PART OF THE Escape Into Books ISSUE
‘A wine shop had one word above its window: Rossini. I admit, I was mildly excited about being in the town where this most delicious fizz is made.’
Extract taken from Perfume Paradiso
By Janey Jones
Published by Black and White Publishing
It was riposo time in Montecastello that Wednesday afternoon when I emerged from the station. All was quiet. How was I going to get to the hotel? There wasn’t a cab in sight. My phone told me it was just a seven-minute walk, so I decided to go on foot. My case on wheels posed no problem, although my wedge sandals were another matter. I was pretty pleased with my choice of a white shift dress, as the early afternoon sun was blisteringly hot.
As I walked along the almost deserted main street, a sleepy silence surrounded me. Montecastello dozed, but it did look like a very charming town, with shops boasting flowers, cheeses, honey and antique books. The quaint town hall with its clocktower stood behind a town square. An ice cream parlour called Gloria’s teased with its promise of twenty-five flavours. A wine shop had one word above its window: Rossini. I admit, I was mildly excited about being in the town where this most delicious fizz is made. I imagined Montecastello bustled in the mornings and late afternoons, but for now, there was not a whisper.
Until, that is, I heard the sound of a truck trundling noisily over the cobbles. I glanced over my shoulder to see a green tractor and trailer bouncing towards me like a giant grasshopper. It certainly was rural here, no doubt about it. Cute enough, but very countrified, and I’d finished with country places as soon as I got out of my tiny childhood village of Ambler when we’d moved to London for Dad’s job. I’d missed the horses, and my stable buddy, Jonny Kent, but that was all.
The tractor got closer. I looked back again, and although the glinting sun blocked my view of the driver’s face, I saw the strong, tanned forearm of a farmer, as he rested his elbow on the door. As he drove by, the tractor bumped over a raised block in the cobbled road and the contents of one of the barrels in the trailer splattered over the side, spraying through the air and HELP! spotting my white dress with a thousand little pink dots. Baptism by rosé wine. No!
You’d think the farmer would be apologetic, but, no. He just raised a hand by way of a surly, ‘Oops, sorry,’ his heavily bearded face unmoved, and then he carried on, leaving me furiously messed up on the pavement. I was completely blindsided. And now my dress looked like a total disaster! I took my rage out on the pavement, pounding along the cobbled surface crossly, planning what I’d change into at the hotel, and then . . . Goddammit! OW!
Caught between two cobbles, I lost my footing and, in painful slow-motion, twisted my left ankle as I went over on it. The damned wedge heels. It was e-x-c-r-u-c-i-a-t-ing.
Nauseous with pain, I had to stop, telling myself it would soon pass. I took deep breaths as I rested by the doorway of a bakery. Sadly, the pain only intensified. I tried to walk, but my ankle collapsed under me. I couldn’t believe the agony. I took my shoes off, but still couldn’t walk, and the burning heat of the pavement cobbles didn’t help. The world really was against me!
It was one of those moments when I wished my mother was still alive so I could call her. She always advised taking tiny steps forward. I couldn’t even do that! I was trying to decide what to do when, confusingly, I heard the tractor getting closer again – making its way back to me from the opposite direction. Great, the return of the rude farmer. I was embarrassed by my foolishness and the last thing I wanted was his pity. I tried to make some progress along the pavement as he approached, but barefoot and in agony, it was hopeless.
He rolled the tractor – gently – to a stop by the kerb. His face was clear to see now; handsome perhaps, under a beard, brow smeared by a morning’s work, framed by unkempt dark hair. He looked irritated, so why he’d turned back to assist was beyond me.
‘Do you need help?’ he asked, in Italian. Impatient voice. Glum expression. Inexplicably annoying demeanour.
‘No, thank you. I’ll manage,’ I replied, curtly, in Italian. I then muttered under my breath, in English, ‘Stupid country bumpkin.’
‘I came back to give you a lift.’ This time he used near perfect English and glowered furiously. I guessed he’d heard my childishly rude comment.
‘I’d rather not,’ I said, eyeing the one seat in the tractor.
‘Okay. I watch you walk, then I go,’ he said. This sounded like an order. God, he was bossy, too.
I gathered all my strength, trying to take a step forward, but as my left foot hit the ground, I couldn’t stop an agonised cry as my ankle gave way. I felt like such a fool, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it on foot.
‘I will lift you,’ he said, jumping down and striding towards me.
First, he promptly lifted my case onto the trailer.
‘My good case,’ I protested. ‘It will get all sticky.’
‘Sticky or stay here?’ he said.
I was in an impossible fix. ‘Sticky,’ I conceded.
Next, he gathered me up and hoisted me across his shoulder. I was mortified. My dress was not the longest. I could tell that my thighs were on show. How had my arrival in Montecastello deteriorated to this situation of deeply chaotic shame so quickly?
Perfume Paradiso by Janey Jones is published by Black and White Publishing, priced £8.99.
Polly Clark was born in Toronto and lives in Helensburgh on Scotland’s west coast, close to where W.H. Auden wrote The Orators. She is Literature Programme Producer for Cove Park, Scotland’s International Artist Residency Centre, and the author of thre …