My story "The Last Shop in Europe" in Dodging the Rain, out now.
3:59 AM - 11 Apr 2018
The Last Shop in Europe by Steve Carr
From a pinnacle atop the Rock of Gibraltar, Doreen held her binoculars to her eyes, and through a haze that hung over the Strait of Gibraltar, searched for the coastline of Morocco. Not seeing it she let out a long and loud sigh and let the binoculars drop against her chest where they hung there by a multicolored elastic strap. She turned eastward and faced the turquoise Mediterranean Sea and put her hand above her eyes to block the glare of the midday sun. On the steep and lengthy cliff below where she stood, thousands of gulls nested and perched in the crevices, or flew in or out of the jagged rocks, filling the air with their cacophony. Waves crashing against the base of the cliff were rendered silent by the multitudinous cries of the birds.
Battered by the saltwater-filled wind, her nylon jacket flapped and fluttered around her thin frame and her long brown hair whipped her face. She reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a rubber band and secured her hair into a ponytail; that too immediately tousled by the wind. Slowly turning around, it took her a few minutes to spot her husband among the crowd walking the pathways. He was sitting on a low wall and feeding macaques slices of apple from a clear plastic bag. From the look of joy on his face he was having the time of his life.
She climbed down the rocks to the pathway and narrowly missed stepping on one of the macaques who screeched at her then bounded off toward a tourist holding a bag of grapes. At the wall, unnoticed by her husband, she waited a few minutes before letting him know she was near. Two macaques were sitting on the wall near him patiently awaiting another apple slice.
“When are we going to Morocco, Daniel?” she said as she tugged on the sleeve of his windbreaker.
“Oh, you’ve returned,” he said,“you should give some apple slices to the apes.” He took a slice from the bag and handed it to her.
“No thanks,” she said. “And, by the way, they’re not really apes. They’re monkeys.”
Absentmindedly he bit into the apple slice, “Aren’t apes and monkeys the same thing?”
“Who do I look like, Jane Goodall?” she said. “I read in the guidebook that although they’re called Barbary apes, they’re really monkeys, so there must be a difference.”
“Ape or monkey, they’re very friendly,” he said, giggling like a young schoolboy as he fed the rest of the apple he had bitten into to one of the macaques.
Doreen put her hands in the pockets of her jacket and hugged it tight against her body.
Staring up at the stalactites that hung from the ceiling of a chamber inside St. Michael’s cave, Doreen felt a drop of water splash in the middle of her forehead. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and stared at it, half expecting the water to have the same unnatural blue color that shone on the stalactites from small searchlights covered with blue filters. The voices of those around her expressing their awe of the beauty of the cave reverberated in the cavern. She walked on quickly and entered the auditorium.
“Who knew this was on the top of Gibraltar?” Daniel said excitedly as he came up behind her.
Staring at the raised stage in front of the rows of seats, Doreen said, “Anyone who read the guidebooks knew.”
“It’s beautiful,” he said as he placed his hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged it off.
“It feels unnatural,” she said, “it’s like being inside a Disneyland invention.”
Daniel walked down the steps in the aisle between the rows of seats and stopped at the bottom and turned and waited for Doreen. Feeling dizzy, she held onto a wood railing at the top of the seats and squeezed her eyes closed. The walls of the cave were closing in on her. She tried to imagine herself somewhere else; wandering the streets of Tangier as described in the guidebook. Opening her eyes, she saw Daniel standing a few feet from the stage talking to a stranger. She turned and left the cave the way that she had entered it. Once outside, she made her way down to the wall where macaques were lined up like stuffed animals on a toy store shelf. Impatiently she waited a half hour before Daniel showed up.
“Where did you go?” he said.
“I went here,” she said, “I couldn’t take it in the cave anymore.”
When a macaque reached out its hand palm up to her looking for a handout, Doreen walked away, headed back to the cable cars. Daniel followed behind.
The room smelled of furniture polish and air freshener. Small, but not cramped, it contained a bed, dresser with a mirror, an armoire, writing desk and chair and a stand with a lamp. The room was decorated in dark greens and reds. Heavy red drapes were pushed to the sides of a window that looked down on Main Street. Doreen sat in the chair with the window opened enjoying the feel of the warm night air on her face while watching the pedestrians on the street and sidewalks below. It was closed off to any vehicular traffic. The lights from the ornate street lamps along the street cast a warm glow on the facades of the buildings. After a half hour at the window and unable to shake off the ennui, she closed it and lay on the bed.
Daniel came into the room carrying a bright blue shopping bag. He placed the bag on the dresser and sat on the edge of the bed and began unlacing his shoes.
“You should have come with me,” he said. “There are some great stores along the street.”
“As I said to you in London, Berlin, Paris and Madrid, I didn’t come to Europe to shop,” she said.
He tossed his shoes in front of the armoire then laid down next to Doreen.
“What do you want to do tomorrow?” he said.
“I told you, I’d like to take the ferry across the strait to Morocco before we leave,” she said.
“We may not have time to do that,” he said. “We haven’t seen all of Gibraltar yet and we have to catch our flight back to the states in the morning the day after tomorrow.”
Doreen sighed and rolled onto her side facing the window.
Sitting on the steps at the base of the Moorish castle, Doreen sipped water from a plastic bottle. Beads of sweat ran from her forehead and down her cheeks. A thin, feral, gray, short-haired cat sat beneath nearby bushes peering out at her. She looked at her watch, noting that the time for the last ferry to leave Gibraltar to cross to Morocco was only minutes away. It took all the restraint she could muster to keep from leaping from the steps and try to reach the ferry without Daniel.
An elderly woman wearing a yellow straw sun bonnet sat down on the steps next to her.
“Aren’t you a pretty young thing?” the woman said in an indiscernible European accent.
“Thank you,” Doreen said. “I’m not feeling very pretty.”
“The heat will do that to you,” the woman said. “I’ve never been one for castles. My husband went on without me. Why are you sitting here?”
Doreen took a drink of water and held the bottle out to the woman who took the bottle and belted down a long drink.
“I wanted to go to Morocco and my husband wanted to see this castle.”
“Why Morocco?” the woman said handing back the nearly empty bottle.
“I’ve never set foot on the continent of Africa. This is the closest I’ve been to it,” Doreen said.
The woman took a pink handkerchief from a pocket in her skirt and wiped away the perspiration that had formed above her upper lip. “Africa will always be there,” she said.
“But we’re so close now,” Doreen said. “The truth is, we’ve been traveling all over England and Europe and for most of the trip crossing to Morocco was what I was looking forward to the most.”
The woman gazed at her appraisingly, “Imagine all that you might have missed hoping for something that isn’t going to happen?”
Doreen stood up.
“At the moment I don’t need your philosophizing, I need to see Morocco.”
She walked down the steps and stood on the curb near a tour bus unloading a group who immediately began feverishly exclaiming the wondrous visage of the castle.
In the back seat of the taxi, Doreen stared out of the open window as it passed through the tunnel, feeling the rush of exhaust fumes scented air against her face. The tunnel was well lit and passing through it she noticed the absence of graffiti on the walls. Coming out of the tunnel she turned her head in time to see the brilliantly white minaret of the Ibrahim Al Ibrahim Mosque poking into the twilight sky.
“Can you tell us anything about the mosque?” she asked the driver.
“It’s the southernmost mosque on the continent of Europe,” he said. “That’s all I know.”
He drove past the mosque and entered a large empty parking lot and stopped near the lot’s entrance.
“This is good,” Dennis said, “you don’t mind waiting while we look around?”
“As long as you don’t mind that I will charge for the time,” the driver said.
Doreen and Dennis got out on opposite sides of the taxi. They met at the front of the vehicle and walked across the lot toward a small building, painted red. On the front of the building was a large white sign with black letters that read: “The Last Shop in Europe.”
On the door there was a sign that said “Closed.” They peered into the windows but in the interior’s darkness, they couldn’t make out what was inside. Dennis turned his attention back to the mosque that had turned on its exterior lights as night began to fall. The entire structure was gleaming white and had the backdrop of the rock rising up behind it.
Doreen walked around the shop. Behind it there was a small concrete wall that also encircled most of the parking lot, and beyond the wall a gradual sloping cliff of large boulders that extended to the strait. She sat on the wall and as night fell she raised her binoculars to her eyes. She wasn’t certain, but she thought she saw the coast of Morocco.