A very rough draft of the opening chapter to Dancing with Orange Blossoms, the prequel to Honey Ko. I’m not sure I could write an entire novel this way, or if readers would enjoy it. Maybe I could bookend it this way but write the rest in the traditional manner.
Thoughts? Is the italicized portion disconcerting? Is narration by a dead person too much. Finally, is it cheating, so to speak, by reading the thoughts of others instead of letting them speak through action, manner, or dialogue?
Dancing With Orange Blossoms Chapter One Barcelona
The last time Samuel visited Barcelona, he was alone. I was a memory. He had returned to our beloved city knowing he would find pain but hoped the numbness would lift as he remembered me in the neighborhoods of my youth. Instead, he found the city also in mourning. The warm glow of Gaudi’s lanterns had turned garish, the music on the Plaça Reial harsh. The city we both loved had abandoned Samuel as it reclaimed the memories of its lost daughter and taunted him with them like the ghostly imaginings of a hopeful heart. The city that belonged to everyone now belonged to everyone but Samuel.
Andalucía, the part of Spain I lived in, had become Susanna’s home after she left Barcelona for warmer weather. I lived in her world as I lived among her people and I loved them for the way they reminded me of her. This land nourished many civilizations over the centuries and millions of people had lived, loved, and died here. I, too, would be one of those who lived and loved here, but Susanna would be the one who died. I loved the ancient feel of Spain; at times, Spain made me feel two-thousand years old, ageless and timeless. I wanted the memory of my love for Susanna to span two-thousand years more and be recalled by someone like me in the far, distant future.
Or someone like me. After a week of wandering the streets we had once walked together, Samuel found himself late one night at a familiar restaurant on the Plaça Reial. He didn’t recall walking there since he followed his feet while his mind was occupied elsewhere. The restaurant had been our favorite destination; we always began our nights there with a late dinner before strolling the streets until the discotheques came to life. Then we danced and danced and danced until the sky turned pink with sunrise. Ohh, Samuel was a wonderful dancer, and he held me just so, see? He had such a gift for intimacy. After watching the sun rise from a little breakfast cafe overlooking the sea, we would walk to our cottage above the dunes and sleep the day away together.
I closed my eyes. Susanna seemed so near. I breathed deep and recalled the fragrance of the flowers she wore in her hair on our first visit. It was spring and everything was in bloom and Susanna wore a tiara of orange blossoms bought from an old woman on the street.
The old woman was a thief! I told Samuel she wanted too much money for the tiara, but he wouldn’t listen. “Oh, she’s poor and needs the money,” he said and told her to keep the change. I was indignant. I knew how the vendors worked their robberies on tourists, and Americans were such easy prey. Poor. Bah! We could have purchased two bottles of sangria with the change.
Memories flooded my mind as Susanna’s world surrounded me as a dream surrounds the dreamer. For a moment I breathed the same air Susanna breathed and walked the same path Susanna walked. For a moment we danced among the same orange blossoms we danced among in those perfect days when we were the only two people in love in the world.
“May I bring you something, señor?”
My dream world slipped away at the waiter’s question. “I’ll have the house wine.”
The waiter brought the wine, a pleasant Rioja, and poured a glass for Samuel. He smiled as Samuel nodded his approval. When the waiter left to tend another table, Samuel looked after him and wondered if he had served us.
(Yes, señor. I served you several times. It has been a long while since you were last here. I recall you always let your beautiful lady order since she was from Barcelona and understood these things. Ah, but you look sad. I’m afraid now why you are alone. Maybe I am wrong–I hope so. But the death of a beloved wounds the heart for all to see. I am so sorry for you, señor. I felt the magic of your love for one another each time I served you.)
I nursed the wine and as the evening passed my gloom lifted. Maybe it was the combination of a favored destination and good wine, but the numbness gradually faded and left me feeling better than I had since arriving in Barcelona. As I mused on my changing emotions it came to me that I had not been mourning for Susanna, but for myself. I had selfishly blamed her for leaving me alone. I yearned for her return because I missed the past, and the further in time her death receded the more I built our time together into something fantastic and extraordinary, rather than human and ordinary. I wanted to believe our love had been extraordinary and wanted Susanna back to prove I hadn’t been dreaming, that our few years together had been real.
We were deeply in love but, of course, we also argued and grumbled like any other couple. We had our likes and dislikes and compromised when necessary. Samuel disliked television, but I watched almost any show laughing and sobbing as the plot dictated while he sat next to me, reading, writing, offering tissues. I disliked the cold but tolerated his love for it. He kept the bedroom window ajar in winter. I set the electric radiator close to my side of the bed, wore thick pajamas and socks, and pressed against him for warmth. The memory brought a grin to Samuel’s face, and the waiter grinned, too, as he passed by. The memories came freely now and Samuel began to jot notes in his journal. He planned to write about us someday. As he leafed through the pages he stopped to read notes written some months after my death.
“Susanna’s death leaves me forever in love with a delicate, elfin woman whose memory is woven into the fabric of my life. Her raven-haired beauty and parchment-white skin dazzled me as much as the smile that graced her rose-kissed lips and will remain as fresh in my mind as the love that sprouted from a chance encounter on a crisp autumn day four years ago.”
Samuel considered the life he had led in Spain and the people he had known, and as he did so, his thoughts returned to the time he found the woman he was destined from birth to love, had loved all his life and waited for, not knowing when or where or how they would meet, but knowing they would. The woman who taught him how to love, and how to live.
“Rose-kissed lips.” How beautiful, Samuel. I am Susanna Avila McBride, late wife of Samuel. This is our story.
Image: “Flamenco in Red” by Pino. From https://www.paragonfineart.com/images/pino/