On that afternoon in July, when the sun moved in a curve towards the West in the endless sky, you sat on the beach with a bollo wrapped in foil. The flat, cold taste of ham against the creamy manteca that formed a film of grease around your lips. You stayed under the sombrilla, your feet encrusted up to the ankle with all the little broken dots of shell and stone from the shore. Stuck to you with the salt water. You did this on purpose, digging deep on your way out of the water and letting them bake in the heat. At the right time you could start wiggling your toes and seeing if anything would fall off. You imagined all those pieces growing up your legs and over your body, encased in a mosaic of debris like some Ancient Greek statue lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean unmoving and unfamiliar to the chaos of the world.
The radio crackled with all the songs of the summer. Vengaboys or Mambo Number 5 and King Africa. From time to time you wiggled the thin antenna to regain a signal. The comic you were reading and left to one side in favour of your bollo already covered in sand, despite your care of keeping it on a towel. Captain America’s patriotic gaze covered over like a Saharan storm. Your mother forgot the milk in the car. She left you alone looking out at the water, the lazy waves transparent as they lifted up and around and back into the deep green against the blue of the sky all the way from one side to the other, where the land turned a corner and rose up into mountains with the rectangles of a city at its feet. But here, where you were, a feeling of detachment from asphalt and transport, steel and glass and advertising, school and work.
And in the distance a fishing boat bobbing lazily, cutting across the water and leaving a faint wake, with another boat behind it, and another. Small wooden vessels painted in brilliant blue or white with red stripes along the top. The whir of their petrol engines. At the centre of the flotilla a statue of the Virgin Mary on one boat, crowned and held high with an intricate embroidered train of gold and white catching all the light and sending it into the water. Holding the Baby Jesus aloft in one hand. A mirage, an apparition, a miracle passing you by now, closer. People running to the shoreline and throwing out flowers, a trail of floating roses along the beach like strange sea creatures.
You heard your mother behind you shouting something you couldn’t understand. You turned to look at her, running faster now like her feet were burning on the sand. A lack of composure you’d only seen once, when your father left you both and she threw herself at the front door. As she ran, she failed to notice the flask of milk had opened, the lid lost somewhere in the dunes. The white liquid pouring out behind her as she leaped towards the shore and past you, dropping the almost empty container of milk as you finished your bollo and scrunched up the foil. You turned off the radio as the boats passed, you don’t know why. You watched your mother waving, dunking herself underwater. You ran out to the shore then, racing along to catch up to the parade. You dove into the water and held your breath for as long as you could, hoping to catch a blessing to cleanse yourself of whatever sin your mother hoped to rid herself of too.