They were situated in a simple suite of rooms on the fifth floor of the small hotel. Their principal windows looked down onto the clean, sandy beach, the calm ocean, sky with a dappling of small clouds. It was off-season and quiet.
They lay awake in the mornings in the wide bed and covered just with a sheet. The linen curtains puffed gently into the room, stirred by a slight breeze flowing through the open windows. He pulled up a pair of jeans and stood watching the activities on the beach, below, dark, sturdy, stocky men working fishing gear, nets and floats, old and worn wooden pangas, aging engines. He had been awake when they had gone to sea, earlier that morning, before the sun was close. He had heard the men's coarse, chewy humor as they worked their heavy boats into the water with the help of a failing tractor. He heard them fire their motors and listened to their fading roars as they distanced themselves from the beach.
Then she was up. They ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and by nine walked down to the beach and out onto the sand where the fishermen were completing their wrap-up. The auctioneer had just arrived. He started at the east end of the small line of boats. Prospective buyers surrounded him, cooks from the hotel, merchants from the town. a collection of sea creatures are positioned in the sand between the boats, arranged by the fishermen as to be most attractive. The auctioneer started by calling out a repetitive price that he knew was higher than the small catch from the first boat would command. He kept his whole, partitioned palaver running, words slurring and redundant, dropping his price every few seconds. Soon, one of the vendors commits to the asked price and the deal is done. The assemblage moves on to the next boat. The process is repeated until all sales are settled and they disband until the next morning. It's a seven-day-deal amongst hard working sweaty men smelling strongly of fish.
"Well," he asks her. "What'll we do today?"
"Want to walk through town?" she says.
The small village was situated along the edge of the ocean, with only the shallow beach separating the sea from the two- and three-story structures there. The main street passed between buildings, small shops and offices along both sides, the ocean visible just beyond. Street vendors pushed two- and three-wheeled carts laden with fresh fruit, clams, hotdogs, fish tacos. The sun was in full bloom now and the heat intense, even along the water. A larger cart, moving a family and pulled by mules rattled along the cobblestones nearby.
"Down to one day." he said. Nothing more.
A street vendor on a busy corner had collected a crowd of customers. He placed a whole raw and unpeeled potato into a hand-operated device that carved the potato as it rotated, shaving a long, thin ribbon of the tuber and dropping it into a pot of heated oil, below. Within seconds, potato chips, hot and salted and it's their turn next. They collect a bag, napkins, pay and continue through town, she offering him a slice. His arm around her waist, hooked over her opposing hip, walking slowly, side-by-side, together.
In a small plaza they find a bench and sit, watching the children, the matrons, the couples walking there, the poor seeking assistance. Three large trees there throw shade down and onto the plaza like watered cement. A growing breeze off the ocean rattles the tall limbs overhead. Young boys and girls are selling chicles out of small cardboard boxes. The pair wanders back to the main street and across and toward the beach. A small café is positioned out-of-doors, shades opened and shielding beside the sea and they sit and order glasses of Rioja and an alioli artichoke. The wine arrives, chilled in the heated day, the artichoke hot and steaming, wafting strongly of pungent garlic.
"Thirteen months is a long time," she said.
"I wish there was some way out of this deal," he said. "Too late, though." They both knew he was leaving, flying out in the morning. Early. Neither wanted to ruin this last day with sadness, but there it was, hovering in the back of each of their minds, regardless of their unwillingness to address it. Even in the day's heat their hands brushed, met, fingers intertwined and gripped each other. A second glass of red. The artichoke's done, heart cleaned, dissected and consumed and they're back to the main street and it's looming into late afternoon. A driver atop a dual horse-drawn carriage is moving slowly down the cobbles, clicka-clacka-clicka-clacka. Steel wheels and hooves on hardened stone. The driver stops, solicits the couple to ride for a fee and they agree, climbing up, into the black leather seats behind the driver, both on the same benchseat and forwardfacing. Their chartered two-horse power pulls them forward along the rounded stones. The afternoon has worked into evening and the air is cooling; electric lights of the houses, shops and restaurants are turning on, magically, as if under their own volition. Soon the town sparkles and the carriage continues its circuitous route, meandering throughout the smaller barrios and intimate places. There is little need for conversation in these touching too-short moments but small and intimate contacts are made, shoulders, hands, knees.
The driver has a reservation at seven. He's paid and they are walking on the beach, now in sunset, back to the hotel where they take the shaky elevator to the top floor and the small, intimate restaurant, covered candles working in curtained breezes off the sea. They were seated and dined alone there. The starter was a small cluster of eels, positioned laboriously with their tails looped back and placed into their own mouths and broiled. Fish was the Prix-Fixee and well seasoned. Dessert was disappointingly canned peach. Moon was rising over water in the windows they gazed out over a glass of Oporto, hands still hungering each other.
"Look!" she said, in surprise and gesturing at the peaches in front of him. "Ants!"
In the darkened light he had to double click on his small cluster of fruit in a bowl before him. He spotted several ants, dead from the heavy syrup and nestled comfortably atop those small slices.
"Hmmm," he said. He humorously prodded the orangecolored fruit with his fork. "How tasty." He stabbed a fleshy slab, popped it into his mouth and swallowed.
"Yummy," he said.
"You swine!!" she whispered, gripping his arm, aware they were alone with staff.
And then they were in their rooms and comfortable and sharing the music they had collected across the margins and borders through which they had traveled and intertwined experiences. This was the end of the event that they had worked toward forever and there was no turning back, casts were hardened into concrete. Clicka-clacka-clicka-clacka, the hooves of the horses and steel rims of the carriage wheels, some things can't be changed and they were working down to ground zero. Time was up. They made the best of an intimate evening. He was flying out the next morning. Early, as expected.
Guttural voices rounded out his night as he awoke slowly to the sounds of the men moving their pangas out, into the water, the congested tractor pulling them to the waters edge and depositing them there. The grunts, belches and farts of the stubby men straining to shove their heavy vessels into the water flowing gently there, offering small resistances.
His plane, on liftoff from the tiny airstrip, banked to east. Just there, at the very last visible edge of his window, he could spot a small piece of the hotel. While he couldn't see her there, in the windows overlooking the edges of ocean and continent, nor her see him, peering down from several hundred feet and climbing, they knew they were there forever for each other. Never a break in bondage. They both continued the watch until it no longer made sense and then came back to earth or air, respectively, and settled in for their journeys.
Sometimes, things end and sometimes they just go on forever. It doesn't mean that the issues are open. Or closed. They just go unstoppingly on.
They never met after that sweet moment and their time with the fishermen and in the village.
She was killed the next year in an F-14 that fell from a radar screen, in an attempt to pull off a particularly difficult mission in a discrete part of our world we aren't allowed to address publicly. He went on to dig further into a cushy world of padded couches and comfortable conference rooms in businesslike highrises.
He never took his eyes off that last east-bank out of the airstrip. His heart was in her hands. And hers, his.
A moment in time.