During the bright days, full of color and the sweet humid air, Kristal soaked up the free, easy feeling to take home with her. It wouldn’t be long now before she needed to return, and this was what she wanted to return with: a feeling of freedom.
Romance could wait, she decided. She felt no need to replace her ex.
In the late evening, after the clouds that brought the afternoon rain blew off, leaving the chill of a clear dark sky, she lit a fire in the large chiminea on the patio.
A yearning grew within her when she gazed at the amber glow.
What was this warmth?
She heard the memory of laughter, deep within, a family gathering–the teasing of cousins, the kind, low voice of her grandfather, the scent of baking cinnamon buns. But when she looked at the canvas she’d painted, trying to capture this warmth of family, she felt coldness. In spite of the fire, in spite of the single lamp, it was a cold blue painting.
She began a series of night paintings–maybe it was an attempt to excavate this pain.
She wanted to explore the loneliness. Sure, she could do without romance. But family?
For decades, she and her husband–her ex–made their own family. Even when they’d stopped listening, even when they no longer touched, save for the brusque swipe of a kiss hello or goodbye, there were the daily routines that created family: the shopping lists, the bills to sort, the sound of another living person in the house, the warmth of another body in the bed, even if it was at a distance. Living together, even if it was dissonant, built a family. And now?
When she returned, she would live in the house alone.
Could one create a family? She felt she was too old to adopt a child. Roommates? As much as she wanted the companionship of living with other warm, breathing beings, she cherished the idea of solitude, for at least the moments when she chose.
She worked the puzzle through her thoughts on her morning walk to the plaza.
The plaza, as usual, had a few stray dogs, sleeping in the shade, sitting in wait by the picnic tables, scavenging behind the vendor stalls.
“Lot of dogs here,” Kristal said to the vendor when she ordered her morning cup of yerba mate.
“You like?” he asked. “They’re available.”
“What do you mean?”
“For the tourists. For adoption. It’s a program.”
He handed her a brochure. International Canine/Feline Adoption Program, sponsored by Pets without Borders.
The idea was simple and straightforward: Pay the costs of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and any other necessary medical procedures, and the dog or cat was yours, to take home without the usual period of quarantine.
“Could I really adopt one?” Kristal asked the vendor.
“Oh, si! Many people do. It’s win-win, yes? You get companion, we get rid of pest!”
A feral cat wondered in. It approached cautiously to sniff the back of her hand.
Imagine! Returning with a cat like this! It was like having a bobcat!
Before she could pet it, it turned and trotted off.
For the next week, every walk along the village paths, every trip to the plaza, took on an edge of excitement. Maybe she would meet the dog or cat who would choose to come home with her. Maybe she would meet the one who would become a member of her new family.
The dogs were friendly, and three of them, an Afghan, a spaniel, and a chocolate curly-haired mixed breed, were there often enough that she developed an acquaintance with them, and even, perhaps, the start of a friendship.
The bobcat never returned, but a lynx-like cat did, jumping on the table and staring at her.
“Would you like to come home with me?” she asked.
The cat twitched his tail.
“I suppose it’s presumptuous, isn’t it?” she said. “To expect you to give up this life, where you’re fat and free, to come keep me company.”
The cat closed his eyes and grinned.