The Ruins 

 

Lucia’s eyes looked through the viewfinder at the green and blue contrast of the coast. The car window was rolled down. The wind tousled her hair. She stared, not daring to snap a picture. To her, one second seemed more glorious than the next. The sun was high in the sky and she felt the warmth penetrating through the windshield and onto her thighs. “Take a good one”, Pablo said.

“Uh huh”, she responded, not sure if he had heard. The car gained speed and she snapped a couple of successive shots.

“You have to frame these,” he told her with a laugh. She turned to him and smiled. He had one arm out the car window, and with the other deftly steered the car around a curve. “How much will those be worth one day?” Pablo asked.

“Many millions.” Lucia laughed. Pablo turned his dark head from the road and winked at her. Lucia sat back in her seat and closed her eyes. She knew they must be close to the campsite; they had been driving for about two hours now. The city was far behind them. Pablo turned up the volume of the radio and sang along to the song, tapping the steering wheel with his thumbs. Lucia tried to emulate his lightness of heart by humming the tune of the song, but her mind continued to drift, past the bright sunny day in front of her to the previous night.

Drunk, at a bar, in the middle of the dance floor, she had clung to Pablo, had kissed him, had told him the way she had always felt about him, since they had met at University years before. Darkness had enveloped them, and the music; the people around them seemed to fade away. It was just them—Pablo and Lucia, the inseparable friends. He had embraced her at first. But then he pulled back. He told her that he loved her, just not the same way. He told her she was drunk—that it was OK. They walked back to the apartment they shared together. Pablo had walked her to her room, had tucked her into bed, had kissed her on the forehead, and told her everything would be fine; they would always be friends. Friends.

Lucia opened her eyes and started as if awakened from a nightmare. She sat up in the car seat. She had to erase the previous night, erase it completely, she thought. This weekend was too important. Pablo had long intended to take Lucia to his favorite spot along the coast. He planned out a whole weekend for them, a scenic drive up the coast, a camping sojourn. She couldn’t ruin it now. She must not let the previous night’s events interfere with the impending weekend they had been looking forward to for so long.

They rounded a curve. In front of them loomed a blue lake that reminded Lucia of the ocean.

“That’s a good one,” Pablo said.

Lucia raised the camera’s viewfinder to her right eye. She saw the immense blue in front of her, the lush, green hills in the background. She did not press the shutter, but let the scenery unfold in front of her like a movie, the car’s acceleration providing the impetus to change the frame. She turned and the movie changed to Pablo. Olive Galician skin, dark hair, eyes shaded by sunglasses; he turned to her and stuck his tongue out. She snapped a picture.

“I’m by no means a model”.

She snapped another one. She put the camera down, and stared at Pablo, her mind a mixture of thoughts that her brain had no way of putting into words.

 

They arrived at the campsite in the middle of the afternoon. Tall pine and eucalyptus trees surrounded them as they ascended the narrow trail with their camp things in tow. Lucia was first, with Pablo following close behind. She could hear his whistling, and every now and then his steady breathing. She looked around and tried to notice something about the trees, the ground underneath, anything to comment on. She settled on, “the trees really block out the light.”

“Your observation skills are flawless,” Pablo snickered. At the top of the hill, they arrived at a clearing. Strewn about, in no apparent order, were tents, cook sites, and clotheslines with drying clothes. They navigated through the maze of camp things, which seemed to have been abandoned in mid use. Finding an empty space far enough away from everyone else, they unloaded their burden.

“Lucia”, Pablo called, walking to the edge of the clearing. Lucia followed Pablo, and standing next to him saw beyond the green hill they stood upon. They beheld a pristine white sand beach with blue turquoise water. Lucia was reminded of a postcard of the Caribbean she had once seen. “See, I told you I wouldn’t disappoint.” Pablo grinned at her and she looked at the beach, taking it all in, realizing what the people of the campsite had abandoned their things for. To the right of the beach was a huge rock formation that jutted out into the water with what appeared to be circular clay structures. “The ruins,” Lucia mumbled.

“Ah, yes, my forebears, the Celts,” Pablo thumped his chest and raised his head proudly. Lucia rolled her eyes teasingly.

Lucia’s pulse quickened at the sight of everything. The ruins, the picturesque beach, Pablo next to her; she took a picture with her mind’s eye. She glanced over at Pablo and smiled.

“Come.” Lucia grabbed Pablo by the hand and pulled him behind her. Down the slight hill, over pine needles, and kicking up dust with their feet, they reached the warm sand below. Holding hands, they stood and stared at the expanse of blue that lay exposed before them. Lucia liked the warmth of Pablo’s hand in hers. Yet, something called her towards the water. Something told her that her place, at that moment, was not at Pablo’s side, hand in his, but there, in what lay beyond. She let go of Pablo’s hand, kicked off her shoes, and raced toward the water. She barely noticed the warmth of the sand under her feet; her eyes were fixated on the crystal blue that lay before her. The waves were gently lapping the land, and as she approached the edge, she felt the cold of the surf curl around her toes. She took her clothes off, revealing a black bikini underneath, and ran out into the water.

“Wait for me!” Pablo called at her from behind. She was too far to hear him.  She plunged headfirst into the water, again and again. Letting it cover her body, holding her breath for as long as she could before popping back up.

Lucia looked back towards the white sand and watched as Pablo rapidly stripped down to his underwear. He ran towards Lucia, tripping and falling face first into the water as he did. A well of laughter escaped from his throat as he came back up. Lucia stood to meet him, the surf so low that the water barely reached the waist of her small frame. She pulled her hair out of her eyes and looked at him. Pablo, flushed to his cheeks, walked over and joined her. “It’s beautiful,” he said.

“It is.”

Lucia looked at Pablo—his dark eyes, his slightly uneven mouth, one side more upturned than the other, and the short black hairs of his beard, which were beginning to grow across his chin. She walked towards Pablo and extended her arm to touch the side of his face. His skin felt warm. She wondered when he would stop playing the role of the clueless friend, oblivious to it all. When would she stop playing the role of the loving friend, hiding herself from him, hiding herself from herself?

Pablo put his hand over Lucia’s. She turned away from him and dipped her head into the water again, daring herself to keep her eyes open. She ignored the stinging in her eyes, and instead focused on the soft whiteness of Pablo’s legs against the grey-blue backdrop. The black hairs of his leg floated softly, as if belonging to an underwater creature. Where had this creature come from? What did it mean? Why did Lucia feel like its discoverer, like it belonged to her? Lucia rested her hands on the sandy seafloor bed. Her fingers grasped at the sand, attempting to hold still against the current that flowed around her. She felt her breath grow shallower but she couldn’t look away. Her fingers dug in deeper, the seesawing of the ocean, the underwater creature lulling her into a reverie. 

Lucia was jolted from this dreamlike trance by a sudden upward pull. She lost her grip on the ocean floor.  Her head above water now, she saw Pablo standing beside her. His face descended close to hers and slowly came into view. A high-pitched laugh escaped from her throat. “Lucia, what’s wrong?” “You just would not come up and I thought… I didn’t know, I just thought…” Pablo said.

“What did you think?” Lucia interrupted.  She continued to laugh, blinking her eyes rapidly to get rid of the sting. Her heart beat quickly, her breath was still short, but growing steady. She intermittently saw Pablo’s face, a look of worried apprehension appearing before her every other second. She calmed her laughter and blinking away the remnants of the saltwater in her eyes, looked at Pablo. “Please don’t give me that look,” she said. “Don’t you ever feel like…” Lucia paused. She looked up at the sky, and shutting her eyes saw a red glow settle on her eyelids. “Don’t you ever just feel like letting go?” She opened her eyes and looked at Pablo. She wasn’t sure if she was waiting for an answer. “Don’t you ever just feel like stepping into a dream?”

Pablo looked sheepish, unsure of what to say. Lucia abruptly turned away from him and looked at the giant rock formation that stabbed the sea. “Let’s sleep there tonight.”

“What?” Pablo replied.

“There,” she pointed to the Celtic ruins. “Let’s sleep there tonight.”

“Ok,” Pablo responded, a touch of doubt in his voice.

Lucia turned back towards Pablo, smile on her face, excited by the idea. “Imagine, it’ll be so much fun, so different.”

Lucia grimaced as she jabbed her foot on the rock, “ow.”

“Are you ok?” she heard Pablo call behind her.

“No big deal,” she replied. She reached her right hand forward and grabbed at the rock just in front of her, using leverage to pull her body upward over the side of the rock wall. She stood up and looked around. Ocean surrounded her, the sun rapidly converging with it as the end of day approached. Behind her were the campsite and the beach, enveloped in the orange early evening light. They had left everything back at the campsite except for their sleeping bags and a bottle of vodka. Lucia moved cautiously forward. She sidestepped loose rocks and marveled at the rounded stone structures that protruded from the ground.

“These must have been roundhouses in another lifetime”, she said. “I can’t believe people actually used to live here.”

They were not the only ones who had the idea of settling on the stone outpost for the night. Disparate groups of people were setting up tents, laying out sleeping bags, or climbing over the stone structures in some sort of improvised game. Lucia settled on one of the furthest points away from the beach, an edge of rock that gave the effect of being surrounded by ocean on all sides. She put her sleeping bag down and sat on the edge of one of the roundhouses. Pablo mirrored her actions and sat down next to her. The sun was ablaze before them as it sank into the blue expanse.  An ancient civilization lay in their midst. That civilization had seen the same ocean they were now staring at, watched the same sunset many millennia ago. Lucia wondered, was it the same sunset? Had the sun maybe looked slightly different then? Less big, and bright, and orange? Had they had a word for big and bright and orange? She looked over at Pablo and wondered if they had had a word for love? Pain? Sadness? Rage?  She fought an impulse to reach over and run her fingers through the side of his hair. If only he could look at her now, like he had looked at her so many times before, in that other life she had invented for just them. “What an amazing sunset,” she managed to say.

Lucia remembered when she had first met Pablo. He had seemed like such a little boy then. In reality, they had both been young, both 18, their first year of college. She needed a place to live and he happened to have a room available in his apartment. He had made her laugh from their first conversation. Something about the bruteness of Galician men, how they would consider her an exotic prize worth fighting for in manly sports such as tossing logs, belching and swallowing large amounts of beer. She couldn’t quite tell when he had become such an all-consuming thought to her.

It was like a child trying to make sense of what a flame is. It burns bright, emanates heat, and yet it seems so unreal. You can put your fingers through the flame; wave them back and forth, harmless enough. But if you leave them there long enough, your flesh would start to feel the sting of the burn. Suddenly the flame became very real, and yet your fingers would gravitate back towards it, in a wordless dare, seeing how much pain could be endured.

The feeling of wanting him had lived with her for so long now that she could only look at her other life, that point before her wanting, as an almost forgotten dream. The hazy moments that one wakes up from and is not sure whether they actually happened or whether they were even dreamt, a handed off and borrowed moment from someone else’s life.

With darkness surrounding them, Pablo opened the bottle of vodka, took a long swig and offered it to Lucia. She drank and felt the burning in her throat, her stomach growing warm. She drank some more, enjoying the fire that had implanted itself in the pit of her stomach. They lay on their backs, the sky full of stars above them. Lucia had never known a sky to have so many stars all at once. The alcohol made her feel brave and playful. “Are you sure you didn’t put those up there?” she asked Pablo jokingly.

“I put them up there just for you,” he replied. He rolled over on his side and faced Lucia. Her body tensed up. Her back stiffened. She tried to clutch the ground underneath her to steady herself, but all her fingers grasped were loose pebbles and dirt.

This was one of the things that he would say to her, to make her feel special, like she was the only person in the world, but she knew it was just Pablo being Pablo. His need to please and be liked surpassed everything else. She knew she had a special place in his heart and life, and mind. She knew he thought of her often, and yet she knew that those thoughts were merely a bit of gratitude mixed with relief; as one appreciates an unusually warm and sunny day in the middle of the cold and rainy winter. She had subsisted all those years on what he gave her, but she wanted more. She continued to have the feeling that all the years of waiting at his side, of biding her time, would culminate in him realizing what she was. She was there; she had been invented just for him.

She turned toward him and pressed her lips against his. She didn’t know what she was doing. Maybe it was another dream. She closed her eyes and felt as though she’d fallen into a deep chasm. She felt Pablo suddenly pull back. She could not see his face in the darkness, but she could sense his dark eyes staring at her, unblinking.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” she heard herself say from a distance. She turned her head upwards towards the sky and wished for the stars to descend and envelop her, to carry her off.

Pablo touched the side of her face with the back of his hand. “It’s been a long day, no big deal.” 

His voice sounded different to her—far away, its usual lightness was gone. He turned his back towards her. She closed her eyes and all she could see was his face. Smiling at her, winking, turning away from her to look at something else, off in the distance beyond her, seeing right through her. She tried to reach out and touch his face, to get his attention, but her hand was reaching as if through a flame. She felt the intense heat of it but could not grasp onto anything.

Her hand gripped the ground beside her and felt a smooth rock beneath her right hand. Her hand wrapped around it. It felt cool against her warm hand, this soothed her a little. As she stroked it, she wondered what it would be like, to hit Pablo over the head with it, to bash his head with the smooth stone over and over until all of his self-satisfaction left his head, left his body, got buried at the bottom of the sea. Maybe then he would see. She gripped and gripped, as a shout of anguish welled up in her throat. What if? What if?

~~~OOO~~~        

The next morning, Pablo opened his eyes to the brightness of the rising sun. He sat up slowly, using the ground as leverage. His head spun, his mouth felt dry, his body felt achy. He wondered whose idea it had been to sleep on this rock formation to begin with. His own idea, he now remembered, who else’s? He looked at the ground beside him, realizing that he woke up alone. Looking at the expanse of ocean that lay before him, he touched his fingers lightly to his lips, realizing everything had been absolutely worth it.