It’s time for our third summer holiday vignette. Here’s Belén Paccagnella to tell you a little bit about her story.
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This piece is an adaptation of a series of vignettes I wrote for my second story, Paper Jam, which was posted in 2003. The idea for this story came during a fishing trip to the Paraná River, in Entre Ríos, with my now ex-husband and my three-year-old daughter. We camped on the bank of the river and had a wonderful time fishing, grilling, and just enjoying the beauty of this generous land. The scenery, the untamed wilderness of Argentina’s Mesopotamia, inspired me to write this story of a “savage” Elizabeth Bennet and the excessively British William Darcy. Enjoy!
Mate: infusion made from Yerba Mate, usually served in a rigid gourd also known as ‘mate’.
Bombilla: metal straw for the mate.
Dorado: native fish from South America
(All temperatures are centigrade.)
Into the Wilderness
“I don’t know why you insisted on buying a new truck.” Elizabeth leaned back against the comfortable seat of the Jeep Renegade they had picked up from the dealer just that morning.
“Because we need a more comfortable vehicle while we’re here,” William said calmly. He knew how much Elizabeth loved her old Ford F100, but the 1992 vehicle was too outdated for his taste.
“My old pick-up works pretty well, you know.” She sulked. “I drove that truck for years, and it never broke down on me. My dad gave it to me when I turned eighteen.”
“I know, babe,” he said with a sigh, knowing she was not going to drop the subject until he enunciated all his reasons. “And it’s a great vehicle. I just don’t want to get a tetanus shot before getting in a car.”
Elizabeth shot him a dark look then smirked at his teasing. “You already took all the vaccinations that exist before travelling here. You’re such a hypochondriac.”
William smiled. Indeed, he did: tetanus, yellow fever, dengue, diphtheria, and another for an unknown disease. Elizabeth’s immune system may be accustomed to South America’s microbiological fauna, but he wasn’t going to risk a stomach flu on their first summer vacation together in her hometown of Pueblo Brugo.
“I wouldn’t mind driving it if the air conditioner worked. It’s like thirty degrees out there.”
Elizabeth laughed. “You’re right. It can get really hot here in the summer. Jane said they had temperatures over thirty-three last week, so I guess I can do with a little air conditioning.”
“Why, Mrs. Darcy!” William smirked. “Already losing some of your former savagery?”
“I guess your ‘Britishness’ is already rubbing off on me, Mr. Darcy.”
His eyes met hers in a diverted smile. “I doubt it. You’ll always be a savage to me.”
After two hours of driving through the deteriorated roads in the province of Entre Ríos, they finally arrived at Arroyo Largo, the Bennet farm, located on the outskirts of the town of Pueblo Brugo. There, they were greeted by the Bingleys, who usually lived at the farm during the weekends, and Attila, Elizabeth’s dog, who had to stay home because of his advanced age and England’s strict quarantine laws. Elizabeth was sad to leave him behind, but she didn’t want to confine him to a flat in London either. Attila grew up in the wilderness of Entre Ríos without fences or limits, and that was how he was going to end his days.
The two couples met with the affection that usually follows a long separation. Elizabeth and Jane talked often on the phone; so did William and Charles, but there was nothing like catching up with a cold beer and enjoying the best asado the province had to offer. His time in Argentina had made Charles an excellent griller, and he welcomed the other couple with a feast of meat and innards that was the envy of any parrillero in the region.
“Oh, I missed you!” Elizabeth hugged her dog and allowed him to lick her face. “Did you miss me? Of course you did!”
William chuckled. Standing on his hind legs, Attila was as tall as Elizabeth. He eased the dog from Elizabeth’s shoulders and lowered him to the ground. Attila’s tail wagged enthusiastically as William patted him on the ribcage. “How are you, old hound? Still the terror of the females?”
Jane rolled her eyes. “You don’t know the half of it. Two weeks ago, we heard the neighbor firing his gun. First we thought there were cattle rustlers, but then we saw Attila running towards the house and realized he’d been ‘courting’ his collie.”
Elizabeth gasped and scolded the dog. “You didn’t! Didn’t mom teach you anything?” The dog sat and curled his ears, looking at her with guilty eyes. She grabbed the dog’s snout and squeezed him. “You stud, you can’t help it, can you?”
“Apparently, he can’t!” Jane laughed. “Half of the puppies born in the neighborhood have a strong resemblance to Attila. We’ll soon be invaded by oversized dogs.”
“So, how’s married life?” Charles asked as they sat on the porch, drinking mate.
William smiled dreamily. “Perfect, wonderful. I’ve never been so happy in my life.”
“Yeah, yeah, you look fine. And Liz, is she already adapted to London life?”
“It was hard for her at the beginning. She was missing the farm and Jane and even her work. But then she attended a few seminars, and we began looking for a new house, so she is a bit busier now. She’s also going for an interview at Kew Gardens when we return home so, hopefully, she’ll start working soon.”
“Any plans for these weeks?” Charles poured some hot water into the mate and passed it to William.
He grabbed the mate and sucked from the bombilla. “Liz wants to go fishing, and perhaps we’ll go to the Iguazú Falls for a couple of days…we just long for some rest.”
“You came to the right place.” Charles smirked. “This is the quietest place in the world.”
“I’m not sure it’s the quietest,” William spoke over the loud buzzing of the cicadas, “but it’s certainly the hottest.”
Two days later, before sunrise, William and Elizabeth loaded the Jeep for a three-day fishing trip. Their plan was to drive a hundred kilometers north, up the Paraná River, to a virgin forest where they could camp and fish some dorados. Elizabeth, an expert in camping and outdoor activities, was in charge of the preparations and loaded dozens of items they would need for these days in the wilderness, which included, William noticed with certain apprehension, an enormous amount of bug repellent. William wasn’t sure they might need so much stuff, and Elizabeth’s nonchalant “just in case” didn’t put his mind at ease. Once everything was ready, she called Attila, and made him jump into the back seat.
“Is he coming with us?” William was puzzled. Not that he minded the dog going, but he thought they would be on their own.
“Who knows what we’ll find out there.” Elizabeth walked around the jeep to the driver’s door. She sat behind the wheel and talked to the dog over her shoulder. “You’re mommy’s bodyguard, aren’t you? Yes, you are! Don’t drool over the new car, okay?”
Attila’s wagging tail tapped the seat, ears curled as Elizabeth rubbed his massive head. William, on the other hand, was more and more concerned about what this trip might bring.
Elizabeth drove the Jeep up the freeway for about sixty kilometers. They reached a roundabout, and she took a left turn onto an unpaved back road that cut through the forest. They drove for about an hour on the narrow dirt road, the Jeep jolting and shaking on the uneven terrain.
“Are you sure this is the right way, love?” William observed his surroundings.
“Yep.” Elizabeth was concentrating on the road. “Just a couple of kilometers and we’ll be there.”
Those must have been the longest “couple of kilometers” in William’s life. The road was slippery, and the Jeep skidded out of the track a couple of times. Elizabeth, however, didn’t even flinch and expertly drove the four-wheeled vehicle through the mud. Grasping the seat firmly, William inwardly prayed that they wouldn’t get stuck. He really admired Elizabeth’s driving skills, but he knew no one would come to their rescue if they fell into a pit.
The forest cleared out, and suddenly, they were at their destination in front of the Paraná River. The river was quite wide there, densely forested on both shores with a great variety of native fauna that didn’t seem bothered by their arrival. A family of capivaras were nibbling the grass some twenty meters upstream, and several herons and coots grazed the waters, searching for insects in between the aquatic plants and the roots of the partially submerged trees.
“This place is incredible.” William got out of the truck and opened the door for Attila.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Where’s the camping area?” He looked around.
Elizabeth sent him an odd glance. “Here.”
“Here?” There were no traces of civilization around. Not even a wooden hut. Nothing, nada. “Without a restaurant, electricity, or a bathroom?”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth’s eyes had that mischievous glint they always had when she teased him about something. “I told you we were going camping.”
“Yes, but you didn’t say we’d be in the middle of nowhere.”
“Come on!” She gestured around her. “This place is perfect! We have the river over there, and we’re on a hill, so there is no risk of flooding.”
“Yes, but not this time of the year.” She began unloading all the stuff.
Without saying a word—and still trying to figure out how it was that he managed to get himself into this situation—William helped his wife set up the tent. Once everything was ready, and the heat of the midday became unbearable, they sat in the shade to eat the cold lunch that Elizabeth had prepared for them. William thought it wasn’t that bad after all. A little wilderness wouldn’t kill anyone, and if he ignored the massive insects and the scorching temperature, the place was quite pleasing.
William rose and stretched his body. “How ’bout a short nap, hon?”
“Excellent. It’s too hot to do anything else.”
“You said that the nearest house was half an hour away?”
“A little less if you go through the forest.”
“Do you think they will allow me to use the bathroom?” he tentatively asked with an urge that had become impossible to ignore.
Elizabeth snorted. “I don’t think they have one.”
This was something he had been dreading since they left the house. He didn’t mind peeing behind a tree or washing his hands in the brownish waters of the river, but baring his white English bottom in a jungle full of snakes, bugs, and who knows what other hazardous creatures was something he didn’t feel comfortable with.
“Where’s the closest gas station?”
“About thirty kilometers away.” She cocked an eyebrow, then huffed and turned to get something from the bag. “Here.” She gave him a roll of toilet paper. “You have two hundred square kilometers of bathroom around you.”
William had no other choice but to comply. “You’re such a savage!”
“And you are so…English!” Elizabeth snapped back. An instant later, she was laughing at him. After all these months of happy marriage, the insult he threw at her the day they’d met had become a term of endearment and she was perfectly fine with him calling her that.
“Attila, come boy!” William patted his leg. If he was going to do this, he’d better take a bodyguard with him. Who knows what he would find out there.
The dog just sat next to Elizabeth and wagged his tail, letting him know where his loyalties lay.
“Traitor,” he muttered.
“Good luck, sweetie!” she chanted as he walked away.
William returned from his inevitable “expedition” a little more in sync with nature. The experience was somewhat traumatic, but once he became used to the idea, he began to relax and enjoy the wilderness around him. He napped inside the tent and reveled in his laziness until it was time to drink mate.
The rest of the afternoon was spent fishing. Dorados were plentiful in that particular spot, and Elizabeth was lucky enough to catch one so large it almost dragged her into the water. Dorados often put up a good fight, and this one was the dream catch of any angler. They reeled it in together, and Elizabeth gutted it for dinner.
The sun set on the horizon. Elizabeth lit the kerosene lantern she brought from home and lit the fire to grill the fish.
“You know there are things that were invented so you don’t have to start a fire in a hole on the ground or risk burning your fingers—and probably the entire forest—with an ancient kerosene lamp,” William observed as she piled up the wood and used the lighter to set it aflame. When she ignored his comment, he pressed on. “Are we even allowed to camp here?”
“A friend from school is a local park ranger here. He told me we could stay for as long as we want to as long as we follow the rules.” She fanned the little bonfire until the flames were strong enough to burn on their own.
“Which are?” William was certain they had already broken a few. His earlier expedition was surely one of them.
“One dorado per person, no hunting capivaras, and no disturbing the turtles. It’s mating season.”
William’s eyebrows arched up. “Right.”
They ate the fish under the moonlit sky. Bathed in bug repellent, they shared stories about camping, and Elizabeth relayed her adventures in the wilderness of Entre Ríos. William’s anecdotes weren’t nearly as interesting, and Elizabeth teased him about his lack of expertise in outdoor activities.
“What kind of child were you?”
“A very boring, civilized one.” He chuckled.
Elizabeth laughed. They continued to eat and chat until the conversation was interrupted by a strange sound.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh.
“What’s that?” William asked, intrigued and slightly alarmed.
“I didn’t know turtles could produce sound.”
“Not usually. But they make this noise when they are mating.”
The Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh continued.
He stared at her, eyes wide. “They are…?”
“Shagging. I told you: it’s mating season.” She ate the last bite of fish and licked her fingers one by one.
He was amazed. It had never crossed his mind that turtles were so loud when mating. William silently listened to the turtle’s love song while his mind conjured up some pretty wild fantasies about the turtle’s sexual behavior. He checked the time. Five minutes. No wonder they were so slow when walking.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh
“This guy is taking his time, isn’t he?” William smirked, his dimples appearing.
“They are turtles after all.” Elizabeth smiled.
The sound soon became louder, now mingled with another one. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh tk eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh tk eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh tk. Clearly, the shells were knocking against each other.
“Someone hit the jackpot!” William snorted, and Elizabeth choked on her juice.
He checked the time again. Twelve minutes. What was even funnier was that the sound turned louder and high pitched but it didn’t increase in frequency. Then, it suddenly stopped.
“Wait.” Elizabeth raised her hand. “Sometimes they stop to rest.”
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh
“Bloody hell, I have to see that.” William rose and grabbed the flashlight.
Elizabeth ran after him. Giggling, they followed the sound and tried to find the horny couple but it was fruitless—the shrubbery was too dense—and they returned to the site laughing hysterically. William put his arm around Elizabeth’s waist and gave her a long, sensuous kiss.
“Tell me more about turtles’ reproductive habits,” he murmured.
“Let’s go inside, and I’ll show you.” She glanced at him from under her lashes.
They stumbled into the tent while discarding their clothes. But their activities were cut short when they heard noises outside the tent. This time the sound had nothing to do with mating turtles.
William froze when he heard Attila’s menacing growl. “What was that?”
“Nothing.” She grabbed his face and kissed him. William didn’t oblige, too distracted by whatever was lurking around the camp.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr The sound could’ve frozen hell.
“There is someone out there.” William said, truly concerned.
“I don’t think so, Attila would have…”
It was then that they heard Attila’s furious bark. The dog ran away, chasing after something, and his growls mingled with the shrieks of a boar in what seemed to be a fiery battle. Only a few seconds later, the sounds of the retreating pig faded into the night, and Attila returned to his post next to the tent.
William was in shock. “What the hell was that?”
“A wild boar, probably.” Elizabeth didn’t seem worried. “You’re not afraid of pigs, are you?”
“You just said a wild boar.”
“Pig, wild boar, it’s the same,” she teased him. “Can we carry on, please?”
William sat and ran a hand through his hair, still trying to process what to him was a near-death experience. “I’m sorry, love, but I don’t think I can do this right now.”
“Oh, come on.” Elizabeth knelt in front of him and ran her finger down his chest. “I’ll make you forget everything about that pig.”
“I doubt it. I’m seriously traumatized.” He played hard to get.
“Really?” She nuzzled his neck.
William felt goose bumps stirring all over his skin. He didn’t think he would be able to hold his indifferent façade for too long.
“Not even if I do this?” She leaned closer and said, “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhh eeeeeeeeeeeeehhhh,” mimicking right in his ear the sound of the horny turtles.
William exploded with laughter.
“Why, don’t you find it sexy?”
He grabbed her, and they fell together over the inflatable mattress. “Sexiest thing I ever heard.”
Embraced and in love, they fell asleep, lulled by the noises of the forest, their rest only disturbed by the love song of the turtles in heat.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh.
What do you think of this contemporary summer holiday? Do you like that the idea for it came during the author’s fishing trip to this location? Darcy was in for some surprises, but it seems he adapted to the rugged life. We would love to hear your thoughts.
Remember that you can still comment on the previous two vignettes if you have not already done so. All comments are open until one week after the posting of the last vignette.
Belén Paccagnella’s First Release