On the Rooftop, Eating Olives
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.