It was in the winter of 91, just before the first Gulf War.
Emilia was young, fat, and hard working, a member of the art crew of a period movie, a smuggler's story on the spanish border of northern Portugal.
They were transforming a village stable into some kind of grocery - tavern of the late ’30, working with no electricity (a generator would come later), no tap water, in freezing temperatures. She loved it.
She was painting the ceiling a washed away blue that would need a coat of brownish yellow to look the right age, one foot on the ladder, the other in a crevice of the wall, when the stone crumbled, and she fell. No harm done, but the pot of paint landed on her head, as in the silliest of cartoons. Laughing like an idiot, blue color dripping in her eyes, she stumbled outside to wash herself at the village fountain, had to break the ice to get at the water, was for an instant almost indecently happy. So alive, all alone.
The next day she got a call from her family in another country. Her sister announced that if Emilia wanted to spend one more Christmas with their mother, she would have to come now. The illness was avancing rapidly.
Emilia spoke to her boss, and took a plane.
She came back for New Year’s Eve. The crew hadn’t stopped shooting, making the most of the precious snow. After a sad dinner of cold lamb in a dark hall, everybody walked to the firemen’s ball. There was nowhere else to go. Emilia followed. She didn’t care where she was, as long as she could drink, fast.
A fireman brought her a glass, then another. She knew him from sight, he sometimes played snooker in the bar where the crew gathered in the evenings, a red-head with freckles and an easy smile. He was assistent to the vet, working with him, vaccinating sheep in the villages. And it turned out he knew her. He had seen her that day, running covered in paint, had guessed her blunder, seen her joy. And fallen for her, then and there.
After that terrible week of death everywhere, it felt so good to be wanted, and wanted blue was even better. She flirted, and drank, and drank, and flirted.
Then, suddenly, he put his glass away, blinked his eyes, and proposed.
Even half-drunk, there was no mistaking the intensity : this was for real. She went cold, hadn’t seen it coming, who could have. She murmured sorry no sorry no, no, and ran.
The crew stayed three more weeks in the village. Emilia saw the fireman once again, at the snooker place, just a fleeting smile.
Then, two days before they’d go, a nervous man came to Emilia. He introduced himself as one of the fireman’s friend, insisted that he was coming on his own, not on an errand. He asked if Emilia would listen to him. Of course. They sat in a corner, the rest of the crew looking at them with jokes in their eyes.
The nervous man wanted to know if Emilia wouldn’t reconsider. The fireman was a good man, with some money to his name, some cows too. And so much in love. If she’d not at least talk to him, he was going to fall very ill. Hadn’t she noticed ?
Noticed what ?
On New Year’s Morn he had thrown his coat away, and ever since had been walking around in a open shirt, offering his heart to the cold.
No, she hadn’t noticed.
And no, she wasn’t going to change her mind.
Why ? asked the faithful friend.
She could give reasons, but they’d be excuses. So no reasons. Just not possible.
She still has the plastic boots she was using that winter. They're way too big, bought on purpose to accomodate layer upon layer of woolen socks, so she only wears them when it rains like fresh flood. But then she sometimes wonders what life would have been like with the red-head who loved a fat blue girl.