It happened in a chocolatier in Barcelona called Xococ or a word equally as distressing on the jaw. We were selecting caramel squares like they were prayers or baby names. Glossy chocolate squares stuffed in a satin-lined box.
My mind draws a blank of the next four or five minutes. I know we were halfway to the register when our purchase was interrupted. You wandered off, in search of a bathroom or a bottle of water, or to stretch your legs—I can’t recall which. It had to have been for water. We never left each other’s side during vacations, but I nodded okay.
Moments later, I found myself circling a plaza, killing time, stifling my panic. After eight empty minutes of skimming the crowd, my face started to tense, hot vulnerability pooling in my eyes. This was our last vacation, but it wasn’t in the cards for you to leave me so unceremoniously in Spain. Three years together could not end with almost chocolates—promises abandoned in a jewelry box. The names of our children rotted with sugar and our carelessness.
We didn’t carry phones abroad nor had we created an emergency plan. I didn’t have a hotel key on me and my fragmented mind could not recall our hotel name or the direction back. If you returned, I vowed to ask for a key, to never be this helpless again.
Four times I passed a bare flagpole, frowned at the green elephant graffiti marking a wall, and bargained with a fictitious deity. I was parched, too, but I would never have wandered off, alone.
I had time to purchase postcards but I feared you’d never find me if I ducked into a shop. Rectangular pictures depicting happiness could wait for another time. The bang of my loneliness echoed against the flagpole; my fraught face transposed itself onto a scribbled green elephant. The dyslexic sign of the chocolatier intimidated me—a word my tongue and brain could not team up to pronounce. The shopkeeper, her hand resting on our selections, peered at me through the window as I lapped around the pavement. We’ll be right back, I almost insisted to the wind. The word we mutating into warped jeers. I scanned the sparse crowd for your flyaway black hair, that outward gait of yours, but everyone’s legs excluded me, turned inward in their own monogamy.
Finally tired of pacing, I leaned against the flagpole. Cold metal greeted my spine. Teenagers in high-tops laughed at each other, jangling coins and belt chains. My breathing hopscotched with questions of how long I could stand here or stand still. From behind a nun’s habit, your carefree smile came into focus, your llama expression of ease. I told myself to stay quiet, not to call out to you in desperation, not to spill my soupy tears. You approached me nonchalantly and asked me where to next. I tilted my chin toward you and suggested the Picasso Museum. Chilled from the pole, I’m sure you noticed the quiver in my answer. Sure, you said. But first you suggested I pose by the elephant graffiti. You were new to me then, aiming a camera as I posed by the scrawled animal outline. My lipstick photographed as a berry, ghostly ring and I v-ed my fingers into the peace sign.
Almost immediately we slipped back into our normal selves in Picasso’s presence, discussing his pencil sketches and planning our evening meal: oysters and foreign soda. At nightfall we meandered back to our hotel, enjoying the air of a new city while ignoring the ominous echo of our boots on cobblestone.
In a month, I’d find you sleeping on the floor of our living room back in New York. Straddling your chest, I’d arc my face inches from yours and end our relationship. You’d refuse to believe me at first and later I’d refuse to accept how quickly you found my replacement. I had to break my own heart, arrange the words like impossible koans, because you had no idea my attachment to you. You regarded me loosely like a fleeting whim, but in Barcelona I could hardly wait out your brief intermission for water.
Ursula Villarreal-Moura was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in CutBank, Emerson Review, NAP, Toska, Black Heart Magazine, Van Duzer, and elsewhere. She contributes book reviews to The Fiddleback, Necessary Fiction, and Nib Magazine and is an assistant editor for Cream City Review. Follow her on Twitter: @ursulaofthebook.