Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: "Her Lover is Quite the Snake!"

Just before one p.m., the driver pulls up in front of the four-star hotel that Jerez insisted on booking for her from Sevilla. The Granada Palace, ocher red and full of exotic tiles, is located, oddly enough, directly off the Camino de Ronda. Had he selected this hotel because of the name?

Two busboys in immaculate blue and gold uniforms are waiting at the sidewalk to carry her one bag. Ronda bows her eyes, her headache a little less severe. Certainly this elaborate reception doesn't have anything to do with me, she decides. It has everything to with Jerez, and the fact he called ahead. Inside, she steps up to the desk and gives her name.

"Oh yes, the Jerez reservation," the man behind the desk says quietly.

"No, señor, actually, it's my reservation," Ronda corrects him in irritation. "Señor Jerez simply put the call in for me. I intend to pay my own bill."

The man in the gray suit glances at her in silence.

"We will take care of everything," he says, handing her the plastic key card. He doesn't smile and neither does she.

Inside her room, she finds two dozen roses waiting: one dozen yellow flowers sits in a thick crystal vase on the bed stand, and a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses is beside the Jacuzzi in the bathroom. On the dresser are a small bottle of perfume and a large bottle of red wine and beside those is an enormous basket filled with fruit and cheese, a tin of cookies, several large bars of chocolate, and a bottle of Tío Pepe.

Ronda sighs, rolls her eyes, and throws her things on the bed. "Doesn't this man know understand the word no?" A small white envelope in the basket contains a card: "At your service, señora. With affection, Enrique."

Grumbling and tearing up the card, Ronda sinks onto the unmade bed and picks up the phone. "If he thinks he can lure me into bed with wine and chocolate, he...might be right," she says, laughing out loud. She shakes her head. "Men."

She dials the first of the three phone numbers Galvarez had given her the night before. "One of these musicians should be able to help you," Galvarez had promised at the end of the show, after all the other guests had left the club. A dark-skinned man with curly sideburns and a narrow earnest face, Galvarez sat on a tall stool in between Ronda and Jerez, sipping a beer.

Crossing his arms over his broad chest, he listened calmly as Jerez explained Ronda's dilemma. First Jerez spoke to Galvarez in English and then, after Galvarez asked him a quick flurry of questions in Spanish, Jerez shrugged and leaned forward and answered his friend at the same speed. Ronda had no idea what either of the men were saying.

The two men fell quiet and then Galvarez rubbed his chin and sipped his sherry and eyed Jerez in a way that made Ronda nervous. Jerez lit a cigarette and offered one to his friend.

"No, no, thank you, I gave it up," Galvarez said. He turned to Ronda. "My dear señora, as I have already told you, Jesús Becerra is...well, let me say it this way, he was, when I knew him, quite the snake."

Galvarez spoke in a deep bellowing English. "I wonder, señora, if you are quite sure you are making the right decision trying to find this rogue or if perhaps you wouldn't be better off taking a plane home and leaving him to his own devices."

Ronda's eyes flew wide open and she blushed. Blood drained from her limbs all at once, and anxiety rushed up to fill her stomach. "I am...Jesús is my...I...I didn't know you knew him so well..." she said weakly, looking up at Jerez, who shrugged. It took her a moment to continue speaking.

"I have to find him," she said, her voice rasp. "I don't know what you know about Jesús, señor Galvarez, or why you refer to him as...as a snake, but you should know sir, Jesús Becerra is a man I love deeply, I have loved him and he has loved me for the last year. We have a wonderful relationship and...and if he's in some sort of trouble or...or if he's hurt or if you know something I should know, well then, certainly please, go ahead and tell me...but...but I just have to find him."

Galvarez shifted on the stool and twisted his lip with his fingers. Then he inhaled slowly. "I didn't mean any disrespect, señora," he said after a moment had passed. "And as I make it a rule not to get involved in matters that have nothing to do with me, well..." He rose abruptly from the stool and disappeared behind the stage and as he did, Ronda turned to Jerez, who merely shrugged and nodded.

"I'm sorry, Ronda, but I know nothing," Jerez said, looking sincere.

Soon Galvarez was back, carrying a small thin book and a pair of bifocals. Slipping on the eyeglasses he began flipping through the yellowed pages of the directory until he reached a heavily marked page. Ripping off a piece of the white paper table cloth covering the tiny bar table, Galvarez scrawled three names and phone numbers in an oversized handwriting, using a thick fountain pen. "Señora, when you call these people, be sure to use my name."

"I will," Ronda replied breathlessly, her head swimming in sangría and the horrible words she had heard from him a few minutes before.

"Thank you. I am more grateful than you know."

Galvarez pushed the piece of paper across the table. "If your guitarist is anywhere in or around Granada, he can't hide from these folks for long," Galvarez said. He rose abruptly again and tipped his head and drained the last of his beer. "As for you, Jerez, please don't be a stranger." And with that, Galvarez was gone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY: "How Can She Be Tempted?"

She tears the crust from a rounded slice of bread, begins nibbling on crumbs. She is having a war with herself, trying to decide whether to continue with the fabrication, or admit the truth.

The sangría is making her head spin. Señor Jerez looks up and smiles for the first time and she gazes back at him, wide-eyed. This man will think I have lost my mind. What kind of a fool goes around making up such a ridiculous story?

"I ...I have been lying to you señor," she whispers suddenly. She sets the bread down on top of the paella and pushes the pan away. Her face is flushed warm, and it must look bright pink. She doesn't care what he thinks. She lifts the sangría to her lips and drains the glass.

The man stops eating, stares at her in confusion.

"Jesús Becerra is my boyfriend, or...he was. He is not my husband."

"I see. But I don't understand, because I didn't know, I mean, as far as I knew he was alive.

He had been living in the United States but I had not heard that he was dead. Or married."

"He's not. Dead. Or at least I hope not. And that's why I'm here. To find him. To find out what happened to him." Ronda sighs and shakes her head. Then she covers her mouth with her locked hands. She is struggling against tears. "He went back to Spain in July to record a CD. And he..."

Ronda bites so fiercely into her lower lip that she tastes blood. Jerez pours her more sangria.

"Gracias." She takes another sip.

"He didn't come back. I don't know what happened to him. I found out a week ago that he was ill, this summer, he had some kind of emergency operation. But he...I'm not sure where he is OK or...whether..." She shrugs, lifts her eyes to his. "I'm very sorry I lied before. I was...it's just I didn't want to...it's because I feel so...so terribly insecure. Jesús and I were, are, very deeply in love. For more than a year now. And then he left and...I'm worried."

She looks up. "I'm sorry..."

"Yes, of course. Please. Say no more." He leans forward, takes her hand and encloses it in his own. "It wasn't polite of me to pry. To ask you so many questions. Forgive me. I have no excuse except to say that you are so lovely, I..." He brings her hand swiftly forward to his lips and kisses it once.

"Please, please don't do this," she says, her voice falling into a whisper again. "I miss Jesús desperately and all I want to do is find him." Tears are swelling in Ronda's eyes now. She is on the verge of breaking down, right in front of a total stranger.

He steadies his gaze on her. "Well, then, I hope you will allow me please to help you. It is possible that I may have contacts in the places where..."

"Oh no, no I couldn't," she says, knowing right away that she could and would.

Señor Jerez leans across the table. "Señora?" He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a starched white handkerchief. She takes the hanky and holds it beneath her nose. It has a fragrance like lemons or some other citrus. And in the corner is a set of scrolled initials, embroidered in red. "As I said, I believe I may be able to help you."

She looks up at him, numb. And immersed in feelings of complete humiliation.

"I don't understand."

"You see, one of my dearest friends, Julio Galvarez, operates a flamenco club here in Sevilla. I am scheduled to see him later this evening, for the show. If you wish, you could go. As my guest. Señor Galvarez is, as you would say in the United States, well connected. It is possible that he may know Becerra's whereabouts. Or at the very least, where to begin to look."

"But I don't think Jesús is anywhere here. Near Sevilla I mean. I believe that he is further south. Near Granada. I was told he went to a tiny village called Lanjarón in..."

"Señora," Jerez says, smiling mysteriously. "Entrust this to a Spaniard. Please. My friend is originally from Granada. And he maintains a small summer home deep in the Alpujarras, near Orgiva, one of the beautiful mountain villages on the southern flank of the Sierras. I assure you that if Jesús is anywhere in the Alpujarras region, my friend will know someone who knows his whereabouts."

Ronda sighs. Her head is swimming. She has trouble believing that she is actually talking to someone who might lead her to Jesús. It's too much to hope for. She reaches into her purse, her eyes clouded by tears. "I have only this," she says, clearing her throat. "It's a phone number that doesn't answer. In Lanjarón. But no address." Jerez puts on eyeglasses and reads the small sheet of paper.

"Who gave you this number?"

"I spoke to a man in Sevilla a week ago, when I called from the States, and he says Jesús gave him the number before he left. A month or more ago."

"I see." He hands her back the slip of paper. "I don't know anything much about Lanjarón.
Except that it is tucked into the Alpujarras. There are such beautiful whitewashed villages there."

"Yes, I am driving that way tomorrow."



Jerez studies her. Glances at his Rolex watch. "I have a driver here. I would be happy to put him and the car at your disposal tomorrow for as long as you..."

"Oh no, no, really. I couldn't possibly. It's far too generous of you señor."

"Señora. Please. You are in no condition to go driving off into the southern mountains alone. I will phone him tonight. That way, he might have the car here for you first thing in the morning." He looks up. "Meanwhile, will you be my guest at the flamenco show tonight?"

Ronda's face is hot. She is not in any condition to go out. And yet, if she does go, she will almost certainly get to meet the man who might know Jesús, and where he is.

"Please señora? You are guaranteed the best seat, as we are guests of my friend."

Ronda sifts her fingertips through her hair. Jerez is eyeing her steadily. "All right," she whispers. "I'll come."

He bows his head once, all the while smiling and maintaining his gaze.
Ronda blushes and looks away. Something about his eyes, something dark and unexpectedly attractive, sets a small shiver going up her back.

She looks away. How could she be tempted now? She has no idea how and she doesn't want to know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CHAPTER NINETEEN: "Why Oh Why Did You Lie Ronda?"

He is Enrique Jerez, 60, a major purveyor of olive oil and sherry in Spain, and he is visiting three different factories he owns in Sevilla. He is a silver-haired grandfather, and he is more than happy to show Ronda his small collection of photos.

"Lovely children," she says, after he passes a tiny snapshot across a plate of capers and olives in the center of the table. In the photo, two dark-haired boys sit side by side on a settee, heads touching, their eyes as dark as black coffee. "You must adore them."

"Very much," he says, smiling agreeably. "And I adore my daughter who is their mother." He slips the photos back into a soft leather wallet. "And you, señora, do you have children?"

Ronda smiles. Wipes her lips. "Two boys, both in college."

"You are a young woman to have grown children." He passes one finger across his neatly clipped mustache, then rubs his cigarette into the ashtray. "And may I say, too, that you are a lovely woman."

Ronda blushes, and rushes to lift her glass. She drains it of wine and he pours more. The waiter sets down Ronda's paella, a huge metal pan overflowing with shellfish. "I should have ordered something smaller," she laughs. And to herself, she thinks, how then should I plan my getaway right after dinner?

Señor Jerez is served a plate with thin slices of cured ham and with it, sausages and potatoes.

"What brings you to Sevilla?" he asks.

Ronda chews slowly on a piece of shrimp, trying to decide what to say. Certainly, in this situation, nobody could possibly get hurt if she lies.

"My husband passed away last year," she begins. "He was from Spain, and since he has family near Granada, I decided that it might be nice if I paid them a visit." She smiles politely.

Jerez studies her quietly. "I see," he says finally. "I am so sorry about your husband. Was he ill?"

Ronda looks at her plate. She hates lying. Why did she begin this silly charade?

"Well, we aren't entirely sure. He...he needed emergency surgery for...for a hernia. And then, nobody knows exactly what happened. The fact is there was some infection, and bleeding..."

She shrugs, tries to look suitably upset.

"I see. I'm sorry."

Ronda breaks off a crust of bread. "Yes," she says solemnly, cutting into a second shrimp.

"We were devastated." Suddenly she realizes the irony: that this sad tone of hers isn't a lie.

In truth, she feels as though somebody has died.

"Of course. What a tragedy." He spears a tiny square of ham and a chunk of potato with his fork. "What was your husband's name?"

Her eyes shoot up. She wasn't expecting this question. But she should have.

"Uh...Jesús. My husband's name is ...was Jesús."

"Jesús? No, I mean the family name."

"Oh yes, certainly. Becerra. Jesús Becerra."

Immediately an uncertain look flashes across the man's eyes. Ronda tries to avoid his stare.

She dives into the paella again, but when the fork enters her mouth, she knows she isn't hungry. She also knows that she has said something terribly wrong.

"That is very odd," Señor Jerez says. "So very odd."

Ronda stares into her paella. Why in God's name did I lie? she wonders. She takes such a big gulp of sangria it hurts her throat going down.

"Oh?" she says, so casually she can barely hear herself speak.

"Well, yes, because I know a young guitarist, a very talented man by that very same name.

His music is quite popular in certain quarters here. Near Malaga."

Ronda's hand freezes on the stem of her glass. She contemplates Jerez's squared face, his neatly clipped silver hair. She wants to disappear. She wonders what excuse she can give, how she can politely say she doesn't want any more food, or that she needs to get up, to leave the table for good, right now.

This post appeared first on the Huff Post on March 29, 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: "Who is This Guy Enrique and What Does He Want?"

Ronda wakes hours later to light that is low and creamy yellow.

Sitting up in bed, she tries the phone number in Lanjarón. It rings and rings. Frustrated, she slams the receiver back into its black cradle.

It occurs to her that she could leave Sevilla tonight, start driving right now. But how would she find a place to stay? And how would she find her way up into the mountains to Lanjarón in the dark?

It is well after nine p.m. when she goes down to the hotel dining room for dinner. When she finds Jesús, she will brag to him, tell him that she can now postpone her evening meal in the proper Spanish fashion. She no longer needs to rush down to dinner on her early American schedule.

She orders gazpacho and paella for dinner. And a half a carafe of sangría. She hands the waiter back the menu and as she does, she catches sight of a pleasant-looking older man, dining alone on the other side of the restaurant. He smiles, and it occurs to her that she could invite him to her table. She hates eating alone. But a certain fatigue grips her, as does a desire not to have to reveal herself to anyone, especially a stranger.

The waiter brings her wine, and fills her glass half full.

"Gracias." She sips from the glass.

"De nada." The waiter nods toward the older man. "Señora, the gentleman at the corner table asks if you are American."

"Yes," Ronda says. "I suppose that must be apparent."

The waiter, a stout man with black curly hair, smiles shyly. "He also asks if you are dining alone, because he would be delighted to share your table."
Ronda blanches. She sets the glass down. She would just as soon eat alone, but how can she say no?

"Tell him I may not be very good company tonight, but that he is free to join me." The waiter departs, and Ronda lifts her glass shyly in the man's direction. He holds up his cigarette in greeting, nods his head once in reply.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: "Ronda in Spain, Dizzy On Orange Blossoms and Moorish Tiles"

Ronda is sitting in the Alcázar gardens, getting dizzy on orange blossoms and Moorish tiles.

Everywhere she turns, there are squares and diamonds and fiendishly complex six-sided stars. She tries to steady her gaze on a single pattern, one of blue and gold interlocking lines, but soon the ornate design blurs and she yawns, closing her eyes.

She arrived in Sevilla 2011-03-22-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpgonly three hours ago, on the morning flight from Madrid. She was so tired after flying all night that when she lay down, she stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Anxious for exhaustion, she got up and showered and walked from her hotel all the way into the center of town, to the palace, the only place she can clearly remember visiting four years ago with Ben.

When the two of them were here together then, it was December, a bitter and rainy day, and they raced through the Alcázar bundled up in winter coats. Today, though, the sun is shining in the typical Moorish fashion, hot and unforgiving, and Ronda is not in any hurry. She lingers on a warm bench in front of the room the guidebook calls "Maria's bath."

A handsome, sharply featured Spanish guide is explaining in loud accented English that Maria de Padilla was mistress to the royal palace's builder, Pedro the Cruel. "So great was Pedro's love for Maria," the guide bellows to a group of tourists, "that he and the other courtiers lined up to drink from Maria's royal bath water."

Ronda laughs out loud, trying to picture the cups the men used to drink from the bath. Probably silver goblets.

The tour group moves on and Ronda follows, then wanders to a far corner of the garden.

Thick clusters of oranges are hanging from every tree. Glancing to either side to check for guards, she reaches up, plucks off an orange and tucks it into her purse.

She sits down on a bench and stares into a sea of white orange blossoms right beside her face, the fragrant five-pointed flowers floating in a sea of waxy green leaves. Setting her guidebook beneath her head, she reclines on the bench. Her eyes close. She sees tiles. Blue and gold interlocking stars. Black and white hexagons and squares. In Sevilla, it seems tiles are everywhere. The mind-boggling patterns even decorate the walls and floors of all the rest rooms.

The next thing she knows a security guard is gently shaking her shoulder. Mouth slack, Ronda pops upright, confused. Her thoughts go instantly to the stolen orange, hidden inside her purse. "Oh my God," she cries, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry."

The young guard grins. "No puede dormir aquí, señora."

"Oh, sí, sí, lo siento. I'm...I'm so sorry," Ronda apologizes, glancing at her watch. It's six a.m., American time. "I'm still catching up," she explains, pointing at the watch.

Leaving the garden, she stops momentarily before a tree. A pair of plump grapefruits dangles from a gnarled limb. Ronda turns her camera to the fruit and snaps a photo. In every direction, the turreted walls surrounding the garden are painted lemon yellow or salmon. One or two walls are blood red. The last room she visits before leaving the palace contains dozens of antique fans.

She thinks: I cannot leave Spain this time without buying a fan. And that's when panic grips her. How long will she be in Spain? She doesn't have an endless supply of money. How long will it take to find him? And what happens when she does find him? And what happens if she doesn't?

She passes out of the palace through a towering fortified wall and hails a cab back to the hotel. Fully clothed, she drops on her bed and for a moment fear grips her. What am I doing here, alone, in Spain, searching for a man who very well might not want to be found? But soon she falls into a deep sleep, dipping into dreams tangled with white orange blossoms and zigzagging Moorish tiles.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: "Rainbows and Bruises, and News of Some Unconscious Kind"

She knows it’s crazy, but she is breathing rainbows into her toes.

The music helps. In it, rain is falling. And tropical birds are calling, deep and throaty. Just when she’s begun to enjoy the birds, they give way to ocean sounds, with waves crashing on the shore.

Ronda is lying on a floor mat, upside down, balanced on her shoulders. Her feet tower above her face. In her mind she keeps floating to different places. Each has a sky as blue as a cornflower, and clouds of billowy cotton.

The teacher – whose name is Rama Do – is saying something. The words are slow and soft, his voice soothing. “Now let the breath come up inside your chest like a kitten and let the kitten lie curled there, right inside your lungs. Feel the rhythm of that air, in and out.”

He pauses and Ronda is hypnotized. She sees a milky blue sky. “Now let go of the air inside you. Watch it rise. Watch it swell slowly up through your pelvis. Stare at it. A pot of golden light.”

Ronda closes her eyes, wanting to give into sleep. The voice keeps going. “The air and light are moving into your thighs…and now your knees. Slow down there. Watch the light circling around your knees. And the ankles. Finally, it reaches the toes.”
Her calves are pulsing and the pressure on her throat and jaw are growing. But inside her head, she is watching something light rising up the smooth purple mountain slopes that are her legs.

“The light separates as it reaches your toes,” the voice goes on. “Each of your toes is a different color of the rainbow. See the big toe. Red. Orange fills up the next. And then yellow. And green.”

The green makes Ronda think of lush mountain slopes. And trees sprouting spring leaves.

He continues with the cool colors, but Ronda is distracted. The pressure is getting almost unbearable in her face and neck. She will be very glad when the teacher allows them to roll out of the pose and back down to the floor.

“Now, with your toes full of rainbow light, see if you can drop your hands from behind your hips. Try to hold steady in that shoulder stand just a few minutes without the assistance of your hands.”

She lets her arms drop to the floor. Her heart is pumping hard enough that she can hear and feel the steady beat, repeating inside her head. She struggles to stay balanced on the upper edge of her back, but as soon as the young woman on the next mat tips over and drops down to the floor, Ronda does the same.

Glancing to the back of the room, she sees Jack still balanced, sturdy on his shoulders.

She inhales and closes her eyes. She sees Jesús, sitting in a chair in a dark smoky cave, bound hand and foot. His mouth is bruised and slack and bloody, and his eyes are covered by a blindfold.

“My God,” Ronda whispers. She snaps upright and one hand over her mouth. For the first time, it hits her. Jesús is in trouble.

She glances at Jack again. He is back on his mat, lying limp like everybody else.

Ronda eases herself backward onto her mat. But the vision still grips her, goes even further than before.

Jesús is sitting in front of a fire, or at least some kind of a light is throwing an orange glow on his body. Two other figures are there. A young woman with billowing dark hair. An old man. Something about the expression on the man’s face scares her.

Following the teacher’s instruction, she rolls slowly onto her hands and knees. Her head hangs, chin to chest.
Jesús appears again. This time, he has been knocked off his chair. His blindfolded face plows into the dirt floor of the cave.

The older man just gave him a sharp kick him in the ribs. Jesús has buckled over, his mouth open, and blood is flowing out between his teeth. He chokes but makes no sound.

Ronda sits back on her haunches. Without understanding why, she knows two things: somewhere, Jesús is hurting. And somehow, she needs to go.


Something like seaweed – green, slippery, and heavily seasoned in what looks like soy sauce – is served for lunch, side by side with a small mountain of brown rice. She takes a small bite.

Across the table, Jack smirks. Neither of them speaks, as conversation isn’t permitted at meals. In the center of the long table, at regular intervals, sit small candles, flickering in the dim gray light. Chairs squeak. Silverware clinks against the plates.

She is dying to speak to her son. She has begun to make a plan. After the yoga class ended, she placed an urgent call to her travel agent.

“Book a ticket to Sevilla after all,” she told the young man who originally handled – and then canceled – her reservation. “I will take the first flight available next week.”

Jack is eating his seaweed with chopsticks now. One large piece of the frightful-looking green weed dangles below his chin.

Ronda grimaces and watches him place the seaweed into his mouth. He chews methodically. Then he sips tea from the small ceramic cup before him. Smiling triumphantly, he lifts the cup up to her, as if he’s making a toast. She shakes her head in disbelief. This is the kid who used to devour greasy hamburgers and fries. Who didn’t eat lettuce or peas. Who spit lima beans whole from his mouth. Now, he’s come home from Vassar addicted to tofu and rice. And a pale yellow grain from South America called quinoa. He eats grains for breakfast and for dinner, he extols the virtues of kale and collards and kohlrabi.

She folds her hands politely in her lap. Wonders how long she should sit here among these vegetarians, before she gets up from the table, goes in search of real food. She’ll drive into Lenox, find a diner or a deli, buy herself a good turkey club.

At the other end of the long table, an older white-haired man rises, bows slightly, and leaves. Ronda takes this as her signal.

Pushing her chair away, she stands, abandons her plate of seaweed and rice. Grinning at Jack, she makes an exit sign with her thumb. Mouths the words, “See you later.”

Jack shrugs and nods and she tiptoes out of the silent dining room.

Climbing the stairs, it occurs to her that she doesn’t have a clue what she’ll do once she gets to Spain. All she has is the phone number and address that Jesús left her last May, the place he was supposed to stay while recording the CD. The phone number she tried two or three times in early July. Each time she called, the phone rang and rang and then it went dead. Eventually, she stopped trying.

She pulls out her cell phone. It is only 6:30 in Sevilla. It can’t hurt to try calling once more.

Italy. The first time she calls, she reaches a wrong number in Italy. She knows because there is someone babbling to somebody else in her grandmother’s tongue. She hangs up and dials again. When the connection goes through the second time, there is the familiar ring she kept getting in July.

She sits in the grass outside the yoga studio, underneath a pine tree. The phone keeps ringing. Just as she’s about to hang up, somebody answers.

She hears music, singing.

“Hola?” she calls into the phone. “Hola?

“Sí? Sí?” She hears a voice, but it is low and so far away. It’s impossible to tell even if it belongs to a man or a woman.

“Habla inglés?” No answer. She calls louder. “Por favor. Habla usted inglés?”

“Sí, sí, hablo un poco.” The voice belongs to a man, an older man.

Ronda sits up, her heart pounding, her face going hot and cold.

“Quiero hablar con Jesús Becerra. He…he….plays…toca guitar…guitarra.”

“Ah sí, sí. Señor Becerra. Yo lo conozco. Pero, no esta aquí.”

“O, sí. Donde está?”

“No se señora. No se. El se fue el mes pasado.” And then, the speaker on the other end launches into a blur of words that leaves Ronda gasping.

“No entiendo,” she screams finally. “No entiendo. En inglés, por favor. In English?”

“He…Jesús…he leaves. One month or more now at least. He is not here now.”

“Sí, yes. I understand. Pero, where is he? Donde está aquí?”

“I do not know. He was sick, very sick, but then he got better, I think he…

“Sick? Enfermo?”

“Sí, sí. El estuvo en un hospital por más o menos una semana, para una operación, yo creo que sí.”

“An operation? He needed surgery?”

“Sí, sí, fue una emergencia, yo creo. No sé lo que era el problema.”

“Y ahora?”

“No sé. He leaves. He pays his bill. He says goodbye.”

“Did he leave an address…a phone number?”

The phone connection crackles. Ronda looks up. Jack is standing over her.

“I’m on the phone with someone in Spain. Jesús was ill apparently. He had surgery.”

Jack nods. “See? I told you.”

She turns back to the phone.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. I am here. I think he leaves a number somewhere. I am looking now… I am not sure…”

The connection is in and out.

“Hello? Hello?”

No sound.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Yes, yes. Jesús Becerra. Here it is. Esta en Granada.”


“Near there. The town is Lanjarón. Down in the south, below Granada.”

“But…what is he doing there?”


“A reason. Did he give a reason for going?”

“Señora, please. Speak slow.”

“Yes,” Ronda shouts, her voice rising as her words slow to a crawl. “DO YOU KNOW WHY HE WENT THERE?”

“No, señora. I do not know. I have a phone number. That is all.”

Ronda prepares to scribble the number on the back of a crumpled receipt.

He begins to read the numbers. “Nueve, cinco, ocho, zero, zero…” Thankfully, Ronda recalls numbers from high school Spanish.

“And the address, señor? Can you give me the address?”

“It says here, only Lanjarón.”

“I see. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“De nada.”

Ronda hangs up the phone. Looks up at Jack, who reaches down to help her up.

“So?” Jack says.

She shakes her head. “I have a phone number. He’s in a small town near Granada. That’s all I know.” She sees Jesús in a hospital bed. His head bandaged.

But why? What happened?

“I need to go, right away,” she says. “I’m going to see if I can fly standby.”

“Good idea,” Jack says. “You should go.”

“Thank you sweetheart,” she says, reaching up to hug him. She squeezes him as hard as she can. “Thank you for everything.”

As she hurries back to her room to pack, she tries to recall Jesús ever complaining of any chronic ailment, an ulcer, a heart condition. Once, she remembers him having the flu. And another time, he had a bad stomachache after eating raw oysters.

But when he left the states in July, he was healthy, thoroughly fit.

Soon she has her suitcase packed, and she is back at Jack’s door. She knocks.

“I’m heading out,” she says when he opens the door.

“Drive safely.”

“I will.”

As she turns to go, he calls out to her. “Mom?”


“Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner? I mean, I hear they’re feeding us miso and barley.” His eyes twinkle.

She stops. Smiles. “Oh shucks, I think I’ll have to pass.”

“You want a plate to go?”

She blows him a kiss. “Just so you know, Jack. I really do hate the food. But I love the yoga.” She shrugs. “You were so right about me coming here. I feel great.” He waves and she turns and disappears down the grey hall.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: "Your Escape Starts Here, Beneath the Mirror"

The face in the hallway mirror is one she scarcely knows. Eyelids swollen, cheeks shrunk to hollows, skin as pink as Easter ham.

Moving closer, she whispers at her reflection in the silver surface: No matter what, tonight you are not going to cry. You will remain calm, you will dry your eyes. You will laugh. Or at least, smile. She studies her eyes. Two half moons, dark and empty, gaping sockets that open directly into the hollow of her chest. The place where a month ago, her heart sank in a wickedly unpredictable storm called Jesús.

When she first got word the boys were coming home for Columbus Day weekend, she thought for sure she’d be better. She figured that buying food and cooking for her kids would be good therapy. But now the evening has arrived and they are due in a matter of minutes. Her head throbs, and her throat knots up whenever she swallows.

“Anyway, I’ve just got to, that’s all,” she says, inhaling, calling herself to action.

She goes to the kitchen, gets out the red teddy bear apron, the one Jack gave her for Christmas when he was ten. Feeling thus armored, she focuses on the pot of boiling potatoes.

As long as she doesn’t think, and nobody expects an intelligent response to a question, she’ll be fine. But what will she say when one of them wants to know why she cancelled her trip to Seville? She would simply tell the truth. “‘He…we…it just didn’t pan out with him I’m afraid…’”

A view of Jesús, his perpetually sleepy eyes, shudders through her. She closes her eyes to the image, bends over the oven door, slides out the roasting pan, bastes the golden breast of the bird. She cannot remember the last time she made turkey. She pauses, tries to concentrate. It had to be Thanksgiving of '96.

In those days, when Ben Sr. was still in command of her life, she still made all the fixings from scratch: cranberry orange sauce, creamed onions, sweet potatoes, stuffed mushrooms. And homemade French bread.

The Honda is honking outside. Closing the oven door, Ronda throws the mitt on the counter and goes to the front window.

Joy swells into her chest as she catches sight of her sons. Ben Jr. is carrying a bouquet of yellow flowers. And then, much to

Ronda’s surprise, there’s someone with Jack and Ben: a young woman with red, wavy hair bouncing around her shoulders. She has long shapely legs and a short tight skirt.

“Oh my,” Ronda whispers, clutching her throat. How could he? She moves to the front door and stands there. Eyes closed, she braces her forehead against the wood, waiting for the bell. When the familiar three-step of chimes finally comes, she counts to five, then opens the door and smiles.

“Hey, Ma, this is Marielle,” Ben Jr. says right away, letting the girl go up the steps first.

Ronda extends a damp hand. “Hello, Marielle.” Her heart is hammering. Never before has Ben brought home a girl. And now today he’s done it without telling her, with absolutely no warning that he even has a girl. How could he?

“It’s so nice to meet you,” Marielle says, shaking Ronda’s hand. The girl has gigantic eyes, clear and blue. And a handshake that is as powerful as a man’s.

“It’s very nice to meet you too,” Ronda replies. Later, she will say it was Marielle’s eyes. Later, she will say to Karen that there is something amazing about their wash of stunning color, a blue of sky and stream. “Please, Marielle, come in.”

Marielle steps forward, passing through the open door, and Ronda thinks, who knows, maybe this girl will be the very blessing I need. Maybe the presence of another woman at dinner, a stranger, might fill the conversation. With Marielle present, the boys are less likely to press certain issues, or raise others that might hurt too much to discuss.

“I hope it’s OK I came,” Marielle stammers, a frown crowding her sweet freckled face. “I told Ben that maybe we should call first, but he told me…”

“Ma doesn’t mind,” Ben says, placing a swift kiss on his mother’s forehead. “She’ll be thrilled to find out that Marielle is a dancer.” Ben throws a sly glance at his mother before hurrying past her into the house. Jack stays behind.

“Hey, Ma,” he says gently, squeezing his mother’s shoulders with one powerful arm. Is it Ronda’s imagination or is he holding onto her longer than he usually does? Is that because he knows? He knows she’s had the core knocked out of her?

Ronda closes the door, pleased by the satisfying mixture of kitchen smells. “I just hope you’re all hungry,” she says.

“I’m starved,” Ben says. “We left the city at twelve and have been driving ever since.” He tosses his denim jacket on the couch, in exactly the same spot he always threw it in high school. He pulls Marielle close and automatically she tips her head back and receives his open-mouthed kiss.

Ronda stares in dumb amazement at her son as he walks out of the room. Marielle slips out of her leather jacket. She’s wearing a tight cotton sweater with a low neckline, a sweater that lets her navel show. She’s striking. Gorgeous. Leave it to Ben. Back in high school, he had the walls of his bedroom covered with posters of beautiful models in skimpy skirts and even skimpier bikinis.

“Can I help you with something?” Marielle asks, hooking a strand of pale red hair behind her ear. “I just have to wash my hands.”

Ronda pauses. Marielle’s face. She can’t place it, but there is something vaguely familiar about it. Or maybe it’s just the kindness, or the guilelessness of her freckles. It’s a face that puts Ronda immediately at ease. “Well, sure, if you don’t mind, Marielle. Maybe Ben can show you where the placemats and dishes and silverware are and the two of you can set the table in the dining room. I’ve just got to make the gravy and peas.”


She is in misery and can’t eat her dinner, but it isn’t anybody’s fault. Or maybe it’s her fault. She had to ask Marielle about her dance career. Marielle was glad to talk about it: she is part of a small dance troupe performing in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then at Lincoln Center next spring. She intends to get her master’s in dance education after she graduates from NYU in June.

“That’s amazing,” Ronda says, nibbling on a couple of peas.

“Ben tells me that you dance flamenco?” Marielle asks, returning the same strand of red hair behind her ear once again.

Ronda looks down at the place mat, incapable of a smile.

“Yes, I’ve been dancing for quite a while now,” she says, her voice soft. “I just love it.” She is about to leave it at that but then glances at Marielle’s face and once again sees a trace of something inviting.

“I’ll be honest with you Marielle,” Ronda goes on. “When I was in your position, many years ago, dancing, I blew it. I did. I went and got married and pregnant and dropped the dance thing altogether. Just like that.”

“Oh come on Ma,” Ben Jr. says, serving himself another scoop of potatoes. “You’re gonna start making me feel unwanted.”

Ronda studies her son, wondering suddenly whether he brought Marielle here for some underhanded purpose.

“Ben, I think you know what I mean,” she says, forcing her voice to remain even. “I would have been much better off if I had combined things. If I could have established a career before getting married. If I had only waited to get pregnant at least.”

“Don’t worry,” Marielle says, getting the message. She pokes Ben under the table.

Ben avoids everybody’s eyes, Marielle’s included.

“What’s the deal with Seville?” Jack asks, quietly, from the opposite side of the table. “Are you going or not?”
Ronda clears her throat. Somebody had to ask.

She sits up straighter, tries to imagine a plank at her back, to support her, to hold her up. “I’ve decided not to go after all,” she says brightly. “You know I was supposed to meet my friend Jesús there right after Labor Day, but…”

She cuts a quick look at Jack, a look that says, ‘please Jack can we just leave it at that?’ But there is a sentence hanging, and nobody to finish it but her.

“I haven’t heard from him since the beginning of August. He was supposed to write again, to finalize things, and he didn’t, so…”

Jack, stabbing turkey into potatoes, speaks. “So…what happened?”

Ronda trembles. She can’t let them see. If she can just end this conversation, there will still be hope. “I don’t exactly know what happened. All I know is that he hasn’t written or called.”

Jack mutters something that Ronda cannot hear. She doesn’t ask him to repeat it.

She shrugs. Rises from her chair. “Time for dessert,” she announces, her voice rippling. “There’s chocolate cream pie and I’m going to whip up the cream.”

And before anybody has a chance to refuse, Ronda leaves the dining room and takes refuge in the kitchen.


In hot soapy water, Jack’s dark hairy forearms look even stronger than normal. He is scouring turkey goo from the sides of the roasting pan.

Some woman, Ronda thinks, drying the stem of a wine glass, will be so lucky to get him.

“So,” Jack says, “you like Marielle?”

Ronda dries the fragile wineglass and polishes it to perfection. “I do like her, very much. She seems smart. And full of energy.”

Ronda stops drying. Suddenly, the impulse is there again. She feels like crying. But she won’t. Not in front of Jack at least.

“I guess I think she’s too nice for him,” Jack says. “I bet Dad agrees with me.”

“How long are they staying at your father’s place?” She takes another glass and dries it.

“Just tonight. Marielle has to dance someplace tomorrow night in the city.”

Jack sponges the roasting pan clean and rinses it. The two of them work silently together for several minutes.

“I guess I shouldn’t have asked about your trip before. I’m sorry.”

Ronda takes the turkey pan from his hand. “That’s OK.”

Jack turns to face her. “So, what happened? You think…Jesús ditched you?”

The question feels like a punch to her gut. She sets the turkey pan on the granite counter. “I don’t know for sure what happened. He hasn’t called or written. I haven’t heard one word. That’s all I know.”

“But what if something happened to him? I mean, what if he got killed by a bus crossing the street?”

“Oh come on Jack. That’s ridiculous. Someone would have called me.”


Ronda closes her eyes. Slowly she draws air into her nose. “Look, Jack, it’s over. Please, honey, you’re sweet, but I’ve got to get used to the idea that I’ve lost him.”

“Ma, look. You know how I felt about the guy. Not my favorite person. But…” he stares into his mother’s face. “I can honestly say I never saw you so happy as those months you were with Jesús. I can’t believe you wouldn’t want to know for sure what happened.”

She turns away in silence and unties her apron. Her eyes are flooded and a crush of pressure has closed her throat.

“Ma, look, I hated him at first, you know that. I mean he ruined our family.” He turns his back on the sink, and stands there, his hands dripping soapsuds. “But then I finally accepted the fact that you and dad were over, were never ever going to work it out. And then I saw how happy you were.”

She starts to cry into the dishtowel. Jack pulls her forward, hugs her. The smell of his shirt is sweet and clean. She feels his heart beating and cries even harder.


“So you’ll come? If I can free up next weekend, you’ll meet me there?”

Jack is staring at her, and she is trying not to return his look.

But now his bus is pulling up, and he’s slinging the nylon strap of his duffel over his shoulder, and she is going to have to give him that final squeeze and hug and kiss. She is going to miss him so much, more than ever before, because now, at this moment in her curious history, he is the most important thing she has. He is the thing she can point to when she begins to wonder what her life adds up to. He is the one she can point to and say, I lived all those days as a wife and mother to produce him. This gem.

“Yes, Jack, I’ll come. I promise. I’ll have to find someplace to get my coffee, though. You know they don’t let you have any caffeine at all in those places.”

He laughs. “So you sneak out and go to this great little espresso place I know in Lenox. People do it all the time there. Anyway, I’ll call you later and we can figure out the rest of it.”

He hugs her, and she grabs onto him fiercely and thankfully, he doesn’t pull away until she lets go.

“So what’s the name of the place again? Shitaloo? Is that it?”

He cracks up. “Sihtalu, Ma. SIT-A-LOO. But call it what you want. All you have to do is show up. Show up and do yoga.”

“OK, honey.” She nods and reaches up to touch his face. “God you’re tall.” She turns to leave. Then turns back. “And handsome. Did I tell you how handsome you are?” The castanets dangling from her key chain clatter in her hand.

“Yes, Mom. You tell me all the time. Ma, remember,” he says, mounting the first step on the Greyhound bus, “remember to wear something white to do the yoga.”

She nods and waves and steps back. He disappears into the bus.

“White,” she whispers. “Yeah, well, Jack. Let the rest of them wear white. I think maybe I’ll be wearing purple.”

She watches him take a seat, and seconds later, the bus carrying the dearest thing in her life disappears.