Campoamor and Santiago de la Ribera lie an hour’s bicycle ride from each other. On Antonio’s mental map each town is enclosed by a red circle, and a line of the same color weaves in and out of dirt roads and bramble patches and cornfields to connect both places. The sea spreads a mile or two in the east, its blue edge unmixing with the coast. Near La Ribera, Antonio’s red line straightens along the banks of a small paved canal whose water does not move, but merely creases with the breeze, and shimmers burningly, like cooking oil. On hot days this section of map smells like the insides of a dead toad. Entering into either town, a black road swallows up the track and becomes smooth and efficient, only to lose its geometrical mind after a few miles and despair into a maze of one-way streets and end at a whitewashed house.
At first glance, the house in Campoamor and the house in La Ribera look the same: each is a white box with a red roof, several windows, and a wooden door.
Yet, if one looks closely—as one should with any map—one sees the door to the house in Campoamor is tightly locked, and the curtains are pulled shut; while in La Ribera the same door stands ajar, letting out breakfast sounds and a dog’s demented barking, and the windows reveal friendly suntanned figures, one of whom, perhaps hearing someone enter, tucks a strand of blond hair behind her ear and turns her head.
Antonio opens his eyes at precisely eight a.m. to a white ceiling. The room is as he left it last night, both curtains drawn back to let in the harsh summer sunlight, surfaces dusted, and every object lined up with the wall or floor or adjacent piece of furniture. Antonio’s bathing suit and sandals are already on, each hand palm-down and at the ready. Atop his dresser, under a grimacing crucifix, lie several objects: a bicycle lock key, a golden cross necklace, a chocolate bar, three one-hundred-peseta coins, and an elastic hair band. Avoiding a patch of squeaky springs, Antonio rolls out of bed and pockets all of these items except for the green hair band, which he sniffs and then carefully secretes beneath his underwear in the dresser’s top drawer.