They fucked once, didn’t that entitle her to something? A few more conversations, at least–even if they were utterly synthetic in terms? No, it did not, she soon learned after an inappropriate amount of unanswered WhatsApp messages. They communicated only in this way because he was British, and something about using WhatsApp made Europeans seem to think they were getting a better deal. Amalia didn’t care, wasn’t as vexed by it as most ordinary Americans seemed to be, herself of Spanish blood, therefore accustomed to such anomalous to a U.S. denizen ways. It was, in fact, while visiting Madrid that she first encountered Oliver, all paleness and cluelessness as he wandered about the Temple of Debod in the final half hour before its closure. Viewing it in dim light was Amalia’s preference, but she couldn’t understand someone like Oliver coming to see it at this time of day–he had first-timer written all over him. In all her outings to this place of wonder, she had come to find that many people seem to have a perplexed expression in front of this landmark, as though they were expecting there to be more than met the eye upon closer photographic examination. Like you should be able to walk inside of something, as opposed to just around it. But Amalia adored its simplicity. That it was secretly grandiose in said simplicity, transported all the way from Aswan, Egypt in order to be here. That was in 1968. Now, in 2015, it remained as mystical and arcane as ever. At least to Amalia. Oliver, it appeared, in his frenzy of picture-taking was trying to find something more than met the eye that might later be unearthed upon closer photographic examination. That’s what initially caught her attention about him. Yet he, in his Anglican male vanity, assumed she was staring at him because she was interested. Feeling confident in his surmisal, he ceased his terroristic act of tourism and approached her.
“On your own, are you?” he asked without beating around the temple.
She glared at him. “No.”
Oliver smirked. “Oh? Who are you here with?”
“My dad. He’s at the hotel. Spent from our afternoon fuck session.”
This wiped the smirk right off of his face, before he smiled again. “Real cheeky, aren’t you?”
Amalia rolled her eyes. “What do you want?”
Oliver’s former confidence was shaken as he ran the palm of his hand against the back of his neck. “Well, er, I was just standing over there, and, uh, noticed you were alone too. Thought you might want some company.”
Amalia softened, finally chucking him an abrupt bone in saying, “Sure, why not? There’s a bar that’s about to open right down the way.”
He looked relieved. “Great. Ehm… I’m Oliver by the way.”
Amalia nodded. “Seems right.”
“I might’ve known you wouldn’t offer up yer own name.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t decided if it’s worth telling you yet.”
They started to walk together out of the park, as though it was the most natural thing in the world for two strangers to come together after viewing a thing of beauty unwittingly together. “And what, pray tell, would make it worth telling me?”
“I have to gauge how ephemeral your presence in my life is going to be. Is this a Before Sunrise interlude, or a Before Midnight one?”
Oliver arched his eyebrow. “My, my. Aren’t you a typical dame, wondering if you’re going to marry a bloke or some shite the second you meet him.”
She chortled. “I wouldn’t marry an Englishman for all the money in the world.”
Their destination, La Malquerida, appeared before them. Broken up into separate words, it meant “the evil that rides.” Amalia was the one who should’ve taken that as an omen, not Oliver, who felt inclined to comment on the name as a means to show off his so-called knowledge of the language, even though there’s nothing more unpleasant than hearing a British person speak another language, especially when they falsely attempt to put on an accent.
Upon sitting at the bar, Amalia ordered a michelada without looking at the menu. Oliver fumbled to look at the beer list, spitting out the word “Modelo” so as to make it look as though he knew what he was doing, could keep up with Amalia’s airs of being an all-around aficionado.
When their drinks were slung at them by the bartender, Amalia turned to Oliver and said, “So, where do you live?”
He gulped his beer. “Well, believe it or not, New York.”
Amalia froze. There was more danger to this light attraction now. It was safer when she assumed he lived in some bumfuck part of the U.K., like Nottingham or Liverpool. But no, he lived in the same city as she–and that was a peril she never accounted for when she agreed to consort with him.
“What about you? Or is that something you can’t tell me either?”
She took another sip from her michelada. “Well, I, too, am a victim of that city.”
Oliver grinned. “You don’t say? We’re both New Yorkers.”
She balked, “I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself that. I’ve only been there four years.”
“That’s more than meself, I’ve only been there a year.”
“And you’re already traveling? Desperate to take a break from it?” Amalia countered.
“It’s not that. Not totally anyway. I had a job to finish up here.”
“What sort of job?”
“I composed the music for this Telecinco special, and I had to come here to wrap up the final touches on it.”
Amalia could tell he wanted her to be impressed. She wasn’t. “Mm. Chouette, as the French don’t say.”
Oliver hid his disappointment at her lack of further inquiry into his profession. “What about you? What’s your field?”
Amalia sighed. “That remains to be seen.”
“Unemployed, are you? Figuring yourself out with a little soul searching abroad?”
“Nothing so cliche.” She picked at a hangnail absently. “I have some family I can stay with here. So sometimes I sublet my apartment to save up some money for a while.”
“How lovely for you, to have such a scheme on hand.”
She rolled her eyes. “No need to go getting all jealous now. There’s nothing glamorous about sitting in a room by oneself most of the day.”
“So you’re lonely, is it?”
Oliver stared at her thoughtfully. “I’m not.”
“I can’t speak to that delusion.”
Ultimately, of course, Oliver brought her back to his hotel room at the Petit Palace Savoy Alfonso XII, right near, in typical tourist fashion, the Prado. Their adversarial banter had served as hours of foreplay culminating in this, a slow and drawn out fuck.
In the morning, they stayed in bed and Oliver ordered room service. The coffee gave them enough strength to go another round, but when they concluded it was as though a question mark loomed above them asking, “What do we do now?” Oliver tried to answer it by ushering them out of the room with the offer his WhatsApp contact info. They had somehow managed to follow each other on Instagram as well, which was, as Oliver retrospectively learned, a huge mistake. But that error wouldn’t make itself clear to him for another month or so.
In the interim, they each returned to New York at separate intervals, Oliver coming back first and posting his usual barrage of photos assuring the world that he was fabulous. Amalia, still in between bartending jobs, had plenty of time to, at first, unintentionally stalk him. She mistakenly assumed that he would contact her when he saw that, she, too, lived in the same neighborhood as he did. Taking care to geotag the location of her photos more regularly, Amalia knew that there was no way Oliver couldn’t know she was close by, her pictures a “gentle reminder” to reach out to her. But weeks went by and he still didn’t. Amalia couldn’t understand. Again, she had been duped into thinking a connection existed where apparently there didn’t.
It was starting to drive her a bit batty. And her trollings of his activity began to border on the unhealthy when she specifically typed in his user name to ensure she hadn’t overlooked any of his latest postings. And there it was, always the same backdrop of sunflowers in his front yard. It looked so familiar to her, she knew she had passed it before. It was becoming infuriating that she couldn’t place it, and she started to take every possible different route in their Brooklyn vicinity to find it.
The WhatsApp messages had long ago tapered off, but Amalia persisted in donating her time to the endeavor of figuring out where he lived so as manufacture a meeting of “happenstance.” A few weeks later, with a fresh cup of coffee in tow on her daily quest, she actually found the very sunflowers she had been searching high and low for. This meant, of course, that this was Oliver’s apartment. And just when she was formulating a plan about how to proceed, she whipped around to see none other than Oliver holding hands with a curvaceous Hispanic woman.
Trying to turn back around before being spotted, Oliver called, “Amalia?”
She stiffened, plastered a smile on and returned, “Oliver, is that you?”
He gave her a strange look, as though aware there was something unnatural about her presence in front of his home. “Yes, it’s me.”
“I hadn’t realized you were back in town,” she lied with a lack of conviction.
The woman he was with was starting to get squeamish from the exclusion. “This is Ana. My girlfriend.”
Amalia wanted to vomit into her coffee cup. “Oh? How long have you two been together?”
Ana chimed in, “Six months.”
Amalia nodded. “What a considerable amount of time. For New York.”
Oliver shuffled from foot to foot, visibly discomfited–worried that Amalia might be unhinged enough to abruptly break the news of their tryst to Ana. Though it might have taken all of her emotional strength, she did not. Instead she swallowed her coffee as though it were her pride and ended the encounter with a simple, “Well, it was nice running into you. And nice to meet you Ana.”
Ana faux simpered. “And you.” Amalia wondered how he would explain the dynamic of their strained rapport. It didn’t concern her. Nothing about Oliver, or any bloke, did. On her way in the opposite direction, she defiantly plucked a sunflower from the ground. She reasoned that who but herself was going to bestow her with any floral arrangement? She was a lone flower, and therefore carried one.