Saving Kate





Vianne, Kate and Colin have been friends forever. But nothing can last forever, as Kate falls apart and Colin does his best to fix her. But when he fails, Colin's world collapses and takes him with it. Vianne is left with one friend dead and another as good as. Looking back eight years later from Cordoba, Spain, Vianne recalls all this. At the arrival of someone she never thought would look at her again, Vianne finds out that to truly understand the present, you must first know the secrets of the past.

And secrets there are.






















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4. La Vida Nueva

Tengo irse," I say, panicking slightly as my eye catches the time on Catalina's clock. "Lo siento, pero mi recorrido de galería se abre en diez minutos. Lo siento mucho, Cat! Seré  vuelo mañana, en la mañana. Adiós, gracias!"

"Por la mañana, Vee. Use por. Muy bien, ten cuidado. Veré mañana."  Catalina waves me out of her flat with a tea towel. I grab my handbag and gap it down the stairs to the street. South Cordoba is wearing filmy cloud like a slip when I step outside. Thankfully Catalina's flat is only a block or two from the small cafe that doubles as my gallery. Passing la Plaza de los Califas, I turn the corner and nearly die when I see a line of nearly fifteen outside the gallery. Jose, who's been holding down the fort while I was at Cat’s, waves me over. After four months, we've agreed his broken English is the best we can do by way of communicating.

"When did they get here?" I hiss at him, waving to some of the customers, "Have you showed them inside?"

 

"Ten minutes past. No, you were not here."

"Ah...okay," I turn to the crowd, flashing them the smile two years of working the bar back home paid for, "Senoras y Senors, por favour, por aqui, gracias. Bienvedios a mi galería."

Drifting through the gallery after, a cup of Jose's tea in my hands, I glide through the weak evening light. Evening light in Cordoba is simply that, just light, with no heat. Back home, you could feel when you moved from shadows to light in the evenings, but here the gold touches you in cool shafts. Pottery is at the back end of the gallery. The starbursts of autumn Andalusian light follow me around the rims of the pots, vases and plates as I slip past them. The gallery is at its best at this time. It glows, like being touched with the eyes of people have burnished them. Twenty four sales today. Fourteen of them are canvases of a place their buyers would never see. Maplenesse, Nevada. Canvases of creek beds and dusty roads leading to nowhere. Rusty-red doors and tree swings. Pines with a hint of a growing charcoal fire in the distance.

 

Then again, home never failed to impress.

 

Mamas always said follow your strengths. Considering that Spanish was one of the two things I didn't fail in my finals, I moved to Andalusia eight years ago, settling in el distrito Poniente Sur, in the suburb of Poniente in April 2005. Art was the second thing I passed, even better than Spanish. So, naturally, after a year and a half of eating two minute noodles in my one bedroom flat, only knowing how to say "Hola", "bien", "graciasand the dreaded "Cuanto es?" , I started an art gallery in Spain. Among canvases and friends, I've also made progress. The flat is now three bedrooms and home to Salchicha the Corgi. The language is nearly fluent and the gallery can comfortably pay for more nutrious and mature meals than noodles.

 

I consider myself a Spaniard in the making. The festivals were my one true love the first two years I was there. An endless mirth of culture, colour, bodies and sound the likes of which never touched Maplenesse. After that, Javier Romenez. There are only so many times a man can visit an art cafe without some ulterior motive. I fell in love with the way that he would pretend to be interested in art, when if it wasn't for me, he'd never have want to hear of it.  Tonight, I lock the gallery and skip out the back way, grabbing a savoury muffin courtesy of Jose.

 

"HOLA, CHICHA!" My mother bellows down the phone. I wince, cradling the phone on my shoulder and moving the pot of pasta off the boil.

"Hi, Mama, how's Maple?"

"Cold as hell, what else? Now, listen, I've got to run, so I'll cut the crap."

"That's a first." I snicker, fingering pasta into my mouth and awkwardly tugging the flimsy curtain over the kitchen window.

"Thanksgiving." I groan inwardly. Christmas every second year my budget could do. Thanksgiving any year my heart can't.

"Mama….you know-"

"It's been eight years. Now, I'm not saying it doesn't matter anymore, I'm not saying that you won't hurt. But are you really going to let this chase you forever?"

"Maybe…I'll think about it," I lie.

"Mmm….Well, I've gotta go and grab Ben's rugrats."

"Eres una abuela buena."

"Ay? You know I can't understand that gibberish you speak over there. Speaking of kiddies how's Javier? I've heard all those exotic men are very good when it comes to-

"Mother, please!"

"Fine, talk soon, love." With that she hangs up. I picture her grabbing her handbag. Maybe she's thinking about lunch, while over here, night closes in.

 

I swear not two minutes pass before the phone bleeps again.

"Hola-Shit!" Juggling the phone and the strainer sends boiling water on my fingers.

"Hola - Vee?" It's Javier.

"Hey, how are you? How did the practical go?" Part of the reason I can have a relationship with Javier is because he studied English at school and can probably speak it better than me.

"Yeah, that's what I called about. Lo siento, Vee, pero no puedo estar ahí esta noche." I drop the strainer in the sink, dumping pasta sauce on the food, no longer hungry.

"Otra vez? Seriously? That's about the third time this week."

"Se. I might be able to make tomorrow."

"Don't bother. I won't be here, anyway. Tengo una cosa con la galería," I lie.

"Oh, okay. Look, I'll make this up to you, I promise. How about I do dinner, Friday night?" He was trying hard not to make it sound like an obligation, I knew. Not wanting to sound bitter, I mentally check what I had to get done by Friday and what could wait until the following weekend. A promotional opening on Thursday was the only thing apart from business as usual and lunch with Cat on Tuesday. I put as much sugar in my words as I can to mask the bland, tasteless disappointment.

"That's fine. I can do that."

"Okay. I have to run. Te amo."

"Veré en viernes, chao."

 

I hang up without reciprocating his love. Downing my pasta without a care for my lipstick, I strip, throwing the chiffon top and jeans in the draws. I feel stupid, getting all dressed up for nothing, wasteful as I wipe the makeup off and write off the night. As I settle, still in bed without the lamp on, holding a book I'm not going to read, the air and the apartment settle around me. Peace settles too, but for about as long as you can hold a bubble on your finger before it bursts, leaving everything sticky and filmy. The peace was an illusion, flickering in front of the sinking, free falling feeling that between Javier and I. Grey questions and doubts were building. Accompanying this was the undeniable knowledge that I would come out of it alone.

 

 Between the wine (I downed my share as well as Javier's), Mama's phone call and being alone again needling at me, I slept troubledly. My body was twisting around the sheets in my flat in Cordoba, but my soul was walking the streets of Maplenesse. The tang of tomato pasta sauce filled my nose with each breath, but I was smelling the creek water and dust that hung over home. Walking beside me were Kate and Colin. The fact that Kate is breathing and moving doesn't startle me as how clear Colin's face was, how much I remember after only a few passing thoughts over eight years. I'm relaxed, kicking a rock as we walk. The scene is vaguely familiar but hard to place.  It seems that I'm oblivious to the tension broiling next to me between my two friends. Colin has Kate's wrist in a tight grip, trying to shake something out of her. Out of nowhere, I know when this is - the day before Kate died. It was a break in the rain and we had decided to go for a walk. I had ditched home early because the two of them were in such foul moods.

 

My suspicions are confirmed when the scene shifts, Maplenesse tilting on its axis, dust swirling and clearing in Kate's attic.

 No, I don't want to see this again. Not this. But I can already smell the damp, broken only by the smell of Colin behind me.

"We should've seen. We should've known, Col." For the first time, as I see Colin break, I follow his gaze. Kate turns slightly and lets the moonlight sheet down her left side.

I see a purple-blue bruise on her wrist. Where Colin grabbed her.

This registers just as I'm flashed fragments of the drama in his kitchen.

“Don’t say her name.” Again, Colin’s braced against the bench, his eyes flashing at her name.

“You need to leave, Vee. Please, don’t come back. I don’t want to see you again.”

 

When I do stumble awake, it’s not the idea that Kate has followed me here, over all these years and all these miles, to stand beside me, a purple bruise wrapped around her neck, which throws me off balance. It's the urge to laugh that bubbles through my throat that unnerves me. This alone, I would've passed off as a little weird, but it’s the notes of creek bed and blackened, sooty charcoal, dissipating as my head clears that nearly has me calling his name, because I could've sworn he was here.

Colin.

 

The laughter wins and I sit in my sheets, giggling to myself in the dark at the mere thought of such lunacy. I am never going to see Colin again, dreams mean nothing to me. I just drank too much and I need all the sleep I can damnwell get.

But still, nobody could ever make me laugh so hard.

The rest of the week is spent working the cafe, selling art, and teaching Jose more English than he can grasp. Working with Jose is slow and frustrating, but he reminds me of Ben, and teaching him how to play cards. When he gets it right, we dance around in circles. With the following days not being overly engaging, just a matter of going through the motions, the idea of Colin lingers by me. I'll be touching up a dusty canvas in the workshop in the back and catch myself wondering what he'd look like in an office.

 

Even on Thursday, during the opening, I couldn't shake him; a face would catch my eye and I'd reel a little before realizing it wasn't him. After that impulsive night in his kitchen, we talked on only three occasions. The first being graduation, exchanging plans for the future. Colin was sending applications out for colleges, opting for Linguistics and Ancient Languages courses. I was saving everything from my jobs and extra Spanish at night school was the extent of my planned tertiary education. The conversation was brief, friendly but stilted. After, I wondered whether he had initiated it out of pure politeness.

 

The second was about a month before I left. The rain had turned the unpaved back roads to sludge, and the one time I take Mama's car to work, it gets stuck. Growing up with a father and a brother meant that my outdoors and mechanical skills were severely depleted. Outdoors mechanics in the dark of winter didn't sit well with me. After ten minutes of messing around with a spanner, delaying the moment when I would have to get down on my knees in the mud, two beams of light crept down the road. The headlights slithered over the puddles and slipped up, over me and the car. I didn't recognize the car to be Colin's because it was a present from his birthday which I let pass without mention. I was horribly surprised when the car stopped, spraying mud, and Colin stepped out. My best mate squinted through the drizzle, realized who it was and laughed. Mama's car was left in the lane and Colin drove me home, one of Toby's towels wrapped around me. The chatter was light-hearted, Colin almost joking. We both knew that this felt the closest to normal we'd known in a long time. But what Colin, Kate and I had was never thought about, never calculated. That's why I still left. I couldn't' have stood feeling that effort was made to knit back together every time I saw Colin- for me it was what it had been or nothing.

 

The last time was the most honest thing Colin had done since Kate died. He had come to ask me one last night time if I was sure about leaving, whether this was actually what I wanted. Not sparing his feelings, I told him that Kate, that night in his kitchen and everything since had spread, like shock waves, a drop in water, radiating outwards. It had spread through the town, through me and had driven me out of Maplenesse. He had been still, eyes lingering on my suitcases, on the clothes and things inside of them, as if he no longer recognized them. As if I had grown into a stranger.

"So, I'm losing you too then?" 

"If you want." I couldn't quite say that he was, indefinitely. I would not be coming back to Maplenesse, if I could help it. There was no pretending, no trying to make progress as Colin left my house without answering and I boarded a plane the next day without saying goodbye. Now, as I walk to lunch, crossing the streets, I wonder how long his hair is. Whether he still has a weird taste for plaid shirts and sandals. If he ever left Maplenesee or Kate.

 "Jesucristo. Pareces como si has visto afectados por un camión! Que hizo Javier a tu, eh?" Cat jabs me in the ribs as I sit down, giving me a rather unsettling saucy wink. The pleasing grounded feeling hits me again as the short-haired waitress guesses my order, Cat and I come here so often.

“Y una limonada de frambuesa, por favor." The waitress scribbles down my order and Cat raises an eyebrow.

"Changing things a bit, are we?"

"Huh?" Suddenly, I feel very tired and nothing Cat's saying makes any sense.

"La limonada? es diferente. Y nunca contestaste mi pregunta, sobre Javier."

"Yeah, sorry." A deep breath, a promise to myself to sleep into next week after this and I look Cat in the eyes. "Javier....right."

"So, how's life debajo del edredón?"

"Oh, por favor! Que estas? Quince anos?"

"Lo que sea. Whatever. So?

"So......."

 

 I trail off. To be honest, I hadn't been alone with Javier like that for over a month. After a few weeks, I refused to let myself get excited about him coming over, predicting correctly that he would have to leave as fast as he came. The fine details of when his breathing sped up, or what side of me he'd fall asleep on had ebbed from neglect. The same sinking, bubble popping feeling that had opened around me and my wine last night comes creeping up again now. Like trendils of shadows licking around the chair legs and billowing under tables. "So, nothing."

"Nada?"

"Si. He's been so busy. With work and everything. I would say something but I don't want to get in the way of him achieving whatever he's after. But..."

"Pero?"

"Pero.....I don't want to come second anymore either."

"Oh, Vianne. I'm sorry."

"No, its okay, seriously."

 

And it is. Speaking the truth about how things had morphed between Javier and I had seems to seal something. Seems to put and end to looking back, trying to re-interpret. Like closing a door against a wind. Putting my suspicions about the breif conversations, the absences and the sinking, cloudy feeling into speech has laid it all bare for me. What Javier and I had found a few months ago was now a shadow of what it had been. We were falling out of love. The fire is embers. Is it worth re-kindling?  As soon as I had to ask myself that, I knew: It was over.

A sunny day in the dregs of winter like this in Cordoba is like a Juicy Fruit. The sunburst glints off cars, the yellow glows and skies blue and full of air all promise warmth. Likewise, the Juicy Fruit wrapper promises long-lasting fruity flavour. But Juicy Fruits are crap. They are as promised for the first three seconds then turn to cardboard. Stepping outside, you'll breathe in the sunlight and bask for about the same time window. Then the wind will hit, skittering and raking up your arms, dragging up goosebumps, billowing under clothes, making your stomach curl inwards.

 

As I say adios to Cat, gathering up my sweater and loose change, I step out into such a day. Despite the nipping wind, el Jardines de Elena Fortun have sun flashing off the fountains and I want very badly to sit and pretend I am warm in this faux sun, anything to delay returning home. A stone bench between bushes of colourful daisies, humming and swelling with bees and birds, is where I realize that love is also like a Juicy Fruit. It is never as advertised. And after a while, you wonder why you  tasted it in the first place, its so stagnant. This brings not sadness, but relief that for once, my own logic agrees with whatever allegations my heart has been throwing around. At yet another confirmation, I bid goodbye to los jardines and walk home. Home, where a phone ends up in my hand. A phone, into which I speak tearlessly. Speaking, but trying to make no noise, show no meaning. And if I had ever doubted myself, Javier's flat "Vale" followed by dial tone and no fight reassured me.

 

 Checking off Javier, I keep moving, as to not let it catch up on me. Scooping liver into Salchicha's bowl as the evening turns my kitchen orange, I call my mother.

"My darling, how-"

"Mama, I'll come for Thanksgiving. Don't tell anyone, though...I just want-" I am cut off momentarily as my mother leans away from the phone and screams to the house, down the street or out to the whole town: "MY BABY GIRL'S COMING HOME!"                                                              

"Mama, please.."

"Sorry, love. I'm thrilled but are you sure you can do it right now? Is the gallery hauling in enough? What about Croissant, or whateverhisname is? Do they have kennels there?"

"Mama, it's fine. The busy season for the gallery just finished. Winter is slow anyway. And his name is Salchicha and he's stayed in Disando kennels before. I'll see you soon."

"God, its going to be bloody busy here. Everyone's flocking in from the ends of the earth. Even you're old mate...whats-his-name? The blonde one." God, my heart catches. I nearly choke, or tear up or something. Yes, yes the straw hair. Smelling of creek water and always in his eyes. Colin, Colin.

"Uhmmm...Colin?"

"Yeah, him. He's coming down from wherever he is at the moment. Anna tells me he's been state-trotting for the past few years."

"Oh." Later, I wished I could've processed that information better, but my mind was still stuttering and tripping on the mention of his name, aloud. He's still out there, it said, he's not lost. Salchicha waddles over from his basket and meanders around my legs. "Well it'll be nice to catch up." I do my best not to sound so overly fake. Mama doesn't notice, plans for pavlovas, pies and knitted jumpers tripping through her mind so fast I can nearly hear them. I say goodbye, promising to text her the flight details when I can.

 

Never have I packed for anything so fast. My once beautiful world of paellas, fiestas, colour, paint and horses threatens to suffocate me as I turn inwards, back to Colin. His smell. Back to Kate, remembering things only I can. Back to Maplenesse. Pining and scared for what it will have in store for me when I return.

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