"Portugal" was originally published in Edmonton International Airport's Short Edition Short Story Machine.
Do you remember Lisbon? I’ll ask.
Lisbon, the city of seven hills. There were more than seven hills in Lisbon. No matter where we walked we were always facing uphill. The city shifted beneath our feet. Streets swung and slid behind us; entire blocks deconstructed themselves to make new, more difficult paths for us. We didn’t mind because the higher we climbed in Lisbon the more the blue and the purple and the yellow tiled walls looked like tiny flowers to our colossal eyes. That man, the painter, he said there is one tile for every soul that has ever lived in Lisbon, no more, no less. When a baby is born, they make a new one. When you die, they stop dusting it, but it will remain.
The walking made us hungry. I was always so hungry in Portugal. Remember that kind woman at the Saramago Museum who told us, “In Lisbon, you eat the city and then you eat yourself”? So we did. Sweet, syrupy ginjinha, a bottle of red, your overdue library books, the spiced chorizo, my unfulfilled dreams, the Parmesan, that thing you like that I do, the rye, your fast smile when you know I’m watching, the marinated olives. We ate it all and spit our pits into a blue dish and were full having feasted on one another.
We left the Boutique Taverna, still thirsty for drink, and walked until we sweat through our clothes and the salt from my pores passed from my hand to yours. We buzzed the door of the Chinese Pavilion. Such an odd place, wasn’t it? All of those interconnected dead ends erected in the small gaps of a warehouse filled with the most terrifying toy collection. We sat between World War II era gas masks and a cabinet filled with tiny Nazi soldiers standing at attention beside a regiment of medieval knights.
You laugh now, but it was all we could do to sip on our minty mojitos and lazily crunch popcorn to keep us from bursting. Then Freddie Prinze Jr. walked in. Do you remember that? We caught his eye, and he raised his glass to us and flashed the smile that made Rachael Leigh Cook forget that he had humiliated her and guaranteed her character would have self-esteem issues for the rest of her life. I forgave him too.
Where did we go next? Right, Cascais. You wanted to know if the Atlantic was different on the other side. It was. I think. It didn’t make you happy and I think that’s why. You hoped it would be the same.
Some days I think you'll want to live near the ocean again or at least be buried by it. I dug a hole in the sand that day. Yes, I did. When you weren’t looking. I dug a hole in case I was right. I can’t swim but I knew I loved you and I wanted to reserve a plot on that beach in case I went first. Morbid? No, it’s not. I think it’s romantic. The rest of the afternoon was pleasant. We sat in the wet sand in our nice clothes and you rested your head on my shoulder and we watched a seagull torment a small child.
Then it was on to Porto, wasn’t it? J.K. Rowling lived there for a time and I remember everywhere we looked we saw dozens of Harry Potters and Hermione Granger’s shouting, “Reparo!” to fix the cracks in their sidewalks and eating those jelly beans that taste like salted cod. The entire series is less impressive when you discover it isn’t fiction.
The city was celebrating that old church organ when we were there. Parties, fireworks that rang off the tiled buildings and echoed through our bodies shaking the organs inside us. They warmed our skin and the light flattened your silhouette in the hotel window. You were draped in white curtain, like a bride. The strange eyes in the building opposite tried to stare through coppery, calcified air to share the moment I thought you most beautiful.
That was all right before we left though. Do you remember that run-in we had at the end? The day we left we met a man on a pink road who told us he needed money to send back to his family in Africa. He had no legs and pushed himself up the shifting hills of Lisbon on a small piece of wood with four wheels attached to it. He sat on a large bundle of blankets to cushion his bottom. He loved that we were from Canada and said we must be very generous if we are truly Canadian. I liked that he said that, but you didn’t. I gave him ten Euros and he gave me a plastic bracelet ringed with aquamarine stones and cheap leather and I wrapped it around your wrist like it was the most expensive thing I’d ever purchased. In a way, it was.
Then he stood up and walked away. I wasn’t going to chase him, too many hills.
Well, if you had a dollar for every time I let someone walk away from me thinking they'd got the better of me, you'd have several dollars, and they'd have several more dollars than even you. But I will always be the one with the story.
Anyway, these are the stories I’ll tell you. Someday when we’re old and the wrinkles on our hands interlock the way our fingers did when we were young. These are the ones I’ll tell you when I think you have safely forgotten the details.