The Rain in Spain

by Catriona Stewart on Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The plane drops out of the clouds into a sullen afternoon and touches down on a slick runway, rain slanting meanly against the porthole windows. Anne tries not to see Jeremy's knuckles out of the corner of her eye, white knots of tension across the top of his fists. He has no fear of flying, or landing. She concentrates on the seat belt sign and the conversation in the next row. A man's voice confidently predicts that the rain won't last. She's checked the seven day forecast online last night. He obviously hasn't. Or he wants to keep his wife upbeat about being on holiday. Like any half decent husband.
Jeremy's pleasant to the shuttle bus driver. She imagines him arranging his face back to the fixed expression he's adopted with her and avoids looking at him. As they leave the sprawling suburbs of Palma and head north, the rain develops into a full blown thunder storm, deep black clouds snagged on the jagged spine of the Sierra Montana. Anne watches for the next fork of lightning on the ridge, her view occasionally interrupted by his reflection in the window. He's looking the other way. He would.
When they reach Puerto Pollensa, the driver mutters about the No Entry signs barring traffic from the beach area and drops them ungraciously in an alley near the back of the hotel. Anne leads the way through the puddles to the peeling stucco doorway. That didn't feature on the website. They're straight into a bar area with broken roman columns and archways propped precariously against the walls. An Art Nouveau coat stand with hat hooks shaped like overblown daisies hovers in the middle of the archaeology. She stops herself shaking her head and glances at Jeremy. It's safe to assume she won't be allowed to forget she's booked this place.
At the reception desk, two grey haired women with tight perms and flowery skirts discuss the weather with a receptionist called Amalia.
‘Home from home,' says the first sister, leaning across the desk and pushing her glasses down her nose to read the computer screen.
‘Look, it's warm,' says Amalia, ‘less precipitation later in the week. We've had no rain for months.'
‘You need it then,' confirms the other one, used to dispensing wisdom.
They stand there expectantly. Anne prepares for a long wait but Amalia turns and greets her warmly. Jeremy's wandered off to look through the front door at the sea and the old girls head in his direction, clutching their hardbacks. Anne pictures the size of their luggage. She's booked one of the most expensive rooms, sea view, balcony, bath and shower. The miraculous change out of Auntie Dennie's drinks money. She'd approve if she was still around.
‘Jeremy, we're on the third floor.'
They face each other in the small lift. His eyes are raised to the ceiling. He must want to see where they're going this time. When they open the door to their room, it's dark and shuttered. Anne has imagined this bit, walking into a room flooded with afternoon sun, the sea glinting beyond the balcony doors, magically lifting the mood. She fiddles clumsily with the sliding door and opens the shutters. The cushions on the wicker chairs are soaking and a large succulent cactus with leaves like plump fingers oozes water extravagantly out of its terracotta pot.
The hotel sits in a huge crescent shaped bay embraced by mountains. The sea is flat calm now the thunder storm has moved away. Across the tops of feathery pine trees, a forest of dark masts in the marina stand out starkly against the pale washed sky. Sleek sailing boats dot the bay randomly, showing the sharp motor launches up for uncouth gatecrashers. A solitary black cormorant moves across the marked off swimming area, dives down and disappears in a shaft of weak sunlight. Anne wants to do the same. Jeremy picks up the chair cushions and takes them to the bathroom, then consults his watch. It's after five o'clock, Spanish time.
‘Let's go down and have a drink.'
He speaks.
Down at ground level, the sea is close, lapping the sand just beyond the terrace and paired loungers under thatched umbrellas with their jaunty top knots. They find two dry chairs under an overhanging balcony and he orders a bottle of Majorcan rose. Anne notes the compromise between his preference for red and her's for white. She grimly stirs a puddle next to her chair with one foot. It'll take more than that. The bottle arrives with green olives and bread. The waiter calls the wine ‘fantastico', his long black curls bouncing round his shoulders. Anne is tempted to mention the weather to see what he'll say.
Jeremy refills their glasses quickly. Anne leans back, eyes shut, letting the sound and smell of the espresso machine and the warmth from the bar behind them wash over her. Within minutes, the rain is back, pockmarking the sea again. People flip-slop past with towels over their shoulders, breaking into a dash as the thunder reverberates across the bay. Water sluices off the huge parasols, pooling on tables. Mr Fantastico comes out to rescue menus and ashtrays, a white linen napkin draped over his head. Jeremy suppresses a smile and grabs the wine bottle.
‘I'm getting wet.'
He speaks. Again.
Later, they find a pizzeria recommended by Amalia, under a huge awning on the seafront. They're just in time to get a small table on the edge before a wave of customers pile in. Jeremy's sunk into another silence. The owner tells them which pasta has been freshly made that afternoon and recommends the red from Binisalem. Anne orders it, wondering whether she's throwing his olive branch back in his face. In minutes, the waiter lights their candle and pours the wine, which splashes densely into her glass to try first. She looks across at Jeremy as she tastes it. He looks back, his face slightly animated at the prospect of more wine. She nods appreciatively and smiles up at the owner.
‘Delicious, thank you.'
Jeremy picks up his glass and takes a small sip. ‘Not bad.'
His courgette and mozzarella starter arrives quickly. Anne nurses her wine. He washes his food down, generously. Go on, she thinks, get drunk. The rain has stopped again and the marina lights spill like orange ribbons across the bay. Jeremy orders a second bottle and raises his glass to her. By the time the orange crème caramels arrive, she feels ready to burst, with food, and everything else. The busyness of the place covers their silence.
She was so sure the sun always shone here. She wonders how they'll cope with a week of rain. The only formula is to keep drinking, buy more books. The sun was to shine hot on the damage they'd done to each other since he was made redundant. Back at the hotel, they tumble onto the hard mattress and sleep restlessly. At one point, she hears him orienting himself in the dark, wrestling with the balcony door; he's fuddled, thinks he's at home.
In the morning, he's gone. She opens the shutters, hoping for a miracle. The scene is limpid. It's raining softly. There's no sign of him downstairs. The coffee from the self service machine is tasteless, the croissant flabby. None of this would matter if the sun would only shine. She waits for him upstairs, trying to read, goes down to the bar for a real coffee, then heads out into the rain. He's deliberately making her worry, disappearing like this. She forces herself not to look for him, eating tapas on her own in a back street. Later she walks for miles around the bay. He's in the bath when she gets back, his wet clothes draped over chairs. At least she wasn't there when he came back.
He says nothing about where he's been but he looks fresh and taut. They find a restaurant Amalia says is famed for its local dishes. The food is good, an easy talking point. They only drink one bottle of wine and walk back under a full moon and stars.
Anne stops and looks up. ‘Tomorrow might be better.'
‘I enjoyed today.'
‘Doing what?'
‘Walking over to the other side of the peninsula. Good bird life.'
‘You got drenched.'
He nods. ‘The guy on reception's offered me an anorak next time.' Anne thinks of her suggestion that he pack rain gear. She doesn't say it.
‘I know. You told me. And I ignored you.'
He produces a bottle of Spanish brandy in their room.
‘Want some?'
They sit on the balcony, watching the bay. Jeremy slaps a mosquito away and gets up to slide the balcony door shut. He pours a second glass which they drink silently in the twinkling dark. The warmth from the alcohol doesn't last.
Anne gets up. ‘It's getting chilly.'
She searches for a handle on the door. ‘You'll have to open it. I can't work out how to get in.'
Jeremy leans back and feels the door frame, then sits and looks at her.
‘Flaw in the design.'
‘What do you mean?'
He starts to laugh.
‘Bloody hell, J. Why did you shut it anyway?'
Tears run down his face. He's shaking with laughter. ‘It's like us. Stuck out in the cold.'
Ann watches him sourly. ‘It's not funny. You're drunk.'
‘Lighten up, for pity's sake. It's a lot more fun than we've had for the last six months.'
She sits down again, arms wrapped round herself. ‘Pour me another drink. And since you're having such fun, give me your jumper.'
The stars go out above them and it starts drizzling. Eventually the people next door appear on their balcony, and let them in. Anne almost falls asleep in a hot bath, listening to Jeremy whistling tunelessly through his toothbrush. The next morning, he's still in bed. She knows without opening her eyes, feeling the heat come off him. She thinks about doing what he did yesterday and disappearing on her own for the day but he reaches a hand out to her.
‘Do you want to do that walk I did yesterday?'
She opens the shutters. ‘It'll be in the rain.'
‘Ah, but it's nice rain,' he says, jumping out of bed. ‘I want to do it with a bird book this time.'
After breakfast, he goes off to find a bookshop while she waits for the espresso machine. He comes back with a book of walks in the Balearics and another about Mediterranean birds. He's like a man with a mission, partly accomplished. She remembers him when he was always like this, before being thrown off course. They kit up and set off across an urban park. He knows where he's going. Anne looks sideways at him, stirred by his purpose.
The rough stony track snakes uphill between limestone rocks. It's raining steadily. The sea and sky merge behind them and there's little to see through the mist ahead. Anne's soon cooking inside her anorak.
‘God, I'm hot,' she mutters, stopping to take breath. She pushes her hood off. ‘The jacket's not even waterproof.' She takes it off and ties it loosely round her waist. ‘It's alright for you, yours is. I'll be eaten alive now.'
Jeremy pulls a spray out of his rucksack. ‘Do you want some repellent?'
She reaches for it, not trusting herself to comment on his foresight.
‘At least, we've got the place to ourselves,' he says as they reach the top. ‘Look. That bird climbing in tight circles. Must be a hoopee. I was hoping to see one.'
He'd stopped hoping not long ago. He produces a bottle of water, takes a long slug and passes it to her.
She finishes half of it. ‘I didn't think about water, with all this rain.' They walk down a steep track in silence. There's a breeze now, clearing the mist so she can see down to a small cove. When her trainers lose traction near the bottom, she risks a big jump onto the crunchy shingle. They stand together looking at the silvery green water. It's so clear you can see the sandy bottom and where the seaweed starts.
Anne sits down on the pebbles, wriggling her bum in, and unties her laces. She gets up again and peels her wet jeans off.
Jeremy watches her. ‘Don't stop.'
‘I'm not.' She gets down to bra and pants.
‘Let me help.' He runs his hands down her back and undoes the hooks, slipping his fingers under the damp straps. She pulls away and kicks off her pants.
Like this, the breeze feels too cool. She doesn't wait, running towards the water and throwing herself in as soon as she feels it reach her waist. She wants to get past the uncertainty so it's only cold for a moment. She turns over, pushing away from the shore, looking back. Jeremy is naked, running in after her. He stands for a moment as the sea rises round him.
‘He who hesitates is lost,' she calls.
‘I've worked that out,' he shouts back.
He surfaces next to her, treading water, shaking himself like a dog.
‘You need a haircut,' Anne tells him, staying low in the water to keep warm. His throat looks oddly vulnerable and she thinks she can hear the thump of his heart.
‘Too shaggy? Am I?' He pushes his thick hair back off his forehead. She floats away from him with her eyes shut. He won't see the tears mingle with the rain and the sea, salt running into salt. She feels his hand on her stomach. It just lies there quietly, not going anywhere. She imagines that they can stay here, frozen in time, with this peace between them.

Read other entries from our 2009 Short Story Competition


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