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Moonrise

James Waltz

“Tens una casa,” Emma announced to her laptop as she held it in front of her. You have a home. “Tens una casa i la teva casa és… està?.. al meu… escriptor?” With a sigh, she set the laptop back down on the kitchen table and reached for her phone to use her translator app.

“Okay, I’ve got it now.” She picked up her laptop again and stared into it without a trace of irony. “Tens una casa i la teva casa és el meu escriptori,” she declared to it and carried it off to the small IKEA desk in her room.

Emma didn’t always talk to her possessions like this. Growing up, she would hardly say a word as she did the requisite amount of tidying to keep her parents off her back. Once she left her family home in a small town in Denmark and into her own apartment in Copenhagen, she developed an even more relaxed attitude toward cleaning up.

Her approach was one of necessity. When company was coming over, she would throw out what she could and shove the rest of her stuff into drawers and closets. If she couldn’t find something important among the debris of her daily life, she would do some rudimentary reorganizing. She only found the inspiration to do a deep clean when so much clutter had accumulated it could no longer be ignored without posing a threat to her health and safety.

This system, imperfect as it may have been, served her well when she lived alone. But then she moved to Barcelona and in with a roommate. Emma quickly learned that she would have to get more organized if she didn’t want to cause problems. In their first weeks living together, her roommate explained in exasperated tones that every item has a home, and it must go to its home when it is not being used. Emma liked this concept and decided to commit to it.

Using it to practice Catalan was her own idea.

As Emma was assigning a home to her purse, she was startled by an insect-like buzz. She only felt slightly relieved at the realization it was just the rattle of her phone vibrating on the table. Not a short pulse, but several long dashes, like her phone was shaking out o-o-o in Morse Code. She knew this could only mean one of two things; it was either a scam call or Vincent. She peeked at the phone, which was slowly turning and crawling as it rattled, face up on the table. Vincent.

Why Vincent always called instead of texting was a mystery Emma gave up on trying to solve. He was a few years older than her, but still plenty young enough to have learned how to use texts fluently. She previously thought it might be an American thing, but the other Americans she knew all assured her it wasn’t. Still, she could use a distraction and she was expecting an update from him, so she answered.

“Hey, how are you?”

“All is well in the world,” Vincent answered with his characteristic lilt. “There’s a full moon tonight, so I’m going to the beach to watch it rise. Wanna join me?”

“I don’t know…I’ve got work tomorrow.”

“We won’t stay out too late! We’ll just relax a bit and watch the moon rise over the sea. Isn’t hanging out by the beach part of the reason you came out here in the first place?”

“Hmmmmm…okay, sure, why not? The beach at Barceloneta?”

“Nah, it’s way too crowded these days. Let’s go to Badalona instead.”

“Sounds good. How’d the interview go by the way?”

“Bring the beach blanket too!” Vincent continued, not hearing or, more likely, ignoring her question. “I won’t have a chance to grab mine. I’ll pick some beers up for us, though. Moritz good?”

“Sounds great. I’ll need a few minutes to get ready, then I’ll head that way.”

“Perfect. I’ll share my location so you can find me. Ciao!”

Emma looked back at her purse.

“I guess you’re not going home just yet.”

***

The sun was still far from setting when Emma left to meet Vincent, but her narrow street was already dark with shadows from buildings that seemed to lean over her. The Mediterranean sun was half the reason she decided to take a hefty pay cut at her job and move to Barcelona.

When she chose her apartment in the Ciutat Vella for its stunning medieval architecture and central location, she didn’t realize how much of that sought-after sunlight it would block out.

She had come to accept the darkness in the streets, but the stony shadows still gave her a chill.

She wound her way through the byzantine streets of Raval where she couldn’t go a block without someone blithely blocking or bumping into her. She used to sincerely apologize when someone bumped her, which with time turned into a passive-aggressive apology. Now she just seethed and fantasized about pushing back twice as hard. For her, the worst part was that no one seemed to notice or care. For all the locals, bumping into each other was perfectly normal, not the least bit noteworthy. Try as she might, she couldn’t get used to it.

Of course, there were less crowded streets she could cut through. Some of them would even cut down the distance she had to walk. But half of those streets were perennially haunted by conspiring groups of men (boys, really) who would gawk and smirk as she walked by, whispering among themselves, some even catcalling, “Ey, guapa!” No, she preferred the busy streets, even if it meant getting bumped every second step.

As she turned a corner, the slice of sky carved out overhead lined up perfectly with the sun. The warmth poured over her; it was a sort of warmth that somehow had weight but also lifted her up. The intense light reflected off of the street turning all the figures in front of her into silhouettes floating in a pool of radiance. She squinted her eyes and soaked up her surroundings. She could feel the corners of her mouth turn up all of their own accord.

She reached Ronda de Sant Antoni, a large pedestrian boulevard that separated the medieval part of town from the more upscale Eixample with its grid-like blocks of modernista architecture. Much of the boulevard was blocked off to traffic, turning it into a kind of paved-over park. Children were playing soccer, old men were sitting quietly on benches, and groups of friends were sitting at outdoor tables, drinking vermouth and having animated conversations. Emma took in the atmosphere and a deep breath, then hurried down the steps to the metro, scanned her ticket, and hopped on the purple line.

 

 

***

 

Eventually, Emma found Vincent walking along the sand, with shoes and a plastic bag in one hand while his other hand secured a jacket hanging over his shoulder. The top two buttons on his collared shirt and his tie were undone. He was staring out at the ocean and had yet to notice Emma.

“You look like a drunk in a movie,” she called out to him.

When he looked at her, his face lifted into a smile of genuine joy, maybe even relief. Still, in that split moment between when he was looking away and when he was smiling at her, she saw a seriousness that didn’t often appear in Vincent’s expressions. It passed so quickly; Emma almost didn’t register it.

“I’ll have you know, I haven’t had a drop. I’ve been waiting for you!” he called back. “Did you bring the blanket?”

“Sure did! I even brought some snacks,” she answered, holding up her backpack.

“You really are the best,” he said, and they gave each other a kiss on each cheek. Emma set down her backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out a folded-up bundle of purple cloth. As she unfurled it, the blanket revealed a large mandala pattern. Vincent took a corner
and together they laid it out on the sand and weighed down the corners with their belongings. Vincent’s jacket, Emma’s backpack, and both pairs of shoes.

Vincent placed the plastic bag in the middle of the blanket and pulled it down to reveal a six-pack of bright yellow cans of beer. Emma reached for her backpack and produced a bag of chips and a jar of olives.

“Are those the ones that are stuffed with anchovies?” Vincent inquired, pointing with a single finger and a grimace at the olives. “I can’t stand those things.”

“Why not? It’s a great flavor combo. Besides, I thought you were basically Catalan now. Doesn’t that mean you have to like them?”

“Nah, it just means I have to be opinionated about food,” Vincent answered as he handed her a beer.

Emma opened the beer and held it up. “Salut i bon profit!”

“Salut!” Vincent responded and took a drink. “Sounds like you’ve been practicing Catalan yourself.”

“A bit, but I don’t really have any chances to use it.”

“Isn’t that how it goes? You studied Spanish in Denmark then came to a Catalan city in Spain, only to work a job where you use English all day. Is that about right?”

“More or less. I do use Spanish to chat with some of my coworkers, but that’s pretty much it. By the way, I saw the weirdest statue on my way here. It looked like a hairy old man holding a bottle. Do you know it? It kind of reminds me of you,” she said with a smirk.

“I’ll be darned! You’re getting better at teasing! And yes, I know the one you’re talking about. The Anís del Mono statue. It’s for a sort of licorice-flavored alcohol they make near here. The statue is supposed to be a monkey.” He laughed.

 “Well, it doesn’t look like any monkey I’ve ever seen. I think the artist may have had a bit too much Anís del Mono when they made it.”

“But that’s just the thing! It looks really skillfully done, like the person was stone-faced sober when they made it, but it doesn’t look anything like a monkey. The way I imagine it is they commissioned a guy to make a monkey statue, and the artist said, ‘Oh, sure, I can make a monkey statue, no problem! I’ve done hundreds,’ but, in fact, the guy had no idea what a monkey even looked like. So, he ran off to the library, found a description of a monkey, and decided it was just a human with fur and a tail, so that’s what he sculpted. Fortunately for him, the guy who commissioned it had never seen a monkey either. Maybe both of them went to their graves thinking that statue was the spitting image of an anise-drinking monkey.”

“Oh, that’s a much better story. And their friends who had seen monkeys in real life just never had the heart to tell them what an abomination they had made. But now I’ve got to know the real story. I’ll check it out.” And with that, Emma pulled out her phone and searched for the story behind the statue.

While Emma got lost in her phone, the sun sank behind the buildings next to the beach, casting long shadows that reached across the sand. There was hardly a cloud to be found in the darkening slab of lapis sky, studded with the first few stars of the evening. On the horizon, a ghostly white glow marked where the full moon would soon be rising.

Waves washed up on the sand. The sound of the calm, steady sea was more of a resounding purr than a thundering roar. As the waves came in, they drowned out the conversations of other groups gathered on the beach. Then the waves receded, and the chatter was revealed again. So the sound alternated between the people and the sea, except when some piercing laugh would puncture through the dull resonance of the waves. Emma read about the statue, and Vincent watched the glowing spot on the horizon and sipped his beer, waiting for the moon to make its appearance. After she had discovered the official story behind the statue’s strange design (the artist based the face on Darwin and the whole thing was a cheeky nod to his controversial ideas) she looked up and saw Vincent staring intently at the horizon. She decided she would wait to share her information; it seemed like something else was more pressing.

“Are you gonna tell me about your interview today?” she asked him, breaking the silence.

“Sure. What do you want to know?”

“Well… how did it go?”

“I didn’t end up going.”

“What?! I thought the job sounded perfect for you! Besides, if you don’t find a job soon, won’t your visa run out?”

“Yeah, I suppose all of that is true.”

“Why didn’t you go then?”

“Well, in fact, I did start to go. I got all dressed up, as you can see, I gave myself a quick pep talk in the mirror, and I got on the metro and listened to some music to pump me up. I was feeling ready to really rock the interview, when all of a sudden, I got this weird feeling.”

“What kind of feeling?”

“Like I was being watched. But it was more than that. Like I was being seen. You know, people are looking at us all the time, sometimes watching us, but it’s not often we feel really seen. You know what I mean?”

“I think so.”

“I mean, it felt like everything I was doing, everything I was wearing, the whole thing was just silly, part of some act. I guess we all feel that way sometimes, but it felt like someone was looking at me and could tell it was all an act too. I started feeling uncomfortable, I kind of shrank and started fidgeting, shifting my weight around like an awkward kid. And that’s when I saw him. The one who was looking at me. It was me.”

“What are you talking about?”

“No worries, I haven’t gone crazy. Not yet, at least. I know it wasn’t really me. It was this kid, about 10 years old. Some American boy with his family on vacation here. His parents and his sister were talking, but he was just looking at me. And I swear, he looks just like I did at that age. Same face, same eyes, same goofy haircut. He even had on these glasses that looked like they were right out of the 90s, big things that took up half his face like I used to wear. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him. I wanted to say something, but that would have made me really look crazy.

“Anyways, he and his family got off at the next stop, and I was left there not knowing what had just happened. All I knew was that nothing made sense. None of what I was doing made any sense at all. I didn’t even know who I was any longer. I knew I couldn’t go through with the interview, so I decided to go to the beach instead. I thought the waves would help clear my head, and they did a bit. I stayed out here by myself for a while, thinking about what happened, but I figured I needed to get out of that head space.”

“Is that when you called me?”

“You got it.”

Vincent looked at Emma as if expecting her to say something that would make sense of everything. Emma searched her mind for something that would help, but she kept coming up empty. Once the silence had gone on too long to be sustainable, she blurted out:

“I don’t want you to leave.”

Vincent looked down, hesitated in thought, then answered. “I don’t want to leave either. I won’t have much choice, though. Things aren’t as easy for us Americans as you Schengen-goers.”

“Will you go back to America then?”

Vincent thought for a moment and took another drink from his beer.

“Maybe temporarily, while I get things sorted out. Not for the long haul, though. If I can’t work things out here, I guess I’d find somewhere else to live. Maybe somewhere new.”

As he was saying these words, the tangerine moon started to peek up above the horizon.

Once again, Emma felt like there must be something she could say, like a secret utterance or magic spell that would make everything right. Try as she might, though, nothing came to her.

Both falling into silence, Vincent and Emma looked to the moon and held it in their gaze; they could see its slow movement as it rose, growing out of the ocean. It kept creeping further up and up until it fully emerged, a glowing circle hovering over the sea, its reflection a beam of light reaching out to Vincent and Emma where they sat, watching it wordlessly and listening to the waves.

 

Check out other works by James Waltz:
Carcinization 
Visual Poetry

 


James Waltz is from Kansas City, Missouri, but currently lives in Barcelona, where he doodles and writes poetry, fiction, and music. Find him on Instagram @OrionBlueWaltz.

Kayla Sosa, managing editor of Strangers & Karma, is also a professional writer, copywriter, and editor. View her biography here. For inquiries or collaboration, please email