It was July in Galicia when I was reading For Whom the Bell Tolls for the first time; the hard coastal northern tip of Spain over Portugal. Rocks claw out of the sea—the sea claws back at the rocks. Senoras with tight silver buns and blue kerchiefs, baskets in their arms—and the bread. They walk in flocks buzzing from the market. Their breasts lap over their bellies and the tops of their hands are lined with veins that look like tree roots, look like if they finger the soil they will be swallowed down, digested, and then will come out again. Bloom into a row of tulip-smooth lovely girls.
I took acid in the main plaza with Karen. Sitting on the ground leaning against the big pillar—I could feel the stones coolness on my bottom through my skirt. I kept itching at my bare knee. We drank tea from a thermos and watched the pilgrims. Streams of them with the seashells around their necks. Dirty, their shoulders raw and burnt. How far had they come? It varied, Karen said—she was examining a pebble, twisting it in her hand. Holding it up to the sun and squinting. As far as Bhutan.
Bhutan. All of the doors felt unlocked when I was nineteen.
Karen and I were going to get matching tattoos so that later in life, when we had left Galicia and had moved on to different places and people and times we would have evidence that one another existed. That we were important to each other.
—It would be hopeful, she said.
I propped myself on my elbows. We were lying in the grass on the hill that looked over the cathedral. The pilgrims flowed in and out like water. The sun was going down and the light was a warm autumn red. I peered out at it all.
Where was I?
We never got the tattoos. Karen burnt my left forearm with a cigarette though. Under a Ferris wheel. There was a traveling carnival. We had befriended a pilgrim, Jordan, from Johannesburg. He stuck around for a while. The three of us would buy wine and bread from the store and drink it on that hilltop in the evenings. Jordan and I kissed once. He pushed me against that cathedral and kissed me suddenly and for a while, I remember. Two years later his car was stolen back in Johannesburg and he was shot in the face in the afternoon. I saw it on International CNN. I was standing up in my small dorm room in America when I saw the clip, holding a pile of textbooks. First they flashed his picture and then they said his name and I knew.
I was asking for it and Karen was exasperated.
It was nighttime and the glow of the colored Ferris wheel lights fell down on us like dots. Jordan flinched, then laughed.
—I cannot believe—He began, then he instinctively gritted his teeth, exposed his gums. The red cherry went out on my forearm, sizzling. I gasped in a shot of air.
I was left with black, a circle of ash haloing around a bubbling blister.
She tossed the cigarette butt on the ground.
—Now we will remember it forever!
I clapped. I was drunk. I looked at Jordan and gave him a prideful smile. I felt like I had won something, that I had just proven correct on a difficult test question.
I was hopeful.