She could feel it. The warm gentle kiss, the salty smell, the texture of millions of minuscule grains between her toes, the calming paced music. She was there, with him, feeling the sun slowly toasting her skin to a perfect tan, the sensation of cleansing that only a good sweat could provide. A cascade of emotions and memory transported her, as if instead of simply holding a rectangular piece of paper she had been magically displaced to a time when everything seemed simpler. She was there, with Julien, both on the prime of their youth, sitting on a bay and feeling the breeze, sharing plans for the near future. “Travel”, he said, “I want to see a little more of the world before thinking of anything else.” She dreamed of it, too, but she knew her parents wouldn’t allow it.
The postcard came when she had long forgotten about it all. And it took its time, apparently. Despite the absence of wrinkled borders, it was an old card. The image, a beach scene photo, was clearly one of those ancient black and white pictures colorized after for printing, the washed-out colours, the skin tones not quite matching a real person, the greens and browns on the trees a little odd. She remembered seeing cards like those on her grandma’s things when she passed away. It could well be one of those, a memento from a deceased relative, a small piece of history from a bedroom chest, distributed between loved ones. But that one came on the mail just that day, and had her name and address on it. And almost nothing else. No message, no sender name. Just two letters: J.O.
Julien Owen. They had a thing on the last year of high school when both found each other on the same coast city for the summer, both finally glad their respective parents had chosen that particular beach. What was looks and smiles across the hall became long walks on the sand, long talks on the sunset, longing for a kiss that never happened. He had too big plans, he would leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself, and he cared too much for her. It was Julien that never let anything happen, that kept talking when she wished his lips silenced by hers. It was already set by then. He was to leave by the end of the summer, explore the world as he wanted, live abroad for a few months, maybe years. “But I want to keep this, I want to keep you in my life. I will write you, all the time, tell you about all the amazing adventures I’ll live.” And she would write him back, keep the conversation going until the moment when he would come back, settle down and, maybe, it would finally be their time. “We will be pen pals”, she answered.
The card was in her hands as if it was the most fragile thing. She held it gently by the edges, never touching the surface, afraid the grease on her fingers could damage that gift. It swirled while she remembered that last day on the beach, the promises neither one kept. She wondered why now, why like that, why an old card, much older than their interrupted friendship. Why no message. As the card turned on itself, she saw the faintest marks, almost an illusion of a glimpse, something written then erased, only the small depressions on the paper, ghosts of the letters once there. Maybe he wrote something on a paper that was over the card. It was not much, and she could only read even less. Some numbers, that was all. The hope vanished just as soon as it arrived. Her name and address didn’t seem to have been written a long time ago. The bold strong letters almost highlighted over the old paper, as the stamp. Two new additions to a decades-old postcard. Both on the right side, black ink on the yellowish of the sand. There were numbers there, too. A date, showing the card was posted just one week before.
She was staring at the back of the card without really looking at it, her mind wandering so far her eyes could well shut down. Their last time together replayed in her head, the way the sunset made her eyes sparkle, his unkempt hair dancing like an algae to the wind, the golden glow in the skin. They had been running, playing around in the sand, the saltiness in the air adding to his sweat, the taste she stole from an embrace. Without warning, she was brought back to reality, the symbol and numbers jumping at her as if calling for attention. There was something about that stamp, besides it being new, something that pulled from one memory right into another one.
The box was on the back of her closet, behind more shoes than she remembered owning, way more than she needed. The edges on the lid were torn, the paper faded, everything was dusty. How many years had she lived in that apartment? That’s probably how long the box was untouched. Its weight remained familiar, and just removing the rubber band was enough for her to start seeing what was inside. Old papers, envelopes, ripped out notebook pages, souvenirs from the past. She dug into it, her hands trying to pull precisely what she was looking for. It was a small bundle, held by the bracelet he made for her out of dandelion’s stems that last day. There was the first letter he sent, also the last. More than thirty years ago, but somehow the stamp jumped on her, letting her know she had seen it before. He told her how exciting was the beginning of his adventure, how he couldn’t wait to show her around, how he almost couldn’t cope with the longing. That letter also didn’t have a sender address, something about him sending it from a different place that the one he wrote about, you know, traveling a lot. Three photos were also in the bundle, the two of them together, young faces on yellowed pictures. How would he look like then? Why he never wrote again? Why she never replied? How could they keep contact like that? Letters that took weeks to arrive, words no longer relevant when read. What if they had Internet back then? Internet. How come she never looked him up?
It was there all the time, the power to search for anything, anyone, since the day when she first heard the squealing sounds announcing she was then connected to the entire world through her computer. She let the chance slip by her, distracted by endless chain emails, cat videos, and animated GIFs. When she typed his name on Google, she was sure the first result would be a recent picture, along with a summary of the last three decades of his life. She did find Julien Owen online. A whole bunch of them. None the one she wanted. No Facebook profile, no Twitter account, no Instagram. She even tried Google+, just to be sure. The closest she got was some references in students lists, long before he left. All she wanted was see his face as a grown-up man. After half an hour looking at unknown homonyms, she gave up.
There were about a dozen tabs open on her browser, the aftermath of the unfruitful search for an online Julien. She clicked the little X in each one without really minding her actions, the thoughts elsewhere, daydreaming about meeting him again, surprising him with a visit. Maybe not surprise, since he had sent her a card. Was it an invitation? Why not write something? The numbers, the faded marks on the card, went to her mind just as she was about to close the last tab, and the browser. It was worth a shot. She typed the digits, and the results showed a specific location. So specific, a map was on the top of the list. She mentally thanked the gods of the Internet for creating such amazing tools, and examined her first clue, probably the only one she would need. It was an address. Or almost, at least. A postal code for a street on a small caribbean island. Looking at photos of the place, she recognized a few of the things Julien told her in that one letter.
She barely noticed she was about to travel before having to pass through the security procedures at the airport. After having the closest thing to a location for her friend, she bought the ticket, packed and left in a pinch. And then she was being patted down. It was only in the plane that she wondered how long it would take. Well, it would be enough hours to finish a book or two – which she haven’t brought – and a layover to boot. If only she had looked at it before, at the boarding room, she could have bought a few amenities, but she was stuck with the chatty retired lady next to her for the whole 13 hours of the trip. When the plane landed and the passengers were directed to a staircase attached to the door – there was no finger – she realized she had also forgotten her sunglasses. There was so much light overstimulating her retinas she could barely appreciate the beautiful sunny day and the blue sky. The wind would have knocked her hat off, had only she been wearing one.
Out of sheer luck, she landed in the morning, meaning she could pass almost the entire day looking for the street before going for the hotel she didn’t book. She communicated in her best Spanish impression to the cab driver who spoke perfect English. Was she sure about the address? There was not much to see in the place. If she wanted, he could drive her to some nice sights before dropping her on her friend’s house. What did she mean, he didn’t know she was coming?
Well, there she was, on the beginning of an apparently infinite suburban street full of identical houses. It was near enough to the beach for her to hear the waves cracking. She walked the long of the street, unable to discern one house from another apart from minor aesthetic details. She was already preparing herself to start knocking random doors when a scent reached her nose. It was a smell like heaven on a perfect spring day, sweet just about right, mildly fruity, natural floral. It reminded her of brighter days and past loves. It reminded her of something she had smelled recently. She took the postcard and put it close to her nose. Yes, it was the same scent, how could she not notice it before? It was the scent of her favorite flower.
On her left, the house identical to every other on sight, the same raw wood door, the same pale yellow walls and red roof tiles. If not for the flourishing lilac flowerbed under the front window, it could be anyone’s house. She walked slowly down the lawn, stopped near the door and lifted her hand. What would she tell him? Why had she came? Maybe she wouldn’t need to say anything. That was her hope when she knocked the first time. Her heart pounded fast each second he didn’t opened the door. She knocked again, and a third time, before realizing he probably wasn’t home. Why would he? It was the beginning of the afternoon on a weekday, he would be working as everyone else. She leaned on the door, pressed her hand against it and let the magical scent fill her spirit again. She was about to turn around and go, return later to try again, when the voice came from the street.