Maybe she felt then that Eben was illumined in some way that now she would never understand or that he was a mirror that might have revealed to her aspects of herself that now would forever elude her. Whatever was true, she felt an aching desolation over her irreparable separateness from him, the loneliness of a shipwrecked survivor on a sea of grief, grasping for a lifeline of meaning. Maybe it was desperation that compelled her to create one, because now, as she paused, a powerful impulse—appearing on the periphery of resolve and swooping down—took hold of her. Suddenly she felt the great weight of her manuscript—and not merely on her shoulder—and realized in the same instant that she could divest herself of this burden with a single gesture.

     She took her leave briefly the next the day—of Alana only, who, when Seely returned some pots she’d borrowed, was mild and noncommittal about her sudden departure. Jean-Michel she couldn’t find anywhere though she searched throughout the town. He must have glimpsed her packing her suitcase, she guessed, and lit off on his motor scooter or sailboat. On the step outside her bedroom she‘d found a note: “I think you leave. A kiss.”

     By mid-morning she was on the bus to Figueras; by afternoon, on the train to Madrid. As she leaned out an open window in the corridor of a passenger car that evening, drinking in the landscape as it darkened, the rush of wind making her eyes water and hair stream, she felt deliciously spare, pared down to the essential. Words had been a vehicle, she realized with sudden clarity—a transport to deliverance, and what they had delivered her from was finally…themselves.


    Seely sits on a stool in a spotlight of sunshine that pierces the skylight of her studio. She closes her eyes, feeling its warm pressure on her forehead, her cheek… In front of her is a canvas taller than she is, blazing with red poppies. As she wipes her brush on a rag, its stain as vivid as blood—she’s a painter now—she remembers red-beaded anklets and a stormy climb up a hillside a long time ago. And Eben. She still thinks of him at odd moments, and when she does, she envisions him holding a page of her manuscript, now as soft as a rag from handling, by the light of his fire—imagines herself a companion in his solitude. For her, it’s enough to have created this possibility, however remote—for she’d retraced her steps on that distant hillside and left her satchel behind—her ragbag of personal stories—by the side of Eben’s hearth.




     Once she woke up and heard the faint sound of chopping. Then suddenly the sun was shining through the entrance…and the sleeping bag beside her was empty. There was newly chopped wood by the hearth, so she made a fire, heated water for tea, and pulled off chunks of bread from a hard loaf for her breakfast. Still hugging the blanket around her, she climbed the terraces behind the hut to inspect the morning. From above she could make out the vineyard, but Eben was nowhere to be seen.

     When the sun was high, the day warming, she made her way down to a string of clear pools she’d spotted from her lookout. Encircled by boulders, the largest was barely six feet across. She pulled off her clothes and laid them out on a rock, stuffing her socks into her shoes, then stepped gingerly in among the skating water spiders. Her first step raised a billow of brown silt that turned the water murky, and she nearly slipped on the slimy rocks of the pool floor. She waded up to her waist, feeling faintly disappointed that the pool was so mucky, then rubbed herself briskly with the chill water before climbing out again to dry off in the sun.

     She’d donned her shorts but not her top when she heard footsteps behind her—and turned to see Eben. Her first thought was to grab her bra, but then she wondered if that would seem prudish. Not just Alana but her roommates too—and many of the other expatriates—were always naked at the beach. He sat down near her, necessarily, because there wasn’t much room on the only flat rock. When he asked her how she’d slept, she grimaced before answering, remembering the sensation of the rocks underneath her wearing through to her bones. And then she did something she would regret. She reached out and gently pushed his snarled hair out of his eyes. He jerked back slightly at her gesture, saying “It’s waxy, isn’t it.” Only moments later he stood, stammering that he had to get back to work.

     For the next hour, on some steps near the shelter, Seely tried to write, but found herself becoming impatient—words were so balky, so gallingly inadequate, she fumed to herself. She wandered, explored—and each time she left the shelter she became lost in the maze of terraced hills…only to stumblingly find her way back again. She fetched more water from the stream in the earthen jug. Finished off the pear yogurt and cheese she had in her satchel. But the longer she bided her time, the more certain she became that Eben had receded from her, like a tide that wouldn’t rise again. As she gazed around at the dusty slopes, she felt a piercing sadness, experiencing their loss before she’d even taken leave of them.

     Finally, in the mid-afternoon she rolled up her sleeping bag, took up her satchel, and with the crude map Aaron had drawn her, started her long trudge back to town. When she reached the first bend and turned back for a last look, the hut was already indistinguishable from its stony backdrop.


This is the end of the factual bulk of my story, and the beginning of the fictional ending.




     Sitting inside the hut again, she noticed the patch of landscape through the entryway going dusky gray. Though it was clearly too late for her to head back now, he asked courteously, “Would you like to stay to supper?”

     She couldn’t help studying him as he worked—poured water from an earthen jug into a couple of bowls, scoured them with dry grass, and measured out handfuls of rice for the pot. He had beautiful hands, long-fingered and deft, and did everything with a slow deliberateness, a total absorption and economy of movement that struck her as wonderful. When the rice was cooked, he added onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a crumbled sprig of thyme he’d picked on their walk. After they ate, in silence, he made them tea, and as she sipped it, she found herself growing drowsy, her eyes heavy-lidded from the smoke.

     Partly to revive herself, she asked him a question that had occurred to her earlier. “Your mother must have been young when she died. What did she die of?”

     “She drank,” he said.

     “And your father? What was he like?

     Now she saw a shadow fall across his face—and immediately regretted her question, wanting to snatch it back.

     “He used to…hurt my mother,” he answered.

     The next moment she felt such a rush of tenderness for him, it made tears start in her eyes, a protectiveness so fierce she ground her teeth. It was as though a stone had abruptly been pried away that had blocked a wellspring in her heart, and now she felt flooded with feelings so intense, it was all she could do not to cry.

     They didn’t speak again. He stacked the plates neatly next to the dying fire and put a block of stone in front of it so she wouldn’t stick her feet into the embers in the night. Fully clothed, she folded an unzipped sleeping around herself, pulling a blanket over too for added warmth. Though she didn’t mean to watch, she glimpsed him out of the corner of her eye as he stripped, his wiry body as thin as a starved child’s, and stepped into his own sleeping bag.

     The next moment the fire flared unaccountably, casting the huge three-pronged shadow of the tripod on the stones above them, as though they themselves lay under it, within the fire. A moment later, just as abruptly, it went out.

     In the silence that followed, as she lay in a darkness as opaque as obsidian, she listened for Eben’s breath—and imagining she could hear it, she fell into his rhythm with her own.

     Then, as she felt herself on the brink of dreams, Eben moaned softly in his sleep. She had a sudden impulse to reach out and caress him, to brush his snarled hair from his forehead, then to kiss him, her lips only barely grazing his—then to gather his frail-seeming body to hers and be gathered too, each possibility opening onto another, and with each opening, her need quickening, until she was left quivering from the effort at restraint. It struck her suddenly that all that had dampened this articulation of desire before had been the forbidding starkness of his expression. But now in the featureless darkness, its clamor was so loud she was afraid he might hear it even from the distance of dreams.

     She passed the night feverishly, only barely and briefly sleeping, dreaming when she did of the mingling of bodies, losing, for long intervals, what little sense she had of what was real and what wasn’t. Then the darkness passed, and for hours, it seemed, a cold gray light filtered through the hole in the dome. She shifted continually, holding out in one position or another as long as she could, until the rocky earth under her felt like it would wear through her skin to her bones, and as she turned, she kept tucking the sleeping bag around herself to keep out the little drafts of cold air that plucked at her like curious fingers. Whenever she glanced at Eben, all she saw was a tuft of black hair sticking out of the top of his sleeping bag.



     For several minutes she stood in the path uncertainly, watching a veil of rain drifting toward her from the distance. She’d said she wanted to stay, so Aaron had drawn her a crude map with a few landmarks, then he and Alana had headed back without her. On impulse, she turned now and began to make her way, terrace by terrace, straight up the hill. When she couldn’t find the stone steps that connected tier to tier, she climbed the walls, chafing her hands in her hurry, and, as she went, a strange elation caught her up and bore her, like a wave, on its crest. The wind rose, whipping her hair across her eyes and mouth, stinging. Prickly brush snagged her clothes and tore at her bare ankles, drawing blood. She saw the red droplets strung along scratch lines like red beaded anklets, but she clambered on.

      At last the rain began to fall in big, splatting drops. She reached a sharp jut of rock like the prow of a ship, and though the footing was precarious, she stepped out onto it. The rain was pummeling her now, yet she stood there, face upturned, as wind- and water-battered as a carved figurehead, and threw up her arms to the sky with a rush of pure joy. She felt herself immortalized then, wedded to that place and moment, her face like the marble visage in a fountain, splashed forever by the rain.


     When she reached the shelter and stooped in the doorway, Eben greeted her pleasantly, without a flicker of surprise. He’d built a fire, and the hut felt as warm as toast. With an almost courtly solicitude, he propped her shoes near the fire to dry and draped a blanket over her. Soon she was damply snug beneath it. Together they stared at the fire for a long time. She only glanced at him once, noticing the coarse black bristles in his nostrils. With his disheveled hair and firelit eyes, he looked like some gently mad mystic.

     She realized then that she was hesitating to speak because she was afraid of startling him away, like some chary animal, with her first word. Or worse, that she might wound him with some thoughtless remark, he seemed so fragile and unfathomable. He’s like something wild, she thought, a deer, an antelope…or, no, an okapi, a creature she’d read about as a child, so reclusive it wasn’t discovered till this century in the depths of the African rain forest.

     At last she ventured, “This reminds me of the shelters I used to build as a child out of a card table and blankets.”

     “In a garden?” he asked after a pause.

     “Yes,” she answered, surprising herself, for it hadn’t been, but the idea pleased her.

     Gradually, cautiously, she began to chat about herself, as Alana did with Aaron, talking enough for both of them, but the things she said she chose carefully, turning them over in her mind first, like prudent gifts she was selecting for a stranger. He sat quietly, his head cocked in a listening attitude, his eyes on the fire, nodding and occasionally smiling. Between glances at him she realized that he looked markedly different from his brother to her now. How could she, she wondered, have ever seen them as identical? With more practiced eyes, she saw the nuances of feature and expression she’d overlooked before.

     Eventually he asked her a question or two, naïve and topical, about the place she came from, so she dared—between long silences—to ask him a few too. He considered each one a long time, and when he spoke, his lips trembled and his eyelids half-closed with the effort. In brief, garbled rushes of words, he told her his story, the story Alana had never heard. He and Aaron had grown up in India, playing in the streets with the native children, and developed their speech as a way of excluding grown-ups. Their father was English, their mother Spanish. When they were teenagers, their parents had taken them back to England, where they had worked as models until her death.

     “What was your mother like?” Seely asked.

     “She was…gentle,” he answered.

     By now the rain had subsided, so when Eben went out briefly, she stripped down to her bra, holding her damp sweater over the fire, rocking it from side to side to dry. By the time he got back, she was lying with her legs extended diagonally over the fire, her toes precariously gripping a sooty rock at the back of the hearth, drying the back of her jeans. “Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked formally. As they emerged from the shelter, she stuck her arm impulsively under his nose. “I smell like a smoked pork chop!” she exclaimed—before it occurred to her with chagrin that he might be a vegetarian.

     They walked around the hill, she in her wool blanket and he in a gunny cloak with the hood pulled over his head, looking more than ever like a shepherd of antiquity. The hills receded in graduated shades of gray while the setting sun, not too fiercely bright to look at now, shifted down behind strips of cloud that streamed like banners across the horizon.

     “Is that the ocean?” she asked suddenly, pointing at a blue haze beyond the hills, though it was in the wrong direction.

     When he nodded, she realized for the first time that they were on a peninsula.

     “Aren’t you cold?” she asked, pulling her blanket more tightly around her. He shook his head. It crossed her mind briefly that she should leave, should have left already, if she was going to find her way back before dark, but she brushed the thought aside.

     As they strolled back around the slope, he repeatedly stopped to watch the narrowing rim of the sun. “It’s a wonderful evening, isn’t it?” he said finally.