Unruly flies circled the high ceiling of the first bedroom of the narrow wooden house. The walls of the rectangular room were cream-colored, filled with dozens of tiny flowers of all colors. The white curtains were tangled together, fighting furiously in the fierce wind that blew in through the only opened window in the room. The early morning sun came in mischievously, taking advantage of the fight between gusts of wind and drapes. On the ledge, a long horizontal row of candles of different sizes, most of them already melted a long time ago, were watching over the interior. Behind the window, beautiful views of the hillside revealed greenish meadows and narrow paths.
The house was tall, with three floors and a large attic full of scrap, dust, and forgotten memories. However, spaciousness was not one of its great features, for as well as standing out in height, it was very narrowly built. The wooden stairs leading from the front door to the attic were uneven and creaked with every step, created in such a way that the eyes had to be always steady and attentive, watching the floor for possible traps. She always imagined those stairs to be the heart of the house, so weak and unstable but with the firmness of history holding each step and pillar.
The cottage was not just a dilapidated old house, it held a long history among all the little mismatches in the window frames; the sharp whinnying of the doors; the rust on the hinges; and the smell of dampness. All these reminded of those who had lived among these rooms, all were evidence of the ancestors and their respective daily customs that were engraved in every worn corner, showing that this house was not just a dwelling, but a home with its history, its own life.
The ground floor was the main living room. It was an irregular room, filled with bookshelves crammed with old, yellowed books. Among the older books resided tiny insects and spiders, which had built their empire through mold and dust; in the newer ones, on the other hand, dozens of flowers were trapped among their leaves, plants that she used to keep until they became as thin and fine as the slight chill of the morning wind on the hill.
In the middle of the room stood a round wooden table on which were piled written sheets, full of pencil strokes, black ink, coffee stains, and endless wrinkles. The writing that filled them was curved and melodic, carrying a sweetness with each line that formed. Around the table, five dusty armchairs could be distinguished. A vine had snaked its way through a window and was fastly growing up the leg of a dusty armchair. Despite all the commotion, portraits of all sizes could be seen hanging on the walls. Some were a little crooked; others were worn out by the sun’s strong rays that came undaunted through the old curtains; and others were so confusing that only the most discerning could understand them. To the right of the wall, an arched doorway led to a cramped and colorful kitchen.
The walls of the kitchen were tiled in white and blue and decorated with worn patterns of fruits and round spirals. Although the kitchen looked at first glance as if an earthquake had struck, the glass doors of the tall wooden cupboards showed how every plate, cup, and tray were neatly arranged by size and color. From the high ceiling hung a wooden board held in place by sturdy iron chains, from which dangled an excessive amount of rusty unused pots and pans. The air was cloudy, a dense white layer made breathing difficult. And there she was, crouched under a table, picking up a wooden rolling pin that had fallen into the void while its owner was vigorously kneading a mixture of flour, yeast, and water.
Her hair was tied back in a tousled, thick braid full of small daisies, for she loved flowers and adorning her hair with them. The brown hairs that escaped mischievously from her updo, resembled twisted tree branches. She was wearing a long green dress, as thin as the summer breeze, and her bare feet were firm on the slippery, flour-filled tiles. Hastly, she stood up and let the sunlight streaming through the window in front of the table caress her face as she resumed her work.
She smiled as the sun’s rays tickled with gentleness the soft features of her face. She was like being bathed in sunlight. With two fingers she pierced the center of the dry dough and poured the shiny oil she had preserved in a small glass bottle in one go. Quickly, with her bare hands, she mixed it all together while she hummed an unknown melody.
A cat with silky orange fur stroked her legs and bare feet curiously asking for food. Bending down slightly, she stroked its head, leaving a white welt of flour on the crown of the little creature’s head. She lightly wiped her hand on the delicate fabrics of her dress and continued to knead the stretchy dough with the heel of her hand, until it developed a repetitive rhythm.
Once the dough had a perfect consistency, she shaped it into a ball and placed it in a lightly oiled round baking bowl. She covered the bowl with a clean tea towel filled with small colored dots and let the dough rise on a small wooden table where the sun shone warmly on it and the naughty cat could not climb to it.
She slipped on a pair of worn green high-top shoes and tied a bow on each with her long old ropes. With a small white cloth bag in her arms, she walked quietly out of the narrow wooden door of the cottage.
Outside her abode, it was evident how nature had taken over: mischievous weeds surrounded every nook and cranny; vines climbed up the walls trying to conquer every tiny gap, wrapping around the windows and doors as if trying to pull it back into the earth; and the garden she had cultivated long ago was wild and overgrown, with flowers and vines spilling over the edges of the path.
The roof was covered in moss and ferns, and a thick layer of leaves and debris was accumulated on the small porch which had a few pots of wildflowers scattered about. Still, it was a splendid landscape, whether for the great eucalyptus trees that gave a path between them to a narrow stream or for the bright fruits offered by the healthy lemon trees.
She walked around the cottage turning around into the back cracked wall, mossy and crumbling with age. Indeed, the rear was even more overgrown than the front. A small vegetable garden was tucked away behind the building, with rows of tomatoes, lettuce, and other crops growing tall and vibrant. A small stream or pond nearby added to the sense of tranquility and harmony with nature.
The flowered hair woman deftly leaped the wooden fences that surrounded the greenish meadows, knowing full well that dozens of splinters were lightly piercing the expensive fabrics of her dress. She walked between the narrow paths surrounded by tall grass and the powerful shadows of the big oaks until she left the hill behind and reached the entrance of the small village.
She walked nimbly through the small stone alleys that snaked crookedly between the houses until she reached the round square that defined the center of the village where not more than a decade ago she had arrived by carriage. Unlike that day, at this early hour of the morning, there was only the small tinkling of the wind against the great bells of the cathedral, the quiet whistling of the windows of neighbors conversing among themselves, and the silent footsteps echoing against the stone of a girl crossing the village to go to her secret place to get her favorite flowers for her bread.
Up and down the road, the uneven streets and stone houses were left behind and the panorama opened out into dozens of meadows and mysterious hills. She crossed the wooden bridge and beneath her feet, the crystal clear waters of the slim river reflected the sunny morning. The gentle sound of the currents crashing against the stones and the chirping of frogs enveloped the atmosphere in unison with the faint sound of old wood creaking under the morning girl’s high-heeled shoes. She stepped carefully into the small forest of tall trees at the other end of the old bridge and looked upwards for the sun’s vigilance among the tiny leaves and branches that closed the sky. She knew very well that behind the beautiful trees and the immense foliage was hidden the back door of the little garden of lavender and violet that she tended.
She strolled leisurely among the beautiful flowers, watering the ones that begged for a drink and plucking and tucking some into her little cloth bag. Once she had finished, she left her secret garden, but not before placing an old key to a twisted and rusted metal buckle that kept the door securely locked. Thus she made her way back to her wild little house wandering between irregular pathways, enjoying the summer breeze.
Once arrived at her destination, she entered the house on the hill and made her way to the clumped kitchen while clumsily removing her shoes. She uncovered the already-inflated dough she had created earlier and hit it in a strong but delicate blow. The dough deflated quickly and she gave it a nice round shape. She took a few violets out of her cloth bag and washed them lightly in her dress, placing them on top with a pinch of flour.
She opened the oven, which she had previously left warming up, and holding the small opening with one hand, put the heavy tray inside. As the minutes passed and the old house began to permeate with a delicious aroma of freshly baked bread, she cleaned the used crockery with great patience.
A loud beep determined that her output was ready, so swiftly, with the previous speckled rag in hand, she opened the oven and pulled out a steaming loaf of flowery bread. She sniffed the air with a slight smile on her face, under the harsh rays of the sun that mingled with the light smoke from the freshly baked bread, she set the tray on the wooden table. The little orange cat jumped up the table to have a better look at what gave off such a delightful scent. She petted her beloved while she waited for the bread to cool down, so she could have a splendid breakfast on the wooden bench that lounged amongst nature on the porch of the cramped cottage at the top of the hill.
Texto de Izaro Fernández, segundo premio del XXVI certamen de relato corto en modalidad inglés.
Izaro Fernandez Asua
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