Every time I tell this story I say it was a walrus and my husband interrupts and says it wasn’t a walrus, because there are no walruses in Wales.
It was the last summer before the Tunisian revolution and the first summer after I got married - and I was traveling across Tunisia next to a Jesuit priest. The priest and I had become good friends because he is a devout man from the Congo and I come from a long line of irreverent cowboys.
Our tour group skipped across the country, landing in beautiful hotels with Islamic courtyards and Mediterranean tiles - charming places full of Germans. After dinner the priest and I would sit in the unlit courtyards and discuss philosophy and writing and the philosophy of writing. When we heard the evening call to prayer we stopped talking. Sometimes we didn't say anything again for a long time.
By the time we got to Hammamet I had started writing a short story. It was the first piece of fiction I had written in years and I spent a long time on the balcony of my hotel room, writing and listening to the ecstatic laughs of German children crashing down the hotel's water slide.
Over the next year I edited that story several times, making small, important, pedantic, and meaningless changes - then I submitted it to The Kenyon Review's Short Fiction Contest.
I recommend Tunisia in the early summer - but if you go, remember to bring a light jacket. It can be quite windy.
The two of us and maybe two hundred other tourists--our voices flew against the walls and scooped around the high cupolas and we took photographs of each other in front of plaques, in front of statues.