We walk together along the river Cam, you with your hands in the pockets of your suit pants, me in my second-hand Valentino dress. The wedding reception is behind us, at the university rowing club. They are playing “Faith” and George Michael has died.
I stop and pull off my heels, leaning on your arm. The heat of you coming through your white shirt makes me think of your ribs, ridges barely beneath your skin, for climbing up and down the length of you.
Our friends are married to each other now. The river is cold blue, the sky lilac at the end of this day, and you haven’t said a word.
“How do you like living in Madrid?” I say.
You push your hair back and say something in Spanish. I hear the word, amor.
“It’s fine,” you say. “Good.”
I know amor means love, not fine or good. You can say amor about another country, another person. You can say amor as often as you like.
A few years ago, we went to Spain together for a week. We stayed in Barcelona and Madrid, but talked about next time visiting the small towns. I wanted to go to Guernica, to see what was left. Back in 1937, on a Monday, market day, twenty-nine planes flew over Guernica dropping forty tons of bombs.
Your hair falls into your eyes when you smile down at me. This is how I will think of you when you are one hour ahead of me and 707 miles away. It is one of the ways. Another way—you pulling me by my legs to the end of our bed and licking your lips.
You once told me that Spanish is the most romantic language in the world. That should have been a clue.
In Madrid, we went to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and saw Picasso’s “Guernica.” You looked at it for such a long time as if you were falling into it.
For me, the most striking image was the woman in the house aflame, her hands and eyes raised to the sky in terror. You could not say what it was for you—it wasn’t the manic bull, the gored horse, the dead soldier holding a sword and a flower, or the pietà. It was everything, all of it.
We looked it up afterwards—does Guernica still exist? It does.
After we returned from Spain, I went to see a therapist. I never told you that. She asked me why I had come to see her and I spoke about Hitler and Franco and Guernica burning and our holiday in Spain and your friend Elisa living on the top floor of a high-rise block of flats and the red Madrid sunset and the manchego and jamon and torn figs she fed to us on the balcony and you both laughing about the old Cambridge days and Elisa tipping her head back, her throat white in the last light, and you watching her. Then we spoke about you.
In our hotel room in Madrid, I lay on the bed, reading. I cannot remember what it was, maybe poetry, maybe Auden—he always makes me weak. I was tired that Saturday afternoon, like the rest of the country, having its siesta.
You took photos of me on your phone. You lay beside me and I crawled under your skin, up each rib, and clutched your lungs, your heart. The flower and the sword, I thought about those, while your blood coursed around me.
After you left, I cleaned and scrubbed our flat, making the windows squeak with newspaper and spirits. I bought blush, pink tulips that crushed my insides and pushed me against the wall. I lit many pomegranate-and-something-or-other candles and the flames danced higher and burned longer than the neighbours would have liked.
For a week afterwards, the flat smelt of split fruit and extinguished candles.
Your razor is still in the medicine cabinet. Three tiny bits of your hair are stuck to the green moisturising strip.
I don’t know whether you deleted the photos of me. You probably did.
Along the Cam, at the Jesus Lock, you take my hand. A sparrowhawk flies above us with its massive wingspan, making a terrible sound, keening, screaming. Your hand is warm. All of this time, it has been warm.
In Madrid, I pressed my lips to your heart, the bloody pulpy beating mass of it, and opened my mouth, but I resisted taking a bite. My teeth rested against it. I cannot say what I would do now, as the footpath turns to dirt beneath us, were I to pull you down to the ground.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, WhiskeyPaper, Split Lip Magazine, Forge Literary Magazine, and matchbook, among others. Her story “It falls” (Jellyfish Review) was recently chosen by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books). She lives in Australia. You can find her here:www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter