Seeing Red -- "Ronda is in Spain, Dizzy on Orange Blossoms"

"Dizzy on Orange Blossoms"

Ronda is sitting in the Alcázar gardens, getting dizzy on orange blossoms and Moorish tiles.

Everywhere she turns, there are squares and diamonds and fiendishly complex six-sided stars. She tries to steady her gaze on a single pattern, one of blue and gold interlocking lines, but soon the ornate design blurs and she yawns, closing her eyes.

She arrived in Sevilla 2011-03-22-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpgonly three hours ago, on the morning flight from Madrid. She was so tired after flying all night that when she lay down, she stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Anxious for exhaustion, she got up and showered and walked from her hotel all the way into the center of town, to the palace, the only place she can clearly remember visiting four years ago with Ben.

When the two of them were here together then, it was December, a bitter and rainy day, and they raced through the Alcázar bundled up in winter coats. Today, though, the sun is shining in the typical Moorish fashion, hot and unforgiving, and Ronda is not in any hurry. She lingers on a warm bench in front of the room the guidebook calls "Maria's bath."

A handsome, sharply featured Spanish guide is explaining in loud accented English that Maria de Padilla was mistress to the royal palace's builder, Pedro the Cruel. "So great was Pedro's love for Maria," the guide bellows to a group of tourists, "that he and the other courtiers lined up to drink from Maria's royal bath water."

Ronda laughs out loud, trying to picture the cups the men used to drink from the bath. Probably silver goblets.

The tour group moves on and Ronda follows, then wanders to a far corner of the garden.

Thick clusters of oranges are hanging from every tree. Glancing to either side to check for guards, she reaches up, plucks off an orange and tucks it into her purse.

She sits down on a bench and stares into a sea of white orange blossoms right beside her face, the fragrant five-pointed flowers floating in a sea of waxy green leaves. Setting her guidebook beneath her head, she reclines on the bench. Her eyes close. She sees tiles. Blue and gold interlocking stars. Black and white hexagons and squares. In Sevilla, it seems tiles are everywhere. The mind-boggling patterns even decorate the walls and floors of all the rest rooms.

The next thing she knows a security guard is gently shaking her shoulder. Mouth slack, Ronda pops upright, confused. Her thoughts go instantly to the stolen orange, hidden inside her purse. "Oh my God," she cries, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry."

The young guard grins. "No puede dormir aquí, señora."

"Oh, sí, sí, lo siento. I'm...I'm so sorry," Ronda apologizes, glancing at her watch. It's six a.m., American time. "I'm still catching up," she explains, pointing at the watch.

Leaving the garden, she stops momentarily before a tree. A pair of plump grapefruits dangles from a gnarled limb. Ronda turns her camera to the fruit and snaps a photo. In every direction, the turreted walls surrounding the garden are painted lemon yellow or salmon. One or two walls are blood red. The last room she visits before leaving the palace contains dozens of antique fans.

She thinks: I cannot leave Spain this time without buying a fan. And that's when panic grips her. How long will she be in Spain? She doesn't have an endless supply of money. How long will it take to find him? And what happens when she does find him? And what happens if she doesn't?

She passes out of the palace through a towering fortified wall and hails a cab back to the hotel. Fully clothed, she drops on her bed and for a moment fear grips her. What am I doing here, alone, in Spain, searching for a man who very well might not want to be found? But soon she falls into a deep sleep, dipping into dreams tangled with white orange blossoms and zigzagging Moorish tiles.

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