One afternoon she emerged from the “heladeria” with a small scoop of pistachio ice cream on a huge, brittle cone and ran directly into Alana and Aaron. They were taking provisions to Eben, they said, and asked if she would like to hike out into the hills with them. Though she tried to answer nonchalantly, she felt her cheeks burn.

     They took a little-used road out of town—so stony that it twisted her ankles and quickly wore her out. After an hour she stopped to empty her shoes of the pebbles that had gotten in through the holes in the toes and took a long look behind her. Cadaques appeared no bigger than a pile of bleached shells beside the ocean. Even a few miles out of town, civilization seemed eerily remote. The steep hills were uninhabited, terraced in stone from bottom to top—for growing olive trees, Alana told her, a thousand years before. Still, arid, and hot, they were covered with sparse, thorny vegetation and stood like overgrown pyramids, anachronisms from another age.

     Eventually the three left the road and stumbled along the winding paths that crisscrossed the dusty, monotonous slopes, each like every other, until Seely knew she would never be able to find her way back alone. When she’d just about given up hope of ever reaching any destination, she rounded a bend, lagging behind Alana and Aaron, and saw a green corn patch growing between two olive trees. A moment later she spotted the hut: tiny and square, the barest of shelters, it was only as tall as a man, built of the same stone as the terraces, so that it was camouflaged by the hills all around.

     She ducked into the chest-high entrance and found to her surprise that the interior was dome-shaped, like an igloo, the flat slabs of rock spiraling up to a hole in the middle of the ceiling. The opening was glutted with cobwebs, and sunshine filtered through it in a dusty shaft. Below it hung a pot, apparently to catch the rain. In the dim light she saw that the reed mats that covered the dirt floor sloped up to a shelf of rock displaying some dubious treasures—a turtle shell, fox’s skull, and jug of dried grasses. Candles sprouted from jags of stone, the hardened paraffin dribbled down to the ground. In one corner was a hearth—an area set off with stones—where a teapot rested on a tripod. In another, a dark cloak loomed like a specter above a loosely folded sleeping bag. When she emerged, Alana and Aaron were already far down the hill.

     She found them in a tiny vineyard, Aaron pulling ferns from around the grapevines, which were thigh-high and spring-green. Most of the bracken had already been cleared away and raked into piles. Pausing by a diminutive garden, she fingered a burst of white flowers on a smooth stalk. “What’s this?” she asked.

     “Onions,” said Aaron as he shed his shirt and vest and set to pulling up the remaining weeds. His sinewy dark torso looked as hard and impervious as the stone all around, made of nothing so mutable as muscle and bone, she thought.

     She and Alana sat on boulders by a tiny stream, watching the clouds crowding over the hills to the west. It was quiet except for the intermittent whoosh of the wind, like the sound inside a seashell, and the occasional croak of a frog or chit-chitting of a bird. Soon flies began to circle and settle on them in droves, drowning out wind, frogs, and birds with their buzz. At first they tried to whisk them away but eventually surrendered lazily to the raucous intrusion. Half an hour passed, and still there wasn’t any sign of Eben. “We’d better get back,” Alana sighed. “It looks like a storm.”



She got to the “panaderia” right before it closed and bought a couple of long, skinny loaves of bread for Alana’s supper, then dropped by Jean-Michel’s to take a shower. The water came out in a tepid trickle from an apparatus like a dangling telephone receiver on the wall. In the mirror she looked unfamiliar to herself, with her tangled hair and sun-dazed eyes. Her face actually seemed paler after hours in the sun, but her freckles stood out now, a smattering of dark flecks that would fade by morning. She rubbed her cheeks, wishing she’d had some flattering make-up; she’d found a few hard little lipsticks in the shop by the post office, but their bright colors had looked garish against her pale skin.

     Aaron, Alana, and her roommates were already crowded around the table when she arrived. Victoria, a handsome predatory-looking brunette with sharp, pretty teeth, kept her arm like a tether on Denny, who looked like a teenager. Gwynne, a bawdy, snub-nosed Irish girl, with features skewed to one side, clowned like a vaudevillian. The dinner was already well underway—two bottles of wine drunk and the table littered with breadcrumbs—when a knock came at the door. Seely was picking blood sausage and unchewable bacon out of her second help of garbanzo stew. “That must be Eben,” said Alana. The reclusive brother, thought Seely, home from the hills.

     She twisted around in her chair as he entered, more from politeness than curiosity. The very next instant, however, she became completely disoriented, as dizzy as though she were seeing double, for Eben was dark and disheveled, dressed in a rumpled shirt and white satin vest, baggy corduroy pants, and jute sandals. He had the same odd, pointed face, coarse black hair, and aqueous green eyes that had so startled her on first encounter—he was Aaron’s identical twin. As she gaped at him in disbelief, she began to shake, feeling herself snatched by undertow of improbability that was carrying her where it would.

     He seated himself at the foot of the crowded table. Seely moved her plate to the table corner and sat on the diagonal to accommodate him. She found herself tongue-tied, flustered, whenever their knees and elbows collided. He held himself stiffly as he ate and apologized with formal courtesy after these bony encounters, sputtering in the same telegraphic style as his brother. The one is the mirror image of the other, she thought, as she ogled them surreptitiously. She couldn’t detect a single distinguishing characteristic, except that Eben was unkempt—his hair snarled around his swarthy face and his violet lips even more tightly compressed than his brother’s.

     “One day Vicky and I were on the train,” Gwynne giggled, pausing to plug yet another cigarette into her long amber holder, “and a couple of ‘maricones’ came and sat across from us—beautiful gay boys. And they looked at us so smug and pleased with themselves, as if to say, ‘Eat your hearts out—we know how gorgeous we are,’ that I got cross and grabbed Vicky and said very loudly, ‘Come on, love, give us a kiss!’” Here she puckered up her lips at Seely, who was closest, and petted her hair to reenact the scene. “And when she pulled away, I said, even louder, ‘Why not, sweet? Don’t you think it’s time we came out of the closet too?” Here she grabbed a pinch-full of Seely’s cheek and kissed her roundly on the side of the mouth.

     Eben smiled for the first time, then laughed a soft, taut laugh.

     “I love to see you smile,” Alana remarked gently. ”You don’t smile much, do you?”

     “No,” he said, ducking his head.

     “And Seely,” she went on, “You haven’t said a word all evening.” Seely gulped and was about to make some excuse when Denny, who had drunk himself to sleep, lurched off his chair. Aaron caught him just before he hit the floor, and he and Victoria laid him out on cushions under the front windows. From there he intruded on the conversation with rattling snores.

     That evening Seely went back to Jean-Michel’s early, while the others adjourned to a bar. She couldn’t sleep, though; for hours she thrashed around in her narrow lower bunk, banging into the walls like something imprisoned in a jar. Finally she pulled on a shirt over her nightgown and tiptoed up to the top floor. From the balcony she could see a glow from the main street, where the bars stayed open all night, and hear the sound of revelers.



     To tell the truth, Seely wasn’t as self-sufficient as she tried to appear. She’d all but abandoned her manuscript, her past life having come to seem as irrelevant to her as it was to the parade of passing acquaintances who struck up conversations with her at the Café Maritim and who, finding her socially awkward and shy, moved on. In fact she’d become unmoored, her sense of identity receded from her, as nebulous now as the horizon line beyond the bay of Cadaques. She’d look in the mirror and puzzle over her own image. She knew she was foundering among ragged longings, aches, and ambiguities, a set of feelings and circumstances she didn’t understand.


     She stood on the farthest rock and bent to put on the plastic sandals that would protect her feet from the sea urchins on the ocean floor, then tightened the rubber band round her long plume of fair hair, encircling it a third time. As she poised for a dive, she glanced in the direction of Cadaques, its distant buildings like a disordered stack of white boxes on a shelf. This was always a long, paralyzing moment—between the known and unknown, self-possession and abandonment—whose spell she doubted each time she could ever break. For this moment she came so late in the day, when the air was chilly and all the bathers had gone home. If her leg were to cramp, if a current were to carry her out, there wouldn’t be anyone one to save her, no witness even to tell what happened.

     She slammed against the water, as into a wall of ice, her muscles clenched and breath locked in her chest. When she tried to float on her back, she inhaled nosefuls of stinging water, the sea was so choppy. She paddled around, growing numb, until finally, resolutely, she swung right arm over left and headed out toward the horizon.

     Half an hour later she clambered out again. The only warmth of the day was left in the massive gray slabs of rock that angled diagonally into the sea. She threw her towel aside and pressed her body against the heated stone, hugging it, cleaving to it, as to the body of a lover, feeling her rigid limbs dissolve. From time to time she shifted her cheek, trying to find a smoother spot on the rough stone. As she grew drowsy, she imagined she could distinguish all the varied and minute sounds that comprised the wild stillness around her.



     Late one afternoon she rounded the small cove on her way to the Flat Rocks on the end of the point. Catalan matrons in bikinis, their breasts like huge urns, lolled on the stony beach, while wiry, naked children and half-starved dogs scampered among the beached fishing boats.

     She climbed a steep staircase built into a bluff that rose from the road and sat on a landing near the top, arms dangling between the railings. The ocean stretched deep blue to a fuzzy zone where it merged with the paler sky. You never see the line between sea and sky in Cadaques, she thought, only that misty band… And she squinted at it for a time, trying to see where the division came.


     “Jean-Michel’s tiny living room, up four flights of steep steps, is airy and bright,” she wrote, “like a lookout from a masthead over a sea of terra cotta roofs. There are unraveling wicker chairs with stained cushions, a thicket of empty liquor bottles crowding one corner, pipes with their ends chewed littered on the table and mantel, and a standing bookcase of dusty French books, not one of which had ever been opened, I suspect, since the day it was stacked.”

     He also had a few amenities rare in Cadaques—a small TV propped on a rickety stool, a cassette player and hodgepodge of jazz tapes on a ledge by the fireplace, and a typewriter with a French arrangement of keys that was proving to be her undoing. At Alana’s suggestion she had approached him in the shop where she bought pear yogurt and ‘galletas’—cookies. He’d said yes, she could use his typewriter, but only in his home, and offered her one of his extra bedrooms gratis. No, in exchange for light housekeeping, she’d insisted, so there wouldn’t be any strings attached.

     He’d invited her into his life—took her on jouncing, teeth-rattling motor scooter rides up and down the cobbles of Cadaques and on afternoon sails so languid a gust of wind was an event. For her part, she threw herself lustily into her role as charwoman, scouring away his years of bachelor sloth, considering self-importantly that she was restoring an antique. The layout of his apartment was even more improbable than Alana’s: it had the requisite four stories, but the kitchen was on the ground floor, so meals had to be piled in a basket and carried up three flights of stairs to the living room. The second and third floors contained two diminutive bedrooms each, as bare as monastic cells, whose dimensions were the length of their built-in bunks cubed.

     She sat at his typewriter now, the satchel with her manuscript on the floor, kicked aside by her restless, twitching foot. After spending a quarter of an hour mistyping the first few sentences of her paragraph, she got up, huffing with aggravation. The room opened onto a balcony with a low wall, where she came to stand, facing other balconies where drying clothes on lines spread and flapped like bird wings in the wind.

     “Jean-Michel,” she’d written. “Mild, indolent bachelor with a comical bird’s face—beak nose and receding chin. He lives off a small inheritance, he tells me…gads his life away, I tease him, among his toys—his pipes, motor scooter, tennis racket, and dilapidated sailboat. He rarely deigns to speak English, which he considers a technical language suited only for discourse among scientists. His attitude toward me is amused and condescending. I’m a typical American, he insists, always busy and bothering about something.”



     That night she dreamed she was standing by a window, gazing out at a forest so dense and dark she couldn’t see beyond the first row of trees. Then, from out of nowhere, two birds appeared, one iridescent red, the other green, their feathers glinting like jewels. They each had a copper cone tied to their abdomen like a phallus, and they fluttered in the air at eye-level, performing an intricate courtship dance. As she watched them, she started to shiver with the conviction that these birds weren’t imaginary but real, though they didn’t exist in any reality she knew.

     Then she was seated in a glade in the forest at twilight with strangers, all of them holding hands, waiting expectantly for the one who would complete the circle. When a statuesque figure glided out of the woods, a shadow whose features she couldn’t make out, she found herself quivering in anticipation of whatever was to come. The figure sat down opposite her and, after a hesitation, joined hands. There was a moment of stillness…than suddenly she felt her consciousness explode out of her body with a force that sent it flying at light speed along a lateral plane. She became a seemingly infinite expanse of energy, her sense of power so overwhelming that the next instant she contracted in on herself with terror, whirling like a tornado, spinning out of control—as though she’d become chaos itself.

     She woke up abruptly—it was still dark—and saw the objects around her suspended in the air for a moment before resuming their usual grounded orientation. When she glanced over at the bed next to her, with a desperate hope that she wasn’t alone—that Alana’s roommates had arrived in the night—sure enough, the neighboring bed bulked with a comforting presence. Relieved, she fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up until dawn. But this time when she noticed the adjacent bed, she saw the covers were tightly bound and knew with certainty that it had never been slept in.

     In the days that followed, she wondered why she had never run into Alana and Aaron together before because now she saw them everywhere. They rarely touched in public but walked and sat so close together, concentrating so fixedly one another, they couldn’t have seemed more passionately entwined if they’d been entangled in each other’s arms. To watch them seemed prurient, she thought—like peeping—their love was so exposed. And the feeling that took root in her and burgeoned was a scalding jealousy