappeared for good suddenly, just to raise from his feet in front of his face. Face to face, her corpse-like face, her eyes, and mouth like black holes into the void, stinky like hell. She screamed so intensely that he fainted, maybe.
Later that day an investigative journalist came to the village to have a look at the Maple cottage. The council was in turmoil for the planned demolition of the oldest place in the village, listed as historical, but abandoned from years, a rotten old Morris Minor was in the garden to witness the good old days. He was looking for sources of history, but nobody knew anything more than legends. The eldest knew the story of the family that left to seek their fortune abroad. Somebody told him about Paul and his obsession for the place, and when he went to his house, the place was deserted with doors and windows left open. No trace of the professor. He just vanished.
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