Valentina

Posted: February 23, 2014 in Fantasy, Magic
Tags: , ,
Image courtesy of http://scotnor.com/

Image courtesy of http://scotnor.com/

When I opened my front door, I instantly realised that something was wrong. You might not even have known the difference. For me though, it was simply wrong. My mother had once again invaded my flat. Every time I told her to stop, she looked at me, shaking her hand – continuing what she had already begun. My life was not flashy enough for her, my wardrobe was not fancy enough for her, my hair was a disgrace for her, my flat was too shabby – for her taste. She didn’t want me to be average. There is nothing bad about being of average height, weight, hair colour, and whatever. She just did not understand how her constant criticism hurt my feelings – making me feel unworthy. There was something about her I didn’t understand either. Right from the start, I had to call her by her given name ‘Stella’. She just didn’t feel old enough to be a mother. Moreover, nobody should consider her old enough to really be a mother. Nowadays, she even wanted to pretend she was my slightly older – and better looking – sister.

What had my mother done this time? I could still smell her disgustingly sweet perfume. I checked the bathroom, the kitchen, my bedroom and was relieved. Everything was as it should be. That left the living room. Even before entering the room, I could see that furniture had been moved. The desk and my chair were now visible from the doorstep. I cautiously entered the room, and cursed. The sofa – thankfully still the same one – was placed in front of the wall, the comfy chairs and the low table were also there. Above the sofa, there was now an unbelievably ugly painting, certainly worth a fortune and a safe bet for upcoming nightmares. “Yikes!” I exclaimed in irritation and fingered my phone out of my jeans pocket, selected my mother’s number and hit ‘call’.

“Valentina, love! How do you like it? This work of art upgrades your flat quite a bit, don’t you think?”

“Stella, please have it removed ASAP. It is disgusting, no – it is giving me the creeps. Please have someone come over and get it out of here!”

“Valentina, it would do you good to have something nice and valuable in your flat…”

“Thank you, Stella. But – no. Please have it removed – it is creeping me out!”

My mother finally gave in. True to her word, two of her handymen arrived and took the painting off. They asked me if they should rearrange the furniture. I thanked them, telling them I’d do it myself later. When they were gone I searched my desk for a picture that might be right for this wall – and cover and/or even conceal where the disgusting painting had been for a little while. I finally found the ideal shot in my desk drawer: A lighthouse in the evening sun. Perfect. As if the photograph had waited to be displayed on that special wall.

The doorbell chimed, catapulting me out of my reverie. I went to open the front door. My new neighbour, Kate Harrington, was looking stressed. Before I could utter any pleasantries, she asked me, if I was willing to keep her grandmother company for an hour or so. Dinner was apparently ready, and there was enough food so I wouldn’t starve. She turned around and I hardly had the time to grab my keys and phone and follow her to her flat down the hall. She only stopped when we entered her living-room, addressing the elder woman at the table: “This is Valentina, my neighbour, she will keep you company while I’m away.” She turned on her heels and was gone.

As Kate was around 22 years old, I took her grandmother, Tabitha, to be in her late sixties to seventies. Despite her having a slight cold, she seemed very sweet. When I asked her if she wanted to have dinner, she smiled charmingly between some coughs. I brought in the tray. We had poached salmon, steamed vegetables and rice. Mrs. Harrington asked for sea salt and pepper and we both seasoned our meals. Afterwards I cleared the table. Returning from the kitchen I brought some water. I asked her if she would fancy a glass, she nodded. As we were sipping our water companionably, she sighed. “Is there something I can do for you?” I asked.

“Indeed. There is something that is really important to me. And Kate just doesn’t understand. You must know that the old house I lived in was sold several weeks ago. It was in a village on the outskirts of town, and there were beautiful paths through the meadows, and on the hills. I felt healthy and strong. I always strolled to the spring to have my daily dose of clear and revitalising spring water. I always preferred villages and the outdoors to the city. I cannot tell how much I miss this particular spring water, my dear!”

Mrs. Harrington was such a nice old woman – I impulsively asked her for directions to the spring. She looked at me, telling me gently how much she appreciated my support. Her directions were easy. Until the end of the village, the route was a piece of cake, anyway. Her description of the right way afterwards was so picturesque that I was immediately convinced that this was really going to be an easy task to get the three requested bottles full of spring water. I wondered why Kate didn’t want to do her grandmother this favour. It wasn’t more than twenty minutes by car, followed by a ten-minute-walk. If my grandmother was still alive, I would cherish her, and – perhaps my mother would be a little different – for the better, hopefully!

Just then, Kate returned home. She thanked me and escorted me to the door, barely leaving me time to say goodbye to Mrs. Harrington. I let myself in my flat, headed to the bathroom for a shower. Thus refreshed went into the kitchen to open a small bottle of sparkling water. Sipping, I went to my desk and booted my laptop to check my e-Mails, then switched to Google Maps. The map showed the route until the edge of the village all right, then it became vague. Despite that, I felt pretty confident to find the spring without major issues. Smuggling the water to Mrs. Harrington would have to be done right after Kate left for her job. I calculated a little and came to the conclusion that I needed to get up at 5:30 a.m. Shutting my laptop down took only seconds, ten seconds later I fell into my bed – dead to the world until the alarm clock rang.

Switching off the alarm clock and running to the bathroom for the typical bathroom chores was a matter of seconds. While brushing my teeth I made a mental note of things that might happen – delay-wise. Back in my room, I put on a pair of black jeans and a charcoal grey hoodie. Eating a banana I brewed some coffee for my Thermos-mug. My phone had charged overnight and my keys were on the table by the door. I was ready to roll! It actually only took me fifteen minutes to get to the village where I needed to park my car. Sunrise time was quickly approaching, didn’t promise lots of sun rays, though. There were just too many greyish clouds.

I got out of the car, double checked that it was locked and jogged along a barely visible path. Turning round a corner, I saw the silhouettes of weird shaped trees under some rain-promising clouds. I hadn’t seen that coming. The trees seemed odd. I took some deep breaths and proceeded along the path. After the double line of bushes I was to turn sharp to the right, move on until the cube-shaped rock, turn immediately left and climb two metres down a small cave. In that moment, I made a mental note not to repeat this adventure in the dark.

Behind the cube-shaped rock, I actually needed to crawl down about two metres to get to the spring. Mrs. Harrington had instructed me to drink from the spring first, then fill the three bottles. I bent over and gasped. The torch-light showed a beautiful dark-haired woman. Was she dead? I gingerly dipped my hand into the water. Nothing. I shook my head incredulously – so did the woman in the water. My mirror image?! I’d be happy being even half as beautiful. I wondered if I had lost my marbles. However, I cupped my hands and tasted the water. It was delicious. I drank and drank. Then I filled the bottles and crept out of the cave. It was a little lighter outside, the trees were still giving me the creeps, though.

The ride home passed uneventfully. The usual morning traffic set in. Everything was back to normal. I inhaled deeply. The clouds slowly dissolved – a bright new day lay ahead. I arrived in my street, luckily finding a parking spot two houses earlier. Then I waited for Kate to leave. I didn’t have to wait long. As usual she was in a hurry, not looking left or right – just heading in the other direction. I gathered my stuff and hurried to our house. I unlocked the front door and walked the few steps to Kate Harrington’s flat. Before I could knock, Mrs. Harrington softly called “Do come right in, love! The door’s not locked!” This made me feel more welcome than ever before.

I located Mrs. Harrington in the kitchen and carefully placed the bag with the bottles on the table – still smiling broadly thanks to this unforgettable welcome. There was a reverent silence as Mrs. Harrington carefully took the three bottles out of the bag. Then she reached for two glasses on the shelf behind her. She opened one of the bottles, filled the glasses. Raising her glass, she said “Here’s to you, dear Valentina! May you always be true to yourself. May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Believe me, I have certainly heard this blessing more than a hundred times, never addressed to me, though. I felt tears welling in my eyes, had to blink several times to keep them from running down my face like a rivulet after the downpour gushes over the rocks and bends of its bed. Mrs. Harrington put her hand over mine. “You can talk to me, Valentina. What makes you so sad?” Looking into her kind face I burst out everything, being constantly criticised by my mother, my low self-esteem, my being overlooked at university, and so on. Once I had started, I just couldn’t stop. Mrs. Harrington was great, she held my hand the whole time, with this warm and welcoming little smile of hers.

When I had finished and – needlessly – apologised for my outburst, she looked me in the eyes. “You needed this, child. This must have bothered you for years. It is a real pity it people see without comprehending, hear without listening, exist without living. Each living creature is special, yes – really precious. I pity people with such poor perception who just believe in appearances.” At that point I interrupted her, telling her about my strange vision in the water.

Mrs. Harrington smiled. “This spring water shows your inner self. They say that a white witch lived out there in a cave. One day, during a thunderstorm, the cave gave in, burying the herbs and spices the witch had gathered. Many of us still believe, that this spring water is enriched by the remnants of these herbs and spices. You see, I drank one glass and my cold is already gone.” I didn’t know what to say. The water was good, true. And the beautiful woman in the water was me? Boring old Valentina? Why not.

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This morning was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Mrs. Harrington hugged me and asked me to call her Tabitha. We agreed to visit the spring on a weekly basis. Kate soon moved out, letting Tabitha stay in her flat. I started to accept my mother’s behaviour, and my mother started to accept me for what I am.

My name is Valentina. And I do not mind being an average woman. I have finally found my place in this world. My beauty may be average, my intelligence is average, yet I am loved. And – if every woman wants to be special – what is really so special about being special?Β  πŸ˜‰

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This blog post and/or photo by Iain was perfect to be integrated into this short story – Valentina:

http://scotnor.com/2014/02/12/wordless-wednesday-8/

Please visit this blog with its fascinating photos. These photos are inspiring and may cause the urge to visit Norway.Β  :-)

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Comments
  1. Mjollnir says:

    Great stuff Karen. I was a bit worried that the stinking picture in the story was my photo, but all is well in the end! πŸ˜€

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