The Rain in Spain

 

This story was published in an anthology of short stories by Writing Writers in November 2008. The collection was titled Rainy Days, which was the theme behind all of the stories selected.


THE RAIN IN SPAIN


There’s nothing like the rain in Spain. Have you seen it? People laugh because of that ridiculous song, but they don’t know. They don’t really understand.


I do, though. Because it washed away my sins.


There was a time when I wasn’t like I am now. When I didn’t understand what life was about. When I was selfish and self-possessed. You could have guessed from the job I did: real estate development. I bought property, I sold property, I sold property from under people. If there was money to be made, I’d even sell your grandmother – and her house.


I had always liked the sense of satisfaction that came with having ‘things’. I don’t know, maybe it was because I was an only child or something, my parents always busy elsewhere. I’d been good at taking care of myself. Never felt lonely, never thought I needed anyone.


Before him.


Alejandro. I first met him across a holly veneered desk in my office, a hot flush of red visible even through his dark olive skin. He was shouting at me. Eyes like Antonio Banderas, aflame with black fire the colour of his hair. He was shouting pretty loudly. People were peering in from the open-plan room beyond, but all I could see were the corners of his thick, full lips twitching as he spoke, frothing a little foam of angry spittle. I must have been mesmerised because I didn’t notice that he was speaking until he stopped. The lull caused me to blink and look up.


“You. Hiz not hjour right, no. To go make omless ayn old laydee.”


Hmm? Oh. “Mr…”


Señor. Señor Saura.”


“Mmm. Mr. Saura, I’m afraid the deal was closed last month. Your mother had every opportunity to object the terms, but she did not. Her settlement will be more than enough to buy another modest apartment – or a villa – somewhere off the coast of Málaga, I’m sure.”


“No. No, you har not listening to me. It iz er hhom.”


We stood for one, drawn-out moment, staring face-to-face across the holly veneered desk. There really was nothing I could say. The house had been sold. There was no compromise to be offered even had I wished it.


It was precisely because I had wished it that I felt uneasy. I had witnessed reactions like this before, and it had never fazed me. Was it because of a son’s tender appeal on behalf of his elderly mother? Was it because of the hugely insubstantial payment I knew she would receive? Was it because he was foreign?


I decided to pay him a visit. Everyone who signs in at reception has to write down their address and contact details. I didn’t bother to phone, I just slipped behind the wheel of my midnight-blue Beamer and decided to go.


I pulled up outside a run-down row of apartments in the Dresden suburbs. It’s called Dresden for a reason. Black sulo bins lying on their sides, spilling their gut content across the curbs. The smell of babies’ faeces and dog turd a permanent incense lit by the late-summer breeze.


I found the stairwell and picked my way up the concrete slabs, over plastic bags and broken children’s toys.  411...412...413…all the way along to 418. Gold-painted plastic numbers nailed to a peeling red door.


I knocked.


No reply. I was sort of relieved. I really had no desire to stay in the neighbourhood. I wasn't even sure why I was there. I turned to leave and the door opened.


“Hjes?”


It was him. Staring from between the chain-restrained opening. Even though the space was slim, I could see that he was topless to the waist, in grey jogging bottoms. Beautiful, defined…


“Oh. Itz you.”


“Yes. Sorry, Mr...”


“Saura”. He eyeballed me warily.


“I don’t usually do this, but I wanted to apologise for earlier. When you came to see me about your mother. I wasn’t exactly attentive.”


He closed the door gently and I heard the chain slip. When the door opened again, he waved me in. I hesitated for a second, then stepped over the threshold.


The room was nothing I could have imagined. Walls hung with Indian throws: midnight blue like my car, and emperor’s purple. A faint residue of Nag Champa hung in the air, and a threadbare sofa filled the wall beneath the window. It took me a while to notice that there wasn’t a TV. I was too distracted by the paintings.


Huge canvases of every shape: tall and long, fat and square; even round. They were propped in piles against every wall. A huge, paint-flecked dust sheet covered the floor. I stood for a moment just staring. Some canvases were still white, untouched. Others were filled with oil colours and charcoal – indefinable shapes and figures that the mind couldn’t help defining.


An artist.


“Won’t you zit?”


I sat.


He disappeared for a while and I heard cups clattering around. When he returned, he placed a battered silver tray on a pink plastic coffee table, pouring from a chipped brown teapot. It smelled divine. I closed my eyes to breath it in. When I opened them, he was staring at me, pot held un-pouring in mid air.


“It his African tea. Tea masala.”


I had no idea what tea masala was, but it smelled wonderful.


We sipped slowly, blowing to cool it. Finally, I knew that I would have to speak.


“Mr – Señor Saura.” He smiled at this. “I am sorry. Truly, I am. Perhaps your mother did not feel that she understood the situation clearly. But a representative of my company did sit with her for an hour and explained, and – well, she did sign the papers. I’m afraid, even if I wanted to, I can’-”


“I know. There hiz nothing you can do. I knew that. I was just hangry. I needed to say so. My mother, she has spent her whole life not understanding the things other people have made her do.”


A look of such sadness came across his face. I believe that is the moment I began my transformation. That is the moment that something very deep inside of me was touched, and it winced as if in shame.


I put my cup on the table and stood. What was I thinking? I could not drink tea in the house of someone whose mother I had just dispossessed. He followed me to the door and reached his arm across to the handle, pausing.


“You har a good woman. You did not have to come.”


I looked at him then with terrible desperation in my eyes. I never thought that I needed to hear that from anybody but, in hearing it, I realised that I did. If I could have bought the woman a mansion at that moment, I would have, and dug the pool myself.


His hand met my cheek. His lips met my lips. He undid the tight knotted bun of my dark chestnut hair, and he took me to bed.


I have never been loved like that before or since. A complete, beautiful stranger who knew me better than I knew myself. A moment in time which can never last, but from which you can never return the same as you once were.


I slept there in his arms all that night. In the morning I awoke and he was gone. I let myself out and closed the door, listening for the self-locking click as if it were the last tick of the clock of time.


Locking myself out of the one place I had truly felt home.


I never visited Alejandro again, and he never came to the office. But I kept tabs. I heard he moved back to Spain not long after, to his home town of Mira in Cuenca. His mother was re-homed in a one bedroom bungalow on the other side of town. I drove past occasionally, but never went to call.


Three years later, she died of a stroke.


It was a joke in our office that I was always asking after ‘that Spanish woman.’ Nobody ever knew what happened that day when I’d gone to visit him, but I know office gossip came close to the truth. When I heard the news that she had passed away, I booked leave and a plane ticket.


I arrived in Mira in the early hours of the morning, fresh off a real bone-cracker of a bus. Dusty, and with dark circles under my eyes. I asked at a local shop and was directed, in my dolly heels, along a mud track to the ridge of a red-earth hill. Below, in the valley, I could see a small whitewashed villa with a vegetable garden outside.


I stood for a while in the rising heat and dust, watching. Just as my foot went forward to begin my descent, I heard a screech. From behind the house a little boy, no more than two, came waddling out, laughing in his cloth nappy. Behind, a dark-haired man - Alejandro - swept him up in his arms.

As
he turned, a beautiful Spanish woman in a long white dress appeared. Putting her arm around his waist, they walked back behind the building.


My throat felt a little dry. My legs felt a little weak. I turned along the ridge of the hill, on to the brushland, and just kept walking. Some hours later, I reached the highest point. The villa was nothing but a white speck far down below. I sat on the earth and stared at the world.


A roll of thunder called to the sky, and the heavens opened: black ink spilled across blue silk. A flood washed me away somewhere within myself.


How I got home, I cannot remember. Perhaps I swam.


But, when I reached the shore, something in me was different. Alive.


I think about that time a lot, but I speak about it rarely. The perfection of a life I’d glimpsed inspired in me a transformation. A lust for something deeper. A way out.


I found that way out. I left London. I started to make pots from clay. I met a man as beautiful as the day is long, and now I am a mother myself. We live and work on a vineyard in France that belongs to his cousin. Life is simple and good.


All of this I owe to the rain in Spain. Sometimes, when I close my eyes at night, I can still smell it – that distant downpour.

 

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