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Stephanie Hart


The 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.

My 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.

We 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.

"Come on, Jennifer," she called. "We'll be fifty before we get to the top."

Ten years away from the mid-century mark. My legs felt heavy with the weight of them.

"I'm not going any further," I yelled. "That's it."

At ten Barbara could squirrel her way up to the top of a giant pine, leaving me awestruck and dizzy on the ground.

"Next 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 and malice.

Our 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.

"Keep moving," she snarled.

And I followed, my throat alive with the heat of what was unsaid. Who was she to order me around? Who had she ever been.


Now 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.

She presses my arms with her thumb. "This place stinks of rotten fruit."

I 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?"

Barbara grunts. "It was your idea. Let's not talk about it. We're here."

"We can leave." I keep my voice even. "It's hard to believe that you don't appreciate this city. Look at that moon."

"Let's 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 comfort me."

"We're not going to the zoo. Or should I say I'm not going," I inform her.

She bites into her bottom lip. I feel the moon move closer to us.

"We don't have to do everything together," I say softly, stoking what I hope is her hurt, her anger.

She brays and stamps her foot. "I thought we agreed. I thought we…"

"Plans change," I say.

"All right," she waves he arm as if to swat away this conversation. "I've had enough. I'm going to bed."

She moves toward the glass doors leading to the apartment. I am dismissed.

"We 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."

She 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.

She says, "I miss my kids. I miss David. You never loved anyone."


Barbara makes me swallow my words.

"You 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."

I 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."

I 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.

"Don't you ever say, I don't, didn't like you," I shout now.

Barbara 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."

And 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.

My 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.

"But you were beautiful," Barb says.

I laugh without bitterness. "I'm full of scars and wrinkles now. Come closer. Look."

She does and laughs too. "I don't see that many."

"The moon is a good camouflage," Barb.

We 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."


I 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?

My 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 sleep.

I 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.

I 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 on, Jen?"

I try to laugh. "A little night music."

"Hmm," she says, walking over and sitting down on my bed. "Bad dream huh? I have them sometimes."

I don't trust myself to speak.

"Damn," I say, getting up to look for a tissue.

Barb turns towards me and hugs me gruffly. I put my arms around her.

"Listen," she says, "it's good we talked."

"Yeah, I tell her, "It was."


The 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 silence.

We 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.

We 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 one another.

Barb 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.

Inhabiting 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."


After lunch we splash each other in the Mediterranean. The water is cool against my skin. I race Barb, but she wins, like always."

Later 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.

Suddenly, I'm trembling. "I can't go on, " I shout. And then more forcefully, "I'm afraid."

Barb turns back and circles around me. "Come on, slow poke, it's fun."

She 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 it."

And 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.

The 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.

"I made it," I say breathing hard.

Barb flashes her big white teeth in a smile. "All in one piece as far as I can see."

"Yeah," I say in triumph and relief.

We walk on dusty flat land toward the mammoth structure.

"Well this is it," Barb says. "God, it's ugly. Is there a staircase inside?"

"Hey, wait a minute, I'm not…"

Barb laughs. "Cool it. Let's relax, o.k."

She 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 them too.

"Dumb birds," she says. "Can't they do anything but follow? Give me a tissue, Jen. Would you?"

I take one out of the small purse strapped around my waist and hand it to her. "Here," I say.

Barb wipes the sweat off her forehead. She asks, "Wanna sleep for a while? The sun's not strong; it's past five."

I begin making circles in the sand with a stubby rock. "I'm not tired. Do what you want."

Barb 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.

She says, "Hey, Jen, I'm glad we're here."

I make her wait for a while. "Me too," I say.


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