And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley,
shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer;
which when he that looketh upon it seeth,
while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
JULY 18, 1936
SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE
Hoy se ven las nubes de la lluvia de mañana.
Today we see the clouds of tomorrow’s rain.
The man wouldn’t stop staring, and every one of her mother’s warnings about traveling alone in a foreign country assaulted Sophie Grace’s mind like the heavy rain pelting the train window. Fumbling for her leather journal, she quickly sketched the man’s image. That way, if she showed up missing, they’d at least have a clue to lead them to her abductor.
She didn’t need to turn around to remember his long, narrow face. Thick sideburns and equally thick eyebrows set above two small eyes. His hat sat too low on his brow to distinguish his hairline, but his smile reminded her of Benjamin Franklin’s on the statue in the courtyard of the Old City Hall in Boston. Slight, yet knowing. And unchanging as if the man were as stiff as a statue himself.
Ten minutes later, a sketch of the man’s narrow face, beady eyes, and black fedora filled the page. She glanced back once more. He looked up and offered her a bigger, crooked smile over the masthead of a French newspaper.
Nice try, buddy. But I’m not biting.
Receiving complimentary looks from strangers wasn’t something new, but feeling nervous to the point of hearing her heart beating in her throat was. Maybe the fact that she didn’t know a soul for hundreds of miles had something to do with it? Yes, that was it.
Ginny, her dearest friend, had labeled Sophie’s trek The Great Spanish Adventure. And through weeks of packing they’d discussed bullfights, gypsies, music, flamenco dancing, sunshine, and afternoon siestas. Yet what Sophie hadn’t confessed to Ginny was that the journey had nothing to do with Spain and everything to do with Michael.
Sophie flipped to the first page of her journal and brushed an ink-stained fingertip over the edges of the photo she’d taped there. In fewer than twenty-four hours she would arrive in Madrid, and she’d be with him again. Michael, the international correspondent who had swept twenty-five-year old Sophie off her feet. Michael, who danced divinely and lived life with passion. Michael, who used his camera to transform everyday life into art, yet who also grew bored if there wasn’t a bit of blood and guts, or politics, to capture on film. Michael, who once dared her to travel to Spain, and who would be both delighted and shocked to discover she’d gone and done it.
My trip to Europe is a kaleidoscope, and every new color shift brings a deeper understanding of him, Sophie now wrote on the page opposite Michael’s photograph. She lifted the journal and read the words again, smiling—the train’s rocking had added a gentle wiggle to her typically flawless penmanship.
She closed the book and focused on the luminous mountains ahead and the symmetrical clouds poised above. Both were slightly out of focus due to the film of water on the window—like an Impressionist painting, hinting of form and color without real definition.
In less than an hour she’d be at the Spanish border. In a day she’d be in Michael’s arms. And in a few days she’d truly be his for a lifetime, which meant she’d never have to think again about men like the one behind her.
Shabby old buildings passed her window as the train began to slow for Hendaye, the last French town before the tracks entered Spain. But as she looked out the train window, Sophie realized something was terribly wrong.
Philip Stanford flung his red-white-and-blue exercise jacket over his shoulder and strode out of the stadium onto Ramblas Avenue. He and the other members of the American track team had arrived in Barcelona two days before and had enjoyed the food, wine, and especially the flamenco dancers. As an undistinguished high school teacher from Seattle, Washington, Philip never expected to travel overseas, much less visit an exotic place like Spain. In fact, he only had two great talents. One was his ability to run fast. The second was to train others to do the same. And it was this role as trainer that had brought him to Barcelona.
“Tomorrow’s the big day.” Philip reached up to pat the shoulder of his companion, sprinter Attis Brody. Though Philip was six feet tall when he stood straight, he felt short and squat next to Attis’s six-foot-four-inch frame. And now that the day’s practice was over, it was with a slow stride that he and Attis headed back to their hotel by the globed streetlights’ yellow illumination. The light danced on the slightly damp cobblestones and filtered into the breeze, which carried the scent of burning olive oil, flowers from the shrubbery they passed, and the sweat from Attis’s tall, lean body.
“Tomorrow you’ll be introduced to the world,” Philip continued. “Did you see those other guys working out? They ran as if someone had tied twenty-pound weights to their legs.”
Attis laughed and said something, but honking automobiles made it hard for Philip to hear his comeback. The noisy vehicles seemed to be moving faster through the streets than should be allowed, weaving through the throngs of people, the horse carts, and men on horseback. Philip shouldered up to Attis, nudging him closer to the edge of the buildings they passed.
From the buildings, the yellow-and-red-striped federal flags of Catalonia waved overhead, slapping in the breeze like clapping hands. The two men approached the end of the street, and Attis paused, looking up at the flags with a wide smile. Philip had sensed Attis’s excitement for the recently instated government the first time they practiced in Barcelona’s new stadium. But nothing moved his friend more than the scarlet colors of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia, the United Party of Communists and Socialists, the black-and-red banner of the anarchists, and in fewer places the government flags of Spain, showing both the old ways and the new Socialist ideas attempting to coexist. It was Attis’s beliefs lived out. They’d stumbled upon a real place where people believed in a classless society working together in common ownership—or at the very least, a place where that was the goal, in the five months since the government, comprised mostly of Communists and Socialists, won the election.
Attis also did two things well. First was to run fast. And second was to make himself aware of the fight against Fascism all over the world, and in recent days, especially Spain. After years of living in the midst of economic depression, Attis had joined the Communist Party. He believed this equality among men was just what Spain needed—just what America needed too.
To Philip, the tension that hung in the air was just as noticeable as the symbolism behind the flapping flags. Rumors about a revolution in Spain concerned him, but there was no time for fretting. Attis had come to run, and Philip had come to make sure he won a gold medal. It’s what they’d dreamed about since they were kids. Now they were both twenty-three, and this was the second dream Attis was fulfilling. Finding a good wife in Louise had been his first.
At the top of Ramblas they entered a park called the Plaza de Cataluna. It was decked out with brightly colored flowering shrubs, statues—including one of a naked woman forever kneeling down, peering at herself in the center of a pool—and fountains that displayed a formality and dignity unseen in the manufacturing district in Seattle where he lived. Moving beyond that, they reached a circular area of cafés, restaurants, the large telephone building that stretched like a skyscraper into the sky, and the American consulate.
On the upper side, Paseo de Gracia led to the newer, more spacious part of the town. Yet it was this lower side that most intrigued Philip—the shabby, congested quarters that suggest to him how Spaniards had lived and died for hundreds of years. If only he could walk through the streets for a few hours without drawing the attention of the people. His brightly colored uniform didn’t allow for that, nor did his light hair and pale skin, which set him apart from even the fairer of the Spaniards. He put those thoughts aside. The race yet to be run, he reminded himself, was the important thing.
While the rest of the world was focused on the Olympics in Berlin, Attis had refused to attend.
“I won’t run in the same country as Hitler. I won’t run with any swastika waving over my head,” he had said. “I’d cut off my legs at the knees first.”
Philip glanced around as they approached their hotel. Soldiers in olive uniforms marched down the streets, weapons shouldered. Distant gunfire floated on the dusty air, and Philip wondered if Berlin would have been the better, safer choice after all.
Yet Attis had said Spain, and Spain it was. Even if he hadn’t been Attis’s trainer, he would have come as his protector—even though his friend had long since passed him by in height and strength. That’s the way it had always been, and he’d promised Attis’s wife, that’s the way it would always be—whether the big guy knew it or not.
Okay, that’s it, now go buy the book! 🙂