Lily frowned and rolled her bottom lip after opening my suitcase. She pulled a pair of bunched up cargo pants out and shook them; as if the wrinkles would fly off, like dust from an old dirty rug. She folded them over her arm, then in half, and then laid the shorts over the crumpled mess of hastily packed clothes. She patted the pants with both hands and let out a little noise, as if to say, “There, that’s better.”
“What did you forget?” she asked.
“Hairbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and socks.”
“How?” she asked. I shrugged my shoulders.
“Can you come with me?” I asked. “I’ll need help with the language.”
“Sure,” she said. “We’ll go after my class.”
There was a pharmacy on Calle Princesa, just a short walk from the school where Lily was learning Spanish. We took the path on the eastern edge of Parque de la Bombilla into Madrid. It was late in the day and there were many people lounging on the long grass for siesta. The park, although lush and green, had the feel of a desert; there was a dryness that peaked up through the surface and hung in the air. It reminded me of home, dusty old Bakersfield, oh how I didn’t miss you.
“Mind if we walk with you and your gentleman friend?” The pack of young girls announced their presence behind us.
“Sure girls, no problem.” Lily waved them up. “This is my boyfriend Jake. Jake, these are some of the girls from the program. I’ve told them all about you.”
“Nice to meet you.” I turned to greet them, four girls in all. It was a blur of short shorts, tight tube tops, bright teeth, and tan skin. “What are your names?”
“Sorry,” Lily said. “My fault. This is Karen, Jenny, Lucy, and Tish.”
“Nice manners, Lil.” Lucy joked. She was wearing these platform flip-flops that must have given her at least three or four extra inches of height. I’ve never seen such a thing. Once we were past the park and on the Calle Princesa the girls were gone—they changed direction like a school of fish.
“What’s their deal?” I asked.
“Some of the girls have been getting harassed by the Spanish,” Lily told me. “Especially near the park.”
“Has anyone given you any trouble?’
“No,” she said. “Luckily, I haven’t had any run-ins. To be honest, I wonder if some of them have been making it up.”
“Why would they do that?”
“I don’t know, attention?” Lily pointed across the street. “Pharmacy’s there.”
The pharmacy was much smaller than I was used to, no aisles to browse, or magazine racks to glance through. It was impossibly white and clinical. There was a tremendous variety of products, all behind the counter, stacked in glass cases from floor to ceiling. I hadn’t spoken Spanish since college; five maybe six years ago, thankfully I had Lily. Spanish was a requirement at her school and she was able to score some quick points by coming on this trip. All told, it would be six weeks of sightseeing and class work for a semester’s worth of credit. Initially I had no intention of going with her. She wouldn’t be away that long and I didn’t really have much European travel money to spare. After Lily and I had a few long talks my plans changed and I eventually booked my plane tickets, eight days in Madrid on a credit card. I was able to rent a room in the dorms for only thirty dollars a day. I had to get my own room because Lily already shared a room with a classmate. The school seemed fine with it. They said I was even allowed to go on some tours with the group.
“Tell her I need a hairbrush,” I said. The woman behind the counter looked at me as I spoke, I searched her face for any recognition of the word hairbrush, thinking it might be one of those words that just sticks out and you understand, even when it’s not a language you know. Like how I know basura and caliente. “Any hairbrush will do,” I added. The women continued to look at me blankly.
“Excuse me,” Lily said and stepped forward. The woman turned her attention to my girlfriend and I became excited by the thought of hearing Lily speak Spanish. “DO YOU HAVE A HAIR BRUSH,” she said, slow and deliberate, the way those ignorant of a language do. “Por him?” She finished by making the hair combing motion and then pointing to me.
The pharmacist lady got the gist of the exchange and rose from her seat. She walked over to the white metal ladder and slid it to where the brushes were located. Lily turned to me, bright and smiley, happy that she’d gotten the job done. I looked into her eyes and wanted, with all my heart, to say, you’re a fucking idiot. Not in a mean way, you understand? Like funny. The way I say shit to my friends, just joking around. But I knew, from past instances, that this kind of interaction didn’t sit well with her. Lily and I couldn’t kid around like that, which I understood. It was just that we’d been together for a few years at that point and the longer we dated, the fewer close friends I ended up having. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Being much older than Lily, my friends were getting married and having children. Those who weren’t doing such familial things were too out of control to hang out with when Lily was around. In the few weeks prior to my arriving in Spain, while Lily was already there studying, I reconnected with some of my old friends, met for drinks and talked about the old days. All and all it was a great time and I wanted more.
We got back to the dorm with time to kill before dinner. Lily wanted to go right to my room because she said her roommate would be sleeping and she didn’t want to bother her. I started kissing her as soon as we got into the room, but she was more hesitant than I expected. We’d been apart for a few weeks and I figured she’d be ready to go, but she didn’t seem into it. I got a little more assertive and started taking off her clothes and moving her toward the beds.
“Slow down,” Lily whispered.
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s just been awhile. I’m nervous.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “just trust me.” I laid her down in the bed and then got the rest of my clothes off. I kissed her again, more forcefully. I wanted her to feel my want for her. I wanted it to be passionate. This shy version of Lily was a real change from what I was used to. I figured everything would be fine once I was inside her, but it wasn’t. She wasn’t into it, I could feel it. What was always a wild water park of fun and amusement felt like a catcher’s mitt. I was only half hard and losing steam, but then I thought of the girls, Lucy in particular, in those high heel flip flops and the turquoise tube top. It wouldn’t take more than the slightest tug to pull the top down and let those beautiful full breasts spill out. I bet they were tan and that she sunbathed in the nude with maybe just a tiny thong. Then out of nowhere, Tish, shows up and they start kissing. I finished and rolled off Lily. I slept for a little while, and when I woke up it was time for dinner.
Lily went down while I showered and ironed my gear and dressed. The Europeanness of the shower was a problem. They’re not built to accommodate the frame of a half Samoan former college football player. I had to bend over and kind of let my ass hang out and wash my head and chest and then turn around to get my rear. There was about an inch and a half of water in the bathroom when I was done. Of course I had left my shoes on the floor next to the sink, they were soaked. Luckily, there was a pair of flip-flops crammed in my bag.
“Hey Jake,” Lily said. “Come meet everyone.” Lilly waved me over to where she was holding court in the lobby. She pointed to each one of her friends, and said a name. I didn’t retain any of the information. It was just Nerd One, Nerd Two, Gay, Chick I’d fuck, Chick I wouldn’t. “….and this is Raffa, who I told you about.” The first week Lily was here she called every day and each time she called she’d mention Raffa, who was so sweet and helpful, and who she couldn’t get along without. I thought Raffa was a chick. When she corrected me I nearly put a hole through my drywall with my fist. I asked if he was gay and she said maybe, but this dude was not gay. He was fat and brown and not dressed well enough to be a homo. Although he did have a giant jeweled gold ring on his finger that looked pretty gay. He stood up and was super short, even for a Spaniard. He put his hand out and said something that sounded to me like “Banana banana banana” and I accepted his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Raffa,” I said as I squeezed his tiny little fat fingers in my palm. I mashed his ring into his bones and smiled as his eyes welled up with tears. I let him go just as he started to squirm and gave him a slap on the shoulder. “Good to put a face to a name,” I added.
“And this is my roommate Amanda,” Lily grabbed me by the arm and walked me over to the young girl reading a copy of Don Quixote. “She’s just about fluent.”
“Well,” I said, reaching for Amanda’s hand. “Nice to meet you.” Amanda looked upset. Her face went sour, and when she took my hand, she squeezed it as hard as she could. She even made a little straining grunt.
“That’s everybody for now,” Lily got up on her toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Let’s eat!”
After dinner we went back to my room and had sex again. It was no different than the afternoon and that got me worried. I woke too late for breakfast, but there was too much day to kill before Lily got out of class to hang around the dorm. After wrestling with the shower I ironed some more clothes and put some stuff away. My shoes were still damp from the bathing mishap, so I went with the flip-flops again. I figured I’d retrace the route Lily and I took the other day, around the park to Calle Princesa and into the city. Before I crossed from the dorms to the park I heard my name and turned. It was Lucy and the girls—they rushed out of the lobby and jogged and bubbled their way over to me.
“Jake, wait,” Lucy called out. “Can you walk us through the park?”
“We’re not stalkerotzy or anything,” she continued. “It’s just that we’ve been harassed a few times and it’s scary.”
“Lily said something about that.”
“The Spanish men are awful, this one guy called us American whores,” Tish chimed in. “But when we’re with a guy they usually don’t bother us, even if it’s Raffa.”
Just hearing his name got my blood up. I wanted to grab him and shake him and yell, just like when I flipped out on Dave Nussbaum in the third grade for raiding my lunchbox. I wanted to knock Raffa down and scream, “Keep your goddamn hands off my juice box! It’s my juice box!”
“Jake,” Karen said. “Could you give me a hand? My shoe strap’s come undone.” I stopped with her as the other girls kept walking.
“Yeah, no problem.” These girls were unbelievable, just attention-demanding machines. Lily let the thing last night slide, but if she saw me on one knee fiddling with this girl’s strappy shoes while she stood over me in a short skirt, well, dead wouldn’t cover it. Another girl screamed and called my name. It was ridiculous.
“Help,” Lucy cried out. “It’s a pervert.” I told Karen to stay put and jogged ahead. The three girls were huddled together screaming a god awful scream. I rounded the corner and saw him. He was dressed for exercise: sneakers, a loose sleeveless running shirt, and tiny out of fashion shorts. The pervert had his hand up his leg hole. He had his eyes trained on the girls, and was beating away like mad.
“Hey,” I called out and the guy froze, hand still on his junk. We stood there for a moment, looking at each other, and then he took off. The cornerback in me switched on, I was after him. It didn’t matter how long it had been since I played. That shit was beat into me at one training camp after another. He looked over his shoulder, a clear sign he didn’t know his route. We motored across the grass, between the picnickers and nappers. I had to clench my toes to keep my flip-flops from flying off, which slowed me down. He took a quick right turn onto one of the paths that cut through the more heavily wooded areas of the park and picked up speed.
He wasn’t glancing back anymore. He knew where he was going. If he got out of my sight for just a few moments I was sure he could disappear. His lead on me increased. I thought about Lily and the juice box poacher and it got me mad. I let my flops fall off and was now running barefoot over the rocky pathway. I picked up a few steps on him. There was an opening up ahead, a hub where a bunch of different paths met. I was closing in on him, almost in reach. I felt this burning under my right foot, the same place every time my foot landed. It felt like a pebble was stuck there or maybe I’d been cut by something on the ground. Just as we got to the hub I reached out and got a hand on him. I gave him a push just before he had a chance to change direction. That’s all it took to bring him down. He stumbled, then tripped over his own feet, before crashing to the path and skidding to a stop. I was on top of him before he could get back up. I had both of his thumbs firmly squeezed together in my left hand and had his legs pinned down with my knee. The pervert had his eyes closed and was screaming, “Banana banana banana…” over and over. He was a little bloody from the fall, but not too badly hurt.
“Hey,” I yelled. His eyes opened and I punched him in the left eye with my right hand. He screamed, “Bananana banana banana…” guttural at first then high pitched and submissive. I felt satisfied by how everything went down. He’d have some swelling and a black eye. He’d have to explain or shamefully lie about the marks to his wife, or girlfriend or mother. But I didn’t know what to do next. I thought about what I could do to him, what wouldn’t be permanent or crippling. I walked into a plate glass window once and I couldn’t see for twenty minutes with all the tears in my eyes. Something like that would give me time to slip away.
“Hey,” I yelled again. His eyes opened up and I smashed him in the nose. Blood gushed out immediately and I jumped off him. He just lay there and moaned, holding both hands to his face. I turned back the way I’d come and started jogging. My foot started to hurt more and more. It was cut pretty bad. By the time I found my way out of the park I couldn’t put any weight on it. The girls were nowhere to be found. The blood was flowing out by then.
There was a big fuss made when I got back. The girls had been hysterical and stirred up the whole place. Lily was in tears and looked relieved when I appeared in the doorway. Everybody in the lobby stood up and applauded. I kind of waved and tried to play it as awe-shucks as I could. Inside I was bursting. Lily got under my right arm and helped me to the infirmary. Her roommate was on the phone in the hallway. She hit me with another sour look as we walked toward her.
“Meathead saves the day,” Amanda said as we approached.
“Don’t listen to her, you did good.”
Once we got to the infirmary the nurse gave me some pain pills and bandaged my foot. It started to swell and was at least twice its normal size. I didn’t try to put any weight on it. The cut was right across the sole of my foot, from just south of roast beef to my arch. The nurse left me there for the night and then was in early the next day. She examined my foot and seemed pleased. She made a sewing motion and I nodded in agreement. There were a few painful injections and then all I could feel was a tugging on the bottom of my foot. I fell back asleep before she was done. When I woke up my foot was dressed and there were crutches next to my bed. I could still feel the impact and dullness of the pain medication and thought it would be a good time to go visit with Lily. I was sure I’d be in a good amount of pain soon enough. I was pretty good on crutches, another football skill that stayed with me. In no time I was up the stairs and hopping down Lily’s hallway.
I heard them as soon as I got on their floor, but couldn’t make out what was going on. As I got closer it was clear she and Amanda were fighting. I was thrilled by it, at first. Amanda was such a bitch and I figured Lily was sticking up for me. I stopped at their doorway and listened. I wanted to hear Lily really give it to her. They didn’t seem to make much sense, I could hear their words, but didn’t understand what they were talking about. Amanda was insisting Lily do something and Lily wasn’t agreeing.
“You know you have to,” Amanda said, not yelling anymore. “Sooner or later.”
“I know,” Lily said. And then it was quiet, but not pin drop quiet. I gave them a minute. They weren’t talking, but there was movement, the god-awful sound of friction. I banged on the door and heard one of them curse.
“Who is it?” Lily asked.
“It’s me, what are you doing in there?”
“Nothing, hold on a second, Amanda is getting changed.”
When the door finally opened I felt like I was walking into a crime scene. Amanda was as far away from the door as she could get, standing in the corner holding a magazine in her hand. It was all over Lily’s face. She was the guilty type, never able to hide anything.
“What the fuck?” I said.
“Don’t,” I pushed my way past Lily. “What were you doing?”
“Nothing,” Lily said.
“What were you doing?” I looked directly at Amanda. She shrugged and tossed the magazine she wasn’t reading onto the desk.
“I’m sorry man,” Amanda said and put a consoling arm on my shoulder. “I didn’t want it to go down this way.”
Amanda reached out for Lily as she walked by. She took Lily’s hand and guided it to her mouth, looking in Lily’s eyes the whole time, and gave her palm a soft full kiss. There was nothing sexy about the touch, nothing hedonistic or wanton. It was caring and affectionate and intimate. Lily had brought it up a few times before; she’d said, flat out, that she’d bring another girl into bed with us. I always thought it was bullshit, I figured it was a girlfriend test.
Amanda walked toward the door. She turned and smirked at me before leaving. It wasn’t the pure hate I’d seen from her earlier—I’d swear she felt sorry for me. The door closed and Lily and I stared at each other in silence for a moment. An engine of feelings I didn’t understand went into overdrive inside me. I wished for a power to make this all better, to undo and unlearn the things that had just happened in this room. Lily tried to speak and I cut her off.
“I fucked your friends,” I said, as stern as I could, but my voice quaked just a bit. Lily looked at me, and winced. “Nancy and Samantha and Sandy.” These were Lily’s oldest and best friends, “I fucked all of them. And not just once either.”
“No,” Lily said weakly. Her body folded in on itself, like she’d been socked in the gut.
“You can call them and ask them for yourself,” I said. “But if they’re shitty enough friends to let me fuck them, they’ll probably have no problem lying to you. “
“Please,” she said with eyes full of hurt. She was on the verge of a full sobbing fit and then just as I expected her to break, nothing. She stood up straight again, but wouldn’t look me in the eye. It was like whatever thing she held for me, inside of her, had been pummeled beyond the point of repair. “Go,” she said and I did.
I had my flight changed and bags packed within an hour. I climbed down to the bar in the lobby and started what I expected to be a good few weeks of being drunk and sad and drunk and angry. No one talked to me at the bar, word traveled fast in this little dorm. Just a day before it was all applause and thanks. The next day, I was an STD sitting on a bar stool. I checked my watch. I decided I’d get a cab and spend the rest of the day in the airport. I got on my crutches and made my way up the stairs. Three steps from the top I looked up and saw fat brown Raffa standing there, almost face to face with me.
“What the fuck do you want?”
“Banana!” He said and started to swing. He pulled his fist back so far that it took a million years if it took a second to reach my face. I still can’t believe he landed that tugboat, but he did. I was fumbling with my crutches and trying to steady myself on one foot while on the stairs. His huge ring landed just south of my eye on my left cheek and it dragged across the bridge of my nose between my eyes, slicing my face the whole way. Somehow I got my hands on the banister and saved myself from falling down the steps and breaking my neck.
There was another day in the infirmary, my face bandaged up like a burn victim. No one came to visit. I slipped out to the airport in the middle of the night and I never saw Lily again. But, that scar Raffa gave me is still a bright white line across the middle of my face. When I tell the story to friends I leave out the stuff about Lily and Amanda and Raffa. I just tell them about the girls and the pervert in the park. As far as they knew, that’s how I got the scar.