Flying Closer To The Sun

Dust lies everywhere, on everything, and I can never quite get the dirt out from under my fingernails.

We were flying too close to the sun. I think back and can’t quite believe that we ever got anything done in the heat, when not even the dogs bothered to move from their shaded asylums and flies didn’t have the energy to be inconvenient. Fires spread quickly in summer, but there doesn’t seem to be much to burn. They evacuated everything before I arrived and it is only just beginning to get back to normal; flames have licked the sides of the mountain black and people have lost things, real things.

Roads winding up the mountain and the lack of anything on them, empty lines that fell down the opposite side of the valley, cleared to prevent fires running too quickly. Sometimes drought, sometimes an absence of understanding in the eyes of a local. It highlighted our shortcomings and flaws, a void of time stretched ahead that could be felt but not seen. We existed within a fluctuating state somewhere between deprivation and acceptance, a quiet ongoing battle that was barely audible yet consistently unforgiving.

I never got to the ocean, but some days you could see beyond the blinding expanse of blue, see the African continent lying golden and baked in the distance. I couldn’t have known then that the distant, dry land across the Alboran Sea would later become somewhere I was going to comfortably call home.

Mornings were blissful; early to rise and the sun would wait for just long enough below the horizon, leaving a coolness and a clarity only to be found at 6am; the dust remained settled and sleeping as the dry earth below my feet breathed in clean air. If there is a God up here, these early hours are when he is awake.

Nobody else is around when I walk along the track and run for what feels like miles down towards the whitewashed towns that lie sleeping in the valley. The sun hasn’t come over the ridge yet, but as I turn back unfiltered light starts to slide across the land and I find that I’m no longer moving. I suppose this is what a deafening silence sounds like, because although I’m straining to hear anything, there is just loud nothing.

Then when the sun couldn’t get any higher, everything that breathed was rendered comatose. There wasn’t much else to do but retreat inside like something wounded, drowsy from the heat and exhausted by the morning. During those hottest hours we would lie splayed out across the tiled floor, surrendering to the degrees celsius and trying not to move our chests when inhaling—the shade up here is like a dark paradise. The rest of the world doesn’t exist this high up, and right now the only thing to be even vaguely concerned about is the cut on the side of my right index finger that refuses to heal and is a permanent deep orange from the Betadine that I compulsively keep applying.

Spain won the world cup that year; I don’t remember much of the night, but we ended up being thrown into the town fountain. Cold and talked out by 1am, we left the whisky-drinkers behind and caught a lift back up the mountain with a nameless man wearing white stubble and a moth-eaten cowboy hat. He left us at the top of the track, and walking those last long minutes it occurred me that the planet could be an even smaller place that I’d previously thought. Thousands of stars fell into place, surrounded by an inky silence so fragile that it felt as though we could shatter it with just a single word; that breathing might unsettle the constellations.

I suppose it wasn’t ever so much an absence of noise, but an intangible expanse of energy that seemed to be radiating from everything except us. It is as though the colours have faded in the sun; although the southern slopes are left fertile after the snows melt in the spring, there’s never any brilliant green, the stretched blue sky appears muted and the roads that writhe across the mountains are a vague and unconvincing dirt brown.

There is a memory lodged in my mind, like a splinter, the kind that feels nostalgic even as you live through it. We’d spent the morning winding down the side of the mountain, having long ago left the shaded cool of the National Park behind us the road now curved through olive groves, the heat visible and oppressive; I remember noticing how unassuming nature seemed to be, how really we were the only thing on this Earth that assumed so much. I think my expectations died for a while that summer, and we became content with just slowly filtering the time through a lack of anything real.

Evenings were spent playing poker with unshelled peanuts, drinking bad wine out of cardboard cartons and sitting outside in the cool relief of the night, talking about nothing in particular until we were as drowsy as the flies that circled the lamps. Routines that had started out as novelty and challenge quickly became glorious, sunbaked monotony. Predictability allowed the mind to free itself; although living in the moment is really the only way to exist, my thoughts are often elsewhere, spending their time grasping at questions that I still don’t have answers for. I believe that things finally changed here, some of the damage was repaired and with each unearthly sunset, small pieces of the past were buried in the dry ground and over time it amounted to most of me.

I remember trees that had been stripped of their senses, pale burnt bones and their unwillingness to give in.

I remember the trails, the routes we took as we wrapped around the mountain, the overhead power lines and the safe distances we kept from the bees. The delicious contrast between sun and shade, the lack of other people and all the scars that we accumulated. Falling ungracefully into water so cold it felt like giving up, laying out as fish to dry once we were suitably saturated.

I remember rice pudding, ducks covered in blood, the smell of disinfectant, badly written books that were read because there was no better way to spend the time, mosquito bites and always venturing too far. The rat we uncovered behind the dried sugar beet, the end it met after the dog found it too. Industrial white paint, the combination of sunburn and antiseptic, cleaner lungs, aching knees, and you teaching me how not to make coffee.

I’m content with discoloured memories and the knowledge that the quiet, smothering altitude will be waiting for me should I ever decide to return. We move through places, or sometimes like them enough to want to stay, although it seems to me that you can fall in love with a place while never wanting to see it again.

Like what you read? Give Ella Frances Sanders a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.