Fiction,  Stories,  Stories - S&L

The Visible Horizon


Olive and cork trees will dot the landscape. We will not fan wind into this image. Instead, we will ignite a blazing sun, tinting the landscape crimson, blurring the horizon lines in the fashion of southern memories. The stunted yellow grass will rest still. We will prompt a raven to shriek and burst the silence. We will place three little shepherds on their backs under a holm oak, name them Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco. For the sake of pastoral as well as literary coherence, let us surround them with a flock of sheep. The sheep are secondary to the story but may become a minor recurrent symbolic theme. We want subtlety of characterisation. We will portray the shepherds as poor, sharing among themselves olives and a loaf of rye bread.

The shepherds are young. Lúcia, the eldest, scarcely stands above the horns of the oldest ram. They exhaust their days frolicking in the shade, inventing a thousand games, rolling on the acorn blanket strewn over the land. We might be tempted to introduce a landlord into the picture, decades of intemperance spilling his belly over white pants, but we risk succumbing to the traps of melodrama, or worse, cliché. So let us restrict ourselves to the shepherds and permit them to lead the story in a manner only children will.


The sun, high in the sky, forces every creature to the rescue of shade. The sheep congregate in small clusters under the holm oaks. The heat is unbearable and even flies nap on the branches of the olive trees. The children finish the rye bread and entertain themselves spitting the olive stones in long lazy blows at the surrounding sheep. From their water gourd, they fill up the remaining emptiness in their stomachs. The effort of breathing seems excessive under the sun’s torrid weight. The children lie on their backs using the sheep for pillows. Through gaps in the foliage they stare at the sky and scrutinise the clouds for angels. This afternoon it is Lúcia who recognises Archangel Gabriel in the heights. Once discovered, the angel requires little convincing for the children to engage him in conversation.

“Archangel Gabriel, why do you lay so still?”

The Archangel sighs, hardly stirring a leaf.

“Oh… children, I rest, tired of roaming the skies in search of a pure spirit willing to listen to Our Lady’s word. Would you know of anyone?”

The children exchange puzzled glances and shrug. Then Francisco, the youngest, speaks.

“I’d try the green house over the hill where Ti Oslavo lives. Aunty says he’s a saint of an old man.”

Time passes.

The sun eases its glare on the land. The sheep begin to stir. The dangling of the sheep’s bells hypnotises the landscape. The children remain beneath the umbrella of the holm oak. Time stops. The outside world does not interrupt the repetitive patterns of landscape and bells.


(excerpt) ©paulodacosta1995

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The Scent of a Lie is a book of fourteen inter-connected stories, set in two charismatic towns in Portugal. Characters weave in and out of the intertwined stories, which can be read as a novel in fragments.

(2002/2012) – Paperback (140p) Format: 196 x 126 – ISBN: 978-0978184766

 MP3    Audio-Book (unabridged) Time: 4 h 14 m                  ISBN:9780978184773


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