Susanna plucked a shrimp from the paper cone clutched in my hand and held it over my head like a seal trainer. She laughed as I leaned back and opened my mouth. I struggled not to laugh as I wagged my tongue. She brought the shrimp to my mouth and I captured her long, graceful fingers between my lips. She hesitated and gazed at me as her laugh turned into a smile. Oh, my heart beat fast and I marveled at this beautiful Spanish woman and sucked her fingers into my mouth and my tongue savored the flavor of two-thousand years of Spain. I was faintly aware of the seagull circling overhead crying with anger at the meal it had missed.
We bought the quarter pound of fresh shrimp from the fish market on the plaza and then walked under an umbrella along the cobblestones of the waterfront of old El Puerto de Santa Maria. The rain stopped after a while and we sat on the quay overlooking the ancient harbor where Christopher Columbus provisioned ships for his voyage of discovery. The sun came out and steam rose from the puddles of water dotting the quay. I lay back, knees bent, on the old wall of crushed shells as Susanna leaned over me, shielding my eyes from the bright sun. She smelled of orange blossoms. Susanna always smelled of orange blossoms. I breathed deep in the fragrant hollow behind her ear before the musty odor of decaying sea wrack intruded, and the salty fragrance of the vast great ocean, the granite-like permanence of the old city, the brilliance of the deep blue dome of sky overhead, the whole of the world spread before us.
Susanna. Our life together lay ahead. I swallowed the shrimp and reveled in the beauty of her dark, brown eyes as she slowly slipped her fingers from my lips. Her long, black hair framed her snow white face and fell onto my chest. I sat up then and we sat cheek to cheek, wordless, the closeness of her tiny, frail body a comfort. I tightened my arm around her slender waist. My pulse throbbed as love for this beautiful woman raced through my veins.
“Come, Susanna. Let’s walk along the beach. Give me your hand.” I helped Susanna down and we walked onto the sandy beach. The wind tore at the frothy crests of the waves and I tasted sea salt on my lips. The sea salt stuck to my skin in the humidity and I took my shirt off and carried it in my hand. I paused while Susanna took her shoes off and dug her toes into the fine, warm sand. I carried Susanna’s sandals as she dipped her toes in the water of the bay.
“Oh, William,” she cried with a laugh. “Dance with me, my love.” Susanna held my fingers in hers and danced around me on the beach between the sea wall and the sea, in front of a dozen other people walking along the shore. I dipped my head as I shook it and smiled. Oh, she was lovely in her gaiety. The wrap billowed from her body in the wind and her black hair whipped about her white face and her face glowed with joy as she twirled and danced about me. I held her hand high and she dipped beneath my arm and spun around and around and around, laughing. I spun Susanna into my arms and I held her close as we danced together in the white sand of the beach beneath the bright yellow sun of a Spanish summer afternoon.
“I want to live forever, William!” She was so happy.
I kissed her cheek and let go of her hand and ran away up the beach. She laughed aloud as she ran for me but I eluded her. Then I stopped and turned and flung the remaining shrimp as high into the sky as I could and a cloud of seagulls converged above Susanna and picked the shrimp from the sky. Susanna raced for me under the cloud of crying sea birds, her face bright and her lovely laugh ringing in the salty air as waves crashed upon the beach behind her and the sea gulls dipped and flew around her. I caught Susanna as she leapt into my arms and we fell into the sand. We laughed as we fell and we fell silent as our eyes fastened upon one another and we breathed hard in our excitement and Susanna pressed her hands into my chest and her lips onto mine. Oh, the lovely softness of the flesh of Susanna’s lips. I feel them now and I feel her feather-soft flesh pressing upon mine as though thirty-five years have not intervened between reality and memory.
Time passes, and grinds mountains into rubble and erases history into dimly recalled, tentative tales of memory, but it cannot erase the memory of the love a man and a woman feel but once, the love of a lifetime, the love of the ages. The love for which the heart burgeons into a breathless burst of yearning and passion and tenderness and fulfillment. The human love.
As we lay together in the sand, the fine, warm sand, Susanna’s body pressing into mine, I held her in my arms and her life beat in her chest and her life beat in my chest, and I knew how wonderful she was, and how fortunate I was, and I knew, too that I would never again feel so passionate, so tender, so fulfilled, and I wanted this moment in the fine, warm sand beneath the bright yellow sun of a Spanish summer afternoon to last forever. I was so happy.