It was almost spring when the sea mist
landed, passing up the valley like a barbarian army, razing everything in its
Simon Abelson was in the courtyard watering
his tomatoes when he saw it gathering over the Bay of Balarés. It was a solid
wall of vapour, almost like a nuclear cloud. He and Carolina had been planning
a trip to the interior, to see their son, Xavier, who was an architect in
Salamanca. They had hoped to leave the next day, and return in a few weeks when
summer had arrived, but upon seeing the mist Simon was overcome with
‘My love,’ he called, ‘can we leave right
They threw a few things into their car and
pulled out on to Estrada Portesco, just in time to see the mist touch and
dissolve the corner of the beach. Carolina was at the wheel.
‘My god,’ Simon cried, ‘that mist will
Carolina, who was the practical one in the
family, shook her head, and said: ‘Simon, you are too full of dreams!’
It was true. Simon’s mind was like a
pinball machine. Drop in a coin and worries would scatter and pelt and ping in
all directions, until they escaped to the drain. A professor of semiotics, he
had been known to collapse in a kind of epilepsy over simple questions―‘Who are
you?’ or ‘What is the time?’―and to wither in fear at the prospect of social
engagement. Many times, Carolina had asked him to see a therapist, to get to
the heart of his inner labyrinth.
‘Hurry,’ he shouted. ‘This mist is going to
Although Carolina was the calm one, she too
occasionally fell victim to that most human of afflictions, which is to say:
she had feelings. Why had her son not called about the arrangements? Did he no
longer care? Had she not done her best? Had their bond never recovered since
the day she lost him in that supermarket in Ponteceso when he was six years
‘Do not shout,’ she said, ‘if you want us
to make it there alive!’
The month of April was the most beautiful
in Galicia. After the winter chill, the Atlantic sun had burst forth again. All
over the hills, wildflowers ran free. The people of Couto were already planning
the annual festival, in which the boys and girls would dance the jota, as their
fathers kept time on pitu and bombo. There were sea mists all winter, but none
before in April, and none so stealthy as this. Simon, turning in his seat and
craning his neck through ninety degrees, watched it through the back window.
‘It is like a giant waterfall,’ said Simon.
‘If it catches us, you will not be able to see.’
The little car made it to the outskirts of Couto, shuddering as it rolled the bend and joined the AC-424. Simon’s stomach was rumbling. In other circumstances, he would have asked his wife to stop for coffee and pastry, but the mist was too wild. He watched in horror as it claimed the town, swallowing its people, its little brick homes. The Mayor and Mayoress, out for a morning stroll, were taken by its vapour. Manuel Gatt, selling newspapers on the corner, seemed to go up in a puff of steam. The abbatoir exploded in pale blue light, adding a stench of bacon to the mist’s cool scent.
Carolina, seeing this devastation in her
wing mirror, pushed harder on the accelerator. The car lurched forward, almost
ramming into a milk lorry. The lorry driver slowed to hoot, and was swallowed
whole in the ravenous fog.
‘I have always loved you,’ said Simon,
reaching across, to touch his wife’s arm, ‘no matter what I might have said.’
With a hiss, the mist touched the bumper of
their little car.
‘And I you,’ said Carolina. ‘No matter what
I might have thought.’
In a moment, everything went dark. It
seemed that the car had been lifted from the road. Like a tornado, the mist
carried them off, spinning and lurching, washing them clean. Carolina whipped
at the wheel, but it made no difference as the car skidded along on a slick of
memory. Simon closed his eyes. For the first time in his life, he prayed.
It took only a second for the mist to pass,
only a second before they were back on the AC-424, travelling along jauntily in
their little runabout, a middle-aged, married couple, vacation-bound. All
around them the countryside sparkled, as if it had been washed clean. Bird song
entered the cabin, like so many bells. Colours―green, brown, blue, white―appeared crystalline, essential. It seemed to Simon that he had suddenly recovered his
sight after a temporary blindness. Even the air smelled sweet.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, to the woman beside him.
‘What is your name?’
She turned to him, smiling. What a
beautiful creature she was. Where had she appeared from?
‘I do not know, my love.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Who can tell,’ she said. ‘Life is
And, suddenly, he was seized by an alien
feeling, something calm and still, a little like the feeling he got when he
watered the tomatoes, watching each droplet float through the air like some
miniature sun and land on the taut red skin.
If he had a name for the feeling, this
professor of meaning, he might have called it ‘happiness’. For the sea mist did
not destroy all in its path, but only its past and its future, leaving behind a
single moment, rolling on forever and ever.