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The Return

courtyard with orange trees

[by Bethany van Sterling]


“The duende never repeats itself, any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm.” – Federico Garcia Lorca


She could hear the peaks and falls of the notes twirling through the air, as she turned the corner in the cold, musty vestibule of the metro station. Two cobalt eyes glanced up from his instrument, not once, but twice. He didn’t stop. She stood there for a moment, relishing the trill, then dug her hands into her purse and pulled out a 2 euro coin, and with it, a pen. She scribbled her phone number on the back of a faded receipt and tossed them both into the small, hourglass case at his feet. He smirked and, undisrupted, nodded his head, his bright eyes aflame.

It didn’t take more than a day for a message to arrive. He was already gone.

Back to Andalusia, he told her. Back to Al-Andalus, she said to herself.

She wanted to go back to Al-Andalus. She regretted it had been lost. Her great-aunt claimed that five hundred years ago, some ancestors had departed southern Spain for the Balkans, and to this day, she knew nothing more than that about the story.

She missed the smell of citrus, she told him. The garden amidst Cordoba’s Mezquita was called the Courtyard of Orange Trees, he told her.

She’d have to return to Cordoba, she said to herself. But he never invited her.

Night after night, deep into the madrugada, they’d write. Samara ﺳﻤﺭ, it was, the Arabic word for conversation late into the night. A delicacy of the language.

But no, he didn’t seem to heed that she needed to return to Al-Andalus.

Instead, his Spanish words wrapped around her like a wisping flame. Not even the winter air from an open window could cool it. She’d put away her phone, but he’d enter her imagination like a troubadour at the ankles of his newly-appointed queen. And she couldn’t sleep.

And then she realized. He was a djinn. Or as the Inquisitors would call, an incubus.

Envious, and a gifted shapeshifter, so badly this djinn wanted to enter her world.

Weeks passed, and he returned to her in human form, just as she’d remembered him. His kisses like a luscious fruit, his hands weaving the same magic to the flesh as to his instrument, perfumed with the cologne of orange trees. And like the flame that had wisped around her, night after night, at last, they become one.

Before sunrise, he departed.

And he didn’t bring her.

She’d never return to Al-Andalus. And she’d never return to Cordoba.


Bethany van Sterling is a translator, performing artist, and writer of historical and speculative fiction. Her works have appeared in webzines such as The Drabble, Friday Flash Fiction, and T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, and anthologies such as History Will Be Kind (The Copperfield Review, 2015), Crossing Over (Thirteen O’Clock Press, 2015), and Passionate Pasts (Kellan Publishing, 2013). She currently resides in Madrid, Spain.

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