By Rebecca Gabay
You’re sitting high up on the plastic chair in your balcony. The sun has risen, and the sea meets the horizon beyond the Gibraltar tumult of vehicles, walls, and windows. Tankers float heavily on the water, and the Spanish mountains are green after the heavy rains, but you’re watching a small window beneath the metal roof of the estate opposite.
Last week, your mum and dad said she’d moved there, and you’re not to go anywhere near her. She’s served five years and nobody talks to her. She’s off Facebook, so you can’t see her photos: in white lace at the altar; her little girl a sparkly mermaid; raising a glass of red. When you Google her, articles on her trial come up, but there are no images, and your name isn’t mentioned. They say the girl’s with her father in Spain. You try not to think about that.
Every morning, when Dad goes to work at the garage, and Mum goes into town, you put your shorts on to highlight your long legs, and paint your lips pink. You take the binoculars from the cubbyhole in the balcony wall, and you zoom in on her block. Yesterday you saw her, smoking a cigarette out of that small window, the moon tattoo on her hand invisible in the distance. Her blonde hair brown now, the contours of her face sharper. The binoculars grew heavy in your hands; your blood drained into the chair. What if she saw you?
You don’t help out at Mount Alvernia, the elderly care home, anymore. Anyway, you hated the withered faces and the food trays and the smell of old. You stay in, and you don’t see anyone. Sometimes, you study; you’re completing a graphic design course online, and your dad has a job lined up for you at his friend’s firm. You’ll be able to work from home, even though you’re better now, and don’t even need crutches.
You were thirteen when she was charged. Everyone was talking. Mum washed and changed you and the wheelchair was difficult. You stopped going to school, and they sent teachers to you, and you got six GCSEs. You testified by video so you didn’t see her, and you feel bad that she went to jail. You dream of telling what really happened, but in your dream, you’re drowning in a dark sea, and your words are bubbles.
You didn’t expect to make a friend when you started your school placement at Mount Alvernia. She was Gerald Torres’s private carer. He was always sleeping, chin sunk into his neck, hairs in his ears. She read to him from Don Quijote, his favourite book. Her words mingled with his heavy breaths, her hand holding his wrinkled hand, an ink crescent between her forefinger and thumb.
She said you had beautiful hair, like her daughter’s, and she braided it for you, a black plait snaking down your back. She pulled your hair tight, and you liked the way it felt when she tugged. You kept the plait in all night, and you still wear the rosebud elastic that she tied it with. You also have her floral coffee mug; you put it in your haversack before leaving the home one Sunday, before she had the chance to wash it.
That day you saw her where the road forks between the residential street to Mount Alvernia and the climb towards the Upper Rock. It was a quiet Sunday morning, shutters closed, people scarce, cars still. The May air was cool and you wore frayed denim shorts and a grey cardigan, hair in a ponytail and pink lipstick. She was in her blue uniform, her name, Jade Alvarez, pinned to the stiff acrylic shirt, her feet in white clogs beneath the matching trousers. She was smoking by the red railings skirting the road, looking out at the Straits, her back to you.
“Jade,” you called. She kissed your cheek hello, cigarette smoke and citrusy perfume in your ear.
“¿Te vienes? You coming?” she asked.
“Just a minute, follow me. I want to show you something.” You had nothing to show her. You had no plan.
She smiled her warm smile, stubbing her Rothmans into the cracked pavement. “Vale, ok, what is it? Not too long, I don’t want to be late for my shift.”
You walked fast along the road to the Upper Rock, flanked by stony walls and overhanging trees. Your breath rasped as you mounted, Jade panting behind you, her scent in you. The cable car hovered and gulls cried above, and the sleek, white flats of The Sanctuary gave way to a density of wild olives and pines.
“Para, stop!” she called.
You stopped beneath a canopy of purple flowers and knotted bark, your skin tense, ears tuned to her breathy ascent.
You turned around to see her slowly climbing towards you in the darkened light beneath the green, cheeks red with effort. You flushed. “She must like you.”
A foot away on the narrow road, she said, “This better be worth it.”
And then it came out: “I think about you all the time.”
She closed her eyes and, standing above her on the incline, you pressed your lips to hers.
She stepped back, clogs tottering on the slope, wiping her lips roughly with the back of her hand. “¿No, qué haces? What are you doing?”
You pushed her—in the chest—to make it go away.
The two of you tangled in your descent, rolling, rolling, grazing skin.
An engine roaring and the smell of burnt rubber. You screaming and screaming and not stopping, though it wasn’t the pain from the tyres over your legs making you scream, and in your mind, you saw what you were doing—you saw yourself like your body was submerged in water, slow and distant, deaf to your watchful conscience—screaming…whimpering…clutching your legs… Saying she touched you again and again. Saying she touched you.