“Can the transports of first love be calmed, checked, turned to a cold suspicion of the future by grave quotation from a work on Political Economy? I ask – is it conceivable? Is it possible? Would it be right? With my feet on the very shores of the sea and about to embrace my blue-eyed dream, what could a good-natured warning as to spoiling one’s life mean to my youthful passion?”

Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record


There was nothing especially attractive about the island, other than the great mass of red rock that soaked up the sun from dawn to dusk. Its eastern flank it fell sharply over the harbor, while on the west it dropped less steeply until it formed an arid and stony valley. From a distance it seemed to stand tall, like a watchtower, like a natural lighthouse sheltering the low hills covered with parched, thorny brush.

Most of the surface and the shoreline was so rocky that after many years, when no corner of the Mediterranean was left unexplored, there was only a small loamy beach left to save its scant and shabby population from tourist ostracism. It was, however, hard to get to, because the only access was by a narrow trail that climbed up among some ruins from the south pier, descended again and sometimes disappeared, or fooled the hiker by taking him onto dead-end paths between half-demolished, roofless structures, with empty windows and rubble-covered floors, from whose hidden entrails there grew, occasionally, a lonely and tortured fig tree. Getting back on the trail, or on what was left of it by dint of disuse, one could see in the distance the clear water and the sea bottom covered with sea urchins, but before getting there it spread helplessly into a marshy terrain and a short beach of coarse, hot red sand overgrown with weeds and littered with waste.

Except for the harbor, it was the only outlet to the sea. The coast had nothing but craggy rocks dropping down to the sea, cliff walls where the waves beat restlessly even when the sea was calm, so vertical that at high noon the entire perimeter of the coastline was surrounded by a narrow strip of shade, a relief on the opaque blue that, overwhelmed by sunlight, struggled to keep a minimal zone of coolness against the rocky mass.

After the bombings of the first years of the Second World War stripped it of its boats and its goods, of its houses and its churches, the existence of that piece of land seemed to have no reason for being other than becoming dry and drier, until it lost its color.

What should have been the principal attraction when the island was finally invaded by the destructive hordes of tourists was the Blue Cave, whose glories, along with a distorted history, were sung again and again by guidebooks and leaflets. For anyone who didn’t know the arabesques of the coastline inch by inch, it would have been quite difficult to find it. Its entrance was almost at sea level, and when the current made the waves ripple, their height was enough to block the entrance with foam and crashing sounds. But for the few natives who were left there, no mistaking was possible. Even on days when the east wind angrily flailed the rocks, they knew how to use the undertow in order to slide the boat, rowing hard and carefully keeping their heads down almost at oarlock level, inside the cave with a precise shake. Once inside, the water became viscous, dark, immobile. The confines maintained a cold temperature, a compact cold that did not penetrate, that remained like a bandage on the surface of the skin and transformed the roaring of the sea outside into a muffled echo of a giant seashell, into a velvety, embracing sound that enclosed the space even more forcefully than the very rocks that made it up. The vault could be seen only with the help of a lantern, and the smooth, oozing and dripping walls, of an intense dark blue, made iridescent by the refraction of the beam of light that was concentrated in the monumental horizontal ridge of the entrance, had nothing to do with the harsh, rugged, reddish appearance of the island’s other face under the sun.

There was not much else on it: the little café with its three tattered tables under the mulberry trees with their decayed leaves in the corner of the little plaza that opened in the middle of the harbor, the row of recently built small houses on either side, their walls painted light blue like those flattened by the bombings, the ancient market with some marble columns and its sales counters still standing, the old power plant with its rudimentary generator on the north pier, which powered the few street lights on the banks, and, on the other side, beyond the beach with the urchin-covered sea bottom, a quarry that had last been used, years before, for the rebuilding of the Orthodox church whose outbuildings had spread out over the centuries, columns, cornices and domes clinging so tightly to the base of the main rock that they had become as one with it shortly before getting crushed by the bombs. A few years before, a mosque had been built on the cape that enclosed the harbor estuary on the south, and a small urban plaza had been developed on the very pier that, in winter, the northeast wind took care to sweep clean with its assaults.

This was all that could be seen from the sea, because the harbor, dominated by the red rock whose ridge still held some coppery remnants of the castle that gave the island its name, allowed only three or four jumbled rows of alleys, dark and untidy. And at noon, in the glare of the sun that in the course of its age-old history the rock had soaked up above the banks and the sheltered water of the bay, the heat was of the intensity of lead. And the barely two hundred people left in the town, wizened and stuck in time, slithered furtively in the shadows of its ruins or moved cautiously, oppressed by fear and confusion, as if they had crossed the threshold beyond which no return was possible, the way a string held taut an instant too long breaks in two or the way one caress too many becomes torment, or the way a love that goes beyond its bounds turns into hate, resentment and pain.


None of them had, however, heard about that island. Nor would they ever have known the lethargy of its burnt shores or the history – or the spell, who could know? – hidden by its ridgeless ruins, had it not been for an untimely engine breakdown. Leonardus might, at most, have run across it while consulting the chart, or perhaps on the way to Antalya they might have seen it from afar as yet another shadow whose profile would turn at dawn into a pink fortress hiding its secrets.

They had spent the previous night anchored in a cove enclosed by dark rocks, where they arrived at dusk after dodging a corridor of islets that were spread out at intervals in front of the coast, which they shielded from winds and currents. They dined once again under the awning, protected from the evening dew, and they let the hours go by, secure in the knowledge that nothing more was going to spoil that voyage that was coming to its end. Martín Ures had accepted the renewal of his contract with one of Leonardus’ production companies for another six years – three films and six new television series; Andrea seemed to have recovered the color and perhaps a shade of the joy that her big blue eyes had once held, and Chiqui, though much younger than all the others, swore, roaring with laughter, that she had never had so much fun. There had been no tensions, fights or accidents, the weather had been good, and they could go home in peace.

Tom, the Danish boy whom Leonardus had hired that summer, got up shortly after dawn. His long straight blond hair hung down over his forehead so that it covered his eyes, but without bothering to part it with his hand he stepped out of the aft cabin, leaving behind him the chaotic disorder of sheets, pillows, cassettes and T-shirts that had accompanied him since they started the trip ten days before, he slipped a loose knit sweater over his head, hopped into the dinghy that was attached to the sheet winch, loosened the knot and, holding on to the stern end with his hands held high he slid it over the gray crystal of the water to the rock where he had moored it the previous night.

Neither the gentle rocking of the Albatross after she was set free astern, nor, a little later, the metallic pounding of weighing anchor woke up either Martín Ures or Andrea, who was asleep at his side. But when the chain was stowed in the forefoot, like a serpent in a rocky cavity, and silence reigned again, he opened his eyes warily, fearful even of the milky light of dawn. He then sat up and looked around him to see what had awakened him. From the floor he picked up an empty whisky bottle that was rolling along with the swaying of the boat, he looked at his wife, and with the heaviness and slowness of a hangover he listened for a few minutes to her slow, steady breathing that sent forth a whistling sound like an animal’s lament. Her head was thrown back and her hand was extended so that it hit the ribbing in a gesture of involuntary carelessness, and the sheet that was wrapped around one of her legs had acquired, in her sleep, the texture of a canvas. Her half-tormented eyelids barely hid the blue pupils and gave her an air even more absent than her deep sleep. She had slept restlessly, because she lay across the bunk and he perhaps would have woken up when he felt himself pushed against the wood. The cabin was small and followed the shape of the hull, narrowing towards the bow. He was going to put his hand on her thigh but he stopped himself. It was hot, and with every breath Andrea repeated the same tinny sound.

“She snores,” Martín thought as he concentrated on the whistling, his vision dimmed and his mind confused. “She snores and she says that she doesn’t snore.”

He then fixed his look at the mist on the porthole, whose half-open curtain he drew back most carefully so as to avoid any noise or sudden movement. And, having lost all hope of going back to sleep, he stood up on the bed and put his head through the hatchway.

The engine was running and the Albatross, after some brief lurching, found her course and began to glide through the cool of dawn as it broke through the tame, shining waters not yet broken by the wind, while the engine’s explosions broke the silence, and the rustle of the foam fled the hull and disappeared in the wake. She dodged the islets and left behind the dark curtains of the mountain range, and when she finally reached the open sea the huge red sun appeared in the sky and flooded the air with light of such force that the vista was left hazy and colorless.

Tom, with headphones on his ears, held the Coke can with one hand and moved the rudder back and forth with the other in order to stay on course, his eyes – almost covered by his straight white-blond hair that sun and salt had turned into tow – fixed on a point of the horizon.


They had sailed almost constantly with the engine. For, though Leonardus boasted of being a man of the sea, whenever the time came to raise the sails he gave confusing commands, became bewildered and ended up by telling Tom to haul them down, as a precaution, until conditions were favorable, he said. He was a corpulent man whom neither the years nor the watered-down whisky that he drank at all hours had deprived of the agility that he must have had when he was a young man trying to make a living in the port of Sidon. He enjoyed talking about the days of his youth and, in order to give his words the greatest possible credibility, as he was doing it he took on a majestic air and the calm voice of an elder, all the while twirling the end of his thick black mustache with two fingers. He would dally on minute details about the humbleness of his dwelling, the number of siblings who slept in the same bed, the daily ruses for getting home with some coins, but except for having arrived in Naples stowed away between the timbers and bags of pistachios on a Cypriot freighter, no one ever found out how that scrawny boy who knew the most obscure corners of all the ports of the Levant had, twenty years later, become the international magnate – as he liked to call himself – with power and influence in all the channels of distribution and production of television programs, movies and videos – the world of the image, he would loudly repeat, distorting the words – whom Martín had met at Andrea’s house years before It was said that he was shrewd and skillful, capable of betraying his best friend without his finding out; that with his small, dark and penetrating eyes he could know the most recondite intentions of his adversaries and would get the upper hand in a negotiation with a quick and crafty maneuver. It was also said that he spoke an infinite number of languages perfectly and that he mangled and mixed them deliberately so that the others could speak without fear of being understood, that he kept women and children spread around the planet, that he owned private planes but used them only when he traveled alone, that movies and television were only covers to disguise his true condition as a businessman controlling hidden reaches of worldly power. He was known for always skirting danger, for knowing how to make himself indispensable by the strings he knew how to pull and for seeming, without ever succumbing to gossip or confidences, to be informed of any trifle that might happen in the most recondite area. And moreover, it was said, when things weren’t going well for him he was an expert at landing on his feet. He always hopped from one city to another, from one hotel to another, with a woman at his side, never the same one, and though it was known that he had a family that lived in Pergamon and that he visited from time to time, no one had ever seen them or knew how many members there were, and Martín was convinced that, whether or not it really existed, it served his interests because, as Leonardus himself liked to repeat, there is always a solution for everything, a perfect solution that one must know how to find or, if not found, to invent.

And he was so unaccustomed to receiving orders and advice that, when he would order Tom to execute a maneuver that failed, he could barely abide Tom’s silence, more admonitory than protests and quarrels. He tried to move under sail the first day, perhaps also the second, but after that, except a few calm times at dusk when the land breeze came in and the wind blew from aft, they had always sailed with the engine. On those rare occasions Tom yielded the helm to him, sat down astride the bowsprit and drank one Coke after another while he filled the silence of the sea with the music of his headphones.

“What’s important isn’t living, it’s sailing!” Leonardus would roar, carried away with euphoria when the sail was full and they moved at top speed. And he repeated, shouting “Sailing! Sailing!” He would then draw Chiqui to his side and conscientiously run the hand that was not on the helm over her body so that the pleasure of sailing would be complete.

At that last daybreak the Albatross plied the calm water, barely rippled by the breeze that was rising with the day. And so they had decided to sail until they got to Antalya in the late afternoon. The weather forecast was good and everything seemed to be in order. Once in port they would sleep until dawn, at five in the morning a car would pick them up and for a few hours would retrace over the continuous curves of the coast the route that they had followed by sea during those days, and then would drop them at the airport at ten o’clock for the flight to Istanbul. Leonardus would leave for London within the half-hour. The others expected to be in Barcelona by evening.

Martín looked at the sea without seeing it, half-closing his eyes so that he wouldn’t be blinded by the reflection, like that on crystal, that had left the scene with opaque light. To one side the open sea, to the other the curtain of mountains, behind which stretched out Cappadocia, still asleep. A few more hours and the voyage would be over.

“Another glorious day,” said Leonardus, mixing Spanish and English, as he stuck his head through the hatchway of the other aft cabin.

“Is she asleep?” asked Martín, pointing to the back of the cabin with his head.

“She’s asleep,” Leonardus affirmed with his head. “She’s always asleep. But she’s gorgeous, isn’t she?”

Yes, it was true, Chiqui was gorgeous. But he could not remember how many times he had been forced to acknowledge that since they met at the Barcelona airport.

“Where did you ever find her?” Andrea had asked him then at a moment when the girl had gone to the newsstand.

“Isn’t she gorgeous?” Leonardus asked without replying and looked ecstatically at how she made her way, haughty and distant, through the crowd of passengers and baggage. She had already approached the counter and with the same indifference, stroking the tuft of hair that was almost over her forehead and that gave her at least another four inches of height, she bought the packs of gum which she did not stop chewing during the entire trip.

It was true, she was gorgeous: her legs were long and tanned, and the skin of her neck and arms was peachy. Except for the tuft that she had tied up with a golden-flowered elastic band, her loose, curly blond hair came down to her waist, and everything about her had a little touch of vulgarity that made her even more attractive. Vulgarity in some disjointed, even heartless gesture, or in her unmodulated voice that maintained a monotonous, twangy high pitch, or perhaps those sayings that she constantly repeated to adorn the rudimentary vocabulary of her sentences. Or the way she laughed, coarsely, noisily and for no reason except to show off her scandalously white and perfectly arranged teeth.

Andrea had looked at her, smiling with a certain condescension that was perhaps directed more at Leonardus, but in her hazy glance there was, Martín realized instantly, an almost imperceptible shadow of peevishness. She would never have dared to wear black leather ankle boots, with no stockings, in the middle of summer, nor that bright-colored, seemingly bottomless bag that hung from her shoulder down to below her knees. Or perhaps her slight frown was hiding a concern, an anxiety over having to compete for more than a week, almost naked, with a woman, almost a girl, twenty years her junior.

Chiqui was always laughing, just because she felt like it or to fill a silence that she confused with boredom. And later on the plane, when he heard her from the back seat, Martín, his eyes shut so he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, observed in the back of his memory the crystalline, lilting, limpid, nuanced, radiant outbursts of Andrea’s laughter when he first met her, a call that he never failed to heed, a mark for finding her at big parties, at concert intermissions, at book readings, at art openings – it was the time of their secret love – fully prepared accidental meetings in public places of the city in which he had arrived a few months before, where he got around with invitations that she furnished him, she, an intelligent, confident and attractive child of that world of professionals and intellectuals that had formed and coalesced at the time that the postwar years were fading away.

“You come from the darkness,” she said to him then, always laughing.


Around nine o’clock Leonardus opened the door and settled down in the main cabin in order to arrange and put away the charts and maps. Martín again plopped down on the bunk and tried to sleep, but only managed to let himself be rocked to drowsiness by the undertow that was accentuated by the engine’s vibrations.

But he must have fallen asleep later, because around ten o’clock he was awakened by the silence. The engine had stopped and Leonardus, who had already put his papers in his briefcase and had lain down next to Chiqui, found himself also sitting on the bed without understanding what was happening or where he was.

“Have we arrived?” Martín heard him ask, shouting, and almost immediately open the door and walk across the main cabin. Martín got up and followed him.

The Albatross was rocking with no rhythm or steering, the helm was spinning by itself, and Tom, who had lifted the hatch cover and was tinkering in the depths of the engine, paid no attention to Leonardus’ questions. He finally came out and gestured to show that it was not starting, but in his matte-skin face there was hardly any sign of annoyance.

“We’ll have to get into port and find a mechanic,” he said. “Some transmission part is broken, I think.” When he understood what was happening, Leonardus, who was struggling to get his caftan on, began to swear in mysterious tongues. He then returned to the cabin, bumped into the ladder, and took out once more the charts that he had already folded until he found the one he was looking for, and without fully unfolding and opening it, put on the glasses that he had hanging on a chain around his neck and began to study it thoroughly.

“How far is it to the coast?” Martín asked him.

“How do I know? Five miles, twenty, with this reflection nobody knows,” he growled.

When after a while he went up on deck he no longer spoke anything but Italian, as if the bad mood that he was unable to hide prevented him from weaving the web of words and expressions that he knew so well.

“To Kastellorizo!” he ordered. “It’s less than fifteen miles away and I don’t want to turn back. It’s Greek territory, so take down the Turkish flag and put up the Greek one.” He sat on the bench of the bathtub, punched the wood hard with his fist, and, seeing the uselessness of his enraged gesture, howled at the blue sky: “Porco Dio!”

Without waiting for any new orders, Tom replaced the hatch cover and skipped over to untie the jib halyards. The sail unfurled, indecisively at first, until after two or three beats it took wind and, little by little, Tom, playing with the rudder, managed to steer the Albatross’s course again to the west, the sail swollen more than might have been expected in the still air of the morning. Only then did he begin to untie the mainsail halyards. The winch creaked and the sail began to climb up the mast till it reached the crosstrees. The boom shook a few times and then it too obeyed the rudder maneuvers. Tom let the wind fill the canvas of the mainsail while he held on to the foot of the jib; he then fastened the boom with the sheet, and once again silence reigned over the gentle rhythmic murmur of the bow as it made its way through the placid and silent waters of the morning. Lenoardus, sulking, paid no attention to Tom’s movements and for once gave no orders. After a while Chiqui appeared on deck, unkempt, half asleep and almost naked, and began to smear herself with creams while glancing alternately at Tom and Leonardus without too much interest. Andrea and Martín were still in their cabin.. In the immensity of t the calm sea the Albatross seemed not to advance; only once in a while did Tom’s tacking in order to catch the scarce wind, the beating of the sails and the noise of the halyards give the hint of some movement. They sailed towards the island until noon, keeping to port the huge mainland wall, with no trace of villages or buildings that the sultry mists hid in the invisible stream beds and slopes of the mountains of Lycia.


Martín didn’t like the sea. He had been aboard for over a week and he could barely hide that persistent feeling of anguish. If he stayed in the cabin reading he felt a weight in his stomach, a slight feeling of nausea that kept him from continuing; if he went up on deck he was overwhelmed by the sun and the constant hammering of the engine. Sometimes the wind was cold and even with the sun shining he had to go down to the cabin to get a sweater; most of the time, however, the heat was so stifling that he couldn’t breathe even with the breeze. And when the cool air came at dusk, wherever he might sit down there would always be under his feet a rope, a cable they called it, that was absolutely indispensable at that moment, or Tom would be leaping over his knees to get to the bow, or would move him aside in order to get to a drawer hidden away exactly at the point where his legs were. And that odor, vaguely impregnated with diesel fuel, or the humidity that thickened as night fell and moistened seats, papers, even skin and face. When they would anchor in a cove the mosquitoes would pick him apart even before dinner, and if they slept in port the noises and voices of the pier kept him from sleeping. And when, after a sleepless night, he would finally get some sleep in the wee hours of the morning, “life at sea,” as Leonardus would say while shouting on deck, demanded that he get up at dawn.

But above all he hated sailing, hours on end during which they moved toward a point that would come into view in slow motion, too long a shot to keep up interest. He restrained himself from asking how far they were, because he understood that one doesn’t ask such things at sea. And when he saw them undertake an operation or cast anchor, all he did was stumble around on deck without knowing what was expected of him, because he did not understand the half-Italian, half-English seaman’s lingo in which Tom and Leonardus communicated, nor did he realize that they had arrived at their destination, because he didn’t know what the destination was, or the program, or the very point of sailing. Most of the time he lay face up on the bunk of his cabin, hoping to get to land, where nonetheless that annoying swaying sensation – that he couldn’t shake even while sleeping – didn’t go away for at least half an hour after stepping on the pier, and hearing Leonardus shouting, while standing in the bow with his whisky glass raised against the sky, “Who loves the sea loves the routine of the sea!” Where did this mythologizing of the sea, of sea life, of sailing, come from? What was the difference between this routine and boredom? thought Martín, perhaps because he never managed to adapt his thinking to the rhythm and counter-rhythm of sea, nor had he ever found that different tempo at which all the others seemed to be living. At times, when they were sailing with the sun in front of them, he watched them from the bench by the pool where he found shelter in the errant shade of the sail. Chiqui, ever inert, would stretch only to daub more ointment on herself; she was so inert and flattened against the floor that her naked body followed the boat’s movements without ever separating from the deck. Leonardus, a cigarette constantly in his mouth, went up and down the ladders to check the compass and the navigation charts or to fiddle with the radio to hear the weather forecast, and as he passed her he would slap her naked thighs, always provoking the same reaction: “Cut it out, you oaf!”

Someone who was born beside the sea, who – even without seeing it – relies on the blue edge of the horizon and is accustomed to the moist, salty breeze that comes in at dusk, configures his world between limits from which the landscape is flattened and reaches out to infinity. And when he wanders inland he searches, behind every hill, the blue line that will reorient him so that he will not feel lost among mountains and plains, among streets and squares, so that he will know where he is and find the way out. But Martín didn’t get to know the sea until well past adolescence and never stopped viewing it as a strange, mysterious and menacing element.

Andrea, on the other hand, though she was no longer able to leap onto the pier by herself and had to be given a hand in order to cross the gangway, even with the attacks of vertigo that had begun a few years before, with the obvious weakness in her face and in her transparent and somewhat flaccid arms, lived on board without experiencing the least discomfort and moved around the boat with complete normality. When they sailed under a bright sun, with her straw hat crammed on her head down to her eyelashes in order to protect her skin, she would sit in the bow with an arm around the mast and, inert as a figurehead, would fix her stare at a distant point for a long time until she suddenly seemed to discover that Martín was on deck. She would then get up and, holding on tightly to the stays, walk from bow to stern to meet him. Martín was once again opening his book and trying to hide that mixture of tedium and seasickness that had not left him since the start of the voyage. He was sure that neither Leonardus nor, all the less so, Chiqui had noticed it, but he knew that Andrea had guessed it, though if she had hinted at it to him he would never have acknowledged it.

She had indeed been born beside the sea and from childhood her father had taught her how to move around boats’ decks in fair weather or foul. On the first day of the voyage, in Marmaris, when Martín and Chiqui were drinking lemonade on the terrace of the harbor bar while waiting for Leonardus and Tom to return from the errands needed for setting sail, she had found time to buy some line, hooks, feathers and lead weights and every day at dusk she would sit astern behind the rudder and cast the troll that she had concocted herself. She would fix her gaze at a distant point of the sea and concentrate on the tension of the line against the finger which would transmit to her, from the depths of the sea, the movement of the hook hidden by the feather, and when she felt it she would give it a pull and then rhythmically take the line in so that it would form an almost perfectly piled-up, sinuous tangle of fibers, without tiring, pausing or accelerating the cadence of the intake. And when the end came, she would grab the fish and force it with one hand to open its mouth so that, with a deft stroke of the other hand, she could remove the hook without hurting the fish and, in the face of Chiqui’s screams of horror and disgust, throw it into the bucket. Then, without bothering to contemplate it, she would cast the troll again and at the same time untangle the web that had gathered on the floor. When they would anchor in a cove, if there was still daylight, as soon as she felt that the anchor was no longer clawing at the sea bed and saw Tom letting out the chain, even before he jumped into the dinghy in order to tie the stern rope to a rock or to a tree trunk that the beatings of the sea had left white and naked, she would settle down in the bow with the creel and, bent over the railing, her glasses sliding down on her nose, she would hold on to some rigging with one hand and cast the line with the other. The western sun would swoop down, as though bypassing the sea, on the rocks of the coast, and the reflectionless waters took on a chiaroscuro transparency that kept her attention on the agitation of the fish in the depths without noticing the humidity that was gradually dampening the deck and curling her dark hair even more. Nothing, not even Martín’s voice, could distract her at such a time. And she didn’t pull in the line until the sun, as it hid away, took away with it the occult transparency of the water. And, in the last light that remained suspended on the horizon, she cleaned the knives, stuck the hooks into corks, put them in the creel to have them ready the next day at the same time, took the bucket with the fish to the kitchen as she had probably done in all the summer evenings of her childhood – and was still doing it so naturally that none would have guessed that she had gone for at least eight years without fishing or sailing or even seeing the sea except from the distance of her hillside apartment in the city – and with no further delay she joined the others under the awning and poured herself her first glass of whisky.


Martín had first met her by the sea, on the small bay opposite her house on the coast. It was less than a year before that he had finished his military service, and, instead of returning to Sigüenza where his family lived, thanks to a comrade from his battalion who had recommended him to his uncle, he got a job as second cameraman in the small film and television production company that the uncle had in Barcelona. That day was a Saturday and, after some takes in the port that were left over from the previous day, Federico, the producer, asked him to go with him to a publisher’s house in Cadaqués, a seaside town north of the city. As he told him, this was a rich man who was interested in investing a considerable sum in the television reportage series that they had begun that spring. Martín accompanied him because he felt he had to, nor did he have much to do in the humid dog days of the empty city. They drove for more than four hours over a road that got steeper and narrower as they progressed. In the final curves, when they were already descending between hills covered with olive trees under a blasting sun, Martín, who had barely had any breakfast, closed his eyes so as not to feel worse and didn’t even notice that they were approaching the sea, which stretched out, blue and motionless like a dark mirror, to the horizon. When they parked the car it was after two, and they entered the house from a street running parallel to the sea. Sebastián Corella, who was waiting for them, made them cross to the terrace.

It was a luminous July day, and though they were shielded by the shade of the awning, the reflection of the sun blinded them for an instant. At their feet a calm sea was breaking up in waves over the black stones of the small bay enclosed on both sides by rocks with the shine of mica under the iridescent sparkle of the sun, so gentle that the transparent foam barely transmitted a slight murmur. Someone was swimming to shore, breaking the water rhythmically, leaving behind a wake that grew with each sharp stroke of the arm, like the shape of a flock of seagulls in the October sky.

“It’s Andrea, my daughter,” said Sebastián Corella as he put ice in the glasses he had just poured. Martín took his and leaned on the railing in order to follow the cadence of the dark spot that, upon reaching the beach, stopped without taking its head out of the water, took a pirouette-like dive and in one fell swoop got out of the water, making it splash around her like a fountain. She was only a few meters away; minuscule drops remained suspended on her body, glinting in the sun before sliding down the matte of her dark skin, and the hair that she threw back with a precise movement – something Martín was never to forget, any more than that half-open-eyed, opaque, lost, sweet and vaguely unfocussed glance of the near-sighted – was still trailed by a trickle of water. Once she had adapted to the light she opened her eyes to their full width and showed her pale blue pupils, to which the reflection of the water lent a slightly violet tinge. Or perhaps her eyes were like those of a chameleon, because not once in all the days and nights that he spent beside her that summer, looking at her over the heads of the drinkers or among the other men and women on the beach who for him were never anything more than the vague figures in a summer show, or in the passion – or the distance – with which the subsequent years followed one another, was he able to guess what tinge the blue of her glance would take on when she would stop focusing on an object and wrinkling her eyelids, and she would let come into the open the brightness of her huge pupils, which nonetheless carried inside it the charge of a certain enigmatic expression, the shadow of some reserve that he would never be capable of fully unveiling.

Without dropping the hand that kept back the mop of her wet hair, she lifted her head and waved to them with the other hand. Martín had never seen a creature more radiant, a woman more beautiful, a pair of eyes more blue. She slid her feet through the water and walked on the hot, black, jagged stones as though she were beginning a dance step that she already knew; then she bent down to pick up the towel she had left on a rail, not with the intention of drying herself but simply to put an end to her swim, or perhaps only to crown the splendor of her figure, because she threw it over her shoulder – as she had done with her hair – and disappeared under the terrace.

He did not see her again until half an hour later. The door in the back of the room was open, and he could see the stairs from where he was. First one foot appeared, then the other, and finally the whole body. She was walking down slowly, buckling her watch strap. Her hair was still wet but it was looser and more ruffled; she was dressed in white and wore sunglasses. Just then her father had entered the living room, and began looking, among the magazines piled on the table, for the last review of a film in whose production he had been involved. She passed beside him, gave him a haphazard kiss on the cheek, and went out on to the terrace while still fiddling with the watch strap.

“My name is Andrea,” she said, and offered her hand first to Federico, then to Martín. She turned around to pour herself a glass, and when her father approached Federico with the newspaper, she turned her head, lowered her eyeglasses down to the point of her nose, and over them glanced at Martín, fleetingly smiled at him with curiosity and a certain mocking air, and before he could respond and return her smile, she had already pushed the black frame of her glasses back up and had turned around again.

Martín acknowledged later that he had blundered, he acknowledged it to himself because he would not have been brave enough to tell any one how that simple glance had affected him, to the point that he hardly paid any attention to the entrance of Andrea’s mother, or to that tall, dark-complexioned man who came with her and stayed for lunch with them, or to his name; nor – later – to the perfect arrangement and the artful design of the silverware, the dishes and the glasses, nor to the chilled cream of zucchini and the baked fish and the various desserts that were served, all of which would have dazzled him if that woman had not been seated at the table, and next to him to boot. He could hear nothing except what she was saying, nor pay attention to any sound other than her voice, but without noticing the content of her talk, as if her words were losing their meaning, one after another, as she pronounced them and all that was left of them was the intonation, the tone, the inflection, the melody, the rhythm, and the gestures and smiles that accompanied them; or her way of staying attentive to the comments of whoever had interrupted her, with her head forward, her mouth ajar and the silverware immobile in her hands, ready to take up the thread of her own argument as soon as she could. And though he tried to make his self-absorption not too obvious and made huge efforts – unsuccessfully – to understand what was being talked about, in the excitement and the loneliness of the following week he could hardly recall anything from that lunch other than Andrea’s huge eyes barely glimpsed behind the dark glass, the peculiar way in which she continually took off and put on her glasses, and that wordless song of her lark-like voice.

Then, when after lunch he saw her go out on the terrace by herself, he too got up and followed her.

At that moment a boat’s engine was reverberating in the torpor of the afternoon. The sun, which had begun to hide behind the house, had left the terrace and the little black-stone beach in the shade, and in that light the golden tone of her skin had darkened, as if she too had remained in the penumbra. She stood with her back to the sea, a cup of coffee in her hand and a lost gaze; she had lifted one knee and bent the leg back behind her, with the other leg now bearing the full weight of her body, which, due to the displacement to which the posture had forced her and with the face now denuded of the animation of speech, had acquired in indolent, somewhat languid aspect.

She did not move when he came to her side; she did not even lift her elbows from the railing and she kept stirring the coffee with the spoon.

“What do you do?” she asked without looking at him.

“I work in film. And you?”

“I’m a journalist.” And she drank her coffee with slow sips.

“Where are you from?” she asked him after a while.

“I’m from Sigüenza, or rather from Ures, a village near Sigüenza. Why?”

“For no reason, just out of curiosity.” She now looked at him, half-closing her eyelids, and smiled.

Martín did not know what else to say. Without knowing why, he wanted, for once, to get out of his tongue-tiedness, to overcome his shyness and to talk, to tell her that he had been born in Ures, in Guadalajara province, in the center of Spain. That his real name was Martín González Ures, but that he had always been known as Martín Ures, for his mother’s family name. That even his father, the teacher who had come from Sigüenza and had married miller Ures’ daughter, was called Señor Ures. That, from the time they were little, he and siblings bore the name of the village as if they were descendants of the founders though they knew quite well – because their father told the story at school year after year – the village had been originally a convent, built in the fifteenth or sixteenth century for a congregation of Basque nuns and still there, though dilapidated and almost in ruins. That it was called Ures because it was the only place around that had ur (‘water’ in Basque). that the river that brought the water down from the Pozancos mountains ran right under the window of his room in the basement of the mill and that at night, before falling asleep, as he was shivering between the blankets because the walls were oozing moisture, he would let himself be lulled by the gentle noise of the water, and that by day he would lean out to watch the river pass by, rapt in the successive variations and images, just as, years later, he would be fascinated by watching television, or, later still, time and again by the same sequence of a film. That he didn’t remember and couldn’t say how the water made the mill grind the wheat, because by the time he was born it was no longer working; that in the village square there was a pipe sticking out of a cement basin, which they called the fountain, where every evening men and women met under the shade of a gigantic linden tree; that the boys who went into the military service didn’t come back and the village was growing empty, until even the school was almost deserted, and that this was why they left the mill house and the village and the whole family moved to Sigüenza, where his father had been transferred. He would have liked to tell her how, in the darkness of that new and noisy apartment in Sigüenza, he had missed the kids of the Ures school and the creaking of the rusty locks of the mill when the door was shut at night, and the poplar grove on the edge of the road that extended endlessly to the tableland, a landscape with no horizon other than the vague snow line, barely distinguishable from the sky in winter or the slopes of wheat steeled by the infrequent gusts of torrid air in summer, and the tortured fig trees and the crabs in the river, and the mice that, over the sound of the river, gnawed at the beams of the attic. And he would have explained to her the emotion with which he went every week to see the two films that were shown in the rectory hall and how one evening, when he was barely twelve, not even understanding what matter the stories he was seeing were made of, he swore that he, Martín Ures, would also one day make films, and how from then on he looked down on the other kids, convinced that by some mysterious but irresistible force he had been chosen among them for a calling far more important than climbing trees in order to rob nests or playing hide-and-seek in the hollows of the mountain. That all that he had done since that revelation had been inspired by that same profound conviction that overcame him that evening in Ures, and that nonetheless at that moment the only thing about his life’s story that tempted him was the unlikely eventuality that some time he could relate it to her and she would sit beside him and never move again.

But he said nothing and, facing her blue-eyed gaze, he limited himself to shrugging his shoulders as if to signify that no one chooses the place of his birth.

Suddenly Andrea straightened up, felt her pockets and asked, “Where are my glasses?”, and left without waiting for an answer. Martín tried to follow her with his eyes but it was difficult. A group of people had entered the room and she appeared, seated in a sofa and searching in the cracks between the cushions, or disappeared, hidden by a face or a shadow. Until, in the same way that those strange characters had entered, they all left and the room remained silent and almost in the penumbra, as if, with their laughter and their movement, they had taken away the light and with it Andrea.

Only Sebastián and Federico were left, each one in the corner of a sofa, checking papers and numbers, strangers to the comings and goings of the crowd. On the table they had piled up the files that Federico was pulling out of his briefcase, the ashtray was full of butts and the cognac bottle’s level signaled the passage of time. Martín sat down with them.

At first he dared not decline the glass that Sebastián poured him and then, as the hours passed, with that rhythm that is different from the one that short, steady drinking imposes on us, he was left outside their conversation, to which he listened with the enjoyment of someone who nods off to sleep with the background voices of the television, and he let himself become enveloped in the mist of well-being and weightlessness that the day was bringing on him.

Underneath the voices, the slight waves were breaking, one after another, on the dark stones that he had seen on the beach, a church clock struck eight, and steps were heard from somewhere in the house; every now and then the murmur of the conversation was broken by the sound of a motor of a boat that was approaching or going away, or the lost barking of a dog, a distant voice, sounds separate from one another, with precise limits, like echoes that burst forth in the summer in the rosy twilight of the sea.

He was so unaccustomed to drinking that, when they got up after picking up all the papers and Sebastián led them to the upper story on the same stairway on which Andrea had come down some hours before and left them each in his own room – “this way you can rest a little before dinner,” he said – he grabbed the handrail to keep his balance, and once in the room, he let himself drop onto one of the two beds without undoing the white bedspread and without looking out the window, which looked over the terrace and the sea and from which, following the crown of lights along the seashore that had just been turned on he would have been able to check the outline of the bay with the same precision as on the famed map that he had discovered in the foyer of the house that same morning, already so far away. And when Federico came to pick him up for dinner he rose with a leap, not knowing what time it was or where he was or why his head felt so heavy and his mouth had the same bitter taste as his childhood awakenings with the flu. He took a long shower with the hope that the cold water would clean his mind as well. And then, from the top of the stairs, he focused sharply on the hall and the terrace, once again full of people, and though he had to concentrate hard and scan the setting more than once because his mind was still confused by the afternoon’s cognac and remote from the sleep that had obstinately stuck to his eyelids, he didn’t find Andrea anywhere. She did not have dinner at home with them when the others had already left again, nor did he see her later in the beach bar to which he went with Federico, Sebastián, Leonardus – the sallow-complexioned man who had appeared at lunch time – and Camila, Andrea’s mother, a tall and overly thin woman, who did nothing but put one cigarette after another in her mouth without bothering to light it, confident that one of the men around her, if not all of them, would bring the flame of his lighter to the end of her cigarette with such precision that it would hit the mark without her even having to move her body. Martín watched her, entranced, wondering where that confidence of hers had come from, while he was once again drinking cognac, which, after the aperitif and the wine of the dinner, and contrary to what he had expected, had actually revived him. Nevertheless he was plagued with heartburn and nausea during the night, or what was left of it, because Sebastián, just as he had told them when he left them at the doors of their rooms, came to call for them at dawn in order to go out fishing and then spend the morning at sea. He was hardly aware of when and how he got dressed, or at what moment he went down the stairs and out to the street. He vaguely remembered the dark shoreline, going towards the pier, lit only by some lights that were too high and too metallic to keep the three of them from looking, under these lights, like phantasmagoric creatures.

Almost asleep, he had boarded the Manuela, a green-painted wooden boat that swayed under his footsteps, made even more unstable by the unpleasantness of the dawn still stuck to his body, bewildered by the beats of his own feet on the wooden planks and by the slight beatings of the sea, in the rocking that carried him to the edge of dizziness and nausea. The boat left the pier. Sebastián was at the helm and Federico by his side. Neither of the two spoke now. It was still night but over the sea’s horizon a vague hint of light, the tremor of a gust of air, foreshadowed the daybreak. He remained motionless, seated at the place that had been assigned to him on the pool bench, his hands in the pockets of the overcoat that Sebastián had lent him, the collar turned up. As they moved along, the coolness that had caught him unawares when he left the house turned into cold and he stoically faced the air that swept over his face and moved through the openings in his clothing to torment his straggling body that had not yet lost the warmth of the bed. The wood was reverberating in his head, tortured by the confusion of the series of hangovers that were forming with the swaying motion, and his thighs quaked with the rhythm of the motor that was breaking the stillness of the night. moved slowly away from the sleeping town and the crown of lights became a continuous line, a low-speed photograph that broke the darkness and marked the limits of the sea: on the west the dark profile of the hills and the church, and on the east the uncertain light of daybreak. As they came out to the open sea there appeared the profile of an island in the imprecision of the first light, and soon thereafter the speed diminished and the snore of the motor calmed down, as they began to move around the island. He was not conscious of all the movements that then began, of the baskets being moved from the cabin to the deck, of the preparations for fishing or of the fishing itself, and neither of the other two seemed to care, just as the preceding day no one had cared if he wanted to stay or go, if he wanted to drink, eat or sleep. And he, who just barely held back his seasickness and could scarcely open his sleepy and hung-over eyes, when, in the course of one of Sebastián’s comings and goings to the cabin, he noticed the two bunks, convinced that now they would also not pay attention to him or if they did they wouldn’t disapprove, slipped inside and plopped onto one of them, let himself be rocked by the strokes of the motor muffled by the closed door, and fell deeply asleep.

When he awoke he was stifled by heat and the brilliant, dry and knife-sharp light hurt his eyes. They were getting into a cove and though the speed was now almost completely cut down, the Manuela was stopped short by crashing against the rocks, and Martín, who had come out on deck with the overcoat still on him, blinded by the light he lost his balance and bumped into Federico, who was holding the helm lever while Sebastián was dropping the anchor rope.

“Lazybones, all you do is sleep,” Federico, who just barely managed to keep his balance, shouted laughing. In the confusion of his fall Martín wondered what he was doing in that unfriendly place, at this impossible hour and in this lamentable state.

He collapsed on the beach, the overcoat off, his head covered with the undershirt that he had taken off and stoically putting up with the stones that served as his mattress, while he watched how they managed to make a fire. He saw them empty a bottle of water into a pot, clean the fish in the bucket and pour themselves some wine – which made him close his eyes in disgust – into crystal glasses. The sun had taken over the sky. Not a cloud, not a breath of air, not a single tree in that inhospitable cove, made of stones whose sharp edges he could not attenuate even with the several folds of the towel that Sebastián had thrown to him.

Later he had a little rice soup, a hot fish broth that calmed his stomach, and in a fit of courage he even dared to jump into the sea once he heard them go back to the previous day’s conversation, with the water at their waist as if they didn’t dare go further, or as if, captivated by their own words, they had set aside their first purpose. He walked a few steps but he did not plunge; instead he crouched in the water until it came up to his neck, he splashed his eyes and face, and came out as if shrunk in order to hide the pain that the sharp stones inflicted on the soles of his feet. Then, his skin still cold, he lit his first cigarette of the day, plopped again with the undershirt on his face, let himself be carried away by the drowsiness that had entered him after the hot broth or perhaps the cold water, and followed from afar the voices, the sound of the water, the footsteps on the stones and finally the motor again. Only then did he stand up, with a certain energy, sure that the time of return had come, that now he could again see Andrea who was probably swimming toward the house as she had yesterday and that if they hurried they might still have time to sit on the terrace before she emerged from the water like a dolphin and would look at him again with those blue eyes whose smile had persisted through the depths of his hangover.

Sebastián put up a green canvas awning and, despite the sun’s oppression and the lacerating glare of the sea, the breeze and the shade sweetened the torrid noonday heat. They sailed homeward for more than half an hour, but, as they rounded the cape in order to enter the inlet, they did not steer for the small pier of the house but, following the voices coming from another boat anchored in the bay, they stopped and tied up to it, and Federico and Sebastián jumped across, leaving him alone aboard the Manuela.

For over an hour he devoted himself to gazing melancholically toward the coast and to looking, through the iridescent tremor of the air, for Andrea’s house. He was already going to get up and rejoin Sebastián and Federico when he noticed, still far off, a black spot that, as on the previous day but in the opposite direction, was swimming toward them in a line so straight, with such a steady rhythm, and leaving such a perfect wake in the calm of the huge bay under the sun, that he quickly understood that the miracle was about to happen again.

Someone called him from the other boat, but he didn’t respond and remained watchful, and when the arm strokes were almost touching the Manuela’s hull he leaned over the gunwale. At that moment Andrea was getting her head out of the water and lifted one hand that she put beside his. She breathed hard, as if she now needed the air that she had used up in that mile, half-closed her eyelids and looked at him through her lashes, still full of tiny drops.

“Hi,” she said, and began to climb up the rope ladder. But before jumping onto the deck she stopped and, as if responding to a question that Martín would never have dared formulate, she slid her index finger over his hand in a caress without nuances or surprises, so that the meaning would be borne only by the words she was about to say, and this time, with her eyes fully open and her pupils colored turquoise, she said:

“My eyesight is good when I have my glasses on,” and she pointed at the far-off terrace, “and besides” – she stopped for a moment – “I’m very impatient.” And, leaving him alone with the words, she jumped onto the deck and went into the hatchway to look for a towel. Then, barely giving him another look, she joined the others on the other boat.


It must have been quite late already when almost all of them threw themselves into the water, except for him, who remained seated on the pool bench. Andrea had dived with them and he did not see her get out until she appeared at the bow of the other boat, behind his back. “Come into the water,” she shouted, addressing him for the first time since then. And she plunged again, swam a few meters and called him again, but he did not move. Though he had no greater wish than to respond to this new call and jump into the sea, he was still immobilized by anxiety, complementing a dream that had tormented him since childhood, but this time, instead of him being the one who was moving through muddy clay trying fruitlessly to reach a goal that he desired but never got to know, his feet were paralyzed on the ground and she was the one moving away. Because, as much as that woman attracted him, he felt incapable of jumping into the water while barely knowing how to swim. She moved away toward the rocks and he lost her from sight.

A couple of hours later, in the car, while hearing Federico’s endless speech about the projects with Sebastián, almost concluded in the course of laborious conversations that had lasted more than twenty-four hours, and while looking at the town, growing ever smaller after every bend in the road, he was determined to go back the following weekend and every free day that he would have until the day he died.

But neither that hot, windless summer, such as the town’s old folks had not seen since their childhood, when the sea did not swell up on a single day and the east wind did not come in mid-September, when an overcoat was already needed outside because it was cold; nor the quiet evenings, seated at the beach bar while Andrea’s voice and laughter mixed with splashing of the waves as the blue background of her stories, managed to dislodge from Martín’s mind the conviction that the sea was a foreign, threatening element, too present at all hours, too obvious. Perhaps, as he told her several weeks later as he was saying good-night, when she already knew the tale that he had not ventured to tell her the first day and many other tales that he remembered as he talked to her, he was a landlubber who knew no immensity other than that of the upland plains and no waves other than those made by the wind on the wheatfields.


And yet it was that same Martín who now, almost ten years later, had accepted for the first time the invitation that Leonardus extended every summer. Andrea had agreed at first, but when she found out that one Leonardus’ girls, whom she did not even now, was included in the cruise, she lost interest, as if that project, which Martín had accepted only for her sake, had nothing to do with her, though, truth be told, she had not put up any resistance either.

“You’ll get your color back,” he told her in the evening when he gave her the dates and came with the plane tickets. And he added cautiously: “We’ve hardly been on the sea in the last few years.” She did not break the silence into which she had sunk for days, and, as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye in order to find out exactly at what point they stood, he could not find the words that would get her down from her vexation. Only after a while he insisted:

“With the air and the sun you’ll look and feel better, you’ll see,” he said timidly, for he expected her any moment now to leave her passivity and get angry, and he was sure that, without letting him finish, she would roar, like other times, “It isn’t air and sun I need, only that you don’t lie to me.” But that evening she remained silent, hardly varying the somewhat washed-out expression of her blue eyes, of a blue so intense in the light of dusk on that huge terrace above the city that it accentuated even more the ivory paleness of her Madonna’s face.

“Weren’t you going out?” she said at last in a neutral tone, looking down on her motionless hands which held her glasses on her knees. She looked frail and distant and the penumbra accentuated the dark shadows under her eyes.

“I’m not going out,” he said and approached the armchair. He crouched down in front of her until their faces were at the same height, and with his finger he forced her chin up.

“Look at me, Andrea. You haven’t talked for days. I’ve asked you to forgive me. What else can I do? You know that I don’t love anyone but you, that I don’t know how to live without you, that I don’t want to live without you, that my life begins and ends with you.”

He spoke haltingly, in a monotone, as though reciting a rosary of strange and magical words and caring only about the results.

She let him speak and, with hardly any reaction, looked away, half-closed her eyelids, and turned her head, which he was keeping up the tip of his index finger, away.

“Yes,” she said after a while, “I know that.”

That evening they dined in silence, and when she stood up in order to go to the room that she had been occupying alone for more than two weeks, he repeated:

“You’ll see how the air and the sun will bring your good color back. Like back then,” he added clumsily.

But they had been at sea, and in full sun, for more than a week, and Andrea’s skin had barely acquired a pale pink tone. True, she almost always wore her hat down to her glasses and she seldom removed her T-shirt, because already on the first day she had burned her nose, knees and back, and that night, when she saw her face in the mirror hanging from a frame, horrified by the harsh red color that she could not make go away even with creams, she declared melancholically that she would never get a tan again. Martín heard the veiled rebuke in her voice but did not answer. For the first time in several weeks she would be able to shut herself up in her room and though she kept distant he knew that she was just as upset as he was. And when he saw her lie down face down and remain motionless with her eyes shut, wearily repeating “I’ll never get a tan again, I’ll never get a tan again,” he understood that the monotonous singsong was not due to the three whiskies she had drunk before dinner or the two more that she had poured herself after, but that the moment had come when in the artifice of her drunkenness there appeared a narrow opening that would allow a single instant of resignation. Because of this, moved, he sat down silently beside her, paying almost no attention to the syncopated rhythm that that strange one-note melody was taking on, he confined himself to putting oil on her back, concentrated on the need to advance to his own goal and to the delight of recognizing every hollow, every crack, every relief; and gently he let his hand glide toward the curve of the glowing shoulders and the narrow grooves on either side of her spine, and he moved up again until he reached the hardened muscles of the neck and the nape, stopping over at the beginning of the hairline and every so often adding oil, which the hot skin had absorbed, and he bent down to kiss the white nape and the closed eyelid that her posture left in sight only when he noticed that she had not been singing for a while and, in a gesture of forced distraction, as if she had changed the position of the hand that was resting on the pillow for no apparent reason, she had put it on his knee. Then he lay down beside her and, without ceasing to trace the outlines of her shoulder blades with his oiled hand and then to his fingers in her sides, whiter than her shoulders, shaded zones where the sun had not left its imprint, with the other hand he pressed the switch, so that the only light was the lukewarm light of the crosshead entering through the hatchway and giving her skin the moonlike quality of a desert.

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