The sky is a kind of periwinkle; dusky and undecided if it is lavender or blue, and the full leaves of the chestnut trees are black against the sodium backlight from the streetlamps. Ethereal is the word for them, as within the wrought iron casings are nothing more than softly glowing orange globes. They may as well be faery lanterns.
But that is my imagination running away with me again, so I bring my attention back down from the sky and the leaves and the imaginary world that lies in the space between them, back to the quiet pleasure of my company. She's done up in scarlet tonight, which is my favorite color on her, and one she so rarely wears at home, but it complements her olive skin and her dark hair and makes her shine. She's smiling at me again in that way that says she knows I was drifting and it amuses her.
"Where did you go just now?" she asks.
"It's alright, but do I wonder where you go."
"Oh, up among the trees."
"Is it pleasant there?"
"Yes," I smile at her teasing me. "It's a wonderful night. The weather is fine. Care to come up?"
She shakes her head and laughs.
Moscatel tastes sweet and a few small bats flutter by, wings mixing frantically with the waving chestnut leaves. Blossoms from said trees come down like soft snow on my companion and I as we take our digetifs and enjoy the breeze.
And that is what I'll tell you if you ask me to sum up Spain in May.
Or at the very least, Madrid. It's hot in the capital, even at this time of year - thirty centigrade or too-damn-hot in American - but the heat of the day leaves quickly after sunset. On the slight wind comes the faint smell of growing things. This, so my companion tells me, is the only time of year to find growing things in this part. In this way, she says, it is not at all like the north. Things are always growing in the north. But the center country, tucked away inside the brown, rocky mountains, is rough cut and forged in heat, celebrating a green season for only a few short, precious weeks. I'm happy we came to see it now.
Simone seems more beautiful than ever here. All the growing things had their affect on her. It's gray and raining still in Paris and her Spanish side was hoping for a little sunlight, I think. It is as if the darker, more mysterious parts of her are more prevalent here. And I do not mean dark as in evil, but deep, the dark that reminds me of old tales of Moors and spices and things I've not yet come to know. She is calm and she sits quietly as she ever does, but she laughs more here. When she smiles in Paris it is guarded for there are always predators about, people who would hunt her, but here the smile is broad and kind and happy. It's my smile, only for me, and I guard it jealously.
And I imagine those old stories and quests are inside her, just behind her dark eyes, some kind of wild majesty that only comes out when we're alone and far from home. Sometimes she tells me tales of this hot land in our more quiet moments and I can tell it stirs more of her up to the surface than she ever lets show outside. I've seen it sometimes in her paintings, this glimpse of a fire-spirit simmering somewhere deep inside her and it makes me want her more than I already do. That is a hard thing to accomplish, believe me.
And still I cannot find the correct words to describe what I'm sensing. I would that I could write her, but I never can completely. I seem to only ever catch a small facet and miss the others, for there are too many and they are constantly shifting. I could never write something so complex, it is unfortunately beyond my skill. Sometimes I wish I could paint as she does, for if I could I would paint her all of the time, trying to catch each facet as I see it.
So we sip the last of the moscatel and I fumble inside my brain for words that don't fit my mot juste for her, while an accordion the next block over plays la tumbona.
"We could dance to this," she suggests.
"You could. I doubt I could."
"You do not give yourself enough credit." She takes my hand. She always has more faith in me than I do. Up I go and into her arms, which is my favorite place to be.
We dance a few steps, but I'm right, and I'm horrible at it. But she has worlds of patience with me and all of my insecurities, so when I stumble she only laughs.
"I'm sorry, you see I'm only ever graceful with my words."
"I adore you anyway. Are you still thirsty?" she asks.
"Only for company."
"You have many good lines."
"I suppose I'm in the right profession, then."
"Would you like a sherry?"
"I suppose I would."
We take a walk down San Jeronimo to a small place, out of the way, on a cross street I can't pronounce. I ask her twice but I can't get it. I never had an ear for Spanish. She tries to teach me words on the way but I can only pick up the words for cheese and wine and precious little else. She laughs and tells me that's all I really need. Just before we get to the bar I lift her hand up in mine and give her a little twirl; her scarlet skirts swirl about her and she has that carefree smile again.
It has the best sherry I've ever had. She has the manzanilla fino and I have the amontillado.
"How literary!" she exclaims.
I grin. "I couldn't help myself. But I haven't immured anyone, don't worry."
I'm feeling tipsy and I touch her dark hair, because it takes a golden kind of tint in the indoor lighting. She lets me for a moment before pulling away and beckoning me with her. She is a bit coy tonight, and sometimes I don't mind. But sometimes when my heart aches I wonder if she pulls away because hers does as well. Sometimes I wonder if she's afraid of how I feel. Maybe she's afraid of how she feels.
"Come with me, we'll go to the park."
I tell her I always follow where she leads.
The park is big and it has grand iron gates that are still open at this end. We walk to the Estanque, a large reflecting pool with a grand statue of some long dead king. Several pigeons fly up, spreading out their Chinese-fan tails, and settle along the railings far from us. I look up; a few stars are visible through the encircling fingers of the blooming chestnuts. She always tells me that I am always looking up. I always say it's better than looking back.
She leans on the railing and her skirt raises to just a little above the knee as she bends over to spot the goldfish floating lazily near the surface. There is a big white one and that's the one we can see clearly.
"I have never painted the Estanque," she says. "I will paint this one fish. Come and see him, he is like the moon."
"He's beautiful," I say, but I'm looking at her, and she sees that. She smiles but she leans a bit away from me, just out of my reach. It isn't the coyness now, it's the distance come again. She is always there for me except in these times where I come to close.
I want to ask her to marry me, but I can hear the conversation in my head before it happens:
'You've asked me twice already.'
'Well, I'm asking you again, I suppose.'
And then we both go silent. Or she asserts her right to her own life. Or how things are fine the way they are now, and I concede because I hate to think I'm scaring her, but I'm left insecure and aching, and she is not mad at me per se, but distant just the same.
How do I tell you then, Simone, without destroying the whole thing? Sometimes I feel she is a wild animal, maybe a fox; clever and shy, beautiful but fleeting, prized by all the hunters in the land and yet caught by none. But I am not a hunter and I can only think to sit here, quietly, with a hand outstretched, letting her come as close as she dare on her own terms and in her own time. Yet all the while yearning to put my hands through her soft fur, to connect, to share. Not to own, my darling. To share.
Love is not a chain and not a prison, marriage is not a tomb, I want to tell her. But these are poetries and philosophies and those are more my realm. She understands feelings and things that she can sense.
I am aching again and doing it to myself this time. But then she turns and smiles at me, and her dark hair flies for a moment in the wind, then lays against her cheeks and curls beneath her delicate chin and I see the wild majesty again, unchecked, unafraid. For a brief moment again I feel the fox fur between my fingers. I'm afraid to let it go. Then it dawns on me that perhaps I've been saying the wrong things all this time.
She lets me put my arms around her, and she's warm despite the cooling night air. I kiss her forehead.
"Are you somewhere?" she asks me.
"No, actually, this time I am right here with you."
"What is the matter, David?"
I look down at her, into her dark eyes and see miles of silk roads and a thousand and one nights of stories and adventure and complexities that I will gladly spend the rest of my life studying and trying to figure out.
I should say it. Fear be damned. We never get anywhere being afraid, do we?
"I love you, Simone. Do you know that?"
"Darling." I tip her chin up so she has to look at me. "Listen. I love you. I will keep on loving you, no matter what happens."
" She's getting nervous again, I can tell, and I feel the fox skittering back from my touch.
"Shh. No. I'm not asking again. It's fine. No, really, it is. I don't care if we get married, if that's not what you want. I just want to be with you."
if we don't?"
"Then I don't care."
She is studying me with slightly narrowed eyes and I try to look back and impart all the things I've been thinking. I don't know how to say them, though. I get them organized in my head but when she looks at me they fall apart. So I try to will them to get to her by looking.
I take her hands. "I mean it. We'll be together, right?"
"I would hope so."
"Well, then, Simone, my love, will you please not marry me?"
And now she laughs, but her eyes are dewy and incredulous. "Why, yes," she says, bewildered, and she lays her head against my chest. "Why yes, I will."
I hold her tightly to me and run my hand through her silk hair. I think I feel the fox curl up in my lap. Maybe it understands now. Desperately, I want to keep this connection, but I don't know what else to say. Wise men are often wise enough to know when to shut it, I think, and I say nothing.
We stay like this for a long while, breathing, and I try to breathe in unison so I can feel her chest rise and fall with mine and I press my lips and nose to the top of her head. Behind us the white fish swims 'round and 'round the top of the water in wide, broadening circles, and the chestnut blossoms fall along the surface of the pool, making beautiful, unruly patterns of white on dark.
"You really want to get married, don't you?" she murmurs against me.
"I want what you want."
"But you do really want to, don't you?"
"Yes," I say. "I do."
"Ask me again next year," she tells me.
"We'll see about next year."
The aching thrums and fades out to nothing, and then I don't have to worry about timing my breathing with hers. It just happens. "Alright, little fox," I tell her. "I'll ask again next year."