“It’s a massive drip castle,” I said.
“God, you’re right!” Matt agreed.
I smiled. He got what I meant—that the fantastical spires of La Sagrada Familia were like wet sand drizzled into pointy mounds. We looked at each other in the bright afternoon light, and I wondered if maybe he got me too, the way I used to think he did. It was the second time we’d come to see the church this week, something about its heft and mass—still evolving and growing—that I felt drawn to. Walking away from the church, I marveled at the people distractedly walking and driving by, rushing to or from somewhere, oblivious to the beauty right in front of them.
Matt and I traveled well together, something we learned five years ago when we spent our junior year in London. I was good at reading maps, and Matt could always find the best place to eat no matter where we were. We worked when we were traveling. Not that things weren’t good at home, but lately I’d begun to wonder if things had somehow changed. In Spain I’d started to feel that Matt and I were the people we were when we’d met.
I opened the laminated map I’d bought in New York. “So, up next is the Picasso Museum.”
Matt sighed. “You still want to do that?”
Was he joking? I’d been saying for months that the one place in Barcelona I wanted to see again was the Picasso Museum.
Before I answered, he said, “What if we went back to the hotel for a while? We could relax and check email then go to the museum a little later.”
“Sure, I guess.”
He stood and started walking.
“Matt,” I called after him.
He looked back without stopping. “Yeah?”
“The hotel’s this way.” I gestured.
Sarah, my cubemate at work, was sure we’d be engaged when we returned from vacation. I insisted she was wrong—not admitting it had occurred to me too. Ever since we’d started dating, I’d known that Matt was my future. From the beginning, our relationship moved in a predictable, steady progression. As things got more serious, each new milestone felt no less thrilling for its seeming inevitability.
“What’s the most romantic spot in Barcelona?” Sarah had asked.
“I don’t know,” I’d answered. “Maybe the Magic Fountain at the Palace, I don’t know…”
“Want to grab dinner before or after the museum?” We’d been back at the hotel for an hour, and I was anxious to head out.
“You still want to go?” He flopped back on the bed.
Before I said anything, Matt sighed. “Kidding—museum first, then dinner. I’m going to jump in the shower. I’ll be quick.” He gave me a kiss on his way into the bathroom.
I checked the time and went back to reading my guidebook.
When Matt was ready I checked that the camera and map were in my bag and tied my windbreaker around my waist. He held the door for me as we left the room, heading to the stairwell at the end of the hall. We’d learned that even though we were on the fourth floor, it wasn’t worth waiting for the hotel’s one tiny elevator. Our footsteps echoed in the dim stairwell as we wound our way down.
“I want to grab a coffee from the place on the corner.”
Matt must have seen me look at my watch.
“It’ll only take a minute—I’ll be dead without it.”
“Okay,” I answered.
“Sure you don’t want something?” Matt asked at the door of the café.
“Nah, I’m good.”
I waited outside and watched a tiny car maneuver into a parking spot on the narrow street. A couple wearing skinny pants and bulky scarves walked by holding hands, and I wished we had another week of vacation. In four hours we could be in Munich, or Milan, or Amsterdam. Matt came out a few minutes later, the warm smell of coffee and cigarette smoke around him at the door. He laughed as he put his arm around me. “I can’t win—I ordered in Spanish, and when he gave me the coffee and I said, ‘Gracias,’ he said, ‘No problem, Gringo.’” Matt laughed again. “I think they were talking about me the whole time.”
“They probably were,” I answered with a laugh.
“Next time, you need to be my translator,” he said, squeezing my side.
“I don’t know if my rusty high school Spanish will be much help with your neighborhood buddies.”
We laughed and then walked in silence for a couple of blocks. At an intersection we stopped and waited to cross.
“Are we going to pass the fountains by the palace?” Matt asked.
My heart started pounding. He seemed to be staring intently at the traffic.
“No,” I answered slowly. “Why…I mean, did you want to go there?”
“Nah, I thought we were close; I thought I recognized these buildings.”
As I watched him stroll along with his coffee in one hand, the other casually resting in his pocket, I tried to decipher whether what I felt was relief or disappointment. The Picasso Museum was in an old neighborhood of tightly packed, low buildings, divided by a maze of cobblestone roads. The sun was already sliding behind the museum when we arrived and bought our tickets. After we’d wandered through a few rooms, I checked the museum map.
“You are a woman who likes her maps,” Matt said. “Are we almost done?”
Does he even know me, or does he just not care? The thought stunned me with its force. I continued staring at the paper in my hands.
“The Blue Period rooms are over here,” a woman said to her husband, beckoning him with a wave. Without saying anything, I followed.
I began reading descriptions of paintings, then stepping back to as if to contemplate, in a pantomime of art appreciation. From that room I went on to the next, but at some point I became lost in the colors and forms in the paintings, and I realized that Matt was there too, making his way through the room.
“Hey, check this out,” he said, a while later, “the Paris rooms are over here.”
Later, outside on the sidewalk, I took a deep breath of the evening air. Nearby someone was burning trash, but even that didn’t detract from the warm evening and everything we’d just seen.
“Sangria, my dear?” Matt asked, taking my hand as we walked.
“Sangria,” I answered, squeezing his hand.
“What did you think…” I didn’t finish my sentence as I was abruptly pushed from behind. Before I realized what was happening, I felt my bag being pulled off my shoulder. Instinctively I grabbed the strap with both hands. For a moment I was caught in a tug of war with a teenage boy as two others ran past us. Just as I was certain that I was going to pull my bag away from him, the strap broke. He seemed as surprised as I was, and he froze for a moment before turning with my bag to run.
You little shit, I thought—maybe I even said it—as began running. I followed as he dodged around groups of people. Up ahead I could see that the three boys had slowed. One of them looked back, and I knew he’d spotted me when they all began running again. They turned down a side street, and I pushed myself to go faster. As I rounded the corner, they disappeared down yet another, narrower alley.
One by one the boys split off in different directions, and I continued to follow the one with my bag. Each alley was tighter and darker, and I tried to watch my footing on the cobblestones. My windbreaker loosened and began to slip off my waist. I pulled it off and realized that my other hand still held the strap of my bag. Although I hadn’t turned around to check, I knew Matt wasn’t behind me. As inevitable as it was that I would run after the thieves, it was just as predictable that Matt wouldn’t. Did that make us wrong for each other—or right?
I was breathing heavily and my legs were burning, but I pushed myself to go faster. I was gaining on him. The boy dodged around some stone steps, and I realized he was almost within arm’s reach. With one last effort, I reached out to grab him. He must have felt my hand brush his jacket because he turned to look at me, and at that moment I realized that we were alone in the alley. I slowed my pace and then stopped. When he looked back again, he slowed to a jog, then disappeared around a corner.
I leaned against a building to catch my breath and stared down the dark, empty alley. My arms and legs were shaking, but I pushed myself away from the wall and began walking back the way I’d come, wondering what I would have done if I’d actually caught him. Still breathing heavily, I paused at the end of the alley, trying to figure out which way to go. In the distance I could hear traffic and turned in that direction. I passed a family with two young children. The woman nodded and said, “Buenas tardes.” I replied with the same and began running.
Originally from Maine, Kim now lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Desert Voices, Forge, The MacGuffin, The Licking River Review, Midway Journal, Nassau Review, Redivider, Riverwind, Spout Magazine, Talking River, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Willow Review. She is currently working on a novel based on her grandfather’s experience of being orphaned during the Depression.
© 2015, Kim Venkataraman