moon burns a hole in the Barcelona sky. It is
soft orange fire. From the stone terrace of a
fourth floor apartment, I can make out the heads
of trees, the dry leaves and branches cutting
a path in the darkness. Pollution wraps the city
in stench and yellow light.
friend, Barbara, is standing next to me. She is
wearing a tired print blouse. Her hair is an unruly
mass of curls; the hairpins she has jabbed into
the fray refuse to support her bun. She smells
of sweat and dried blood from the cut on her knee.
Neither of us speaks. We have been friends for
thirty years, yet our silence is as brittle as
the air between us.
have chosen the northern coast of Spain as our
travel map, returning after each expedition to
a rented Barcelona apartment. In the town of Cadequez,
with its tight blue coves and cliffs that seemed
to fall into the sea, Barb urged me toward a particularly
rocky path. Far ahead of me she had swung her
arms wide, an imperious yellow-haired scout. And
I panted behind her in my loose peasant blouse,
my shoulders bare in the sun. She was impossible
to keep up with.
on, Jennifer," she called. "We'll be
fifty before we get to the top."
years away from the mid-century mark. My legs
felt heavy with the weight of them.
not going any further," I yelled. "That's
ten Barbara could squirrel her way up to the top
of a giant pine, leaving me awestruck and dizzy
on the ground.
time," I would shout up at her. And I imagined
her laughter traveling on the wind. I could hear
it now as she stormed ahead of me--all muscle
next stop was Gerona, a city of dark, hard stone.
We walked the Jewish ghetto -a place, Barbara
had said, was filled with the ghosts of the persecuted.
A drunk staggered past us, his eyes glazed, his
hands cupping his fly.
moving," she snarled.
I followed, my throat alive with the heat of what
was unsaid. Who was she to order me around? Who
had she ever been.
traffic thunders beneath us. In the light of the
terrace, I see Barbara's small features move in
upon themselves. She nudges me. I imagine the
glint in her blue eyes. She is a physical creature,
a biter, a hitter.
presses my arms with her thumb. "This place
stinks of rotten fruit."
clear my throat, tasting the fetid night air and
what I will say next. Her waiting is a musty perfume
beside me. I begin slowly unwrapping the ball
of my rage. "Why, I wonder, did we decide
to take this vacation?"
grunts. "It was your idea. Let's not talk
about it. We're here."
can leave." I keep my voice even. "It's
hard to believe that you don't appreciate this
city. Look at that moon."
get some sleep. We have to be at the zoo tomorrow
before the heat sets in." She wraps her arms
around her bulky chest and grins. "Animals
not going to the zoo. Or should I say I'm not
going," I inform her.
bites into her bottom lip. I feel the moon move
closer to us.
don't have to do everything together," I
say softly, stoking what I hope is her hurt, her
brays and stamps her foot. "I thought we
agreed. I thought we
change," I say.
right," she waves he arm as if to swat away
this conversation. "I've had enough. I'm
going to bed."
moves toward the glass doors leading to the apartment.
I am dismissed.
have nothing in common," I spit out. "If
we met now we'd never become friends."
Barbara turns toward me. There is something unrecognizable
in her face. I don't know what she will do next.
"You," she says, wagging her finger,
"you," she says, plump with indignation.
"You, you never liked me. Never."
rocks back and forth on her heels, her mouth partly
open. And I see her the day she came to class
in third grade with a tiny frog on her tongue,
rocking that way, defying anyone to sneer at her,
kicking her heels.
says, "I miss my kids. I miss David. You
never loved anyone."
makes me swallow my words.
just wanted to be loved," she says. "By
me, by everyone. You'd get sick of me when we
were kids. You'd hang out with Tony or Randy or
Linette; you didn't know I was alive." She
sniffled and I thought I heard tears in her voice.
"You'd only come back around when you thought
nobody else wanted you. That was only to tell
me about your boyfriends. You knew I was fat.
You knew I never had any. I was just some fat
kid you could always talk to."
am moving in a haze of orange light and memory.
"I didn't think that; I didn't," I tell
her. "You were my best friend."
think of the time we went sleigh riding and the
world turned upside down with Barbara shouting,
"Hang on." I think of how we invented
our own language in fifth grade writing notes
to each other in Mrs. Julep's class. I remember
our horseback ride against the Colorado sky like
two cowgirls in a western movie laughing and shouting
each other's names on the wind.
you ever say, I don't, didn't like you,"
I shout now.
is still full of what she has to say. "Just
because I like to walk fast. Because I'm strong.
Because I'm different than you are, you don't
want me around."
I think and surprise myself by thinking what a
fine person she is--so stalwart in her anger,
a fine strong animal howling at the moon.
jealousy is only an echo. We are standing together
by the terrace railing. A light rain is falling.
"I could never do the things you could do,"
I tell her.
you were beautiful," Barb says.
laugh without bitterness. "I'm full of scars
and wrinkles now. Come closer. Look."
does and laughs too. "I don't see that many."
moon is a good camouflage," Barb.
both watch the fat orange light as she mutters
into my ear. "We'll always be friends. You
don't know it now, but we will. Always."
lie in bed thinking of Barb, trying to sort out
our argument. I think of how different we are,
yet how connected. Barb deals in stamps and coins,
items that can be counted and codified; I transform
life from behind a camera as a fine arts photographer.
She lives in the West; I live in the East; she
is married with a family; I'm single. It would
seem so easy for us to sever our ties, but we
seek each other out. Why? We grew up together.
We share a landscape of feeling and experience;
when one of us draws away, the other becomes outraged.
Do we turn to each other as a compliment to ourselves?
eyelids are heavy. The shadows of the Barcelona
night gather around me. There is the sound, the
smell of a sweet driving rain. A breeze tickles
my cheek. A hollowness in my throat pulls me into
am floating on silken blue sky. Beneath me, I
see Spain begin to rise like an island from the
sea. I discover sun -bleached houses on gentle
hills, lakes flooded in sunlight, green mountains.
As I try to descend to earth, the wind turns serpentine
and wild. I am wrapped in a thunderously dark
cloud. I awake to the sound of my crying.
hear a light switch on in the hallway. Barb is
standing at the door. Her hair is a disheveled
lion's mane; she rubs her eyes. "What's going
try to laugh. "A little night music."
she says, walking over and sitting down on my
bed. "Bad dream huh? I have them sometimes."
don't trust myself to speak.
I say, getting up to look for a tissue.
turns towards me and hugs me gruffly. I put my
arms around her.
she says, "it's good we talked."
I tell her, "It was."
next morning we are traveling by bus to the town
of Tossa de Mar. Giant pines lead us up winding
mountain paths. The center of the town is alive
with color. There are striped awnings, window
boxes overflowing with flowers, red umbrellas
shading sidewalk cafes. Barb walks into a shop
to buy gifts for her kids, while I watch a delicately
beautiful white-faced mime perform in the square.
Standing next to her, I become imbued with her
rent a hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean.
From our balcony, the sea is remarkably blue;
the sand looks as clean as if it had never been
walked on. In the distance, a ruined castle leans
against the sky.
have a lunch of cheese and café con leche
at a sidewalk café. After the storm of
talk the night before, we have become shy with
speaks first. "I'm glad to be out of that
infernal heat. I can breathe. My son Jim would
love it here. Plenty of sky.
the moment, I let myself taste the peppermint-fresh
air. I put my elbows on the table and lean toward
Barb drawing her into the magnificent present.
"Wouldn't it be something if there were no
past and no future?" I say. "I mean
if each second were a new beginning." Barb
takes a bite of cheese and wrinkles up her nose.
"Hey, Jen, bet you're not the first person
to have had that wish."
lunch we splash each other in the Mediterranean.
The water is cool against my skin. I race Barb,
but she wins, like always."
dressed in jeans and t-shirts, we walk along the
beach enjoying the afternoon sun. Barb runs ahead
of me. She turns around and grins mischievously.
She is leading the way up the pathway to the ruined
castle, and I am following her. At first the path
is a gentle hill but as we climb higher I can
feel the power of the wind. The sea is wild and
dark beneath us; around us the sky is precariously
blue and wide. I see Barb ahead of me sure footed
on the rim of the world.
I'm trembling. "I can't go on, " I shout.
And then more forcefully, "I'm afraid."
turns back and circles around me. "Come on,
slow poke, it's fun."
is sun-colored and stolid, a sand sculpture come
to life, a mountain lioness. I want to jump on
her back and ride. My legs are as light as air.
"Come on, Jennifer. Move your butt. Get with
then I am walking; Barb is tilting my fear away
from the sharp rocks, the dark sea beneath. She
is my balance wheel, the sky our harness, the
castle, a stone beacon in the distance. I walk
faster, closing the gap between Barb and me. I
can hear her whistling something sweet and unfamiliar.
"How much farther," I holler. Fear strikes
again as a knot in my stomach. My legs are liquid.
The world narrows to Barbara's back, legs and
arms. We are alone on a precipice; and I trust
her -- trust her the way the earth trusts the
sun to stay in its orbit.
path widens. And I can see the tower in its dirty,
stone splendor. I feel like throwing my arms around
the sky, the castle, Barb and myself. I want time
to stop. I want to languish among the elements.
made it," I say breathing hard.
flashes her big white teeth in a smile. "All
in one piece as far as I can see."
I say in triumph and relief.
walk on dusty flat land toward the mammoth structure.
"Well this is it," Barb says. "God,
it's ugly. Is there a staircase inside?"
wait a minute, I'm not
laughs. "Cool it. Let's relax, o.k."
sinks down on a path of rough sand in front of
the castle. I sit beside her. Beneath us the Mediterranean
is a dark blue island. I look up and see gulls
moving in a circle above us. Barb is watching
birds," she says. "Can't they do anything
but follow? Give me a tissue, Jen. Would you?"
take one out of the small purse strapped around
my waist and hand it to her. "Here,"
wipes the sweat off her forehead. She asks, "Wanna
sleep for a while? The sun's not strong; it's
begin making circles in the sand with a stubby
rock. "I'm not tired. Do what you want."
closes her eyes. I turn away from her. The sea
looks frothy and mean. I want Barb to talk to
me. We've come half way around the world together.
How dare she clam up? Suddenly, I want to kick
her. I think of Barb kicking me when we were ten
because I wouldn't get on the back of her bike.
"Scared," she snickered. I got on and
took her dare, letting her take me down a bumpy,
grass hill. The bike lurched and leapt, but we
never fell. I think of the two of us climbing
that mountain path into our fourth decade. I look
at Barb. She smells of sand, and sweat and sky.
She has flung an arm over her face.
says, "Hey, Jen, I'm glad we're here."
make her wait for a while. "Me too,"
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