I don’t know if I have a typical story, but this probably isn’t it. It started when my wife asked me to tell her a story before bed one night. I asked her what kind and she said a romance. I’m not so good with extemporaneous storytelling so I eventually wrote it down. I tried the straddle the line between a Stephen Leacock-esque satire and a straight love story. You can tell me which side I came closer to.
The road up the mountain was hard and the stones cut into Catalina’s feet. Legend said that the monks of long ago had imported especially sharp stones from the Rocafilada region in the north, just to make the path especially pious.
Looking back on the valley she had left, Catalina brushed her lustrous dark hair away from her face, her olive skin gleaming with the sweat of the journey. Far below, she could see the village just starting its morning. Her family would have found her note by now. But there was no turning back now. Catalina was on a mission.
Her storm-swept gray eyes could just pick out the walls of the Casa del Jamón far above on the mountain peak. It looked the same as it had in her dreams. Picking up the edges of her brightly-colored skirt, she struggled on.
It was noon by the time Catalina reached the walls of the Casa del Jamón. They were covered with dead ivy that was grey and weathered but here and there, shoots of green showed through. It was like her heart, she thought.
“Hola,” a voice said from above her. Catalina looked up into the face of a man standing on the wall just above her. It was the hermit. His hair was long but his beard was trimmed and there was wisdom in his dark eyes. “Can I help you, señorita?” he asked.
Catalina could barely breathe. The words refused to come. How could she explain the quest that burned in her breast? “May I come in?” she asked at last.
“There is no door in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I bricked it up once I first came here. I never go out and no one ever comes in. That is my vow.”
“How do you find food or water?” Catalina asked. “Or clothing?” She looked at the man’s bare chest and bit her lip at the thought of what might be hidden by the parapet.
“I have a well,” the hermit said. “We are on top of the mountain, so it took the monks three hundred years to dig it. But piety is stronger than gneiss.”
“Nice,” Catalina murmured. “And food?”
“I have a flock of 24 miniature sheep,” the hermit said. “Their milk is so concentrated that three drops are enough to sustain me each day. Their wool is so dense that a handful is enough to weave a coat. They are my fluffy manna in the wilderness.”
Catalina and the hermit talked for hours while she sat and ate the lunch she had brought, and he milked a tiny sheep into an acorn cup and drained it in a single gulp. He told her how the hermitage had been a hammery centuries ago but how the owner had donated it to the Church after having a vision. Catalina’s own vision rose to her mind, but she did not speak of it.
By afternoon, dark clouds were massing in the west. “Are you sure I cannot come in?” Catalina asked. “It will be dark before I can reach the village.”
“It is not possible,” the hermit said. “Because of my vow.”
“I understand,” Catalina said. For a moment, their eyes locked and each tried to look into the soul of the other. Then Catalina turned away and started down the mountain.
Before long the wind picked up. The rain fell in sheets. Lightning split the sky and the thunder crashed and echoed off the surrounding peaks. Catalina picked her way carefully down the slope. Suddenly, her foot slipped on a wet stop and she was sliding off the path. With a scream, she fell over the edge and plunged into the dark ravine.
When Catalina awoke, she was warm and covered with a woolen blanket. It was dark in the room and the air smelled like sheep.
“You’re awake,” a voice in the darkness said. It was the hermit.
“Where am I?” Catalina asked. She knew the answer but could not believe it.
“You are in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I watched you as you went down the path. I saw you slip and fall into the crevasse. Then I was faced with a choice. Those few seconds seemed to take a lifetime, but I hurried to the storage shed where I kept the ladder for repairing the roof. I climbed over the wall and down to the ravine where I found you. I carried you back here.”
“You broke your vow for me,” Catalina said.
“It was God’s will,” the hermit said. “I vowed that I would stay here until God sent an angel to rescue me. That was you, I realized. This place has been shut up for years, like my heart, but now I will open it again.”
“I had a vision that I needed to come up here and set you free,” Catalina said. She felt the hermit draw near and then his lips were on hers.
“No longer will they call this place the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit whispered. “From now on, it will be known as the Casa del Amor.”