#30daywritingchallenge – Day 6: Murder

Barbate

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.

#30DayWritingChallenge: Day 5 – God

Gone South

Is this Paris? The mosaic table. The glass of red wine. Tourists walking across the street by Café La Perle. And I sit here puffing on my cigarette darling and I realise that I am not. That I sat here, puffing on my cigarette and I drank the wine and this is not Paris. This is not 1998 and it is not midnight.

The last glow of the sun turns from amber to the indigo charcoal of dusk through the window in my sun room in Gibraltar. I tighten the silk robe around my waist. It holds up my ribs. I feel each one as I breathe. The brocade melts into my skin. My hands are vibrating atoms, leaving an imprint in the air as I wave them in front of me. 

I leave the empty glass on the table and when I turn to look at it to avoid the mirrors the glass is full again. With each blink a different glass, a different liquid. I walk through the shadows of the pasillo towards my room, feeling around in the dark for my bed.  

There was a moment I realised I could see all of my life at once. I just don’t recall when that moment was. Someone moved me here to this crumbling colonial house overlooking the water, under the shadow of the Rock every morning as the sun rises. But was it after Paris?

I coughed into the sink in Madrid, and saw the smear of bloody spit work its way down. I was brushing my teeth in Tangier, I told him, stay in bed dear they’ll be up in a minute with the fruit. I looked in my bag for medication in Los Angeles. In New York. I was raised in Gibraltar. My mother took me in a boat across the water. I saw a dolphin.

I looked up from the mirror to check my nostril for clarity and I looked up in the mirror and I am looking in the mirror and I saw my skull. I saw the nerves of my eyes forming in the sockets. My teeth falling out one by one, the crunch of them. I swallowed. New ones grew in their place.

I broke the mirror. I am breaking the mirror. No more mirrors. I am walking down the souk in Marrakech and I am looking at mirrors when a man beckons me into his stall.

#30DayWritingChallenge: Day 4 – Life

Miss Manhattan

They didn’t know what a Golden Age, that was for sure. She’d come into the bar after midnight every few weeks and order a Lemondrop Martini, the good kind. She got behind the bar once and showed them how. These kids today, she’d say, everything sanitised and pre-made. You don’t know.

How the streets of New York were electric then, under the soles of tailored feet, in the bustle of a city aching for the future. What it was to stay up all night, truly led by feelings and not dictated by hashtags and hot lists and no, just a lip to an ear and off you went with some stranger, who’d heard that this month it was some little bar off 42nd.

And the men, the men with their crisp shirts and their leather, soaked to the bone in their close shaves of tobacco and lemons, whiskey and sex. Before everything killed you young, that’s when you really lived. You’d put on some crushed green velvet thing and a fur coat over the top, and it didn’t matter that where you lived was a pull-out bed and that you had to be strategic about the cockroaches in July and the frost in January. Out on the street you were anyone, and if you dreamed and played and worked at it you could be someone.

Like when that man in the Rainbow Room held your jaw between his thumb and forefinger, turned it to one side and then the other and handed you his card. You had a car waiting for you the very next Saturday, and by the month after your very own apartment somewhere Upper, somewhere East. You ride that elevator sweetheart, let me tell you. You don’t go crying about popped corks and spilled champagne. You think he’s a lion and you’re just some gazelle, but gazelles have to live too, let me tell you.

And The Hamptons in the summer, the waves the waves of the sea and the endless chatter and the clinking of crystal, real crytal and real wine not all that stuff you had to endure when you came off the train at Penn Station from Nowhere, Indiana. You take a piece of kohl two inches thick and you give your lids a wipe. Now you’re not some Mary Jane suburban housewife to be. You’re Vita, you’re Dita, you’re Theda. You’re fucking Cleopatra. You live that dream. Pour me some more of that martini, let’s last the night.

You sit for a man for hours and he carves your face into marble. Do you know what it means to be immortal? Who cares about Instagram stars or ten million followers? One day there’ll be a power outage and you’ll all be nothing. And I’ll be watching over the grandest city in the world long after I’m dead, my eighteen year old visage swooping over the balconies of the Hotel Astor. Now light me a cigarette and don’t tell me what I don’t know, I’m too old to hear it.

And in the care home they wait, they give her an hour or two because they know she’s not doing any harm. They cross the street and pick her up. They laugh about how she slipped past the guards, or lockpicked the window again. And she smiles back. She puts on some fight but it’s all verbal. She knocked back her drink and she puts out her smoke on the bar. She turns to her audience and they all applaud. The old lady in the robe walking around like she’s in mink. You don’t know what it is to be immortal, she says, this ain’t no Golden Age.

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day 3: Family

Stella Maris

Image result for virgen del carmen barca

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.

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 2 – Death

Amor. Yogures. Muerte. Azúcar.

It’s not blood on the floor.

It’s red wine.

Don’t laugh.

And I have something to tell you about something. When we lived in that place in Copenhagen. That tiny apartment on the sixth floor with the narrow stairs that felt like forever to climb up. The sparseness of it all. Those high ceilings and the bare wooden floors unvarnished. We used to walk around scared to touch anything, in case we left a smudge. And here I am, my glass spilling out. Pour yourself one, your hands are steadier.

Remember the window in the bedroom? I used to keep it open all the time. I would read on the bed and listen out in the city. One night you were away and I could hear One Direction playing a concert in the stadium which we never found. It was at the same time as the Olympics and I wondered if maybe it was a neighbour with the television on too loud, but what sporting event has two hours of a boy band, and who cheers that loudly but teenaged girls? No. I heard what I heard.

And it was different to every other night. Because it was usually so quiet. Maybe a passing siren or a bicycle bell. A dog barking, a flock of geese. Nobody shouts here, not in that space. With its perfectly square courtyard lawn. The tidy pile of buggies under the stairs. The immaculate red bricks and wide white shutters stretching up from house to house until reaching our rental space.

Hey, remember when I sat up suddenly and the window came off the hinges? And the corner dug into my head and then the pane fell on me. You came home that time after work, and that time it was blood. But I was more worried if it had fallen out. We called the woman who owned the place and she just laughed. Those things don’t happen in Denmark she said, clip clip clip with that accent that felt in tune to my beating heart.

I moved to the kitchen instead, to read. The windowpanes went up and down instead of in and out and from here I could even smell the jasmine blooming. So I was warm and perfect in my Scandi aesthetic, with everything open and just one lamp on and the streetlight below and whatever neighbours were in. Just me and some tea and a book in the haze of a summer evening where it doesn’t get too hot. Yet still so quiet. No spoons banging on pots. No radio or evening news. Not even a chirp of crickets. Everything intermittent and transient in its interruption as I turned pages and got up to make another cup. The click of the hob. The whistle of the kettle. The scrape of the mug against the spotless countertop. So quiet I could hear my arteries squeezing.

Remember the night I left you? You came back from work and I was gone. All the windows were open. The bookmark stuck between the pages neatly of whatever it is I was reading. Tolkien maybe? No, it was a biography of Prince. My cup of tea half-drunk and cold on the little table we put a t-shirt over because it was so pristine we didn’t want to ruin it in any way. And then you probably stepped into our room and all the drawers were thrown open and my clothes were gone. My little suitcase with all the stickers on it was gone, and maybe I even left the door unlocked. I don’t know. I told you it was about space and independence and I hated it there. You stayed for another month and you let me simmer it out and then you came home and we worked it out. Some minor freakout, a hiccup. Like when my friend Sally came back that one time from seeing her parents and she walked into her house and her boyfriend Joe was sitting there in the dark with clumps of hair missing and pair of scissors in his hand. She says he had Twilight on mute and on a loop for six days. Sitting there watching sparkling vampires in his own excrement while he tried to cut his own hair. Mine didn’t feel so bad, in perspective.

But what you don’t know is that you left the house that night and I went to my regular spot. I opened the windows and I brewed the tea and I sat there with my book. Then the noise came in. It had been a week of it and I never told you. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was always asleep when you got home and I forgot in the morning. Maybe I just wanted something that was mine, in that little apartment with the high ceilings and the untouchable furniture. And it had been so quiet. Then the noise. A man’s voice, the reverberation of it outside, across the square. Nobody else came to look out. I peered and found it was definitely coming from the apartment above ours.

It sounded like an old instructional video for something. That old Hollywood type boom of masculinity with a slight twang. But it was in Spanish. Just word, random words. Separated with a breath.

Uno.

Montaña.

Calcificaciones.

Girafa.

Piragüismo.

Amor.

Yogures.

Muerte.

Azúcar.

I left my book. I tried the bedroom again but I was too scared to open the window and the house felt hot now, suffocating. We used to say it was something like gliding through Heaven if God was some kind of interior designer with an eye for minimalism, but now it was small, cramped. I hated it. I hated the house and I didn’t want to be here and I hated the noise of the man with his random words and the crackle between them, but I couldn’t close the window either. I tried to stay in the bathroom. I locked the door. It vibrated through the walls then, more nonsense words. And then I’d wake up in bed and I it was gone, you were beside me and it was morning and I don’t know, maybe I forgot all this up to now.

I went up there, it was like day eight or nine of it. Maybe six. I don’t know. I opened the front door and I walked up those narrow, polished steps to the next floor. It was dark in the landing and I couldn’t find the switch for the light. I walked to the end of the hallway. I put one hand along the wall. I just wanted to knock on the door and tell them to keep it down. I thought I could bang on the ceiling with a broom, but I couldn’t find a broom. Where was the broom, the mop, the cleaning spray? How was our house so clean? Did you ever think that?

I knocked on the door and a sliver of red brightness poured out into the hallway. I pushed the door open until it hit something. I looked through and saw a body on the floor. And another one beside it. All laid out neat in rows. No furniture. Just bodies on the floor covered in purple sheets. Identical white trainers popping out of them. A single lamp on. A record player in the middle of the room and more words.

Odio.

Vergüenza.

Lobo.

Carpeta.

Huevos.

Alquitrán.

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day 1: Love

La Mar

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.