May 23, 2023

I felt absurd, dragging my suitcase-on-wheels by its strap, like a child with a wagon, into the main square of the town and setting it to rights every time it toppled over on the cobblestones. I couldn’t carry it because my shoulder already ached from the manuscript I was toting in the satchel under my arm. Besides, the suitcase was weighed down by a huge dictionary and thesaurus.

     I ducked into a doorway under a sign that read “Caja de Correos—post office—but found a cramped souvenir shop instead, with no sign of a proprietor. After hesitating a moment, I called out timidly in Spanish and was answered by the postmaster-shopkeeper-teller from the “bank” next door.

     “Can you tell me where to find the English brothers Aaron and Eben?” I asked.

     He bobbed his head half a dozen times as he approached and grabbed a postcard off a rack. “Under the double arches just around the corner,” he said, jabbing a finger at it. “Number four.”

     I followed his directions to a narrow lane—on either side the ancient Catalan apartments forming a single whitewashed façade running the length of the short block, punctuated by sets of green double doors with metal rings, and the upper levels festooned with purple bougainvillea that cascaded from tiny wrought-iron balconies. I knocked a long time at number four. When no one answered, I let myself in—the door was unlocked—and climbed three flight of stairs, calling out at each landing.

     I found Alana on the fourth floor, sweeping the brick floor of the bedroom—entirely naked. She greeted me casually, asking about my trip from Madrid. Her pastel brown skin was flawless from hairline to heel—not a mole, not a freckle, not a vein. She had small, firm breasts and finely honed knees, as smooth as polished wood, and her shoulder-length hair stood out from her head in gauzy waves. She looked so natural to me that from then on clothes would seem incongruous on her. Whether lounging in a doorway, which she did now for a moment, or reclining by the ocean, as I would see her later, she was unselfconsciously at ease with her own beauty. “Do you have a place to stay?” she asked solicitously.

     A few minutes later I was flopping my suitcase on one of the three iron beds in Alana’s neighboring apartment and discovering that the little purse I carried in my satchel had apparently been snatched on the bus from Figueras.


     “Alana…” I would write. “Crinkle-eyed when she smiles, and lithe, her hair and skin and eyes all shades of brown, like a doe’s. She is gentle and studiously kind, with a warmth that is democratic, impersonal… A tick-infested old dog, a beggar woman collapsed on a corner—she ministers to all impartially.”