She met Jupiter in the early morning of June 24. She was convinced no force in the world was capable of preventing that meeting. Like two stars that will end up coming together because that is their fate. They can spend millennia and millennia travelling on their own, lost in the vertigo of their own solitude. At some point, their orbits will change direction, and they will come closer and closer together until they inevitably collide. The explosion will turn them into stardust, and they will be reduced to innumerable particles of light, their glow suspended in the universe for ever. All because of the simple fact that their fate was to end up coming together – and there are some things you can’t fight against.
She met Jupiter in the early morning of June 24 because destiny had decided it should be so. And this was the most terrible thing that ever happened to her.
That morning, Isla still had reason to feel well. She moved the tripod holding the telescope to one side and opened the window of her room to let in the breeze. The previous night, she had stayed up late, watching the moon, as if between her and that satellite there existed some kind of magical connection. She’d felt this magnetism all her life.
When she was still only a girl, her grandmother Sara would tell her beautiful stories about the moon and planets while doing cross stitches. She knew legends from long before. Isla would listen with rapt attention, convinced there was an element of truth in what she was saying. Between each stitch, the words would flow with the strength that only genuine things possess. From among all those stories, she remembered one with particular fondness.
The elders of an isolated village told how the god Moon and his wife Sun had enjoyed a happy marriage for many centuries. That was until Moon fell head over heels in love with the star Venus. However hard he tried, he couldn’t get Venus out of his mind and, in the end, he succumbed to love. When his wife learned of his betrayal, she felt such pain and rage that she decided to punish her husband until the end of days. She bit him with all her strength and tore out a piece. But Venus’ love caused the god Moon’s piece to grow back again. Sun, in a blind fury, took another bite, bigger than the previous one. But Venus’ love made the piece grow back again and, ever since then, Sun has carried on biting Moon in the hope that one day Venus’ love will fade and be unable to restore her lover’s flesh.
Carried away by the beauty of this old story and the memory of her grandmother, Isla closed her eyes, stretched and concentrated on breathing in all the air her lungs could hold.
‘Mmmm,’ she hummed like a contented cat. ‘I’ll have to wait another year for the summer solstice.’
She had reason to be happy that morning. Finally, classes were coming to an end! That meant losing sight of all those who had spent the whole year making her life impossible, plunging her existence into a kind of icy mist. What was more, the desire she had harboured for weeks until it made her ache was about to become a reality: that night, she would finally be able to put her arms around Jupiter.
It was traditional to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve on the beach. Pupils from schools in the area would gather around an impromptu bonfire on the sand. They would feed the flames with notes from all the subjects they had studied that year, chucking them on the fire without qualms. In that way, chemical formulas, derivatives, syntactic analyses and generations of writers would be burned to ashes.
At 00:00 on June 24, when the oldest pupil from the school lit the bonfire, Isla felt a knot in her throat. She gazed at her watch in excitement. Her legs trembled.
‘Not long to go now,’ she thought, biting her lips hard.
‘Look at those two!’ exclaimed Mar in horror, placing a hand on Isla’s leg to draw her attention. ‘Are they going to do what I think they’re going to?’
Mar was her best friend. And also her saviour. Ever since she had moved to that place with her parents, Mar had been the only one who had bothered to understand her, to pause to look inside her.
‘Yes, they are!’ screamed Mar, covering her face with her hands. ‘How awful!’
Two boys had lowered their trousers and were peeing on the bonfire. They swayed their hips from left to right, fooling around. Everybody else shouted and clapped their hands in encouragement.
Isla contorted her mouth in disgust, averted her eyes and fixed them on the moon. It hadn’t been so close to the earth for twenty years.
‘Have you seen how big it is?’ she asked, pointing at the sky. ‘Don’t you think it’s incredible?’
‘You know astronomy isn’t my strong point.’
‘No, that’s not what I mean,’ said Isla, her eyes glistening with delight. ‘I’m going to meet Jupiter on the same day the moon is this close to the earth! It all fits.’
‘You are a hopeless romantic,’ sighed Mar. ‘I suppose you’re feeling nervous?’ She hugged her friend and carried on talking without waiting for an answer, ‘You deserve something good to happen to you at last.’
Isla clung to Mar in an attempt to prolong that magical moment. Over the school year, awful things had happened. When the situation had got really bad, Isla had thought even Mar didn’t understand her. But the truth was she’d always been there for her. She’d been her protecting star.
She pulled away slowly, took her hands and fixed her with a stare.
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’
Tears came into her eyes.
‘Stop being so sentimental,’ quipped Mar. ‘It’s your time now.’
They wandered away from the beach, leaving the bonfire burning with a fury that the sea breeze nourished. They walked arm in arm to the main road. The old beer hall was a few yards away. That was where she was due to meet Jupiter. The same sea-wind that fed the midsummer flames carried the sound of music, students’ voices and laughter, from the beach.
‘Let’s go over the plan one last time,’ said Mar, frowning in concentration. ‘You knock at the door of the beer hall. Jupiter opens, and you go in. I wait by the hall for fifteen minutes for you to give a missed call. If after that time I haven’t heard from you, I go for help, and we come and get you.’
‘None of that is going to be necessary,’ replied Isla in a soothing voice. ‘I know Jupiter. He’s not that sort of guy.’
‘You think you know him,’ remarked Mar with a degree of scepticism.
‘I’ve been talking to him every night for weeks. Jupiter knows more about me than lots of people I see on a daily basis.’
‘If you say so,’ grunted Mar in defeat. ‘But don’t forget to give a missed call. You know I’m capable of breaking the door down!’
The beer hall was a small, stone house at the end of the promenade. It had the best views of the ocean in the whole of Region. It had been shut up for years. Ever since one summer when a terrible tragedy occurred: a young boy had found the woman who ran the hall floating at sea, like a directionless raft. The body of the woman had spent the whole night drifting among shoals of jellyfish. The hair of the swollen, disfigured corpse was caked with seaweed.
Ever since that day, a sign saying ‘CLOSED’ had been hung on the door. It was still there, like a macabre reminder of what had happened.
‘My heart is beating nineteen to the dozen,’ admitted Isla when they were only a few feet away.
‘Come on, you, go and turn your desires into a reality,’ Mar encouraged her, giving her a peck on the cheek. ‘And don’t forget…’
‘Yeees!’ Isla interrupted her. ‘I’ll give a missed call in fifteen minutes!’ she shouted as she left.
She raised her hand and waved farewell. Then she went off in search of her dream. Her friend walked away slowly, not taking her eyes off her.
Just as she’d agreed with Jupiter, Isla gave three slow knocks with her fist on the wooden door. Then she counted to ten. Having done this, she gave three quick knocks. She stared at the moon for one last time and closed her eyes for several seconds so she could fill herself with all the energy of that god in love with Venus. She felt the need to check that Mar was still there, not far away. She wanted to turn her head so she could give her one last smile before going in, but the door opened abruptly, and she didn’t have time.
Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne