The woman and the volcano
I wanted to write something light and dark, something which could be read on a number of levels – rather like a Renaissance painting. Above all I wanted a return to storytelling.
Grace and Guido appear to be living an idyll on an island off the coast of Sicily. Sun, sea, tranquillity – a gurgling volcano… Heaven! But the reality is that their lives have been sublimated entirely to polite routine, all deeper feelings externalised into breakfast, lunch and dinner rituals; the gaps in between filled with work, sleep and the putting of ships into bottles.
Their barren existence is shaken by the announcement of Cousin Maria’s pregnancy; Grace stirs from somnambulism and her body reacts in a most unexpected way – she begins to experience spontaneous orgasms as the nearby volcano, Stromboli, erupts. What follows is the eruption of her own power – and the ways in which the men in her life – husband, business partners and her priest – try to claim it from her and make it their own – with varying degrees of success. Friends and acquaintances old and new couple and uncouple, while Grace concentrates on her relationship with herself. As she develops on a personal and professional level and her relationship with Guido evolves, she starts to believe again in ‘a happy ever after’. But life isn’t a fairytale, and she has rebuilt her illusions only for them to be shattered again. The way forward it seems is one which follows the road of low expectations and much compromise – but which can paradoxically enable a willing traveller ‘to have it all’ – whether they want it or not.
If you drink deeply from The woman and the volcano you will find razor blades in the cappuccino, sip and you can enjoy the froth…
‘As every morning, Grace was trying not to watch her husband Guido check his little silver pastry fork for smears. His black bird-like eyes running over the piece of cutlery as if it were a beautiful woman. He gave a small sigh of satisfaction upon finding it magpie-shining and proceeded to eat his slice of sweet breakfast-pastry, delicately savouring each mouthful by giving each forkful five, small chews. His spoon moved noiselessly around the coffee cup (transparent white bone china) for the mandatory ten times and was placed neatly in the saucer. Not a misplaced drop of naughty liquid anywhere. He dabbed at an imaginary crumb at the corner of his mouth with his neatly-pressed red and white breakfast napkin and moved his cup to his lips and his lips to his cup. The lips and the cup met and kissed briefly in mid-air before the cup was returned to its saucer. Grace placed a hand on her stomach to stop it lurching.
The morning newspaper was flicked with a snap into view and rustled unnecessarily two or three times at the financial pages before being re-folded and returned to its place beside Guido’s plate. The red and white breakfast napkin was returned to the table to rest on the other side of the plate and Guido silently moved his chair back, anxious to avoid any unpleasant scraping sounds on the tiled floor.
Walking into the hallway he carefully adjusted his thin navy blue tie. “Here darling, let me help you with that, it looks a little loose,” said Grace, as usual.
“No thank you dear, I can manage,” said Guido, as always.
He glanced at his immaculate black shoes to double check for any spots or blemishes, examined his face in the mirror for any unplucked eyebrows or unruly hairs in the carefully groomed beard, picked up his navy blue raincoat, folded it inside out and placed it over his arm. Finally, he picked up his black briefcase, which held nothing, turned and pecked Grace on the cheek saying, “See you at lunchtime darling.”
As the deft click-click of Guido’s footsteps receded, Grace ran back into the kitchen and picked up her used coffee cup, exploding it against the wooden crockery cupboard. This was swiftly followed by the transparent white bone china saucer. She looked at the fall-out for a short while and then she proceeded to brush up each and every sliver, until not a trace remained of her outburst of emotion. Thus ended the work-day breakfast ritual.’
The woman and the volcano, Bridget Atkinson, 2007. Awaiting publication. Copyright Bridget Atkinson.