I’m a member of an online writing group that’s working its way through Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guinn. Each week we move to the next chapter and its attendant writing exercise. A recent one asked us to create a piece using repetition as a theme. It sort of ran away with me.
Rose heaved her suitcase into the luggage rack at the end of the carriage and found a seat, settling herself in for the two-hour trip to Avony.
As the train left the city and settled into a mile-eating rhythm, she let her mind drift back to that first time at the Villa. She’d been, what? Ten?
Her mother had brought her, then left for important meetings in America, and Rose spent the summer with her godmother in a house from a storybook. A rambling, single-storied place with wide doors, big windows, and high ceilings, perfect for the Mediterranean summer but so different to the cosy nooks of her London home.
She met some of the neighbours, those with children around her age, and quickly learned to avoid Marco, with his jibes, sneers and grabbing, pinching fingers. She heard about the other boy, the one called Alej, with the father who was even more important than her mother and who sent his son down to their villa each summer with only a housekeeper and a tutor for company.
Her godmother’s home was always bursting with people. Sometimes Rose liked it, sometimes she’d retreat to the gardens with a book. Especially the rose garden. There was a perfect little bench tucked under shading trees that kept her hidden from all but the most determined seekers.
Unfortunately, Marco had been one of the determined ones, and that morning he’d hunted her down and very nearly cornered her against the towering hedge. She dodged at the last minute, and before she’d realised what she’d done, run into the hedge maze; the one place in the garden she avoided. It was scary.
And it was even scarier that day. High walls of green, twisting corridors going nowhere. Having to double back and change and choose, always knowing Marco was chasing. She could hear him somewhere behind her, laughing at her terror.
She dodged and turned and turned again, then found herself in a pathway with a clear exit at one end. And Marco at the other.
His nasty grin lit up. “Found you little Rosie, come here now and play nicely.”
She strangled a scream and ran in the opposite direction. Marco in hot pursuit.
The path emptied into a circular garden with a pergola and a second opening on the other side. She continued her headlong rush, straight across, through the pergola. Desperate to make it to the other side.
Her foot caught on the edge of the pergola’s floor and she fell, sprawling helplessly, across it. Marco laughed in triumph and she desperately tried to scrabble away as his heavy footsteps sounded on the gravel outside.
Then, movement beside her, another boy. He stood and stepped between her and Marco. She twisted herself around, looking up at him. Marco halted, his expression morphing from vicious victory to uncertainty.
The other boy looked back levelly, then spoke. “Get out.”
Marco snarled but, as Rose gaped, he did as the boy told him, turning and retreating back through the maze opening.
The boy turned and held out a hand to her. “Hello Rosamund, I’m Alejandro.”
He’d been the light of her life the rest of the summer, while Marco seemed to have disappeared. They’d written to each other after she’d returned home and he’d gone back to his fancy boarding school, but, over time, the letters had dwindled into nothing and now the most she could hope for was the occasional mention of Alej’s latest exploits when she caught up with her godmother.
But now, nearly fifteen years later, she was on her way back.
The train slowed and she gathered her things, grabbing the suitcase and wrestling it onto the aisle floor next to her. Then she joined the eager group at the carriage door.
They stopped, the door opened and she piled out with the rest of them, enjoying their happiness and excitement, feeling it feed her own.
Outside the station, she looked around, her godmother had promised to send a friend to pick her up, but she wasn’t sure who it might be. She caught sight of a heavy-set figure through the crowd and her stomach turned to stone. Marco. He’d been in a few of the photos her godmother had shared in recent years and his heavy, sulky features were easy to recognise.
She wasn’t going with him, she couldn’t go with him. Awkwardly hauling her suitcase behind her, she set off down the nearest little street. Too late though, she heard Marco call her name over the bubble of the crowd and he sounded as mean as he always had. She sped up, turning as soon as a side street appeared.
The station crowds were gone, these laneways were quiet and old. The houses crammed against them clambering three, four stories to the sky, and the only movement a stray, insolent cat. She walked faster, the case bumping along the cobbles in her wake.
Another turn, then another, and a dead end, she doubled back, breath coming in harsh pants as she realised just how lost she was. She kept going, her mind playing tricks, hearing heavy footsteps following her down each alley.
She turned, and turned again, suppressing a sob, then stepped out onto a wider street, leading to a square. She turned towards it, tensing as a voice yelled from the other end. “Stop running Rosie, I’ll have to punish you.”
She sped up, her breath choking on sobs she refused to release. Stumbling into the clear light of the marketplace, she paused by the fountain, hoping to see a taxi, or a way out. Instead there was just a café, with a man sitting at one of the outdoor tables and an archway to more streets on the other side.
Skirting the fountain, she made for the far side as Marco stomped through the entrance.
“Stop being an uppity little bitch, Rosie and get back here before you make me do something you’ll regret.”
The man at the café stood and moved to stand between her and Marco. Rose stared, it couldn’t be.
He spoke. “Leave it Marco, I’ll see that she’s delivered safely to her godmother.”
Rose wondered if she imagined the emphasis on the word ‘safely’.
Marco snarled but stormed back the way he came. The man turned to where she stood, frozen.