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La Casa Cernicalo

by Michelle Perkins

La Casa Cernicalo is a tall municipal building on the outskirts of Bogota city centre. Up there with the Gods, on the 19th floor, Salvatore is in the kitchen bent over a shoulder of pork. This evening he and Myra will celebrate 60 years of marriage. They were together, that’s what counted, he said to himself.

When they’d moved in as newly-weds the lift had frequently broken down. Back then Myra had thought nothing of climbing the 304 concrete steps with bags of shopping. She had scaled El Grande barefoot as a child! It was nothing, she had boasted to the other women.

The conviction with which Myra had just sprung up from her chair now momentarily deserted her.
In the cool dark of the hallway she felt uncertain. The word ‘careful’ passed through her mind. What is it that Salvatore cautions her about? She’d had a plan, one so pressing that she’d crept past him as he bent down to regulate the oven. As a rule, he didn’t let her out of his sight.

Aha! There it goes. A noise at the door. Myra felt a delightful sense of anticipation, as if she were about to grow wings. Her hand trembled so she pressed it into the wall to steady herself.

Blast. What was it? She had been on her way … to something? Her hand and eye both twitched now, and as much as she resisted it, a sense of defeat washed over her.

She saw that dust had collected on the glass top of the hall table. And there too, on the intercom fixed to the wall, more dust. She felt sad. If someone had asked her why, she wouldn’t be able to explain such sadness.
Once she used to regularly reassure her family that she’d grown accustomed to the changes in her life - the momentary lapses and the confusion.

Something about the door …
That was it! The intercom, she recognised it. Lift it up and speak.
She had learnt, when she remembered, not to force things. This felt different. More urgent.

She longed to be held.

Be careful. Be aware. Stay with Salvatore.
Too much advice, she couldn’t breathe.
People looked worried a lot of the time, it made her anxious. It crowded in upon her, so much so, that she felt a strong urge to act upon … it … whatever ‘it’ was.

The dust bothered her. She tried to recall the whereabouts of the cloth. The soft fleece cotton which had been cut from a larger piece. It brought up an excellent shine.

She wondered how her grandmother had ever found the patience, and the strength, to lodge all those workmen. So many over the long hot summers. They became like family, and would spoil her with sweets on Sundays. All that coming and going between the fields and the house. Their clothes full of dust and corn husks.
Ouch! A dried-out corn husk had lodged itself into that tender spot in her gum. A hole left by the loss of a baby tooth. How on earth had it landed there?
Nonna, Myra’s grandmother, had soaked a piece of her old nightdress in brandy and placed it at the site of the vicious pain. All the men had lain down for a siesta, and Nonna had held Myra as she fell asleep against the soft eiderdown of her breast.

Myra now leant towards the front door. Perhaps Carmen had forgotten her key.
The door was solid and made of a heavy dark wood. Myra swore she could smell the tree itself. When she bent to trace the line of the grain, she was reminded of the worm-riddled beams where her father had over-wintered the horses. That was home, back there in her childhood.

The tremor in her hand was more jagged now. It jerked itself up her forearm and into the elbow. Just above her head a fly swooped and circled back on itself; she recalled how the farm workers had complained of the flies when they’d toiled over the fields.

Myra snatched at the intercom. ‘Go away!’ She hissed into the mouthpiece, the knuckles of her fingers whiting with a vice-like grip.
The fly grew quiet. It was walking towards the edge of the door. For the briefest of moments, the silence held Myra. It was not until the fly began to circle with a renewed frenzy that she was seized by a flash of childish spite. She would have it.
She was gripped by the sudden thrill of this thought. A sort of déjà vu.

The Hand of God. That’s what Myra called it when she’d grown up and felt remorse for some of her cruel actions. She had been here before. The Good Lord was reminding her. If only she could prevent his wise words from escaping her.

She did not register that the fly had now been caught in a spider’s web. A tiny, yet ruthless bit of weave secreted between the hinge of the door and the thick wood frame. It had buzzed furiously, such were its efforts to disentangle itself.

Of course, she had always expected to return home, once the children had grown-up. Now there was no need to be anywhere but here. Nothing to do but to admire the pots of herbs and radicche flourishing along the entire length of the balcony; nothing to do but to smell the sweetness of the vine which grew along the overhead struts and furnished them with tomatoes and shade. The safest place on earth, Salvatore often told Myra - this garden in the sky.

‘I wondered where you had got to.’ Salvatore spoke with such tenderness as he approached, that without questioning she linked her arm with his, and they walked back down the hall. Together they passed through the kitchen, past the smell of dinner cooking and stepped out onto the balcony, back into the sun.

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