March 27, 2023

MONTSERRAT by Philippa Burne

She’d stayed in Barcelona because of him. Unpacked her suitcase into his closet. Stayed in his empty boy-room. Filled the space with her: her clothes, shoes, books. Her smell. He said he liked it. They never talked about for how long.

They’d met on a bus trip to Montserrat. He was the guide; she was one of nine tourists.

She’d sat behind him and looked at the black hair cut short at the nape of his neck, curling as it forced its way through tanned skin. His blue eyes met hers often in the rearview mirror. At first she thought he was watching the traffic.

He drove slowly through blue and red fleece-clad tourists, parked between luxury buses and hired cars. Gave a potted history, pointed out restaurants and toilets, the church of Santa Maria de Montserrat. They looked at the view; a sheer black rock drop to green plains stretched out below. But he was looking at her when he said “Shall I take you to the vortex?”

She trailed behind as they straggled towards the abbey. High craggy peaks glowered above, clouds caught on their tips. The spires of the church echoed the grey, the height, the strength. She felt overwhelmed. In awe of sensation.

He explained it was all about energy. That’s why the monastery was built on such an inhospitable mountain, why the monks settled on such a jagged peak. The rock looked like it wanted to cast them off.

A white marble disc was set into the courtyard floor. Pictures and meaning laid in. He explained that the idea was to spin. Shoes off. Barefoot on cold. To spin and feel the touch of God.

She watched a nun lift her habit and spin. A child swing round and round before swooning into her mother’s arms. An elderly man shed his stick and nervously turn. When it was her time, she spun and spun. Head falling back, hair flying out. Freedom. Release. She felt fingers on her arm. Opened her eyes and saw him. A connection.

When they had got back to Barcelona, he’d asked how long she was staying. He invited her on a tour to the Pyrenees. Another to the beach at Sitges. Finally he took her to a bar. And stopped telling her facts. Began telling his stories and listening to hers; weaving them together.

Her plane date came and went. She moved out of her hotel. Emailed to quit her job. And unpacked her suitcase into his closet.

Each night she ran her fingers over the hair curling at the nape of his neck. Each morning he untangled their limbs and went out to work. While he worked, she walked. Las Ramblas, Montjuic, Gracia, Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia. Finding her path, unguided. And every night they returned to that empty-boy room. Where her scent filled the air. And his words filled her dreams.

Summer turned to autumn. As the temperature fell, she put more clothes into his closet. Long sleeves covered her arms. When he put his hand on her skin, she no longer tingled.He went on an overnight tour to Madrid. When he returned, his stories were shorter. He opened the windows to air out his room.

As autumn turned to winter she realised she no longer saw his friends. He went to the bars on his way home from work. Did not call. She bought a coat. Hunched inside it and waited.

They never talked about for how long.

As winter turned to spring, he changed his wool scarf for cotton. The nape of his neck became one of his secrets.

To see what was hidden, she started to draw. Sketchpads and notebooks. Pages filled silence. She hid them under their bed.

When spring turned to summer, she went back outside.

On Las Ramblas, she laid out her drawings. As his tour group approached, she took off her coat. When blue eyes met hers, she shed her shoes. Then she started to spin. Head falling back, hair flying out, she closed her eyes and spun. Freedom, release. No touch on her arm. No more connection.

When she opened her eyes he was gone.

© Philippa Burne 2010

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