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Authors: Corinna Edwards-Colledge

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BOOK: The Soul Room
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I sat down opposite him. ‘What can I do for you John? I thought you
weren’t able to have anything to do with my brother’s disappearance until after
his birthday.’

He stared at his wine, turning the glass slowly round and round with his
broad hands.

‘I’ve been thinking about what you said, that you feel that something is
wrong. It’s been playing on my mind. It’s true, I can’t do anything until he’s
officially a missing person, but it doesn’t stop us making sure everything is
ready to go. I need to get a formal statement. Exactly when you went to Italy
and when you came back. Exactly when you last saw your brother and when you
last spoke to him – including what was said. Names of your brother’s friends,
names of any enemies that kind of thing.’

‘I might need a bit of time to work out the exact dates of phone calls;
and as for a list of enemies...’ I raised my eyebrows emphatically.

‘That’s OK, but if you could start thinking about it and come to the
station at John Street over the next forty-eight hours to get it formally
written down it will really speed things up once the case is official. If your
brother doesn’t turn up in the meantime of course.’

‘What wouldn’t I give for that to happen. I’d kill him first of course,
but it would be so wonderful if he did just turn up with his suitcase and a
sheepish expression.’

‘Let’s hope that’s what happens then.’

‘My statement, is that really why you’ve come? You’ve just finished a
fourteen hour shift, and rather than go home you come here to talk about a case
you haven’t even started yet and may never have to?’

He started to rub lines of condensation off the cold glass, surprisingly
delicately, with his chunky fingers. ‘Miss Armstrong,’

‘Maddie is fine.’

‘Maddie. In this line of work you have to be so careful, to stay the
right side of hundreds of pieces of procedure, bureaucracy and budget constraints.
You’re not allowed to use your common sense anymore…’

My heart tightened in my chest.  ‘So
you
think something’s
happened too?’

‘I’m not saying that exactly. Lets just say that sometimes I choose to do
a little extra, to not break the rules exactly, but to put them to one side.
I’d like to help you and I’m happy to put in a bit of extra time to do so.’

‘I don’t know what to say John. It doesn’t sound like you have much time
to give.’

‘There’s not much for me to go home for.’

There was an awkward silence. I shared the last inch of wine in the wine
bottle between our glasses, John nodded his thanks and seemed to gather
himself.

‘Can I ask why you were in Italy and who you were staying with?’

‘I’m a gardener and garden designer. I was creating a garden for a
holiday home in a place called Terranima not far from Rome. It was for a family
friend, Fabrizio Amarena.’

‘And can you think of any reason why your brother would go to Italy?’

‘Absolutely none, he’s never been. I went on holiday there a couple of
times when I was a girl but he didn’t.’

‘Can I ask why?’

‘The first time he wasn’t born, the second time I had a choice of going
on holiday with my family or going to Italy on my own to stay with the
Amarenas. Their daughter Collette had been a pen-friend for years. I was nearly
thirteen and I decided to go on my own to Italy. It seemed like an adventure.
Why do you ask?’

‘I’ve had a quick look at your brother’s bank statements.’

 I smiled. ‘Is that an example of you
putting the rules to one side
?!’

‘You could say that.’

‘So what did you see?’

‘Your brother hasn’t used his credit or debit cards for two weeks, the
last time he did was in a book shop, he bought some novels and an Italian
phrasebook. He then went to his bank and took out £500 in cash.’

‘I don’t understand, I really can’t think what that means!’

‘We can check with all the flight operators if he officially becomes a
missing person but that will take time, we’d have to do every airline, every
airport, so you will let me know if you do think of anything?’

‘Of course.’

He nodded his head silently then drained his glass and got up. ‘Thank you
Maddie. I’m sorry to have called so late.’

‘That’s OK, to be honest there was too much going on in my mind anyway.
It was good to have a distraction.’

‘It’s a difficult time I know.’ It was something he must have had to say
to people a hundred times. But he made it feel real, not a platitude. He
turned, a little awkwardly, as he got to the door and caught me with his
vividly green eyes. ‘Look after yourself Maddie.’ He made a second attempt at a
smile then pulled the door shut behind him.

I felt exhausted and shaky. John’s decision to help me unofficially in
this way was unsettling. Did he know something I didn’t? Was there some pattern
in terms of disappearances that Dan fitted into? Something bad? Suicide
perhaps? I couldn’t face thinking about it. I left our empty wine glasses on
the table and dragged myself up to bed.

 

Darkness
radiates around me like an ink spill, then gathers in whorls and eddies that I
can feel but can’t see. It presses against me, impelling me downwards and I
realise that I have had this sensation before. The darkness below my feet thins
and dissipates until shapes start to coalesce and I recognise the approaching
floor of polished tiles, decorated with serpentine dark green ferns and
abundant Rhododendron flowers.  Instead of waking as I did last time, I carry
on descending, slowly and steadily, the darkness releasing me gently until my
feet touch the ground. It takes my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the light,
which I realise is hazy sunshine. The previous silence is replaced with a soft
whispering.

My first impression is that I must be in some kind of lighthouse
because the room is perfectly round with large windows set in thick walls only
a few feet apart from each other. Under each window is a deeply recessed seat
scattered with an eclectic assortment of cushions.  The room is about 30 feet
in diameter and the circle of tiles ends in thick olive green carpet. I look up
and there is only darkness, as if I have fallen into a room at the end of the
universe.

I feel strangely at home, I go over and sit down on one of the window
seats and gaze out of the panoramic windows. Maybe it is a lighthouse, because
through every window you can see a small shingle beach, suggesting the building
is sitting on an island. The sky glows with a hazy wintry light, the sun
shining through thin clouds and creating a pearlescent optical illusion, as if
the sea and sky are the insides of some immense oyster shell. The sound of the
waves is comforting, and I relax deeper into the jumble of cushions. It occurs
to me that the water outside, has probably moved over the same stones for
thousands of years, and there is something majestic and poignant about it.

I wonder why I am here. Are my faulty hormones playing games with my
unconscious? Am I more vulnerable to the unexplained since Nonna’s
extraordinary insights? I sit peacefully for some time, marvelling at the
beauty of it, trying to suppress my instinct to over-analyse the experience.
Then something dark passes on the other side of the window, just registering in
the periphery of my vision. I spin round and there it is again – small, like
the figure of a child, darting past the next window. I bolt over and look
through the glass but the beach is empty. I go over to every window, my heart
beating fast, but nobody’s there. ‘What is this place?’ I find myself saying
out loud. ‘For God’s sake what is this place?

 

I wake up and am
slightly disorientated and it takes a moment for me to process where I am. I
hear one of the night buses rumble down the road and the light from the
headlights sends tongues of yellow across the ceiling. The small dark head that
had passed behind me in my dream makes me think, painfully, of Dan as a little
boy. He was so eccentric, even then. In some ways he had been like a man stuck
inside a little boy’s body.

Was my brother lost, like the little figure outside the lighthouse in my
dream? Was he trapped somewhere, trying to get home? Or was he living it up on
the other side of the world writing his next masterpiece?  I had to know what
had happened to him one way or the other. I didn’t know how I was going to do
it, but somehow, I was going to find him.

Italy 1984

 

I Can't believe
it, I've got a great big spot on my chin and I'm flying to Italy in a few
hours! That's just my luck. It's huge and bright red. I bet Collette doesn't
get spots. In the pictures she's sent me of herself she always looks perfect.

‘What’s the matter sis?’

I hadn’t even noticed Dan leaning against the door, watching me with his
dark thoughtful eyes.

‘What do you think’s the matter?’ I shriek, jutting out my chin and
jabbing at the spot.

‘Do you know,’ his voice is really calm and slow like he's reading from a
book. ‘That the surface area of skin of an average human being is two square
metres? So if you think about it, that spot is just two square millimetres of
imperfection on otherwise very nice skin.’

'How do you know all this weird stuff? You're only six!'

'Where are you going again?'

'Italy, remember I told you, where Collette lives.'

'Is that why you're not coming to Cornwall?'

'Collette invited me over. She's having a big party for her 13
th
birthday.'

'I wish we could all go.'

'I know Danny boy, me too.'

'But Mum...'

'Yeh...but Mum.' I turn to the mirror and squeeze the spot.

 

There's this
really old Olive tree in the Amarena's garden. It's all twisted and curling and
sometimes it looks like its got a face like one of those talking trees from The
Lord of the Rings. It's really cool for climbing though. I can see the whole
vineyard from up here. The rows of the grapes go on and on until they disappear
into the green mountains. I can see loads of people working on them. Perhaps
they're picking them. They look so tiny from up here and they wear big straw
hats to keep the sun out of their eyes. It's like they're ants and Collette's
dad is this big boss insect who's telling them what to do.

I felt really cross when I started to climb the tree, but I feel better
now. Basically, ever since Collette's party I've hardly seen her. She snogged
this boy called Lorenzo and now she thinks she's Madonna or something just
because she's a teenager now. She promised me today that we'd go riding but
she's gone off with
him
again.

'Ciao, Maddie.'

It's Collette's little brother. He's actually really cute and has the
biggest black eyes, like a cat's. 'Ciao Sergio.'

'What you see Maddie?'

'I see the sea Sergio,
mare.
'

'
Non possibile
!'

'
Si possibile
!
There's a big storm, and a
pirate ship is coming. They're going to crash onto the cliffs. They want to
come and rob us!' I'm not sure how much he understands. He's only little. His
eyes are wide though, like he wants to believe me.

'Pirates!' he smiles the biggest smile. 'I give them all my money if they
let me go on big boat!'

'Ho ho then me hearty! Climb aboard Pirate Sergio and up the rigging!'

He looks really
excited, he's up the tree like a monkey, it must be his favourite too, I wonder
how many times he's climbed it. When he's close I reach out and pull him up
onto the branch beside me. He keeps hold of my hand, his fingers are sticky.

‘Sergio..’


Si
Maddie?’

‘Is there anything wrong with your head?’

He pats his hair and frowns. ‘What you mean?’

‘Oh nothing, it’s just something my dad said once. Hey, I think I can see
another ship approaching! Load the cannons!’

We stay in the tree until our bums are numb from sitting on the branches
and our fingers are all rough from climbing. The pirates are a bloodthirsty
gang and by the time we're called in by Rosa for our dinner we have conquered
the whole of Terranima.

 

‘Maddie has changed a lot, hasn’t she Rosa.’

‘Yes Fabrizio, she is becoming a very pretty young woman.’ Rosa always
agrees with her husband. And she always smiles when she talks to him like he’s
so special that even just looking at him makes her happy. He’s gazing at me and
it makes my tummy feel funny. I know I should smile, say thank you, but I
can’t. Rosa’s mum is here, everyone calls her Nonna. She’s sitting next to me.
She looks a bit like a witch, with really long white hair and she always wears
black, but I think if she is a witch she must be a good one because she’s
always really nice to me and she smells of cake.

‘Do you like
Saltimbocca
Maddie?’ Nonna’s eyes sparkle when she talks
to you even though they’re really black.

‘Yes it’s yummy.’ I push my knife into the thin piece of pork in its ham
wrapping and a pool of cheese and herbs oozes onto my plate. It
is
yummy. I’m hoping we get my favourite pudding. It’s a bit like rice pudding,
but not like the horrible stuff I get at school, it’s really creamy and soft
and it tastes of strange spices like Old English Spangles.

Nonna winks at me. ‘Good, you need to eat well if you are to climb more
trees Tomorrow.’ 

‘Ah
Nonna
,
abbiamo giocato tutto il giorno ai
pirati.

‘In English Sergio.’ Fabrizio almost snaps.


Pardone
Papa, we played Pirates all day Nonna. Maddie was the
Pirate Princess of the Seven Seas and I was One-Eyed Jack!’

Rosa smiles at me, but it doesn’t look like a real smile. ‘It is very
kind of Maddie to play with you, but I am sure she would rather spend time with
Collette who is nearer her own age?’

Collette looks at me with a guilty expression on her face then turns
away. Up till now I would rather have played with Collette, but all of a sudden
I realise I had loads more fun with Sergio. All Collette wants to do these days
is paint her nails and talk about boys. I wouldn’t have got her up that Olive
tree, not for anything! She would have been too worried about ripping her
dress.

‘I don’t mind playing with Sergio, I play with my little brother Dan
loads so I’m used to it.’

Fabrizio takes a
big gulp from his drink and looks at me over the top of his glass. It has all
these different shapes in it like a diamond, and the glow from the candles on
the table shines through it and lights up his face with funny patterns. ‘Such a
shame the rest of your family weren’t able to join you.’

‘Maybe next time Fabrizio?’ says Nonna and squeezes my hand under the
table.

 

In the morning
Sergio knocks on my door early. He seems a bit shy about talking to me, but he
asks me if I want to go with him to see the estate’s animals – the chickens and
goats are his favourites. He’s got names for all of them and he says I can try
milking one of the goats – they make cheese from it, that sounds a bit weird to
me, I thought cheese was made from cow’s milk, but Sergio says it’s really nice
so I’m going to try some at lunchtime.

It’s really hot in the yard and the goats twitch their heads and their
tails to shake off the flies. They let me stroke them. Their heads are really
bony and their fur is scratchy and they have these funny eyes that don’t have
round pupils, but weird oblong ones like an alien. They snuffle at my hands and
rub their faces against my legs and they smell of warm hay.

Sergio goes to each one and says hello to it,

Oh little
Capra,’
he says like he’s singing, ‘keep your beard out of your dinner
. Scontroso,
no bite me, your dinner, it come too. Ah
Tardivo,
always the last
one…

An old man comes out of the barn, his clothes are scruffy and the same
colour as the ground.
He speaks to Sergio in Italian and points at one
of the goats. Sergio turns to me and translates. ‘He says
Lavanda
is not
herself today, she will not eat
.
’ Sergio talks to the man some more, the
man looks surprised and goes over to the goat and feels her tummy. He nods at
Sergio and shakes his head like he doesn’t believe something. ‘I told Paolo, it
is because there are two babies in her and they make her feel sick.’

‘How did you know that?’

‘Don’t you know too, Maddie? Can’t you see them?’

‘No I don’t, do you? Do you see them?’

Sergio thinks for a minute. When he thinks he really frowns and clamps
his mouth really tight so his lips become just lines. It looks really funny on
a little boy’s face, but then, like Dan, Sergio isn’t like ordinary little
boys. ‘Maybe I see them, or maybe I feel them. When I stroke
Lavanda
it
is like I am in her tummy with the babies.’

‘What does it feel like?’

‘It’s warm and dark and they wriggle.’

BOOK: The Soul Room
3.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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