The Walls of Avila

H.E. Francis

Even the soul would shrivel in this heat. The stone wall radiated fire, the cobblestones quivered, Avila was a cauldron. But hadn't she come for sun and dry heat, away from the sea and the damp of Providence? She would bask here. Let her husband and the other prehistorians lie on their backs in the dank cave of Altamira trying to read those mystifying images which primitive man had painted on the cave ceiling. These walls were made by men too, stone by stone--she marveled-- this whole city. She touched the wall, but her hand recoiled at the heat.
She turned, too quickly, and swayed; and at sight of the man straight in her path, she thought I'm hallucinating, and closed her eyes an instant.
But he was there.
She was stunned. He might have walked out of her head.
Had he followed her from Madrid?
She was trembling. Her legs went weak. Groups of tourists entering the walled city from the new city came between them. She let herself drift. She could hear the voice of a guide, a tall dark heavy woman speaking English, but her blood was throbbing so violently she could not connect the words gate . . . Philip II . . . convent . . . sixteenth century . . . She could see only those eyes dark as pits with the glitter of moving water. Since yesterday she had not for a moment forgotten them. She did not so much remember--they persisted: all night she had not been able to sleep because of those eyes, and that hand. For a moment she thought she had escaped. It was too unreasonable. She had seen him only once in her life and for only a moment--and how little of him she had seen in the shadows--and yet she could not keep him out, he entered her mind at will, she found herself at every turn of the way confronting those eyes, that hand. You were always at the mercy of others. Your mind could not protect you from itself.
What's wrong with me?
But you know what's wrong with you, she told herself. Already she thought of him as the other--she had betrayed Brad, deceived him. All last night as Brad had talked of Altamira she was not listening; and when he took her, he was startled by what he must have thought was his own passion because--she did not know what had come over her--she had not only submitted, she had enclosed him, gripped, but closed her eyes and seen the other and, her flesh fired, gripped that man, bit her lips, and with frenzy imagined him till he was there, and spilled with such a madness that she had for an instant blinded herself to Brad, left him. "A week here by yourself," Brad said. You're sure you won't be lonely? You're not afraid?" "No, I won't be lonely. Or afraid. She wanted to be alone, she wanted to be alone with the strange overpowering memory of that man. Still, it infuriated. How could she give way to such impulse? Yet she felt no shame, a vague guilt perhaps, but at the same time a strange elation. She had never given Brad such a moment. She herself had never experienced such desire. After, from the bathroom, she had watched Brad lying in bed, so pleased, as if he had just discovered himself.
"Shall we go down to dinner?"
When they were dressed, she said, "You're packed and ready to go?"
"I haven't unpacked!"
It was nine. The dining room was already crowded but señor Izquierdo the gerente, a dignified little man, knew Brad was leaving for Santander and had reserved them a table for dinner.
"You will look after my wife while I'm gone?" Brad said.
Señor Izquierdo bowed and smiled. "She is in the best of hands. We will do all we can to make her stay memorable."
She lowered her eyes at his warm dark gaze.
"Brad, you never eat so much. And I've never seen you so excited. Altamira does wonders for you."
He laughed. "It might for you too. You're sure you won't come sooner?"
"And miss the Escorial, Avila and Toledo! Live in your cave. I'll take the sun."
In the dark of the taxi she anticipated it hot as a hand, that sun. At his train he said, "If you change your mind--"
"You! You know I'm not one to change my mind."
"But in a foreign city--"
"Won't you be in one? I'll see you in Santander next week."
He laughed. "You win. I'll call you."
"Late at night though."
"You be careful."
"Who has a choice?"
He laughed and kissed her. When she flagged him off, with her map she meandered up the street--high over the valley the Palacio Royal was lit up like day--and along the plaza past the statue of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza and drifted with the crowd up the Gran Vía ablaze with lights.
Descending to Sol, she stopped at a sidewalk cafe and ordered a beer and for a long time sat watching people pass. But he intruded. She did not want to go back to the hotel. She dreaded surrendering to what she desired but did not even understand. She had seen him once. She had nothing but a memory of dark eyes and that hand. It was a moment, gone, never to be repeated, yet not gone. She roused herself. It was late. The crowd was thinning. This was the heart of the city. You had to be careful. But the Regina was two minutes away, and the street was broad and well lit.
There was a surprising number of people in the hotel lobby.
To señor Izquierdo's inquiry, "The señor made his train?" she said, "In plenty of time."
"Please have the clerk wake me at seven," she said. "I'm taking an early train to Avila."
"Ah, Saint Theresa's city, señor Izquierdo said. You are interested in the saint, señora?
Not the saint, but the woman in the saint.
I see, he said.
"You do?"
He smiled. "Have a good rest, señora."
Brad was obsessed with the cave drawings. The moment they had settled into the hotel yesterday, he'd said, "You've got to see them, and with me. They say the Altamira cave is perfectly reproduced in the Archaeological Museum." "Now? You don't want to rest first?" "Rest! I can do that at home. I want you to see what I'll be working in for the next two weeks. The cave's as near to the real thing as you can get. Imagine! His voice was nervous, he was exhausted, he hadn't slept on the plane, he hadn't shaved. His gaze was fixed, blue, brilliant with quick energy. The force of his motion even in stillness startled. He was always intense when he talked caves, prehistoric time, rituals--losing himself, leaving her. He had his theories. Years he had saturated himself with study of artefacts and drawings from the numerous caves over the world. He dreamed the ice age. In dreams he roamed the world of primitive men among bison and hind and horses. With colleagues he could go on for hours, but she had never seen him give himself over like this. It's something he must solve.
The real cave in the Pyrennes had been closed to the public for years. Now under controlled conditions a few people were allowed in each day, but they had to acquire government permission far in advance. He could hardly wait till the morning train north to the real thing. He had been waiting years.
The reproduction of the Altamira cave was in a small low building left of the entrance to the museum. At the foot of the steps they had to duck and then go down on all fours and crawl.
"It's so dark!"
Cliff laughed. "It's a cave."
She was glad she wouldn't have to crawl through the dark and dank of the real cave; she hated cold and darkness.
"You could spend your life in a cave, couldn't you?"
"If it had ice age drawings, sure."
"A prehistorian to the bone!" she said.
Though there were small lights focused on the ceiling, her eyes took some time to adjust to the dark. She slid into place on a wide low bench; the wood was curved to fit one's back comfortably.
"Lie there and study the ceiling," Brad said.
There were other bodies, three, shuffling and sliding near them.
She lay still and stared.
At first she saw nothing but black smudges in a mass of reddish orange and smears of yellow and ochre. Suddenly she said, "Oh! Brad laughed. "You see them!" And she did: bison one after the other materialized, and horses, and a large hind, all spread as in a tapestry. "What are they doing?" she said. Brad, from the bench at her feet, as if unaware of the three other people, said there were all sorts of theories: some were being hunted, falling over a ravine; some grazing or rutting or rolling in the dust or wounded or sleeping or dying or giving birth. But each seemed to have no connection with the others. "You see how the painters used the concave bulges to shape the bison bodies and--look at the colors--in different periods over thousands of years the colors were superimposed. The place was what fascinated Brad, the mystery of what rituals it was used for. He was convinced it was more than a storehouse or mere meeting place or economic center. But who could know until the images were decoded? It would be worth a lifetime of dedication.
She tried to go blank and surrender and sink into the life there, as Brad could; but the forms were too still, stylized, isolated, and she could feel no motion in them. The motion was secret and confined to this cave--that she did feel. But suddenly--too quick for breath--they did move: she felt them chafe her thigh. A fire went through her. A hand. It barely rested on her thigh. A man was kneeling beside the bench. She was staring into black eyes with bits of light burning in them. She dared not cry out or move, but when the hand went, her blood lurched, she could not still the thundering, she turned her eyes back to the ceiling, the bison moved, she heard, she was sure she heard them, sure she felt the sound of their thunder over her body. It was some time before that motion stilled. The man was gone. Where? She had not seen him leave, or the other couple. Something had happened to her. What?
"Paula. Paula? Brad was urging her to change places with him. "You get a close view of the large hind here."
Half-mesmerized, she slid off the bench and took his place. The hind materialized, bison, horses. But nothing moved. Nothing. Had she imagined it? Then why couldn't she settle back into herself? She turned her head to the dark. Something had penetrated the dark. The eyes. The hand. They were alive in her.
"Paula? Brad was waiting at the mouth of the cave. "Be careful.
She was afraid of the light. She dared not look at Brad, afraid of what he would see. And what could she say?
But he was so keyed up from being so tired and excited by the cave that he might have been lost in the ice age. In the sun he stood harsh, stark, isolated, like everything she saw as they walked around the plaza--the statue of Columbus on his pedestal high over the waterfalls that made a white veil over the underground theater, on a wall the reliefs tracing Columbus's journeys to the new world, the national library, buses, people. She felt isolated from everything, and unsteady. The eyes, that hand. Nothing else seemed real.
"We'll make a real day of it," Brad said, "take a quick bus tour of the city to orient you and give me a glimpse, then drinks and supper. How about that?" He took her arm.
Now he was here. She dared not look behind. She was afraid but wanted him to be here, wanted to see the face again. She could not explain that. All she knew was that the heat of that hand seemed to have sunk deeper and deeper into her flesh and touched some core in her, lit up a dark part of her. Even the memory of it roused her blood.
She had never felt that way with Brad. If he insisted, and he did, it was because he was always so reasonable, so right, and she could find no defense against his logic. Brad wanted the best for them both, harmony; he hated interruptions which broke order. His working notes reflected that, each slip in its designated place. He could put his hand on anything in an instant--the nozzle to the garden hose, a can of stain, the proper nut and bolt, poison spay for the Japanese beetles. He was assuring. He made life comfortable. Yet something . . . indescribable, she'd told Doctor Ford months ago, had so gradually come over her that she'd hardly realized it until she'd begun to lose weight, lose her attention span, acquire unidentified aches; but when she tried to explain her feelings to herself or him, she was as vague as hands gripping air. Hysteria, he'd said. Hysteria! She'd laughed. But I'm not the type. He'd told her hysteria was pernicious, it crept; by the time it showed it was entrenched. And the cause? Many possibles, he'd said. And he had talked her into this trip--she could have some time in a different environment and some time alone without Brad. Sun. See things new. Meet people, talk. And rest. Rest! But what would I do? And he'd said There are all kinds of rest, Paula. At work it took little to convince Sol Burstein what seeing the art in the Prado and other museums and churches in Spain would do for her lectures, not to mention what revelations she would experience in Saint Theresa's world.
Now she did turn. She did not ask herself Was it the man? The eyes were indelible in her. She knew. Was he following her? She did not have to answer that either. Somehow she had known he would come.
This time she saw him whole, shorn of darkness--white trousers and dark belt and white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, the red strap crossing his chest and clutched by his right hand and the navy bag hanging against his right hip, a kind of cane in his left hand, which made him look like a pilgrim. And his face, dark, and the hair dark, and those eyes even from here, even fairly sunken, clearly dark. Solemn, he watched her. She trembled. Again she thought I'm hallucinating, it's this heat, sure she had summoned him up from some dark place inside her, and in answer he had materialized. He was too real.
Why doesn't he move?
She moved, following the map of zigzagged short streets and plazas toward Saint Theresa's convent, moving swiftly with her shadow as if in pursuit of her very self.
As she came upon the convent, the bells struck, two bells in each of the twin towers. They violated the air, the ground seemed to founder beneath her. What was the occasion? She did not look back. A band of tourists was just emerging. She entered through the central arch, crossed the vestibule into the cathedral. Darkish. She stood a moment to let her eyes adjust. The air was cool. Her skin was damp. She went part way down the left aisle and halted. In the pews a few lone women sat bent in prayer. An old couple were admiring the altar. Nearby a woman whispered, doing her beads.
She stood viewing the interior--windows, recesses, the nave, apse, the choir loft in the rear-- all a feeble beauty. In the left recess of the apse she was drawn by a broad shaft of clear daylight--a patio. The white statue of a girl stood in a real garden. Real daylight came from high above. The girl was walled in by a heavy glass pane. Surely Saint Theresa at nine, who went out with her twelve- year-old brother Rodrigo to become a martyr by seeking death at the hands of the Moors, long before she learned she must use the world for His ends. But the statue was too white and unreal; it did not belong in that natural garden. The effect was ugly. That image violated the flesh and blood , real in a real world, a beautiful world made cruel and ugly by the cruel and ugly. The patio and the glass walling Theresa in violated the church structure; it was a vulgar anachronism and the white figure a misconception of what a saint was, what a woman was. Surely Theresa would object if she were here. She felt a rush of anger. How she would like to smash that image! She was seething with that desire. But why? It was only a statue.
"You're interested in Saint Theresa?"
The voice came from behind her, soft, deep, resonant. It ran down her skin.
"Yes," she said without turning. Her hand reached out to the pane. She felt strange, but turned her head to him: the dark eyes again and dark hair and darkish skin against all that white. He was smiling now, the teeth so white she trembled, and his white clothes bright. She said "Yes" softly, and softly said, "I want to understand her, the woman I mean. I don't believe in saints. Do you?" She dared not remove her hand from the pane.
Against the light she saw herself dark in his eyes.
"I suppose I believe in their work."
"But not in them?"
"And why not?"
"I believe in women, real women."
"But she was."
"Theresa was only half a woman."
"You can't negate part of yourself and be whole."
She let her hand fall.
"But she gave all of herself."
"No, not all. She had no life of her own. She couldn't--or didn't love. Without really loving someone, I don't believe you can love mankind; love becomes rather an obsession."
"She loved Saint John of the Cross."
"But it wasn't complete. He was only a portion of the love she wanted. They say she'd tell him he could kiss her cheek, but never when they were alone, always in front of others so the world wouldn't take it wrong."
He seemed so self-assured, so solid in himself, confronting her.
"They had their romance and something profound in common--their work and a vision sublimated in somebody else."
"And no sex," he said. "She should have taken Saint John of the Cross."
"She couldn't! Her world would have ostracized her. They would have jeered, trampled on her, hanged her." The thought made her indignant. Wasn't she flesh? Wasn't she Theresa? She felt the contradiction in her defense of Theresa, in her own feelings. She did not want to fall victim to his insistence.
"What would it have mattered? She'd have had her paradise. And wouldn't that be worth dying for? She was dead without it." He made everything so palpable. Even his words seemed solid things.
"Don't underestimate the imagination."
"The imagination?"
"It can break through anything."
"Yes, but not for long. It may remove things, but in an instant they're what they were."
"But she had Jesus, she believed in him, she knew he was there, he could never fail her, and one day she would be his."
Why was she defending Theresa?
"Yes," he said, "because Jesus was a man, her man. She was saving her real life for him. She knew she would have him one day, the ecstasy she was waiting for. And Saint John of the Cross loved him too. Don't you see? Jesus was their promised spouse. He was flesh and blood to them. They were prepared for a transforming experience. He was sex, sexual fulfillment transformed. But he was not man or woman. He was union itself. With him they would become something else in the act. Saint John would be, as Theresa would, one with Jesus, with everything. They would be everywhere moving, caught up in motion, like water, part of water, and flowing."
Incredulous, she stared at him. His words pricked. They were like meticulous tiny wounds.
"You believe that?"
"No, but I know it."
Resentment was pulsing through her.
If he was aware of her belligerence, he was ignoring it. That galled.
"How could you know that?"
He laughed.
"You!" She too laughed, if reservedly.
He had unnerved her. She was trembling. Her blood was seething.
"But, seriously, I have my hand on it a good bit of the time."
She gazed at his raised hands. They were long, white, but not delicate--they looked firm, strong. She quivered.
On what?"
"What's in the body."
"But that's absurd. How can you know what's in the body?"
"I'm a doctor."
"A doctor!"
"The body's my main preoccupation."
"And the soul?"
"That's the body too--at least for as long as there's movement."
"But that dies."
"Does it?"
"Don't we?"
"We stop moving, but that's no reason to believe motion ends there."
"Then you think we don't die?"
"I don't think that at all. But I don't believe motion stops."
"Where does it go, then?" She stared into his eyes, dark. They glittered from the quivering votive candles. She was fascinated but fearful of the life in them.
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be a doctor."
"Then we're nothing?"
"No, not nothing.
"Did you feel like nothing? Do you?
Before she could reply, his hand reached out and gripped her arm.
She could not recoil: The heat of his hand froze her. And his eyes. He stared, waiting. Her blood surged. She felt trapped in herself, more by the hand than the question.
Abruptly he released her.
"No," she said then, breaking her gaze, and turned and moved into the shadows toward the transept. But she was stirred. Now the place became suddenly unreal. She was seeing through a strange mist--she wanted to tear through it.
She felt him close behind as she moved into the left wing of the little chapel. "There she is, your Saint Theresa. Look at her!" In her niche above them the saint stood, her face pale as parchment, her eyes raised to heaven, her hands delicately blessing, and the white cape embossed with gold and red. "Where's the woman? Her body's buried under all those trappings." She felt his breath on her neck. "And the irony is . . ." His hands rested lightly on her shoulder and she quivered. ". . . this is her place," he whispered. "Her place?" The sound of her blood muted her words. She wanted to slip free, but his heat sent fire through her; her tremor incited a quick fury in herself, yet she dared not move, could not-- "Her house," he whispered, pressing her into the alcove. "House?" she murmured as he turned her to him. "Yes. They built the church on the spot where her house had been. The flesh and blood woman was born right here." He was brushing his lips over he neck, unbearably. He turned her to him. His bag and cane fell to the floor, and with desire and anguish she made an effort, but only drew him close against her till in a confused trancelike frenzy she sank against him, surrendering to those hands moving down her back. She let her own bag slip to the floor and kissed, sucked at his mouth, gripped, lost, till--she did not know-- Would she die? Her whole self succumbed, sinking into a torrent, carried, then thrust swiftly up where the light from the great windows blinded. . . .
Slowly she became aware that she lay clinging limp against him. They were still now. He was holding her tenderly, and she was holding him, impervious to everything but this slow subsiding, mesmerized by the motion in their blood. Gradually sounds returned, breathing, the chafing of their clothes, far some steps, far some whispers. The shafts of light were alive, the motes never ceased moving. She felt she had shed her skin. She hardly recognized where she was.
She touched his face with both hands. His eyes were so alive, and his lips, his teeth glittered. She touched his face with both hands. She had never been so alive, she was startled at how alive she felt. Why am I not ashamed? I've betrayed Brad. I should be. But she was not shamed. Brad was in his cave in the north trying to bring those primitive figures to life while she was here in this torrid city betraying him. But her body cried out No. How could she be ashamed of this--her body, this man, light, breath itself--she could separate nothing, she vibrated with this harmony. What would Brad say if he knew? What would Doctor Ford say? But was anything else real?
He gathered their bags and took her hand.
"I haven't even told you my name," he said.
Quick she set her fingers over his mouth. "Not yet. Don't."
She wanted to drift. She wanted this nameless, timeless moment to go on, though she knew it could not. Already it went on only inside her; it was already memory but it was part of her flesh and it had changed her. That moment had torn a veil from her eyes too, it had taken a tarnish off things. She was not ready to give it a name.
She was filled with a warm pervasive joy, but afraid too. She knew she was standing close to the edge of an invisible ravine. She might fall irretrievably, yet she wanted to step out, dare herself--the threat impelled.
They left the niche. They went on together--she was afraid to leave his presence--into the transept to the altar, where in beautiful relief its central panel depicted Saint Theresa's vision. Oh Theresa! Such desire! How had the the poor woman contained such passion in a sick body? But that passion had been the fountain of all her energy. Theresa's passion had inspired her to found convent after convent--for him, for Christ her beloved. Now she sympathized with her. But when they came to the niche where Christ stood with his hands bound to a pillar, a rope around his neck, she could bear the church no longer. Everything here was dead--the withered flowers, the incense, the rancid sweet decay of damp and dust, of old cloth and stale air, rank and dead, so dead--the only illusion of life was caught in stone, in the agony in Theresa's face, in the suffering in Christ's face, but all was dead wood, dead stone, all this deadness. She wanted sun and air on her flesh. She wanted to become sun and air.
Outside, sun assaulted. The city was bold with light.
She was startled by the white light of his clothes. You . . ., she said as if seeing him for the first time. And she was. She saw him new, his firm dark full lips, his fine nose, the deep brown eyes that seemed to hold a dark sun inside him, the dark brows and lashes and hair, his firm form, the strong hands. She felt his energy. And her own. But what had he to do with her? He was smiling at her. She felt the tenderness.
"I'll show you the city." He took her hand. His assurance startled her.
"But you know this city?"
"Of course, Helen."
"How did you know my name!"
He laughed. "I'm staying at the Regina. I saw you arrive. I heard you and your husband."
"Then in the cave . . . it was no accident."
"No. And last night I waited for you to come in."
"Yes. And when you said you were going to Avila . . ."
"Then you were following me?"
"I saw some . . . recognition in you when you looked at me in the cave, though I knew before that, the moment I saw you in the hotel. Something happened to me--a hand clutched down into me and gripped my guts, I could have cried out, it was not pleasure, it was pain. And when I saw you in the cave, I had to touch you, and when I touched you, I knew I was lost if I couldn't have you, I had to, I was certain if I missed you, I'd miss . . . it would never happen to me again."
He looked so instantly forlorn that she said, "But you didn't miss me. Don't--"
"You did know, didn't you?"
"Something . . . I couldn't sleep. You were everywhere," she said. "Now tell me why you're here, who you are . . ."
"You make me who I am."
His certainty startled and confused her. He saw that and smiled and took her arm and said, "Fernández. My family name is Fernández."
"But you're not a native! Your English is too perfect . . ."
"Michael," he said. Miguel.
"Miguel," she whispered and clutched his hand as if the name had suddenly made him solid.
"My mother and father were born in this province, Avila, in Arenas de San Pedro, a couple of hours from here. They emigrated young and settled in New York. I was born on Long Island and studied medicine at Johns Hopkins. I'm an internist."
"But what're you doing here?"
"Attending a conference in Madrid."
"Conference!" Brad. She envisioned him lying on his back in the cave of Altamira studying those drawings while she . . . I should feel-- But Miguel's hand and his insistent soft gaze warded off guilt, though it did not blind her to a latent presence lurking on the edge of her emotion; but that threat stimulated her joy.
"I took advantage of the trip to spend a few days with my grandparents in Arenas. I went to Madrid last night. I saw you when you entered the hotel. That instant I knew I'd been waiting for you."
"But surely you've had--"
"Yes. Many. But nothing. Those women meant nothing, I knew they meant nothing. I was . . . biding my time. Or my body was. I trust my body. It knew it was waiting."
"But I'm married."
"Now you are, yes."
They came to the corner of a narrow alley. Above them imbedded in the stone wall was an enormous cross. "Do you know what this place is called? The corner of the Street of Life and Death." He pressed her against the hot stone and kissed her.
She clutched the heat in him. She sank into its sound. There was nothing else. She wanted nothing else. It's because I'm not well, I need rest, it's hysteria. But when he touched her, when he said, "I'll give you the royal tour," she had never felt so well.
She listened to his voice, giving way to a resonance she was susceptible to, that stirred her senses, commanded. Heat rose from the ground, emanated from the walls. They moved as if they were heat itself as he led her to the cathedral. Only inside, in the darks, did the flow of heat subside in a stillness of dank air and silence; only his voice brought life, and his touch. She marveled at his knowledge of history, folklore, his appreciation of the sculptures and paintings. The morning went. By three, exhausted and hungry, they found a small white restaurant with a terraza and red and white striped umbrellas outside the city walls. She said, "But I thought you hated dead art. I didn't know you admired Jesus and the saints and martyrs."
"Not their beliefs," he said, "but the life the artists caught--how they understood men's passions and created these things out of their own obsession against dying."
"And as a doctor you're not obsessed?"
"With the body, yes. I recognize their artistic achievements but what I sometimes can't forgive them is the neglect, even the downright abuse, of the body--because everything's the body. Even they show that. They're obsessed with the body."
"Even when they're so often covered!"
"The faces tell us about the bodies. Look at Theresa's--"
"But hers is the spirit suffering--"
"You can't separate that from the body. She's suffering her ecstasy. Doesn't that tell us something?"
"Yes. She loves her Jesus."
"But she can't have him."
"She's sure she will."
"So she can sacrifice her body to him."
"Don't most women?"
"And not most man? It's sacrifice when the body's just used for sex, or wasted; but the body doesn't want sacrifice, it wants fulfillment."
"Love, you mean."
"No, I don't mean love."
"What, then?"
"I don't know what I mean. Life. You. This." His arms made a wide sweep to embrace earth, city, sky. "To know you belong to all this. Come, I'll show you. . . ."
They followed the outer walls and descended the Ronda to a skimpy cluster of brush on the bank of the Adaja. In no time he stood naked, laughing. She could not believe his joy, his spontaneity I've never seen anything so beautiful. "Aren't you coming in?" He was in the water, waiting. In a moment, startled by her own nakedness, she was beside him. He went under and came up laughing, his hair and face shining wet, and his teeth. And she was startled at the quick of his hands--though the water was shallow he drew her under and held her there and kissed her and then thrust them up together in a burst of breath. Omygod. The city burst stark and clear.
They dressed and he drew her down by the bushes and they lay there. Siesta time!" She marveled--in no time he was asleep against her. Brad. But she would not think Brad. This body beside her stole all thought. His body against hers was such assurance. She touched his forehead, the dark hair, she kissed his closed lids. . . .
When she felt him stir, she was surprised that she had fallen asleep. The sun was still high, a harsh blinding light, the city walls hard bold white.
"There's plenty of time for us to see San Vicente and the other churches before supper--dark doesn't come till near eleven--and that'll give you the ground plan and you can go back and concentrate on your Theresa tomorrow."
"Tonight you stay here with me."
"In Avila!"
"Yes. I have a room at the Palacio Valderrábanos. You want to--you do, don't you?" He held her face between his hands. She was trembling. "I have to take an early morning train to Madrid for the conference--I'm on the program--but we can be together after for dinner and at the hotel."
"The hotel! But my husband and I have a room . . ."
"I'm your husband," he murmured. His hands possessed her, and his mouth. She went weak with desire. "I am.
And he seemed so to her, he was, nothing had ever seemed so natural and true to her. This is madness. But she couldn't stop it, she didn't want to, though she felt that menace, invisible yet ready to step boldly into sight. Brad. But no, she would not.
Once at the Palacio--in a room modern in ancient walls--she could no longer put it off. "Brad will be expecting my call," she said. If she could only tell Brad, but how? If she could say Brad, I'm not sick, I'm not weak, I don't feel depressed, a miracle has happened. But when Brad answered--she was watching Miguel flicking over his papers. Indifferent he seemed, indifferent, with the natural indifference of assurance. She told Brad she was staying the night in Avila, "With Theresa." "Theresa!" Brad laughed, and she did. "And how'd the first visit to the cave go?" "Glorious!" He spilled magic. His voice vibrated. "I leave you to your romance," she said. "I'll call you tomorrow," he said. "No, let me call you nights. I don't know what hour I'll be back." "I wish you had a guide. Be careful, he said. She bit. "You be," she said.
But the call had brought Brad in, she felt his presence: he might be in the bathroom, at any moment he would walk in and stand there between them--he did stand between them.
She said, "Please, could we go out?"
"It's his voice," Miguel said, but he kept his distance, and then said, "I want you to see the city walls lit up at night. It's a miraculous sight."
Silent, they went down; and silent along the inner wall to the Puerta del Rastro, and descended the dry grassless slope toward where they had entered the water that afternoon. Far enough off from the walls, he said, "Now look--
"Ohhh!" The wall was a miracle, a solid white fire holding back the night, connecting the round towers at regular intervals, each segment of the ramparts caught sharp by the light, a strange and monstrous, magnificent necklace laid against the earth, unimaginable but real. To keep the invaders out, he said. They were afraid, they both were, but the invaders finally made it in.
If she sank against him, it was to assure herself he was here, yet she could not ward off Brad: he--or what?--stood at the edge of vision. She could no longer ignore that presence. She had to explain, but what to explain?
"Brad and I--"
"That's the past. That doesn't exist for me. We began yesterday."
"I have to say it--for me. We lived in the same neck of the woods, we had the same backgrounds though we didn't meet till we went to Providence--I went to Pembroke, he was at Brown, we took classes together. I was an art major so we had common interests. We fell in with each other, night and day talking. We grew so used to each other that when graduation came, we couldn't imagine that life ending, we wanted to go on with it, it was our passion, so when he decided to go away to graduate school, I went too. We got married that summer before grad school, I got my master's and Brad his doctor's, and now he's on his way to becoming one of the best in his area while I . . . I don't know what's happening. I'm not morbid, I don't dwell on negative things, but I feel--don't laugh--this invisible presence like a maggot eating it's way through me slowly and silently, I can't even place where. Oh, Brad's not responsible. I had to fight myself to keep it from him, and did at first, but I couldn't hide losing weight and what was happening to my work and the effect it was having on his work and our life together. I began to see him, everything, like parts out there away from me that I couldn't touch or be touched by, I couldn't concentrate. Relax, the doctor said, walk, spend more time outdoors, in the garden, get your mind off things. Off things! I couldn't keep it on. Then came the wonder--Brad had this chance to study Altamira at first hand. So here we are-- suddenly--in Spain."
"Where I found you. I must have arrived here just to discover you."
"But you might have chosen any--"
"No, not any. You. You. And I didn't choose. And you didn't. I recognized you, and you did me. You did, didn't you?"
She gazed in perplexed wonder. His eyes seemed to smolder darkly, and his hands on her hips passed that fire into her.
"I don't know," she murmured and he whispered, "Because we can't turn away from it, I know it can happen only one time. There's only once. All the rest is nothing, nothing." "I don't know," she murmured again, but she sank against him. "I don't know . . ." What had she had? What Brad had given, and that was not to be diminished, but-- No, she'd known nothing so real before. "Must we talk about it? It happened, didn't it? Don't talk--please."
Because she was afraid, afraid of sudden and strange and new, of being what Miguel had said, born and nothing else, nobody. and his making her somebody, this strange new self. She did not understand it, but she couldn't betray this--me, who I am. She did feel a traitor to Brad because Brad was--had been?--her days, her habit, her fear of breaking her habit. Yet hadn't Miguel in an instant broken that habit. After this, how could she be that self with Brad again? How?
She was afraid: How could she hurt Brad? What had he done? How could she ever explain that it was not anything Brad had done, but what she simply could never have known unless . . . Miguel . . . in that cave in Madrid . . . Explain? She did not even know. She could give it no name. Love? No, not love--more, Miguel insisted, but couldn't name that either. Drowning, he said, and wanting to drown and go where it takes us. "Takes us?" "Destroys us." "Yes! I want that. If dying is like that, I want to die . . . yes, and how can you want to die? It's like . . . Do you swim? Have you ever swum in the ocean? At home I used to swim in the Sound. I loved to swim underwater. I'd go down as deep as I could. You don't know how black underwater can be. Down there you can't see your own body. You float in darkness. But I'd tempt myself to linger as if I were at the edge of some discovery if only I could stay, if I dared. I'd hold my breath and stay down till all my senses seemed to go. But my body wouldn't let me, I had to struggle up or drown, but when I broke into the air everything was so sudden and clean and sharp it hurt my eyes, and I could never forget that feeling. Next time, I'd think, I'll go all the way. Madness, wasn't it?" "Yes, but without madness the body'd die, every day would be death." "Not this day," she said, touching him, she could not stop wanting to touch him, "and this night's so alive."
It was--stone was warm as flesh, the ground gave off heat, the air was breath.
All night in his room she could not hold his body close enough. "You," she murmured, "you," trying to hold this passion.
Yet she felt the night breaking around her, it was too fragile, she could not keep it from breaking. Even the dark was a shell, it was cracking, and she did not know what was behind it.
She broke then and lay crying.
"Don't," he said, "please don't."
"I don't know why I am. I think What am I doing here? but I want to be here. I can't imagine being anywhere else, but I must be, must--it's almost as if this isn't real, I'm dreaming it, it's happened so fast, I'm lost."
"Not lost." He kissed her face, breasts, hands. "You're where you belong--with me."
His voice was so sure, and his hands. But she was afraid. What of the morning, when he was gone . . .?
And in no time it was morning, naked sun, and he was dressing for an early train.
"I'm afraid," she said.
Yes, he said.
And you aren't?
Yes, I am. But I'd be more afraid if I weren't. Nothing would be happening.
He knelt beside the bed.
"You won't be afraid, after."
"Spend the day taking your photos for your work on Theresa. There are frequent trains to Madrid. I'll be waiting for you tonight at the hotel. I'll call your room at eight."
He kissed her and was gone.
Already the heat lay warm as a hand, sun made the room stark, and each sound came sharp.
For a moment she doubted this room, her own presence.
What was she doing here?
She was afraid. He had crossed to her. He had broken the shell. And she had spilled. She feared him--she knew nothing about him, but knew him--and could not deny him. That would be to deny herself. Herself? But what was herself? She did not know, but it was not the other--she had cast off the other, she could not will against herself. She was exposed to herself, naked, in light revealed. That light blinded. But she listened--blood spoke. They were bound by it. She was afraid but could not turn back--behind was darkness and a death, cold. Yes, she was afraid, but she would follow. And he would. Hadn't he said I'll never stop following you? You What was you? It was in them. She had known it in that hand. She could not deny that hand.
Where would it lead?

xconnect home
issue contents
e-mail us

© CrossConnect Incorporated 1996, 1997
Published in association with the University of Pennsylvania Writers House
E-mail us with feedback