There will be times
when all the things she said
will fill your head,
you won’t forget her
Let’s say her name was Llucia, and that her skin was so pale. That she loved strawberries and vanilla ice cream with macadamia nuts. That for breakfast that day she had no coffee and no pineapple juice. That she had a fat toyger cat named Toygrant and that she read stories but no novels, the odd poem here and there.
Let’s say her name was Llucia and I didn’t know how to love her, and that on the afternoon I met her it was her breasts, more than anything, that forced me to look at her, and that her hands’ slender fingers and her perfectly plucked eyebrows came later, like the icing on a one night stand that kept going.
Her name was Llucia, then, and her soft Mallorcan accent would get heavy when she talked to her mother on the phone. Her name was Llucia and she wore a blue t-shirt of an almost Egyptian hue, loose black pants, flat sandals. Her bangs covered one eye and for the first few hours, as we were talking about work, her thesis, summers in her beach town, her cat, her perfect girlfriend, I had to resist the urge to push that hair back and kiss her.
She ended up coming over that night. She climbed up to my fourth floor, which passed itself off as the second floor (with a lobby and mezzanine), and panted up the final stretch, like everyone does. I poured her a drink and put on one of my favorite records; I took off her shirt and bra. We made love the way you’re supposed to—hungry for it and fighting off sleep, doing anything and everything to keep the other girl pleased. We made love and she stayed in bed when I left for work that morning, and when I came back the table was set and the fridge was scrubbed clean, and there were flowers in the vase by the entryway. We made love and she stayed, because she was here to stay. We kept up appearances for a few weeks, of course. She would go to her apartment and clean out her cat’s litter box, water the plants, get clean clothes and come right back. It was as if there was always some vital reason for her to stay: if it wasn’t for the sex it was for some movie we hadn’t finished. And if it wasn’t because we’d planned on cooking dinner together, it was because she was on her period and needed spoiling. We lived that way for a couple of months until she brought her cat and everything was said and done. I was allergic, but it wasn’t so bad: I could take it.
Her perfect girlfriend lived far away and caught on about me, about “us,” since suddenly Llucia was never home to pick up her calls. In November, Llucia sent her a really long letter that basically said she wouldn’t go see her for Christmas and she wouldn’t go live with her in Holland, that everything was over because she was starting a new chapter in life and that I wasn’t perfect, but that didn’t matter.
In the mornings she’d frantically type up her unintelligible thesis about these little bugs that live in the water—or that’s what I gathered from her explanations, anyway. Six nights a week she’d tend tables at a bar I started going to. I’d write my things and she’d pour me beers I’d never pay for, giving me a sly kiss here and there. It was an easy life, or so it seemed, but I can’t say how it happened.
Her name was Llucia but her friends called her Lucy and they’d wear me out like they did her mother. Her friends were young like her and they’d come in and out, put their feet on the sofa or the table, cuddle her cat, poke around my library, and take books that never came back, cooking up our constant fights.
When we’d fight I’d raise my voice and she’d fall quiet. She’d look at me with gentle spite and wouldn’t say anything until I’d gone tame. Then a few words would escape her lips, very quietly, and it would kill me and make me feel like a jerk who could never deserve her and who could only just give her a hug.
One could say I loved her. I’m sure I loved her, but not enough to live happily ever after. I loved her apathetically, knowing he’d never come back and that if he did I’d have to tell him no. I loved her and I even believed it for a while. I loved her with the flaky conviction of yielding to a bitingly tepid beer in July; you think you’ll get used to it, but you don’t—time passes and you’ve still got it in your hand, unable to swallow it down. I loved her with the guilt of staring at the half-empty beer, not quite daring to order another.
Her name was Llucia and winter found her in my bed, tracing our name on the ceiling with a hand mirror, my socks pulled all the way up to her knees, decaf tea brimming my favorite mug. Her name was Llucia and she was twenty-five and when she went out at night she’d come home with whiskey on her breath and other bodies on her fingers. Then she’d touch my face so I’d notice, fall quiet and hurt when I’d say nothing, throw a tantrum if I refused to fuck. She was short and skinny and when I was in a good mood I’d hug her from behind, poke her belly button, and make her laugh. But when I was down I’d look at her distantly and wait for the ice to melt off her skin so she could go back where she came from.
I didn’t talk to him for the three years we kept up our little act. He lived nearby. We liked the same movies, wandered the same bookstores, probably read the same books—but we never ran into each other. Our love was the kind you live once in your life and that’s it. The kind that doesn’t end when you end things and keeps lurking deep down for a long, long time. One of those loves you don’t know if you regret, the kind that could get you killed. One of those loves that fills your veins with blood until they’re ready to burst. The kind you have to reduce, reuse, rethink—put up with. We kept going on and off again. The only way to get rid of him was to hurt him bad.
She got hurt, too, of course. I never said this, but she knew I liked to fuck her because she wasn’t a man and I couldn’t size them up. That the orgasms she’d give me were light and easy, that they didn’t weigh on me the way his did. That her fingers and her tongue and her legs and her breasts and her breath were soft and kind. That she made me come like when someone tells you a silly story that suddenly makes you laugh after you’ve been crying for a long time. She would hurt but she didn’t want to leave me, convinced I was the one who had to leave her.
I didn’t tell her anything about him. She must have barely known he existed. She had read his aggressive handwriting in the inscriptions of some books. She’d dug deep into my drawers and found a picture where we looked good together, free of the usual angst that ate away at us, probably one of those rare occasions we were truly happy. She spent a few days looking for that light in my eyes but didn’t find it. I would have told her it was a trap, that those people in the picture weren’t really us. That yes, it was intense, but it was also grueling. That if we had been happy like that more often, we would have found a way to shave off our pride, meet halfway. I would have told her the truth, or something close to it, but she never asked.
I honestly thought that going to and from work, getting lunch together, and watching her head out to the bar would give us one of those routines that puts your feet on the ground and lets you take in the small things in life—like butterflies on the windowsill or some verse that lands on your lap by chance. I thought—and I really did think this—that the monotony of snow, of the eternal white of a powdered garden, could be the antidote to too many springs full of light and flowers and storms. But there were days when, without saying anything, she’d accuse me of not loving her enough, of not loving her the way I should. Those days when for some reason my cat allergies would fog my head and I’d punish her with a sarcastic remark about the absurdity of her aimless life waitressing and researching. If her friends came over and I was having a bad day I’d hide away in the study and put a record on full blast—just to make it clear that I didn’t want them in my house, that I didn’t want in on their childish conversations, that I could stand her, but that any more of them would bring me over the edge.
I started disappearing because I needed to, so I wouldn’t hurt her when I wasn’t in a good mood, so I could feel a little less miserable and a little more free—but that didn’t work. On many nights, she’d get back from work at three and wouldn’t find me home. I would sleep at a friend’s two or three nights in a row. I’d turn off my cell, and when she’d finally call me up at the office, worried stiff, I’d act like everything was fine. Like it was completely okay not to leave a note saying I’d be back, that she shouldn’t be losing sleep over it. I hoped that one day I’d come home and she’d be gone, that she’d have taken the cat and that I could finally breathe normally again. The keys would be on the table, next to a sad note I could file away with the love letters—but nothing was that simple. We fell into that pointless routine where we both knew it was over, but we were each waiting for the other girl to be the one to slam the door on her way out. That’s when I thought of it.
Let’s say I did it because I missed him, because every time her slender hands would touch me I wanted to imagine his rougher ones, because when we went to the movies we never had heated discussions about anything, just the slow stroll of two people stuck in their own heads, because it was a dirty game, but a game nonetheless: a way of questioning her, of shaking her up.
The first letter came on a Tuesday, while I was at work. On the envelope, my name and address in that aggressive handwriting I worked so hard to fake. Inside, a message he’d emailed me a long time ago, printed out like a letter, dated last Friday. Llucia didn’t open it, but her eyes followed me when I picked it up from the entryway table and chucked it in my briefcase. I knew she’d rummage through the next day and check if I’d opened it, so she could read it without my knowing.
I sent myself a lot of those the last few months I lived with Llucia. I recycled an entire collection of desperate love notes I’d saved in a folder with his name on it. I’d laugh and cry as I read them again. I saw the sparkle in my eyes grow with every passing day, and she started folding in, getting even thinner, turning gray. She must have thought my long absences were dates with him, but she never said anything. Looking back I guess it shouldn’t have been so hard. We could have simply sat down and talked. I could simply have told her I was in love with someone who was barely real, who was just a daydream, who was just a scarce few good moments in a sea of frustration, that I was sorry I’d let her into my life when, really, I didn’t even want her there. I guess I couldn’t do any of that because we never talked about anything seriously: our relationship was a given that had imposed itself through the drive of those acts that melt reason.
No one judged me for what happened. All her friends knew she was nervous and wavering. She didn’t leave a note, she didn’t give a reason. Of course people scowled at me during the funeral; we’d never gotten along anyway. When her mother hugged me I felt the full weight of her pain land on my shoulders; I thought I’d faint, but I managed not to. Some nights her teary breath still smothers me, when I understand what I did, clear as an impassible moon keeping guard from above.
Let’s say her name was Llucia, and that her skin was so pale that her bare legs pooled in blood at the foot of the stairs seemed impossible, a silver scissor cutting through the courtyard shade. That she left me a fat toyger cat, that I didn’t know how to love her.
Special thanks to the participants of Institut Ramon Llull’s Catalan to English literary translation course for their ideas and collaboration on this translation.