SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Myrtle by Lynne Stone

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

The coach stopped and I walked down the steps as the guide helped me.

I stood and looked around. The path to our destination was a steep street. I hadn’t given a thought to suitable footwear, so here I was – alone on a holiday I didn’t want to come on, about to go to a typical Sardinian lunch and I wasn’t hungry.

My first instinct was to get out of the heat and climb back on to the coach and curl up and go to sleep until it was all over.

I stood to one side and waited until everyone was off the coach. The tour guide pointed to an archway in the ancient wall about 50 yards up the street.

She gestured for us to walk on through. I was hot and tired and frankly wanted to be far away from this place.

I followed the guide along the cobbled pavement. I stumbled but a strong arm caught me and stopped me from falling into the dusty gutter. I felt myself blush with embarrassment as I managed to stammer ‘thank you’ while avoiding looking at the face of my rescuer.

Our feet crunched on sprays which were strewn across our paths. As we walked across them the aroma from the leaves as they split was almost magical.

I took a deep breath and stood still as I took in the new surroundings. The archway opened into a huge courtyard, adjoining a crumbling Sardinian farmhouse.

It was breathtaking – the sun dappled through the ancient vines and fig trees which had been trained across the courtyard to provide shade from the scorching midday sun.

An old man in traditional dress was playing an accordion, young women in costume wandered around guiding us to long trestle tables with snowy white cloths laden with rustic salad, chunks of home-made bread, jugs of wine and everywhere small sprigs of leaves were strewn across the white linen.

I sat down and looked around. It was as if I had been transported. A glass of wine found its way into my hand and taking a sip I sighed. It was idyllic and I found myself relaxing.

‘Hi, I’m James,’ said a man to my left. I turned to look and my heart flipped – he was gorgeous, was he on his own? I was shocked at my reaction. It had been a long time.

‘I’m Maisie,’ I said and as I looked at him it hit me. I realised James was the face behind the strong arm that had saved me from falling face down in the gutter.

‘And thank you again,’ I said, hesitantly feeling myself blush.

‘It was my pleasure, I do like to save damsels in distress,’ his grey eyes twinkled and I felt the ice around my heart begin to melt.

The music picked up tempo and the dancers began to spin, their colourful costumes whirling in the dappled sunshine.

Under a canopy a wizened woman stood making pasta by hand and suckling pigs turned slowly on the barbecues.

I sniffed the air and turned to James. ‘What’s that smell? It’s like nothing I’ve smelled before.’

‘That’s myrtle,’ he said. ‘It has a very heady aroma.’ He broke a couple of leaves off one of the sprigs thrown across the table and deftly crushed a leaf in his hand to let me breathe in its scent.

‘It’s used a lot in Sardinia, especially in cooking. It originates from this area and is used in flavouring, although after cooking the leaves and branches are removed as the leaves are bitter to taste.’

‘Gosh, you’re well informed.’

‘I’ve travelled a lot, always on my own, so before I go anywhere I spend weeks reading up on the area, it gives me something to do since my wife died.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry Maisie, it’s been 10 years, I am used to being single. How about you?’

‘Oh me? Recovering from addiction.’

‘What do you mean ‘‘addiction’’?’

‘Oh, you know – addicted to love, the wrong kind of love, and I ended up hurt and broken. I’m here to heal as it were,’ I said trying to force a smile.

James beamed. ‘Well Maisie, welcome to paradise.’

James filled my glass and we introduced ourselves to the other tourists sitting around us.

The afternoon passed in a haze of Sardinian sunshine and hospitality, the food kept coming and the wine was flowing, and then all too soon it was time to leave.

I stood and my legs wobbled once again. The strong arm of James held me, I felt secure and almost floated down the cobbled street to the coach.

All too soon, the coach pulled up at the first hotel and I stood up.

‘This is where I get off. Thank you for a lovely afternoon,’ I said, reluctant to leave.

James said: ‘I have really enjoyed myself.’

He leant forward and handed me a sprig of myrtle wrapped in a piece of paper which had been tucked in his shirt pocket.

I stumbled off the coach and stood outside my hotel and watched as the coach pulled away.

Back in my single hotel room I felt a loss immediately and closed my eyes to relive every moment of what seemed a perfect afternoon.

I lifted the Myrtle to inhale the smell and the paper wrapped loosely around it fluttered to the floor. I could see writing on it. I picked it up, my heart pounding, and turned it over.

It read: ‘Meet you at 10am in the foyer. I will show you the real Sardinia.’

Lynne Stone is retired and started writing as a hobby 10 years ago. She was a scriptwriter for the soap opera Conway Street on Portsmouth radio station 93.7 Express FM from 2010-2012. Lynne has performed at Groundlings Theatre, reading a short story as part of The Umbrella Festival of Arts, and is currently writing her first novel.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.