On a Road in Spain
Stretched out in the backseat of the Peugeot, Kate closes her eyes and inhales slowly, deeply. She rests her right arm behind her head, the elbow at her forehead. Then, eyes still closed, she leans her face closer and licks the inside of her forearm. Will it taste the way the Pacific did when she was a kid in California in the seventies? It does. The Pacific and the Mediterranean are the same in the crook of her arm.
“I saw that,” Paul says, and laughs into the rearview mirror.
“Yeah. How was it?”
“Tastes like chicken,” she says, and the boys laugh.
Paul allows himself to watch her in the mirror for just a moment. What a beauty—those big green eyes, the short dark hair, full lips. She looks like Ava Gardner or a character in a movie who starts trouble, then gets more than she bargained for. That’s Kate—normally, anyway, but maybe not right now. She looks relaxed, peaceful.
“Hey, Kika?” he says into the mirror, and enjoys watching those eyes open.
“You look happy.”
“Yes,” he says, “you do.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she says, and closes her eyes, smiles.
Kate does feel happy right now. She’s not seen the truck, about two miles away, and fears nothing. Just a few days ago, on a flight from Brazil, she had pressed the tip of her nose to the cold window, looked out at the infinite clouds, and thought, Okay, it’s different now.
“It’s different now. Or maybe I’m different now,” she’d whispered, and the passenger next to her, an older lady watching a movie, had smiled and pulled out a single earbud, thinking Kate was talking to her.
She’d felt new and light, as if she might even start floating over the others on the airplane, like an escaped Thanksgiving parade balloon. Was that just a trick created by the airplane or by leaving Brazil? Was it an attempt to detach emotionally because she’d failed that poor girl? Or was it just her hormones? Now, today, in Ibiza, in the car, Kate feels the same way—entirely herself but also light.
Paul turns back to the road and sees something odd and a little startling. About a mile away, coming down the hill, there seems to be something white and boxy, probably a truck, and in their lane. An optical illusion, he tells himself, making it only appear as if the truck’s in their lane, because it’s now clearly on its own side of the road.
Liam, sitting in the passenger’s seat next to him, isn’t watching the road, but the scenery.
“What’s up, boo?” Paul asks, and Liam answers that he can’t wait to shower, put on his big thick robe, stretch out on the bed, and finish his Stephen King book.
“Sounds nice,” Paul says, and rubs the back of Liam’s neck.
Liam reaches into his burlap bag and finds the bottle of ouzo he forgot to open on the beach. They’d spotted it sitting on a shelf at the market downstairs from their hotel and planned to mix it with Coke, see if it would taste like Dr Pepper. Only they forgot, and now it’s too hot to drink. Liam shoves his Greek sake into the bag and extracts a joint, which he lights, then passes to the backseat, but Kate doesn’t want any.
Kate rubs the hair on her neck, then the side of her head, and watches a few bits of sand fall on her white cotton dress. She loves the way little pieces of a place will sometimes find their way into your suitcase, your shoe, even your hair, and come home with you. She thinks of the coves, or calas, in which they’d just been swimming, so blue and warm.
“I like the name Cala,” she says.
“Yes, for a tall, pale lady with a very long neck,” Paul says.
“Hmm, the gentleman does have a point,” Kate says, then reaches over and snatches the smoke tucked behind Paul’s ear. If she lights it, this will be her last. So many things will change in the next months. No more smokes. And she won’t be able to dye her hair. Kate puts the cigarette under her nose, a long white mustache—the tobacco smells different here, like whiskey.
How Paul wishes his glasses were not so scratched. He can’t be seeing things right, because that truck, or whatever it is, up ahead looks like it’s moving in ways that just don’t make sense.
“Can I borrow someone’s sunglasses?” he asks. Liam says his are in the bag in the trunk. Kate hands over hers and Paul puts them on. Never mind they’re ridiculously oversize seventies movie-star glasses. So Jackie Susann.
Kate rests her hands on her belly and smooths it, seeing if anything is visible. It’s not. She puts her hand against her chest, presses down, and watches the skin there turn slightly pink. She caught the sun. Kate looks at the cigarette and whispers, “Bye, old friend.”
“I just quit smoking,” she says.
“Good for you,” Liam squeaks through the second hit of the joint.
Paul loves the way Liam holds his lips tight after a hit, like a little kid, worried that everyone will laugh if he exhales too soon. When he exhales too soon, because he always does. The truck up ahead has just swerved; there is no denying or escaping this. “What the fuck?” Paul says under his breath. He considers pulling off the road, but where? This two-lane highway hugs the coast on one side, and a steep embankment frames the other. No. This is just one of those moments of paranoia you have to breathe through, push through, that’s all. When the two vehicles pass each other safely, then Paul will take a big fat toke of that joint to celebrate.
The Beatles come on the radio. Yes!
“Molly is the singer in a band.”
Liam turns up the volume and he and Kate start to sing. The truck’s about forty seconds away from them now.
“Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, la la la la la la…” Kate sings, eyes closed, as she taps her feet against the window, whose glass, in just seconds, will come flying at her like a million little knives.
“I love music so much,” says Liam, whose eyes are still closed.
“Oh no!” Paul yells as the front of the truck comes closer and closer toward them.
At first, there are so many sounds: their car horn, long and beseeching, yet resigned to its futility; tires screaming as they fight to keep hold of the asphalt; metal biting metal, three people gasping in surprise. Then a heavy thump and new sounds: mirrors and door handles detaching from the metal that held them as the car, on its side, skids on the road before righting itself again with another hard bam as deflated tires slam back down onto the middle of the road. Now quieter sounds: a lung collapsing, a vertebra snapping, a wrist detaching, a heart stopping.
The dashboard has been shoved up into Liam’s chest, making him look like a baby who fell asleep at a table he’s not quite tall enough for. Paul’s pinned behind the steering wheel, his broken wrist hanging out the window, a limpness he would have detested in life, so many years spent using those hands and fists to beat away bullies. The big-girl sunglasses have mercifully flown into the backseat. Kate’s head lies on the broken window frame, as if she’d decided to take a nap. But bits of her hair and drops of her blood prove that before coming to rest here, that same head hit the frame not just once but twice.
The truck, a Mercedes 814 hauling dairy products, lies some sixty feet down the hill, on its side, so that the bright yellow-and-orange sign advertising yogurt in new tropical flavors resembles a billboard on the grass, itself dotted with tiny yellow mustard plants. The driver, who has died of a heart attack, lies about twenty feet from his truck, in a repose that suggests a man napping after a very festive night, except for the hands bloodied by grabbing the rearview mirror, on which hung a photo of his wife and kids.
Not much sound now, apart from glass falling onto the road, Kate and Paul moaning a little—Paul less than Kate—and the trickle of gas and water falling onto the pavement.… The Beatles song still plays, not from the Peugeot, but from the truck, whose driver had been listening to the same station.
About ten minutes after the accident, a VW Vanagon stops. In it are Danish tourists. Kate’s relieved to feel her body leaving the mangled car and its smells. Time becomes impossible to gauge. All she knows is that someone dragged her out of the car; now someone else is putting a garment under her head. Despite everything that has happened, Kate can feel the softness of this thing, probably a sweater, at the nape of her neck. Doesn’t make sense, in this heat, but it does feel like a sweater. A woman’s face appears above her—the garment’s owner?
Soon, another car pulls over. Two women and one man huddle around Kate, asking in different languages if she’s all right, some conjugating verbs in totally unique ways: “Usted y yo aquí bien,” says a woman, who, apparently, thinks Kate is Spanish “You and I are here well.”
Kate does speak Spanish, once spent a year living in Spain. If she weren’t lying in the middle of a road all broken like this, she would probably quip, “You here well, but I here not so well.”
Is her dress covering her still? She tries to find the hem of the white cotton but can only feel the top of her leg. Before leaving the beach, she took off the wet bikini and tossed it into the trunk. Is her “secret,” as her mother used to call it, displayed for the world to see? And where are Paul and Liam?
“Pauly,” she tries to call out. “Pauly, where are you?” It’s not very loud, her voice, doesn’t carry as much as she would like it to, and when the woman leans down and pats Kate’s cheek with that look of tremendous kindness and pity, it occurs to her that not surviving is a possibility—for the boys and for her. She should have told someone.
Kate’s grabbed hold by a sense of fear and dread she hasn’t felt in nearly ten years. Suddenly terrified of being by herself and of losing this little promise she’s carrying, she starts crying.
The lady whose sweater lies under her head tries to comfort Kate. “Shhh, shhh,” she whispers, leaning down.
“Listen,” Kate says to the lady. Her voice is so weak. “Baby,” Kate says, but the woman doesn’t understand. “Bebé, bebé,” she says, but her voice fails her again. Kate stops and concentrates, says it as loudly as she can: “Baby.”
The woman’s face registers a look of connection, finally, but that’s followed soon after by panic. “Baby?” the woman asks. “In the car?”
Kate feels an intense drain of energy. The panic starts to dissipate, but so does everything else. Is she passing out? She tries hard to focus on the voice and looks up at the woman, who’s sitting there in a yellow blouse. Even the pain begins to diminish. She is passing out.
“¿Bebé?” the woman asks again, and points to the car.
“No,” Kate says, but too late, the woman’s misunderstood and yells something to the other rescuers. Two men rush to the Peugeot and look inside but see nothing. They then run to the hillside and climb down, furiously scanning the landscape for fallen babies. One of the men calls to the other that he doesn’t see a child.
Kate hears sirens now and feels grateful. If an ambulance is coming, that means they’re going to the hospital, and if they’re going to the hospital, then they will be all right.
“Pregnant. Me, mine,” Kate whispers, but this is barely audible.
The woman smiles down at her. “Yes, yes, you are a mother. I understand. You will go home to your baby,” the woman says. “I am a mother, too,” she adds, and cradles Kate as if she is the child in question.
Closer and closer comes the ambulance, with its European siren, which sounds like the first strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with its “na na na na.”
“Na na na na,” Kate whispers as she lets herself fall asleep.
“Shhhhh,” the woman whispers back.
Copyright © 2012 by Monica Transandes