Serena Burton is a shy and disillusioned young English woman holidaying on the Mediterranean island of Malta finds romance with the hotel manager, Luigi Coletti. She also finds herself deeply involved in the life of an elderly writer, Louisa Weston.
As Serena gradually discovers Louisa’s strange past she is drawn into a tangled web of hidden mysteries which are slowly uncovered, but at a high price…
A Tangled Web – Extract 1
“Not a very nice evening” said Mr. Coletti the hotel manager, when Serena approached the desk to leave her keys.
“I’m just going for a short walk before dinner,” she replied shyly.
“Better take an umbrella then.”
“I don’t think I’ll bother,” she laughed. “I won’t be too long anyway.”
She stepped outside and cautiously looked right and left before crossing the road onto the sea side promenade. Ominous dark clouds were gathering fast in the horizon and grayish blue waves splashed angrily against the white rocks, spraying her lips with salty droplets.
Serena was no stranger to this small Mediterranean island, but she had always come at the peak of hot and dry summers when the blinding brightness of the sky merged with the staggering azure blue of the sea. She never expected in a million years to find this sort of unremitting British drizzle soaking her hair through and through, nor an icy wind blowing on her face and making her eyes watery.
She looked in disbelief at the threatening sky and hoped the drizzle would not worsen. Forcibly she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and then walked briskly with her head down. She stopped abruptly out of breath and leaned against the silvery railings that ran all along in a wide bend. What on earth possessed her to come over here in the middle of this bleak and unusually cold winter? It was less than three weeks since she had that terrible row with Harry after catching him cheating with her best friend Susan. Seething with anger she broke off their engagement, but was so wretched and miserable that she felt like crawling in a dark corner or disappearing from the face of the earth.
A few days later, a stupid argument at work exploded into a major crisis. Full of hurt pride, she rebuffed any words of sympathy offered by her boss, and promptly resigned from her position as private secretary with a reputable industrial firm. She immediately moved out of her cozy little apartment in Putney and grabbed one of those last minute holiday deals to the island of Malta, where they offered travelers four weeks for the price of three. Perhaps the change of scenery would help her get over the emotional roller-coaster ride she was on. A relaxing getaway may lead to a fresh start. She had to try.
The promenade was almost deserted and the vast expanse of turbulent water was swelling under the blustery wind. Serena was so dejected and full of self-pity that her eyes filled with tears, but no matter where or when, the sea had always a soothing effect on her. Unlike a desert where its vastness and desolate emptiness exudes fear and wonder, the sea with its interchangeable moods of calm and rough had a mysticism of its own which for some unknown reason Serena was the most comfortable near it. And this kind of weather perfectly suited her present frame of mind.
Her tears were washed away by the rain and she tightly gripped the metal railing that ran the length of the promenade until her fingers hurt. She inhaled the fresh, revitalizing ozone bringing her back to life. Serena was about to turn back, when at a distance she glimpsed the shape of a man sitting on one of the rocks protruding into the sea at the base of the low cliffs beneath where she was standing. Against the darkening sky he looked more like a gray shadow, yet she could still notice a sort of naval cap pulled down below his forehead and a few shiny buttons glittering on a dark reefer coat.
Normally her first reaction would be to run in the opposite direction, but a compelling urge pushed her forward to that blurred figure, and her imagination started to run wild. Was he a seaman home on leave after a long exotic voyage? Or, was he simply a stranger who, like her, was taking a stroll, indifferent to the elements? The man seemed totally unaware of her presence and was focusing only on the foaming sea. The incandescent light of a pale moon came peeping through the thick clouds, and for an instant, two very dark eyes stared blankly back at Serena.
A gust of wind forced her to turn away and, when she looked back, the man seemed to have vanished. Had he gone down the other side of the rocks, or was her imagination playing tricks?
With a deep sigh, she tied her white woolen scarf firmly under her chin and resumed her brisk walk to the hotel just in time to change for dinner.
A Tangled Web – Extract 2
The coastal road leading to the coves of Wied-iz-Zurrieq, a small fishing village on the western side of the island, was very steep and narrow but the view from up there was magnificent. At one point he stopped the car so that Serena could admire at leisure the rugged landscape unfolding down below. She gasped with unexpected pleasure at the breathtaking scenery. Her cheeks were all pink from the freshening breeze and she looked absolutely ravishing. Luigi almost gave in to the temptation of proposing to her then and there. However, as he thought of his carefully detailed event to come he resisted and cautiously walked toward the bay.
“Bonjù” the old fisherman from whom he had pre-rented the boat, greeted them with a toothless smile.
“Good morning Salvino, are we ready?”
“Ready when you are sir.”
Luigi helped Serena into the boat and took hold of the oars. “We shall be about an hour,” he said to the old man as he started to row energetically in order to get away from the scorching midday sun.
As soon as they entered the cavern, the coolness of the rock walls made them feel more relaxed. The water appeared as smooth as glass and reflected like a mirror the brilliant phosphorescent colors of underwater flora. Luigi sat back unmoving and let the craft drift smoothly along.
“What do you think?” he asked with a smug gesture of grandeur as if he owned the place.
Serena bent over to cup in her hands the pure crystalline water and sighed on seeing how the water gave the appearance of being a pale blue hue rather than transparent. “You are right, it is quite spectacular.”
Luigi was fighting his anxiety and waited for the right moment to speak. He had purposely chosen a mid-week day to avoid the tourist crowd, but there were still too many boats around. He feared his romantic proposal would not work the way he had planned it.
Spotting a smaller, deserted cave, he casually rowed into it. A faint ray of sunlight coming through the arched opening revealed a multitude of tiny multi-colored crystals shining brilliantly on the wet walls. They seemed to mirror the diamond ring he had chosen at his father’s jewelry shop in Valetta several weeks earlier was burning a hole in Luigi’s pocket.
“It’s very beautiful indeed although strangely kind of spooky as well,” said Serena shivering slightly at the thought and experiencing a niggling tingle at the back of her neck. Luigi’s deep blue eyes seemed to grow darker and darker like a whirlpool in which she was drowning, and for a split second his face seemed to disappear and a gray shadow jumped out of the boat… With a frightening yelp Serena recoiled in horror and looked around as if searching for something in the water. She was shaking quite noticeably and vaguely aware Luigi was speaking to her as he moved position to sit next to her making the boat rock a bit.
“Serena! Serena! What is it? Have I offended you in any way?”
“No, no, I’m alright.” she whispered still in a daze.
He lightly touched her chin to turn her face towards him. “How do you really feel about me, Serena? You must know I’m in love with you. I thought you felt the same?”
“I don’t really know how I feel or where I stand right now, Luigi,” she mumbled still shaken by her eerie vision. “Things at the villa are not working out the way I expected, and I might very well decide to go back home after all.” She was stalling and she knew it, still determined not to make any commitments she might regret.
“We better go back,” he said reluctantly.
The journey to the villa was excruciatingly silent and unbearable. As they reached the gates of her new home Luigi leaned across to open the door rather than getting out and opening it for Serena.
“I’ll call you,” he said, then as soon as she had stepped out of the car drove off at high speed.
Serena stood on the pavement with a knot in her stomach. Why did she behave so stupidly when in reality she liked him so much? Would she ever see Luigi again or, had she lost the only true friend she had? She went inside with a heavy sense of foreboding. She didn’t understand why since arriving on the island she was beginning to experience such strange hallucinations from alleged apparitions at the rocks in Sliema to the ghostly image which had materialized out of Luigi’s eyes just an hour or so earlier. Should she perhaps see a doctor about it?
From the day she arrived on the island, her life seemed to have been taken over by a power beyond her control and she felt trapped within her own Calypso Cave. What was the meaning of all this? If by some inexplicable reason her destiny was to be linked to this tiny foreign land, was not Luigi meant to be part of it?
Viviane Elisabeth Borg (née Fleri) was born in Alexandria, Egypt on 15th January 1925 at a time when the Country was under a ruling monarchy which permitted a predominant European influence to flourish. This gave Egypt and Alexandria in particular a distinctive cosmopolitan and flamboyant lifestyle. Despite being born British of Maltese descent she had a totally Italian upbringing and received an extensive French education at the French Lycée. Being a great lover of poetry and literature she aspired at becoming a writer but her studies were cut short as World War II erupted over Europe. She married on 26th October 1946 and gave birth to three children. In 1952 her husband, Hubert, obtained a managerial position at a shipping agency at the small town of Port Said. They lived there happily until political disruptions between the Egyptian government and Anglo-French interests in the Suez Canal Zone resulted in military intervention. The result of the week-long conflict in 1956, which became known in history as the Suez Crisis, forced the evacuation of all European nationals out of Egypt. Viviane and her family were compelled to abandon their home and all assets and leave their country as political refugees. They set up a new home in London where they became a magnet for the rest of their family.
In 1997 she wrote and self-published a memoir entitled When the Wind Blows. Proceeds from the sale of the book were donated to Cancer Research in memory of Hubert who died of bowel cancer in 1989. Poetic Whispers a poetry anthology was published on Smashwords in 2013. A Tangled Web is her only other completed book. Viviane now resides in the south of France near Cannes.
Twitter: @ VivianeEBorg1
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