We had some Spanish students staying with us in September and their description of where they lived reminded me of our visit to Almeria, supposedly the driest place in Europe. I wrote this flashfiction after that trip.
By this time, the river that had become a memory, then a story, then a myth, had become a dream. The rich alluvial earth on the valley floor, patterned by jagged lines of deep crimson and dull jade, was so different from the light sand of the higher slopes. It was enticing to the villagers fed up with scraping a vegetable patch out of scrapes of the desert. It took only the application of water for the deep soil below them to yield crops of tomatoes, courgettes, asparagus, peppers. Enough to eat and sell as well. At first allotments were tentatively staked out, but soon there were huts for the Summer, then houses and, why not? A hotel in its majestic flowering gardens, perfumed by wild rosemary and eucalyptus.
For the tourists were coming. More than the lone back packer who had strayed there in search of the real. At first they came in cars, then coaches, until an airport was built not far down the coast and another hotel was needed in the bed of the river that had become a memory, a story, a myth and then a dream.
There was a Fiesta each year when folk would dress up as all kinds of watery animals and mythological creatures. A River Princess was chosen to wear a beautifully embroidered cloak of every tone of blue and green. Why? the tourists asked, this is the driest, the hottest corner of the continent. It's the tradition, explained their guides. Our ancestors did this to ensure our two days of annual rainfall. Ahh, said the tourists.
It was Frederico who first noticed the difference. The keeper of the town's solar power plant, he welcomed the visitors there every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. He proudly showed them the explanatory DVD, the model of the control room and, his greatest joy, the demonstration area. Here the sun's energy, concentrated by mirrors, lit up coloured lights, span sparkling wheels and heated water to boiling point. Ahh, breathed Frederico's little gaggle of guests and he smiled his generous smile.
Then the thunder storms came. "It's not normal," Frederico said to an English couple who had turned up for a tour. "This weather, it's not normal." With the heavy hail, the demonstrations could not be done, Frederico shook his head dolefully. He offered to show them the DVD, but only a few minutes in, a bolt of lightening connected with something electrical and the screen went blank. "It's not possible today," Frederico said, his brown eyes behind his round glasses as shiny as the paths he carefully tended outside. "You come back tomorrow and I show you everything for free. Today it's not possible."
The couple left laughing. Frederico could not see the joke. This was the fifth day this year when it had not been possible and it was not the rainy month yet. He talked about his worries to his wife, his lovely Almaria and she spoke about it to her mother, Cacendra, who was also the Mayor. And being the Mayor, she cared deeply about the town, knowing it built its reputation on being, above all, hot and dry. She was also the owner of the oldest, most expensive of the two hotels. She shook her head and said to her daughter that she must not encourage Frederico in repeating his nonsense.
Frederico took little notice of his mother-in-law. A trait which Almaria viewed as fearlessness, and it had been this which had eventually endeared him to her despite his portly shape and the mop-like tangle of dark curls on his head. He continued to voice his concerns to anyone who would listen and some even took him seriously. If there was more rain, there would be less visitors, perhaps some of the more precarious roads would slide or houses would slip. Should something be done? The Mayor listened and nodded. She paid for experts to be consulted, some said one thing, others another. She encouraged her electors to recycle and use more efficient light bulbs. But, after all, they were the only town on the continent to be solar powered. What else could they do? There were times when she heartily wished Frederico would talk less or that her daughter had instead accepted the local businessman who had tried to woo her. No-one thought of the river that had become a memory, a story, a myth, and now not even a dream.
So three years passed. The corner of the continent with 363 days of sunshine counted seven, then ten, then fifteen days of rain. And the river came back.
At first only a trickle beneath the houses, insinuating itself into cracks, widening fissures, gathering the faint whiff of sewerage as it went. A stream appeared in some people's back gardens, the hotels' lawns were soggy even when left un-watered. It was welcomed, this unassuming, playful dewiness amongst all this dryness. Miniature water-wheels and pottery frogs fishing were added to flowerbeds and the tourists took all the more photos.
There was a flood, once, out of season, shifting mud, trees, cars and the less stable buildings at such a speed, everyone was afraid, for a while. Then the sky cleared and the debris was tidied up, carpets replaced, the smell neutralised and the visitors welcomed back.
So it was one day Frederico begged and begged Almaria not to help at her mother's hotel and his wife found it easier to defy her husband than her mother. And it was that day the river which had become a memory, a story, a myth, a dream, became a river once more, then a torrent, then an unstoppable wall of water spewing before it a slurried mass of roots, tangled metal, broken concrete and unidentifiable carcasses.