It was afternoon in Dubrovnik and Kate had only a few pages left until she finished Tender Is the Night.
“There you are,” Marjorie said.
Kate looked up from her book and saw Marjorie leaning in the doorway of the dark wine bar. Marjorie was a silhouette against the afternoon light but even so Kate could recognize the details. She could see that Marjorie’s dress was loose and rippling at the bottom and that her hair was down and she could tell her dress was white.
Marjorie walked through the doorway and sat down on the wooden bench across from Kate. She brought her palm over the table, opened it and let a handful of mismatched rocks scatter. Some were rough and some were smooth. She pushed them in a pile and then she let them be. She pulled her thick, brown hair into a loose bun on top of her head and her silver bracelets clattered down her arms. She secured an elastic around the bun, a few pieces fell loose. She didn’t do anything about them.
The wine bar was cold and damp like a cave. There were wooden torches set in the walls with thick white candles unlit. Dried avalanches of old wax piled at the base. There was a wooden wine shelf against one wall. A pig’s leg with a black hoof was drying in the corner tied by a thick string looped around a metal hook.
To reach the wine bar you had to walk up what amounted to several flights of stairs. The stairs were cobblestone and winding. They were outside near the wall that circled the city. Some stairs were higher than others. There were deep grooves between the stones. The wine bar was a hole in the wall, literally. It really did look like a cave, Kate thought when she had found it.
“I was looking for you,” Marjorie said. Kate earmarked her book, set it down. Marjorie poked through the plate of meat on the table.
“Is it sausage?”
“I think so, I’m not sure. I didn’t order it the woman just brought it to the table.”
“Well, that’s nice.”
“I know, I only ordered the wine.”
Marjorie looked around the room but no one was there. “I’d like a glass,” she said, “if someone comes out.”
“Where’s the camera?” Kate asked.
“The apartment. It’s heavy. I wanted to walk first. I’ll bring it out tonight. I can’t be bothered,” Marjorie laughed. “I would like a glass of wine though,” she said and scanned the empty room again.
It was July and Kate and Marjorie had just finished their sophomore year of college. Marjorie had a photography grant, that’s why she was in Croatia. She had worked on her proposal all through the spring semester. Kate proofread everything, repeatedly. Kate promised if Marjorie got the grant she would travel with her, said she was nearly positive her parents would give her money for the trip.
Marjorie’s proposal was to document evidence of an old war. She would work in a country that signed its peace treaty well over a decade ago. She was interested in Croatia, Dubrovnik in particular. Kate asked why not include Sarajevo or Kosovo. Marjorie said she wasn’t interested in the cities commonly remembered as the centerpieces of the war. She wanted something a bit further from that. She told Kate to imagine throwing a rock in a pond, she wasn’t as concerned where the rock landed but in the outer ripples. That’s what she wanted to document. Marjorie said the time and space element were key.
When Marjorie started to get heavy like that Kate would always eventually laugh. She would say something like, “Yeah man, just follow the vision.” Marjorie would throw a crumpled ball of paper at her. “It’s going to work,” she’d say. “I’m certain. I can see it.”
Kate and Marjorie had met their freshmen year at Boston College. They were roommates. Kate was a year older than Marjorie because she had started college a year after she graduated high school. Kate told Marjorie, after Marjorie had probed the subject, that she had spent the year working odd jobs. Kate didn’t elaborate and Marjorie never asked about it again. Marjorie thought if Kate had more to say than she would tell her eventually, when she was ready. Marjorie did get the sense though that there was indeed a story there. But Kate made it pretty clear she had little if any interest in telling it.
Marjorie made Kate feel safe and from the day she met her Kate knew it would be okay. The two girls were close, had been since the day they met. When they look back on who they were then, nervous freshmen assigned to the same dorm room, and who they are now, the changes are shocking. Marjorie has blossomed into herself over the last two years. The confidence she found in Boston alone has transformed her from the little bookworm she claimed to be all her life in rural Maine to a very assured and beautiful woman she is today.
Kate has also changed, Marjorie’s observed. Early on Kate was quiet, virtually forlorn, but she has loosened since, though slowly. Kate can still be withdrawn but when she is alone with Marjorie she will allow shades of herself to emerge, if only for a brief time. Marjorie recognizes these moments immediately; when Kate releases herself and is present completely. And she cherishes them. She tries to lengthen them out.
When the old woman came back into the room Marjorie smiled at her. The woman’s breasts appeared to take up the entire length of her torso and even lapped over her skirt’s belt buckle. Her back was hunched slightly and her hair was white and thin. It was pulled back tightly and Kate noticed the woman’s hair didn’t succeed to cover her whole head. She could see patches of pale, pink skull. The same color as the inside of a conch shell, Kate thought.
Marjorie pointed to Kate’s wine glass.
The women held up two fingers.
Kate nodded. “Yes, two, thank you.” The woman pushed open the swinging kitchen doors and disappeared again. The doors swooshed back and forth several times.
Marjorie looked around the room, took in a big breath of air and then let it out. “I like it here. Nice place, good find.”
“I know,” Kate said.
“The wall out there, you know,” Marjorie began, “is dimpled with bullet holes. I was photographing that yesterday, but didn’t notice this place. It’s so weird, I think, how at some point in time someone was shooting an automatic into that wall. Into people standing by the wall, rather.”
The old woman came back with the wine glasses and set them on the table. She pointed at the blue plate and then took it away. She set it on the small table by the pig leg and started hacking off slices with a butcher knife.
“Well, I guess that’s where the meat comes from,” Kate said.
The woman rearranged the slices on the plate with her fingers and brought it back to their table. She put her hand on Kate’s head and rested it there for a moment. Her hand was greasy from the pig’s leg. Then she lifted it and went back into the kitchen.
“She did that before. Isn’t that strange? She keeps touching my head. I just smiled last time, I didn’t know what to do.” Kate brought her hand up and touched her hair. She could feel the grease.
“There’s pig in my hair,” she laughed.
“She did that before? When you were alone?”
“Yeah, I mean she didn’t touch the pig leg before. But yeah, I’m glad she did it again so you could see.”
“That’s kind of sweet though,” Marjorie said and looked towards the kitchen doors still swinging slowly.
“Yeah, I mean it was nicer before the pig got involved. Anyway, I’m sorry,” Kate reached for her wine glass, “the bullet holes, you were saying.”
“Right, well, it’s just something I can never get over, I should’ve by now, but you know, the difference time makes to a space.”
Kate nodded and took a long sip of wine. It was white and cold. She looked at her book. She wanted to finish it. Marjorie caught her glance.
“Okay, okay,” she laughed. She drained her glass. “I’m going to the apartment, get my camera and wander some, I feel guilty I didn’t even bring it out today. Meet for dinner in the main plaza at six?”
They agreed and Marjorie left.
A short while later Kate finished her book. She arranged the kuna in a pile by the blue plate and then left the wine bar. She went out into the late afternoon light, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She climbed down the winding stairs, occasionally reaching for the stonewall to steady her balance.
A week earlier Kate and Marjorie had left Dubrovnik for the weekend. They had taken a bus from the city station to the port. At the port they caught a ferry to Hvar, an island they heard about in passing.
In Dubrovnik, they had rented a small, one bedroom apartment for the month. They only brought one bag each to the island and were able to leave the rest of their things in the apartment. They told the old woman who owned the building that they were leaving for the weekend. The woman spent most of her days in the courtyard garden that was overgrown and untended to. She was wearing a stained, beige smock with a maroon handkerchief tired over her hair. She nodded. She was tossing scraps of meat to the tabby kittens slinking around her ankles. One was trying to nurse on her bare baby toe. Marjorie picked up the runt and it clawed up her chest. Marjorie let it, the kitten sat on her shoulder. Marjorie kept a hand on her so she wouldn’t fall. The mother was nowhere to be found. The old woman thought she had either been hit by a car or a dog had gotten her. She didn’t know.
It had been overcast all morning and when they reached the bus station it began to rain. The bus was crowded and Marjorie and Kate were the last two seated. Marjorie was put in the very back of the bus while Kate sat next to an old man towards the front. There were a few young soldiers standing in the aisle.
The coast was a three-hour drive and the bus had to enter Bosnia briefly. When Marjorie realized they were in Bosnia she took a special interest in observing the surroundings, she wanted to see if things looked any different. As far as she could tell they didn’t. She didn’t even realize they were back in Croatia until she overheard someone’s comment.
When they reached the port the first thing they noticed was the ferry. It was bigger than they had imagined. There was a line of cars waiting to drive onto the ship. Workers were carrying wooden crates up the metal ranks into the side doors. Trucks were unloading cargo. The ferry was the size of a small cruise ship. Kate and Marjorie went into the restaurant on the first floor and then took the stairs to the top deck. They found an empty bench and Marjorie pulled out her book. When the ferry left Kate got up to walk around. She walked to the bow and leaned over the railing. She watched the ferry cut through the blue ocean splitting the water into frothy white foam. She looked up and saw a flock of birds flying away from the coast. She wondered where they were going.
“Hard to see someone like you going to waste.”
It was a man’s voice and it was coming from behind her. Kate spun around. A short, old man was standing with his arms crossed. Kate was surprised. She repeated what she had thought he said, what she was nearly certain he said, in her head. Hard to see someone like you going to waste.
Kate had absolutely no idea what to say so she didn’t say anything.
The man was Croatian. That much she could tell. He was old and he was fat. Kate was perturbed. She was not smiling. But she was curious. She couldn’t help that.
“I was on your bus,” he said in perfect English. “From Dubrovnik. I was sitting next to you. So,” he looked at his feet and then quickly back up at her. “So, what happened there?”
Kate didn’t know what to say.
“I mean who called you, on the phone, I know it’s none of my business but,” he said and half smiled. “I just,” he paused. Then he let the smile go. Kate kept her back against the railing.
“It’s just, you may have, you may’ve been crying. I mean you were crying. I know you were crying. I, um, am probably stepping out of my bounds here.” He began to move his feet. He moved one foot out and then brought it back in, he kept doing that. Kate thought it looked like he was warming up before a tap dance. She stayed focused on his feet. She’d been staring at them since he said he had been sitting next to her on the bus. It was easier. His shoes were dull. His slacks were short and his socks were argyle.
“I didn’t, just then, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, I’m sorry, I,” the man put his hands in his pockets and then took them out again.
“I mean,” he clasped his hands together and then began to rub them. “What I wanted to say is, I thought it’s a shame how someone could hurt you so badly when they weren’t even there, I mean on the bus with you.” The man crossed his arms over his chest again, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about whatever happened to you. I’m sorry it happened to you.”
Kate finally looked up. The man was against the sun and she had to squint. She pushed her hair behind her ears but it just blew forward again. The man’s appearance had softened to her. He was quiet. He was finished. He nodded his head and turned to walk away.
“Thank you,” Kate said or at least she thought she said but she wasn’t sure. Maybe she had just said it in her head. Either way the man didn’t seem to hear her, or if he did he didn’t turn around. He walked directly to the exit door, went through it and headed down the stairs to the restaurant. Kate turned back to the railing. She watched the ferry cut through the sea. It reminded her of a big knife dragging through something slowly, splitting it open. She didn’t want to think about anything other than that, the Adriatic Sea and the fact that she was there, right then, slicing through it.
She never told Marjorie about the man on the ferry. Or the phone call on the bus. She wanted to but she just couldn’t push it out. There was so much she couldn’t push out. It frightened Kate, honestly. The trouble she was having with all that. With talking. Saying what was on her mind, what was truthfully on her mind. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Kate to say things out loud. To say the sorts of important things she knew the people around her would likely want to know. The sorts of things that her friends and family should probably know.
Kate wondered where all these things were. If she wasn’t telling anyone, if she wasn’t passing them on, then where were they going? That was one thing that frightened her. Kate shook her head, she swallowed up the fear and she went to find Marjorie on the bench.
They took off their bathing suit tops and lied down on the sarongs they had spread out on the warm boulders. The ocean would occasionally splash up and Marjorie would feel the spray on her toes. There was an older man tanning a ways away. A small white dog was asleep on a beach towel next to him. Other than the man there was no one on the rocks.
There was a small metal ladder bolted into the rocks leading into the ocean. The ocean looked crisp and blue and inviting. Behind the rocks were heaps of white stucco buildings. They were piled there, one on top of the next. They didn’t look straight, looked like a mouthful of crooked teeth. The buildings were mostly apartment or restaurants or jewelry shops selling illegal red coral. They all had orange tiled roofs. Next to the blue ocean the buildings would look beautiful from an aerial perspective, Kate thought.
Neither Kate nor Marjorie were particularly shy with their bodies and taking off their tops didn’t strike either girl as extravagant. They were more concerned with an even tan. After having lived in the same dorm room for the last two years they were all too familiar with each other’s bodies and, as Kate will point out as a joke, they have accidentally seen each other naked plenty.
They were both on their backs with their eyes closed. There was a folded three-day old International Herald Tribune between them with a crossword puzzle they planned to start when they flipped onto their stomachs. It was midday and Kate hadn’t bothered to put on sunscreen. She told Marjorie she never burned and Marjorie raised an eyebrow. Kate ignored her.
“You seem quiet today,” Marjorie commented. The ocean splashed against the rocks and the afternoon’s heat hummed.
“No, well, have I? I’m fine.”
“How’s Carter doing? Still in love?”
Kate’s eyes were closed but she could sense Marjorie smiling. Whenever Marjorie brought up Carter she couldn’t help herself from laughing, even if she was asking Kate a serious question. Sometimes she would apologize for it. Kate wondered if Marjorie even realized she did that, snickered every single time.
“Yeah, I don’t know. This is a dumb time to have a boyfriend, right? I just didn’t know how to end it.”
“You never know how to end it with him.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kate said and flipped onto her stomach.
“Well, if you’re not happy with him it matters plenty,” Marjorie said, she had opened her eyes and turned towards Kate.
“I am happy,” Kate said defensively. “You always think I’m not happy when I’m fine, it’s sort of awkward Marjorie, I mean I’m not going to go dancing down the streets but I’m like, fine. I have a boyfriend, it’s great. I’m happy, I’m happy.”
“Okay, okay,” Marjorie said, “You’ve convinced me. And by the way, I don’t always say you’re unhappy. You just,” Marjorie paused and sat up, she crossed her legs and faced the ocean. “You just deserve so much, you know, sometimes I don’t know if you realize all you’re entitled to.”
“I do. I’m fine.”
Marjorie had her eyes set on the man. She watched him stand up and roll his towel. The white dog shook off his fur and arched his back. The man walked to the metal ladder and put the towel by it. He caught Marjorie’s eye and they smiled at each other. The man turned with his foot on the ladder and lowered himself into the ocean. The dog stayed on the edge of the rocks, turning his head every which way, he was alert as if scanning the ocean for danger signs, ready to sprint into it if he saw something that would put the man at risk.
“You know my mom,” Marjorie said and Kate nodded her head. She was still on her stomach resting her cheek on the towel. She didn’t open her eyes.
“I must’ve been five, maybe four, I don’t know how I remember this.”
The man let go of the ladder, he pushed himself from the boulder with his feet and began to backstroke away. The dog started barking then. One bark after the next until the man, smiling, free stroked forward and came back to the ladder. He brought his hand up and rubbed the dog’s head and then he started to backstroke again, facing the dog.
“I was at my uncle’s horse farm in Lanchester, it’s a couple hours away from my house and it’s even more rural than Cording. And my uncle was holding me, I don’t particularly like that uncle, I never trusted him. And my mom climbed up on a horse, we were outside by the stable, and she looked at my uncle, her brother, and said, “Watch me go.” And she laughed.
“She kicked her heels into the horse, it was a pretty, white horse with beige speckles, and she was just off, I mean galloping down the field, she just shot off and her hair was rolling behind her, it was really long then. I mean her hair must have reached her waist. It was too long.
“Anyway I just started crying then, I mean totally wailing. And what I remember distinctly is this feeling of her pulling away from me, like she was tearing something out of my insides and running off with it.
“And my uncle was just laughing at me. I mean head bent back laughing. And he said, She’s coming back sweetheart, be a big girl. And he said it between all this laughter.
“I just remember hating him then. I mean to this day I still don’t like him and for no good reason.”
The man in the ocean swam further away and every time he let his head go underwater the dog began to bark again. It was a piercing bark and it wouldn’t stop until the man brought his head up.
“I just had this sense, since I was really young, that my mom was about to take off. Like at any moment she’d just pick up and go. But she never did. She’s still there now. I don’t know why I always thought that.
“One day I’d love to be able to ask her, honestly, if she was ever thinking of leaving us or if as a kid I was just completely paranoid,” the dog began to bark again, “that my mother was always inches away from running loose.”
The man was still swimming away and the dog was jumping up and down on his hind legs, then he came down on all fours and began running in frantic circles, yapping endlessly. Kate was still on her stomach with her eyes closed.
“I don’t know why I got into that, I think that dog reminded me of myself as a kid,” Marjorie laughed. Kate didn’t responded.
Marjorie tapped her shoulder. Kate didn’t budge. Marjorie realized she was asleep. She laughed at that. She picked up the crossword puzzle and found a stub of a pencil in her bag.
When Kate did wake up she was alone on the rocks. Marjorie’s sarong was still spread out but she was gone. The crossword puzzle was half finished. Kate was hot and dizzy. She had no idea what time it was. The sun was lower in the sky, she noticed that. Kate turned to her back and sat up. Her breasts were soaked in sweat. She brought her hand to her collarbone and ran it down her chest, wiping off the sweat that was running between her breasts in dozens of rolling beads.
Her hair was plastered to the back of her neck she brought it up into a high ponytail. Pieces of hair were still matted on the sides of her face and she pushed them behind her ears. She straightened her back and reached her arms up, she stretched to one side then to the other and then she noticed Marjorie.
Marjorie was floating on her back in the sea. Slowly side to side like a swaying hammock. She wasn’t going in any one direction, just back and forth like that. She was still topless with her white bottoms. Her hair was floating out in a halo around her head. Kate stood up and walked across the boulders to the ladder.
Marjorie’s eyes were shut and her arms were spread out. Kate rested her hands on her sides. She watched Marjorie float from side to side like that. Kate sat down on the edge of the boulder and hung her legs into the ocean. She watched her feet bob up and down in the clear water. A wave came in quickly and pushed her back. Salt water came into her mouth and Kate spit it out onto her bare chest laughing. Then she sat up again.
In Dubrovnik, after she left the wine bar Kate had to walk across the city to get to the apartment. She wanted to take a bath and change before dinner. Halfway along it began to rain. The sky turned dark quickly and the rain came down hard and fast. Kate didn’t think it would last long. She tucked her book under her arm and walked briskly to a café awning. She leaned against the wall and decided to wait it out. The rain fell in long clear lines like strings of salvia. The rain filled the grooves of the cobblestones and turned the cracks into mirrors. Everything began to glisten.
Across the square an elderly woman walked out of a restaurant and Kate watched her. She was the only person outside, other than Kate. The woman didn’t seem bothered by the rain. Didn’t seem to notice it at all. She wasn’t walking straight, that was the other thing Kate noticed. She would stroll in one direction and then casually sweep into another. She seemed to be walking in a long graceful zigzag. Kate thought the woman must be a little mad. She was well kept though, Kate noticed. Her white hair was curled neatly around her face. She had on a light blue blouse and beige pants and bright red sneakers.
She had a yellow scarf tied around her neck.
An old man pushed open the restaurant door and fumbled with his umbrella. “Emma! Emma,” he yelled continuing to jerk at the umbrella. Finally it bloomed into a black dome and he went running into the square. He headed quickly towards the woman who was still strolling every which way in the center in all of this rain.
Lightening flashed. Thunder followed and the sound filled up the square for a moment. The woman didn’t seem bothered. Didn’t seem to notice. The man looked up at the sky quickly and then back towards the woman.
“Emma, stop, please, slow down.” The man was scurrying now. He was old himself. Looked as old as she did. He was wearing a grey suit with a yellow tie.
“Here, I’ve an umbrella,” he caught up with her. He tried to cover her but she was still walking in her way. She was under the umbrella one moment and then the next she would turn a different direction and stroll right back into the rain.
Kate squinted to make out the woman’s face but she couldn’t see it from the distance. Kate wondered what her expression was like. If she was laughing or if her face was blank. Kate wasn’t sure. She hoped she was laughing. If she wasn’t Kate thought it would be a great shame. She didn’t try to see the man’s face. Didn’t even think to look.
The man continued to follow the woman’s haphazard route holding out the black umbrella. In his attempt to protect her he was getting rather wet himself.
“Please,” he called when she turned to the left suddenly.
“Lets go back, please. Emma, come back now, okay? Could you? It was nice in there, wasn’t it? Warm. Darling. Please.”
Kate continued to stand against the wall and watch the elderly couple spin in circles in that empty square. Through all those clear lines of rain. She watched the woman’s red shoes drum one way and then quickly turn another with that black umbrella floating behind her like a devoted ghost. The man copying her every step, following her every move.
Kate thought it looked like they were dancing.
Marjorie wasn’t in the apartment and Kate walked straight to the bathroom to run a bath. The rain had stopped but Kate’s clothes were still damp against her body. She pulled off her skirt, tank top and underwear and carried them in a ball to the drying rack set out on the small balcony overlooking the courtyard. Kate noticed the old woman looking up from the plastic chair in the garden. She set her clothes on the rack and walked back inside. Kate was completely naked. She didn’t care. She didn’t think the woman cared either.
The bathtub in the apartment was pea green and built into the wall. The sink was the same color and so was the toilet. The walls were papered with a loud orange flower print. It was peeling in the corners, revealing an old yellow wall. Marjorie had joked that the wallpaper made her nauseous every time she went into the bathroom.
Kate poured shampoo under the running facet. She wanted bubbles. She stepped in, it was steaming, and lowered herself. She rested her head back on the tiles. She unclipped her hair and it fell down her shoulders, the ends floated in the bathwater.
When Kate took a bath everything felt okay. Everything turned bearable. The calmness was instantaneous. She closed her eyes. She listened to the woman in the courtyard talk in a language she didn’t understand. There was a man’s voice responding. Somewhere a dog began to bark. She listened to the traffic on the main road. She began to turn off.
Kate had a feeling that the way she felt in bathtubs, and that was to experience a great, sweeping relief, was probably similar to the way sex was supposed to feel. Good sex. Making love. Whatever.
After Peter died she took a bath every day for six months straight. From the day his father called after Christmas until the day she left her parents house the following fall for college. Sometimes those baths would take up entire afternoons. Sometimes she would get out of the bath, drain the water and then refill it again, right away. She would sit her bare ass on the toilet seat and watch the water rise and then she would lower herself back in.
Her mother would come into the bathroom and talk to her. Ask her about her day. Ask her what she wanted for dinner. And Kate would just be lying in the lukewarm water, naked and pruned as if it were her office. As if it was completely normal that’s where she was spending the majority of her time. Hours on end, days bleeding into weeks, weeks bleeding into months. It was her life then.
And even after all that time lying in bathtubs Kate still finds herself enjoying them immensely, each time. Probably enjoying them a little too much. Maybe it’s because she can’t easily take a bath at college so it has become a treat again. Maybe. She doesn’t know, she doesn’t really care.
Regardless, Kate was happy to be there then. Naked and slippery in the pea green bath in an old apartment in Dubrovnik. She focused on listening to the traffic and to the birds. She thought about what she would wear that evening. Then she didn’t think about anything. And she turned off. And then Kate felt fine.
When Kate arrived at the plaza at six the clouds had parted. There was a street band setting up in one corner and people were out. The plaza was crowded. The sun was low and bright pink but it only stayed that way a few minutes before it excused itself and went behind a building. Quickly thereafter warm streetlights flickered one after the next until the plaza was illuminated again. There were white Christmas lights wrapped around the awnings of cafes. One white candle burning on every silver table.
Kate felt an electric sensation to it all and she smiled to herself. All of the waiters looked slim and busy. All were dressed in black and white. They wove around the petite tables holding trays well above their heads. Black hair was greased back, hard and smooth and shining. They all seemed to be the same thing. Moving quickly between tables and people like a current of water flowing around rocks.
Kate set The International Herald Tribune on the table and unfolded it, but she wasn’t looking at it.
“There’s going to be a festival here tonight,” Marjorie said appearing from the crowd, she sat down.
“Really?” Kate said folding the paper in half again. “For what?”
“I don’t know. But there’ll be music and fireworks.”
Marjorie hailed a waiter. She ordered a small jug of red wine and asked to see the menu.
They were quiet for a while. Not in a bad way. Kate was watching a man and a woman. They arrived at an empty table and the man pulled out the chair for the woman, she sat down and the man walked around the table and sat on the other side. The woman was wearing a slim plum colored pantsuit and high heels. She crossed her legs under the table. Pulled a red packet of cigarettes from her purse and offered one to the man. He accepted.
“How was the day?” Kate asked.
“It was alright, I think it went well,” Marjorie fiddled with her camera and put it on the spare chair. “You know what attracted me to Croatia,” Marjorie began. Kate looked over at her. Kate let her hair out of its ponytail and brushed it out with her hands. She wanted to look pretty. She had gotten in that sort of mood all of a sudden.
“Is that in all the travel books this place looks so normal, the same as any other chic European place I’d imagine would look, civilized and fine, you know? When I think of twenty-first century wars though I don’t,” she paused. “I think of deserts and jungles. Like Iraq or Vietnam or Africa, something like that. It’s a totally different image. Even Sarajevo, why I didn’t want to involve that, it seemed more,” she paused, “obvious.”
The waiter set the jug of wine and two glasses on their table. He put down two menus. They were thick and leather bound.
“I mean,” Marjorie continued. “Can you imagine this place having a war? There’s this photograph of a Serb holding a gun to a group of old Croats in front of a post office, the exact same one we pass when we walk to our apartment from here. And this one guy is kicking in the head of a person on the street and the guy being kicked is wearing Tevas. I know that sounds stupid but it’s the Tevas that I found, I mean, shocking. It’s those details that make it. It seems so,” Marjorie turned towards the street band and stared off for a moment. When she looked back at Kate she didn’t continue.
Marjorie reached for her wine glass. Kate opened her menu.
“There was a war here,” Marjorie reaffirmed, still holding her glass in the air. “Where do people put that when it’s over? That’s what I’d like to know. I want to find the place people put it and find out what happens to that space.”
There was a long pause.
“So, what’d you take pictures of then, today?” Kate asked, she was sincerely curious about Marjorie’s work. She always had been.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Marjorie began. “I feel like I’m so desperately trying to find these details. What’s the whole point of this if not for the beauty of the stupid details, you know? I actually went back to that wine bar. I took a few shots of the old woman who was touching your hair.”
“Yeah. She was sweet. She stood by the wine case, near the pig’s leg, and she crossed her arms over those giant boobs of hers, she smiled but never showed teeth. Then we went outside and she stood on the stairs, and I went down a ways and took some shots of her standing there, next to the stonewall. She had her hands on her hips. And she was wearing that red skirt you know, and it was just waving in the wind—this was right before the thunderstorm. And then she started looking up, concerned you know, because the sky had turned black so quickly, and I think those were probably my best shots, this old woman in her big, red skirt billowing considering the storm,” Marjorie paused, glanced at her camera. She looked back at Kate.
“Well, then it started to rain hard and the woman told me to come back inside and she gave me more of that meat,” Marjorie laughed and so did Kate. “You’ve no idea how much of that pig’s leg I’ve eaten today.”
Kate was smiling. “I think that’s going to be beautiful, Marjorie. Honestly. I think it’s going to be really good.”
“We’ll see,” Marjorie said and reached for her menu, she opened it and began to page through. Kate was still smiling. She couldn’t wipe it off. The street band started up. A few children jumped up from their chairs and raced towards it. One boy still had a dinner napkin stuffed in his collar. It was waving out behind him. Kate believed in Marjorie so deeply. The pictures would be beautiful, Kate thought. Marjorie would be fine and Kate was grateful for it.
Marjorie looked up at Kate then, as if she could sense what Kate was thinking and was embarrassed by it.
“Well, what’re you going to order then?” Marjorie asked. Kate looked down at her menu, said she needed more time. The white candle between them had burnt out. Marjorie’s eyes were fixated on the puddle of wax pooling in the metal candleholder. She pressed the tip of her pinkie finger into it. Brought it out. The skin hardened immediately. Then she pealed it off and looked back up at Kate.
Later a half moon revealed itself over the plaza and the people started dancing. Marjorie and Kate had finished dinner and were emptying off their second jug of wine.
When the first firework exploded over the plaza Kate screamed in spite of herself and that put her and Marjorie in hysterics. Kate covered her mouth with one hand, laughing. The band was playing and more and more people were gathering into the plaza. Most were standing with their heads back looking into the sky wide-eyed and opened mouthed. Children were gripping their parent’s hands, clinging onto the bottoms of their shirts. The fireworks were blooming above. Big grey ashes floated from the sky like down feathers. Kate watched a piece of ash land onto a woman’s shoulder. She brushed it off and then continued looking up.
“They’re too low!” Kate hollered across the table to Marjorie. “Have you ever seen fireworks so low?”
Marjorie was just laughing. She was gathering her things, getting up. “I’ve to shoot this, okay? I’ll be right back.” Marjorie swung her camera over a shoulder. Kate watched the throngs part for Marjorie, she stepped into the crowd and the wall of people closed around her. She was gone.
In the sky a gold dome bloomed and then fell into ash.
Kate was wearing a black linen dress with small straps that tied at her shoulders and her hair was down. She was wearing sandals with pearl ribbons that wrapped around her ankles. She stood from the table and walked along the edge of the crowd. She noticed a covered alleyway where a guitarist was playing with a bongo drummer. There was a small crowd circled around the musicians. Kate walked to it.
Another round of fireworks exploded in the plaza, the sound echoed through the alley. The drummer increased his beat and Kate found herself skipping towards him.
A firework went off and the ground shook. Kate heard the crowd awe in one great wave. She couldn’t help move with the music and all of a sudden she was dancing. She bent one leg up and quickly untied the ribbon, tossed her sandal to the side of the street. The guitarist looked up and smiled at her. She untied the other.
Kate’s hands were above her head twisting and turning. She felt her hair sweeping back and forth on the back of her pale, white neck. She closed her eyes.
Kate felt good and she felt free. Her dress was spinning around her body and the drummer picked up his speed again. He slapped his hands against the skin faster. Kate suddenly felt like her whole life was pouring from this one moment in time. That it was pouring in every direction, into every space. The fireworks boomed and the whole crowd sighed.
Fireworks must sound like bombs. The thought came to Kate abruptly. She opened her eyes and looked towards the plaza, she was still dancing. The crowd was looking up and Kate watched the colors of light reflect on their faces. Kate smiled. Another explosion and their faces were blanketed in warm red light, then blue light and then yellow and with each color there was a roar of sound tearing open the night. The crowd was awing and sighing, holding in their breath and then exhaling all together, as if all those people were just one thing, one body breathing in and out, illuminating light. Kate closed her eyes again. Kate twisted her arms and wrists above her head like a stem of a blooming flower turning to feed from the sunlight.
“Kate, there you are!” Marjorie shouted from the plaza. Kate couldn’t hear her. Kate was dancing. Her arms were high in the air and her hair was sweeping back and forth. She was spinning. Marjorie lifted her camera and started taking pictures of Kate. Dancing alone like that, barefoot in a damp and glistening cobblestone alleyway. In Croatia of all places, Marjorie mused. Kate didn’t notice.
Fireworks were going off quickly now. One explosion after the next. The drummer continued gaining speed, beating faster and faster. Kate was twisting and turning. Ashes were falling from the sky. Light was pouring over everything.