SHORT STORIES: Three Summer Vignettes
The grey clouds flew high in the sky, not threatening rain, just offering respite from the sharp beams of light which theatrically burst onto the cobbles to illuminate the villagers. Manual labourers sat laughing in the beer gardens, cooling their calloused hands around glasses of cold cider before the afternoon’s work, and the elderly tottered about on errands, smiling in the warmth rising from the pavement. A group of youths sat cross legged taking shade behind the bus stop, struggling to control their polarizing new physicality with punches and kisses.
And from one corner of the square, came Ryan, straight faced, his shoulders hanging low, trudging towards the post office with a small white envelope in his hands. The envelope contained a letter of finality, to lower the curtain on a tragedy which he still struggled to admit wasn’t missing a final act. But everyone said the villainy could not be overcome, so he wrote his letter, and strode out into the sunshine.
He walked into the post office, and politely dispatched a meek smile as he joined the three person queue. He impatiently tapped his toes as a man from the estate discussed insurance on a parcel, but was relieved when the woman ahead of him sent hers by untracked first.
“Just a first class stamp please, sir.” He said quietly.
“Righto!” replied the attendant with what seemed to Ryan to be unqualified vim. “That’ll be fifty five pence please.”
“I’ve only got a ten…”
“Not a problem!”
He slid the note under the window, and took the stamp and stuck it on the letter, sighing as he went.
The attendant pushed his change through and Ryan struggled to pull the coins up from the smooth metal tray. He got hold of a handful, but a two pound coin went clanging to the floor, and he muttered a quiet “Oops”, as he went to pick it up.
He stood up, and grabbed the five pound note, only for its silky folds to slip through his fingers and float down towards the linoleum.
“We are clumsy sir!” said the attendant joyously.
“You needn’t tell me!” replied Ryan, who then jumped slightly on hearing a small high pitched laugh from behind him. He turned to leave the post office, and lifted as he saw that the laugh had emanated from a tall, brown haired belle, who was beaming at him. Her large eyes followed his path out onto the street, and on seeing this he made his mind up.
He dropped the letter into the pillar box, and wandered out into the sun drenched square.
The curtain was lifting on a new production.
The stifling heat showed no sign of loosening its close embrace despite the storm. A deep black cloud, was edging towards the them over the hill opposite, and a grey haze could be seem descending towards the Pieri vineyards. Old man Pieri could be seen watching on from the top window of the villa as the water battered the grapes, until he was enveloped in the cloud.
Francesco Gori, wandered out onto the terrace to look across the valley. He held a glass of wine in his hand, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. The vines simply couldn’t handle another washout. The winter had been suitably icy, the spring had been wet, but now summer had come, destiny had sided against him, and overcast skies and torrential tempests had left the grapes unripe and soft.
He sipped at last year’s vintage, a hearty, full bodied wine, but even this was not capable of supporting the mortgage. Who would buy the smooth, fruitless wine of the following year? No one would, and he would be forced to sell the land to the American who had been raising his offers for two years. Villa Gori, which had housed his family for almost two hundred years, would have to be sold.
He walked down from the terrace into the vines, as the hard, heavy drops of rain began to fall. He took a grape in his hands, and it fell easily off the stem into his palm. He then squashed its pulpy fibres between his fingers, before throwing it onto the squelchy ground. Only three weeks until the Vendemmia, and the fruit was still a pale green, and hopelessly watery. There was almost no point in sending the pickers round to collect them.
As the rain streaked down his sadden face, it dawned on Francesco, that this may be his last storm before he moved to the city.
The low hanging sun idly beamed its deep orange rays into the terminus, illuminating the trains, and all those waiting for them. There was a steady breeze which had been sweeping over the mountains for two days, cooling the inhabitants of the town, and projecting the town’s flag far across the blue sky.
On account of the wind, Valentin’s skin had turned a rich olive tone, without him really noticing, and this colour was accentuated in the station by the beaming sun. It was here he stood, with Mathilde, waiting for the train which would take him away from the remote town until Christmas. He and Mathilde had been a concern for almost a year now, both having matured from the pained adolescents they were, into reasonable classmates, who soon became enamoured of each other. They had decided to carry on together despite Valentin’s departure, and so the occasion was loaded with an uncomfortable pressure.
The small regional locomotive juddered to a halt in front of them, and the announcer declared that the train would leave in four minutes. The couple chatted awkwardly about arrangements for a few minutes, before seeing the conductor step out onto the platform, with the green paddle in his hand.
Valentin drew Mathilde, into a tight, silent embrace, but she seemed distant, and held him limply, as one would with a distant relative. He tightened, but her arms remained loose around his waist, until they eventually fell to her sides and the two of them broke apart.
She bade him farewell, but no further words were spoken as he climbed onto the train. The conductor waved the paddle, and the doors soon closed, leaving Valentin’s long face in the window. As the train pulled away, Mathilde became unable to keep looking towards the train due to the sun, so turned away and walked off the platform into the waiting hall.
Valentin collapsed into a chair, and revelled in the pain of watching the low sun slowly drift below the mountains.