"Oh yes Josie, light of my life?" Curtis replies lazily from his place on the picnic blanket. He has his eyes closed and his face turned towards the sun, and he really does remind me of an old tortoise, in an odd way. Or a sunflower. That's a bit cheerier, and more in keeping with his hunky good looks. Yes, I like that better.
"I'm thinking I'd like to go to Spain," I tell him. I'm sitting under the branches of a forest of Quaking Aspen that is supposedly the oldest known organism, at 80,000 years old. Give or take a few hundred years, because once you're that old, you know, why not?
We started our Tour of the Ancients (Curtis' name for it, not mine. He has this strange compulsion for naming everything we do, as though it's all part of an epic story, or a long running TV show. Yeah, like Dallas. That was one show I actually watched with my dad as a kid. On days when I was sick, or playing sick at least, we would sit on the couch and watch Dallas. There's shootings and everything in it – just like my life! Well, anyway... the tour-) by looking for the oldest animals. These turned out to be shellfish mostly, and kind of disappointing. I mean, what's the point of living four hundred years if all you're going to do is sit with your head literally in the ground?
We did eat some ancient shellfish though. Pretty tasty.
After the ancient sea urchin, I decided I wanted to see something a little more interesting. When Curtis accused me of being rascist, I'll admit I snapped at him.
"Just because this old man can't tell his story as well as I can…" Curtis said defensively.
"What story would he tell?" I asked, gesturing at the urchin. "For the past hundred years, the sun has risen and the tide has come and gone and I've sat here and eaten and shitted and that's about it. Yeah, I think that about sums up a sea urchin's life."
"I'm sure he has a rich inner life," Cutis said, and I realized I was standing in the ocean arguing the richness of the life of a sea urchin, and I had to laugh. Otherwise I'd have gone crazy. Or crazier. Again, with the whole arguing about the philosophical worth of a sea urchin thing, I'm not sure we hadn't already gone mad. Maybe this is why humans don't last too long.
"Can I still get dementia?" I asked, suddenly disturbed that I may be the one thirty year old in an old folks home one day.
Curtis sat and stared at me for long enough that I got the creeps and didn't want him to answer the question anymore. "Oh my god!" I yelled, throwing my hands in the air. "I don't think I can take anymore ancient shellfish or sea urchins – my mental state can't handle it. Let's find an ancient mammal!"
And so we were led to travel north, to visit an odd little creature called the bowhead whale. And when I saw little, I mean the second largest animal on earth. With the largest mouth in the animal world (and really, it's got to be the largest mouth in the plant world as well, hasn't it?), and the thickest layer of fat.
I liked the bowhead whales. Even though I had to freeze my ass off to see them.
We were watching them from the boat one day, when I said, "Maybe that's how you get to live long; by being lazy and harmless and fat." I liked the sound of that.
But Curtis shook his head. "You're misreading these guys," he told me. "First of all, they're not lazy – they spend their whole lives swimming around and bashing ice with their skulls and badass stuff like that. And they're not harmless – they're carnivores. Just because the lives they eat are tiny lives, that doesn't make them any less murderers."
"Murderers?" I asked, mocking his choice of words.
"Murderers," he replied. "And lastly, they're not fat – they're big boned."
After the bowhead whales, I discovered this ancient tree called Methuselah in the states that's supposedly over four thousand years old.
"Methuselah, now there's an interesting character," Curtis started to say as we stood by the old tree. He trailed off, doing his usual, wait for Josie to take the bait bit.
"Oh yeah? Crazy as a bat was he?" I asked. "A wall-eyed pervert perhaps? Did he have a secret fetish for cotton candy poodles?"
"No, he… Well actually, he's not really an interesting character at all," Curtis said at last. "I don't really know why I said that."
"Seriously, or are you just trying to draw me in?"
"No, I'm serious, he just never really did anything interesting in his life. That in itself is maybe the most interesting part – that he could have such a long, looooong life, and never really get involved in any scandal or anything." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How is that possible?" he mused. "It must be a lie. He must be hiding something…"
I left him behind then. And then we came here, to meet Pando, who is older than Curtis by far, older than any living devil even. We packed a picnic so we could spend the say just sitting with this grandpa of grandpas.
"Why do you want to go to Spain now?" Curtis asks. "What ancient shall we find there?"
"No ancients," I say, "I just was thinking how nice it would be to buy a little villa by the ocean and spend some months lounging about reading, eating, drinking…"
Curtis turns around onto his stomach to look up at me with a grin. "A love nest?" he asks eagerly. It still surprises me sometimes, how much Curtis wants me. Physically I mean. I know that I'm all that when it comes to the brains and the heart, but I still don't get the body thing. Sometimes it creeps me out that he can be so attracted to this board I call a body.
"Sure. Why not? Might as well have a honeymoon now, so we won't have to get married," I say flatly.
"Sah-weet!" Curtis hoots. Within the week we're on a flight to Spain.
Real estate is fantastically cheap in Spain too, not that Curtis would have any problem paying for any castle I like. Hm, a castle… maybe that's where we could live next. We could get into all kinds of fun role playing in a castle.
But in any case…
While we're looking for the perfect villa location we travel around the country and get our tourist on while we're at it. So of course we head over to Gibraltar, in case I decide I'd rather live in an English speaking country within Spain.
The only problem with that is that there aren't many villas in Gibraltar. It's kind of hard to squeeze villas onto a tiny, overcrowded rock anyway. But we have fun anyways. Curtis lets a slick talking van tour driver talk him into paying for a private ride for us up the Rock to see the monkeys.
There's another reason I wouldn't want to live in Gibraltar. The damned monkeys.
Not that I have anything against monkeys in particular. Just that there's this one monkey in Gibraltar…
So we get up the Rock and meet a bunch of monkeys hanging around waiting for the tour guides to feed them. And of course, a monkey jumps on Curtis' head, so I start laughing as he shrieks girlishly in fear, only to freak out a few moments later when another monkey jumps on my back.
And promptly starts making sweet, sweet monkey love to my backpack.
"Ah! Are you serious? You pervy little creep!" I yell, trying to shake the damn thing off, but he's having none of it. He's determined to finish, and he's not getting down until he's had his way with my bag.
"Hey! That's my woman!" Curtis booms, stomping over to threaten the monkey. He bares his teeth and snarls in a very good imitation of the monkey – and I have to say, I've never been so turned off by looking at Curtis as I am in that moment – and the monkey actually listens and buggers off.
Curtis stands with his hands akimbo for a minute, smugly staring after the retreating monkey. When he finally turns to me and sees the withering look I'm giving him (I wasn't sure it really would be withering until I see the half afraid–half disappointed expression on his face when he does see it) he lifts his hands in a mute entreaty.
"Are you proud of yourself?" I ask him scathingly. "Scaring a little monkey away from your woman?"
For a second he looks like he might apologize, but then, of course he wouldn't apologize, so he laughs it off. "Yes, I am proud of myself," he says, lifting his chin. "I got the girl in the end. Now, give me my woman," he says, and he comes towards me with his hands out. I turn away to show my disgust, but he grabs my backpack and pulls it off my shoulders. I expect him to grab me then, but when he does no such thing I turn around to see him holding my backpack against his cheek and stroking it softly.
"Hush now, it's okay," he murmurs to it, "you're safe with me. I'll never let you go again." At the sound of my laughter he glares at me. "Don't worry about her," he tells the backpack, "she means nothing to me anymore. It was always you." He leans the backpack over his knee and starts to pretend to make out with it, and I can't stop laughing, and I realize there are a lot of tourists around being either disgusted or highly amused by my ridiculous man or my ridiculous guffaw, but I really just can't stop laughing.
Hey, if he can call me his 'woman', why shouldn't I call him my 'man'?
We finally settle on a modest two thousand square foot villa on the Mediterranean just south of Barcelona. It's too big really, and we hardly use most of it, but both of us have eyes that are too big for our living needs, so we couldn't resist.
I love it though. I love sitting in the sun and the spray from the sea. I love sitting in the shade of the olive trees on hot days, and I even love lying around in bed on those really hot days when there's really nothing else you can do but lie around.
"Do you think we'll ever go home again?" I ask Curtis, on one of those days. We're lying naked on the back porch, looking out over the sea. I've never been naked as often as I have been these past few days – a heat wave. I never liked to be naked because of all my various insecurities about my body, but I'm getting used to it. I like being naked for no other reason than because clothes are too much. I'm not saying I'm not still insecure, or that I like my body now – I doubt that'll ever happen – but I find I don't care so much anymore. It's nice.
"Home is where the heart is, and my heart is with you Josie Haines," Curtis says solemnly, holding my hand and putting it on his chest.
"Oh barf," I answer, sticking a finger in my mouth to indicate my disgust. I peel my fingers off his sweaty pecs and roll away from him. It's too hot to touch even Curtis, especially if he's in one of his saccharine moods. "Forget I said anything."
"Do you want to go back?" he asks. "Are you tired of our love nest already?"
"It's not that I want to leave here," I say, "but we've been away for a long time. I haven't seen Trevor in ages!"
Curtis sighs. "I always knew he was the one you really joined the family for," he says sadly. "That's why I try to take you away from all that – from his brilliant charisma."
I turn my head to look at him. "What about you? You don't miss your family? What about little Lucy?"
"Ah, I do love Lucy," he says seriously. We're both silent for a moment before bursting out laughing. The sun shines fiercely on the sea, glinting in my eyes and dazzling me all over again with it's beautiful clear blue. Out in the distance, I swear I can hear and answering call to my laughter.
"Are there seals in the Mediterranean?"