May 30, 2023

     A week had passed and Seely still hadn’t met Alana’s roommates, who worked in Barcelona as ESL teachers and only made the trip to Cadaques on odd weekends. Alana, in the meantime, was staying at her lover Aaron’s place, so Seely had the apartment to herself. She wiled away the daytime hours among the tourists on the main street of town, drinking Fanta and coffee in the Café Maritim, or walking the beachfront for miles. Evenings she settled on a cushion in the window seat by the fireplace and tried to write but found her mind continually straying from the task at hand—an autobiographical novel she hoped would justify her years of scratching away in journals. At the moment, though, her manuscript was nothing more than a motley collection of vignettes, as jumbled as the contents of a ragbag. She couldn’t seem to find a dramatic arc but kept scribbling around in endless circles.

     Why had she come to this place? There were a number of plausible answers she might have given—did give—to anyone who asked. But there was something more—a pull, like the moon tugging on the tide, that she only half-acknowledged to herself, something mysterious and urgent. It wasn’t the first she’d time felt it—a siren call just barely within the range of hearing, a summons so faint it would have been easy to dismiss as a slight ringing in the ears.

     One Friday at noon she went to the weekly farmer’s market in the town square and bought leathery celery and a dense, stunted cabbage as heavy as a cannonball. She wanted to make coleslaw, and potatoes and onions were the only vegetables to be found in the tiny local shops. When she mounted the spiral staircase to Alana’s apartment, as close and dank as a castle turret, she was surprised to hear voices coming from inside.

     Lounging around the dark antique dining table were Alana and several strangers. Beside her sat one of the strangest-looking men Seely had ever seen—a sort of androgynous gypsy, wiry, nut-brown, and gaunt. This must be Aaron, she thought, Alana’s enigmatic lover.

     As she was introduced around and joined in the bread-breaking and wine-swilling, she studied the man Alana had described to her when they met on the plane—a gentle ascetic, so taciturn Alana knew next to nothing about him though they’d been lovers for over a year. Winters, she’d told Seely, he lived with his brother in an apartment in town with no electricity, summers in a tiny stone hut in the hills where they tended a vineyard.

     He had fine, chiseled features: a broad, bony forehead tapering to a delicate chin, coarse black hair cut straight along the jaw, and a purple bow mouth, tightly compressed, so dainty it could have been a girl’s. He was dressed casually in a rumpled white shirt and black silk vest that hung open at the front, baggy corduroy pants, and the same jute sandals Alana wore. Although Alana had called him beautiful, Seely would have argued the point…right up to the moment he turned his eyes on her—eyes that mesmerized—large and luminously green.

     But stranger even than his appearance was his presence; there was something otherworldly about him…austere and remote. For a long time he maintained a taut, alert silence, but when he finally spoke, he blurted out sentences so compressed and precipitate they sounded like stammering—a speech impediment, Seely thought, only barely able to make out the gist of what he was saying.

     As the meal wore on, she continued to scrutinize the lovers, the one so convivial and self-possessed, the other so grave and constrained. Of all the men in the world, she wondered, why had Alana chosen him? But as she was puzzling—as Alana told a story, hands dancing, and Aaron shifted in his chair to watch her—Seely saw his face change, its severity dissolve, every line soften, and his eyes, like pools, ripple with emotion. It was the rawest, nakedest look of love she’d ever seen.

     That evening, feeling unaccountably forlorn, she wrote, “The wind howls up the streets of Cadaques. Days and nights it slams the doors and shutters left open inside this empty apartment, empty except for me, as though I lived among feuding ghosts. The apartment has red ceramic-tiled floors, green shutters, and white-washed walls… On the grate, instead of a fire, there’s a thatch of the dried yellow flowers that adorn all the houses and shops of Cadaques, the only flowers that grow on the arid hillsides. Cadaques is ancient, sparing of all things, like an ascetic, a sage.”