Antoni shuffled quickly down the hall to the front foyer, doing up the buttons to his best suit as he went. He paused for a moment at a vase of flowers one of his admirers had brought the day before. He scowled at the flowers. The whole thing looked as unnatural as possible. Each flower was perfection and that made it look like a garish copy of life. He yanked out a single flower for his lapel, crushing another between his hands to catch its soft scent. Joan would be upset that the arrangement was now entirely off kilter. Antoni smiled at the thought, that man was entirely too uptight.
His cowlick waved to him in the mirror above the vase. Antoni grunted. “Humph! Ridiculous hair.” He wiggled his fingers into the vase swishing the water into his palm, smoothing out his cowlick. It remained at much the same angle as the fussy flower arrangement. One little flower had been missed at the back. She was inconsistent shades of red to pink and leaned off to one side. “That,” he thought, “is the one Beatriz would love most of all.” He would make sure she took it home.
A small woman sat on the wooden chair by the door. She wore a black dress, neat and clean but worn. Her black hair had threads of silver woven through and was braided, simply, into a bun. She was watching out the window, her hands in her lap stretching in the dappled sunlight. She turned to meet him, her eyes soft and shy, her little nose, whose freckles had begun to blend together; all these things were just as he remembered. The strange sway to her back seemed more in line with her age now and not so out of place.
“Mr. Gaudi. Thank you for seeing me. I do not know if you remember me, but perhaps you would recall my family name …”
Gaudi laughed a long deep rumble that squeaked from disuse. “Beatriz! How could I forget?” He came forward and took her hand gently helping her from her chair. “It has been too long. And as for family names it is I that should be recalling mine, Beatriz, to you I am Antoni. Just Antoni.” He handed her the flower.
“Antoni! You picked the most beautiful.” Beatriz smiled, light dancing in her shy eyes. “I had hoped you would remember me, Antoni. You’ll have to excuse my condition. My nephew brought me in on his cart. The boy hits all the holes. I am afraid I can’t sit for long.”
“Ah, well, that suits me perfectly. I am just going on my prescription now. Do you have time? Would it suit you to join me?”
“That would be wonderful, Antoni. My nephew will not be done market until this afternoon, and until then I am free.”
Antoni slipped his arm under hers, she walked, stilted, leaning heavily into him, his cane supporting them both as they walked into the street.
As they came into the sunshine and the awakening bustle of the streets, Beatriz laughed again. “I never would have thought we would go on one of our walks in Barcelona! The streets are our ocean Antoni!”
“Yes,” he smiled, “at our age we dare not get our feet wet! Nasty undertow here. You’d get buried under the wheels and never get up!” They both laughed together again. It felt nice to laugh. He had forgotten how long it had been, since Guell died probably.
“Do you remember our walks in the sand?”
“Ah, yes,” he smiled. “All the other children were off kicking balls …”
“Or playing in the hills, or swimming…”
“Yes, and you and I we were the only ones not able to play.”
“Hum,” she said. “I’m glad there was someone else. I spent many days on the porch weaving baskets and shelling snails by myself. Everyone was mean but you Antoni. I’ve always meant to thank you. You were kind to let me be your friend.”
“Beatriz, you think I was kind? You moved the same pace as me. You were my friend. My dear friend. I’m only sorry I was not a better one. I must apologize that I never came to visit…”
“No need,” She dismissed. She smiled and walked on, pointing ahead to a streetlight. “Is that one of yours Antoni?”
“Yes, the city commissioned it.”
“It’s beautiful, I could tell right away. The city must love you a lot.”
“Bah, they only want street lights. They ask others for buildings. It was only a bone thrown to an old dog.”
“Still,” she said, “I like it. One can always use a street light.” They came alongside a grand city building with tall Greek columns and severe marble façade. “How about this building?” She asked a playful glint in her eye.
Antoni growled. “Not me, it’s an architect named Mas, on top of Llobet and Bargues’s work, so prim and proper and thoroughly uncreative…” he caught the glint in her eye. “You tease! You knew full well it wasn’t mine!”
Beatriz smiled and didn’t change her pace.
“So, Beatriz, where do you like to visit in Barcelona? Do you have a favorite coffee shop? You choose. You’re the guest.”
“No, no Antoni. You had better choose. I would have no idea. This is my first time here.”
Antoni stopped in his tracks. “The first time in all these years? Why?”
“The trip was always much too hard. And besides I had shelling and work to do, then my nephews to take care of, I did not mind.”
“Then why, why did you come after all this time?”
Beatriz smiled up at Antoni and softly touched his cheek, “For you, Antoni.”