Across the rippled silver sand and down to the water, the sky vaulting above me and teeming with stars. I can see the band of moist sand before my feet get wet; a strip of shine where the waves wash in.
I’ve been to this spot before but not at this time. It’s a second viewing; the kind of revelatory glimpse of a place you only get once you’ve seen it a thousand times, and then see it anew. Out in front of me a succession of cargo ships navigate the Straits, twinkling like a chain of fairy lights.
Beyond them the fainter flickering of Tangier, its lighthouse and medina. And spanning my field of vision from the Isla de Palomas on my left to the huge dune up at Valdevaqueros on my right, the black Atlantic. Sand, water, lights; the world is made of these long horizontal layers and of the noise the waves make.
And of the vertical sky. Orion stands over me, high in the sky and dead ahead. When I first knew K we would stand out back of the house we shared in Dublin and I would point it out to her; Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak, the three stars of his belt; Hatsya, the tip of his sword. She would humor me by listening. It was the only constellation I could see from our yard that I could name.
I may have been a little repetitive about it.
Jupiter and Venus hug the horizon, low in the western sky. They are the brightest lights but it’s Orion’s show – he hunts at the centre of everything I can see. I feel the requisite tininess, and turn around.
More horizontals. The undulating sand now reflects the orange-tinted lights of the promenade – the central stripe made up of the apartments and urbanizaciones that have grown out of Tarifa’s casco antiguo and spread out along Los Lances beach. There is nothing high rise and the development stops where the bird sanctuary begins to my left.
The dune and the lighthouse of Isla de Palomas are still at either end of my sight, but each has changed position from right to left and left to right. The expanse between – the central, eye-level band of light and architecture, is a handsome sweep. By day, modern Tarifa is just a little shabby and ramshackle; a work in progress – unfinished concrete structures side by side with peeling paint.
Tonight though it gleams in the soft focus of the promenade lights. In the sky above their glow the Big Dipper is clearly visible. I’m being spoilt this evening – I can see both of the constellations that I can recognise and name. The Big Dipper orientates me as it indicates north; pinpoints me in the cosmos.
I can see the little bull ring, the bullfighting school, the castle, the ridiculous 20th century merchants house built in such an overblown “Moorish” style that has become one the town’s emblematic landmarks. I can see the red lights on the wind turbines that loom over Tarifa on the mountain ridges.
In the middle of it all, just at the top of the sloped bank of sand that leads down to the water’s edge, I can see K, backlit against the barrios, her hair wisping in the breeze. I can just make out her bemusement as I step back towards her, her eyes gently mocking the foolish, romantic grin on my face.
I’m full of Orion and the sky, the sea and the Straits. It doesn’t take much to get me going – a walk down to the water at night will do it. I must have stopped her every few feet on the way down here to squeeze her hand or hold her eyes with mine. Childish look-at-that’s and wouldn’t-it-be-wonderfuls.
I’ve been trying to lift her mood a little. She’s hard on herself. Like me – like you, I imagine – she still hasn’t found it. The thing. The perfect cup to pour herself into. The prey. I haven’t found mine either, but I have someone to share the hunt with. She forgets at times how exceptional it makes her that she hasn’t given up the chase.
I want her to know that she is strong – strong enough to have saved me, strong enough to guide me. Perhaps our preys will always be fugitive, our prayers unanswered, but I want her to know that I am exactly where I need to be as I take her hand – the huntress at the centre of everything I can see.
I feel huge.
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