On her daily adventures she collected things — sweet wrappers she found on the side of the road, discarded pins from a museum visit, poorly developed photographs, chewed up library pencils. At home, she laid them out on the bed, considering them clues to the nation’s psyche while they floated on a sea of white comforter like castaways. Then, she cut out the places where she had gone on the map. Been there, done that, was all she said when Andrew asked her what she was doing. She tore away a strip of road. The map’s gap tooth smiled at her.
I’m learning the names of things, she told Andrew when he got home from work. She put her warm hands on his icy cheeks. Regent’s Park, Covent Gardens, Chelsea Gardens. Is there anything besides gardens here?
He leaned into the warm spot radiating from her neck. You’ll see. He asked her to tell him stories about Cartagena, and she impressed herself by how intricate a tale she could weave about a place so familiar. So good, in fact, that she struggled to remember whether or not the stories were true at all. Thank goodness she had Andrew to correct her (Wasn’t the flower stand closer to the water? Doña Luna’s son goes by Pepito, not Pepe, right?), otherwise home might have slid away from her altogether.
In the beginning, her mother called two or three times a day making demands. Mail me a tea set! Valeria slurred into the phone. Send me cubed sugar! Scones! Minerva explained that one could not send scones via post. Don’t challenge me! Valeria shouted, then hung up.Once, just when the fog of sleep began to settle over Minerva, Valeria called again. Okay, just the sugar cubes then, she sniffed. Wrapped or unwrapped? Minerva asked, pretending to take down her order, making exaggerated scratching noises with a pen.
Valeria sighed an aristocratic sigh, Oh, wrapped, I suppose.
They breathed in unison for a moment. The air between their two phones made a whooshing sound as if they were going through a tunnel.
Valeria broke the silence. I suppose you have tea every day over there! she bellowed. I suppose you take it in a pretty little China cup with roses painted on the side. She coughed for several moments.
Actually, Minerva said. They’re lilies.
After that the calls only came at night. A shrill whining on the other end, like a pig being slaughtered. Andrew started unplugging the phone. She’s haunting you, he said. She should let you live your life. Minerva said nothing. She was beginning to think he didn’t know anything about families and the thread of responsibilities by which one is bound to them. It had been months, and she had yet to meet his.
She lay awake thinking about the gaps in genealogy between them. Late at night the ceiling felt like home. Bars from streetlights drifted past and British drunks sounded Spanish. The glow of the street lamp could be moonlight, passing cars the sound of waves. Warm hiss from the radiator — pretend it’s ocean spray, she told herself as she let the drizzle of Andrew’s saliva comfort her. His sweating body was a beached seal. The rot of his breath part of the sea’s life cycle.
Once, while visiting Santa Verónica, she had seen villagers tenderly separate the skin of a dolphin from bone. The beach was dark and fuzzy. The mumbling between figures in moonlight like a song. They kept their eyes down, mourning and worshipping the slip of fat as it fell from their knives. Thank you, she thought she heard them say. She didn’t remember why she was out so late.