The Boy With the Fire in His Eyes and the Girl who Loved Him (a contemporary fairy tale)
When Sorjuana Cadiz met Xavier Bardao on a warm August night in Barcelona, she remembered how his eyes were so dark that they acted like mirrors, which reflected the candlelight at a café table on Las Ramblas so brilliantly that they seemed to be forged of living fire. When she told Xavier this, he only smiled and said that she should be careful what she said, and so she became quiet and stared into his eyes that echoed each flicker and dance of the candles.
Exactly twelve months and three days later Xavier proposed to Sorjuana, saying that he loved her with all his soul. He got down on one knee in broad daylight at 14:42 at the entrance of the grand unfinished Gaudí cathedral known as Sagrada Familia on August 17th. It was a Thursday, and it was hot. Three tourist buses had disgorged their minions, who took snapshots of the strikingly handsome Spanish boy proposing to the most exquisitely beautiful Spanish girl on the steps just below the entrance where a Cubistic Christ, attended by his weeping apostles, looked down in pain from his stone cross.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you propose to me on such a hot day as that,” Sorjuana would later say. For, that August 17th day was the hottest day in Barcelona in 97 years. It was strangely dry also, which was unusual for this city that danced right next to a clear blue Mediterranean Sea. In fact, it was so dry and so hot that the air seemed to be made of little particles of white fire. This phenomenon, scientists said two days later, was the result of a heavy saturation of salt crystals in the air which the Mediterranean Sea had let loose from her skirt after her heated dance with the sun.
“How was I to know it would be so hot?” laughed Xavier. “I would have proposed to you on that day even if it had snowed and the statues wore beards of ice,” and he kissed her full red lips and ran his fingers through her dark hair that always seemed to him to smell faintly of fresh oranges as if she had just come in from the Andalusian citrus groves in the south of Spain.
“It never snows in Barcelona,” replied Sorjuana, and she did not mention that at the moment Xavier had said, “I love you. Will you be my wife?” the sunlight ricocheted off a pane of stained glass, mingled with the brilliant white flashes in the air and set his eyes to such fearsome flames that it seemed he would burn up from the intensity of the fire. But, she remembered that the last time she had mentioned his eyes Xavier had told her not to remark about it. It was a bright morning, and his eyes blazed with the promise of a fierce sun, and she kissed him back, inhaling the minty traces of shaving cream on his face, a face which to her seemed to be a reincarnation of the noble faces of the old Spaniards from the days of the Romans.
Exactly two years and four months later, on Christmas Eve, Sorjuana gave birth to their first child. Their doctor had asked if they wanted to know the child’s sex so they could name it ahead of time and be spared a hasty decision that the child might regret later in life, but they both said that they preferred the mystery. So, on December 24, at 20:17 PM, Sorjuana brought into this world a baby boy, and they named him Enric.
“He looks just like you, my love,” said Sorjuana as the baby Enric closed his tiny fingers about a strand of her long hair and nestled down to sleep against her breast to hear once more the sound of his mother’s heart.
“How does anyone know who a baby looks like,” replied Xavier. “He hasn’t been in this world long enough for time to carve him a face like mine anyway,” he said as he kissed Enric on the cheek and then kissed Sorjuana so tenderly that she could feel his heart beat into her own.
“Babies can have their father’s eyes,” Sorjuana said affectionately.
“He hasn’t opened his yet,” Xavier whispered, “He might have your eyes.”
Xavier climbed in bed next to Sorjuana. It was raining hard, and the wind blew the water against the window in horizontal sheets. The weatherman would later say that Barcelona had not seen a storm of this magnitude in over one hundred years. Streets flooded, the ocean swept in through the marina and over the jetties, the sea gulls had flown in as far as Madrid, some seven hours away by fast train, and days later little children playing soccer in the streets far from the sea would find a piece of seaweed or even a fish still swimming in a pool of still salty water. Xavier pulled the blanket up to Sorjuana’s neck and put his arm around her and Enric. It was wonderful to hear a strong storm outside. In his mind Xavier believed that a winter child would be a strong child, and as the rain poured and the wind grew ever stronger, he felt that the universe was pumping its own primal energy into their baby boy.
“Yes,” smiled Sorjuana, “Enric will be just like you, sweetheart.”
Exactly seven days later, Enric opened his eyes. Sorjuana and Xavier had brought him into the doctor because it seemed strange that a baby’s eyes should stay shut for so long.
“Maybe he wants the privacy of his dreams a little longer,” said Xavier, not really all that worried about the boy.
“Maybe,” said Sorjuana, “there is something wrong and the longer we wait the worse it will be for him.” It was night time when they brought Enric into the doctor’s office, and Enric was fast asleep in his basket. The doctor first listened to his heart.
“His heartbeat’s very strong,” she said after listening to it for a count of one minute. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to wake him up to check his eyes,” and she dimmed the lights and turned on a hand-held instrument that emitted a piercing light. Very carefully she focused the beam on Enric’s little closed eyes. The skin was delicately colored, still the blush from nine months of his mother’s womb. The light kindled the skin over Enric’s eyes to beautiful orbs. Suddenly, the doctor let out a scream and the instrument fell from her hand. Xavier barely caught her as she fainted and almost struck her head against the hard floor.
The nurse, hearing the doctor’s cry, rushed into the room and turned on the light.
“I knew he would have your eyes,” Sorjuana said in amazement, and some fear.
“You never should have said they looked like fire when we first met,” exclaimed Xavier as shocked and amazed as Sorjuana. The doctor said that Enric had opened his eyes when her light shone on them. And there they were. Enric didn’t have the eyes that anyone has. They were living flames, flickering, revolving, oranges and red swirling with sparks of white and blue. The fires did not leave his eye sockets. They stayed just as surely as others' eyes stay in their set boundaries. But they were flames nonetheless, and the doctor, after she recovered from the fright, said there was nothing she could do.
“We’d better keep him happy,” said Xavier. “If he cries he might burn himself up.”
So, Sorjuana and Xavier raised Enric as they would any other boy, except that they were certain that Enric never cried. And God seemed to be merciful, because never once did Enric ever show that he needed to cry. Enric went to school, had many friends, and he could see far better than anyone. He could look straight into the sun, and at night he could pierce the darkest of shadows. He was so handsome that when he grew into adulthood it seemed that even the statues turned to look at him, or that people turned into statues as they looked at him, so transfixed they were by his beauty. He excelled at soccer, and his scores at school were always the highest.
But one thing eluded him, and that was someone to love him. For, though he was as handsome as a Greek god and with his eyes of fire seemed as a god, no girl would give her heart to him. Enric seemed like he didn’t belong to this world, and in their hearts they could not give their affections to a man with fire for eyes, no matter how handsome, smart and athletic he was, or kind. Enric was the perfect boy, the perfect son, the perfect friend. But in his perfection he became imperfect, especially for those of his own age.
Then one day he sat at the dinner table and didn’t say a word to either his father or mother.
“What’s wrong, Enric?” asked Sorjuana, although she and Xavier knew the answer. “You haven’t said anything, and you haven’t eaten at all.”
“No one will love me,” Enric said sadly, “If I were the type who could cry, I’d cry now.”
“It takes a while for everyone to find someone to love them, Enric,” reassured Xavier, “It will take a little longer for you.” Enric’s eyes died down to quiet blue flames. Only here and there a flash of red pierced the sadness.
Way up north in Sweden lived a very beautiful girl of twenty-one years, three months and seventeen days. Her name was Bibi Egeland, and although she was born and lived in Sweden, her parents were from Oslo, Norway. She was six feet tall, willowy, fair-skinned and had blonde hair that seemed as if it sprang from the Harvest Moon on a warm autumn midnight. She was the daughter of Emilie Adrisson and Hjalmar Egeland, a couple who had fallen in love on December 24th, at 20:17 PM, at a Christmas Eve party for Norwegians working in Sweden. The news service said one week later that at 20:17 PM exactly, on December 24th, the temperature was the coldest ever recorded in Malmo, Sweden, which is where the couple ended up staying for the rest of their days.
In fact, all of Scandinavia was in a freeze when Bibi’s parents met. It was so cold that the entire sea froze, so that people could actually skate from Sweden over to Denmark and have coffee with friends they usually only saw in the summer. It was so cold that the grey clouds turned blue and echoed the blue eyes of most of the people in those countries, but the color exactly matched Bibi’s parents’ eyes. It seemed as if the breath of Thor the Thunderer lived both in the air at that moment and in Emilie’s and Hjalmar’s eyes. Many people commented about the beautiful shade of blue that colored Emilie and Hjalmar’s eyes exactly the same color. And everyone agreed that none had ever seen eyes the color of Emilie’s and Hjalmar’s.
Seventeen months and four days later the couple was married, and ten months after that Bibi was born. Bibi was a beautiful child, and her parents loved her deeply. The physician in Malmo, a geneticist in college, wanted to see if the baby would have the exact shade of her eye color as her parents. He knew she had a twenty-five percent chance of inheriting their eye color, but something in his heart said that the laws of genetics and alleles, recessive and dominant, might change with this child. He was right. Bibi opened her eyes in his office one day later, but even he was unprepared for what he saw. For, instead of the delicate blue that seemed otherworldly and so exquisitely beautiful in her parents, little Bibi had the element of air for her eyes. They were light blue one moment, then the deep blue of midnight, or the grey of a cloudy day, and even at times they would swirl with blues, greens and greys so that it seemed a whirlwind danced in her sockets.
So Bibi grew up, a woman as beautiful as the Norse goddess Freyja, kind, intelligent, a wonderful skier and skater, a heart fond of laughter, yet she was alone. And Bibi didn’t dare cry, for all of the doctors, the physicists, even the atmospheric scientists concurred that should Bibi cry she might unleash whirlwinds and tornadoes instead of tears.
The summer of Bibi’s twenty-first year her parents decided to take her to a southern place where she could see beautiful sunsets over a warm and blue sea, hoping that she might forget for a while her beauty which although inspired wonderment, even reverence, failed to inspire love.
It was August 10th in Cadaques, a small village on the Mediterranean to the north of Barcelona, that the Egelands took a summer vacation house. It was an old fishing village frequented by artists, and it was on a small bay. The sunlight had the amazing quality of looking like it was shining through an immaculate and very thin piece of parchment made of the finest celestial materials. Bibi Egeland loved to walk around the north point to look beyond the bay. There was a small restaurant on the cliffs which served her favorite, a tapas that was an omelette with potatoes cooked inside. As it was always sunny, Bibi wore sunglasses to hide her eyes.
This particular August 10th day Bibi was finishing her tapas when she glimpsed a very handsome man sit down next to her. The man wore the same sunglasses as she, and he smiled, spoke in a rapid Catalan to a waiter and then looked over the sea. Bibi wondered about him. He seemed uncomfortable, as if his beauty was a flaw, or maybe he did not find himself as others saw him? Had she been able to see into his thoughts she would have known he was thinking the same about her. For Bibi also possessed a discomfort of someone who realizes she is flawed in some deep way forged by nature and not able to be fixed by mankind and so must be hidden both in countenance and in belief.
The waiter brought over a tapas of the fried potatoes known as patatas bravas. Bibi tried them once and loved them, but brava means spicy in Spanish, and she found them delicious, yet too hot for her unaccustomed tongue. Still, she loved watching people eat them imagining what it would be like to be able to withstand the heat of the red sauce. At that moment a gust of wind blew in from the sea, a gust that seemed to be an arrow from the heart of the Mediterranean itself, comprised of air newly born and never breathed before this moment. The gust knocked the sunglasses from Bibi’s face, and her eyes swirled a deep blue, and lightnings tap-danced around the edges and into the middles.
The man looked at her, at her eyes, and she quickly picked up her sunglasses and put them back on. But it was too late. The man walked over to her table and sat down. He asked her something in Spanish, then in Catalan, then in French. She could understand none of them, but she responded in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and German. He shook his head. They stared at each other behind their dark sunglasses for so long it seemed the sun rose and set three times before the man moved.
Slowly he took off his sunglasses. And she saw that instead of eyes he had living flames swirling in deep scarlet and orange hues. He slowly moved his hands to her sunglasses. He would have stopped if she wanted, but she didn’t want him to stop. His eyes were so beautiful she wanted to see them without the mask of dark glass. She felt his fingers delicately wrap around her glasses; then he removed them, and he looked deep into her eyes. They were now the color of the air that clings to the surface of the Mediterranean Sea just as the morning breaks over the horizon.
“Enric,” he said slowly. “Yo soy Enric.”
“Bibi,” she reponded.
They both stared into each others’ eyes, watching each nuance, each subtle change. Behind them their parents approached and waved. But they stopped when they saw their children, their only children, looking into the eyes of the other.
Bibi placed her hands into Enric’s waiting grasp. Enric felt her heart race, the slight traces of perspiration from anticipation, fear, the same feelings that rose up in him higher and higher until it seemed that the feelings were about to overflow. Enric stood up and walked Bibi to the edge of the cliffs high up over the sea.
Suddenly, he felt his eyes start to burn. He tried to hold back, but tears sprang forth and ran in living flames down his face. Bibi saw the flames pour from Enric’s eyes, and she suddenly felt the fiery cold taste of her own tears as they sped from her own eyes. They held each other closely, each heartbeat quickening, matching the other, and still the tears came. Two whirlwinds sprang up at their feet. They were fed by the living fire that fell from Enric’s eyes.
Soon the whirlwinds were rushing about them. Enric saw his tears become torrents of fire, but this was not a burning fire. It was a beautiful fire that nourished and fed. Higher and higher the winds rose until all that the shocked onlookers could see were two growing tornadoes of vivid flame. Suddenly, the two twisting vortices of fire leapt up into the sky. Together they danced across the Mediterranean Sea, at each touch leaving a splash of color, until they disappeared over the horizon outshining even the sunset.