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The Cork Submarine 3 Chapters and Synop


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 The Cork Submarine Welcome to the Quinta Plenty of Room They Gather for the Feast (Synopsis) By Ian deMontfort Changing your life is about changing the self, not the country you live in. Though I believed the latter when I discovered the Alentejo, a remote region in the heart of Portugal. Filled with history and beauty, it also harboured the mostly insane.Hans had once been a U-Boat Captain. His moustache could tango, or do the salsa. It all depended upon his mood. Having lived in Portugal for many years, he was loved and hated by many. His farm, the Quinta do California stood at the crossroads of that almost forgotten world. My love for Celia had led me there. As for the rest, it just happened. Hans obsessions created a realm of extremes, where two lesbians constantly fought each other over accusations involving past lives. And while Emmanuel, the lazy farmhand dreamt of becoming a rich drug dealer, a naturist couple known as Paulo and Evabecame hopelessly ensnared in the machinations of a local Guru with an already extensive harem. Becoming involved with the ongoing intrigues, my dream of a future with Celia began falling apart. My friendship with Hans was ultimately forged in despair. Our perspective struggles mirrored our similarities. As I lamented Celias change of heart, so Hans, already half maddened by desire for the beautiful Danielle could only watch from a distance as she began showering her attentions on his arch-foe Gunter. Hans began to sleepwalk while calling out her name. But even that nightly ritual took a different turn. The name of an unknown woman eventually replaced Danielles. The past travels with us wherever we go. We cannot escape it. Like the seasons, it will return to haunt us until its true relevance is fully acknowledged. It was the irony of illness that gave Hans the eyes to look into his past and embrace it. In so doing he gained the fulfilment hed always craved with the woman hed always loved. As a consequence of that, it was the gift he sent me, whichallowed me passage through my darkest hour. A note with it was to change my life in a way I least expected. It read. My friend, Here is a cork submarine. It will never sink. It will never make war. I have a favour to ask The Cork Subarine is the first book of a trilogy, and at 79,500 words in length could be described as autobiographical-fiction. Pools of rainwater blinked at the gloomy sky. The pollution on their surfaces looked more like war paint by the moment. Maybe London would shortly be immersed and all of the cars, along with their drivers, drowned. If this were the case, then a boat offered the only way out; thats if one happened to sail by. My watch had stopped, its face remaining mostly hidden by condensation. Deprived of seconds, the past is all that remains. Too many opportunities had already slipped through my worn pockets. Aided by a cocktail of drugs and alcohol on top of that, I had almost given up completely. Forever was too long for a person like me. Lost in a spiritual wasteland, my soul was crying out. Frustration had ultimately forced my hand. I had always wanted to write, but like so many others, I had not. Most of my stumbling words and ideas had disappeared into the smoke-filled air of the citys crowded bars. The remainder had been emitted in a stream of yellow piss. The disturbing fact was that without any sort of beginning, there could never be a completion. Success demands a start and then a rugged will to keep on going regardless of everything else. Running away from the unsatisfactory and convoluted life-style I had led was in a sense a beginning. I was going somewhere to produce my first novel. I was going to recover a sense of self. All I needed now was that promised ride out of the country. Hopefully time had not ceased its ticking. If it had, then forever really was too long for this thirty-three year old man. Until now, Portugal had never been of much interest. Although Lisbon and Porto were meant to be beautiful, the opposite was often stated about the Algarve. Terrorised by fat golfers swinging their clubs in various bunkers, it sounded completely unappealing, to me anyway. But another area existed. Far away from the wet dreams of diabolical developers pillaging the Iberian coast, it was instead made up of lengthy slabs of mountains and plains. Separated from Spains Extremadura by the river Tejo, the Alentejo was remote and out of touch with the rest of the world. How I had become aware of it was simple. Love. Celia was employed by a company specialising in Walking Holidays and had already gone ahead in preparation for the coming season. We had hardly seen much of one another. A strange turn of events had forced her back home. I, on the other hand had ended up lodging on various floors and settees belonging to friends. Any more time apart from her would be too painful. At least this way it would be possible to see each other, if only occasionally. Celia also knew it would be a healthier environment for me to experience. A quiet enough place, it would afford me the opportunity to start something that would lead to a possible ending. With that in mind, I felt a wave of water crash over my feet. From out of nowhere the insensitive tyres of a small blue car had silently ferried the vehicle towards me, where it had managed to dock. In the driving seat sat what seemed to be a young looking version of Dirk Bogart. It was Celias work colleague Alex; my getaway driver-cum-captain of the boat. Covering up any annoyance at my additional soaking, I hurled my baggage into the boot before sliding into the passenger seat. We left London without a backward glance. After three long uneventful days consisting of idle conversations and roadside cafTs, we found ourselves racing across Spains Extremadura. Locked in on all sides by the blue-padded walls of an unsullied sky, its only inmates appeared to be non-descript villages and pig farms. It was hard to believe that such an unremarkable place had housed two of historys most notable criminals. Escaping their open-air incarceration, they had visited bloody misery upon the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Conquistadors of repute, they were known as Francisco give-it-to- me Pizarro, and Hernan its-all-mine Cortes. It was late afternoon before I first glimpsed Portugal. Ahead, her granite shoulders shrugged off Spains tenuous hold. And as we crossed the divide that cupped the waters of the river Tejo surging towards the Atlantic hundreds of miles away, another world made of something more than mere earth exposed itself. Conducted by obstinate peaks holding white washed villages aloft, a symphony of cork oaks and olive groves gathered below and sang out in silent harmony along with fertile pastures and flower-ridden meadows. I was stunned. Here, it was clear to see that water was the ultimate saviour, not God. Without its constant percolation, the shattered vertebrae of man-made history would not have been so evident amidst the often-rocky terrain. Megalithic structures along with Celtic round houses carefully watched the Roman road we travelled down. Having seen Caesars armies come and go, they had also borne witness to the wrath of the Visigoths whod followed after them. And as the Moors distinctive architecture flinched knowingly at the Christian influence of intolerance still discernable in the imposing Gothic churches, so had their fire and brimstone in turn succumbed to renaissance liberalism. I realised then that history, whether forgotten, or remembered, never perished, but exists alongside us at every-moment. Only the illusion of time appeared to separate everything. With this in mind, I watched while the shadows spreading across the world finally amputated the Suns remaining rays. On a late April evening that had become moonless and overcast, and without ritual, Alex dropped me off at Portalegre, one of the regions main towns. Soon after, an illuminated row of streetlights led me towards a taxi rank not too far away. Quinta do California, porfavorsenhor, I mumbled at the round-faced driver. Sim. An unmistakable undertone of triumph resonated in his gruff voice. Something in his eyes bore the look of a door-to-door salesman. It was possible that the double-glazed windows to his soul reserved no joy at all. In my experience to date, most mini-cab drivers had turned out to be the dodgiest breed of human being around; he was surely no different. It was sheer will that prized the man out from behind his steering wheel. Manoeuvring his space-hopper physique around the back of the car, he grabbed my luggage and into the boot it went with a thud. This done, he jammed himself back into the white Mercedes and drove me away into the unlit night. For all I knew the jolly fat man could have been taking the road to Timbuktu the long way around. It took a few minutes of uncomfortable silence before he attempted communication. Extending the stubby digits of his right hand, he insinuated that our destination was only five minutes away. Unfortunately this was also a precursor of more to come. Quickly dispensing with the use of sign language, he insisted on further disclosure in crippled German and English of sorts. Over the next twenty minutes I learnt that his name was Joao: he had been a lorry driver in his youth, and had later married a German woman by the name of Frieda. I didnt mind the small chatter, or even the fact that he steered the car with his stomach. I did not even care when he began informing me about the size of Friedas massive breasts, which were no doubt supported by a belly akin to his own. None of this bothered me until: You likeedi tits? he asked raising his eyebrows, while simultaneously nodding his now perspiring head. Yes I do, I admitted as a matter of fact, but also because it would allay any awkwardness that may have led the man to believe I was gay. Me lika the biggatitashuuhh, muito, Joao licked his lips like a man who had just ended a hunger strike. His continued fervour soared to giddy heights as he sang of various conquests in lay-bys stretching from Lisbon all the way to Dresden. He even pulled out a tattered magazine from beneath his seat. Grinning at the word Melones written across its front cover, he pointed out the inflated tits that gave the publication its mass appeal. His bulging eyes rolled back in euphoria as the road disappeared. Feeling the car swerve sharply to the right, I gripped the dashboard and pushed back into the seat as a moment later it skidded to a halt. Ahead, I saw particles of illuminated dust swirling around a rickety looking post that read, Quinta do California. Next to it a dirt road trickled off into oblivion. There is where, pointed Joao dismissively, not having for a single moment taken his eyes away from the fantasy of fleshy mounds now crumpled in his clammy hands. Once the taillights of the lopsided taxi had faded, an impenetrable darkness, fortified by complete silence, took over. Unable to estimate the Quintas distance, I soon ran into trouble. Stumbling over bits of debris and potholes, I thought about the advertisement Id spotted a week before. Affordable prices. Necessary amenities. Easy-access, it had stated. Easy access! What did that mean? There had been no mention of the need for a four-wheel drive vehicle. Maybe the testosterone-injected taxi driver had got it wrong. What if there were two Quintas with a similar name? I panicked. Conceivably the potholes could have been something completely different. Judging by their various sizes, some could have been craters formed by detonated landmines. If so, then a number of questions remained. Had anyone ever made it to the property alive? And if so then more importantly, Had anyone ever made it out again? Preoccupied by such thoughts, I twisted my ankle painfully. Shit. I protested. That one word must have somehow gored the sky. Without warning, a powerful wind burst out from its wounded underbelly and struck. Blinded by the whipped-up dirt, I staggered about as a further tirade of abuse shot from my mouth. It was simple. The wind was not having it. Turning into a howling gale as if to prove a point, it drowned out every profanity I could muster. Apart from being blind, I had also become dumb. Being ignored only made me more defiant. Regardless of my disabilities, I was determined to push ahead. And I did; that is until I fell over the bags I had dropped whilst tending my eyes. Kissing that gritty track completed my humiliation. However a glimmer of hope did appear. Although faint, its flickering light drew me hypnotically to it. And as the outline of the house shielding it became discernable, a luminescent arrow shuddering under the storms growing temper abruptly pointed off to the right. Forced to follow a sliver of track that circumnavigated the potential sanctuary, I shortly arrived at a fastened gate. Beyond it, the silhouette of a bungalow almost defied detection, as if hiding from the world. It was a vicious gust that ripped the gate from my control and murdered it. Torn from its ancient hinges, it fell to the ground and smashed into pieces like a porcelain jar. I quickly knelt to pick up the splintered fragments. They turned out to be nothing more than worm-ridden timbers. Momentarily lost in the hope of mending the damage, I became aware of a presence. It resembled an Egyptian mummy without bandages. It moved carefully, its voice, barely audible above the zephyr, sounded distinctly German. Ja. Who arrre you? The hollows of its sockets scrutinised me. I am sorry, I pleaded, offering up the wreckage. You are English? It asked. Yes I am. My name is Ian, I fumbled. I sent an e-mail to let the owner know I was coming. Vell, it said stepping closer. It looks as if you have arrived, ja? Snatching the debris from my hands, the mummy threw it to one side, and snapped open a skeletal hand in greeting. My name is Hans. I am, as you say, ze proprietor of ze land here, ja? I did not answer. Surprisingly he led me past the bungalow by torchlight and through another gate. Negotiating its way through a copse of creaking trees, the relic quickly pointed out two African styled huts built years before. They were for the installation of guests who happened to drop by from time to time, unannounced. But I sent you an e-mail, I complained. Your web-site mentioned rooms in the bungalow. I cannot remember, zo for now you are unannounced, ja. We entered one of the round buildings by pushing aside a flapping blanket. Stepping in closely behind him, I watched dumbfounded as he struck a match, before locating an oil lamp hanging next to the entrance. As the wick flared and became steadily brighter, shadows jumped and wrestled for space within the flax-walled arena. While two retired beds wrapped in grey blankets outflanked a solid wooden table, the conical roof sealed with plastic sheeting shuddered violently. Sooner, or later the vengeful wind would succeed in prizing it off. I vill see you in ze morning, said the embalmed-looking landlord, gazing up. But! I stated a moment too late. The cowardly mummy had already vanished. Unable to fasten the blanket, I dragged the rectangular table across the sandy floor and turned it over. But the formidable barricade against the outside world couldnt protect me from myself. My mind was reeling. The wind had already metamorphosed into some kind of mythical beast. In the throes of an agonising labour, it clawed at the huts foundation. A second line of defence was needed. Although my Leathermans couldnt guarantee survival, it did promise a sort of mutual assured destruction should the barrier fail. There was nothing more to be done except blow out the lantern, and wrap up tight. Sleep did not come. Even the maternal security usually offered by my sleeping bag failed to materialise. Paranoia crept through the hut, its fingers pressing in from all sides. The table and the Leathermans had failed miserably. The vulnerable entrance had to be monitored, no matter the consequences. Determined to stay alive, I placed my back against the far wall and waited. For what exactly, I wasnt sure. In search for peace of mind, one thing became painfully obvious. With the many years spent in London, I had become nothing more than a townie, content with a stroll in the wilds of Regents Park. Beautiful London. Glorious Regents Park. I awoke, slumped against the wall like some discarded rag doll: my throat intact, the Leathermans blade half buried in the sand. Sunlight peeked around the sides of the blanket now spent from its night of excess. The table had to be returned. How would it be possible to admit to a passer-by that I was still afraid of things that went bump in the night? How embarrassing. Another concern was the landlord. He might think that he had a complete lunatic on his hands and kick me out before I was able to find a viable alternative. It was while draining the remnants of my bottled water that his voice called out. Goodmorninkkkk. It was astounding. Outside stood an old man whose heart still pumped blood around a living body. He was not a corpse that had once been wrapped in cloth but a breathing human being. Where there should have been sunken hollows, instead two eyes the colour of intensely blue alpine flowers stared out from a weathered face. Unlike the night before, I saw what appeared to be a fault-line break into a smile beneath a silver moustache, which in turn was neatly parked below a fine nose supporting a high forehead. Above that, a field of white wispy hair rippled in the freshness of a newborn day. You have slept vell last night, ja? He asked. Yes, I lied. Good, good! Now follow me, he ordered. Drawing in a deep breath, he added. I must show you vhere you must shit, ja. It was not long before a coalition of brambles and other wild vegetation blocked the way. What had once been a path was no more. I couldnt help but wonder when it had last been used. Ve are close, ja. Yelped Hans as spots of crimson anger simultaneously rose to the surface of my exposed skin. It took at least half an hour of kicking and stamping before we beat a dogged path to the loo. And what a hollow victory it turned out to be. The primitive structure made of four poles and green netting for a roof made a cave look sophisticated. Pointing out a rusty trowel and some white powder sitting in an old bucket beside it, Hans explained: After you hang your ass over ze dip in ze ground and shit, you must get ze lime from ze bucket, and cover ze shit zoze flies do not come, ja. Outrageous. What the hell was this place? I had at least expected a toilet with flushing water without running an assault course to get to it. This was not a toilet. It was nothing more than an open grave for forgotten turds basking in an ocean of ineffective lime. Squadrons of flies were already battling for air supremacy. What a fuck up! I had come all the way from England to experience the pre-sanitary age. It was only after a bluebottle had lazily circled, landed on his nose, crapped and had taken off again, that Hans registered the incredulous look etched upon my face. Moving up a gear he added: There is also ze shower that I have made, but in order to use it, I must first show you ze valves. He led me quickly away from the pit. This time the foliage put up minimal resistance as he located a black pipe dividing into four others running along the inclining ground. The ancient valves were distressingly many. They had to be activated in such a way that even an experienced thief would have found the combination difficult to break. Only once the correct sequence had been memorised, was the successful candidate able to wash. The showers structure was more sophisticated than the toilets. It had the added luxury of an old wooden pallet for a floor. However, desirability stopped there as the activated flow of water trickled out in filthy droplets from its plastic head. What a fuck-up! I thought again as Hans scooted over to the African-styled kitchen. Its semi-circular wall was sturdy. Made of bricks and a properly thatched roof, it harboured a fully functioning gas oven. I guess old habits were hard to break. It was no good. The entire place was cursed. Hans could keep it all. I shut myself away for the rest of the day unable to decide on anything. The next morning seemed to pull up late. This time the table would remain on its side. I was beyond caring. A phone. I needed a phone. Just past the African kitchen, a sun-baked path led towards a coppice of oak saplings ablaze with buds. Hanss bungalow stood beyond; its design a perfect blend of Alpine Heidi meets Deliverance. While a balcony at its back offered a superior view of the inferior surroundings, the misfit owner was nowhere to be seen. Hello, I almost pleaded, Hans, are you there? Maybe he hadnt heard, or perhaps hed gone out. Either way, I had to be certain. A strip of fractured patio skirting the old mans home trickled around to the front where it accumulated into a square courtyard anchored by wild grasses and weeds. To the right, a raised concrete pool cradled by rosemary bushes brimmed with water. Below its surface minnows darted into clouds of algae as pond skaters watched from above. The bungalows wood-stained door was ajar. A rusty cowbell hung next to it, home to a pair of hornets. The surrounding air already droned at my approach. Their two-inch bodies flashing a series of black and yellow warnings brought me to a stop. They kept a measured distance at all times. And once satisfied with their security checks, they let me go. A movement struck the corner of my eye as I reached the door. Turning slowly, I saw standing on the roof of an outhouse across the yard, surrounded by vines and rose bushes the one and only... dressed in a striped blue and white dressing gown. His wiry arms, raised above his head, looked as if they were being suspended by the morning sky. Released a moment later, his body folded violently in half as his hands touched his toes and then like an elastic band he sprang back into his original position. Performing this bone-cracking manoeuvre a few more times, Hans then went onto other stretching exercises, which not only threatened to hospitalise him, but also gave a new insight into human endurance. Completing his whip-like movements, the old man puckered his lips and drew in a lung full of air. Opening his arms towards the rising sun, he momentarily held his breath and then sung out in a low rasping voice. The melody was simple and full of yearning. A lot of the emotion he expressed, I believe may largely have emanated from pain caused by the rigorous workout. Nevertheless, for a moment he looked like a medicine man performing an ancient ritual. In truth Hans wasnt a holy man, but in actuality he was worshipping the sun: how refreshingly pagan. Hans approached me like a Thunderbirds character, his neatly trimmed moustache convulsing with every stiff step he took. Good mornink Ian. How arrrre you? Please come and have breakfast vith me on the veranda, ja, he offered. Partially amused by his demeanour, my initial animosity evaporated. Besides, not only would it have been rude to rebuff him, it would have been completely stupid. I still needed the phone. The cool interior of the house bore a welcome tidiness. Beyond the reception area its open planned layout doubled as a bedroom and dining area-cum-lounge where a comfortable mustard yellow sofa hogged much of the wooden floor. In contrast to the brightly coloured rugs scattered about, a dusty bookshelf held a variety of literature in both English and German. More important was the east-facing window. The light coming through it illuminated a telephone sitting quietly beneath its pen-cluttered ledge. My lifeline. All I had to do was gain admission to it. Timing was everything. Having no desire to offend Hans, I pretended to show a genuine interest in whatever he cared to point out as he led me toward another door. Two realms existed in the old mans home. The first had already been discovered and the second existing just beyond that door was another planet made up entirely of trailer parks and junkyards. Staggered by the cacophony of filthy crockery scattered and piled up over the kitchens filthy work surfaces, I barely comprehended Hanss hand land firmly upon my back. Quickly ejecting me out onto the balcony I had passed earlier, he abruptly insisted: Sit down please. I vill make tea and something to eat, ja? Attempting to calm my tensed shoulders with a reassuring hand, he continued. I am vegetarian so do not expect bacon and eggs, ja. Thats fine I am a vegetarian without an appetite today, I replied almost absent-mindedly. Good, very good. It looks like vevill get along, ja? Yes I suppose we will. The telephone seemed beyond unreachable. My eyes wandered half-dazed beyond the valley until they came to a stop. There, standing quite alone was a roundhouse. This one was not white in colour like the one in which I had been billeted; nor did it have a roof made from thatched brush. It was tipped with red tiles. Its green wall also held windows and what looked like an actual door. Another attractive feature was its distance from the farm. I had to find out who, or if, anyone lived there. Maybe the general situation could be turned to my favour. Barely touching the suspect breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, muesli and UHT milk, I finally enquired about the attractive house beyond the valley. It turned out to be inhabited by another German named Eik. He is very good vith his hands. The design is completely his. I gave him the money for the materials, and he has built it, ja. It looks nice from here, I said, wondering how I could reach the phone. Ja, you should go up there and say hello to him. He is a good man, he vants to live in the Alentejo for good. I think he is having problems back home, ja, said Hans gazing across the valley and seemingly at something else beyond. Having returned to the table after one of several visits to the bathroom, Hans casually informed me that a few guests would be arriving the next day and so he would be unable to accommodate me in the African hut that coming weekend. It seemed they wanted to experience primitive living for a few days. But if you vish, then there is the spare room in the bungalow, ja. This also came with the offer of the bathroom. Able to overlook the dilapidated condition of the kitchen for now, I readily agreed; it must have been the thought of immersing myself in bath water that finally washed away all desire of a quick escape. Thanking Hans like a man saved from a stormy sea, I needed to believe that things could only get better. The family arriving that weekend could keep their so-called African experience; as for me two days had been more than enough. Hans put the breakfast bowl to his lips and emptied what remnants remained into his mouth with a slurp. Placing it firmly down afterwards he asked. Have you seen Emanuel? Im sorry, but I do not know who you mean. I replied. You mean you have not seen him! His moustache twitched nervously. That is exactly what I mean. I have not seen him. Strange, ja! He frowned. He is sleeping in the hut next to yours, and you have not seen him? No, I am afraid I have not. Hans back stiffened as he looked at me long and hard. You know who he is, ja? He said suddenly. No, I said. How could I? He is a Voofa. A lazy Voofa who cannot get up in the mornings. Clenching his fist in rage as his moustache picked up its pace, he continued. All he does is eating my food and shitting. He is a very lazy Voofa! It didnt seem an appropriate time to ask what the hell he was he talking about. Without another word the German stood up and marched off into the kitchen, picked up a sand-coloured bucket hat and placed it on his head. Tightening the cord around his dressing gown with a tug, he blazed off towards the African huts wearing a pair of tweed-patterned slippers. I on the other hand stacked the used crockery neatly next to the ant-infested sink and made a swift exit. Heading off in the opposite direction of his machine gun bellowing now strafing the Voofas sleeping quarters, I went to look at the secluded round house. At least the excursion would keep me away from any direct fall-out. If I were going to stay a while, then meeting someone else would be a bonus. The pungent odour of sheep droppings mixed with the sound of clanging bells. How maddening it must be. That incessant noise, I thought, as the rocky path overtook the animals vacant pen and then nose-dived. A stile at the valley floor led into a neighbouring field. Two solar panels hung precariously from wooden frames as a whirring motor beneath them pumped fresh water into a reservoir. It was similar in size to the one near the bungalow, but all likeness stopped there. No unsavoury creatures, or algae, just a body of flawless water. A small bridge lay beyond. Under it, a rill careering across the land ignored a narrow bridleway, which cut through a sea of flaxen broom. Eiks house stood at the end. A dog-eared note hung from the front door. Hed gone out. For how long was anyones guess? Ignoring the fact, I pressed my face to the window and marvelled at the yellow interior. It was airy and spacious. Besides the sink and a Belling oven, a double bed comfortably shared the red tiled floor with a small dining table and three chairs. There was no doubt about it. The Mongolian styled house was a comfortable looking sanctuary. More than that, it was a bulwark against the insanity unravelling behind me. What a lucky man, I thought, my attention straying towards a hammock suspended between two ancient trees. Maybe Eik would be back sooner rather than later. Maybe patience really was a virtue after all. The Quinta shimmered as I headed back. Although still some way off, Hanss verbal rapid fire burst out one final time. The Voofa must have put up some serious resistance. It had been almost two hours since Id left. Pondering the victims final moments, I came upon an interesting sight. In one of the upper fields, away from the solar panels and the hungry motor, a mob of olive trees helped to disguise a domed tent. A gas burner next to it was heating a pan. And in close proximity to all of this was a naked man with a mop of black hair. Stretching his tanned body, he obliviously scratched his crotch and let out a loud caveman-like-yawn. Looking down at his floppy member, he flicked it, maybe to see if it were real. Satisfied that all was in working order he began to gyrate just as a naked woman with dark wild hair dashed to his side. Neither of them exchanging a word, they instead watched, fascinated as his penis rotated like a helicopter blade. I smiled inwardly at the thought of witnessing some mating ritual unknown to the rest of the world. However, my amusement quickly faded. Acknowledging my attendance with casual smiles, they quickly went back to studying their acrobatic friend without a care. Waving back a moment too late, I lowered my head and thought about moving into the bungalow instead. The spare room smelt of mothballs and history. Abandoned books fraternising with cobwebs and dust looked down upon the half chewed animal skins covering the wooden floor. It was clear that Hans had a thing for Africa. Maybe hed even carved the large African head, which leered at me with some dissatisfaction. I didnt like it. This was my room now and the bed I sat on was my bed. No voodoo magic is going to drive me out, I railed inwardly as a knock came from the door. It was Hans. Ian. Is the room good, ja? Yes thanks. I stared fixedly at the African head. Ja, vell I am asking if you vill be needing the bathroom, ja? His feet seemed to shuffle impatiently. No, I replied. Very good, ja. Moments later a door slammed shut. I would have to wait for my wash. Disgruntled with the ebony face, I threw a shirt over it. Trying to get ideas down for my forthcoming book would be impossible with it looking over my shoulder. Stripping off in the bathroom sometime later, I turned the taps and braced myself. It didnt matter that the initial burst of water would be cold. Within seconds it would heat up and stress of recent days would be washed away with the dirt clinging to my skin. A quarter of a minute went by before the showers chilly flow changed. There would be no hot water that night. I knew it as a fact when the cold cascade stuttered into nothing more than a semi-automatic dribble and then died. I almost wept with fury. The bloody thing was only marginally better than the bastard one outside. Grabbing the towel, I remembered the solar panels and the pump. The sun had pissed off for the day, and Hans had obviously not installed a back-up system. Aaarrgggghhhh. Two candles on the balcony lightened my mood. Hans was already waiting. Next to him sat the resurrected Voofa. In his early twenties with shoulder length hair, he greeted me with a devilish grin. Emanuel, the Englishman, ja, snapped Hans remaining seated. He is a good man, ja. Nice to meet you. I said shaking Emanuels extended hand. You already know my name, I guess. His soft voice was well spoken, his brown eyes warm and faraway. Englishman is a strange name? He teased. Ja, you have greeted, now ve are eating, ja? Hans moustache flexed its authority. Due to the old mans continued annoyance, neither of us dared speak. Besides, I was still acutely aware of the kitchens lack of hygiene and fasting at least guaranteed that Id stay alive, even if I was dirty. But if communication remained stifled at the table, then further a-field things were very different. Due to the near absence of light pollution, shooting stars continually streaked through the heavens. For the first time in ages I was left wondering at how many other worlds existed in the unfolding spectacle of space. No matter how uninterested some human beings can be in their immediate surroundings, it would be impossible to conceive how such people could fail to notice the Alentejos night sky. It was breathtaking, a flawless glass surveying the universe. Here, darkness was still free to roam about unmolested by the man-made terror of light. The uncivilised world of saturated technology was still far away, but for how long? Disturbed by these thoughts I said goodnight to the others and made my way to bed. Paradoxically, leaving the safety of their company made the surroundings appear so much darker. Perhaps a lamppost wouldnt have been a bad idea. Anything could have lurked around about unseen. Glorious Regents Park. It was while tumbling into the folds of sleep that a friends voice seemed to call out. Visions melted into one another as faces came and went. Searching through my mind, I heard a viola strike up a familiar melody. The pale vision of my musician friend came into view. Ive just got the hang of this. He laughed at the crowd gathering around. What are you doing here? I didnt know you were in Portugal. Im not, He stated matter-of-factly, What about the melody? Thats not a melody at all, I complained, its only a single bloody note. Youve got it. A moment later I snapped wide-awake. Sweat ran from my brow. It was close by. The fucker was closing in fast. At some point it intended to withdraw my precious blood and deposit an irritating bump. I swatted blindly into the air. It was no good. Past experience dictated that a defensive strategy never worked against the little vampires. I switched on the light. A dark mood settled over me. It was going to die. It had stolen my sleep and I was going to kill it even if it took all night. And just to make sure that the hunt was a success, I armed myself with a knotted sock. Come on then, the irritating whine seemed to challenge. It was hungry for blood and I for revenge. I had already spotted the demon coming in low before taking a round about approach to the back of my head. The sock was useless. Keeping a lock on its position, I went in with bare hands. The mosquito was swift! It quickly gained the advantage of altitude. The tactic was simply brilliant. Speed was on the monsters side as it swooped. We became equals locked in a deadly dance. As I whirled like a crazed Dervish, the Mosquito skilfully avoided the explosive flack of my clapping hands. In the end there could only be one winner. The prolonged battle must have fatigued it. Already in the throws of exasperation, I watched it retreat and then settle. A foolish move, I thought. Reaching for the sock, I locked my arm into position and took careful aim. Timing was everything in situations like this. I only released my breath as the knotted weapon sprang violently from its cocked position. It hit the target with a dull thump. I waited patiently as its body tumbled to the floor at a speed that could neither be described as floating, nor falling. Kneeling to inspect its buckled frame, I noticed one of its legs. It was twitching. Not at all sure whether this was due to a still active nervous system, or a rude signal being conveyed in a sign language of sorts, I hit it again with the sock. Satisfied with its irrefutable demise, I turned in and blissfully drifted off to sleep. I became acquainted with the bathrooms idiosyncrasies; such as the light-coloured mud that belched out of its old shuddering taps in the mornings, before running clear. Later, as if this event signalled some opening scene in a play, a rather large black spider appeared. Bearing an air of authority, it watched me shave. I couldnt help wondering if it were calculating how big it would have to grow before killing me. What did spiders think anyway? Imagine entering the bathroom one morning half awake, closing the door and finding it waiting. Unable to scramble out of its reach, the steroid-pumped arachnid would simply pin me firmly against the basin with one of its eight hairy legs. And as I raised my Bic disposable razor in feeble defence, it would say, or do, one of two terrible things. Mr Mosquito was a friend of mine. Die, die, die, or Welcome to the cottage tight arse. Yes, yes, yes. Thankfully neither of these events ever took place. As for Emanuel, it was true: he really was a lazy Voofa. He was always late for work. And when he did turn up, he didnt do much anyway. His method was simple. When not lying down, he would pass away the time standing in the vegetable garden smoking rolled cigarettes. Leaning against the garden-hoe one morning, he explained. No, ehno. It is not Voofa, it is WOOFA. This stands for Workers on Organic Farms. That is what I am. I see, I exclaimed, how much do you get paid then? No, I do not get paid. WOOFAs never get paid because they receive board and lodging in exchange for the work they do. So youre just getting work experience in the mean time? I asked. Ehh, no not exactly. He became sheepish. Dropping his prop, he added. I was working with solar energy before this in Germany, and thought, maybe it would be good to start a business here with someone who is interested in the concept. He paused and looked around. In a lowered voice he confided. What I really want to do is become a drug runner. A drug runner! I laughed. What has solar energy got to do with drug running? Please, he warned. You must be quiet about this, someone might hear. He paused. Im serious. I want to become a drug runner. Ive always wanted to do that. The solar energy is just something I know how to do. It is a front. Why a drug runner of all things? My voice hushed now. Money and women thats why. You cannot have one without the other. Thats crazy, I retorted. I have a woman and very little money. Just wait until you have no money, he smiled, and then well have this conversation again. The thought of a woman being with a man for his money made me feel uncomfortable. Thats so dog eat dog Emanuel. Not all women are like that. I can vouch for it. My girlfriend doesnt fall into that category. Were in love and thats that. Money has nothing to do with it and never did. Thats what you say now, Emanuel laughed. Just wait until you dont even have what little money you have now. His bucket-hat appeared like some big full stopbringing our conversation to an abrupt end. We greeted him simultaneously. I immediately understood the amusement sailing across Emanuels eyes. Hanss stern demeanour looked out of place with the lilac shirt hed tucked into a pair of dark brown trousers. Chest high, they finished three or more inches above his deck shoes where a pair of odd socks clashed, one red, the other white. Ve are shopping this day. You are coming, ja! He ordered the Voofa. As for you, you are velcome to join Ian. His offer was a welcome distraction. I still hadnt been able to use the phone. In fact, I dont think I had even heard it ring. It had been days since Id spoken to Celia. Celia and the book meant everything to me. Without one, it suddenly seemed that the other would cease to exist. Emanuel had shaken me in a way that proved difficult to ignore. Money and women. I had to write that bloody book. The old car, an Opel Cadet kicked into life with a turn of the key. Trundling down the drive, we turned right onto the cratered track. Hans stopped the car a few meters before the potholes. Revving the car again and again, he opened up. Our heads and bodies lurched and bounced in every direction as the banger partially flew and crashed along the lunar-like surface until we reached the main road. As the dust cleared, I saw the rickety post. Unlike the night of my arrival, it now leant awkwardly, as if about to collapse. Skid-marks coming off the main-road stopped a meter before it. I wondered how Joao was doing. Are any cars coming? Hans asked his fellow countryman. No, shrugged Emanuel as the vehicle rocked violently at a passing juggernaut. Cursing aloud, Hans dagger-filled eyes stabbed the lazy Voofa as the car stalled. It took a few more frustrating tries until Hans got it right. Red-faced, he released the clutch and turned blindly onto the road as a cloud of smoke from Emanuels cigarette filled the car to the moustaches utter revulsion. We reached the Modelo Supermarket without further incident. While the others headed into its air-conditioned belly, I went in search of a phone. I was desperate to speak to Celia. Wed soon be able to spend time together. Added to this was her fluency in Portuguese. Maybe I would be able to find more suitable accommodation. Its me, I said excitedly, the coins dropping into the slot without a hitch. Its us, she yelped. Ive been trying to call you at the Quinta. No ones answering. I havent heard it ring once. Ive been in the house most of the time. Well its ringing, because Ive called umpteen times. I thought you were ignoring me. Ill check it when I get back, I answered. When are we meeting? Two more days and wed be together. Id been making good progress on the book so a little break from it wouldnt hurt. By the sounds of it, Celia and I were going to be quite busy. She would have to check the route plans from the previous season. Everything had to be perfect before the arrival of her first clients. It looked as if we were going to be having long forays across a country still alien to me. The remainder of the shopping concluded at another super market called Lidel. As before, Hans took the helm. This time his driving was worse. The main road back to the Quinta was straight just as the Romans had left it. Maybe it was the heat bouncing off of its black surface that dazzled him. Every time he veered to the opposite side of the small highway, it was usually towards on-coming traffic. I couldnt help wondering, if Id ever see Celia again. As for Emanuel, he didnt seem to give a shit. Lighting up constantly, he closed his eyes and ignored every near-death experience. We made it back in time for lunch. Unable to ignore the kitchens dereliction, I went to work. Two bowls of rotten peaches released a cloud of fruit flies. I emptied them into a plastic bag, and discovered an army of ants sweeping over a piece of marooned cheese. The place was a health hazard. It had been wrong to compare it with a trailer park. Trailer parks were more hygienic. In fact, I realised to my utter disgust that there were two things missing: germ warfare equipment and cockroaches. It was so polluted, that if cockroaches had ever lived here, then they had vacated a long time ago, or had died from some mysterious disease. Somewhere in the kitchen there was probably an answer for every infestation on Earth. Hans and Emanuel only appeared after the cleaning had been done. Lunch was prepared in silent haste. As new potatoes boiled, the old man readied the usual Greenleaf salad, which accompanied every meal. Emanuel, on the other hand, set the lounge table. Competing with the re-immerging ants, as he came and went, he picked at the olives and whatever else happened to come within reach. He really was a lazy Voofa. We finally joined Hans who sat at the head of the table. His eyes settled like some final judgement upon Emanuel, who in turn looked at the steaming potatoes in a similar manner. No one moved. No one dared. Hans seemed to be taking pleasure in Emanuels discomfort. He knew the freeloader was hungry and he wanted him to suffer. Unfortunately, I suffered too. I hadnt eaten in days. It must have been my stomach that set off the food race. Its rumble finally triggered the patriarchs head into a starter gun nod. A fierce battle broke out almost immediately. Although Hans had just been piped to the potatoes, he wasnt taking it from the Voofa. Their forks flashed dangerously as they clashed and slid against one another. It was a stab to the back of the hand that forced Emanuel to quickly back off. Wincing in pain he wisely chose to wait until the old man had completed his grazing. I waited until it was safe. On the windowsill near to Hans was an intriguing photograph. Hans, I asked after swallowing down my food. That looks like a very old photo. Are you one of those uniformed men? He looked up from his plate, his moustache jumping before settling uncomfortably. Ja, it is. I should have put it away. I vas remembering something this morning. He placed his knife and fork down. Oh! When was it taken? It looked like a crew of naval officers. All of them decked out in dress uniform with beards to match. It vas in nineteen thirty eight. He turned the photograph over on its front. Fascinated by the date mentioned, I continued. So you fought in the war. My God, how old were you when that shot was taken? I vas much younger. His eyes seemed suddenly lost. What kind of vessel were you on? I pressed on excitedly. In the U-Boats Ian, he replied wearily. I vas a Captain of a U-Boat. So you must have been in the Wolf Pack during the Atlantic campaign. Ja! I noticed too late that he had no desire to talk about something, which probably had many horrors attached to it I had put both my feet in it. I looked to Emanuel for a lifeline. He had to help me. Crudely attempting to bring him into the conversation, I changed the topic to organic farming. It wasnt going to work. The beast of a WOOFA just grunted something inaudible and continued to gorge like a pig at a trough. The bloody loafer really didnt give a shit. For all I knew he may have been a pig in disguise. Maybe he even had a dick like a corkscrew. Imagine that! Here was a future Scar-face with a cock like a fucking corkscrew. God help any woman that crossed his path in future days. Hans did nothing but glare at me. Praying for a miracle, I gripped my knife and fork in case he decided to attack. There was definitely nothing conventional about Hans. What happened next, though, came completely out of the blue, as I witnessed for the first time the true potential of his full-blown eccentricity. Involuntary grunts emanating from the back of his throat, made Hans sound like a wild boar on heat. Crouching low to his plate, his eyes glazed over. As his right hand, followed by the rest of his arm seemingly disappeared down the back of his trousers, his moustache tangoed with his bottom lip. What the hell was going on? I must have been hallucinating. Are you alright Hans? I enquired nervously. The old mans response remained entirely guttural. Neither imagination nor myopia allowed room for error. No! The lanky host had indeed shoved his hand down the back of his pants. Emanuel remained oblivious to the unfolding horror with every passing second. Too busy being selfish, he continually attacked the food in the same way Attila had no doubt ravished those before him when marauding down those unsavoury steppes. O Christ, maybe the pig of a Voofa was related to Attila. Maybe Attila had also been endowed with a corkscrew dick! I was on my own. As his moustache changed to a rhythm more suited to the Bossa nova, Hanss hand stretched and strained for something unseen and unknown. There, in the damp subterranean world of his underwear, his bony fingers reached into the crack of his arse on a not so secret mission to extract a piece of compacted toilet paper that had already served its purpose as a plug for his worn out posterior. I witnessed first hand, as table manners evaporated from the world that day. I was powerless to stop it. The former officer snorted as if preparing to charge a pike trained horseman. And when he didnt, he instead straightened up starry-eyed as if nothing had happened. He then unashamedly removed his hand from his backside. All I can say is that my appetite was murdered in cold blood at that table. My hunger ran dry as most rivers do in the Alentejo summer. There in front of me, I saw in the maniacs hand, a V shaped wedge of shit-encrusted paper. Without remorse, he placed the offending object upon the table. After this, he proceeded with the very same hand to pick the leaves from his plate, and feed them into his awaiting mouth. Are you not hungry Ian? He asked as his moustache slowed. No, I couldnt possibly be. My voice trailed off as I nursed my shell-shocked palate. Emanuel excused himself a minute later and headed to the kitchen. Maybe he had gone to seek refuge. It was beginning to make sense. He hadnt been ignorant after all. Hed simply ignored the atrocity at the table. It was a survival instinct; the same one he used in the car. Ignoring things was his way of dealing with traumatic situations. Hed gone off to reflect. Id been too harsh. So, using a lame excuse about needing some more olive oil, I also excused myself. Following in his wake, I walked up to him in sympathy and whispered. Did you see what happened at the fucking table? No, what happened at the table? He asked tearing apart a hunk of helpless bread. Come on! You know what Im talking about. It happened right in front of your face man. Unbelievable! The walking bag of testosterone had noticed fuck-all. His stomach had taken full control of his faculties as he grinned dementedly at the refined food in his hulk like hands. We returned to the table after Id explained everything. Hans was not there. Not knowing where he had gone, and for that matter not really caring, we sat down as before. Releasing the bread from his death grip, Emanuel picked up his fork and scanned the area where Hans had last been seen. His eyes narrowed at the sight of the soiled stopper. Emanuel looked at it closely now. A Neanderthal-like frown rippled across his brow as his mouth opened as wide as a whale shark. A noise reminiscent of Gorillas in the Mist then uttered an unforgettable Oooh! See! I told you so, didnt I? He said nothing as he extended his fork cautiously towards the redundant plug, as if to see whether it were alive. Prodding it, he instantly retracted his hand in case it jumped. His mouth remained open as he looked at me and then back again. Only now, he toyed with it until his confidence grew. Satisfied that it was truly dead, he finally pressed his fork into it and turned it over, its brown back stiff with rigor mortis. His reaction was very different this time around. His forehead swelled with deeper furrows to the sound of a very long and philosophical, Oooooooooooh. Who knows, but maybe somewhere deep in the darkest recesses of his skull, there was a brain. Maybe that brain had just possibly thought that it had thought something. I will never know as the flushing toilet broke him away from the crusty papers hypnotic spell. Withdrawing the fork as the door behind me swung open, and without an inclination to fully comprehend revulsion, he used the same utensil to harpoon a spud, before shovelling it into his gapping mouth, just as the tweed-slippered Captain entered the room, looking much relieved. And so ended the lunch to end all lunches. The events of that day will haunt me forever. It was impossible to rouse my muse after that. No matter how hard I tried, the bad taste lodged in my mouth refused to go. Risking any more time at the Quinta meant becoming as insane as the Neanderthal with nuts for brains and incontinent Captain without a U-Boat. How truly bizarre everything had become. The shirt covering the African head had somehow slipped off. It seemed to mock, Ill show you whose room this is. The Cork Submarine

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If you wish to change your life, don't change the country you live in, change yourself. I had yet to discover that.


12/19/2009 12:47 PM Premium
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Date: 12/3/09
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