We were splitting up, and meeting to divide our possessions. I went to the restaurant at 11 but Miguel wasn’t there. I sipped a drink and watched Eduardo take deliveries. Late morning sweat beneath flamboyant posters.
Boxes of chocolate ice cream landed on the counter, Eduardo ticked them off on his invoice and said, no, two chocolate and three strawberry, and the man apologised and went back to his van as Eduardo rotated towards the kitchen. Above the ballet, a svelte woman dressed as a toreador held the observer’s knowing eye.
A few regulars came and went. Miguel didn’t respond to my text. Eventually I felt foolish on my own and went for a walk along the river. I tried to ignore the anxiety of the coming week of work, and the knowledge that we needed to get things sorted today, or I’d be living with boxes of his stuff for another week.
If I had any doubts, the unreliability of the man made me certain it was the right decision. I need someone who can at least turn up when he’s supposed to. The river mumbled to itself in half-hearted agreement.
They were preparing to knock José’s down. The workmen nodded at me as I paused to watch. I like being 40. You feel appreciated, without being leered at. The scaffolding has been up for ages, the cheerful ceramic name above the door now grimy and veiled in green gauze. The ‘J’ curled sadly in on itself, knowing its time was up. Gaping jawbone of door. Holes of windows. The interior walls, which as long as I’d known the place were blue, had been ripped back and different coloured wallpapers appeared: yellow, pink, and lastly blue again.
Miguel and I had one of our first dinners in that place. It must be five years since it closed. It’s good they’re doing something with it. I moved on when the youngest of the workmen smiled at me. I had to squeeze against the wall to get past a truck as it tipped sand from its back.
Twelve-ish. Shade in the Murillo gardens, satisfying as lemonade. Scruffy dogs chasing pigeons. In the heat, just for a moment, Miguel stood in front of me. The old Miguel, not the one we’ve got now. The fuzzy image held its hand out and led me to the old Arab wall.
When we were first married, we tried to climb it in the middle of the night. A celebration. ‘This wall’s been here hundreds of years,’ Miguel said. ‘If we can conquer that, we can conquer anything.’ I believed him. We almost got to the top, but were laughing so much that we kept sliding back down.
I open my eyes and he’s gone. Too hot now to stay outside. No message on my phone. I went to ring him, then decided not to bother. On the far side of the park gates I slipped into a café and had a lemon shandy. The bliss of the courtyard: not really outside, not really inside. The sense of freedom, of potential.
Still too hot to go anywhere and my phone stares at me blankly, damn the thing. This is typical of the man. Remember the days he was supposed to pick me up from work and forgot, or left me stranded when mum was alive and I was supposed to be getting her to the clinic, or said he was working late when I knew full well he wasn’t. I don’t care who she is, I used to say, just be here when I need you. He’d look at me quizzically and pretend not to understand.
A glass of wine, please. This seems to be a cue for single men to approach. Each accepts my shake of the head with grace, because it is early in the day.
The wall stretched in both directions. I looked for a section that had plenty of gaps between the stones and crumbly bits, and licked my hands. They knew what they were doing, those Arabs. Who would have thought it would still be here all these centuries later. No one about; the depths of siesta time. Palace bells rang distantly and lazily.
I scrambled up the first half of the wall easily. The second was smoother and more difficult. Tears formed in my trousers. I slipped back down, but this was just lack of practice. I could see how to get to the top if I zig-zagged across when I was two thirds up. From the bottom you can assess it, like a map; you just need to visualise that map when you’re on the way.
Next time I got four-fifths up and my heart raced. It’s like a computer game; this last stretch is the bit that counts. How many lives have I got left? I dug my fists and swung my legs across. Unyielding stone bit into my fingers. A scramble to slide across the curved top. You’re there! Fanfare. Bonus life. Admire the view.
‘Hey! Get down from there!’
Miguel was with me for a moment and we grinned. I felt my shoe fall to a faraway clunk. A local policeman appeared at the bottom of the wall on the side I’d catapulted over the top from. My hair dragged and caught but I was over; I clung on and breathed deeply for a minute, then slithered to the bottom on the other side.
An old lady looked at me in astonishment, false teeth clicking. I brushed my hands together, like you’d see in a film, stood up and tried to look dignified. Hobbling away on one naked foot, I wondered what to do. Then my shoe came sailing over the top. Miguel materialises in front of me, kneels down and gently replaces it.
I was covered in grime and my knees bled; little dark spots appeared on the bits of my trousers that weren’t torn. I wiped the dirt off my face which was a mistake, as mascara ran everywhere and it looked like I’d been crying.
Serene river. Five hundred years ago this was the most important port in the world. From here people would sail round the world for the first time, or find gold, or discover America. You wouldn’t detect it now from the sleepy pastel houses and empty jetty. I have a photo somewhere at home (I hope it isn’t in a Miguel box) of this view from the 1920s. The neat river fades into the mud and gipsy children skip on the banks with sticks for fishing rods. Houses crumble away and the old single-storey slums appear. I shake my head and walk on.
He’s not having the photos.
Short cut past the street they’re excavating. Black snake-like tubes draped from house to house, smaller snakes forking off for each resident’s makeshift water supply. They think they’re going to find Roman ruins or something. It’s been like this for about two years, a temporariness becoming permanent. Cars parked bumper to bumper on the adjacent road by the church, covered in dents, mourning their absent owners.
An old man looks down on me from a flat, hands behind his back. When will it end, his slapping hands ask. ‘Seville: Building a Dream’ says the important glossy sign at the end. It’s a long dream. One of those where you know you’re asleep, but can’t wake up.
They’re demolishing José’s now. A huge ball swung into the side and the earth beneath me shook.
We once danced there. I was in a turquoise dress which seemed the height of fashion at the time, and Miguel got his job at the post depot. Everything was coming together at last, and we were going to have a baby too. This was before mum got ill and we had to look after her. Two girls clambered up and danced on a table; I didn’t have the confidence to do that. Miguel looked at them admiringly, until they were shouted at to get down by the owner. Recently I threw the dress out. There’s no point keeping stuff and I was never going to wear it again.
Another boom went through the building and I stepped forward, hoping to get a souvenir perhaps; then I thought better of it and carried on.
Eduardo took the chalk from behind his ear and wrote 2.25 on the bar between us.
Miguel’s still not here, the bastard. I don’t know why I imagined he would be. I haven’t seen him, Eduardo said apologetically, hands raised like a statue. On the far side a dreamy teenager, mooning about future loves if the expression on his face was anything to go by. I envied him.
I could see mum’s ghost in the aluminium of the bar. The last time I saw mum in the home she looked like grandmother; and now, I realise, I am beginning to look like mum.
Eduardo jumped into the space between us and looked me up and down. He smiled and said nothing.
‘How are you?’ I said eventually.
He looked at the slits in my shirt and the orange dust in my hair. When I didn’t react he leant forward over the bar and studied my trousers, putting his head on one side like a dog who doesn’t understand what you’re telling him.
He held up a long finger. ‘Wait a minute.’ He brought me an amontillado in a glass so large I couldn’t guess the size of the measure. He stood in front of me and indicated it with an open palm. He looked like one of his posters.
I took a sip and nodded at Eduardo, and at the end of his shift he offered me a cigarette. I went outside and smoked it with him. Above the river a full moon gracefully rose. Eduardo asked if I had any plans for the evening. I wondered whether to shake my head.
Mark Blayney won the Somerset Maugham Prize for Two Kinds of Silence. Stories and poems in The London Magazine, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House and others. His tale ‘The Murder of Dylan Thomas’ was a Seren Short Story of the Month and he’s been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition. Mark also writes and performs comedy and his one-man show Be your own life coach… with ABBA is currently touring. He is available for mentoring, workshops, MCing and readings: please see www.markblayney.weebly.com
Banner image: ‘The Brouhers’ by Ric Bower