An Essay by Isidra Mencos
“HERE, YOUR allowance.” Mom gives me two and half pesetas, like every Saturday afternoon when we are in San Julián.
“Gracias!” I rush upstairs to put one and a half pesetas in my nightstand, hidden under my journal. The other peseta I keep in my pocket.
Right before the clock hits five, when the stores will open after the lunch break, I ride my bike to Ca Filomena, the shop that is in the middle of town, close to Bar Nuria.
“Ten licorice vines, please.”
The tiny black bars, three inches long and an eighth of an inch wide, are my favorite candy. It takes me a good ten minutes to finish each one because I gnaw the tip little by little with my front teeth until it is translucent and the back of my teeth black, and then I attack the middle until I have just a little stub between my index finger and thumb, which I drop in my mouth reluctantly.
I’m sitting on the stone bench just outside Bar Nuria, my legs dangling, savoring the thin black taste of summer. I can hear the town’s men playing dominoes inside the bar, the satisfying thud each time they drop a double on the table. Salvador darts in and out, holding the round silver-color tray that packs white espresso cups, cognac in fat-bellied snifters, and iced coffees in tall glasses, the ice cubes clinking as he sets them on the sidewalk tables.
All of a sudden, I see Enrique riding his bike down the street. I sit up straight, sweep my hair behind my shoulder, and look at him intently. Will he see me? And, if he sees me, will he say hi? He pedals right in front of the bar, his eyes focused on the pavement. I’m disappointed, but I decide to try again later.
I often sit in our backyard patio, hoping to see him. We have early meals, by Spanish standards, but his family eats later. Often he rides his bike toward his house for lunch, right after we’ve finished ours. There are two routes to get there, so whenever he chooses our street, I think he’s aiming to see me. Some days he nods his head, other times he passes as if he doesn’t even know me. I persist in waiting and watching all summer long, hoping that he will like me again.
Enrique was my boyfriend the summer before, when his family rented a house in San Julián for the first time. He was eight years old, like me, and his sister Maite was thirteen. At first, my older siblings mocked her pressed pants and branded T-shirts and called her la pija. Enrique became el pijín. Preppy or not, Maite was cute, so my brothers soon recruited her into their gang of teenage friends. They usually didn’t invite me to join their group, since I was a few years younger, but when Maite showed up with Enrique, my siblings asked me to tag along to keep him company.
One day we went for a long hike. Enrique and I fell behind. We were talking about all the things one could do in San Julián. I liked the feeling of helping somebody, guiding him in his new town, which, for me, fit like a well-worn glove. The teenagers walked faster and farther ahead, and soon they were out of sight.
Enrique turned to me and asked, “Will you kiss me?”
I was surprised, but flattered. “I will, if you kiss me first,” I answered.
Enrique kissed my cheek and then I kissed his. He took my hand and we kept walking, the path now less steep.
From that day on we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but we kept it private. We never held hands or kissed in front of the others.
It felt good to have a secret, to be noticed after always feeling lost within the blurry abundance of ten siblings. I liked him too, his blond hair and blue eyes, his sweet promises of a life together, of marriage and bliss.
One afternoon we all hiked to Las Rocas, an area up a hill with big boulders amid the trees. We liked to lie on La Tumbona, a smooth sloping rock where you could slip if you didn’t walk carefully. To get there, we had to jump from the rock right next to it. Although the gap between both rocks was not very wide, two feet at most, the deep drop between them added an extra thrill. Stretched on La Tumbona, we chatted the afternoon away, admiring the orderly green and brown quilt of crops below, with the town nestled among them and the church tower spiking in a corner.
That day, while the teenagers rested there, Enrique and I wandered away to another boulder, which had two rocks connected to each other like a giant step. We sat on the lower rock, with our backs leaning against the step riser. The upper rock jutted out above our heads, creating a discreet shelter.
We started talking about our future. “I’m going to be a soccer player,” he said.
“I will be a nurse, so if you get hurt, I can take care of you,” I replied.
He kissed my cheek and I kissed his. We held hands and continued talking.
Suddenly, we heard a noise above us. We looked up, and there, lined up at the border of the upper boulder, were eight smirking faces. Some of my siblings, a couple of cousins, and Maite were looking down on us in a way that made me feel foolish.
I jumped up as if I had seen one of the many scorpions that frequented Las Rocas. “You…you…YOU…idiots!” I yelled. “How could you spy on us, you traitors, you…” I was so incensed I could hardly speak. Enrique looked at me, astonished, as if I were a miniature Amazonian taking on eight older and bigger warriors. My siblings were now laughing openly, still lying face down on the boulder. “I’m going home; I don’t ever want to go out with you again!”
I started walking, Enrique close behind me. Maite came after us. “Please, don’t go,” she pleaded. She may have had a laugh hidden somewhere behind the corners of her mouth, but she sounded concerned. “We’ll never do it again, right guys?” she asked the rest of the gang.
“No, we won’t,” agreed one of my cousins, but the others were still snickering.
I hesitated. I didn’t want to go back home with the whole afternoon still in front of us, but I felt so humiliated that staying seemed worse. “I’m leaving. I will NEVER forgive you,” I replied.
“What if I beg you?” insisted Maite. She kneeled in front of me and said, “We’re sorry, we’ll never spy on you again; do you forgive us?”
Seeing a teenager on her knees in front of me was shocking. I wasn’t used to having my feelings acknowledged, much less spared. At home the oldest siblings ruled the roost, and being the seventh of ten didn’t allow for much coddling.
“I guess I can forgive you if you really mean it,” I conceded.
“Oh, yes, yes, we mean it!” Maite assured me, her big blue eyes so similar to Enrique’s fixed on mine.
I grudgingly turned around. Enrique and I walked back to the boulder where it had all started. The teens returned to La Tumbona, and after we saw them lying there, we sat back at our spot – shaken, yet triumphant.
The summer continued without any more teasing. When it was time to say goodbye and go back to Barcelona, I left happy, looking forward to seeing Enrique again after the nine months of school were over.
Now it’s mid-August already, and although Maite still hangs out with my siblings, Enrique isn’t tagging along and I hardly ever see him. He’s become close to a group of boys our age and is busy with them at all hours, spending mornings at a friend’s pool, and afternoons, God knows where.
I’m heartbroken. I even tell my older brother’s girlfriend that he must not like me anymore because I was prescribed glasses during the winter. She assures me it’s impossible, because she knows from a good source that when one of Enrique’s friends said that I wasn’t as pretty with the glasses on, he punched him in the face. It may be a lie to make me feel better, but it gives me hope.
It never occurs to me to ask Enrique why he doesn’t want to be my boyfriend anymore. Being assertive with boys doesn’t come naturally.
Over the fall, I develop a deep hate for my glasses. I conveniently lose them a few months later and then deny needing them any longer. When Mom gets around to taking me to the doctor, my slight astigmatism has corrected itself and I wonder, for the first time, if my will can alter my body.
By the next summer, I am busy with my own group of girlfriends and I forget to feel abandoned. Enrique recedes to the back of my mind, like a mild ache that comes back only when it rains.
Years later, sensing perhaps the pull of unfinished business, Enrique and I, after belonging to the same group of friends for a decade, will exchange a few French kisses. Right away we’ll know that nostalgia can’t bring back our young selves. Vanished they are, like Ca Filomena, and the tiny licorice vines that I’ve never been able to find again.
Isidra Mencos, Ph.D. is a writer from Spain, living in the US since 1992. Her book of short stories, Juego de voces, was published by Ediciones Navegante (1997), and an awarded academic book, Merce Rodoreda: An annotated bibliography, came out in Scarecrow Press in 2004. She recently switched genres and languages, and is now focused on writing memoir in English. Her first piece was published in The Penmen Review (2017). She’s currently working on a long format memoir that takes place during the transition in Spain from the Franco dictatorship to democracy, and on a collection of short memoir pieces about the many selves we leave behind.