blind man perched upon a rickety chair plays the flamenco guitar. One of his legs is crossed over the other and on this top leg his pants ride up, revealing a thin and dusty brown shin. His rope sandals, lashed to his cracked brown feet, seem barely attached and he sways the loose shoes back and forth in time to his music. I find his long yellowed fingernails to be grotesquely fascinating as he picks the notes from the guitar strings. Although he is not an attractive man I imagine these careful fingernails on my back, his music filling me, exploding inside. A shiver cracks through my warm skin and I am startled by the daydream’s lovely horror. He can’t see this shiver, my staring, the longing - he is encapsulated by his own melodious tranquility in the midst of the bustling dusty marketplace. I stand just two feet in front of him.
Although I want to dance, I am not properly prepared; I move on, wandering to the next enchantment - piles of colorful skirts strewn atop a makeshift table made from a chair, two plastic buckets and an old door. My husband, Louis, waves from a bench where he waits for me, drinking a Corona; his once pale skin finally tanned enough to blend into the crowd of natives. I motion for a few more minutes.
I admire a dancing skirt, music in the background, many colors woven into the ruffled and intricate garment. The old woman who made it smiles at me through her crinkled brown face. I see years of dancing in her body, remnants of songs on her lips that have passed through them centuries ago. Her kindness radiates from years of knowing. Every week I see her, captivated by her piercing gaze, shy of her penetrating vision. Today I finally buy one of her skirts, keeping my eyes lowered. She is pressing the sun-warmed fabric of the heavy skirt into my hands. She is saying, “Gracias, bonita,” and laughing. Her voice sounds warbled, like she is underwater.
Later, strolling down another noisy narrow wonderful market lane, Louis looks at the skirt I hold in my hands and smiles. “Going to take up dancing lessons?” he asks. Before I can tell him, he hurries over to Jesus and purchases the cradle we have just discussed while I watch, eyes squinting from too much afternoon sun. I notice that he doesn’t attempt to barter for this item, but eagerly presses a thick wad of pesos into the artisan’s hand. Beaming, loaded with purchases, we walk to the beach where our boat awaits.
To steady myself, I lean back into Louis’ arms on the return boat ride to our island home that we’ve named Bonita Vida. The small red skiff thwap-thwaps over the rough water; I have ceased to experience sea-sickness since we came here three years ago. So many boat rides to and from the mainland have taught me how to handle my body’s response to the ocean. Wrapping his arms about my midsection, Louis gently caresses my abdomen.
“Ballenas!” Yayo shouts, pointing to the water. He kills the motor and we strain our necks to see the whales passing through our neighborhood. A glistening black fin, then tail breaks the surface of the water in slow motion. I gape, captivated at the behemoth oracle, moving so slowly, yet with such purpose: to bear its young in the lagoon of the Sea of Cortez before venturing back north in the spring.
Yayo shouts a gleeful welcome, I suppose, and looks fondly at me while patting his generous stomach, “Como tu, no?” he asks. I smile.
Water buoys our boat, crashes on our beach, supports and grows the fish and crabs we eat. Peering deep down off the side of the paint-peeled boat, I can see no deeper than my fingertips with my arm extended down. To ride a whale, to feel its cold slick skin on mine, the strength of such a foreign, yet familiar, creature taking me deep deep into the ocean.
I can breathe still, passing feet of crushing water, safely adhered as a barnacle to my mount, seeing myriad fish, shells, plants. I spot a shipwreck, sticking three fourths out of the ocean floor. Tapping my whale to enter the wreck, it turns and glides through the rusty masts and pivoting downward enters the helm.
Inside the ship, it is as though the water has never reached the interior. Perfect wooden windows, clean and clearly exhibiting the sea life without; a chamber with a made bed and a sink, the shaving cream and razor laid neatly on the counter. Enter the galley where a meal is set on the wooden table, the silverware hovering a few inches above, as are the white napkins. I see a hat and coat floating at right angles off a coat rack, fingering the cloth I smell the tobacco and sea salt ingrained within.
My whale starts. Nearly sliding off, I grip my chilled fingers into its back in fright. A black inky murk infiltrates the galley, spreading towards us. I hasten the whale to turn around and swim away from this invading cloud. The whale is limp and drops to the floor of the galley. Panic engulfs me and I release my grip from the fallen creature. As I swim towards the whale’s face, I see one eye looking at me, sadly I think, and then it closes, never to reopen.
The blackness is seeping towards me. I swim away from the ever-spreading darkness and seek an exit from the ship. The clear windows, now hidden, offer no escape from their sealed sills. Unable to breath freely as before, I am conscious of holding breath that is fast running low. The air in my chest begs to burst forth, pushed up and out to my cheeks by the panic underneath. I have only a few seconds.
A passage up ahead. Looking back my feet are black and now my legs - I can’t use them, they are rendered paralyzed. Swimming fiercely with my arms, I grab the passageway door and pull myself out of the nether region of the ship. The surface is so far away. The blackness breaks forth from the doorway I exited only moments before and surrounds me. No longer seeing, perfect darkness all around, I find that movement is impossible. I cannot even indicate to myself that I am alive which is all I desire to know now before I die. One possibility remains to this end: I open my mouth and release the precious air trapped within my body screaming at the same time to push it out even quicker. I feel nothing, and hearing a faint gurgled “arrrgghhh” I am strangely relieved that I have died with the reassurance that I am with myself as I go.
Limp and drifting back to the deck of the ship, I strangely see myself from above the water, the clear outline of a whitish-green woman unable to sustain, motionlessly slipping away, hair waving about her face, arms and legs akimbo. My gaze refocuses to the surface where a fleck of red paint chips on the boat catch the reflection of the glinting ocean.
“Kira! Kira!” my name is called out, perhaps someone mourns for me. “Kira! C’mon honey, wake up.” Opening my eyes, I expect to see nothing but the black of the surrounding water. Instead I see Louis, over me in our bed, his hands shaking my shoulders. It was the dream. Of course.
Palm trees swaying under which I sit on a beach chaise and talk to a visiting friend, Armand; watching at the same time his wife, Alise, and child, Sam, play in the ocean in front of us.
“You live in such paradise, Kira. How is it that you could bear to leave for three months?” he asks with his slight accent, sipping from his glass a coconut and tequila concoction Louis invented.
I smile at him and reply, “Snow, I miss the snow I guess.” He is referring to the winter I spent back in the city with my family after it happened.
He sighs and reaching over to my chair takes my hand, “Kira,” he whispers, “I’m so sorry about your loss...” trailing off, he looks away, sheepish, frightened of the awkward intimacy that such matters bring to two people discussing such things.
Looking at his hand over mine, the hand of a father, a husband, a son, a friend offering support to those he cares for, I feel that I could write a poem about these hands. The fingers so long and smooth, the ends calloused from years of playing music, the palms which contain his life and death and number of children, the finger which wears his symbol of devotion to his wife. These hands grasping Sammy, these hands loving Alise, this hand holding mine.
“Kira?” he calls, squeezing my fingers twice.
“You have such beautiful hands,” I say, letting go. “Let me see your other hand.” He puts it forth, looking strangely intrigued. “I love the hands of my friends,” I muse, not caring that I may sound too poetic.
“What is it, Kira?” he asks gently, leaning forward at an awkward angle, allowing me to examine him. I drop his hands, giving them back, and I return to reality.
“Sorry, Mando. I lost myself there... I was thinking of how you must express yourself with your hands, how they were created so carefully, how they allow you to create.”
The intimacy is thick and strange, and we are within its time-suspended grasp. Armand stands to embrace me, placing his arms around my shoulders, he whispers into my hair, “You’ll create again, you will.”
My eyes are closed and I smell his earthy scent. It reassures me and I look up into his gentle face, “Thank you.”
“Hey poppa, look at me!” Sammy calls from the water’s edge. We pull apart like an amoeba separating into two halves, and shading our eyes we look to the ocean. Sammy is doing cartwheels in the water while Alise looks on playfully, apparently unaware of the moment Armand and I have just shared. Alise’s voluptuous figure sans clothing shimmers wet with ocean and sparkling with sun; she cuts a goddess-like figure, the mother and child at play. “Come down, you two!” she calls laughing. Armand, stripping off his shorts and t-shirt, runs to his family.
I settle back into my chair, forcing myself to feel happy and peaceful.
“Hi, sweetheart.” Louis hands me one of his drink creations, sitting down next to me.
“What’s for dinner?” I ask, touching his leg as he brushes past me, taking the seat formerly occupied by Armand.
“A little post-love hunger gnawing at you?” Louis jokes with an undertone of the green-eyed-monster showing through. If I had to choose one fault with Louis it would be his tendency towards jealousy. Perhaps this is why we live on an island. I look at him sharply, disturbed that he witnessed the beautiful and private moment I experienced with Armand and made it into something to mock.
“Louis, please, you know how I feel about Mando...”
“Do I?” he asks sullenly, now looking at his sandals.
Sighing, I grow weary of the explanation I feel he requires of me to redeem myself. I choose to forgo the words and instead kiss him.
“Sorry, Kira,” he whispers, “I know you two are close...”
“Yes,” I reply, feeling like I’m enclosed in a glass box, preserved and trapped within forever. People can see in, I can see out, but we will never touch.
“I just get, you know, stupid. Sorry.”
Down in the ocean, two naked figures embrace and fall back into the waves laughing and frolicking like children while a young nymph dances around them. It makes me sad and I go inside, smiling to reassure Louis, telling him I need a little alone time but will see him at dinner. He watches me go, forlornly, I think. Things have changed since it happened.
Deciding to take a bath and soak away this strange tension I am feeling, I step out of my sundress and draw the water into the ceramic tub. While the bath fills, I brush my hair, looking at myself in the mirror. I see the face of a woman who has no right to be sad, but her brown eyes are filled with such longing, such discontent. I look down at her tanned belly. Inside - empty, the being once harbored there flushed away so suddenly.
I want to sustain life, I think. I want to give and give and create and continue to make this place as perfect as possible. But what is perfection? Isn’t it only an illusion, created by people who need something to distract from their weary lives? And suddenly I feel this weariness and I am glad that the bath is full to engulf me in the clean water.
Leaning my head back on the edge of the tub I dream, like I have so many countless times before, of the three of us in this tub together. My hands swim out to uphold the baby’s head, making sure it doesn’t go under. He places one hand on my breast and one hand on the baby, caressing us both at the same time. I smile at him, I think how exceedingly perfect is my world and I laugh that all this belongs to me.
He leans over to kiss me and as he nears my face, I realize that the face belongs to Armand. It is only Armand and I in the bath now. I lean forward, taking his exquisite hands, placing them where I want to feel his experience. He responds, so gently. Those beautiful hands.
I have not masturbated for months, maybe even over a year. It is strange to make my own pleasure, to be completely in control of my own body’s responses. I slide deeper into the water, my ears half under, half over the water’s surface. I hear my own quickening breath, a lapping of water on my ears. Then I hear the door open to the bathroom.
I look up, over the edge of the water. It is Mando. Not sure if I am still lost in fantasy, creating such visions for myself, I say, “Mando?” quietly, allowing my hands to float up to the surface.
He stands in the doorway, then closes the door behind him, “Kira, sorry, I can come back...I had to...” But he does not move away, the door is closed behind him - he closed it, sealing us in, easing through the glass box like it is made of water.
He makes five steps to the sink, turning his back to me once he reaches the mirror. “Don’t, don’t get out,” he says, and I understand that he watches my reflection. I stay still. He says, “Kira, what you said, when you held my hands, I...” and he trails off. I remain silent. I see him leaning heavily on the basin looking out the window, down to the beach and then he returns his eyes to the mirror.
He shudders slightly and then says, “It’s nothing to do with Alise. Or Louis...”
“I know,” I answer, understanding this unspoken explanation for what we are in. He says, “You spoke to me so gently, no one has spoken to me like that for...I don’t know,” he sighs, faltering. “You made me feel whole.” And I wonder if the shudder I saw was him about to cry. I sit up high in the tub, ready to get out and go to him. “No, don’t get out. I don’t want to disturb you...here, in your peace. I just wanted to tell you that. And...thank you.” He walks quickly to the door and exits, closing it softly behind him.
I remain a few more moments in the tub, wondering what has changed, what remains the same. Moments ago I controlled myself, now I am lost, spinning out of control, still in the same water. It is growing cold and I shiver - more than a chill.
I get out, automatically drain the tub, dry my hair, draw it into a turban atop my head, wrap myself in a towel and walk to my bedroom. I can hear Sammy’s voice outside seeping in through the shutters with the sun, chattering about some mystery he’s just solved, something about how sand is made. Alise’s sparkling laugh responds to her son, and I hear Louis’ guffaw of amusement and he says, “Another one, Alise?” referring to her drink.
I do not hear Armand.
As I dress I remember when we met Armand and Alise. They were celebrating an anniversary at a mainland resort and we met at a cabana bar, one of our Saturdays in town. Before it happened.
We talked for hours and eventually invited them to come stay on our island, to finish off the remainder of their trip away from the tourist traps. They agreed, not reluctant at all to accept near strangers’ offering of hospitality, they were so sincere. This is why I liked them. Had their faces become unsure, their eyes averting ours when we invited them, I would not have liked them. But they responded with such delight that I immediately felt a kinship with these adventurers. Five days we spent together. It was such enjoyable ease, I never wanted them to leave. They promised to return as soon as they could get away from their lives in San Francisco, and they did. This visit marked their promise kept the third time over.
In San Francisco, Alise runs a small gallery showing art from Central and South America. Their anniversary trip, our initial meeting, was planned to coincide with an art scouting trip. Armand is a musician, a flamenco guitarist who plays with local dance troupes at night in small cafes but in the day teaches music at UC Berkeley. He is from Spain.
It was when we visited them in San Francisco for the first time that I became aware of this strange - psychic almost - connection I sensed deeply with Mando; it defied rational explanation. We had just finished dinner at a noisy tapas restaurant and we were headed to a flamenco performance where Mando was to play. Outside on the busy honking street, Mando and I were trying in vain to attract the attention of a cab driver, while inside Louis paid the bill and Alise used the restroom. He teased me that I had forgotten how to hail a cab and I said something funny about having a water taxi all my own, of course I would forget.
To prove him wrong, I leaned into the street to hail one and tripping on the curb I nearly lost my balance. Mando reached out and grabbed my arms, just under each shoulder, and righted my posture. My heart beating fast, I laughed and when I looked at him to make a funny face to dismiss my awkward moment, saw such a strange look in his eye that I said, “What is it, Mando?” He laughed cautiously and said, “I caught you, on an instinct. It surprised me - my reaction,” and indeed he looked bewildered.
We laughed it off, trying to avoid each other’s eyes - too much sangria and so forth. But I remember when I watched him play that night for the first time - I felt something new.
As his hands strummed the guitar strings with such vigor, his head of black hair punctuating the rich emphatic chords, with the guttural calls from the female singers behind him encouraging the stomping, passionate dance of the swirling skirted, remarkably magnificent dancers with their high heads and proud shoulders, I felt that I could love him deeply. When the dance and the music ended, I wiped tears from my eyes, swept away by the passion of the performance, the passion of my feelings. Louis remarked while we applauded, “Those Spanish sure do know how to make you feel!” And I nodded. He had no idea.
I reach for the dancing skirt in the back of my closet instinctively. The old woman’s face in my memory, she knew what I was going to do. I raise my head in the mirror, chin held high I stomp my bare feet on the tiled floor.
Emerging onto the patio, twisting my hair into a topknot out of my face, I see that everyone is seated about the table. Mando does not look at me, Louis does. He says, “Bathing beauty, how was your bath?” Alise turns her beautiful smiling face towards me, complimenting my skirt with her eyes. They all seem to be waiting for an explanation of my brief absence.
I didn’t tell Louis I was going to take a bath, he must know. But my hair is wet and my clothes different, and I frequently take baths in the afternoon to soothe myself from the heat. I exhale, trying to appear like their well-known wife and friend.
Tucking the end of my long hair into a bun to keep it from falling out I reply to Louis’ question with a smile, “Quite edifying, thank you.” Now Mando looks at me. Sammy pipes in with his little five-year-old voice, “What’s eddy-fying, poppa?”
Mando says, looking at his son at first and then back to me once again, “It means educational, enlightening, m’hijo,” I see a flicker of light pass his dark eyes as I sit down to a fresh cocktail a la Louis.
We talk late into the night, well after Sammy has fallen asleep in my arms. I stroke his hair and whispery-sing to him as he falls asleep; next to me Mando plays his guitar, a gypsy tune wandering from his hands, mingling with the night air and fire. Alise sits upon a rock with Louis rubbing her shoulders. Before he begins the massage she requests he looks to me quickly, as if for permission. I nod ‘of course,’ with a pinch of my eyebrows to indicate how unnecessary is his question.
He begins slowly, almost hesitantly, careful not to hurt. I know Louis has strong hands, I have stopped asking him to massage me since I found his touch too painful. I study Alise’s face for any sign of discomfort. She looks completely at ease with her eyes blissfully closed, even moaning once in awhile when he’d rub an especially satisfying spot. I watch Louis become more transfixed with his task. He kneads with commitment, only pausing to ask her quietly, gently, “Does that feel good?” and she moans gratefully or answers, “Oh yes, right there.” I feel no jealousy; I only wish that under his hands I could respond with the same pleasure.
I listen to Mando’s music. Closing my eyes, I picture those dancing women twirling, passionately aloof, sweeping across the stage like clouds, then stomping their heels defiantly to the ground, marking their presence. Soft, sharp, soft, sharp. The dichotomous flamenco music is the soundtrack of my life: at times it is a background caress and I flow, not wholly conscious of its rhythms, easy notes moving me along. And the times when the music explodes into frenzy I am stomping and yelling in time like I want to break things - vases, glass boxes, hearts.
I open my eyes and see that Mando is transfixed - by his own music perhaps - gazing at the fire. His hands seem not a part of him, moving of their own volition. I watch his hands, his fingers flick a loud chord from pinky finger to index - thlll-lummm - then his palm claps over the strings, silencing the music. Sammy’s baby body curls in tighter to my breast and I smell his breath. It smells like bread and apples.
After awhile, Alise says, looking at her sleeping son, “I should put him to bed.” Louis, feeling a sort of attachment to her after the massage, I suppose, agrees saying, “I’ll carry him in for you.” He takes Sammy from my arms, lifting him gently. Louis says, “I think I’ll hit the sack too. Goodnight love, enjoy the beautiful night,” and he bends down to kiss me on the forehead. I smile out of habit, “Hmmm, sleep well, darling, I’ll be in soon.”
I watch them retreat carefully to the house, after Alise says she’ll lie with Sammy to make sure he sleeps well. She bids goodnight to her husband. They disappear inside, leaving Mando and I by the waning fire, under the night sky which is astonishing.
I lay back on the sand, waiting to count the stars that fall. My record is forty-three; I am waiting for one, someday, to fall into my lap.
Mando lays back. I can feel his head near mine. “Did you see that one?” he asks excitedly, pointing after the shooting star in the general direction of the occurrence, now gone. I moan a yes, sounding agreement. We lay silently next to one another, hearing only the crackling fire, the waves lapping, and the breathing of one another.
Mando speaks, “Funny how we wear clothes when we are not swimming,” he says. I laugh quietly, “Yes, I know, we spend a good part of the days here unclothed.” He says, “Must be nice - to be naked so much, I mean.” I say, “Yeah, it loses some of its inhibiting presence after a while, you know with people around that you trust.” We are musing, allowed this privacy for the time being.
“Do you trust me?” he asks in a deep voice. “Yes, completely,” I answer. His hand finds mine and once again today we are entwined. I close my eyes.
I sigh, “Yes.”
“You trust me, you just admitted it, so tell me.”
“I can’t. It’s not fair.”
“To all of us. To you, me, them...Sammy.” And my stomach is aching, I feel such want inside of me, to tell him exactly what I am thinking because I know that is he thinking this too, but we can’t say it. To say it, to speak what we are thinking, of the same mind, would mean to make it real somehow. We cannot escape the permanence of language.
“Te amo,” he says quietly.
“Yo tambien,” I answer without hesitation.
In Spanish we get away with it. It is his native tongue, and my newfound one.
And after awhile, “¿Ahora que?” he asks. I have no idea, I wish I could offer some answer, some way to make this love make sense without hurting so many people. I see another shooting star, and another. We don’t point them out because we know the other saw them. There is no possible way. “No se,” I finally answer.
This Spanish, this communicating of this passionate amor I feel for him, he for me, is somehow like a dream. Like Bonita Vida, this paradise we created to escape real life, it sounds so much better, more fantastical in another tongue.
“¿Quieras nadar conmigo?” he asks, already standing, removing his shirt. I do. “Claro que si,” I reply, feeling airy and pure, welcoming the dissolve of the heaviness I cannot sustain.
We run down to the water, pulling off our clothes as we go. He is heading to the north, away from the house. I follow. Pulling out my topknot, I let down my hair. My dancing skirt is the last to go and I am naked, once again, but in an exciting way. I see his flexing buttocks as he runs ahead of me, his dark hair on his shoulders when he turns around to see if I follow. Of course I follow; yes, of course.
He pauses at the arch, where the rocks have been eroded away from underneath, forming a huge upside down “U” connecting the sand to the water. He splashes into the ocean. I look back towards the house. Far away I see a light go out. I cannot see my home anymore.
He ducks under the rocks to the other side where there is another beach: the raw unknown side of the island. I rarely venture beyond this point. He calls for me to follow. I duck under the arch, calling, “Where are you? I can’t see you.” He runs back, a few long strides in the water and grasps my hand. Again.
He pulls me down in the water so we are submerged. We swim for awhile. Occasionally he reaches out to touch me. Once his fingers brush against my breast.
“Let’s sit on the beach for a bit, yeah?” I steer in toward the shore. He is following close behind.
I feel my knees scrape sand and I stand. We walk awkwardly; he is behind me with his hands on my hips, touching me, guiding me. Under a little overhang we find shelter, a place to be, against the cliffs.
With extraordinary hands, he plays my body like his guitar, strumming notes on my spine, my legs, my arms. I feel new. We are getting away with this, I think. Comfortable lovemaking aside, I ache and burn and stomp and howl. A wild dancing creature not willing to be tamed, my lover not willing to tame me. He is outside me where, I think, he can only be for a little while. He is inside me where, I think, he has always been.
He is healing me.
Moaning, I cry out his name, “Mando,” and he responds, “Ah, mi Kirita,” and I want to be here, on this beach forever with him. Taking his hand into mine, I kiss his palm, each finger, and then I take the other hand and do the same. He says, “Si, kiss me all over,” and I do. I kiss his forearms, the soft, veiny skin up to his biceps, then chest, his dark brown nipples, he moans, and now his belly with the soft lush black hair covering it, I move down and take him into my mouth.
We are wet from the ocean, clean from the ocean, and he tastes like the ocean. I feel the sand beneath my knees as I move up and down like I am the flamenco dancer, the beautiful proud woman in the swirling skirt, and I dance to this rare music.
He places a hand on each of my arms, just under my shoulders, and pulls me up toward his face. We roll over and before I close my eyes in pleasure of what’s to come, I see two shooting stars, one right next to the other, falling through the sky in tandem, heading straight for us.
Shuddering once again, he calls my name louder and louder and I bleed his name from every pore in my body. I relax onto his chest and he holds me in his arms, stroking my back, my neck, my wet hair with his hands. For so long we lay like this. Unconscious of who we are elsewhere, of who we must return to, of whose beds we will spend the remainder of the night sleeping in, of the story we are writing. Only conscious of the gypsy night music.
I say, “I never want to leave you.” And then I find that I am crying. Sobbing because I wish that I could have this every night. I know that it is not possible, even if it was only us on this island, on the raw side of the island. Sobs because I never want to let him go, back to his wife, his son. Sobs for the little baby that I lost, that left me with the black engulfing nightmare for so many nights. Sobs for the man that I love, the one I married, that seems so distant now, so distrustful of my ability to create new life, to carry his child. Sobs for myself, for the girl I once was, the girl with the anticipation in her stomach for life and love; the girl who longed for great things - for lovers to feel this passion with, for myself to make such a beautiful life.
And I roll off of him, crying and I cannot stop. He comforts, “Shh, shh, there there, mi querida, mi bonita Kirita, don’t cry, I’m here, te amo.”
I reach for him and he engulfs me with his arms, moving through the sand to cover me, to shield me from all that I fear, from all that I cannot sustain. “Mando, love me,” I plead, for myself, for him. We need this. I think.
“I do, softly forever,” and I know that he speaks the truth. This is the only way he can love me. Here in the remarkable stolen night. I cling to him. I cannot bear to be without him.
Slowly my sobs subside, but he is still touching me, calming me, reassuring me. “I want to sleep here, with you,” I say, finding his mouth with mine. He kisses me, “I know, shhh,” he says, his lips moving over my lips.
Our clothes are on the other side of the arch, on my beach. On the Bonita Vida side. Here we are - on the raw side. He speaks, startling me with this question, “What are you thinking of?” he asks. I’m thinking of Saturdays at the market searching for perfection, furnishing our home, bringing back things, rugs, hutches, cradles still empty, mirrors, fruit, and so many other things we bring back to fill up our home, our hearts. But my heart is empty ever since that day.
“The day I lost him,” I begin and I wonder of whom I am speaking - of the baby or of Louis. I continue, “I felt such pain in my stomach, everywhere I felt it. Louis got the boat ready and we went to town. I saw the doctor, she was eating dinner at home, they had to call her away. She said it was her favorite meal, a Sunday meal - mole con pollo. I lost him on a Sunday.”
I am crying again. He strokes my hair, listening. “She came in and told me what I already knew. He was...” and I can’t say it, can’t say that horrible word. Mando says, “Dead.” He whispers it into my hair and I cry into his chest, nodding my head, thinking, dead, dead, dead. It was my curse, here on this alive island where I have never felt so alive - such a cruel and ironic joke. “And then?” he asks.
“And then,” I say, remembering the non-life I became as soon as I heard the doctor say something to her assistant, “muerte,” she said muerte and I thought it such a beautiful word, one that slips off your tongue too easily to describe such loss. Spanish was so deceiving.
“And then, they took it out of me, took him from me. It was quick, I had a drug, didn’t feel it. It was over quick.” I lean in closer to Mando. Feeling his breath on my face, he kisses my forehead. “We came back in the boat and the nightmare started. I ride a whale that dies, that leaves me at the bottom of the ocean and I die in my dream.” I gasp for breath, he traces my mouth with his fingers, “shhh, shhh,” he calms.
“I went back home for a few months, back to civilization, and I slept a lot and Louis didn’t come with me. He stayed here.” My voice rises, recalling that Louis didn’t want to come with me. When I needed him the most, he stayed behind in paradise, to deal with “his loss” which was really my loss in the deepest sense, a double loss - one person inside me, one outside. I could not sustain life and Louis taught me that I couldn’t sustain love either.
“When I was a boy,” Mando begins. I am so grateful that he is about to tell a story. I don‘t want to talk anymore. “When I was ten, my tia Maria died. She was not much older than me. She was nineteen.” He exhales and pulls me in closer. I am listening.
“She was sick for many days. Before she was sick she’d play with me, we’d go swimming, she’d take me to the cafes downtown and we’d listen to the music, to the flamenco.” He says flamenco with such quiet knowing. He caresses it with his mouth and I wonder if Spanish really isn’t deceiving - it is too sad to be beautiful, or too beautiful to be sad. I am never sure.
“One guitaristo, he was her lover, an older married man. She never told me, but I was certain because of the way he played when she was there listening to him. He used to look at her like she was everything when he played. And I knew, even though I was a boy.” He makes a little laugh and rubs my shoulders; I am shivering.
“Once, a few weeks before she died, before she was at home in her bed for weeks, we went to the café.” He sighs, perhaps heartbroken, or maybe is searching for a way to do his aunt’s story justice. I think he has never told anyone this before.
“The guitaristo, he says before he begins to play a new song, one he has wrote himself, he says it is for her, he, uh, he...” I say, “Dedicates,” and he says, “Yes, he dedicates this song to her, to Maria. Maria’s eyes are wet, I see because I am always watching her, she is so beautiful, I always watched her. And he plays the song and while he plays two men get up and leave. When he finishes, Maria’s eyes are full of tears. I am crying my little niño tears too, I want for her to be happy. I feel true love for the first time at this cafe, next to my beautiful tia. ” He stops, draws a breath and now I am stroking his back, coaxing more of this story from him.
“The two men return, with the brothers of the guitaristo’s wife. They pull the man from his seat and take him outside. Maria takes my hand and we hurry home. She cries all the way, never looking back. While she pulls me behind her and we hurry through the streets, I feel this urgency, this passion for something that cannot be, I know what we are running from is something immense, something we want. I trip, Maria picks me up in her arms and we run the rest of the way home. After that, she never got out of bed again.” He finishes his story and we lay silently on the sand next to one another. I can feel his heartbeat pounding, his breath coming and going from his body.
“I always wanted a love like that,” he says quietly, after awhile.
I know. I think how we want love to kill us, muerte, and it does. Are we only worthy of love if we lose something, put something at stake? At this moment I would stake paradise to be with Mando forever, but I know that this love is much more beautiful because like Tia Maria, we would die for it. Something has died for this, I think.
He is kissing me again, moving his hands and his lips all over me. I touch him. I feel that he is hard again and we make love once more. Soft, sharp, soft. This time it is more thoughtful, we move slower, we talk less, it is less frenzied. I truly feel him - what it means to be the lover of Mando, of the little boy that felt doomed love at ten, albeit vicariously, who cried for his tia. Why does love come too late? Or too soon, perhaps.
We finish. I feel peaceful and ready to begin life once again. Not as the escaping city woman of a few years ago who came here to regain her sanity, but as the young girl with the aching-for-love-and-life stomach. I know that this part of the flamenco is coming to an end and the stomping part will begin again soon. But for now, I am content.
“Mando, I will never forget you,” I say, wishing I could say something better to let him know that I would die for him. But I can’t find the right words. “Siempre, Mando,” I say truthfully, and he nods his head against my breast.
We return to the other side, gathering our clothes as we go. When we reach the house, we are fully clothed and we decide to sleep under the stars, to spend the rest of our night together, in seeming innocence - that we just fell asleep where we were left. We find our familiar body-grooves in the sand by the now extinguished fire and settle down.
The night is warm, penetrated with gypsy music, heavy with purposeful wandering. We count twenty-six falling stars before we fall asleep, his fingers grazing mine.
Copyright © Sarah Maria Gonzales 2003. Title graphic: "Sea Grape" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2003.