Back in the apartment, I put away the picnic supplies while Aida unpacked and put away the clothes, a quantity of clothing since she had taken advantage of the laundromat at the cottage rather than wash them by hand at the cement sink in the courtyard. After we were settled on the sofa, she nestled against me and watched television while I read.
Soon, her eyes closed and her breathing grew soft. She fell asleep with her head in my lap. I stretched and yawned, then gently picked her up and carried her to bed and undressed her, then undressed myself. I slipped under the bed sheet and stared at the ceiling, my hands behind my head. The medallion lay heavy on my chest, a constant reminder of love, pain, and hope. The heavy jewel linked me to another person, my father, who had suffered love, pain, and hope. I leaned over and withdrew a blue silk pouch and my old, leather-bound journal from the drawer of the nightstand. I set the pouch aside and leafed through the journal, stopping at a bookmark. The memories returned as I read:
I trembled as I reached for Susanna, my Spanish Madonna, and touched her hip. I pressed my palm against her smooth, white flesh and her warmth spread through me until my face flushed and the burn of rising excitement engulfed me. I rubbed my hand across her shoulder and trilled my fingertips along her spine, raising goosebumps from her skin, and a shiver. I caressed along her side to her hip and pressed my hand to the small of her back, bringing her body close, so close her bones ground against mine and her scent mingled with mine. She trembled and breathed out, her warm, fresh breath billowing into my face and nostrils, pulsing through the veins in my head until my temples throbbed. I inhaled her skin’s fragrance of orange blossoms, and the hairs on my neck lifted as a wave of sobbing, intense passion shook my body and overwhelmed me.
Aida moved against me, and I rested my hand on her hip. She slept on, her face retaining a radiance of happiness.
I shivered as I brushed my fingers across her lips and she kissed them as they wiped away tiny beads of moonsweat. My angel’s eyes, framed by her perfect oval white face and raven-black hair that reflected a billion midnight stars, held mine, unwavering, unblinking, penetrating. I pressed my lips to her silk-black eyebrows. Her fingers brushed along my chest and tickled my belly, and she held me. The smooth roundness of her body filled my hands as her breasts pressed into my flesh. I pressed my fingers between her buttocks and pulled her to me, and a cloud of intense, animal desire washed over me for this fragile, elfin-like sprite of a woman.
I shuddered and she shuddered and our lips met in a passionate expression of yearning, pressing hard together as we gave in to the desire to possess each other, to become each other, to be inside one another, to become one person. A trembling Susanna surrounded me as I became entwined within her, and our souls met as our hearts had met, and two spirits of pure love enmeshed one in the other as physical love bound us together and a simultaneous coming together transformed us forever. I gave her all of me, and she gave me all of her.
Later, as we lay side by side in a nest of warmth cuddled between Heaven and Earth, Susanna turned onto her side then she moved on top of me. She brushed her fingers across my cheeks. Her eyes burned into mine and then they softened and a smile worked at the corners of her mouth and I knew she was going to be silly. She sang lines from a song she loved. “One, two, three, four, can I have a little more? Five, six, seven-eight-nine-ten, I love you.”
I blushed at the intimacy every time I read the letter. Sometimes the memories were so strong I couldn’t continue and put the journal away, but always within reach. Ours, like my mother’s and father’s, was an extraordinary love, a wished-for love. Oh, how I longed to love like that again. The love I had shared with Susanna before losing her. Love with Aida was different, but comparing Aida with Susanna was unfair. No two people were exactly alike. No matter how much I wanted with Aida what Susanna and I shared, no two loves could be the same. Maybe love depends on one’s state of mind. If I weren’t grieving for Susanna, would I still love Aida? Did love come to me to fill the void left by Susanna’s death? Had loneliness made me weak and susceptible, open to advances from the first woman to show an interest in me? I hadn’t been lonely when I met Susanna. I hadn’t been grieving for a lost lover. But my heart was still bleeding for Susanna when Aida came into my life.
I had been desperately sad and lonely when we met. At the time, only three years had passed since Susanna’s death. Only three years since I begged orders transferring me away from Spain. Away from the pain and the constant reminders. The Navy obliged by transferring me to Hawaii, where I found myself in a paradise limned in sorrow.
I put the journal away and took off the necklace. The necklace and letters were among the few belongings of my parents I possessed. My adoptive parents gave them to me when I enlisted in the Navy. They said my mother believed the medallion was cursed and the bearer would suffer her greatest fear. Her greatest fear was that she would die young.
I sat on the edge of the bed and held the necklace up. The medallion and wedding ring dangled side by side. The ring gave off a soft, golden glow in the light of the lamp. The reflections in the medallion’s jewel filled me with an uneasy feeling. Could the curse be real?
What was my greatest fear? Snakes. I was afraid of snakes. That wouldn’t be the point of the curse, though. The medallion’s curse was for things that turned your heart inside out, strangled it. Things that made you weep and cry out during nightmares. Curses were spat from the black mouths of evil, soulless hags hunchbacked under the weight of the hate they stoked with the memories of spurned love, a bitten hand, a perceived slight from a well-meaning person. Curses were evil promised on a pure soul to the tenth generation of the tenth generation. Curses were jealousy, envy, lust, greed all bound into one oath and hurled at the hapless victim by a she-devil with a face twisted with hate. Those who feared you hurled curses to hurt you. Who had feared my mother, and why? Or my how-many-times-removed grandmother? So, what was my greatest fear? That I would never again find Susanna’s love? Yes. That I would never again find a love like Susanna’s, one that bound a man and woman together in a holy bond of spiritual unity. If that were so, I always had the memory of her love to sustain me, to carry me through life. I had Aida’s love too, but in some way, it wasn’t the same. I fell asleep with the medallion gripped in my hand.