Authors: Emily Grayson
“I know,” she said, and she could hear a note of surprise in her voice, even though the number of days they had left to spend together was something she thought about often.
“I want to see you all the time,” Alec went on. “And when those two weeks are over, and then you go back to the Statesâ¦” Here his voice faded out.
“Yes?” Carson asked, leaning against his shoulder.
“I'd like to find a way to come visit you there, to be near you. Maybe even get myself a visiting teaching appointment for the spring term. That is, if you'd like that.” She turned to study his face and saw there the sincerity, even the open vulnerability, in his expression. “Of course,” he added quickly, “it's probably way too soon to be thinking about permanence in a serious way. I wasn't pushing for marriage yet, because you're young, and that would be folly, but I hoped that we could remain close to each other until we're ready for such a commitment. I have no idea of what the world holds,” he went on. “This German business is extremely worrying, and if it grows more serious, then it could even come to war.”
“Do you really think it will?” she said, and she
heard the same note of surprise in her voice as when she'd acknowledged that hers and Alec's time together was drawing to a closeâas if the possibility of war were also a presence that she couldn't deny, but couldn't bear to acknowledge either.
“Well,” said Alec. “I'm not sure. Not that my opinion counts for anything. Your uncle would have a better grasp of the situation. You should ask him.”
“Well, I think he's quite dire about it,” she said. “You're right, I should,” she added, but she knew she probably wouldn't. The fact was, if the difficulties in Europe had all seemed so distant and remote from her while she'd been living her privileged life back in Connecticut, they had seemed paradoxically even more so here, as she was falling in love with Alec.
“Look, my love,” Alec suddenly said, “we can't possibly know what's going to happen in the world, and probably nothing
happen.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze, as if trying to shield her as long as he couldâas long as they were together. “The last war, the Great War, was so horrible, it's difficult to believe the world would be willing to go through another one. Surely we've all learned lessons from it. Surely no one will want to make the same mistakes. What I want to say now has nothing to do with war. It has to do with us. How much I love being with you.”
“Thank you,” was all Carson could say.
“Listen,” he went on. “I've put off saying this
as long as I could. I'm sorry, darling, but I can't be with you tomorrow. I really must prepare for the delivery of my paper at the evening session. But I'll be thinking of you all dayâ”
“I'll come,” Carson suddenly said. “To the conference. To see you deliver your paper.”
“Oh, don't be silly. You'll be bored to tears.”
“Not if you're delivering it.”
“Well, it's very sweet of you to offer, but really, I must confess, I'm not thinking only of your well-being here. I'm afraid you'd be too much of a distraction for me.”
“Oh,” she answered.
“Frankly,” continued Alec, “it's bad enough as it is, being with you all the time. Bad for my work, I mean. I haven't been able to concentrate on a word of my conference. The other fellows tell me I seem like I'm in a daze. And I guess I am.”
“Me, too,” she said. “Here I am away from America for the first time in my life, and I can barely pay attention to any of the sights. All I can think about all the time is how much I want to be with you.”
He kissed her cheek. “You're my kind of tourist,” he said, and then the bus rolled into Lisbon, and it was time to get off.
The following days passed in a kind of blur, as though seen from the window of a trainâor perhaps from the rear platform, on a passionate night, as life sweeps past and all you can do is try to think of a way to make it all stop, to make life and time stand still, to make one stolen moment
last forever. The delivery of his paper had gone well, Alec reported back to Carson by telephone. He was almost giddy as he described to her how he'd been reassured by the experience, how he was beginning to believe, perhaps for the first time, that he had something to contribute to his discipline. But the best news of all, he added as Carson listened, twisting the telephone cord around one finger as if she were nervously playing with a lock of her hair, was that now he was all hers.
Carson would take the local bus from Sintra to downtown Lisbon, and he would be waiting for her on the street. As the bus approached, she would often look out and see him there in his white shirt, sleeves rolled up, dark hair falling in his face, and she would feel a tremendous flush of excitement, because, just as Alec had said on the telephone, he
hersâas surely as she was his. She would hurry down the bus steps into the street and into his arms, and they would walk for a while, linked together, heads close, whispering into each other's ear, saying nothing and everything all at once. They stopped in at shops and got each other small gifts: he bought her a pale yellow-and-red shawl, and she bought him a wallet made of extremely soft, buttery leather.
Sometimes they sat in a
and ate local pastries; a particular favorite was olive-oil cake, rich and golden, with almonds studding the top like buttons on a sofa. Alec introduced Carson to the delicacy known as the blood orange, which
had a complex, perfumed taste and a bright red interior. How odd that something so innocent and ordinary looking, like an orange, could conceal such a surprise within. Carson's high-school English class had studied metaphors, and she realized that this was kind of a metaphor for herself: she was a fairly ordinary, privileged Connecticut girl, yet in fact she was in possession of desires and longings and passions that were invisible on the outside. Only when you got inside who she wasâwhen you were able to capture her heart, as Alec had doneâdid these qualities reveal themselves.
In the afternoon, when they were done walking and daydreaming in cafÃ©s and it was time for siesta, the entire city shut down and Carson and Alec would slip into his room at the PensÃ£o Moderna. There they would lie together on the narrow, clean bed in the room with the simple writing desk and Alec's Dopp kit on the bureau, and make love slowly, tenderly, as though they had all the time in the world, when in fact they did not. Sometimes, when they were through with their lovemaking and it was quiet and drowsy in the room, Carson would go to the window and sit on the ledge for a few moments, looking down over the Rua 1 de Decembro. Siesta was just ending; people were returning from their homes, refreshed, and going back to work, to school, to shop at the open-air markets. Carson saw women carrying bread, and a man with a basket of gleaming silver fish on his head; she
heard cathedral bells somewhere and a dissonant car horn honking. Although time seemed to stand still in this small room, outside it was moving forward, and complicated lives were being lived by people who could go about their business as if they had all the time in the world, because, in a way, they did. They lived here. Whatever life they'd made for themselves, they had the luxury of living it without knowing that in a matter of days they would be leaving it behind.
“I have to go,” Carson always said reluctantly.
The last bus back to Sintra left at 4:15
., and it was important that she be home in time for dinner, or else her aunt and uncle would become upset. It was an unspoken rule that she should be there as often as she could for dinner, at least to give the illusion of a cohesive family unit, the three members of which knew one another's whereabouts, when in fact Jane and Lawrence had no idea of how she and Alec spent their afternoons.
Or maybe they did know. If they did, they weren't saying. They'd been fairly liberal with her, despite Lawrence's grousing, allowing her this “summer romance,” as Jane had put it, and knowing full well that she'd be leaving Portugal, and Europe itself, in less than a week. What they didn't know was that Alec wanted to follow her back to the States in a few months. Carson couldn't imagine how they would react if they knew how serious the relationship had become. She was afraid of their response, afraid that they
would cable her parents, and so she tried hard to act casual whenever the subject of Alec Breve came up.
In the hallway outside his room at the
one afternoon, Alec was accompanying Carson down the hallway, when they happened upon Michael Morling and Freddy Hunt.
“Well, hullo,” Michael said, trying not to demonstrate any sort of reaction upon finding Alec with Carson there, the couple so transparently in a postlovemaking state in the middle of the afternoon. “How have you been, Carson?” Michael asked, but he was blushing furiously.
“Fine, just fine,” said Carson.
“I can see that,” said Freddy with an undisguised smirk.
“Oh, shut up, Hunt, and act your age, for once,” said Alec with surprising annoyance. “Fourteen, isn't it?”
“Look,” said Freddy, “I didn't mean anything by it. I'm just glad that you two found each other again, and that you're happy, that's all. How about all of us going out for some
“Are you allowed to drink, sport?” asked Alec.
“Ha-ha. But the real question is, is
allowed to?” countered Freddy.
TouchÃ©. Despite every reason not to, Carson liked Freddy Hunt. He had a spark of life about him, a whimsicality that you didn't expect to find in a scientist. Alec was often very serious, which suited him, but Freddy provided an air of play that helped serve as a breather to Carson, who
threatened to be overwhelmed by the intensity of her affair with Alec.
The foursome went out to a bar called JoÃ£o, where they ordered a round of sweet but subtly potent Brazilian
There was still a little time left before the bus was leaving for Sintra, and though Carson would have been underage back home, no one here cared. Everyone drank, young and old. One drink and one drink only was what she allowed herself; even though no one was watching her, she still felt compelled to be
She had lost her virginity this summer; she didn't want to lose herself as well, and so was determined to be rational and clearheaded about every experience and decision.
did loosen her up a little, at least verbally, and she found herself willing to talk to Alec's friends about her life in America. They were curious about what it was like there.
“They tell me,” said Freddy, “that many people in the States have been getting worked up about Germany as well. Is that your experience?”
“It does come up pretty often at dinner at home,” Carson said. “And of course it's all over the papers. But if my father had
been worried, he wouldn't have sent me abroad. So I guess until I came to Europe, I didn't understand the magnitude of the topic. The reality of it.”
real, in a way,” said Michael. “Back home, the British Union of Fascists has been making lots of noise. You know, Oliver Mosley's crowd. He's the one who fell in love with that
Mitford girl. It amazed me that she could go for that, and that her conscience doesn't stop her, doesn't stop
of these people. And yet people keep taking them seriously. And then there's Germany, and Italy. People seem to be in the mood to take any number of ridiculous ideas seriously.”
“I know,” agreed Freddy. “It's like some monster has gotten loose and wants to conquer the world. Like King Kong.”
“Oh, I loved that movie,” said Carson, and immediately she felt foolish, as if she were actually more interested in Hollywood than Hitler.
“Speaking of movies,” Michael said to Carson, “have you by any chance ever met Clark Gable? I think he's smashing.”
“No.” Carson laughed. “I live in Connecticut, not California. Our paths are very unlikely to ever cross. Except in the downtown movie theater, that is, with him on the screen and me in the balcony.”
“I'd like to be in that balcony with you,” Alec said under his breath. “Maybe I will, in the winter,” and Carson squeezed his hand under the table.
Suddenly Freddy raised his glass into the air, slightly sloshing his drink over the edge. “Hear, hear,” he said. “To our old pal Alec Breve, brainy thermal physicist, and his beautiful American girlfriend. Carson,” Freddy added, smiling warmly at her, “may you forever raise the thermal level of Alec, so that you may keep each other warm throughout your lives.”
Everyone raised their glasses and drank.
Carson realized that the secret of her and Alec's love was slowly being nudged from its hiding place. Two of his closest friends knew about it, and surely Tom, the fourth friend, would hear about it later. These young men seemed accepting of Carson's role in Alec's life; they had seen him with women before, and they themselves had perhaps been in love with women. Love was something to be celebrated, to lift your glasses to, and not to be hidden away with a sense of shame. There was something about being here in Portugal, in this country with its mournful, romantic strum of guitars and Latin blood and sensual languageâPortuguese was considered a
language, after allâthat generated images of lovers throughout the ages lingering in cafÃ©s and under the moon at night, and in the darkened corners of Moorish castles.
If Carson and Alec had met back in the States, they might never have fallen in love. Surely setting played an important role in this kind of intense chemistry. Even that night train, clattering across the rails of France and Spain and then into Portugal, had been mysterious and romantic, awakening in her a kind of yearning that she hadn't known existed. She understood, now, a bit of what was happeningâthat sometimes you needed to go far away from home in order to find a sense of belonging. It was one of the tritest concepts in the world, and yet it applied perfectly to Carson's situation.