*A Withered Rose

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

The story of a modern Don Juan who is really a Peter Pan who can’t grow up.

A WITHERED ROSE

 

He was called “young Hugo” long after he was thirty years old. I had thought it was because he shared the name Hugo with his father but I was wrong, it was due to his baby face, his spoilt baby face.

My first impression of Hugo was that of seeing an infantile person. His mouth with its pouting lower lip was what you would expect in a child of three or four years old. To see that childish expression on the face of a man, was a warning, a clue to Hugo’s childlike and immature personality.

In spite of his father’s efforts to make Hugo, his only child, a mature and responsible man, his mother did everything possible to prevent such a thing. The word “work” sounded obscene to Hugo’s ears. He despised me because I actually enjoyed working. On seeing me tired or with no desire to go to night clubs, he laughed at me in a very unpleasant way. He felt superior to me because he didn’t work. Hugo’s mother did her best to smooth things over between her son and the outside world. In Hugo’s eyes his mother was the perfect woman. For anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence it was obvious why Hugo felt so tied to his mother; she never said ‘no’ to him, she was always on his side whether he was right or wrong.

 

When Hugo arrived home complaining about someone where he had recently gone to work, his mother consoled him saying that he was too sensitive to be understood by the rest of the people. On those occasions Hugo’s father tried to understand what the offence or injury towards his son could possibly be. Hugo’s father told him that it was all the fruit of his imagination, but it was useless. A man is powerless against such a mother protecting her prince. From that moment on, Hugo’s father didn’t want to know any more about him and left everything in his wife’s hands for good or bad.

I was witness to several scenes between the three of them and saw the triumphant looks that passed from mother to son, just at the moment when the father said nothing and left the room.

In a spoilt child’s voice Hugo said to me, “You can’t possibly understand the love my mother has for me, I’m her only child and she wants the best for her little boy. It’s natural she defends me but I see, Sebastian, that you don’t approve. Perhaps it’s because you haven’t had such a doting mother.”

I never spoke a single word about the subject. What he and others never got clear was that at times an intelligent mother will let her child receive physical and psychological blows. On the other hand there is the kind of mother-love that is nothing more than trying to eat up their own flesh. There are mothers who treat their sons like princes, and in extreme cases like gods.

 

When Hugo was dating Lucia, one day she told me, “His mother treats him like a little tin god. It’s sheer idolatry.” Poor Lucia! She was going to suffer so much, before, during and after the affair for being a mere mortal and for having fallen in love with such a one.

Just the same as a god from ancient times, Hugo was going to change the world. “I want everyone to be the same. We must share everything in such a way that there will be no more hunger in the world.” These ideas were expressed before a group of his acolytes in a very loud voice and in a bar. His way of speaking was very convincing and at times he admitted to me that he practised gestures and facial expressions in front of his bedroom mirror.

Hugo’s friends were a pale reflection of him, they had the same psychological patterns but without his strength. They were his faithful disciples. Whatever Hugo said or did the rest followed along without thinking. When Hugo had a new haircut the others did their best to copy it. If Hugo took a dislike to someone the others did too. The adoration and faithfulness shown to Hugo by his followers went far beyond that normally found in people.

 

Hugo put up with me because I was useful to him. I had an art gallery and knew eccentric and peculiar people, so he saw me as someone a bit special. I met him when he was trying to be a painter, but even he realised that he lacked perseverance, which is what all artists need. He didn’t paint too badly, but it would have been asking the impossible to expect him to carry out an order. His mother told me off, “Sebastian, my boy [her boy was then twenty-five years old] has to feel inspired, if not he is unable to paint. You seem to me to be very hard on him.”

“Madam, I have a flourishing business and I want to keep it that way. But if a painter can’t carry out the work by the date established, I’m not going to excuse him to anybody. If I did I’d lose clients. So you can say to your son that I know a lot about his nocturnal adventures. In his case, inspiration isn’t what is lacking but a decent timetable. If anyone wants to get on in life he has to have some kind of order in his life.”

“But my son has the right to have a good time,” moaned his mother.

“Yes, as long as he hasn’t got any other obligations.”

Hugo’s mother left the gallery and I have no idea what she told him. A few days later he came to the gallery with the painting finished. It had been done well. Then what was it that was wrong with him?

“Sebastian, this is too much for me, painting for a fixed amount of time every day. A timetable for me is a killer. I don’t feel like painting, so I’m going to leave it for the moment.”

I didn’t answer him, but ‘the moment’ lasted for the rest of his life as far as I know.

Girls were like moths attracted by a flame. He left them all very badly burnt. Hugo was a born lady-killer. As soon as he had made the decision that a certain girl was to be his, a series of events occurred with only one end in sight – the surrender of the chosen one in Hugo’s arms. Exchanged looks and non-stop phone calls, if there happened to be the slightest sign of approval from the proposed victim, then flowers and an invitation to dinner arrived. During the entire process of conquest Hugo could never have been as young or as clean. Clean of suspicion as well as physically. At times the one he fancied took no notice of him and then two things might occur: Hugo abandoned the chase, or, he went on pursuing her until she finally gave in, and then he left her alone to ask herself what she could possibly have done wrong, or cursed men in general. He had no shame in chasing the girl friend of a friend, but as they knew what he was like they were not easy prey. Once, when he had behaved like a real Don Juan after chasing and possessing a woman I knew, I asked him, “What’s wrong with you Hugo? Why do you flee from women after having them?”

Hugo stared at me with that air of his that said I didn’t understand anything, and then he spoke to me as if I were a child. “Sebastian, the reasons for my actions are obvious. I leave them because they are no longer of any use to me. They don’t want to do anything for me. They are superficial and think that they can conquer me with their bodies. Poor things. What I’m looking for is affection, understanding, devotion to me.”

I looked at him for one long moment, “And what are you going to give this perfect woman in exchange for what she must give you?”

Hugo was not at all put out and answered “Well, I’ll give her my love.”

I never believed it then and I don’t now, and said, “What you are looking for is a second mother.”

Hugo took on his air of superiority. He had always done that whenever he found himself in a situation that he didn’t like.

 

I had known Lucia a long time before. She used to come by the gallery to gaze at the paintings that I had on show. At that time Hugo was in full flow. Along with his faithful followers he had formed a type of political party. According to Hugo it was really an association to clean up the city and make it a more attractive place. One afternoon Hugo came into the gallery looking for me, which meant he wanted a favour. He made use of people as if they were a piece of machinery for one specific job. He wanted me to let him put some posters up on the gallery doors announcing the setting up of the association. I told him I didn’t want anything that wasn’t to do with the artistic world placed on the doors, but if it was all right with him he could put some up outside in the street beside the doors.

Lucia came up to me and asked me about Hugo.

“He’ll be back in a few minutes and I’ll introduce you to him if you like.”

She didn’t answer me and left the gallery, it was obvious she didn’t want to waste time or let him escape.

I stood watching for a while as they were chatting outside in the street. They entered the gallery some time later. Hugo said, “Lucia has been helping me stick up some posters and now we’re going to have a drink.”

Knowing Hugo and his methods I wasn’t surprised, I only hoped that she would come out of the meeting unscathed.

Much against my will I found out about Hugo’s, Lucia’s, and the rest of the group’s deeds. I held onto the hope that Lucia would have sufficient intelligence not to let herself be seduced by him. Among Hugo’s friends there was a young woman named Carla. Till Lucia’s arrival in the group Carla had gone unnoticed. On seeing how Hugo treated Lucia, Carla began to behave in such a manner as to make Lucia look silly. When Hugo saw what was happening he was highly amused.

The association that he had founded was functioning quite well and so Hugo started to get very restless. The search for a new distraction had begun. Hugo’s father hardly spoke to him as he was so disgusted with his son for being unable to keep himself in employment for more than a few weeks. Hugo’s mother gave him money from her savings, from his father he received nothing.

 

He went in for flying. He had once seen a light aircraft piloted by an old school friend and got in touch with him to find out how to get into the flying school. And so once again with his mother’s money and consent Hugo won.

Hugo felt at home flying above all that was on the ground below him. He soon knew how to pilot a light aircraft. Lucia came to see me at the gallery. “Sebastian, I’m afraid Hugo’s going to have an accident.”

“Have you told him?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

“Yes, I’ve told him but he takes no notice of me. What’s worse is that his mother’s always on his side and says I’m a wet blanket. There’s Carla who enjoys going up in the plane and doing silly things with him.”

I could see what Lucia was suffering by the look on her face but I was impotent to help her. I tried to console her. “You know what he’s like, and it won’t be long before he gets tired of flying. Don’t worry.”

I wasn’t at all concerned about Hugo killing or injuring himself. The effect he had on others was what worried me more. If Hugo was a danger to himself, how much more was he a danger to others. There was another reason why I said nothing to Lucia. She had fallen in love with him and my criticisms were out of place.

Lucia thought that Carla was one of the best looking girls she had ever seen. Kind Lucia couldn’t see in Carla’s face with her blue eyes and golden curls any sign of badness. Carla was jealous of Lucia for having won over the group’s head. Lucia was an intruder because she didn’t really belong to the group. The others got used to her, but Carla wanted to destroy her. Every time Carla got up to one of her tricks, Hugo just laughed it off. Hugo never saw the danger Lucia was in at Carla’s hands.

 

Weekends saw them flying higher and higher. Hugo took Carla and Lucia up and did what he could to frighten them. One trick was to switch off the engine and head the plane in a vertical line towards the ground. When they were uncomfortably close to the ground he switched the engine on again. Carla loved all these crazy things but Lucia panicked.

 

One afternoon Hugo was in the gallery and I asked him how things were going.

“Better than ever. I fly every weekend with Lucia and Carla. D’you know how to fly?”

I said I didn’t know.

Hugo was speaking more for himself than for me. “You don’t know what you’re missing. Sensations are much stronger when you’re high in the sky. I’d like to fly higher and higher till I can touch the roof of the world, that must be the most exciting.”

“I’d rather keep my feet on the ground. Flying is for the birds and for pilots and those who have nothing else better to do. Experiences like that are a bit superficial, don’t you think?”

Hugo wasn’t listening to me, his mind was on other things.

 

Lucia decided to speak to Hugo’s mother about her son’s behaviour. Poor Lucia! Hugo’s mother told her that she wasn’t the right girl for him, that she was a pain in the neck.

“Your son is in a dangerous situation wanting to fly higher and higher. He also does silly things with the plane. It’s a miracle we haven’t already been killed.”

It was almost impossible to talk to her, it was as if she were talking to a rock.

“My son knows what he’s doing. You sound like his father, he also had his doubts about Hugo’s flying. Well I have no doubts, and it’s my word that counts.”

After that conversation Lucia, very saddened, came to see me, and we both knew that she was going to give him up. I gave her to understand she could count on me for anything.

 

I knew absolutely nothing about any of them for quite a while. Then I was told about how Hugo decided to go and fly in a new place. Lucia was the only one who wasn’t keen on the idea. The chosen place was high and rocky and Hugo wanted to see it from above. Lucia was worried that he might try one of his sillier tricks while up there. Nobody took any notice of Lucia and got down to preparing for the trip. Carla trying to get closer to Hugo said, “I’m like you. I’m not afraid of flying. If Lucia’s afraid she shouldn’t come, she’ll spoil everything.”

Hugo was the height of masculine vanity, and since he had realised the rivalry between Carla and Lucia he took every opportunity to see the two trying to manipulate him. “I want Lucia with us, I like her, she’s friendly.”

Carla never agued with him about his decisions concerning Lucia. “It’s your decision,” she said, smiling at him.

Hugo answered her, “Yes, it’s my decision and you know I like her.”

Hugo should never have said this to Carla. It was a silly mistake and showed his lack of understanding about another person’s feelings.

 

On a sunny, winter Saturday morning they all arrived at the chosen sight. A light wind was blowing, Lucia said, “Hugo please let’s leave it for today, the wind is too strong.”

Carla laughed, “Are you afraid?”

“Yes,” Lucia answered.

Hugo seeing the situation between the two women was tense, only fanned the flames more. “We’re going to fly with or without wind. That’s what we’ve come here for. I don’t feel like going home yet.” Then turned to Lucia, “You needn’t be afraid. You’re with me. You’ll see how you like flying over new ground.”

Lucia just stared at him.

Hugo’s plane was the first to take off. Lucia and Carla sat behind him. Carla waited until they were at a good height before starting to torment Lucia. “Look how high we are,” and pushed Lucia, forcing her to look down.

Hugo was euphoric. He was enjoying every moment and knew nothing about what was happening behind him. Carla seeing that everything was in her favour attacked Lucia and tried to frighten her by trying to unfasten Lucia’s seatbelt. Hugo was still flying and Carla asked him to do one of his tricks. “Lucia doesn’t like them,” Hugo responded.

“But I do,” Carla answered when she was messing with Lucia’s seatbelt.

“Carla, leave my seatbelt alone. I’ll fall out!” Lucia cried out.

But Carla, animating Hugo and at the same time annoying Lucia, took no notice of Lucia’s words. The light aircraft began to somersault above the hostile, rocky landscape. Hugo’s eyes shining as if he had a fever, only thought about the challenge of flying there, the wind was getting stronger and slowed up the plane. However, Hugo felt more alive in that moment than he had ever felt before. Carla and Lucia were fighting, and Carla was pulling at Lucia’s hair. It was as if the danger of the moment had woken up the darker side of Carla’s personality.

Lucia screamed, “Hugo, please go down, I don’t like this flight at all. Carla, leave me alone!”

Hugo just did as he pleased and flew for quite a long time. On landing he observed Lucia’s face, “What’s wrong?”

“Ask her,” was Lucia’s reply.

“Carla, what have you done to Lucia?”

“I haven’t done anything. She looks like that from fear, nothing else.” Carla was very sure of herself and lying didn’t cost her anything.

“Lucia, Carla says she hasn’t done anything to you.”

Lucia replied in disdain, “If she says she did nothing, then she did nothing.”

Hugo seeing that all was well, told the others he was going to go up again, but the wind was against him.

 

Lucia told Hugo’s mother all about what had happened but she wasn’t interested and nor did she even believe it. In the end Lucia decided to leave Hugo, which made him furious. Who was she to leave him! Carla was happy on hearing the news. His mother said to Carla, “Lucia was not the right girl for Hugo, she was too independent. She would have taken him away from me. On the other hand you’ll never steal him from me.”

 

Some days later Carla and Hugo went flying in an even more dangerous place than before. The news that the plane had crashed was not unexpected. The two were slightly injured but they were both keen to go back up. We all knew that it was an omen.

 

Having reached a high level as a pilot he then went in for climbing. For nothing more than that the climbing clothes favoured both him and Carla. On one of his sporadic visits to the gallery he told me, “Want to know something, Sebastian? Mountaineering is where one feels really free. Free from the ties of this world. Carla loves it too, to feel the fresh air on her face, to see the precipices down below and the sky above us.”

He was becoming rather like a backward child, and instead of maturing he was going backwards – even maybe towards madness.

“Aren’t you going to ask about Lucia?” I asked, just to change the subject of the conversation.

“Lucia disappointed me. She’s like all the other girls. They don’t want to do anything interesting. They want to tie me down to a fixed timetable and responsibility. Those things don’t interest me.”

“Hugo you’re not so young now to be doing these mad things. You’re over thirty, but even so, you still think as if you were eighteen. You still think you have the hair and the waistline of then. It’s about time you stood in front of a mirror and saw the real you for once.”

Hugo appeared not to have heard me. It didn’t matter. I was more than fed up with him, with Carla, and of all his friends, who were just as silly as him. I had sheltered Lucia after her experience with him and I had proof of how sad and pitiful he had made her. I didn’t want him to leave in a bad mood, perhaps because I felt there was something tragic about him. I always wanted to help him, in spite of his negative attitude towards me.

“What does your mother say about your mountaineering?”

He had always enjoyed talking about his own things. “My mother says if I’m happy that’s all that matters. She wants me to be happy.”

“Have you gone back to painting?”

“I haven’t had time, even though I’m not short of ideas. You know me. One of these days I’ll surprise you.”

“Yes, probably. Please excuse me, Hugo, I have some calls to make.”

“That’s all right. I have to leave too. See you around.” And he went out into the street.

I had lied to him because I had seen Lucia on the other side of the street and I wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation between her and what was almost just a bad memory. I hoped that more time would pass before she would see him again.

 

Some days later Lucia and I bumped into a friend of Hugo’s in the corner pub, with quite a few drinks inside him. We were on our way to have dinner. Lately we had become very close. He saw us in the mirror and beckoned to us. He saw Lucia and said, “Did you know you did well to leave Hugo?”

“Why? What’s happened?” I asked, so as not to put Lucia in an awkward situation.

“Carla had to go to hospital.”

“What’s he done to her?” I asked.

“He made Carla go climbing with him. It was getting dark when they were coming back, Carla tripped on a rock and broke a bone in her right foot.”

“How is she now?” I asked.

“She’s at home with her ankle bandaged up and walking on crutches. For the moment she doesn’t go out.”

“What about Hugo?” I asked.

“He’s set his sights on another girl. One he met at the gym.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Friends who have seen her at home, told me, they have no reason to lie. Carla was very badly bruised and groggy at first.” The friend added, swallowing back some of his whisky. He went on, “Some think he may have pushed her.”

“I don’t see why?” I said. “She’s crazy about him. That wouldn’t make sense.”

“Well, it might make sense to Hugo. You know what he’s like. He always has to be different. If a girl’s mad about him then he might go a little bit against her to see how much she loves him.”

I felt Lucia’s hand on my arm and I sensed what must have been passing through her mind.

“Would you like to drink with us?” I invited him, but with no interest in continuing the conversation.

“No, thanks. I’ve already had enough. Another time.”

After the door had shut behind him Lucia spoke for the first time in the bar, “Poor Carla.”

“Why poor Carla? After what she tried to do to you.”

“Sebastian, Carla adores Hugo as if he were the only man in the world. You don’t know what he’s like.”

“I’m sorry, Lucia, but all I see is a man who thinks he’s superior to everyone and everything else. He does nothing, he’s never worked in his life, and from somewhere he has the idea that he’s someone who is unique. He’s dangerous, Lucia, and you know it. If it’s true he tried to push Carla down what might he be capable of doing next.” Lucia never argued with me about Hugo and his friends. She felt sorry for Carla because she, Lucia, had freed herself from Hugo, but Carla didn’t want to or couldn’t. Their destinies had crossed and they had to finish together.

 

Lucia and I had a very quiet time together.

We thought about getting married one of these days. On asking Lucia to marry me, I saw her face lose the last shadow left by her association with Hugo.

 

But then something happened that made her remember it again. Carla had forgiven Hugo, and his mother said that it had been a misunderstanding. What was she going to say when the next victim was his own father? Hugo had got himself into a real mess, he owed money to his own association because he had been borrowing from the funds to finance his own personal expenses. His mother’s savings were not so abundant as to run to large amounts, and Hugo, the wolf he was, needed more and more. To make himself look good he had paid Carla’s hospital bill, and given her a new fur coat.

 

The other members of the association had organised a meeting for the end of the month to examine the accounts, with the next campaign in mind. Hugo didn’t have time to look for the money and so he asked his mother. His father overheard everything. “You’re not going to give him anything. He’s no good, he’s lazy, not fit for anything.”

Hugo had stood up and his mother said, “The boy needs money and it’s our duty to let him have it.”

“Boy! Help him! What stupidities are you saying? It’s about time he helped us. You mustn’t give him anything.”

“Well, I’m going to give him what he needs.”

Now his father was furious, “I know what I’m going to give him.”

Hugo stood in front of his father and pushed him. “You’re not going to give me anything. If my mother wants to give me money that’s her business. And now shut up.”

The elderly gentleman, who had spent nearly forty years living with a spoilt brat faithfully, became brave. “This is my house and you can leave right now. I’m fed up with you.”

His mother said, “What are you saying. Where’s he going to go? He can’t go by himself. He needs me.”

“Then go with him.”

At that moment Hugo said, “You don’t speak to my mother like that.”

His father responded, “Listen, kid, I’m the man of the house. Got that clear?”

Hugo reacted by hitting his father. Before his mother’s eyes he was on the brink of killing her husband. “Hugo, stop!”

“But, Mum, he insulted you. I’m going to teach him a good lesson. Meanwhile get the money ready.” Hugo started laying into his father as if he were a punch bag. There wasn’t a part of his body that didn’t get battered and bruised by Hugo’s feet or fists.

The old man never had a chance and ended up in hospital.

Hugo’s father never received any visits from his wife or his son. In spite of all her efforts his mother was unable to get together all the money he needed. Carla couldn’t help him, and her parents didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

 

I got a call from Hugo’s father to go round to see him. I stayed with him while he picked up his things as he didn’t want to be there on his own.

“Where are you going?” I asked, seeing him packing a large suitcase.

“Far away from here. My wife no longer loves me and she’s always on Hugo’s side. I don’t fit in here at all. I’ll get a divorce, because I just want to be free from those two. You understand me, don’t you?”

“Yes, I understand.”

I drove him to the airport where he caught a plane for a destination as far away as possible from his wife and son. I promised him I would never give this information to anyone, not even to Lucia, and I have kept my promise.

 

Although the members of the association were faithful to him they were as money-minded as Hugo. The accounts were taken to an expert for examination who discovered things were not as they appeared to be at first sight. A new meeting was held, Hugo was of course at the head of he table all affability. What Hugo was incapable of understanding was that people can put up with silliness and even cruelty but nobody likes other people’s hands on their money. Hugo got arrogant when his resignation was demanded.

“You can’t do this to me. I’m the founder.”

“You alone, no. We all contributed to its founding. You are not essential. We can continue the association without you,” said Rafa, who was one of the co-founders.

“But without me, it just wont be the same. I’m the most important.”

“Perhaps you are partly right. It will be a bit different but we aren’t interested in divas here. So, now you know,” Rafa added.

“First of all you insult me about the money and then you throw me out. Well, you’ll see how the association goes nowhere without me.”

“It’s a risk we are willing to take,” said Rafa, wanting to close the meeting.

Hugo left the meeting with an anger that was on the point of exploding into madness and got into his car. He drove around without any pity for any other driver or pedestrian, using them to vent his anger on.

 

Hugo was in a bar one night. I had closed the gallery and had stayed behind to catch up with office work. Lucia was at home waiting for me. We had got married discreetly a couple of months before and we lived in the suburbs. He rang me, or otherwise I would probably have never seen him again.

 

“Sebastian! How are you?”

He was in a good mood. “Hello, Hugo. And Carla?”

He had put on weight, and now more than ever he had the face of a mummy’s-boy, used to having everything he wanted. “She’s well. Have a drink?” It was more of an order than a question.

It was then that I decided to say nothing about Lucia and me. “Yes, a beer, please,” I answered. Poor Hugo, if he had been more like a human being, more manly, I’d have felt sorry for him. “Still living with your mother?”

“Yes, she’s the only woman who understands me.”

“Carla doesn’t understand you?”

“No. Only Mother does. She has never let me down. You know my father left us, don’t you?”

“I heard something about it,” I tried to change the conversation. “What are you doing now?”

“I’m still with mountaineering, and I’m thinking of going to mountains that are further away and higher. There are some peaks around that are worth the effort. Have you never climbed?”

“No, I prefer to be sure of where I’m putting my feet.”

“Sebastian, you’re a coward. You don’t know what you’ve missed.” He had a strange look in his eyes which shone just thinking about the risk, the danger, the emotion of not feeling safe.

I finished my beer and looked at my watch. “Hugo, thanks. It’s been a pleasure but I have to go.”

Hugo stared at me, now no longer interested in what I might have to say. “Sebastian, you will hear about me, when you see my photo in all the newspapers because of having climbed one of the highest mountains.”

“I hope you manage to climb without anything happening to you. Who are you going with?”

“With Carla. She’s as excited at the prospect of the challenge.”

“You’ve got everything well prepared, haven’t you.”

“Don’t worry. We know what we’re doing. You don’t need to make too much preparation or else it loses the magic before even starting out.”

“Good luck. Goodbye, and regards to Carla.”

“Goodbye, Sebastian.”

For just one moment I was tempted to tell him that he was too heavy and out of condition to carry out such a climb, but he wouldn’t have listened.

I didn’t tell Lucia that I had seen Hugo. I wanted to keep her happy and protect her from that baby-faced monster. At night and on the following days, I often thought about Hugo, Carla, and the mountains.

 

“This is going to be the best thing I’ve done,” exclaimed Hugo.

“What about me? Don’t I count for anything?” Carla was disappointed . All the glory of the difficult climb was going to fall on Hugo.

“Carla, don’t be jealous. Hugo always talks like that. You know he loves you,” Hugo’s mother supported him unconditionally.

Carla didn’t feel well and on hearing these comments from Hugo changed her mind, “I’m not going. I feel pretty bad. I think I’ve got the flu.”

Straight away Hugo burst in with, “What you’ve got is fear. It’s your problem. I’ll go alone.”

“Don’t you want to wait till I’m feeling better?”

“Look, Carla we organised this date some time ago. Don’t think that I’m going to change my plans. I haven’t got the flu. So you’re staying, and we’ll see each other when I return.”

Carla turned to Hugo’s mother, “What do you think of that?”

“Hugo’s right. Carla, he doesn’t have to wait for you to get better.”

“I’m going home. Ring me on your return. You know how eager I was to go with you. You never play straight, Hugo.”

Carla opened the front door said ‘goodbye’ to mother and son and left.

 

“It’s better you go alone, then you wont have to share all the honour.”

“Mum, do you think Carla will come back?”

“When you return as a hero, you’ll see how quickly she’s back at your side. Don’t worry.”

 

Something in Carla’s hard heart had broken. What a cheek he had after being together so many years, he couldn’t wait till she was better! From her sick bed Carla rang several phone numbers till she got the required answer. That night, Carla received the first of many visits from a new admirer.

 

Inside the refuge hut Hugo had spent the night dreaming of how he was going to change his life after reaching the top of the mountain. It was a pity he had fallen over that afternoon. His right ankle was swollen and painful. It didn’t matter, there was only a small bit left to climb before reaching the top of the world. He thought, “Mum is going to be so proud of me; and my father, wherever he is, will know what he has missed. Always saying that I am a useless, good-for-nothing. He’ll have to eat his own words.”

 

The next morning fog covered everything. Visibility was bad. “What a nuisance! It doesn’t matter. I’m going to try something, however little it is. I have to do it. With such a fog my effort will be even more remarkable,” were Hugo’s thoughts. He climbed up bit by bit, but the rocks were rough and it was extremely cold. He was unable to see anything unless it was touching him. Without realising it, Hugo had distanced himself from the trail among the rocks.

“I’m really flying at last!” And landed.

 

The fog lasted a couple of days more. When, at last, rescuers were able to get to Hugo, they found him dead.

From then on his mother was attired in funereal black from head to toe, telling all the world what an angel he was, how good, and what a hero. Hugo’s father kept silent and never appeared.

For Lucia’s sake, I didn’t attend the funeral.

The local newspapers showed photos of Hugo’s baby face in the coffin and his mother alive and in good health, no longer had to fear that she would lose him to another woman.

Carla and the others didn’t attend.

To tell the truth I didn’t recognise anyone in the photos. I didn’t keep any. The newspapers were used to light the fire in the fireplace, and I stayed watching them turning black and spitting acrid smoke as the firewood began to burn.

Later that evening, Lucia and I had dinner quietly with the fire for company.


Submitted: April 04, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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