She shivered, pulled the blanket around her head and burrowed further into the quilt. Outside, the wind howled and moaned around the villa. A crash reverberated through the ancient building and Sheila flinched in fright. Then an incessant banging persisted in its percussion and Sheila realised that one of the upstairs shutters must have come loose. She listened, willing it to stop, but the heavy, wooden banging noise continued thumping against the side of the building. Sheila sighed, unable to switch off from the noise, before she unwillingly left the warmth of her bed to fix the shutter.
Realising that the clatter was coming from the empty room next to hers, she grabbed a dressing gown and pulled the woollen sash tightly around her thin frame. The terracotta tiles under her feet felt as cold as death so she put on a pair of leather slippers that she had bought in the mercado and which she kept at the side of her bed. After rubbing her weary eyes, she felt for the light switch. Nothing. There had been another power cut, the second that week. Sheila opened the ancient shutters next to her bed, so effective against the scorching summer heat. A liquid moon peeped between the clouds throwing ghostly shadows across the olive groves.
It was then that she remembered that there was a candle on the dining room table and so, feeling suddenly awake, she made her way down the stairs, clinging onto the banister for support. A chill ran down her spine and she made herself think of happier times before they took Dominic away.
“All will be well, all will be well,” she whispered to herself unconvincingly, all the while imagining what intruders might do to her.
In the dining room a faint aroma of basil, garlic and tomatoes, a reminder of her supper, lingered in the air and the room felt warm, although the log fire’s embers were now dull. Soon her eyes had become accustomed to the dark as she ran her hand across the familiar rustic table in search of some matches. Biting her lip in concentration, she soon found them, together with a fat candle. A smell of phosphorous filled the air as she struggled to light the candle with the ineffective, damp matches. And still the shutter kept up its insistent banging, like the gypsies knocking on the door to sell lucky charms and lavender. At last, the candle burned, its flame offering comfort and chasing away imagined intruders.
Carefully shielding the wayward flame with a shaking hand, Sheila returned up the stone stairway, the noise drawing her ever closer. She did not like being alone in the villa, especially at night. It was at night that memories of Dominic plagued her dreams. When Dominic was taken, she lost her husband to the arms of another who could offer more comfort than she was able to in her grief. Her emotions were too spent to offer him anything all those months ago. The police had been working tirelessly looking for her two-year-old, but to no avail.
Entering the child’s room had become impossible for her and so she had shut the door firmly several weeks ago, as if somehow this would restore her to sanity. The room still held a shadow of him with his toys in place, his cot made up with yellow sheets and his teddy bear propped up against the pillow in Dominic’s place in a lonely vigil. When first he disappeared, Sheila would stand at the nursery window, gazing out across the vega, willing him to come home, the golden thread of hope still intact like an uncut umbilical cord. But now she had to go in or the shutter would keep her awake all night.
The heavy oak door creaked on its hinges as Sheila pushed it open and she found herself gasping for breath as the tension mounted within her. Her sudden movement extinguished the flame and she stood, motionless, the door ajar and the wind moaning outside.
But the moaning had a new resonance to it. Ears straining, Sheila felt sure she could hear a child crying softly.
“Mama, mama,” the sound echoed.
Thinking that she was losing her mind, she ran into the room and confronted the shutter. She needed to block out the tormenting sounds. Rain like knives hit her and within minutes she was soaked and shivering. Lightning lit the sky, illuminating the Alpujarras Mountains beyond, and in that moment, she saw two figures running across the driveway towards the orange groves. It all happened so quickly that she wondered if she was imagining that too. With numb hands she managed to bolt the shutter, its blue paint flaking onto the window ledge.
“Mama, mama,” the insistent cry continued.
“Please don’t let anyone else be in the house,” she pleaded with God, terrified that someone might be lurking in the shadows.
By now the room was pitch black and, with heart pounding, she crept over to where the cot was standing. Reaching down she felt a tiny hand grasp hers as it had done so many times before.
“Dominic?” She could barely say his name after so long. Dare she hope?
She lifted his small body to hers and smelled the sweet aroma of his damp hair mingled with wood smoke and wild rosemary. His sobs stopped in an instant and she felt scorching tears coursing down her cheeks.
“My darling, darling Dominic. I can’t believe it. You’re home.” They clung to each other for a long time in the dark, her heart bursting with relief.
She could not remember how long she stayed there, rocking him back and forth but she was aware that the storm had desisted its rampage. All became still. Still and silent.
That night he slept in her bed, the quilt pulled up to their chins, his hand still clutching hers as she stroked his forehead and kissed his velvet cheek over and over again. She would inform the police and then her estranged husband later, after some rest.
A blushing sunrise greeted the new day as Sheila drifted into a deep, contented slumber. Mid-morning a sharp freshness filled the air as mother and son awoke to sunshine streaming through the open shutters.
Dominic seemed well after his sojourn with the gypsies, his complexion ruddy from the outdoors. However, she swore never to refuse to buy their lavender again. But something told her that their presence would never darken her home and that all would indeed be well. This was confirmed over a gargantuan breakfast, which they ate, in front of the log fire.
“Tio gitano y los amigos gone away Mama. All gone.” Dominic announced, his wide blue eyes serious and far away.
“Yes, all gone,” she replied. “All gone.”
This story is available in Sue’s latest book, Stories to Go – Ninety-three Very Short Stories, which is for sale as a paperback and e-book on Amazon.