Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers
Borislava Borissova has not received any gifts yet
The day was sunny and muggy. In a small apartment in a country-town, a mother spoke at the slightly ajar door of a simple bedroom, “Why did you buy new medicines? Don’t hide them from me! I noticed how you sneaked into the room with them. Your new sickness is in your mind only. As long as you think about it, you will feel more ill. I am sure that if you find a friend you will forget about diseases quickly. It is better to rise and go to enjoy yourself somewhere as your numerous young coevals do.”
On the bed, someone lay covered with a blanket. There was no answer. Upset, the old woman closed the door and stayed in the vestibule lending an ear for any noise, but in vain. In a while her irritated voice echoed again:
“You are feeding your depression! No one else is to blame. You cause yourself to fall in such a condition. Why are you doing this? You have never been so reticent. Where is your passion for life?”
As if only the clothes and the posters on the walls listened to her inside… Later, she didn’t hear the door closing. The concerned mother was too busy watching TV serials and other programs. Actually, the leaving person gave no sign with “Good-bye” as if wanted to remain unnoticed, to avoid any dialogue, any words to be said once again...
In the same time for a young man it was the beginning of summer, the kind of day he loved since his childhood, bright, idle and carefree. Returning to his native land by bus after a long absence that was filled up with student pursuits, newly-graduated Ralph enjoyed the wind, the serene Sicilian sky, the music and the sense of vacation.
Finally, he immersed himself in the spirit of long dreamed relaxation.
It was evening in the countryside near an old historic place on the bigest Mediterranean island, when Ralph passed along the first houses at the foot of beautiful National Park called Etna. There on a street, in front of their garden, James Rule, a solid, broad-shouldered former neighbor, opened the post-box. Ralph did not node him, hoped James was busy with the usual advertising flyers found inside. Actually a letter to Mrs. Kate Rule, his wife drew the attention of the older man. The address was: “The Luminous Publishing House”. Surprised, James went home and first put it unopened on the cupboard in the corridor. A little later when Kate came ready to leave with him to a business-party he torn the envelope up in front of her eyes asking how many secrets recently she had from him and why.
At the same time Ralph arrived to his brother’s house. Michael, a single architect in his mid-thirties, with the same warm radiance from the eyes and whitened hair, welcomed him with gestures while talking on his cell phone.
“Kate called me, Ralph. Her home is a living hell.”
The much younger and thinner boy became suddenly tired. He was bored by that story. “It’s a high time to be stopped meddling in her life, Mike. Love isn’t a good excuse to do it.”
Sighing he refused giving any advice. It was obvious that Michael had an ear only for the voice on the cell phone. Snapping the car’s lid closed, he jumped into the vehicle in a furious spirit. “I should make James stop bullying her!”
At the door Ralph made one more plea. “What are you going to do to him, Mike?”
Overfilled with mixed emotions, his brother started the car, not answering. The high speed on the road was driving his mind to serious action despite his intuition telling him to master his impulses first.
Remaining behind in their parents’ house, Ralph took his baggage inside. He searched for some food and losing all inner peace minute by minute, slipped into his jacket and took his old motorbike out of the garage. In the shadow of the mountain the night was hugging the town in a tight embrace.
In a house near the road, in his boyish room hid behind the curtain, Al peered into the darkness, followed the signs of the wind in the trees and the increased intensity of the moonlight. Too meek for his rebellious classmates and never obedient enough at the same time to the criteria of his authoritarian mother, he had an ordinary evening with some pizza, a computer game and a movie when all it suddenly turned into the strangest night with a message from his schoolmate. His impatience was growing but instead of the shadow of his friend, fourteen-year-old Bob he was expecting, a car stopped nearby. Soon he noticed signals produced by its headlights, brushing the windows and the walls of the house. A slight frightened figure emerged from the driver’s seat, appeared between the branches and Al finally realized what was going on.
The next moment the boy was rushing outside, whispering, “Are you mad? Whose car is this?”
“My mother’s. She is at Dad’s business party so I decided to practice my driving.” Pale and trembling from head to toe, Bob held firm to his decision. “I must escape from home.”
“What? With your driving? Better take a cab.”
“The cab-driver will give me up to my parents or police and even if he doesn’t, it will cost a lot of money for such a long distance drive.”
“Any night soon. In the dark nobody will notice me. Will you come with me, Al?”
Usually expansive, now Al did not feel inspired or impressed. “My parents will kill me.”
“They will not find us. We will be somewhere unknown.”
“Why? What shall we do there?”
“Work on a farm or something like that. We will be independent! And afield…”
Standing a little away from the street lamp so his parents couldn’t see him, Al hesitated between his love of familiar safety and the allurement of an adventure. Different reasons led Bob to such an action. The time he thirsted for a peaceful home like Al’s was behind him. Now the growing teen up desperately wanted to become more mature and stand on his own, and he also needed a friend on the road to deal with the tough face of difficulties.
“Leave your uncertainty behind, Al! Life will be ours to live.”
Dizzily, as if he had taken some of the forbidden pills, Al uttered, “We can try to scrape some money together.”
In the dark he could not catch the relief in his schoolmate and was too busily engaged with his own emotions to be able to think of Bob’s. Instead, he just rushed home.
The same evening, Michael called Kate Rule as he parked his car in a street near her house. In a while she appeared in her official clothes, high-heeled shoes, uneasy and looking round non-stop. With a figure and face younger then her age, slender and shapely, the woman in her later thirties faced the latest troubles of her family’s breakdown along with the lack of professional opportunities going on for years. Filled with despair, she drew Michael outside, preferring a walk into the open cold air to refresh herself.
Before reaching a pub and not having the patience to clear up the situation, he said, “Kate, I have never considered that you take your hobby so seriously.”
“No one knew until James rummaged my belongings this morning and also he found a letter from the publishing house.”
That time, Michael’s pragmatic nature betrayed him. “What? Did he really rummage your handbag, your wardrobe and the pockets of your clothes?”
The woman hissed out a breath in a fury.
“Poor you to allow it…” he muttered in a rush.
“And he forced me to give an explanation for everything…”
Before she could offer her interpretation, they heard footsteps and sank back into the darkness so no one would see them together. A tall, manly silhouette appeared, looked around and touched his forehead.
“This is strange!” the silhouette said in a bewildered voice. “Whenever I’m at this place I hear voices as if I’m going mad, although my fever has gone down.”
Michael was very surprised by the appearance of his brother and whispered to Kate, “Oh, Ralph returned this evening.” Then, “Thank goodness, he is not your husband.”
“James is still at the party. I left faking a headache…”
At that moment Michael realized Ralph followed close on his heels due to fears that if his older brother was angry enough, there was a possibility he would kill James. Actually the kinds of such things Michael would only experienced in his imagination.
Irritated to the extreme, he groused, “Impulsive as always, Ralph makes this place crowded. Let’s find some privacy.”
“He seemed odd speaking to himself loudly.”
Suddenly, the rage melted and the older one advocated his younger brother in a loyal manner. “Everyone has an oddity. Ralph only feels his more intensely.”
The woman tried to say something but had trouble voicing it. Instead she tried to walk away and stumbled. Finally Kate uttered suddenly: “He is like me!”
Ralph did not notice the hidden lovers. Following Michael he wanted to prevent the possible involvement of his brother in case violence erupted between the Kate and James Rules. However, passing along their house, Ralph found it quiet and dark and with great relief of mind, he recalled his yearning just to fall asleep and forget the woes of the world. At that moment two men woke him to fully as they rushed out from a nearby street. Fully engrossed in an argument they followed the same direction Kate and Michael went a little ago.
“You owe me more money.”
“No! It was all that was received for the antiques we excavated from the hotel complex.”
The croaking voices annoyed Ralph and mentioning the hotel of a large chain put him on the alert immediately. Crouching down so not to be noticed, he saw one of the man place the blade of a pocket-knife against the throat of his companion.
“Liar! I have been informed about your rituals in the cloister at the ancient ruins. You brought some things there from time to time which you did not report. I can reveal your secret activity to the others.”
“Let me to explain…”
Before having a chance to interfere, Ralph barely avoided being in an accident with a lone car which was erratically driven off the road and back on again, as if the incompetent driver was struggling with the wheel and he finally righted the automobile and shot away, the street was deserted again.
Outrunning Ralph thought his return home for the summer was turning out to be more unusual than ever.
Walking through the grass, Kate and Michael reached the pub. It was crowded and they had a hard time finding an empty space, and had to wait before ordering salads and drinks. They resorted to shouting to be heard above the noise and tinkling glasses.
“Kate, set some priorities for yourself, deal with the family first and then deal with all the other changes for future decisions.”
“No! I cannot miss the most important chance in my life. When I chose my studies at the university in my twenties, how could I know what work I would come to love years later? Thus I began doing translations against my will because I needed the money. It’s impossible to quit because of that but my heart is in photography…”
“C’mon. Be realistic! Who will give a permanent job to a thirty-five-year-old freelance business translator whose experience in photography is mentioned in the column of “Hobbies and Interests” in her autobiography (Curriculum Vitae) instead placed in the row of her professional background?”
While they conversed, the two men entered, took a table near Michael’s and nervously scanned the visitors. Their argument attracted his attention and the sober-thinking and pragmatic man made an effort to concentrate on the woman with whom he had been in love these last months.
“Listen, Kate, in every firm younger people are the preferred employees. After a certain age, it is extremely difficult to start in a new field or make a career change.”
“Rest assured I know I need to be younger to entertain great ambitions…” Her sarcasm turned to pain and she sighed. “And I’m too ordinary to pursue big dreams.”
Beginning to feel upset, Kate drained her glass of wine as quickly as possible, trying to drown her sorrow. She wanted nothing but to run out of the pub and be alone with her pain. Her bruised soul received blows from Michael, the one person she expected to receive warmth and understanding from. Instead of giving any ideas to help her out of her situation, the smart and combinative man offered only cold logic in what became a chilly conversation.
“Some dreams are too far out of our reach so if you have no big expectations to begin with, your disappointments will be fewer.”
Good, smart, realistic reasoning but not useful for a woman led by her inner necessity more than ambition to find a meaning in her days other than the usual ambition for a great career. She had many interests before she met James and did not notice their loss during their marriage while at a moment she could only remember a few of them lingered in her memory.
“My expectations keep my spirits on the surface, otherwise, you would find me at the bottom of a depression pit driven there by mundane routines.”
Somewhere in his answer came the knowledge he sounded like James, her husband and it finally dawned on the nervous woman how wrong she was for seeking comfort and support that night from Michael.
“Without having important connections, Kate, you are a dreamer. In our world what matters most is not your erudition or how well you work but who you know in any business! Or having your own money!”
“James constantly spits the same idiom you do. At our age people are settled down, I am the only one not grown up yet, he says. But I do not want to become a world-champion in some discipline or to conquer the Cosmos as an astronaut so late in my life. My wish is simple, to do what I love for a living. Why should I give up on that as if my forties are a deadline to stop dreaming?”
Michael was not listening to her anymore. He had noticed the exchange of a gun for money under a newspaper between the two men and feeling too worried, rose quickly.
“Kate, come on! I need some fresh air! And I should take the pills for my high blood pressure in the car...” Leaving a tip on the table, he nodded to the aggrieved woman to go outside.
Feeling guilty, Kate followed him. “Michael, are you well? I am sorry that I burdened you with my problems.”
“No, the night is wrong.”
After the tiring events of the evening, now alone in the house, Ralph opened his brother’s strongbox, took out his gun and put it under his pillow … just in case.
At the same town, in a local hospital room, a patient was lying alone in a bed while an intravenous system infused blood in the body. Some time later through the hospital entrance an elderly woman ran apprehensively. On the staircase, she noticed silhouettes chasing her. She rushed up the stairs and cast a furtive glance over her shoulder. In front of the room, she stopped and took a deep breath and tearfully peered inside. A shadow appeared behind her.
About midnight, there was crackle. At first, a rumble then came a slight quake. The dark sky exploded in all colors of the rainbow. Everyone could hear the breathing of the Etna volcano, surrounded by the unique National Park, panting intensively before clearing its lungs and always snow-covered throat even in hottest summers. Having all sense of what had happened, Bob did not waste time in parking the car properly after the erratic driving but rushed into the house. Shortly afterward, like many of his neighbors, he was outside once again, taking a position on the terrace and snapping pictures with his mother’s camera. The frightened dog standing at his feet barked frantically.
Excluding the pet, people enjoyed the irresistible spectacle of the remarkable fire, black ash and yellow brimstone on the horizon. The earthquake was not too strong and the enraptured residents never grew tired of the immortal presence of the most active volcano nearby. Its performance was never boring. If one day its voice was silenced, the agitation calmed down, and the sky illuminations ceased, the life of everyone would not be the same.
Despite its danger, the island remained the land of Etna vulcano, the source of a whole world of legends.
On the streets mingled in the crowd, Kate and Michael watched the fountain of warm red-colors similar to those of the sunset in rapture. The fire and the lava preceding the eruption began to abate and they slipped away, to reach the gate of her home. James’ vehicle was visible through the door of the garage which was left opened.
Kate bit her lips in hesitation. “James threatened to report his car wreck to the police. Thinking you ordered it to happen with him, he will ask that you be interrogated.”
Trembling, she uttered apologetically, “He also found your jacket when he rummaged through my belongings.”
“I did not return it to you because I liked to have your garment a little longer. Sorry.”
Staggered, Michael calmed his mind with a great effort. “So what? Maybe someone was trying to blackmail him. He has a profitable business.”
Kate remained upset. The man she thought she knew appeared to be too mysterious lately:
“Are you hiding something, Michael? Are you afraid of the police?”
“I’m just tired.”
“Say me the truth! I just recently discovered your passion for cars seeing your sport magazines illustrating Formula One, Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR racing. I was curious whether you collect “Playboy” and similar editions when I checked but…”
Enraged to the extreme, Michael turned his back and headed toward the street where his car was parked. “Kate, you are nuttier than James!”
The steps and shadows of people around them faded away. The houses and the streets grew silent. She ran to him with the intention of demanding truth and searched for his eyes for answers. “Michael, don’t play games with me! I’m never able to deal with guile.”
He banged the door of his car, started the engine and settling his emotions, drew the window down to say curtly, “James does not have reasons to suspect my involvement. Some time ago, Ralph was struck down and I was close enough to see it.”
Driving, he remembered every second of the day when the speeding dark-blue car sent his brother crashing to the ground. Immediately, Michael rushed to Ralph’s side who didn’t stir. The reminiscence, petrifying coldness and sensation of a great menace and mystery squeezed Michael’s heart again, and even the volcanic heat from Etna could hardly warm it up.
In the small room of the local hospital doctors and nurses collaborated on how to treat the gravely ill patient. They alone missed the magical performance of the volcano gurgling on its own lava.
Next day an atmosphere of mystery and menace reigned at the sunny Etna National Park. During the night, an attempt had been made to break the security system of the ancient buildings. Police officers were conducting examinations. Crime scene investigators were printing for evidence. Not too far from them, teens stood around on the grass in sport-shoes, jeans and binoculars as if they were on a hunting expedition in that prohibited area. Somewhere in the distance, Etna slept peacefully as if it hadn’t witnessed the night attack. The volcanoes four snow-covered craters were mute and what had appealed to the minds of the teens down on the grass was the area behind them.
Without paying an attention to their behavior, the police left the area with very little information about the burglary attempt. Except some damages that caused alarm nothing appeared to be stolen. The policemen made guesses as to what the aim of the burglar was and particularized everything worthy there. In vain! They could only see what was displayed and famous. None of the questioned had any idea about something hidden.
Some hours later, a little before noon, Ralph leaned up against the wall in the vestibule with traces of oozing blood on his torn clothes. A minor wound which he pressed with his wrist was easily visible. With strong will, he did not allow the pain he surging through his body to wreathe his face and called Michael in a husky voice. “Help me! The wound doesn’t seem too serious. I refuse to visit a doctor. He would have to inform the police but I prefer to avoid interrogations. Pour some whisky on it!”