There was a warmth in holding her to his chest, her heartbeat a soft reply to his own. She loved the feeling of water in between her small toes. He loved watching her smile. Sunlight rippled across the surface of the water like a golden carpet, and he wanted nothing more than to see her claim that path into the horizon as her own. To see her stand on the waves, water between her toes and a twinkle in her eyes, was to see his angel take her throne.
“Daddy,” she would ask, “is it true that the world turns around the sun?”
“For some people.”
“For everyone but your daddy.”
“What makes you so special, huh?”
“You,” he would say and then scoop her back up into his arms. Today his precious cargo was covered in sand and sunscreen. She giggled as he nuzzled her belly button. He carried her to the edge of the water as she squirmed in his arms. Both of them knew what was coming. He held her by her hips and pushed forward. He laughed as she squealed through the air. Then, for a moment a pang of anxiety started in his stomach. He imagined his baby sprouting wings and taking to the skies. After all, all angels are fated for flight, but the familiar splash as the water reclaimed her brought him back to the beach.
He wrapped a towel around her as they walked up the long path back to the car. She bumbled back and forth between her father and the handrail like a pinball as they snaked up the slope towards a clearing. “La Arnia” had been their special place ever since his wife had brought him here on their first date so many years ago. It’s where she told him she loved him for the first time, where he proposed to her, and most importantly, where they decided on their daughter’s name.
That night, they set up a picnic blanket right at the edge of the water. She sat in his lap looking out at the waves as they rolled up the beach reaching for them. He tried to think of something to say to her, but she usually did most of the talking. He was distracted by her curls. It was the first thing about her that caught his eye, and for as long as he could remember there was nothing like the smell of her hair. The best days of his life began with waking up wrapped in her ringlets. That day was no different, but the smell was particularly overwhelming.
He smiled as his daughter bumped into him brushing her locks against his arm.
The night they named her, they were the only two people on the beach. The sun fizzled as it fell into the horizon. She shifted a little in his lap.
“How do places like this exist by accident?” she asked.
“I don’t think they do.”
“But why make something so beautiful just like that?”
“Well, right now it seems like it was made for just the two of us,”
“What makes us so special, huh?”
“The fact that we take the time to notice in the first place,” he said as her lips spread into a toothy grin.
“You’re so damn cheesy!” she said, “but really sometimes I just can’t believe this all isn’t an illusion.”
“But that’s exactly what it is!” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked. When she was confused, her face would scrunch up around her nose. It was what he missed the most about her. The way she would hang onto every word when he trailed off into his long-winded explanations—things only she had the patience to listen to.
“It’s called Maya. Everything we see, hear, smell, feel, and taste is Maya. Maya is reality,” he said.
“And reality is an illusion?”
“Yeah, exactly. My mom used to always tell me that what we experience is temporary, but what we take from it is eternal.”
“Yeah imagine hearing that as a twelve-year old.”
“I think that’s exactly what I would want our child to be like.”
“What do you mean?”
“Boy or girl, they’re only here for a little bit, but I hope they’ll be impossible to forget,” she said. He couldn’t help but break into laughter. She always had a way of finding beauty in everything—even in all of his ramblings. He talked. She listened. Like waves they danced in a constant ebb and flow.
As they walked, Maya lost the bounce in her step. He swung their bag over his shoulder and lifted her into his arms. Within minutes she was asleep and the sway of his shoulders was echoed by her soft breathing.
He could only remember coming to La Arnia alone once. Long before Maya or his wife, he stepped through the beach with a heavy heart. Something about that place seemed to evade him when he was alone. It was a reminder of how necessary it was that “La Arnia” be shared. But accompanied only by his thoughts, he decided to explore. On the far side of the beach, part of the cliffside crumbled into the water. He climbed rocks until his fear of heights reached a compromise with his ambition for a view. He settled on a flat edge of the rocks, and pulled out a notebook. Staring out into the sheer vastness of the inlet, with only a pillar of stone between himself and the sun, he became lost in the spectacle. So he coped by scribbling:
There is a beach in the north of Spain
that I want to take you to one day:
A stone-cradle oasis
like cupped hands
with singular intentions
“come as you are.”
Here the water is a palette gone perfectly wrong,
A rushed stroke with a heavy hand
allowed evergreen leaves through the gates of heaven—
the happiest of mistakes are still blue.
There are no lines, only gentle curves in this place—
there is no need for boundaries where the only obligation is to be.
A place where life thrives so passionately it is silent,
except for the waves who whisper amongst themselves
which nautical things have come to pass beyond the rocks.
And of course there’s the stone pillar:
frosted with green fuzz and
the only defense in this place from the infinity of the horizon.
He promised himself he would never come back alone. It was too easy to get taken by the place. Now, he wishes he learned back then how to come alone.
Maya was getting heavy. Four years of carrying her back from their beach days were taking their toll on his arms. As he neared the top of the slope, she woke up with a start. She rocked her head from one side to the other, eyes wide with panic. He put his arm on her back. She relaxed instantly. The sleep returned to her eyelids. He sighed and kept walking. Between the beach and the nearest road there’s a sprawling field of grain interrupted only by ant-tunnel walkways. Out of habit he followed the thin line of dirt in between the grain stalks, so he didn’t notice when the sun blinked out of the sky. What brought him out of oblivion was a flash. Out of thin air. First one and then another and another until his view was speckled with blinking lanterns.
“Maya” he said as he patted her back. She lifted her head slowly as the sleep in her eyes was replaced by wonder. Seeing her eyes made him smile. She jumped out of his arms landing on the ground with an awkward plop, her curls bouncing up and down. She shuffled around with open palms hoping an unlucky firefly would find its way into her hands. He pulled off their bag reaching inside for an empty water bottle.
“Try this,” he said handing her the unscrewed bottle and cap.
“No daddy!” she said pushing the water bottle back towards him. “I don’t know which ones are friends!”
She really was her mother’s daughter. Who knew that hearts of gold were genetic? He put the bottle back into the bag and lifted her onto his shoulders. As she swiped at the air, her tiny feet knocked against his chest. Even after all these years there were times when he was overwhelmed by how much of his wife he finds in their daughter. His mind faded into memory to the rhythm of her feet.
Their honeymoon was a dream. Ten days in the city of love, and one of the only things they both agreed upon was the best night of the trip. The night was blurred by tequila shot-fueled buzzes. His arm was around her, and they swayed as they walked. It was midnight, but sleep was the last thing on their minds. As the buildings around them twisted like Frenchmen’s tongues, a foggy Eiffel Tower came into view.
“Let’s go.” she pointed, and the decision was made. The tower was ablaze with lights, and the people underneath were no less impassioned. The rumble of the bassline bounced off of the crossbeams and tourists and locals alike were witnesses to the movement. The two joined a crowd of drunken teenagers and middle-aged couples with the coordination of a sleepy Maya, and if the shots weren’t enough the music was getting them to where they wanted to be. Neither of them would remember the name of the band in the morning, but at the time, the only genre of music being played was bliss. He doesn’t remember lifting her—only how the rhythm of her feet fell seamlessly with the tap of the drum. His body became an extension of the band: his hair, the strings of a guitar as she strummed his head with her fingers, his chest a bass drum and her legs the pedal, a guide for the synthesizer keys in his toes to follow.
When the last of the crowd cleared out, only the two of them were left sitting on a small patch of grass facing the tower. She laid in his lap, fast asleep from a mixture of exhaustion and intoxication. Here he was, a man, imperfect and undeserving, in the company of an angel. When he felt this way, there was only one outlet for his musings. He never showed her much of what he wrote. He was scared she would wonder if he thought about anything else, but these days he wishes he made her read every word as many times as she would tolerate. So he pulled out his notebook and wrote an ode to a perfect night in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
His return to the present followed a pang of guilt in his stomach. Today his wife’s voice drowned out the pitter-patter of Maya’s steps against the moist ground—a melody Maya never heard. He felt selfish for keeping Maya to himself. She was a gift he always intended to share.
“Daddy are we almost there?” Maya asked. She was tired of how talented the fireflies were at evading her small hands.
“Can I have my jacket?” she asked. He put her down, and took off his bag.
“It’s in the front pocket,” he said and held it just out of her reach. She giggled as he made it bob up and down, teasing her until she finally lost her patience with him.
“Okay! Okay!” he said. He handed her the bag as she fumbled with the zipper. He helped her open it and she reached inside with pursed lips as she felt around for the plumpness of her bright pink coat. He bent over to zip-up the bag and noticed an envelope on the ground. She looked down and noticed it too.
“What’s that?” she squealed. He picked up the envelope and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
“Something very important,” he said and clicked the button on his keys breathing life into the headlights of the car. They climbed inside, and Maya strapped herself into her car seat. Within minutes she was asleep again, and he was left with his thoughts. He felt the paper against his chest. It was warm. He drove carefully making sure not to wake her. As he pulled up to a red light, he glanced back at her. She was breathing softly, and touching the envelope in his pocket he wondered what her mother was telling her. He wondered if she recognized her mother’s voice.
Trace my jawline
as if it were flushed metal,
smile when you’re met with
warmth and rusty whiskers,
I’ll reach into your gilded ringlets
and polish the gold beneath.
Oh, how I’ve waited to bathe in your light.
Eyes to put diamonds to shame,
what is brilliance to
she who blinds?
Hold me close and now we’re
but only matches made in heaven
are fated for the skies.
You were forged of
Silver and the stars,
refined to a luster
as I cast myself in nickel and dime,
we crossed paths
somewhere in between,
and became star-crossed beams
steel lovers dreaming of the heights.
But Eiffel Towers
bar beams like me,
battered and brined.
And now you are a star
and it is a privilege to
look up and see you smile.