By Jose L. Recio
“I’m tired of your laziness!” Silvia leaves the apartment and slams the door behind her. Palmiro, feeling harassed, jumps out of bed and walks into the bathroom; he hates that she wakes him at dawn.
A few minutes later, he dresses in a sweat suit, hangs a Marlboro on his lips, and storms out to the streets in downtown Madrid. “I’ll light your cigarette…” He hears the song through his earbuds, and he lights up.
Six-foot tall, slim, and pale, Palmiro strides aimlessly. When he feels hungry, he checks his pocket—some money left. He takes one last drag from his third Marlboro and walks into a little café, located at the corner of two narrow streets. A couple of customers sit at one of the available tables, but Palmiro chooses to stand at the counter.
“A cup of coffee, no cream, no sugar, and toast,” he commands the angelic-looking waitress behind the counter. “Fuck the bitch!” he mutters under his breath.
“Excuse me, are you talking about me?” The waitress, who appears to be of his age, in the early twenties, looks perplexed.
“I’m saying that soon I’ll compose a hit song, and she’ll know who I am.”
She relaxes her shoulders. With her fingertips, she styles her short, dark hair. “Are you a musician?” Her eyes shine with expectation.
“I’m a songwriter.”
She smiles and moves away to make the toast and pour the coffee.
“And who is she?” she asks when she returns.
“She’s my girlfriend. She looks like you, slim and graceful; only she is blond and blue eyes. For some reason, this morning she woke up feeling mad and left, slamming the door.”
“She may have her reasons,” says the waitress. She stands behind the counter, near him.
“She wants me to find a job and forget my dream.” He shakes his head.
I’m an artist, he thinks but doesn’t say. Instead, he hurries to finish his breakfast and pays the bill.
“Soon, you’ll find out who I am, sweetie,” he yells to the waitress and walks out the door.
Outside, a bright spring sun blinds him; he has forgotten his sunglasses. He reaches for the shady side of the street and walks slowly, tightening the earbuds in his ears: “You don’t bring me anything, but down…” the voice sings. He keeps on going towards Puerta del Sol. There, he enters the subway. In the Metro carriage, the air feels thick and hot. He sweats profusely and wipes his forehead with his sleeve.”Man kills his girlfriend with an ax,” Palmiro reads in the paper that another passenger holds unfolded in front of his eyes. He turns his head away to avoid throwing up. He gets out two stops later.
Palmiro emerges to the street surface at Calle Fuencarral; he takes a deep breath and walks down the street, looking for a particular three-story building. Once there, he enters, climbs the stairs to the second floor, and stops in front of one of the apartments, whose door is painted with a vivid red color. He turns his phone off and rings the bell. Silvia opens the door.
“How dare you come to my sister’s place?”
“You can’t leave me like that, Silvia.”
“Who’s to stop me?” She straightens her shoulders.
“I love you…”
“No, Palmiro. You love yourself. For two years, I’ve been going to work. . .”
“I can’t hold a job, and you know it,” he cuts her off.
“That’s your problem! I’m fed up with listening to your excuses.” she takes both her palms to her belly as if in pain.
“I’m an artist!” Palmiro says.
“And I am pregnant. You’re going to be a father.” She looks straight at him.
Thunderstruck, Palmiro pushes the door, but Silvia closes it shut. Damn it! She is pregnant, she says. I’m going to be a father, she says. What does she mean? He remains standing there, frozen, until the brightness of the red color blurs his sight. Then, he puts another cigarette in his mouth and turns around. Silvia news that she is pregnant has shaken his insides. What is he supposed to do?
“Soon, I’ll compose a hit song…” he babbles on his way out of the building.
He can´t make up his mind toward where to head. The memory of the young waitress at the little cafe pops into his mind, and he goes back there. Now a crowded place, he walks to the counter and sits on a stool between other customers.
“Hey, sweetie,” he calls to the same waitress, “I need a beer.”
In spite of his bravado, his stomach shakes, and his heart weeps. The customer on his right, a senior man, glances at him with an expression of disapproval. The waitress approaches him.
“Has somebody beaten you up?” she murmurs.
“I’m not sure of where I belong,” he says.
She throws him a look of compassion. “I’m Monica,” she says; she smiles.
“What type of beer?” Monica asks.
“A draft of any beer,” he replies.
The customer on his left, a middle-aged woman, a little bald, glances at him with a grimace of disdain.
“I’m an artist!” Palmiro yells.
Nobody makes any comments regarding his statement. Monica brings him the beer and calmly asks what his trouble is.
“I can’t hold a job, damn it!” he yells and grips the glass of beer with such pressure that his arm trembles, and he gets glances of contempt from the people around him.
Tension arises. With an air of indifference, he puts his earbuds on, aware of being the focus of attention. Quietly, Monica leans forward and knocks on the wooden counter in front of him like she would have done on the door at his place. Palmiro pulls his left earphone out.
“We, artists,” she whispers, “can also work.”
Palmiro, disconcerted, stares at her. His brain doesn’t hear the music from his phone anymore.
“I’m on my way to becoming a professional ballerina,” she adds with a smile. “If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t be able to afford my training.”
Monica’s words bring calmness to the customers, but Palmiro feels uneasy.
“How much is it?” he asks.
“The beer is on me,” Monica replies.
“Thanks,” he says and, eyes cast down, leaves the place.
Absentmindedly, he goes back to stroll in the streets, no longer listening to the music. At the turn of a corner, his eyes come across a sign, set on the façade of a building. It’s made of white tiles, with the name of the street —Calle del Clavel—at the bottom and a large pink carnation painted in the middle, surrounded by several smaller ones. Something on it calls his attention. In front of his eyes, the carnations rearrange themselves into words: Do something practical, he reads. Such a weird vision!
Palmiro, shaking his head, emerges from the spell feeling scared, he also feels compelled to take action. “I can do better,” he utters to the clouds. He hesitates between going back to the little café and thank Monica for her wise words or back to Silvia’s sister’s apartment and share with her his determination to look for a job.
About the Author:
Jose L Recio was born and raised in Spain. He studied medicine in Spain and later left for California on a Scholarship. He currently lives with his wife, Deborah, in Los Angeles. While in practice, he published several papers in specialized journals. Over the last few years, interest in creative writing keeps him busy. Having grown to become bicultural, he writes both in Spanish and English, and sometimes he translates his texts.