That summer when I was 12, you took me up to the mountains past Alcalá. We took the road off the autopista and up the gravel paths, stopping patiently for cows to pass. The top down on the car, speeding like a red bullet. Past the white town perched on the cliff edge with the mixtape on. We sang together. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, everything furious guitar unsettling the mood of the countryside as we left everyone behind and it was all like three brushstrokes; the white hot sun and the blue sky and the burnt-out yellow-green of the grass in an Andalucian July.
And that was us for weeks, one man and his son in that enormous orange tent. Cooking pinchitos from the town butcher on the open fire, watching the football and drinking wine at the bar. You even let me try some beer when your favourite team won. I couldn’t have adored you more in that moment, in your red shorts and old Fleetwood Mac t-shirt Bare Trees Tour 1972.
At night, the world stopped spinning. I was left muted by the sheer amount of stars in the sky. The song from grillos bursting from the undergrowth and the heat coming out of the earth itself. The wood crackled as it burned and the people passed by, saying buenas noches and hiding in their caravans and shelters from the unexpected bite of cold when the sun disappeared.
We went hiking, through fields with patterns of margaritas swirling along the river, up rocks and waterfalls and secret clear pools we swam in. You told me about your parents, who owned a house somewhere near the town. How they came in the night and took away your grandfather. How you hid in a space under the oven so crammed you lost all the feeling in your limbs but you didn’t dare to take a breath. How your mother didn’t cry, she sat at the table and waited until nightfall before she called you out, smuggled you on the back of a donkey cart and put a cloth bag full of photographs and money next to you. How you watched the town disappear in reverse, down the hill and through the winding paths under a blanket and you never saw them again. And then you said nothing else, and we went home.
That night I woke up and undid the zip of the tent. The world more still and cold than it had ever been. No stars in the sky. No frogs. No grillos. I walked down to the river, too much Coca-Cola too late after such a long thirsty hike. I’d forgotten my shoes. My feet rubbed into dry mud at the bank, and the water moving slowly, no moonlight to shine against, holding terrors I could only imagine underneath. And on the other other side of the river, an orange glow in the black. A crack in the night, deafening and waking up the birds. The frogs then. The horses in the field next door distressed from the shock. The grillos furious and rubbing. The human shape rolling down the mud, sliding into the moving water and giving into the depth.
I ran back to the tent, my jaw tense with the promise of a scream. I looked for you in your bed and you weren’t there. I hid under my sheets and waited. I felt the dirt crumbling between my toes. You walked in, the smell of gunpowder lingered. I never said a word.