The Dia de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, happens on October 31st. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Our cemetery in Deia is tiny and, on that day, it’s filled with people cleaning their ancestors’ graves, with children playing while their parents polish headstones and arrange enormous bunches of flowers, usually marigolds and roses.
When night falls, the cemetery is bathed in the light from hundreds of candles placed around the graves.
The lady in black
For many years, a woman dressed in black would appear at the cemetery every Dia de Muertos with a small bunch of marigolds. No-one knew her name, we never saw her arrive or leave and no matter how closely we watched her out of the corner of our eyes, we could never see which grave she went to.
It’s strange but, although I remember the woman as beautiful, I really couldn’t tell you what her face was like nor how old she was. Her clothes were simple but very elegant. Actually, she reminded me of Ava Gardner who, as you may know, used to come to Deia to visit Robert Graves.
The only thing we can all agree on is that the mysterious woman wore a magnificent antique ruby ring on her wedding finger.
Mystics, artists and muses
You must always bear in mind that what may strike you as somewhat strange is not at all unusual for Deia. This place has always attracted people of a rather mystical inclination as well as poets, musicians and artists searching for muses and drama.
We pride ourselves on taking all the weird and wonderful things that happen here in our stride. While we were intrigued by the lady with the ruby ring, none of us would have dreamed of approaching her or, heaven forbid, attempting to engage her in conversation.
Year after year she came and, year after year, I watched her from afar and wondered.
My friend the painter
Back then, my best friend in the village was a painter, a South American fellow. From Montevideo, I believe. Unlike a lot of the painters here, he avoided the bars, preferring to work all day and enjoy a glass or two of wine and a cigar in the evening. This was generally when I joined him. I can’t tell you what we talked about but we were comfortable in each other’s company.
My friend’s studio was filled with portraits of different ladies in various stages of undress, as they say. He was obsessed. They were all beautiful and he declined to say who they were. When a new work appeared it was always of a woman I’d never seen in the village and knew I never would.
Every night, after we’d taken our wine, we would end up looking at the painting which had pride of place in the studio. It was of an astonishingly gorgeous young woman, wearing a red velvet dress. This painting vibrated with energy. Even though he’d painted it, my friend was as mesmerised by the portrait as I was.
The night before the Dia de Muertos that year, I visited my painter friend as usual. Around midnight, I left him gazing up at the painting.
The morning after the storm
Later that night, a storm hit the village. The wind howled like a heartbroken mother. Clouds raced past the full moon. One of the palm trees that stood outside my finca snapped clean in half with a terrible crack. Tiles were blown off roofs and shattered on the rocks. That night, I don’t think a single person in the village slept.
Next morning, the Dia de Muertos, there was a kind of tingling in the air from all that electricity unleashed by the storm. The sea was the colour of rage itself.
The door to my painter friend’s house was unlocked. My friend was where I’d left him, sitting beneath the painting of the lady. There must have been thirty flickering candles arranged on the floor.
My friend was still looking up adoringly. But when I touched his hand it was cold.
I took care of what needed to be done, called the right people, signed forms. Afterwards, I was unable to close the door and walk away. I poured myself a large whisky and sat down in my friend’s chair. When I looked up at the painting, as I must have done hundreds of times, what I saw stopped my heart and turned my spine to ice.
The woman in the portrait had a magnificent antique ruby ring on her wedding finger. It had not been there the night before.
I stumbled to the open door and out into the sunlight, breathed in deeply and smelt a sharp, musky scent which was unfamiliar to me at first. And, then, on the step, I saw a bunch of bright gold flowers with a blood red centre.
The contents of my painter friend’s studio was sold at auction in Palma. I attended, in the hope that I might buy the painting of the mysterious lady but it was not in the catalogue. When I described the painting to the auctioneer, he looked at me most strangely and said he there was nothing like it in my friend’s collection.
October 31 2015