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20th of April

Pricilla zigzagged through the dense morning crowd with grim determination. Grunts escaped through her lips as she pushed past a man two times bigger than she, causing him to stop for two precious seconds of his hurried morning to give her a dirty look. She shot back an apologetic smile and slipped out of the subway.

Clanks came from the metal gated exits that led to the gum stained stairs into the open Madrid air. She could smell the city before she saw it. The rain from the night before had washed away some of the grime off the sidewalks, but had left a dingy smell in the air. Her hands clung tighter to the insides of her jacket pocket. The gust of wind coming down the metro stairs held the excitement of spring, yet the cold of the dwindling winter. A woman climbing the stairs next to her complained to her friend about the weather, saying that she was sure that a year ago at this time she didn’t have to wear a jacket. The friend agreed, but noted that it was only eight o’clock in the morning. Pricilla jerked her head up at the mention of the time. She searched frantically for the clock atop the Telefónica building to see if it were true. There it was, clear as day, 8:04 in the morning. She slowed her pace a bit and breathed a sigh of relief. She had much more time than she had thought.
Shop windows sparkled in the morning sunlight, enticing her to look at the new things on display.

“Might as well window shop a bit. Don’t want to be too early,” she thought to herself. Her thumbnail glided back and forth over the corner of an envelope in her pocket. “No, I don’t want to be early, it would look a bit awkward. A bit anxious.”

She walked through the streets pretending to critique the spring dresses that were already out, but her mind kept returning to the letter in her pocket.

She could hear his voice saying the words aloud. “I couldn’t help but look you up when I heard that you still lived in Madrid.”

The words were burned onto the back of her head from reading it so many times.

A shiver ran up her spine, but she smiled anyway. What was she going to tell him? What did he look like now? She caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window and looked herself over. What did her think she looked like now? Certainly more mature, with longer hair. Her figure was about the same except for the tiny bulge that was beginning to show in her belly.

“Perdón, conoces Madrid?”

Pricilla turned to the voice of the poorly spoken Spanish to find a pudgy English woman with a short, stout man next to her. Pricilla smiled and nodded her head.

“Where are you trying to get to?”

“Oh, you speak English! What a relief! My poor Spanish barely gets us by in this city and sometimes these Spaniards speak much too fast for me to understand and we end up worse off than when we first asked the question! Isn’t that right, Herman?”

The man nodded but said nothing. Pricilla smiled, remembering her first experiences in Madrid, five years ago: a young woman with very little Spanish vocabulary, determined to stay in the city she had fallen in love with.

“Where are you both trying to get to?”

“We wanted to see the Prado museum. Herman here is an art teacher and I am an enthusiast for paintings, especially of the Renaissance era and we have never seen the Prado. I mean we have been to practically every museum in Europe, including the Louvre in Paris but never to the Prado and that is supposed to be the best one in Europe.”
“Actually, it is the best one in the world.”
The man’s voice faded as quickly as the words were spoken. Pricilla could have thought them to be her own thoughts if she hadn’t seen his lips move.

“That’s right, the best one in the world. So here we are, in Madrid, and we are completely lost. I think we might have gotten off at the wrong stop from the subway, but is it possible to walk there from here, or should we get a taxi?”

“Here, I’ll show you how to get there; I used to go all the time. Do you have a map of the metro system? It isn’t too far from here, but far enough not to walk and a taxi would be expensive.”

The couple quickly agreed with her and eagerly listened as she drew lines on their map and wrote notes on the sides to make sure they would get to their destination alright. Ten minutes later their echoes of thank you had finally thinned out and their forms had faded from Pricilla’s sight. She shook her head in amusement and looked at the clock again. She still had plenty of time to arrive on time and she wasn’t sure of what to do.

The envelope corner stuck into her thigh, reminding her of its presence.

“Why did I bring the damn thing anyway? It is just a nuisance. Javier wouldn’t have found it, he’s at work and, anyway, he never goes through my drawers.”
She shrugged openly at her own question, stopping for a moment to contemplate before a trash can.

“No, I can’t throw it away. Maybe afterwards. But right now it means too much to me. After all these years, we are going to see each other again.”

Pricilla continued on her path. The day was heating up and her tweed jacket started to be too much. “I guess spring actually is coming.”

A man whistled from a near-by construction site.

“Rubia! Rubia!” he yelled.

Pricilla ignored him and kept walking.
Men are the same in all corners of the world, she though. Exactly the same. I wonder what makes cat-calling so fun for them. I think that I liked it better when I didn’t understand that they were talking to me.

“Pricilla!”

She stopped and turned. The voice, it was his. She looked up. No one.

“Pricilla! Over here!”

To her left was the café. She had missed it. Café Sevilla. Nothing had changed. Her heart slowed at the sight of it, taking her back five years to another spring day. Her legs stayed rooted to the spot, but her eyes wandered over the faces of the people sitting outside, resting on the anxious face of a man, five years older, but just the same as when she had last seen it. He smiled. Her legs moved her forward.

“Shemus!” she exclaimed, nearing his table.

Arms entwined in an everlasting hug. Tears came to her eyes. He smelled the same.

“Come and sit down with me. I took this table outside, but we could go inside if you are too cold.”

“No,” she said, holding out her jacket in her hand. “Outside is fine.”

“You look great.”

“Thank you. So do you. Not a day older.”

“I wouldn’t say that, approaching forty, I know I look older. It’s just that I haven’t changed the haircut for the last few years. It’s how old friends recognize me.”

Pricilla shook her head in laughter. She squirmed against the back of the chair where she had just placed her jacket. The collar dug into her back and one of the sleeves bunched at her side. She rearranged the structure of the two, finally settling back into it, not having anything more to arrange.

“Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, please. Café con leche.”

“Un café con leche y un café solo, por favor.”

She smiled with widened eyes.

“Surprised at my Spanish? I lived in Cádiz for awhile and visited Colombia for six months. It just sort of caught on. It’s like French anyway.”

“Yes, it isn’t too hard to learn. You have a good accent, unlike most Irish.”

“And the Americans? Let’s not overlook them! How is your Spanish coming along? I’m sure it’s better than the last time I saw you.”

“Much better! Five years living with people that don’t speak English really helps!”

They laughed as the waiter set their mugs of coffee in front of them. A breeze broke through the silence.

“I missed European coffee back in the States. I couldn’t get used to the portions of coffee that Americans drank over there.”

“You were in the States?”

“Yeah, I came back about nine months ago. I was in Philly, visiting Bobby and his wife and then went over to the west coast for work.”

“Bobby is married?”

“Yeah, he married the American girl of his dreams about three years ago and even has a kid. A little girl named Fiona.”
His voice trailed off as he looked into his coffee. He regretted telling her so abruptly. Pricilla stared at him, realizing after a few seconds that she hadn’t yet taken a breath. She looked away and gasped for a breath of air.

“Fiona?” She quickly wiped her eyes.

“It’s a very pretty name.”

“I know, it always has been,” Shemus said quietly. “She’s a lively little thing. Lots of spunk and very beautiful. Blonde hair and big brown eyes. She does the name justice.”
Pricilla nodded. Her body slumped a bit with sudden weariness. Unconsciously she placed her hand on her belly, listlessly rubbing it in circles.

“What have you been doing lately? Still dancing?”

“No, I gave that up when I settled down. I teach it though. The classical kind. Went back to my roots in a way. I teach ballet to little kids at a school outside of Madrid in the afternoons and English to adults in the mornings. The rest of the time I take care of my family.”

“You got married?”

“Yes, to the same guy, Javier. Almost five years now.”

“You have kids?”

“One. A little four year old girl.”

Interest sparked in his eyes. “Four years old?”

She nodded. “Just turned on April 20. She has black curly hair and brown eyes.”

“Funny. The date, I mean.”

“I know. Uncanny, I would say. I fainted in the hospital bed when I figured it out. For awhile I even thought it must mean something and tried to find you to tell you. But pregnancy only lasts nine months, you know? The figures just didn’t work out. Still…it seems odd.”

Shemus stirred his ice around the glass. His chest heaved up and let go. It would have been too good to be true. Her eyes reached out to him with compassion. Funny how she could still read his thoughts.

“Naw, I mean, I didn’t really think she could be mine. I’ll only ever have my one little girl,” he said to the table.

Pricilla nodded. “It makes me think a lot. April 20 has become such a special date. Death, life, heartache and love all seem to be hovering right over it.”

“I always think of you on that day. Always. Can’t seem to help it. Sometimes I even dream about you and her being with me, like before.”

Shemus shook his head, Pricilla looked to the ground. Her emotions crept to her throat, but she swallowed them down with cold coffee.

“Are you married?” she asked.

“Me? No. My life doesn’t allow for marriage. Most women my age don’t want to be wandering around the globe in pursuit of my next recording.”

“I did it.”

“Sure. But you were younger then. Would you still want to do it now?”

“If I loved him.”

Her mouth snapped shut as the last word escaped her lips. Her eyes closed in regret. But soft laughter came from the other end of the table.

“That’s always part of the trouble. Staying in one place long enough to let love bloom. Just hasn’t seemed to happen yet. Again, I mean.”

“So what do you do now? The same thing?”

“Just about. The people keep changing though. Mick died, Bobby got married and Aaron left to go to school. Of course I am always meeting new people and doing what I love, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel as good. It doesn’t have the sensation that it used to. Playing the old songs with new people, …it becomes a different song.”

“Are you hungry? We could order something to eat. I am sure that they still have the fried calamares and tortilla that they used to. This place hasn’t seemed to change much with the years.”

“Except for the arrangement of the tables. It wasn’t like this before.”

“It was raining before, remember? We were inside.”

“Yes, I remember. It was raining. I remember hearing it against the sound of your voice, against the sound of my voice. The rain pounded into my mind, drowning out what was bound to happen, what had already happened. I stayed here until they closed. The whole time wondering what I was going to do. Within a year I had lost my two precious girls, and I was suddenly lost. But at the same time I knew that you had done what I had wanted to do and just never had the balls to get out. I knew we couldn’t work anymore. It hurt to look at you, to see her in your eyes. It was over before she came into the world. She was the only thing that kept us together. Our love for her kept us together.”

“Once the glue is gone…nothing sticks.”

The sound of glassing clinging together, the nearby voices speaking of the coming spring and latest news were drowned out by Shemus and Pricilla’s thoughts. The laughter of a little girl penetrated their memories. Their hands found comfort in each others fingers.

“I brought something for you that I found the other day. Your letter drew me into the past and into a box of items that I keep in a closet.”

Her hand pulled quickly out from under his and searched nervously into her purse. It came upon the tissue wrapped item and almost flung it at him in the haste of her embarrassment.

“It’s a picture of us. It brings back quite a few memories. See? It’s us under the Eiffel Tower. April 18th it says.”

“Just a few days before the accident.” He drew a sharp sigh; his fingers traced the face of his one-year daughter pictured. “She was so beautiful.”

“She really was. So were we. Happiness makes everything beautiful. Look at our smiles. We were so proud! And rightly so. She was the prettiest baby I had ever seen. Our little Fiona.”

Two tears dropped from Shamus’ nose and onto his napkin. Pricilla saw him swallowing back hard, looking into her eyes, his own full of sorrow and thanks.

“I didn’t mean to pull you away from your life. To dig up old times, old hurts. Our lives have turned onto separate paths for the better.”

“Why did you…?” She couldn’t seem to connect the right words for the question she wanted to ask.

“I just wanted to say…I don’t know. I was thinking about you that day. One month ago. The six year anniversary of my last day with her, the five year anniversary of my last day with you. …It seemed appropriate at the time to ask to see you. To make sure it really happened. Those wonderful six years. That nineteen year old girl I came to love, who I watched grow into a woman and mother.”

Pricilla sighed and pushed her stomach in.

“Everything needs closure, you know?”

“I know. I’m glad you found me. I needed it too.”

She let her stomach go and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees.

“Are you here for long?”

Shemus shook his head. “No, I’m going home for the first time in years. I won’t be back in Spain for awhile.”
“You know where to reach me if you are.”

“No, I threw away your address. I thought it would be better that way. I just wanted to right a few things; finish a few thoughts. Life holds very different things for the both of us, and we would just get in each others way. These five years would probably have been eight if it wasn’t for Fiona.”

“I know. But it hurts to close the chapter.”

A bus splashed through a puddle, blowing a breeze by their table. Shemus drew back his chair. He reached for his coat, but at the last minute leaned in to give Pricilla a kiss.

“Take care of your family, it looks like it is going to get bigger,” he smiled, nodding at her belly. “It seems to be making you very happy.”

“I…It does make me happy. I guess that we all change at some point in our lives. You are still in my thoughts, though. My memories of my life with you are very special to me.”

Pricilla reached out for his face, caressing the cheeks of her old friend and lover. Her eyes lingered in his before breath came back to her lungs. Her lips brushed against his cheek.

“Don’t dwell on the past too much, now. It isn’t bound to bring you any fortune.”

“Take care of yourself,” she said, swallowing back her discomfort and tears.

He nodded an answer and walked away. Nothing more was said. She turned around to watch his walk away, his tall, lean form quickly disappearing. She put on her coat and looked down to her stomach.

“Maybe I will name you after him, little one.”

She put her coat on, shivering from emotion. Her hand drew out the letter. She stood silent for awhile, contemplating its worth, before leaving it behind on the table.

“It’s better this way. The chapter completely closed. Javier is my life now, and the children,” she whispered to her belly. “Yes, it’s better this way.”

She turned from the café table and walked back up the street. Furthering herself from the love of her past and taking her towards the love of her life.

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