International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
But, as Alvaro grew
up he showed no inclination to follow in the footsteps of his father.
He was instead, a wistful and dreamy boy with soft brown eyes that sometimes
seemed to be seeing things far far away. He had a kind, sensitive nature
and had been inconsolable when his hand-reared lamb was taken away to
be slaughtered to make Zarajos, the local delicacy made from
lambs guts. Whilst other children triumphantly pulled the bloody lamb
heads by a piece of string through the village, Alvaro had hidden away
silently and wept himself to sleep.
in the Clouds
Lorca was conceived in the silence of the Osier woods that run along
the undulating valleys of the Sierra Albarracin. On that long summer
evening, the sky above the woods had been like a fiery purple-hued
cloak embossed with precious jewels and fire flies hovered low over
the soft undergrowth. Alvaro was born the following spring. His
father boasted with paternal pride that, as his new born son had
been conceived in the woods, he was sure to follow his footsteps
and become a master Osier cutter
The Osier woods grow in dense thickets beneath the shadow of the rugged
mountains that form the eastern boundary of the high central plains. The
woods are impassable to all but the cutters, who know each narrow tortuous
path and crossroads as well as they know the many deep scars on their
hands. It was said that a whole Roman Legion had once entered the depths
of the woods and were never seen or heard of again.
Each year in late
February, with the snow still lying on the mountain tops the Osier cutters
would set out to harvest the thinnest and most flexible Osier rods to
be transported back by lumbering oxen carts to village vapour rooms
for preparation. First, the rods would be steamed to enable the bark
to be stripped off and then the rods would be taken to primitive pits
to be dyed a deep russet red.
It was a simple existence, with the rhythmic creaking of the ox carts
wheels dictating the slow pace of life and where nothing seemed to have
changed for hundreds of years. At an early age Alvaro accompanied the
cutters into the woods and learned from his father how to select and
cut the best rods, but he found that he liked to be in the vapour room
best. He would spend many happy hours in there, secreted away in the
acrid humidity, day dreaming amongst the shapes and images formed by
the steam billowing off of the bubbling vats.
It was an endless source of enjoyment for Alvaro perhaps a wild
snorting stallion would emerge from the steam to rear high on its back
legs only to be transformed and become a hunched old man carrying a
large bundle of firewood on his back then the simulacrum would
rise higher and higher before evaporating under the dripping wet beams
of the roof.
Once a leering satanic face had risen from the vats and come so close
that it seemed to envelope and suffocate him and he screamed before
passing out. When he came too he was surprised to see the worried faces
of his mother and father looking down at him. He could not get up as
his head hurt and felt too heavy to lift of the wet stone floor and
he was shivering with cold. When Alvaro told them what he had seen,
his mother made the sign of the cross before touching the small golden
crucifix that she wore around her neck to her lips. As Alvaro drifted
in and out of consciousness a priest was hurriedly summoned from the
next village to carry out an exorcism.
As it was clear that Alvaro needed urgent medical attention, his father
picked him up as easily as a bundle of Osier rods and carried him through
the narrow streets of the village to the home of the Doctor. Alvaro
found that the bright sunlight was hurting his eyes so he covered them
with his closed fingers. It was a strange sensation not to see where
he was going, yet he could hear the familiar sounds of the village,
the voices of children playing and a dog barking in a back yard. As
he took one hand away to see how far he was from the Doctors house
he saw with a sudden fright the same satanic face peering out from behind
some drying sheets blowing on a balcony Alvaro closed his eyes
tightly and did not open them again for three whole days until the fever
The sudden sickness left him weak and permanently changed his physical
appearance. One side of his face was now paralysed and drooped leaving
him with a lugubrious lopsided expression. Around the village he became
a curiosity, a thing of ridicule to children and eventually an object
of dark suspicion. Villagers were afraid to pass by him in case they
too should be blighted with the same affliction.
At first Alvaro found it hard to accept that his new face would have
such a profound affect on people. He vainly tried to carry on as before,
but children would be called in by anxious parents if they saw Alvaro
playing with them. Before long he was left to spend his days alone in
the vapour room. Alvaro responded to this alienation by receding into
an inner closed world as impenetrable as the Osier woods themselves.
He took to wrapping a long scarf around his face when he went out and
became a fleeting shadowy figure around the village avoiding direct
contact with all except his parents.
After the Holy festival of Easter, Alvaro and his father would set out
on the long journey to the market in the Plaza where the Osier cutters
would assemble to display their goods and barter with the buyers from
the big basket weaving factories. When prices were good the cutters
would fill the small workmans taverns that lined the streets leading
off the Plaza to spend their money on litres of cheap red wine and greasy
plates of hot suckling pig. If prices were depressed, the lumbering
ox carts would file out of the town like a sombre funeral cortege and
the taverns would be empty.
Alvaro enjoyed the journey to the market. He would sit on top on the
ox cart whistling encouragement to the Oxen if they slowed. But, the
bustling market place meant more curious people; they would ask his
father why Alvaro had his face covered, curious to know what the scarf
Being the centre of attention would make Alvaro desperately anxious,
so he would have to escape the gapers in Plaza to wander aimlessly through
the backstreets. He liked to go to the cathedral, with its unfinished
façade, to sit inside in the cool and incense laden air to daydream.
One such market day he had gone for his usual walk around the town and
came upon the Museum of Abstract Art. He opened the door to the museum
and stepped into another world. The walls were hung with large strange
paintings with bright vibrant colours and swirling shapes. In side rooms,
on polished wooden pedestals were smooth white sculptures. He went towards
a sculpture that resembled two naked bodies entwined he slowly
placed a hand on the sculpture and withdrew it quickly, surprised by
its coldness, expecting it to be somehow warm and alive. The sculptures
in the museum seemed to remind him of so many familiar things, yet when
he looked at them more closely were actually of nothing at all. They
reminded Alvaro of the shapes that would appear in the vapour room,
only they did not quickly evaporate in the air they were solid
and permanent and tangible it was as though billowing steam had
been frozen in a single moment in time. Alvaro felt a strong affinity
with the sculptures - he softly ran his finger over the forms, around
the holes and throughout spaces. It was though the sculptures were alive
and enjoying Alvaros touch. Then he heard a womens voice
Excuse me, please dont touch the sculptures. Cant
you read? She asked, pointing to a large sign hanging above the
Alvaro turned around and saw a beautiful girl sitting behind a low desk,
she had olive skin and jade green eyes and her black hair had been tied
back into a tight bun.
Alvaro stepped back from the sculpture in surprise and mumbled an apology
through his scarf.
The girl smiled and said. Im sorry, but the sculptures must
not be touched. Do you like them?
Alvaro was silent. His eyes following the single strand of hair that
she pulled from the corner of her mouth with a long delicate finger
and tucked behind her ear.
Are you alright? She asked. Did I frighten you?
Alvaro shook his head and quickly left the museum. As he walked back
to the Plaza he could still see the girl, her smile, her soft caring
voice and the sculptures and it felt like something hot inside him had
been tipped over and scattered he was light headed and felt a
new sense of excitement.
Prices had been good and he eventually found his father in a crowded
tavern lustily singing a bawdy song about an old nun who longs for the
taste of a man on her lips before she dies. Alvaro knew then it would
be a long night and returned to the empty cart in the Plaza, covered
himself with an old blanket and tried to sleep. But he was too troubled
to sleep. There was something about the girl and the sculptures in the
museum that had unsettled him he did not know which of the two
he liked the best.
When Alvaro returned home he felt somehow different. He was less inclined
to hideaway, less embarrassed to be seen without his scarf and in any
case he had noticed black stubble newly growing on his face. As he sat
in the vapour room it suddenly occurred to him that he had the means
of capturing the steam shapes; he would use the thinnest of the Osier
branches to weave and twist into shapes to form his own abstract sculptures.
His first attempts were crude but with practice he became deft at forming
round and long shapes and from the rods abstract figures would emerge.
The village woke up one morning to find a woven abstract sculpture that
resembled a kneeling Virgin Mary on the steps of the church. In the
school yard two months later a figure that appeared to be a small child
holding a lamb appeared and under the Mulberry tree in the village square
where the village elders would gather, a life size figure in repose
The village was buzzing with the discoveries and the Mayor offered a
reward if the mystery could be solved. On Palm Sunday the Priest gave
a lengthy sermon on the Viper within our community that mocks
the church. After Mass, Alvaro went to the house of the Mayor
and told him that it was he who had made the sculptures and left them
around the village. The Mayor looked surprised and relieved.
So it was you Alvaro hang face who frightened the
village half to death? He said sternly.
Yes, Senor Mayor it was me, not the Devil, not the Communists
or the Gypsies. I alone am responsible for the Osier sculptures,
Can you explain to me - why? Asked the Mayor raising his
pen as if to make notes.
No, it would take too long and is far too complicated to explain,
but simply I did it because I wanted to be noticed by the village. Not
for my deformities but for my skills. I was fed up being an outcast,'
replied Alvaro sincerely.
The Mayor let the village know that the mystery was solved and now that
the truth was out in the open Alvaro gained a new status. His ability
was spoken of with a genuine sense of pride and he became known as Alvaro
the artist. Eccentric? Yes Crazy? Maybe but he was their
Alvaro and the village community opened its fold and welcomed him back
When Alvaros stubble grew into a thick black beard he removed
his scarf forever and he looked as handsome as his father had once been.
He would go into the woods with the cutters and use the rods that had
been cut and rejected to weave and form into his own sculptures. He
liked to work alone and would spend weeks in the woods busily working,
his hands as skilled as a spider spinning the most intricate of webs.
One day he was asked in the village what he was making in the woods.
Alvaro had replied that one day they would know, but it would be a long
Each year he would work from dawn to dusk during the harvest time to
form figures that resembled marching Roman soldiers, complete with shields
held high and drawn swords, spears and plumed helmets and he would carry
them deep into the woods where he would stand them in orderly rows,
eight abreast, as though they were marching in a long line through the
On his sixty second birthday Alvaro invited the village to accompany
him into the woods, where to their astonishment they found a column
of five hundred Osier soldiers, with mounted cavalry at their flanks.
The lost legion of Rome had been found again after two thousand years.
© Des Daly October 2007
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