V is for Visitors
Monty and Carolina were staying in the pool room. On a summer morning a delicate sun would flood the terrace and the fragrance of oleander and jasmine would drift across the sun loungers.
Monty had taken to the villa like a natural. He had put on some weight but looked like a stately cruise liner in his dressing gown, his teeth white as bow paint and a cocktail glass in each hand.
“You have fallen on your feet old boy. Who would have thought it? You were frightful as a teen. I always joked with your parents that you’d wind up in an orange suit,” he said. “Of course they didn’t see the funny side.”
And with that he collapsed into a heap of self-satisfied belly laughs. Carolina hung on his every word and tittered at his abject buffoonery. Monty was due to be made a partner at his firm, giving Carolina, a secretary at the firm, a small glimpse of riches beyond her imagination.
The high vistas of Umbria has given Geraldine back some of her panache. Although she spoke little of her last few years and steered clear of Monty’s drinking games, she had a ruddy glow and a swelling in her belly. Sometimes as the sun slipped off the distant mountain peaks I would think about what I had lost and what I had gained. Sometimes a vision came to me late at night of Marcel, constructed of the small fragments she had let me see. I saw a puritanical and aloof figure who had forced his wife into days of solitary confinement with just a statue of the Virgin for company, to force her to mend her ways.
One afternoon Monty pulled me aside at the pool. “Look Campbell, much as I like hanging out with the women here I think they guys need to go out for a few beers. I know this great little place in Perugia. Went there on a rugby trip once.”
“It’s quite a drive over the mountains.”
“Oh come on Campbell. You are getting to be so staid in your young age.”
I didn’t want to tell Monty I would be hard pressed to bear his company on the drive.
“OK. I’ll see you on the terrace at 6.”
As it turned out the jaunt seemed to be more fun than I imagined. Monty’s talk about his ambitions turned into self-parody and I had to enlist him in the joke about his pompousness.
“Yes. OK. I have always been a bit self-absorbed. But it’s a ‘me’ society. You know that. This beer’s good.”
“Strong too,” I said. “Very hoppy. But frankly Monty – don’t you think success is overrated?”
I caught an odd look in his eyes, as captured in the antique yellow lights in the square of Perugia.
I abandoned the line of conversation and we were soon out in the town square where a light rain was falling. I found the 2 CV with some difficulty. “Christ. Do I have to drive this thing?”
“Drank too much?” quipped Monty.
“I don’t know. I just feel a bit unsteady.”
“It will pass old boy.”
We took another walk around the town square before we got back on the narrow roads. There was a low evening fog and the damp road came and went like an indistinct tide before my vision. Still we climbed up into the great humped backed hills and I was conscious of the gaping nothingness to my left that was the side of the hill and lights twinkling below a great abyss of night.
"Perugia 079" by Georges Jansoone (JoJan) -
“I love Italy but I hate the roads,” I said tersely.
Monty didn’t reply. I saw his head lolled back as he slept in his chair. I cursed to myself at the notion of traversing these hills with no company and imagined a steaming pot of coffee. Higher up the rain became more persistent and the visibility caved in. I slowed down into the hairpin bends. Something moved to my right. I was perturbed to see Monty’s large form sitting bolt upright. He was staring into the rain.
“It’s fine. Sleep,” I said. I was alarmed to see his eyes boring into me in the half light. They were vacant but for a small pin prick of hatred.
“Fuck you.” And after growling the insult, his large body was on my side, shoving and pushing. I yelled at him and flailed out. Brakes squealed and the car lurched across the road toward the gap. I smashed at Monty’s face with my first and I felt something give. Then his great first made contact with my jaw and I felt something go loose. I tried to push back but he was strong. He had the steering wheel and there was still some motion left in the car. His grip was unwavering. I saw the rocks below me. Monty sprung away from me and was out the passenger door. To my horror I saw the tiny lights jump at me and realized I was going over the edge. My head crashed against the side of the window, I felt the sickening rush of descent and there was blackness. Later some small nagging voice told me I was dead but I didn’t think I was dead if there was a nagging voice. The metal of blood was thick in my mouth. There was a jarring pain in my leg. I felt something alien inside the 2CV and saw the branches of a tree. I moved the window and the whole car swayed sickeningly. I saw the light again far away.
I sat back and recalled what had happened, but there was no reality to root my experience. Then it occurred to me that a tree had stopped the car’s plunge and I was dangling over a vertical height. It felt like an impossible situation and I thought I should wait for help. However, I doubted if Monty would have told anyone. I could be here for hours. There was another sickening lurch as if the tree was unable to keep its grip on the Citroen. I realized I would have to get out. With a pain shooting down my leg, I moved across the passenger seat to the open door. The 2CV swayed again. I saw the gradient sloping away. It was steep but not a sheer rock face as I had feared. It looked like the kind of hill I could climb down if my legs would oblige. There was another groan from the Citroen and something gave.
Tree branches cracked. It occurred to be that pushing myself through the passenger door was my last hope. With one great effort that sent sharp blue pain flying through my right leg, I lurched out of the passenger door. I was on the sodden hillside. Using my arms and my other leg, I crawled away from the 2CV. Five minutes later there was a final snap as my beloved car broke away and rolled down the hillside. I saw a fire leap up in the valley as her gas tank was ruptured. I was alone in the vastness of the Umbrian hills.