Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The monk.

Let me take you back a week or two, to Italy, where it’s the middle of the night and something is moving outside. It’s not the earth, at least not yet, it’s feet, falling faintly on gravel. Definitely. I decide it’s a person and he’s staking the joint. I sit bolt upright in bed.

“Listen to that,” I say. “There's someone out there.”

“There really isn't," says Husband. "I looked already, everywhere, with a torch.”

“You won’t be able to see him with a torch,” I say. “He will hide, or run away.”

“If he runs away I’ll hear him,” says Husband, “on the gravel.”

“He’s still out there, then,” I say.

“He’s not,” says Husband. “There’s no one. It’s not a person.”

It sure sounds like a person to me, and if it’s not a person, what on earth, or heaven, is it?

As it happens I don’t believe in heaven, or ghosts, or ghouls, or anything much, only in people. I sit firmly excluded from conversations at dinner parties and in coffee shops about God/spirituality/spirits/souls/star signs/something bigger than we are/more than this. As far as I’m concerned this is it, mate. We shuffle off this mortal coil and get eaten by worms, or turn back into stardust. So when Husband leaves the room to look again, I’m alone with my rationality, bathed in sweat.

After a few minutes, he returns.

“And?” I say.

“Nothing,” he says. “Absolutely nothing. Definitely. Must have been an animal, maybe a cat.” And he goes back to sleep, with the light on.

I can't go back to sleep. I stare up at the ceiling, listening to HIM, out there: his feet stealing round the house, his hot breath wheezing outside the window.

I get out of bed and go downstairs to the kitchen. There’s a full moon but still I turn the lights on, all of them. I sit at the table with my laptop, and then I remember.

Directly above our casa, on the hill, is an ancient tower dating from the 13th century. Once part of the monastery, it was built to house Santa Vittoria’s remains. We were taken inside it the day before to see the frescos in the chapel, which, incidentally, keep on looking as fresh as the day they were painted (see above), and we also saw a hole in the ground in the middle of the floor.

“What’s that for?” one of us asked, (I can’t remember which one). I thought it was a well, perhaps.

“That,” said our guide, “if you must know, was for the dead.”

“The dead?” one of us repeated (again, I can’t remember which one).

“They used to throw the dead monks down there,” she said. “They didn’t bury them; they threw them down the hole. Until recently the cellar was deep with bones, all the way up to the ceiling. A few years ago, they were removed.”

Her words echoed round the empty chapel, as we peered into the pit.

Anyway, I remember all this just as the wind, or maybe the fridge, or possibly a dead monk, makes a deeply eerie, truly howling sound, right behind my head. I click the laptop shut and leg it back upstairs, where I shiver madly under the sheet: an illogical, superstitious, mess.

And then… across the gravel, there are those faintly falling footsteps again, softly circling: the monk, with his hot, heavy breath, just, outside, my, window. Definitely.

Somehow I sleep, eventually, and fitfully, and night passes into day and in the morning, when I wake, I go straight to the window and open the shutters and... there’s nothing. Nothing at all. Except… after some moments… a wasp, vanishing under a broken tile.

“I think it might be wasps,” I say to Husband, at breakfast.

“A wasp?” he says.

“Plural,” I say.

Later, I Google it, and sure enough wasps make a strange crunching noise when they’re building a nest. It’s wasps, then. Wasps!

What a blessed relief. It’s not a burglar casing the joint. It’s not the ghost of a dead monk. It’s wasps making a noise exactly like that of a man walking on gravel, as they make themselves a nest on the roof. Definitely.

Love E x


P.S. I have to stop reading about the earthquake - too dreadful. Pity poor Italy, where the bones of its dead lay deep beneath its beautiful ruins.

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