She came from Spain with two things: firstly, a small bag holding a pendant, a bracelet and very few Euros, and secondly the girl she trailed behind her. They crossed the border through the Pyrenees and the girl cried as they were engulfed by dark sharpness – and then breathed out as they emerged on the other side.
They soon stopped, in Perpignan, and the lady rented an apartment in Sant-Vicens, a quiet artsy neighbourhood. There the girl discovered lemons. The trees swelled and doubled over with their weight. She picked one, bit, blanched with the taste. The lady laughed. The girl made friends quickly. She learnt their language. They would languish on the hot ground, surrounded by tiny lizards, and play imaginary games. They would call out to each other, the noise upsetting the fuzzy still heat, making dust rise in a lazy cloud. The days blurred together. It was always hot, nearly always sunny. The storms were violent but rare.
The lady watched the girl playing and smiled. But the heat was becoming overbearing. She grabbed the girl one morning and spirited her away to Montpellier, halfway across the South. It was further inland; it was cosmopolitan. The girl cried for her chums but soon forgot. She spent her days hanging around the shopping centre and making new friends, older, wiser, who educated her in the latest fads. The lady expressed mild concern, but left the girl to it.
Montpellier was cooler, livelier than Perpignan. But the lady found herself craving the sea. She had a dream of pretty boats all nestled in a harbour, from a postcard perhaps, or a dream. No, she didn’t dream anymore. She took the girl east to Antibes. The girl brooded for the first hour on the bus but then sadly settled.
While Perpignan was a sprawling spider of a town, and Montpellier a mass of tiny streets leading to one big square, Antibes was endless parallel roads leading up and down endless hills. The lady grew tired of climbing, while the girl drifted between the harbour and the spice market, solitary, always thinking. She would spend hours in one of the town’s many bookshops, browsing, reading, learning. Silently.
One day the lady announced her intention to move again. The girl said, “Where? Any further and we’ll be in Italy.” The lady nodded, slowly. She understood. The next morning she left the girl standing at the water’s edge. The girl waved, the lady waved. The lady started to walk away, turning around several times before finally passing through the great archway that led from the port into the town. Then she wept.
On the train she went through her bag again, fingering every possession. She had gained nothing, she had lost nothing. She fingered the bracelet, so tiny, read the name, Francisca. “France,” she murmured, holding the paper to her lips.
She had done it. She had wanted to know what her life would have been like with France in it. Now, it was time to move on and start over in Italy.
Elizabeth Gibson is a Masters student at the University of Manchester and a Digital Reporter for Manchester Literature Festival. Her work has been accepted by London Journal of Fiction, Far Off Places, Severine, Gigantic Sequins, Jellyfish Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She is a reviewer for The Cadaverine and Structo. She tweets at @Grizonne and blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.co.uk.