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On the Rooftop, Eating Olives

Micaela Gerhardt

I. The ground level

A steady stream of traffic speeds

up and down Calle Arjona, the sound

of the cars like the incoming tide

of a mechanical ocean, waves of gasoline

and chipped paint and oily metal parts.

On the sidewalk, voices rise and fall

speaking rapidly and blurring each word

into the next with quick flicks of tongue

and the pursing of lips—los sonidos

de Sevilla, the sounds of Seville.

In my cuarto on the seventh floor, I leave

the window open, the curtains drawn,

allow the noise to drift in.


II. The first floor

He stands outside the elevator, leans

against the handlebars of his red

bicicleta, waits for the heavy metal doors

to part. It’s nearly tres de la mañana as

the upper arrow on the wall illuminates,

and we enter the elevator. Unsure of where

to look, I glance at the corner, where someone

has scratched the word coño, cunt, in the wall.

¿Cuanto tiempo has vivido aqui? How long

have you lived here? he asks. Three months,

I say. And you? Three months, he says, and

tells me about cliff diving and driving

to Portugal on the weekends. On the

seventh floor, the doors open. He takes a step

toward me, places a hand on my shoulder,

leans forward, but I am not wearing mascara and

don’t understand how I could look beautiful

to someone with such tan skin, such blonde hair,

so I take a step back.


III. The fourth floor

The elevator is en reparación, in repair, so I

climb the marble staircase, ascending la primera

planta, la segunda, la tercera, until I arrive on

the fourth floor, watch as un viejo, an old man

struggles to walk ahead of me, his hand on

the railing, his head bowed in concentration,

each ligament in his aging body straining forward.

He hears me behind him, glances over his shoulder.

Llevo un traje de madera, he says, I wear a suit of

wood. I cannot make sense of the words and he is

not surprised that I do not understand him—he

can see that I am not andaluz, not from the southern

region of Spain, not Spanish at all. He waits until I

stand next to him, until his dark eyes can look into

the blue of mine. Llevo un traje de madera, he says

again, and I can only shake my head. He means

to tell me he is dying, but I do not understand.


IV. The seventh floor

Behind the first door on the left is the bedroom

where I have slept for the past seventy-two days.

On mi cama, my bed, the lilac-colored sheets

have been shoved aside in a wrinkled heap,

the way I always leave them, Spanish verbs are

written on faded yellow sticky notes that cover

the walls and cupboards, and a fake red rose

is placed on the bookshelf, a gift from a Spaniard

who told me Estoy enamorado contigo, mi alma

I am in love with you, my soul. I wake up as the sun

is rising. Light peaks through the cracks

in the blinds and speckles the walls and ceiling

with a thousand golden raindrops. Across the

hall, an old alarm clock sounds. Señora, the old

woman I live with, trudges into the kitchen and

adjusts the channel on the radio, listens to

the morning news. She boils water and pours

it into a silver tin, then submerges a tea bag and

dips stale bread into the hot drink, takes

a deep inhale from her cigarette.


V. The rooftop

It’s a Thursday in April, and there is nothing to do,

no class or homework, no cleaning or chores.

After a mid-afternoon siesta I pull a sundress

over my head, run my fingers through my tangled

hair, send Isabel and Liz a message—puedes encontrarme

en el techo, you can find me on the roof. I spread a

patterned blanket across the surface, open a jar of olives,

reach into the murky green saltwater and pinch una aceituna

between my thumb and pointer finger, take a bite.

Isabel and Liz arrive, open a box of red wine, Don

Simon, and the pages of a Spanish play,

La Casa de Bernarda Alba. They take turns reading aloud,

pausing for Isabel to watch the blackbirds weaving

through the clotheslines, to talk about where we will

go dancing tonight, and I lie on my back, thinking

about the layers beneath me, listening to it all unfold.

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