She smooths down her green dress and takes a cautious step towards the beach. The wine in her glass sways as she holds on to the wooden fence that forms the border between the sand and the creaky wooden decking at the back of her house. With one swish of her gold high heel, she moves the debris from the summer storm of the night before. A dry branch, a clump of seaweed, a cluster of pebbles thrown about by the wind.
She thinks of what a shepherd said to her years ago, that day she took Lola up to the mountains on the other side of the road. They laid down a blanket and she took out a Fortnum’s hamper from the car. She’d had it delivered by plane to Málaga, and her driver had collected it from the airport. Not because she thought Lola would be impressed, but because she didn’t know another way to picnic. The food in Spain was strange, forbidding and rich then. Too much fish and bread. She savoured tiny things, things she could hold between her fingers and consume in one bite.
The popped the champagne. Lola in bare arms after she took off her shawl. Her, forever in stiff tweed. And this felt bucolic enough, Arcadian, romantic. Close to the green grass of home despite the deep brown of the earth scorched hard by this unrelenting sun. And the answer to the only thing that had brought her to Andalucía was in front of her. She watched a single drop of sweat make its way down from just behind the tenderness of Lola’s earlobe adorned with a thick gold hoop, down the neck where her tongue had traced before, and collect in a single perfect glistened jewel on her collarbone. And she wanted nothing more than to kiss it off her, to feel the heat beneath it. So she did.
And then one more drop. And then another. On her own head too, down her own neck. She looked up to see thick grey clouds had rolled in, outlined in black. The world itself rumbled. Lola let out a yelp and grabbed her shawl, putting it over her head and running to the car. Screaming at her, por Dios mujer let’s go. Trying to put the roof back over the convertible as the rain gained momentum.
But she kneeled there still, on the blanket. The water pooling onto the china plates and the blinis soggy and falling apart, half-eaten. Her arms locked, hands palm down. She looked right at the man who stood there surrounded by goats, holding onto a stick and staring right back at her. Two women kissing on a blanket in 1960s Spain, one of them the most famous singer and actress in Spain, the other an English heiress who had fled her own country to hide away from scandal for a while. And here she was again.
The man tipped his cap and said, esto pa’ ma’ calor, looking up at the sky before disappearing into the olive trees, the bells and bleats of his goats following. She felt two hands pull at her. Lola had packed the hamper into the boot and managed to wrestle the cover onto the car. They left the blanket behind, with the bottle of champagne and a half-eaten picnic. Later they laughed at who would find gold-plated dishes with the Queen of England’s insignia stamped onto them, deep in the hills of Casares.
Later they would laugh, after they fought and screamed and fucked. And fucked again. After the storm had passed and the sun appeared, bringing a dry still heat to the late afternoon. Wrapped together in a sheet on the top floor balcony, looking out at the sea. What did the man say? she asked Lola. You know I don’t understand your bloody patois half the time. Lola shrugged, what man? What man? What you saying? And they worked it out together with more wine and more fingers beneath the bedding furiously seeking out warmth, and a tongue on a neck more private here as they watched the darkness settle across the water.
And now she was here, alone. She looks up at the top balcony, at the paint coming off the walls and the chips large enough in the enamel of the railings to see even at night. The wind picks up, but it’s warm. Sand catches in it in a swirl and hits her cheek. She holds her hand up to the sting and looks back out to sea. At the waves white and curled in at the shore like a swirl of a dress across a stage. Moving in and out with a roar. Like the whole world will never be still again.