“One more step and I am going to wrap this around your head.” Freda slammed the shovel into the dirt of the corral. “They’ll never find your body in the campo.” Freda’s voice was reaching hysterical levels and the mules whinnied nervously. Jim turned on his heel, The corral fence gave an ominous crack as his boot connected with it. Freda shouted at his retreating back, “Carry on, just wreck the place why don’t you. You complete arsehole!”
Jim didn’t break his stride, but stomped up the drive. Freda watched him leave then turned to soothe the mules, their ears flat on their skulls. The dark mule was sweating and nervously skitting around the corral.
“Come here girl, shhhh. It’s OK.” Freda stroked the mule’s neck; she could feel the muscles twitching beneath her hand.
Freda sighed and walked into the house. Her unfinished house; the house that Jim had lost interest in when he had the first feelings of failure. The economic downturn had been the final nail in the coffin. He drank more, and so did Freda. The arguments spiralled, escalated, discharged into the Spanish sky, the idyll myth exploded, and then the mid-life crisis: a pathetic tattoo and flirtations. It was infantile behaviour as far as Freda was concerned, he had to go.
Sitting on the verendah, cigarette in one hand and a full glass in the other, Freda stared out across the campo. The rise and fall of the mountain slopes changed with the shifting light, shadows highlighting ridges and hiding dips, the perspective continually changing with the passing of the sun. Across the face of the slope to the right of a coral a shadow rippled. Freda turned her head to the sky and out of the light of the dying sun a vulture circled. Slowly, with no perceptible movement of the wings the vulture slid across the campo sky. Freda followed his idle procession until he faded into a distant dot.
Freda couldn’t immediately place the noise that pierced her consciousness and roused her from her wine induced slumber on the sun lounger. The second bout of whinnying shot through Freda and she leapt to her feet, as the dogs started to bark. In the corral stood Jim, with beer can in one hand, a slight sway to his upper body like one of those toys with anchored feet that became disjointed when you pressed the spring beneath it. He was muttering at the mules, waving his can at their faces, whilst they moved around him. The dark mule was wild-eyed, covered in sweat and frothing at the mouth.
“What are you doing, you idiot?”
Jim unanchored his feet and weaved between the mules, gesticulating at Freda. “I’ve come to get my mule, bitch.”
“You’re drunk. Get away from them.”
Jim tried to stick his fingers up at Freda and dropped his can of beer. “Now look, my fucking beer…” Jim bent to retrieve it; like a puppet with tangled strings his balance was precarious.
A crack resounded around the valley like a pistol shot. Then silence, except for the laboured snorting of the mules. Freda stood in a trance. The sound of a mule crashing to the ground brought Freda from her reverie. Lying on its side, eyes rolling back into its head, foam flecks gathered around its nose and mouth. Freda lay next to the mule. A slight breeze lifted the fine orange dirt of the corral, covering them with a thin veil. Pulling the phone from her pocket, Freda dialled the vet’s number.
“Mario, it’s Freda. I think one of the mules is dying.” Freda’s voice became thin and reedy.
“I’ll be there as quickly as possible. Keep her calm.”
Mario found Freda cradling the mule’s head. He confirmed the mule’s death. Carefully extricating Freda from her frozen embrace, he half carried her into the house. He found the brandy and poured Freda a large one as she sat silently at the kitchen table.
“Stay here, drink this, I’ll cover her.”
Mario found the second mule in her stable, nostrils flared, a little anxious but otherwise OK. Everything looked in order. He pulled a sheet from his van and covered the mule’s corpse. The sun had broken cover and was continuing its steady climb in the firmament. The flies were gathering, otherwise it was going to be a fine October day.
“Where is Jim? I see his car is here.”
“Gone. It’s just me now.”
He poured her another generous shot of brandy.
“What do you want me to do with the mule? It is horrible to think of, but, they always want bodies for the vulture’s feeding station.”
Freda nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ll call them. They will not be able to collect it until tomorrow morning. Is that OK?” She nodded. Mario left her with her third stiff brandy.
The vultures circled. It smelt different. They descended and worked at the soft flesh, already starting to decay in the heat. The gash in the mule’s belly opened easily and they tore at the pork-like flesh that lay within.
The translator held Freda’s hand. “They found his remains, what was left after the vultures…they found him in the vulture feeding pen. Why do you think he was there?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he heard about his mule.”
“The coroner thinks he died from a blow to the head.”
A long wail escaped and the tears spilled down her cheeks. The police officers looked at her slight frame shaken by grief. They shook their heads and moved toward the door. The translator rose, squeezing Freda’s shoulder.
“What, what happens now?” Freda squinted through tear swollen eyes. The translator turned to the police officers and after a rapid exchange, smiled back at Freda.
“They will call you when they release the body. They think he was drunk, went to the feeding station and knocked his head when trying to climb in. He wouldn’t be the first drunk Englishman to die doing something stupid. It was bad luck. I’m sorry. We’ll go now.”
Freda stared at the closing door and lit another cigarette.