They were comfortable on the open naya. The music from the kitchen, still on since supper, could barely be heard and the wine had flowed freely throughout the evening.
Cora and Sibyl sat together away from the railing; Tom had taken the cushioned lounger near the veranda steps. The moon was hidden behind low lying clouds, which were busy replenishing the snow across the Cantabrian Mountains that surrounded them.
Cora turned casually away from Sibyl, surreptitiously checking to see if Tom’s glass was empty. It was, so she rose gracefully and sauntered into the house, turning to check that her husband and her friend were still engrossed in their conversation.
A few minutes later the music ceased to intrude, even slightly, on the cool silence of the crisp, winter evening.
When Cora returned, she was carrying a bowl of olives in one hand and an opened bottle of Rioja in the other. It was the very best place to be, she thought, inwardly smiling as she set the dish and the wine on the table and settled back into her seat.
Tom leaned forward and started to pour wine into his empty glass, too absorbed in what he was saying and doing to notice that the other glasses were also dry. Just as he was about to deliver his witty punch-line, the night was ripped apart by an ear-splitting, ululating cry from the trees beyond the garden’s edge.
As one, the two women turned to Tom, waiting for him to speak or react.
Tom, however, was too rigidly glued to his chair to utter a sound. The howl had seemed so near to him that it took him several tries to move his head. His tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of his mouth and he could feel his heart pounding. Staring in focussed concentration at the women transfixed on the sofa was unnerving, but better than turning round to see what might be behind him. Neither woman seemed to be staring beyond him though, just at him, which was reassuring.
“A wolf? It must have been a wolf.”
Tom spluttered, as he thought that through. Why would a wolf come so close to the villa? Spanish wolves were only aggressive if provoked. They were shy, wild and scattered across remote areas. OK his was the last villa in the ‘urbanisation’ – in the wildest patch, away from the lights, cars and traffic …and OK, their neighbours had gone south to Valencia to winter in the mild Mediterranean breezes, away from the snow, but it was still odd that a wolf would be alone, so near habitation.
“Tom, is it in the garden?” As she spoke, Cora reached out to Sibyl for support. Tom cringed, was he so ineffectual that his wife felt Sibyl was the better protector of the two?
Sibyl just held Cora’s hand in support and waited for Tom to answer.
“How the hell do I know?” He snapped at them. It had been a long evening, he was tired; the last thing he wanted to do was go rousting potentially dangerous wild animals out of the garden.
Tom, using the adrenalin gathered from the anger spurt he had felt for his wife, jumped up from the chair and turned to face the dark garden.
Nothing: he could see nothing, but it sounded so close.
As he stared out into the dark, he could hear the women whispering behind him.
OK, he had been frightened when the wolf first howled, but the fear was gradually giving way to reasoned thought. Wolves were rarely dangerous on their own, they were pack animals, everyone knew that; or at least they did if they had read the old classics like ‘Call of the Wild’, like he had when he was a kid. Cora, however, had never read anything beyond fashion magazines and shopping catalogues…
This was his chance to resurrect his image in the eyes of his wife. He would be quite safe in the garden, with little more than a stick to make a noise as he poked about. Give the animal enough warning he was coming and it would slope off back into the Cantabrian country-side.
Trying not to smile as he turned back to the women, clutching each other in fright, he went for an expression that conveyed ‘white knight in shining armour coming to the rescue’ and, wearing it, he headed past them into the house; it took only a few minutes to pull a nine-iron from the back of the cupboard where he kept his golf bag. It was annoying that the only coat not at the dry-cleaners was his old army camouflage jacket, but it would do. He wouldn’t be outside for long and it would be warm enough; he just needed something to protect him from the lightly falling snow, once he left the covered veranda.
As he stepped outside and headed for the steps to walk down into the garden, he made sure that they were both watching him. If he was going to put on a show, he wanted to make sure that he had the full attention of the audience.
Stumbling in and out of the trees that lined the property border, he walked the perimeter of the garden twice before the shot rang out.
Of course, as the Medico explained later, Tom had died so quickly it was doubtful that he had even heard it.
“Such a terrible accident”, consoled the Judge, as Cora sobbed her way through the brief trial, which exonerated her dreadful mistake as an accidental death. “Of course you and your friend must have been frightened, alone in the house, while your husband went to face the wolf. How unfortunate that he wore camouflage and blended into the tree-line so well. So unfortunate that you should be such an excellent shot and sad, that the wolf you killed should turn out to be your husband…”
As they had expected, they got through it all and used very little of Cora’s inheritance in legal fees; so much better than having to sell the house to pay Tom off. Inheritance taxes were a lot less than splitting everything equally for a divorce.
Cora never felt quite the same way about her iPod as she had before so, with the animal noise tracks deleted completely from her library and from the machine, the iPod went to charity, along with its neat little battery powered speaker and to delete her purchase history Sibyl closed their iTunes’ account, making casual discovery of the purchase impossible.
Their ‘catalogue buys’ were among the best they had ever made they decided, as they sat comfortably on the naya the following summer. The music from the kitchen, still on since supper, could barely be heard and the wine flowed freely throughout the evening.
Very good. Short stories are such an underrated skill Gaile. Brilliant