Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: "Her Lover is Quite the Snake!"

Just before one p.m., the driver pulls up in front of the four-star hotel that Jerez insisted on booking for her from Sevilla. The Granada Palace, ocher red and full of exotic tiles, is located, oddly enough, directly off the Camino de Ronda. Had he selected this hotel because of the name?

Two busboys in immaculate blue and gold uniforms are waiting at the sidewalk to carry her one bag. Ronda bows her eyes, her headache a little less severe. Certainly this elaborate reception doesn't have anything to do with me, she decides. It has everything to with Jerez, and the fact he called ahead. Inside, she steps up to the desk and gives her name.

"Oh yes, the Jerez reservation," the man behind the desk says quietly.

"No, señor, actually, it's my reservation," Ronda corrects him in irritation. "Señor Jerez simply put the call in for me. I intend to pay my own bill."

The man in the gray suit glances at her in silence.

"We will take care of everything," he says, handing her the plastic key card. He doesn't smile and neither does she.

Inside her room, she finds two dozen roses waiting: one dozen yellow flowers sits in a thick crystal vase on the bed stand, and a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses is beside the Jacuzzi in the bathroom. On the dresser are a small bottle of perfume and a large bottle of red wine and beside those is an enormous basket filled with fruit and cheese, a tin of cookies, several large bars of chocolate, and a bottle of Tío Pepe.

Ronda sighs, rolls her eyes, and throws her things on the bed. "Doesn't this man know understand the word no?" A small white envelope in the basket contains a card: "At your service, señora. With affection, Enrique."

Grumbling and tearing up the card, Ronda sinks onto the unmade bed and picks up the phone. "If he thinks he can lure me into bed with wine and chocolate, he...might be right," she says, laughing out loud. She shakes her head. "Men."

She dials the first of the three phone numbers Galvarez had given her the night before. "One of these musicians should be able to help you," Galvarez had promised at the end of the show, after all the other guests had left the club. A dark-skinned man with curly sideburns and a narrow earnest face, Galvarez sat on a tall stool in between Ronda and Jerez, sipping a beer.

Crossing his arms over his broad chest, he listened calmly as Jerez explained Ronda's dilemma. First Jerez spoke to Galvarez in English and then, after Galvarez asked him a quick flurry of questions in Spanish, Jerez shrugged and leaned forward and answered his friend at the same speed. Ronda had no idea what either of the men were saying.

The two men fell quiet and then Galvarez rubbed his chin and sipped his sherry and eyed Jerez in a way that made Ronda nervous. Jerez lit a cigarette and offered one to his friend.

"No, no, thank you, I gave it up," Galvarez said. He turned to Ronda. "My dear señora, as I have already told you, Jesús Becerra is...well, let me say it this way, he was, when I knew him, quite the snake."

Galvarez spoke in a deep bellowing English. "I wonder, señora, if you are quite sure you are making the right decision trying to find this rogue or if perhaps you wouldn't be better off taking a plane home and leaving him to his own devices."

Ronda's eyes flew wide open and she blushed. Blood drained from her limbs all at once, and anxiety rushed up to fill her stomach. "I am...Jesús is my...I...I didn't know you knew him so well..." she said weakly, looking up at Jerez, who shrugged. It took her a moment to continue speaking.

"I have to find him," she said, her voice rasp. "I don't know what you know about Jesús, señor Galvarez, or why you refer to him as...as a snake, but you should know sir, Jesús Becerra is a man I love deeply, I have loved him and he has loved me for the last year. We have a wonderful relationship and...and if he's in some sort of trouble or...or if he's hurt or if you know something I should know, well then, certainly please, go ahead and tell me...but...but I just have to find him."

Galvarez shifted on the stool and twisted his lip with his fingers. Then he inhaled slowly. "I didn't mean any disrespect, señora," he said after a moment had passed. "And as I make it a rule not to get involved in matters that have nothing to do with me, well..." He rose abruptly from the stool and disappeared behind the stage and as he did, Ronda turned to Jerez, who merely shrugged and nodded.

"I'm sorry, Ronda, but I know nothing," Jerez said, looking sincere.

Soon Galvarez was back, carrying a small thin book and a pair of bifocals. Slipping on the eyeglasses he began flipping through the yellowed pages of the directory until he reached a heavily marked page. Ripping off a piece of the white paper table cloth covering the tiny bar table, Galvarez scrawled three names and phone numbers in an oversized handwriting, using a thick fountain pen. "Señora, when you call these people, be sure to use my name."

"I will," Ronda replied breathlessly, her head swimming in sangría and the horrible words she had heard from him a few minutes before.

"Thank you. I am more grateful than you know."

Galvarez pushed the piece of paper across the table. "If your guitarist is anywhere in or around Granada, he can't hide from these folks for long," Galvarez said. He rose abruptly again and tipped his head and drained the last of his beer. "As for you, Jerez, please don't be a stranger." And with that, Galvarez was gone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY: "How Can She Be Tempted?"

She tears the crust from a rounded slice of bread, begins nibbling on crumbs. She is having a war with herself, trying to decide whether to continue with the fabrication, or admit the truth.

The sangría is making her head spin. Señor Jerez looks up and smiles for the first time and she gazes back at him, wide-eyed. This man will think I have lost my mind. What kind of a fool goes around making up such a ridiculous story?

"I ...I have been lying to you señor," she whispers suddenly. She sets the bread down on top of the paella and pushes the pan away. Her face is flushed warm, and it must look bright pink. She doesn't care what he thinks. She lifts the sangría to her lips and drains the glass.

The man stops eating, stares at her in confusion.

"Jesús Becerra is my boyfriend, or...he was. He is not my husband."

"I see. But I don't understand, because I didn't know, I mean, as far as I knew he was alive.

He had been living in the United States but I had not heard that he was dead. Or married."

"He's not. Dead. Or at least I hope not. And that's why I'm here. To find him. To find out what happened to him." Ronda sighs and shakes her head. Then she covers her mouth with her locked hands. She is struggling against tears. "He went back to Spain in July to record a CD. And he..."

Ronda bites so fiercely into her lower lip that she tastes blood. Jerez pours her more sangria.

"Gracias." She takes another sip.

"He didn't come back. I don't know what happened to him. I found out a week ago that he was ill, this summer, he had some kind of emergency operation. But he...I'm not sure where he is OK or...whether..." She shrugs, lifts her eyes to his. "I'm very sorry I lied before. I was...it's just I didn't want to...it's because I feel so...so terribly insecure. Jesús and I were, are, very deeply in love. For more than a year now. And then he left and...I'm worried."

She looks up. "I'm sorry..."

"Yes, of course. Please. Say no more." He leans forward, takes her hand and encloses it in his own. "It wasn't polite of me to pry. To ask you so many questions. Forgive me. I have no excuse except to say that you are so lovely, I..." He brings her hand swiftly forward to his lips and kisses it once.

"Please, please don't do this," she says, her voice falling into a whisper again. "I miss Jesús desperately and all I want to do is find him." Tears are swelling in Ronda's eyes now. She is on the verge of breaking down, right in front of a total stranger.

He steadies his gaze on her. "Well, then, I hope you will allow me please to help you. It is possible that I may have contacts in the places where..."

"Oh no, no I couldn't," she says, knowing right away that she could and would.

Señor Jerez leans across the table. "Señora?" He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a starched white handkerchief. She takes the hanky and holds it beneath her nose. It has a fragrance like lemons or some other citrus. And in the corner is a set of scrolled initials, embroidered in red. "As I said, I believe I may be able to help you."

She looks up at him, numb. And immersed in feelings of complete humiliation.

"I don't understand."

"You see, one of my dearest friends, Julio Galvarez, operates a flamenco club here in Sevilla. I am scheduled to see him later this evening, for the show. If you wish, you could go. As my guest. Señor Galvarez is, as you would say in the United States, well connected. It is possible that he may know Becerra's whereabouts. Or at the very least, where to begin to look."

"But I don't think Jesús is anywhere here. Near Sevilla I mean. I believe that he is further south. Near Granada. I was told he went to a tiny village called Lanjarón in..."

"Señora," Jerez says, smiling mysteriously. "Entrust this to a Spaniard. Please. My friend is originally from Granada. And he maintains a small summer home deep in the Alpujarras, near Orgiva, one of the beautiful mountain villages on the southern flank of the Sierras. I assure you that if Jesús is anywhere in the Alpujarras region, my friend will know someone who knows his whereabouts."

Ronda sighs. Her head is swimming. She has trouble believing that she is actually talking to someone who might lead her to Jesús. It's too much to hope for. She reaches into her purse, her eyes clouded by tears. "I have only this," she says, clearing her throat. "It's a phone number that doesn't answer. In Lanjarón. But no address." Jerez puts on eyeglasses and reads the small sheet of paper.

"Who gave you this number?"

"I spoke to a man in Sevilla a week ago, when I called from the States, and he says Jesús gave him the number before he left. A month or more ago."

"I see." He hands her back the slip of paper. "I don't know anything much about Lanjarón.
Except that it is tucked into the Alpujarras. There are such beautiful whitewashed villages there."

"Yes, I am driving that way tomorrow."



Jerez studies her. Glances at his Rolex watch. "I have a driver here. I would be happy to put him and the car at your disposal tomorrow for as long as you..."

"Oh no, no, really. I couldn't possibly. It's far too generous of you señor."

"Señora. Please. You are in no condition to go driving off into the southern mountains alone. I will phone him tonight. That way, he might have the car here for you first thing in the morning." He looks up. "Meanwhile, will you be my guest at the flamenco show tonight?"

Ronda's face is hot. She is not in any condition to go out. And yet, if she does go, she will almost certainly get to meet the man who might know Jesús, and where he is.

"Please señora? You are guaranteed the best seat, as we are guests of my friend."

Ronda sifts her fingertips through her hair. Jerez is eyeing her steadily. "All right," she whispers. "I'll come."

He bows his head once, all the while smiling and maintaining his gaze.
Ronda blushes and looks away. Something about his eyes, something dark and unexpectedly attractive, sets a small shiver going up her back.

She looks away. How could she be tempted now? She has no idea how and she doesn't want to know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CHAPTER NINETEEN: "Why Oh Why Did You Lie Ronda?"

He is Enrique Jerez, 60, a major purveyor of olive oil and sherry in Spain, and he is visiting three different factories he owns in Sevilla. He is a silver-haired grandfather, and he is more than happy to show Ronda his small collection of photos.

"Lovely children," she says, after he passes a tiny snapshot across a plate of capers and olives in the center of the table. In the photo, two dark-haired boys sit side by side on a settee, heads touching, their eyes as dark as black coffee. "You must adore them."

"Very much," he says, smiling agreeably. "And I adore my daughter who is their mother." He slips the photos back into a soft leather wallet. "And you, señora, do you have children?"

Ronda smiles. Wipes her lips. "Two boys, both in college."

"You are a young woman to have grown children." He passes one finger across his neatly clipped mustache, then rubs his cigarette into the ashtray. "And may I say, too, that you are a lovely woman."

Ronda blushes, and rushes to lift her glass. She drains it of wine and he pours more. The waiter sets down Ronda's paella, a huge metal pan overflowing with shellfish. "I should have ordered something smaller," she laughs. And to herself, she thinks, how then should I plan my getaway right after dinner?

Señor Jerez is served a plate with thin slices of cured ham and with it, sausages and potatoes.

"What brings you to Sevilla?" he asks.

Ronda chews slowly on a piece of shrimp, trying to decide what to say. Certainly, in this situation, nobody could possibly get hurt if she lies.

"My husband passed away last year," she begins. "He was from Spain, and since he has family near Granada, I decided that it might be nice if I paid them a visit." She smiles politely.

Jerez studies her quietly. "I see," he says finally. "I am so sorry about your husband. Was he ill?"

Ronda looks at her plate. She hates lying. Why did she begin this silly charade?

"Well, we aren't entirely sure. He...he needed emergency surgery for...for a hernia. And then, nobody knows exactly what happened. The fact is there was some infection, and bleeding..."

She shrugs, tries to look suitably upset.

"I see. I'm sorry."

Ronda breaks off a crust of bread. "Yes," she says solemnly, cutting into a second shrimp.

"We were devastated." Suddenly she realizes the irony: that this sad tone of hers isn't a lie.

In truth, she feels as though somebody has died.

"Of course. What a tragedy." He spears a tiny square of ham and a chunk of potato with his fork. "What was your husband's name?"

Her eyes shoot up. She wasn't expecting this question. But she should have.

"Uh...Jesús. My husband's name is ...was Jesús."

"Jesús? No, I mean the family name."

"Oh yes, certainly. Becerra. Jesús Becerra."

Immediately an uncertain look flashes across the man's eyes. Ronda tries to avoid his stare.

She dives into the paella again, but when the fork enters her mouth, she knows she isn't hungry. She also knows that she has said something terribly wrong.

"That is very odd," Señor Jerez says. "So very odd."

Ronda stares into her paella. Why in God's name did I lie? she wonders. She takes such a big gulp of sangria it hurts her throat going down.

"Oh?" she says, so casually she can barely hear herself speak.

"Well, yes, because I know a young guitarist, a very talented man by that very same name.

His music is quite popular in certain quarters here. Near Malaga."

Ronda's hand freezes on the stem of her glass. She contemplates Jerez's squared face, his neatly clipped silver hair. She wants to disappear. She wonders what excuse she can give, how she can politely say she doesn't want any more food, or that she needs to get up, to leave the table for good, right now.

This post appeared first on the Huff Post on March 29, 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: "Who is This Guy Enrique and What Does He Want?"

Ronda wakes hours later to light that is low and creamy yellow.

Sitting up in bed, she tries the phone number in Lanjarón. It rings and rings. Frustrated, she slams the receiver back into its black cradle.

It occurs to her that she could leave Sevilla tonight, start driving right now. But how would she find a place to stay? And how would she find her way up into the mountains to Lanjarón in the dark?

It is well after nine p.m. when she goes down to the hotel dining room for dinner. When she finds Jesús, she will brag to him, tell him that she can now postpone her evening meal in the proper Spanish fashion. She no longer needs to rush down to dinner on her early American schedule.

She orders gazpacho and paella for dinner. And a half a carafe of sangría. She hands the waiter back the menu and as she does, she catches sight of a pleasant-looking older man, dining alone on the other side of the restaurant. He smiles, and it occurs to her that she could invite him to her table. She hates eating alone. But a certain fatigue grips her, as does a desire not to have to reveal herself to anyone, especially a stranger.

The waiter brings her wine, and fills her glass half full.

"Gracias." She sips from the glass.

"De nada." The waiter nods toward the older man. "Señora, the gentleman at the corner table asks if you are American."

"Yes," Ronda says. "I suppose that must be apparent."

The waiter, a stout man with black curly hair, smiles shyly. "He also asks if you are dining alone, because he would be delighted to share your table."
Ronda blanches. She sets the glass down. She would just as soon eat alone, but how can she say no?

"Tell him I may not be very good company tonight, but that he is free to join me." The waiter departs, and Ronda lifts her glass shyly in the man's direction. He holds up his cigarette in greeting, nods his head once in reply.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: "Ronda in Spain, Dizzy On Orange Blossoms and Moorish Tiles"

Ronda is sitting in the Alcázar gardens, getting dizzy on orange blossoms and Moorish tiles.

Everywhere she turns, there are squares and diamonds and fiendishly complex six-sided stars. She tries to steady her gaze on a single pattern, one of blue and gold interlocking lines, but soon the ornate design blurs and she yawns, closing her eyes.

She arrived in Sevilla 2011-03-22-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpgonly three hours ago, on the morning flight from Madrid. She was so tired after flying all night that when she lay down, she stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Anxious for exhaustion, she got up and showered and walked from her hotel all the way into the center of town, to the palace, the only place she can clearly remember visiting four years ago with Ben.

When the two of them were here together then, it was December, a bitter and rainy day, and they raced through the Alcázar bundled up in winter coats. Today, though, the sun is shining in the typical Moorish fashion, hot and unforgiving, and Ronda is not in any hurry. She lingers on a warm bench in front of the room the guidebook calls "Maria's bath."

A handsome, sharply featured Spanish guide is explaining in loud accented English that Maria de Padilla was mistress to the royal palace's builder, Pedro the Cruel. "So great was Pedro's love for Maria," the guide bellows to a group of tourists, "that he and the other courtiers lined up to drink from Maria's royal bath water."

Ronda laughs out loud, trying to picture the cups the men used to drink from the bath. Probably silver goblets.

The tour group moves on and Ronda follows, then wanders to a far corner of the garden.

Thick clusters of oranges are hanging from every tree. Glancing to either side to check for guards, she reaches up, plucks off an orange and tucks it into her purse.

She sits down on a bench and stares into a sea of white orange blossoms right beside her face, the fragrant five-pointed flowers floating in a sea of waxy green leaves. Setting her guidebook beneath her head, she reclines on the bench. Her eyes close. She sees tiles. Blue and gold interlocking stars. Black and white hexagons and squares. In Sevilla, it seems tiles are everywhere. The mind-boggling patterns even decorate the walls and floors of all the rest rooms.

The next thing she knows a security guard is gently shaking her shoulder. Mouth slack, Ronda pops upright, confused. Her thoughts go instantly to the stolen orange, hidden inside her purse. "Oh my God," she cries, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry."

The young guard grins. "No puede dormir aquí, señora."

"Oh, sí, sí, lo siento. I'm...I'm so sorry," Ronda apologizes, glancing at her watch. It's six a.m., American time. "I'm still catching up," she explains, pointing at the watch.

Leaving the garden, she stops momentarily before a tree. A pair of plump grapefruits dangles from a gnarled limb. Ronda turns her camera to the fruit and snaps a photo. In every direction, the turreted walls surrounding the garden are painted lemon yellow or salmon. One or two walls are blood red. The last room she visits before leaving the palace contains dozens of antique fans.

She thinks: I cannot leave Spain this time without buying a fan. And that's when panic grips her. How long will she be in Spain? She doesn't have an endless supply of money. How long will it take to find him? And what happens when she does find him? And what happens if she doesn't?

She passes out of the palace through a towering fortified wall and hails a cab back to the hotel. Fully clothed, she drops on her bed and for a moment fear grips her. What am I doing here, alone, in Spain, searching for a man who very well might not want to be found? But soon she falls into a deep sleep, dipping into dreams tangled with white orange blossoms and zigzagging Moorish tiles.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: "Rainbows and Bruises, and News of Some Unconscious Kind"

She knows it’s crazy, but she is breathing rainbows into her toes.

The music helps. In it, rain is falling. And tropical birds are calling, deep and throaty. Just when she’s begun to enjoy the birds, they give way to ocean sounds, with waves crashing on the shore.

Ronda is lying on a floor mat, upside down, balanced on her shoulders. Her feet tower above her face. In her mind she keeps floating to different places. Each has a sky as blue as a cornflower, and clouds of billowy cotton.

The teacher – whose name is Rama Do – is saying something. The words are slow and soft, his voice soothing. “Now let the breath come up inside your chest like a kitten and let the kitten lie curled there, right inside your lungs. Feel the rhythm of that air, in and out.”

He pauses and Ronda is hypnotized. She sees a milky blue sky. “Now let go of the air inside you. Watch it rise. Watch it swell slowly up through your pelvis. Stare at it. A pot of golden light.”

Ronda closes her eyes, wanting to give into sleep. The voice keeps going. “The air and light are moving into your thighs…and now your knees. Slow down there. Watch the light circling around your knees. And the ankles. Finally, it reaches the toes.”
Her calves are pulsing and the pressure on her throat and jaw are growing. But inside her head, she is watching something light rising up the smooth purple mountain slopes that are her legs.

“The light separates as it reaches your toes,” the voice goes on. “Each of your toes is a different color of the rainbow. See the big toe. Red. Orange fills up the next. And then yellow. And green.”

The green makes Ronda think of lush mountain slopes. And trees sprouting spring leaves.

He continues with the cool colors, but Ronda is distracted. The pressure is getting almost unbearable in her face and neck. She will be very glad when the teacher allows them to roll out of the pose and back down to the floor.

“Now, with your toes full of rainbow light, see if you can drop your hands from behind your hips. Try to hold steady in that shoulder stand just a few minutes without the assistance of your hands.”

She lets her arms drop to the floor. Her heart is pumping hard enough that she can hear and feel the steady beat, repeating inside her head. She struggles to stay balanced on the upper edge of her back, but as soon as the young woman on the next mat tips over and drops down to the floor, Ronda does the same.

Glancing to the back of the room, she sees Jack still balanced, sturdy on his shoulders.

She inhales and closes her eyes. She sees Jesús, sitting in a chair in a dark smoky cave, bound hand and foot. His mouth is bruised and slack and bloody, and his eyes are covered by a blindfold.

“My God,” Ronda whispers. She snaps upright and one hand over her mouth. For the first time, it hits her. Jesús is in trouble.

She glances at Jack again. He is back on his mat, lying limp like everybody else.

Ronda eases herself backward onto her mat. But the vision still grips her, goes even further than before.

Jesús is sitting in front of a fire, or at least some kind of a light is throwing an orange glow on his body. Two other figures are there. A young woman with billowing dark hair. An old man. Something about the expression on the man’s face scares her.

Following the teacher’s instruction, she rolls slowly onto her hands and knees. Her head hangs, chin to chest.
Jesús appears again. This time, he has been knocked off his chair. His blindfolded face plows into the dirt floor of the cave.

The older man just gave him a sharp kick him in the ribs. Jesús has buckled over, his mouth open, and blood is flowing out between his teeth. He chokes but makes no sound.

Ronda sits back on her haunches. Without understanding why, she knows two things: somewhere, Jesús is hurting. And somehow, she needs to go.


Something like seaweed – green, slippery, and heavily seasoned in what looks like soy sauce – is served for lunch, side by side with a small mountain of brown rice. She takes a small bite.

Across the table, Jack smirks. Neither of them speaks, as conversation isn’t permitted at meals. In the center of the long table, at regular intervals, sit small candles, flickering in the dim gray light. Chairs squeak. Silverware clinks against the plates.

She is dying to speak to her son. She has begun to make a plan. After the yoga class ended, she placed an urgent call to her travel agent.

“Book a ticket to Sevilla after all,” she told the young man who originally handled – and then canceled – her reservation. “I will take the first flight available next week.”

Jack is eating his seaweed with chopsticks now. One large piece of the frightful-looking green weed dangles below his chin.

Ronda grimaces and watches him place the seaweed into his mouth. He chews methodically. Then he sips tea from the small ceramic cup before him. Smiling triumphantly, he lifts the cup up to her, as if he’s making a toast. She shakes her head in disbelief. This is the kid who used to devour greasy hamburgers and fries. Who didn’t eat lettuce or peas. Who spit lima beans whole from his mouth. Now, he’s come home from Vassar addicted to tofu and rice. And a pale yellow grain from South America called quinoa. He eats grains for breakfast and for dinner, he extols the virtues of kale and collards and kohlrabi.

She folds her hands politely in her lap. Wonders how long she should sit here among these vegetarians, before she gets up from the table, goes in search of real food. She’ll drive into Lenox, find a diner or a deli, buy herself a good turkey club.

At the other end of the long table, an older white-haired man rises, bows slightly, and leaves. Ronda takes this as her signal.

Pushing her chair away, she stands, abandons her plate of seaweed and rice. Grinning at Jack, she makes an exit sign with her thumb. Mouths the words, “See you later.”

Jack shrugs and nods and she tiptoes out of the silent dining room.

Climbing the stairs, it occurs to her that she doesn’t have a clue what she’ll do once she gets to Spain. All she has is the phone number and address that Jesús left her last May, the place he was supposed to stay while recording the CD. The phone number she tried two or three times in early July. Each time she called, the phone rang and rang and then it went dead. Eventually, she stopped trying.

She pulls out her cell phone. It is only 6:30 in Sevilla. It can’t hurt to try calling once more.

Italy. The first time she calls, she reaches a wrong number in Italy. She knows because there is someone babbling to somebody else in her grandmother’s tongue. She hangs up and dials again. When the connection goes through the second time, there is the familiar ring she kept getting in July.

She sits in the grass outside the yoga studio, underneath a pine tree. The phone keeps ringing. Just as she’s about to hang up, somebody answers.

She hears music, singing.

“Hola?” she calls into the phone. “Hola?

“Sí? Sí?” She hears a voice, but it is low and so far away. It’s impossible to tell even if it belongs to a man or a woman.

“Habla inglés?” No answer. She calls louder. “Por favor. Habla usted inglés?”

“Sí, sí, hablo un poco.” The voice belongs to a man, an older man.

Ronda sits up, her heart pounding, her face going hot and cold.

“Quiero hablar con Jesús Becerra. He…he….plays…toca guitar…guitarra.”

“Ah sí, sí. Señor Becerra. Yo lo conozco. Pero, no esta aquí.”

“O, sí. Donde está?”

“No se señora. No se. El se fue el mes pasado.” And then, the speaker on the other end launches into a blur of words that leaves Ronda gasping.

“No entiendo,” she screams finally. “No entiendo. En inglés, por favor. In English?”

“He…Jesús…he leaves. One month or more now at least. He is not here now.”

“Sí, yes. I understand. Pero, where is he? Donde está aquí?”

“I do not know. He was sick, very sick, but then he got better, I think he…

“Sick? Enfermo?”

“Sí, sí. El estuvo en un hospital por más o menos una semana, para una operación, yo creo que sí.”

“An operation? He needed surgery?”

“Sí, sí, fue una emergencia, yo creo. No sé lo que era el problema.”

“Y ahora?”

“No sé. He leaves. He pays his bill. He says goodbye.”

“Did he leave an address…a phone number?”

The phone connection crackles. Ronda looks up. Jack is standing over her.

“I’m on the phone with someone in Spain. Jesús was ill apparently. He had surgery.”

Jack nods. “See? I told you.”

She turns back to the phone.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. I am here. I think he leaves a number somewhere. I am looking now… I am not sure…”

The connection is in and out.

“Hello? Hello?”

No sound.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. Jesús Becerra. Here it is. Esta en Granada.”


“Near there. The town is Lanjarón. Down in the south, below Granada.”

“But…what is he doing there?”


“A reason. Did he give a reason for going?”

“Señora, please. Speak slow.”

“Yes,” Ronda shouts, her voice rising as her words slow to a crawl. “DO YOU KNOW WHY HE WENT THERE?”

“No, señora. I do not know. I have a phone number. That is all.”

Ronda prepares to scribble the number on the back of a crumpled receipt.

He begins to read the numbers. “Nueve, cinco, ocho, zero, zero…” Thankfully, Ronda recalls numbers from high school Spanish.

“And the address, señor? Can you give me the address?”

“It says here, only Lanjarón.”

“I see. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“De nada.”

Ronda hangs up the phone. Looks up at Jack, who reaches down to help her up.

“So?” Jack says.

She shakes her head. “I have a phone number. He’s in a small town near Granada. That’s all I know.” She sees Jesús in a hospital bed. His head bandaged.

But why? What happened?

“I need to go, right away,” she says. “I’m going to see if I can fly standby.”

“Good idea,” Jack says. “You should go.”

“Thank you sweetheart,” she says, reaching up to hug him. She squeezes him as hard as she can. “Thank you for everything.”

As she hurries back to her room to pack, she tries to recall Jesús ever complaining of any chronic ailment, an ulcer, a heart condition. Once, she remembers him having the flu. And another time, he had a bad stomachache after eating raw oysters.

But when he left the states in July, he was healthy, thoroughly fit.

Soon she has her suitcase packed, and she is back at Jack’s door. She knocks.

“I’m heading out,” she says when he opens the door.

“Drive safely.”

“I will.”

As she turns to go, he calls out to her. “Mom?”


“Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner? I mean, I hear they’re feeding us miso and barley.” His eyes twinkle.

She stops. Smiles. “Oh shucks, I think I’ll have to pass.”

“You want a plate to go?”

She blows him a kiss. “Just so you know, Jack. I really do hate the food. But I love the yoga.” She shrugs. “You were so right about me coming here. I feel great.” He waves and she turns and disappears down the grey hall.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: "Your Escape Starts Here, Beneath the Mirror"

The face in the hallway mirror is one she scarcely knows. Eyelids swollen, cheeks shrunk to hollows, skin as pink as Easter ham.

Moving closer, she whispers at her reflection in the silver surface: No matter what, tonight you are not going to cry. You will remain calm, you will dry your eyes. You will laugh. Or at least, smile. She studies her eyes. Two half moons, dark and empty, gaping sockets that open directly into the hollow of her chest. The place where a month ago, her heart sank in a wickedly unpredictable storm called Jesús.

When she first got word the boys were coming home for Columbus Day weekend, she thought for sure she’d be better. She figured that buying food and cooking for her kids would be good therapy. But now the evening has arrived and they are due in a matter of minutes. Her head throbs, and her throat knots up whenever she swallows.

“Anyway, I’ve just got to, that’s all,” she says, inhaling, calling herself to action.

She goes to the kitchen, gets out the red teddy bear apron, the one Jack gave her for Christmas when he was ten. Feeling thus armored, she focuses on the pot of boiling potatoes.

As long as she doesn’t think, and nobody expects an intelligent response to a question, she’ll be fine. But what will she say when one of them wants to know why she cancelled her trip to Seville? She would simply tell the truth. “‘He…we…it just didn’t pan out with him I’m afraid…’”

A view of Jesús, his perpetually sleepy eyes, shudders through her. She closes her eyes to the image, bends over the oven door, slides out the roasting pan, bastes the golden breast of the bird. She cannot remember the last time she made turkey. She pauses, tries to concentrate. It had to be Thanksgiving of '96.

In those days, when Ben Sr. was still in command of her life, she still made all the fixings from scratch: cranberry orange sauce, creamed onions, sweet potatoes, stuffed mushrooms. And homemade French bread.

The Honda is honking outside. Closing the oven door, Ronda throws the mitt on the counter and goes to the front window.

Joy swells into her chest as she catches sight of her sons. Ben Jr. is carrying a bouquet of yellow flowers. And then, much to

Ronda’s surprise, there’s someone with Jack and Ben: a young woman with red, wavy hair bouncing around her shoulders. She has long shapely legs and a short tight skirt.

“Oh my,” Ronda whispers, clutching her throat. How could he? She moves to the front door and stands there. Eyes closed, she braces her forehead against the wood, waiting for the bell. When the familiar three-step of chimes finally comes, she counts to five, then opens the door and smiles.

“Hey, Ma, this is Marielle,” Ben Jr. says right away, letting the girl go up the steps first.

Ronda extends a damp hand. “Hello, Marielle.” Her heart is hammering. Never before has Ben brought home a girl. And now today he’s done it without telling her, with absolutely no warning that he even has a girl. How could he?

“It’s so nice to meet you,” Marielle says, shaking Ronda’s hand. The girl has gigantic eyes, clear and blue. And a handshake that is as powerful as a man’s.

“It’s very nice to meet you too,” Ronda replies. Later, she will say it was Marielle’s eyes. Later, she will say to Karen that there is something amazing about their wash of stunning color, a blue of sky and stream. “Please, Marielle, come in.”

Marielle steps forward, passing through the open door, and Ronda thinks, who knows, maybe this girl will be the very blessing I need. Maybe the presence of another woman at dinner, a stranger, might fill the conversation. With Marielle present, the boys are less likely to press certain issues, or raise others that might hurt too much to discuss.

“I hope it’s OK I came,” Marielle stammers, a frown crowding her sweet freckled face. “I told Ben that maybe we should call first, but he told me…”

“Ma doesn’t mind,” Ben says, placing a swift kiss on his mother’s forehead. “She’ll be thrilled to find out that Marielle is a dancer.” Ben throws a sly glance at his mother before hurrying past her into the house. Jack stays behind.

“Hey, Ma,” he says gently, squeezing his mother’s shoulders with one powerful arm. Is it Ronda’s imagination or is he holding onto her longer than he usually does? Is that because he knows? He knows she’s had the core knocked out of her?

Ronda closes the door, pleased by the satisfying mixture of kitchen smells. “I just hope you’re all hungry,” she says.

“I’m starved,” Ben says. “We left the city at twelve and have been driving ever since.” He tosses his denim jacket on the couch, in exactly the same spot he always threw it in high school. He pulls Marielle close and automatically she tips her head back and receives his open-mouthed kiss.

Ronda stares in dumb amazement at her son as he walks out of the room. Marielle slips out of her leather jacket. She’s wearing a tight cotton sweater with a low neckline, a sweater that lets her navel show. She’s striking. Gorgeous. Leave it to Ben. Back in high school, he had the walls of his bedroom covered with posters of beautiful models in skimpy skirts and even skimpier bikinis.

“Can I help you with something?” Marielle asks, hooking a strand of pale red hair behind her ear. “I just have to wash my hands.”

Ronda pauses. Marielle’s face. She can’t place it, but there is something vaguely familiar about it. Or maybe it’s just the kindness, or the guilelessness of her freckles. It’s a face that puts Ronda immediately at ease. “Well, sure, if you don’t mind, Marielle. Maybe Ben can show you where the placemats and dishes and silverware are and the two of you can set the table in the dining room. I’ve just got to make the gravy and peas.”


She is in misery and can’t eat her dinner, but it isn’t anybody’s fault. Or maybe it’s her fault. She had to ask Marielle about her dance career. Marielle was glad to talk about it: she is part of a small dance troupe performing in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then at Lincoln Center next spring. She intends to get her master’s in dance education after she graduates from NYU in June.

“That’s amazing,” Ronda says, nibbling on a couple of peas.

“Ben tells me that you dance flamenco?” Marielle asks, returning the same strand of red hair behind her ear once again.

Ronda looks down at the place mat, incapable of a smile.

“Yes, I’ve been dancing for quite a while now,” she says, her voice soft. “I just love it.” She is about to leave it at that but then glances at Marielle’s face and once again sees a trace of something inviting.

“I’ll be honest with you Marielle,” Ronda goes on. “When I was in your position, many years ago, dancing, I blew it. I did. I went and got married and pregnant and dropped the dance thing altogether. Just like that.”

“Oh come on Ma,” Ben Jr. says, serving himself another scoop of potatoes. “You’re gonna start making me feel unwanted.”

Ronda studies her son, wondering suddenly whether he brought Marielle here for some underhanded purpose.

“Ben, I think you know what I mean,” she says, forcing her voice to remain even. “I would have been much better off if I had combined things. If I could have established a career before getting married. If I had only waited to get pregnant at least.”

“Don’t worry,” Marielle says, getting the message. She pokes Ben under the table.

Ben avoids everybody’s eyes, Marielle’s included.

“What’s the deal with Seville?” Jack asks, quietly, from the opposite side of the table. “Are you going or not?”
Ronda clears her throat. Somebody had to ask.

She sits up straighter, tries to imagine a plank at her back, to support her, to hold her up. “I’ve decided not to go after all,” she says brightly. “You know I was supposed to meet my friend Jesús there right after Labor Day, but…”

She cuts a quick look at Jack, a look that says, ‘please Jack can we just leave it at that?’ But there is a sentence hanging, and nobody to finish it but her.

“I haven’t heard from him since the beginning of August. He was supposed to write again, to finalize things, and he didn’t, so…”

Jack, stabbing turkey into potatoes, speaks. “So…what happened?”

Ronda trembles. She can’t let them see. If she can just end this conversation, there will still be hope. “I don’t exactly know what happened. All I know is that he hasn’t written or called.”

Jack mutters something that Ronda cannot hear. She doesn’t ask him to repeat it.

She shrugs. Rises from her chair. “Time for dessert,” she announces, her voice rippling. “There’s chocolate cream pie and I’m going to whip up the cream.”

And before anybody has a chance to refuse, Ronda leaves the dining room and takes refuge in the kitchen.


In hot soapy water, Jack’s dark hairy forearms look even stronger than normal. He is scouring turkey goo from the sides of the roasting pan.

Some woman, Ronda thinks, drying the stem of a wine glass, will be so lucky to get him.

“So,” Jack says, “you like Marielle?”

Ronda dries the fragile wineglass and polishes it to perfection. “I do like her, very much. She seems smart. And full of energy.”

Ronda stops drying. Suddenly, the impulse is there again. She feels like crying. But she won’t. Not in front of Jack at least.

“I guess I think she’s too nice for him,” Jack says. “I bet Dad agrees with me.”

“How long are they staying at your father’s place?” She takes another glass and dries it.

“Just tonight. Marielle has to dance someplace tomorrow night in the city.”

Jack sponges the roasting pan clean and rinses it. The two of them work silently together for several minutes.

“I guess I shouldn’t have asked about your trip before. I’m sorry.”

Ronda takes the turkey pan from his hand. “That’s OK.”

Jack turns to face her. “So, what happened? You think…Jesús ditched you?”

The question feels like a punch to her gut. She sets the turkey pan on the granite counter. “I don’t know for sure what happened. He hasn’t called or written. I haven’t heard one word. That’s all I know.”

“But what if something happened to him? I mean, what if he got killed by a bus crossing the street?”

“Oh come on Jack. That’s ridiculous. Someone would have called me.”


Ronda closes her eyes. Slowly she draws air into her nose. “Look, Jack, it’s over. Please, honey, you’re sweet, but I’ve got to get used to the idea that I’ve lost him.”

“Ma, look. You know how I felt about the guy. Not my favorite person. But…” he stares into his mother’s face. “I can honestly say I never saw you so happy as those months you were with Jesús. I can’t believe you wouldn’t want to know for sure what happened.”

She turns away in silence and unties her apron. Her eyes are flooded and a crush of pressure has closed her throat.

“Ma, look, I hated him at first, you know that. I mean he ruined our family.” He turns his back on the sink, and stands there, his hands dripping soapsuds. “But then I finally accepted the fact that you and dad were over, were never ever going to work it out. And then I saw how happy you were.”

She starts to cry into the dishtowel. Jack pulls her forward, hugs her. The smell of his shirt is sweet and clean. She feels his heart beating and cries even harder.


“So you’ll come? If I can free up next weekend, you’ll meet me there?”

Jack is staring at her, and she is trying not to return his look.

But now his bus is pulling up, and he’s slinging the nylon strap of his duffel over his shoulder, and she is going to have to give him that final squeeze and hug and kiss. She is going to miss him so much, more than ever before, because now, at this moment in her curious history, he is the most important thing she has. He is the thing she can point to when she begins to wonder what her life adds up to. He is the one she can point to and say, I lived all those days as a wife and mother to produce him. This gem.

“Yes, Jack, I’ll come. I promise. I’ll have to find someplace to get my coffee, though. You know they don’t let you have any caffeine at all in those places.”

He laughs. “So you sneak out and go to this great little espresso place I know in Lenox. People do it all the time there. Anyway, I’ll call you later and we can figure out the rest of it.”

He hugs her, and she grabs onto him fiercely and thankfully, he doesn’t pull away until she lets go.

“So what’s the name of the place again? Shitaloo? Is that it?”

He cracks up. “Sihtalu, Ma. SIT-A-LOO. But call it what you want. All you have to do is show up. Show up and do yoga.”

“OK, honey.” She nods and reaches up to touch his face. “God you’re tall.” She turns to leave. Then turns back. “And handsome. Did I tell you how handsome you are?” The castanets dangling from her key chain clatter in her hand.

“Yes, Mom. You tell me all the time. Ma, remember,” he says, mounting the first step on the Greyhound bus, “remember to wear something white to do the yoga.”

She nods and waves and steps back. He disappears into the bus.

“White,” she whispers. “Yeah, well, Jack. Let the rest of them wear white. I think maybe I’ll be wearing purple.”

She watches him take a seat, and seconds later, the bus carrying the dearest thing in her life disappears.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: "Something Like A Vacuum Consumes Her"

Ronda imagines resting somewhere narrow. Her thighs are white and cold and spread wide. There is something like a vacuum cleaner. There is something like a basin or a pail. There are two stirrups holding her feet. She is scared. She is terribly scared of the sound. The vacuum cleaner is sucking at her insides, droning, tugging something away, sucking at the deepest space between her legs. Something feels like metal. Something pierces her and pinches her off, then wipes her clean. But then again, it leaves behind the pail. The pink water, dripping, bleeding down a drain, a tub, a kitchen sink. Ronda forces herself to look away, to think of something else. But try as she might, what stays behind is a vision, her thighs, spread wide.


Ronda stares through her tears. ‘In a minute,’ she thinks, ‘I am going to have to get up from this chair, I am going to have to leave this office, get in my car and drive home.”

“I think…” Ronda looking up, eyes puddling, eyes pleading. “Look I know I’m not…I am thinking about the…I don’t want to talk about the abortion again today.


“It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. It hasn’t gotten any easier. I thought it would. I thought by now, I mean it’s been seven months. I thought I’d be better by now.”

“But the feelings are still there?”

Ronda nods slowly. “Yes. And more since…”

“Since what?”

“Since he…” She sees the bus. “Since he left, it’s really hit home. I’m alone. Everyone…all of them, they’re all gone. It’s terrifying.” Tears begin again in earnest. But now they fall in sheets, flowing unrestricted down her cheeks.

“Of course it is. Of course it scares you.” Dr. Fearon hands her more tissues. Ronda wipes her eyes, blows her nose. Stares into the filigree. Such a nice word. One of the prettiest she has ever heard.

“Ronda, see if you can tell me exactly what it is that scares you? Why are you so terrified to be alone? Can you talk about that a little more?” The doctor’s voice is low, soft and comforting. Every so often, Dr. Fearon acts like a friend, like somebody who would care about Ronda even if she weren’t paying for these sessions.

Ronda stares. A blank page rises and falls in front of her watery eyes. “After the abortion, it really hit me, I saw that Jack and Ben Jr. were gone, they had grown up. And I feel like I’ve fallen into a black hole. Having kids was so much a part of me and now…” She shrugs, feels so drained.

“Well, Ronda, what you’re saying is true. Your life has changed. Your kids aren’t coming home again. Not in the way they used to be there.”

Ronda’s throat tightens. She blinks.

“But think about it. You will have a new relationship with your children. And so much freedom. Isn’t that what you wanted?

When you first came to see me, didn’t you say you were happy to be free of all that responsibility?”

Ronda nods. Inhales. “Yes, yes. I did say that. But…”

“But what?”

She speaks in a whisper. “I think I wanted to keep part of the old me. Part of me wants my own life, to be free, and part of me wants to be back…not with Ben Sr., but with Jack and…the way it was with the boys.”

“The way it was when you were a younger mother?”

Ronda nods and chews a new fingernail. She stares out the window. “I don’t miss being Ben’s wife at all. But part of me,” she looks up, “part of me realizes that at least I had a life then. I belonged. It mattered that I got up in the morning. And when I got pregnant last summer, I knew I couldn’t do it, not at all, but still, I saw the possibility of a life again. I saw myself belonging again, to Jesús and…to the baby.”

“And that’s why part of you wanted not to have the abortion.”

“Yes.” She whispers, cupping her hand over her chest. Tears start to fall. “Even though I know it was the right thing. Even though I know it would have been a terrible mistake if I had the baby. I mean Jesús kept being wishy washy until finally when I pressed him, he told me, outright, he made it clear that he was dead set against it. Still, my heart wanted that baby so much.”

She makes small circles on her chest.

“Yes, Ronda. Of course you’re sad about the abortion. It was an end. A confirmation that your life as a mother, a caretaker, is over. There aren’t going to be any more babies so now you have to find new ways to live.”

Ronda looks up, feeling feeble, conscious of the black hollow all around her, the black hole she can’t climb out of, the hollow that threatens to swallow her once more. She wants to run away.

“I know I need a different perspective on things. I mean, I know I couldn’t have gone through with that pregnancy, because it would have killed me and wrecked my relationship with Jesús, but still…”


“I think the thing is, the thing that scares me is that I have been punishing myself and I can’t seem to stop.”

“That’s true. You have been really hard on yourself.”

“I want it to end. I mean, I have to be able to forgive myself.”

“Forgive yourself for what?

“For…” what she thinks first, is, ‘for the abortion.’ And then it occurs to her that she has to forgive herself for the affair, for having gotten pregnant at all. But then she thinks about it, and it doesn’t stop there. She is filled with guilt over something much deeper, something she can hardly define.

Something to do with life itself, with the ungraspable passage of time, with the simple act of living. She sits there, staring at the doctor and breathing in the spring air and suddenly she sees it. She realizes the source of her endless responsibility. She feels responsible, somehow, for not being able to keep her children small. For not being able to keep all of her loved ones, especially her parents alive.

She feels responsible for all the ways that time changes things. For the way life keeps happening. For the things she keeps losing. It is scary, terrifying, to think that she can’t do anything to keep life under control. Until this moment, sitting here, facing the doctor, it never occurred to her.

It’s too much. At least today.

“I have to forgive myself for everything,” she sighs. She looks down. She looks into the filigree. Suddenly she wants to cry out,

‘Dr. Fearon, look at the pattern. Notice how the light shifts. How it’s different every moment. And yet, it goes on. Light goes on and on, always changing.’ She lifts her eyes, wants to say that, she wants to say that and finish by saying, please, no more discussion today.

Instead, though, she gets up, takes her jacket.

“I’m so tired, I’ve just got to go home now,” she says abruptly. And she leaves, without even saying good-bye.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: "In the Vacuuum, She Sees a Filigree"

"In the Vacuum, She Sees a Filigree"

Dr. Fearon sets her mug of tea carefully on the cork coaster, picks up a box of tissues from the sleek mahogany desk and hands them to Ronda.
"Tell me something, Ronda. What exactly would you like to see happen?"
Ronda tips her head back and forth, in slow motion and reaches for another tissue. "I don't know. That's the trouble with me, I'm not sure anymore."
Her head, so heavy, so full, is resting on the palm of one hand. She is studying the filigree on the floor, following it carefully with her eyes. Light in patterns. She is glad to see the light there. Surely, light like that, in delicate and complex patterns, is a good sign.
"Ronda?" The doctor places her fingertips together.
"Where were you just now?"
Ronda sits up straighter in the chair.
"I was just thinking that I'm not sure what I want to happen. I don't have a clue."
"Yes, you said that. But I'm curious. What were you thinking about just now?"
Again her eyes go to the carrot hair, to the splatter of coffee brown freckles. To the crisp blue eyes. 'I could say that I am thinking about the filigree, but what will that prove?' She turns her eyes away, faces the white paneled office door, the door she has passed through so many times in the last seven months.

One week, the week after the abortion, she couldn't stop crying, she was here, in this red maroon leather chair, four times. Now, now that she has started taking the blue pills every morning, she can deal with coming here once a week.
"I'm tired this morning. I'm wondering if I should leave."
Dr. Fearon glances at her wristwatch. "Well, you have a full half hour left. But it's up to you. I certainly can't stop you, but I would encourage you to stay and say whatever it is that's on your mind."
The doctor's voice is kind, reassuring. Patient. She may never cure me, Ronda thinks, but she is nice to talk to. In the next moment, something else occurs to her: this session is costing good money.
"I'll stay."

She will stay and she will say simply what feels all right to say. She will say something completely safe. She stares into the light that is making the filigree. What she notices is that the rays crossing at an angle to the pine floor are filled with dust. Dust that looks to be in constant motion. Seeing that dust, she thinks, 'I'm going to have to get the house cleaned, somehow I have to find a way to hire somebody to come in, because I will die if I inhale all that dust.' But she can't just sit here and talk about dust.
"I'm thinking right now about Jack. How things have gotten better between us."

"Yes, they have. Why do you say that?"

"I guess maybe because he's off on his own, enjoying Vassar, really growing up there. Whatever, I think he's come around, he's accepted the divorce."
"And so you don't think he's as angry as he was."
Ronda dabs at her eyes with a fresh Kleenex. "He was just impossible last summer. You'd think I had killed his father."
"Well, maybe he did see it that way."
Ronda's jaw drops. Her heart stutters, feels for a moment as though it might stop. She casts a dark frown across the desk. 'How can you say that?' she thinks. 'I am paying you money I don't have, to help me, and you say that to me?'
"I...I think that is terribly unfair of you to say..." Ronda's hands are trembling, and her palms damp. Her gaze freezes on the doctor's bright red hair.
"All I'm saying is that from his point of view, the world did come apart. The life he'd always known came to a halt. It was something you had to do, of course, but he couldn't see it that way. Not then anyway. But now that has changed."
"Thank God," Ronda mutters. She sits quietly, staring out at the oak tree, its smallest branches whipping in the spring wind. She feels raw, beaten. Even here, talking to Dr. Fearon, a place where she thought she was safe, even here, she sometimes feels scared and uncertain.
"Is it just Jack, though, Ronda? Is there anything else?"
Ronda's eyes close. She knows where the doctor wants her to go and she has already said once before today that she would just as soon not go there. To the bare space in her bed at night. To the silent phone.

To the night three weeks ago when she drove Jesús into town, to catch the bus. What a way to say goodbye. Not even in a proper bus station, but at the corner drug store, where the Bonanza leaves twice daily, once in the morning, and once at night, at 6:45. Right on schedule it pulled up and Ronda had her final goodbye, a kiss on the forehead, a peck on the lips, a brief squeeze of her shoulders.

And then Jesús turned and lifted his gear and mounted the steps, the guitar in one hand, the black duffel swinging from his elbow. He swiveled and for a split second he paused on the bus steps, touching his fingers to his lips, but before he could actually throw the kiss, the door of the bus closed, a mean squeeze. A compression of rubber and hinge.

Ronda cringed, waved a limp hand at no one, at the dirty window of the door, and then everything slowed, the bus paused, geared, lurched forward, and then her heart lurched too. In the next moment, the silver giant departed in a blast of grey exhaust.
"Ronda, where are you? You keep drifting away today."
"I'm here. I guess I'm just tired of talking about things."

She thinks maybe she shouldn't talk anymore. She'd rather sing. Just walk around the room bellowing "Jardín de Belleza," one of Jesús' favorite songs.
"It isn't easy to talk about...things, certain things."
"I know that Ronda. I suppose I am pushing you a little. But it seems to me that you've been avoiding talking, really talking, for a long time. I know you want to feel better, to sort things out, but it's hard if you don't confront what's really bothering you."

"OK. I need help cleaning the house. It's too much, feeling this way. There's just too much dust and with the asthma..." Ronda blurts out the lines in a rush, thinking she must sound ridiculous but not caring a bit.

"Can you hire somebody to clean for you?"
"Sure, if I get a job. The problem is always money."
"What about hiring a high school student to clean for you? Maybe you could post an ad somewhere."
"Maybe." She shrugs. " I'll see."
She is thinking about the dust in the rugs and the chairs disappearing without her having to lift a finger, and then she thinks about somebody cleaning the tub. The sprinkle of blue chlorinated cleanser in the white porcelain tub. The smell of bleach.

That's when the pink water begins forming, pooling, circling around the drain. A pain arises, at first unfocused. Then it lodges between her eyes, in her throat, in her chest right above where her heart rests.

CHAPTER TWELVE: "Gypsy Relevé"

"Gypsy Relevé"

In the package on the pillow there was a long black lace shawl, hand made, from Sevilla. Ronda is sitting on the bed, wearing it now cloaked over her head and face and that is the only thing she is wearing.

"Let me see you," Jesús whispers, pushing the lace away from her face. She shakes her head free and the shawl falls to her shoulders. "Nice," he says, caressing one breast. "I told my friend who bought this for you to choose something dramatic. Something that you could wear when you danced."

Ronda chuckles, rises into a kneeling position on the edge of the bed. "Considering that I've never performed, and most likely never will, I am more likely to wear this when I get old and I'm walking around this house feeling cold all the time, even in summer."
"Ah Ronda, why are you so fond of dark depressing thoughts?" He gets up from the bed, wraps himself in a large bath towel. "Anyway, when you are old you are going to be living in southern Spain with me, maybe even in that beautiful town named Ronda, and then, you'll see, you will never be cold."

"Wouldn't that be heavenly." She pulls the shawl tighter. Her face is serious, her voice quiet. "Jesús, how likely is it that you will have to stay past six weeks?"
"I don't know. It depends on how the recording goes. Sometimes it zips along and then sometimes it takes forever to get each of the songs right."

She reaches out and pulls his hand to her lips. The pale flesh of her arm peeks out between the delicate openings in the lace. "I've decided that if you are there past the end of August, then maybe I'll come over."

"Why don't you just plan on it, then, in any case? Say, right after Labor Day? We might take a little vacation, or..."

She stops, drops his hand. "No. I want to wait and be sure that you still want me to come."
"Dios mio! You make me crazy Ronda. I don't know what to do with you."
A moment of silence descends. Then Ronda ends it, smiling. "Well, how about this? How about you play one last song for me and I will get dressed and dance?" She swivels her back to him, clutching the shawl like a tight lace cocoon to her naked shoulders and hips.
He shakes his head, laughing gently. "Fine. But how come you waited until now? Until my very last hour here? How come you have always refused before to dance to my playing?"
"Maybe I was embarrassed. Anyway, a girl can change her mind, can't she?"
"Of course my darling. You, however, are changing your mind almost as often as the hands of the clock." He reaches into the corner beside the bed. Unsnapping the latches of the guitar case, he lifts the blonde instrument out of its purple velvet liner. Sets it on his toweled lap.

"But I'm afraid I can't play too long. I have two dozen things to do before I leave for the airport at four."
He starts tuning and she dresses in the only thing suitable. The black satin dress that Ben Sr. insisted on buying her the one time they visited Granada. Tight, with a red satin bodice that plunges low at the neckline. Layers of ruffle in the heavy flounced skirt bounce when she walks.
"I need you to zip the back up higher," she says, presenting him with her long naked torso.
"Hmm. Actually, no. I think it would be much better if I zip the back lower." His hands play lightly over her shoulder, and his lips go down her bare backbone right to her waist.

Goosebumps riddle her back. She smacks him playfully and turns to her closet. Stepping barefoot into her high-heeled tap shoes, she crouches down, ties the satin ribbons that close them tight over her feet.
Wrapping herself in the shawl once more, she walks to the middle of the bedroom floor. Holds the skirt out to either side.
"So? How do I look?"
When he looks up, he is smiling. And playing something too fast to dance to. At the sight of her in the dress, though, he stops. His smile fades. "And so why did you wait until today to look this way for me? Is this a plot to make me cancel the trip?"
She drops the skirt. Her lower lip quivers. "No. It's a plot to make you come back and never leave again."
He stands, holds the guitar by the neck in one hand. Takes her hand with the other. "You look more beautiful than ever. Here. Come with me. It's silly to dance in this room. On a carpet. Near an unmade bed."
Leading the way into the kitchen, he starts to open the door out to the deck. She holds back. "No, wait, Jesús. I don't dare dance out there."
"But why not? It's a beautiful day and the porch is clear and wide and sunny..."
"I can't. No. Everyone will see. I'll never hear the end of it. I'll be the laughing stock of Birch Drive. Really."
"Oh come on, what difference does it make?'
"But you've got no clothes on. And I'd be dancing on a Saturday morning wearing this dress in full view of everybody. Half the town will be talking about me by the end of the day."
"And so that bothers you?" He frowns at her, and nods in disbelief, the single lock of wet hair lying carelessly across his forehead. "Why should you care what the neighbors say. Or what they see or think?"
She sniffs. Falls back, and leans against the refrigerator, hugging the black lace shawl tighter around her shoulders. Gazing out to the backyard through the French doors, she eyes the dead vegetable garden she never got to this summer. She glances at the two houses that face her kitchen.
Ronda chews on her lower lip. Tips her head toward Jesús. Who could possibly object to her dancing in the sun with the one man in the world she adores?
"Okay," she mutters. Shrugging, she moves toward the door. "Come on. We're running out of time."
"Wait," he says. He grabs her purse from the kitchen counter. "Come here first."
She turns to face him. He reaches into the zippered compartment where she keeps her makeup. Uncapping a tube of lipstick, he reaches for her chin, balances it delicately in his thumb and forefinger, as if her jaw were a dainty porcelain cup.

Holding the lipstick up the way a child would grasp a crayon, he lays the lipstick against her mouth. Smears a lush layer of dark crimson across her lower lip. Then he dabs at the upper lip until her whole mouth is bright enough to be a tomato. As he admires his work, his dark eyebrows come together in a frown.
"There. Now you're ready," he says, nodding in approval. "My God you are beautiful."
The lipstick pulls her lips into a smile. She takes his arm, and the two of them step outside into the warm July morning. She squeezes his hand, and he squeezes hers back, as if she is about to go on stage.

And in a moment, she is on stage, to his playing. To start, he goes slowly, playing the same steady rhythm over and over. She twirls, hands over her head, wrists twisting, hips swiveling side to side, the motion taking her in a full circle. She tries to imitate the pained expression she always sees on the grim faces of the bailaoras when they dance.
Jesús picks up the pace, and her heels clatter, faster and faster on the wood, double, triple time. Her eyes close and she could be anywhere, dancing for a multitude of staring eyes. She forgets herself being there, forgets the back deck, the neat neighborhood yards, the window boxes of carnations, the gardens of blue morning glories, the beds of red impatiens.
His face bent directly over the guitar, Jesús' fingers are a blur over the strings. With no warning, he starts singing. The bloodcurdling howl shocks her. She opens her eyes to see his face, raised now, twisted in song. She has never heard him sing before. She stares. This vision of him will have to sustain her for at least six weeks. It has to carry her past the certain feeling that he is never coming back.
In her next pivot, she glances over her shoulder, across two lawns and there, before a net and a backboard and a rim, is little Trevor Daniel, the eight-year old who lives alone with his mom, Sally. He is folded over his basketball. Scooting around the asphalt driveway, Trevor shoots, jumps, twirls, and in between throws, he bounces over and over again in time with Ronda's feet coming down, battering the deck.
But when Ronda next turns, and glances over at the boy, he has suspended his play and he is standing, watching her dance. One arm raised, her wrist cocked, she looks at first to be locked in a strange lay up shot.

Trevor, balancing his basketball on his left palm, is momentarily fascinated, then confused. That's not a lay up shot at all. The boy watches the strange scene a little longer. Mrs. Fallon smiles, and raises her other arm. Trevor waves, then drops his head and calmly resumes bouncing.

Later, at lunch, he tells his mother: old Mrs. Fallon sure has a weird way of saying hello.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

CHAPTER ELEVEN: "Ronda in Relevé"

Jesús leaning across the white tablecloth, his face framed by two narrow tongues of flame. The same two candles whiting the coal of his eyes. Ronda, heavy with wine, catching the blinking lines.

Looking away, then looking back again, then playing with the fire. Wondering why the flame burns blue and black at the wick. Wondering why the same lick of flame reaches skyward in a crisp lemon point. Wondering why she can pass her fingertip so painlessly back and forth through the flame, when the same fire, should it erupt unexpectedly during the night, could consume her within minutes in her bed.

"So you aren't going to speak to me any more tonight, is that how it will be?" Jesús' whisper disturbs the flame. And her concentration.
She looks up, pours more red wine, the last of the Barbera, into her glass. As she does, she smiles at him. "I will never stop talking to you Jesús. I just don't know what to say right now."
He reaches around the candle. Takes hold of her fingers. Gingerly, with the flat of his thumb, he rubs the ring finger, the white place in the skin where her wedding ring made its indentation.
"If you really want to come, you know you can," he says. "You would love Spain. The places I could take you, the beaches in the south, they are the most..."
"No!" She pulls her hand away. "Please don't, Jesús. Please don't say any more. We've had that discussion too many times before. I've told you already, I don't belong there, chasing you."
"But you won't be chasing me. Because I am not running away."
The instrumental that is playing, a melody called "Structures From Strings," dies out. Without thinking, she gets up from the table, leaving behind the image of his face, peachy yellow in the candlelight. It is not a face she will ever forget. Nor is it a face that can be mailed in a transatlantic letter.
She carries two empty bowls, each with traces of chocolate ice cream, into the kitchen. It's dark in there, and she's glad. She parks herself by the sink, gives herself the short lecture: we've had a good time tonight. Don't spoil it. Don't push him away.
Out in the living room he is playing another CD. Ottmar Liebert's "Nouveau Flamenco." The CD she bought him so long ago, when she didn't know his taste in music. He laughed when he opened the CD and she was crushed and she asked why and he gave her his sly look and said "because back home, we call Liebert the fake flamenco." And she said "Oh god, Jesús, make me feel bad, why don't you?" but then he had kissed her, so tenderly, and now he actually listens to the CD, or at least he often does when she's around.
Closing in on the sink, she stands, lets the music swell up into her head. She isn't moving from the sink. She pours herself a small glass of water and drinks it, and despite the knot in her throat, she can still swallow. She considers taking a pill, the last Xanex before she has to renew the prescription.
"Ronda, you cannot hide from me in here." He is standing beside her in the kitchen but curiously he isn't grabbing her or coming too near or even turning on the light. His voice is floating in the dark, separate. Like a bell in a lighthouse, he stands somewhere out there in the center of the kitchen, sounding, calm and reassuring.
She drinks an iota more water. "I think you ought to go now," she mutters, putting the words out slowly. As soon as he leaves, she will go upstairs and do yoga. Lately her body has begun to crave the yoga, almost more than the dancing.
He cinches one arm around her waistline. Tries to pull her closer but she won't have it. "No, Jesús. I decided this before you came tonight."
"What? What did you decide?" She hears alarm in his voice and a part of her, the icy heart at her center, is glad. Glad that she will have had at least this small chance to hurt him.

Because she is absolutely certain that sooner or later, he is going to hurt her.
"I decided I don't want you to stay tonight."
"But why? That makes no sense."
"Yes. It does." She inhales, fires the words out. "Because I want the next time we have sex to be when I know you're coming back."
"Ronda." The fear in his voice has turned sharp, a dagger of anger. "You are...you are such an American." That label usually figures as a joke between them, a way of him teasing her for eating dinner before eleven. Usually, he calls her an American in a tone that makes her laugh. But tonight, he is sounding a warning.
He is no longer trying to hold her waist. There is a moment of silence during which Ronda is more glad than ever for the dark. Because she can't see through her tears. The next words she hears come tumbling out in a discontinuous line from his mouth.
"You're telling me that after a year, no, almost a year and a half, after all that time we sleep together and we make the best love I can imagine, the best love of my whole lifetime, and then the last night, the very last night before I'm supposed to leave you for a month you won't let me stay. AH!"
"Six or eight weeks," she squeaks. She hopes by speaking softly the tears won't come. But of course they do. "You said you would be gone at least six weeks Jesús. You said maybe even two months."
"OK, OK, maybe so. Whatever it is, it isn't so terribly long. And why you are so scared I won't come back, I don't know. I don't know what to say to you. Sometimes I just ..."
"I'm sorry Jesús. I'm sorry I'm not more...cool and collected. I can't help it. I just want it to be simple...a clean break."
Jesús makes one angry gesture with his hand, waving her away. Then he leaves the kitchen, babbling angrily in Spanish. She listens for him in the other room. He snaps off the power on the CD and now she is convinced that he has decided to go, that he has accepted her decision. And so easily too.

She is thinking, "please God no, please don't let him go off like this." Icy pins of fear prick the back of her neck. She stands frozen at the metal sink, one hand on the faucet, steadying herself. Get ready, she thinks. Get ready to grieve, to mourn, to wake up every morning holding nothing but your pillow.
But instead, the comforting sound of guitar strings flutter out from the living room. His fingers are dancing across the strings again. Relieved, she pulls enough air into her lungs for two people. She dries her eyes on her sleeve. And for some reason, at that moment, she recalls the night that Ben Sr. was leaving. How hard he cried. How he paused in the driveway, rolled down his window, gave her the finger. In the old days, she thinks, when I was married to Ben, I hardly cried at all.
Tiptoeing into the living room, she sinks into a dark corner on her hands and knees, feeling the cool wood of the oak floor beneath her. She settles there, in the corner, like a scared animal. Curling her arms under her legs, she buries her face in her thighs. And listens to him play. And tries not to cry.
She isn't sure how or when it happens, but she wakes up in her own bed. She is staring at the white wall, the small brown stain in the corner of the ceiling overhead.
"What if he isn't there when I turn over?" she thinks. "What will I do if he's gone?"
And so for a full minute, she remains where she is, perfectly still, breathing lightly, her cheek resting in the pillow.
Finally she flips over, forces her eyes open. The other side of the bed is empty. But there on the pillow she sees a note, and a wrapped package. Her eyes fill, her throat locks. She pulls the bedcovers over her head. I had to go and ruin our last night. I had to go and ruin it all.
She is lying in a great wash of tears, and her first impulse is to suffocate herself beneath the sheets. But soon she tires of the heat, and the feeling that she has been beaten down. She pulls the covers away, puts her face into the cool air.
There is a sound, a gurgle, then water dripping.
She pops up to a sitting position. It's coming from the bathroom. Water is sloshing around in the tub. Slipping from the bed, she springs across the room in two steps. Explodes through the bathroom door.
"You're...you're here." He is reclining in a tub of frothy bubbles, his face submerged to the tops of his ears. She is riveted to the door, afraid that if she moves closer, he may disappear.
"So don't worry, I will leave, as soon as I have finished rinsing," he says. He uses his big toe to open the drain.
"NO, no," she calls, all of her sinking to the tile floor. "Please. No. You don't have to go. I don't want you to go. "
He eyes her, his lids half closed. Soft bubbles cover the sharp arc of his nose. "Oh, so you changed your mind?"
"I...I'm sorry Jesús," she says, her tears running. "I'm sorry for...I'm sorry for all of this."
She reaches into the froth, touches his shoulder. He sits up, slides his hand up to cover hers, pulls her other arm forward and kisses the shallow well inside her elbow. "Get in here," he commands and she does. He flips the switch on the drain again. The water stops flowing out.
She is wearing only her black bikini panties and a camisole as she descends beside him into the bathwater.

This post appeared first on HuffPost on Thursday, March 3, 2011.