Photo by Nicolas Vigier

Juan Guzarrez had never heard anything like her story. He gazed at the prehistoric face of Annuska Lorenzo as she described the events that had landed her in this Madrid apartment seventy years earlier. It was All Saints’ Day, and the neighborhood sat silent in the suffocating majesty of an unseasonable front, a gust of hot air, like a drunkard’s breath, squatting over the city. The balconies, which normally displayed husbands’ and fathers’ shirts, sat empty. The alleys, which ordinarily echoed soccer balls, lay hushed and lethargic in the listless air.

Annuska Lorenzo was a recluse and, going by the rumors, highly eccentric. Juan had, until recently, only seen her from a distance, amid the nearby shops and alleys or mounting her way up the stairs when the elevator stopped working, dressed like a bohemian and mumbling nonsensically to the cats, having spent the day, he inferred, tossing bread crumbs to pigeons. Since moving to Leganés, he’d heard murmurings about her pendulum of moods, the scent of hyacinth that escorted her wherever she went. There were a hundred different theories on Annuska’s circumstances, from her being the exiled member of a royal family (how else to account for the strange name?) to her being an international fugitive nestled in the anonymity of Madrid. Others, more sympathetic, believed her exile to be the result of some tragedy. In truth, no one knew. The only indisputable fact was that Annuska had been a tenant in the building longer than anyone could remember, a detail that mattered little to Juan, who kept to himself under the impression that his neighbors were simpletons anyway, and besides, he had the matter of his depression to deal with.

At thirty-five, Juan Guzarrez was newly widowed. The role fit like an enormous suit that he would spend the rest of his life trying to grow into. He had always been an optimist until the death of his wife, when he quickly donned the traits of the brooding type: the heavy brow, the downcast eyes. Juan didn’t enjoy the part. It bored him to tears. But he had forgotten how to do anything except brood upon everything from old age to the cost of his electric bill. Nothing satisfied him. Even a good meal lacked the pleasure it once afforded. Roasted lamb was the same as cold lentils. Good weather, an affront. Nothing left him feeling anything other than the emptiness of a shell with no sea inside. Six months after his wife’s death, Juan packed his things and left the neighborhood where he’d grown up, tired of the how-are-you expressions and platitudes of condolence. He’d begun to loathe the tokens of sympathy, the pats on the back, the cooked meals, and in a sense he felt bad for the neighbors offering them. He began to pity their pity. Juan finally broke his lease and left in the middle of the night for another part of Madrid, where he’d found a one-bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of a newly remodeled but inexpensive building.

One night, as Juan returned home from his job as a civil servant, he bumped into Annuska in the hall. She was dressed in a dizzying array of patterns: a peasant skirt clashing with a kerchief of paisleys that enveloped her skull. A shriveled piece of work, thought Juan. She probably could’ve used a cane, which he later learned she stubbornly refused, though her hunched frame betrayed the vitality of her green eyes, eyes that ingested Juan in a single gulp. She must have liked what she saw, because she smiled and invited him to dinner the following Tuesday. Before he had time to make an excuse, she grabbed Juan’s wrist and tightened her grip, insisting he accept.

Juan thought fast. “Next Tuesday? Isn’t that All Saints’?”

“Humph,” she barked. “The saints don’t bother with us!”

Thus, the following Tuesday Juan found himself staring at the gothic knocker of her door, located three apartments past his own.

Following the invitation, Juan had scoured the newspaper, looking for the times of the movies. If there was a chance of cutting the visit short, he’d be able to see a film, his sole comfort since losing his wife. Nothing gave him more pleasure than immersing himself in the oblivion of the cinema, accompanied by the agile ticking of the projector, which he’d come to believe was his favorite sound in the world. Often, he’d forget what film he was watching, even where he was. In these moments, it mattered little if Juan were dead, alive, or in the nameless chasm between the two.

But as soon as the door opened, Juan realized he wasn’t going anywhere; the scent of a long-prepared meal wafted past his face. Annuska had removed the kerchief, and a shock of white hair, like a bed of moss, rested atop her skull. She made an expression halfway between a smile and a grimace. Juan quickly realized she was older than he first assumed. Wrinkles, like folded newspaper creases, crossed her face. She was adorned in an outfit similar to the one she’d worn the previous week, clothes that conjured images of Central Europe a century before. “Come,” she said, her accent buried beneath decades of living in Spain. Hesitant, Juan followed. He had always imagined an old person’s apartment as being the most depressing place on earth: a mausoleum filled with bad odors and dust, the memories of a life that was all too soon to pass, medicine bottles and gloom, Mentholatum and neglect, a place with no light where visitors groped by hand to navigate the terrain. Annuska’s flat challenged this notion; Juan found himself in an apartment bursting with light, with plentitude. Past the entryway, he was met with walls of books; original pieces of art hung between dozens of black-and-white photographs with their subjects, in cork helmets and winter coats, on sleds, in cafés, riding on trains. The spines of the books suggested a person who enjoyed literature: Chekov, Stendhal, Balzac, Krúdy.

Juan was asked to take a seat on the sofa while Annuska finished preparing the túrós csusza, a Hungarian dish. “Is that where you’re from?” he asked. “Hungary?” She concurred with a nod before plodding off toward the kitchen. Ten minutes later, dinner was ready. They sat at a nook in the kitchen that contained only a booth and a single chair for Juan, the guest. The conversation over dinner was general. Sports: neither was interested. Children: neither had any. And what did Juan do for an occupation? He wasn’t sure. He feigned diligence. He showed up each day. He moved papers from one place to another, sent occasional emails, and smiled at his supervisors. This managed to get him paid twice a month. Annuska studied Juan, whose reticence many confused with unchartered intellect and which some women, not many, found to be attractive. Did he enjoy it at least? He didn’t enjoy it or loathe it; it allowed him to pay his rent and see movies and occasionally go on a trip, although he hadn’t taken one in years, and with this Juan recalled the last vacation he’d taken with his wife. They’d gone to Toledo; she seemed positively vibrant, even more so than when they’d first met. They’d visited cathedrals and Quixote’s windmills and spent afternoons slightly drunk from stuffed partridge and red wine. At night it turned cool, and they would retire early to make love, falling asleep naked, something they never did at home. Annuska appeared indifferent, for she slurped her remaining noodles and removed both their plates.

After dinner, Juan was offered espresso. He returned to the couch and gazed at the black-and-white photographs that festooned the walls — at one in particular in which a young woman (Annuska?) stood proudly in Red Square during some military parade. Juan sipped the espresso and found himself speaking more easily, poking fun at the neighborhood and its obsession with the local soccer team. Annuska explained that a healthy obsession with sports kept the citizens pacified. He wasn’t sure when she began mentioning the curse. Later, when he looked back, he realized she’d said the word with alarming frequency since his arrival, spoken with the naturalness of words like bread and bicycle. She’d mentioned the curse over dinner with the subtlety of a piece of furniture meant to be forgotten in a corner. It must have been after the espressos when it finally struck him that it had been a steady theme throughout his visit.

“Cursed?” he finally said, stopping her. “How do you mean?”

“Here. My life. Look around.” She raised her arms for effect. “This is my curse.”

Juan was confused. The shelves of books. The Turkish rugs. The art. Juan realized that Annuska’s flat mirrored his image of the perfect dwelling. If this apartment is a curse, he thought, I wouldn’t mind being cursed.

“If I may say so,” he said, “your flat is beautiful, nicer than I expected, actually. You’ve carved out a meaningful existence. And the photographs display an eventful life. How can you call yourself cursed?”

Annuska started to speak but then thought better of it. “Forget it, Juan. Forget I said a thing.”

Now he was intrigued. Cursed. There are people who die in childhood, hit by a bus or kidnapped. People like his own wife, diagnosed and dead within the same month. Annuska had lived a long life and should be thankful that she had survived, even if it had been a bad life, a hard one. He told her as much. The old woman pursed her lips and seemed resigned to some private decision. She indicated that she would make another espresso for each of them.

* * *

“I was raised in the Buda Hills of Hungary,” she began, handing Juan the tiny cup of pungent coffee, “before Buda and Pest were joined by name in a single city. My father was a successful merchant who lost his life in a duel when I was six, although my mother always insisted his ego had cost him his life, not the bullet that pierced his lung. I have scant memory of the man, only the withered scent of schnapps and the touch of his chin when he lifted me in his arms. He was kindhearted, gentle. My mother, on the other hand, was a bitter woman, taken by fits of rage that arrived like storms, unannounced and swift. As an only child, I was often the object of this rage. More so after my father died. The man he’d challenged to a duel was a Cossack of ill repute. As the story goes, he offended my father in a Pest tavern when he began making comments about the easy virtues of Hungarian women. The Cossack was a brute, enormous, with two dark eyes as large as plums. He had been discharged from the army, suspected of killing members of the Imperial Guard, and had fled Russia for fear of vendettas or, perhaps even worse, labor camp. No one in the tavern expect my father wanted to defend the honor of the Hungarian women. Heated words were exchanged, and it was decided a duel was the only solution for the reputations of both men. They gave themselves an hour to find seconds and then marched through the winter snow, past the city square to a patch of woods and beyond that to a clearing. By all accounts, my father died quickly. He struck first, injuring the Cossack in the belly. The Cossack fell on one knee but managed to answer with a bullet to my father’s lung. The next morning, I found my mother on the divan dressed in the mourning she would wear for the rest of her life. My father’s second, a middle-aged man still holding the pistol, sat beside my mother and tried to console her, not realizing the woman had found the role she would perform with relish until the day she died. Yes, my mother was unnaturally cruel. By unnatural, I mean strangely talented, or especially gifted. Cruel parents weren’t a novelty in those days, especially in Hungary, where a debate between discipline and barbarity has always existed. But my mother felt good when I felt bad, as if our emotions were an inverted scale.

“We left the Josefstadt neighborhood of Buda and moved to the country. My mother claimed it was finances that had forced us out of the city, that my father had squandered the family’s savings on gambling. I’ve come to believe it was so she could be left alone with me. As soon as we moved, her persecution of me became more brutal and focused. I was made to sleep in a lean-to connected to the hut and was forbidden to go to school. Anything having the slightest chance of bringing light into my life was snuffed out. Books were forbidden. Music too. In the evenings, after completing an extensive list of chores, I would see a cloud cross my mother’s face and know I was in for a thrashing. The punishments she found were extensive and wholly original. She began flirting with witchcraft and mysticism, and the peasants in our village began avoiding her and, by extension, her daughter. What little money she made was from reading palms, mostly those of travelers on their way to or from the capital. Even as a child, I knew she was a fraud. Nothing about the woman was authentic except her abhorrence of the human race. I had no friends. I’d begun to develop a stutter. Other children avoided and mocked me. By the time I was eleven, I knew I would run away and, if I had to, kill my mother.

“Several years after moving to the country, I was awakened one night by a movement in the lean-to. My candle had long gone out. I lay still, my heart throbbing. Something was inside the shed, but what? My mother rarely visited, and when she did, she made her presence known. I waited, part of me believing that my mother’s slipshod mysticism had finally been realized, had conjured some spirit. By good fortune, there was a full moon, and between the boards the moonlight exposed my guest: a small gray rabbit. I can’t explain to you what this meant, how it felt to have another living creature inside the shed. My solitude suddenly vanished. A glimmer of light had entered my existence. I closed the opening with a piece of firewood and embraced the creature as I imagine a young mother does with a newborn. I kept the animal a secret and fed it vegetables stolen from the neighbor’s garden. I named him Kázmér, after my father. At night he would sleep between my feet and somehow, perhaps instinctively, knew to stay hidden during the day, for his survival depended on it. Luckily, rabbits are quiet creatures, and we got along this way for more than a year, with Kázmér hidden in a mound of straw during the day and bundled between my feet at night.

“One evening my mother made stew, one of the few dishes she could cook. It was a stew that she was only too happy to tell me afterward contained, among other things, hare. ‘You know,’ she said mischievously, ‘gray hares are the most delicious, the most delicate of hares. Their meat the most tender. They must be killed slowly, yes? Their fur removed with the utmost precision…’ She was still talking when I ran outside. The shed, of course, was empty. Kázmér gone. My mother greeted me at the steps, attired in the mourning she’d worn now for five years. I began to vomit. I stopped in order to sob. ‘Look at you,’ she said, ‘a disgrace. No one will ever love you.’ I managed to say that Papa loved me. ‘Yes, and look what happened to him.’ He was a drunk, she told me, an imposter and a womanizer. He’d fathered countless children and only stuck around because he’d grown tired of his philandering lifestyle. ‘You probably have a dozen half brothers and sisters in Buda alone.’

“At midnight I slipped back into the house with every intention of killing her. I’d acquired an axe from God knows where. I stood over her sleeping silhouette. Usually she wore a kerchief but had taken it off to sleep. I was astonished to see that her hair had turned a vibrant white, so luminous it seemed to glow. I watched her chest rise and fall. Who was this woman, I wondered, whose face evoked nightmares, who slept like the rest of us yet sheltered such inexplicable fury? I stared in admiration and horror. This witch, this djinn, had given me life only to afflict it. I don’t know how much time went by, but after a while I realized we were both staring at one another. She had awoken and without moving a limb was looking into my eyes. ‘Well,’ she finally said, breaking the silence, ‘are you going to do it? Is it in you?’”

Annuska shook her head. “It wasn’t in me; I couldn’t do it. And my mother, remorseless to the end, laughed as I set out through the countryside with no moon to guide me, only the glow of her hair as she regarded my departure from the window. I was only eleven, turning twelve, and all of Europe lay before me. There’s a cruelty that exists, you see, and it can’t be reasoned with. Given its sheer absurdity, one can only laugh in its face if they are to remain a competent, functioning human. My mother was this lesson to me, a lesson most everyone in Europe was to learn during the Second Great War.

“The next fifteen years were an aimless migration. I traveled. Grew restless. Moved on. A tenant of the world. I spent my time in rented rooms above taverns and bordellos. Cities excited me, especially their underbellies, where avenues branched into nameless alleys. That’s where life had a pulse, surged. My closest friends were artists, thieves, and pimps, and if you’ve ever known any, you know they’re one and the same. I had trouble staying in one place: Warsaw, Frankfurt, Marseille. By good fortune, languages came easy: Voyez-vous comment-il est facile? When I first left Hungary, I did what I had to do to get by, usually dishes at a tavern, but eventually I graduated to tending bar, and with this came the habits of the nocturnal creature. During the day I slept. At night I tended bar and frequented parties where I drank absinthe and listened to jazz. I met different men. I fell in love. One night I found myself in Bucharest and began a torrid relationship with Dmitry, a stevedore who worked the trading routes along the Black Sea. He was a Slav with enormous arms and a deep, sonorous voice that emerged from the pith of his soul. When he spoke, I could almost envision the earth pulsating. He was bad news, and that’s what I found most attractive. I was in my thirties, still brash, with an impulsive streak. I was thrilled by Dmitry, whom I believed to be the ideal man; he was strong, possessed a fiery temper, and, like me, was afraid of nothing. One night, after an especially long bout of drinking, we had the idea to get married. Before I knew it, we had visited the cathedral and were husband and wife. A week later, we were en route to Russia. We were given quarters on The Vigilance, a shipping vessel whose destination, Novorossiysk, was the port where his family would be waiting. Dmitry had smuggled aboard several bottles of champagne and cognac, which we immediately indulged in. Soon thereafter we found ourselves in matrimonial bliss.

“After making love, my groom began to talk. He spoke of his countless feats over the course of decades, highlighting the various seductions and conquests of other women. He’d been in numerous wars and campaigns. He had fought in North Africa. Did I know this? I shook my head. Of course not. What did I know of him, really? He had been to Finland and Norway. China too. It seemed as if decades of Dmitry’s life had been dedicated to incessant combat. Proudly he flaunted his various wounds; he displayed tattoos he’d acquired in the Caucasus. His tales were colorful, filled with debauchery and violence, which I must admit I enjoyed. Still, something about this man was beginning to bother me. The more he spoke, the more anxious I became. Was it because he was infatuated with himself, boasting to make himself look larger in his wife’s eyes? I doubt it. All men do that. Was it his promiscuities? No, not at all. I’ve never been possessed by jealousy. Although he appeared reasonably young, the events he described made it obvious that he was much older than me. (He had been in Africa before I was even born, and his other children, I discovered, were adults with their own children.) But no, I wasn’t concerned with such banalities as age. Then what was it? What was crawling beneath my skin? Was it the sense he was lying? No. In fact, I realized with horror, it was because he was telling the truth. How old was Dmitry? What did I truly know of him? His eyes shone with the brilliance of a person hungry for life, but his flesh…Suddenly I wanted him to stop. ‘Could you finish tomorrow, my love?’ I cooed in his ear. I feigned exhaustion. I told him the champagne had upset my stomach. But he was enjoying himself, bloated by his colorful history. ‘In a minute,’ he said, stroking my cheek. ‘I’m in the middle of my story about the bastard I killed in Hungary.’ The world suddenly stopped. It was this I had been fearing. Some indefinable voice warning me — clairvoyance, perhaps — something that sensed the precipice fast approaching, marking a fundamental line between what came before and after. ‘You were in Hungary?’ I asked. He laughed. ‘A duel! Can you imagine? Have you ever heard of anything so provincial? And me, a Russian!’ He gulped his cognac. ‘I killed the man but not before being gravely injured.’ He pointed to his guts. ‘It was the closest I ever came to death. I was forced to stay in a sanatorium on the outskirts of Budapest to avoid the authorities until I recovered.’ I asked what had happened, knowing it was too late to go back. ‘Simple,’ he said. ‘I killed a man in a duel. I have the scar to prove it; give me your hand.’ And before I could stop him, I was caressing the raised patch of purple flesh along his belly. I didn’t know if it was purple or not, but that’s how it felt.”

Annuska studied Juan’s face. “So you see? I had married the man who killed my father.”

“But how can you be sure?” Juan asked.

Annuska dismissed the question with a wave. “The injury was exact, and his story matched precisely what my father’s second told my mother. Yes, Dmitry conceded, he had probably said some scandalous things about Hungarian women one cold night in a tavern, but he was drinking a lot back then, and memory had never been his particular strength. This man whom I’d just wed had unleashed my own mother upon me. In the vast continent of Europe, with its millions of people and thousands of villages and dozens of borders, amid the brief window between two world wars, amid all of that arbitrariness, how? How had I met this man (a man, incidentally, younger than he should be)? And yet the mathematics of the situation were insignificant. I was repulsed but at the same time wanted to caress his wound, for it occurred to me that it was my father’s last act in the world.

“The waves slapped against the sides of the ship. I stroked my father’s scar until Dmitry fell asleep. I looked upon this enormous, gloating, unrepentant monster, snoring in cognac-induced bliss. I retrieved a letter opener and stabbed him in the side. Strangely, it wasn’t blood that emerged but air — yes, a gust of air emitted by his body. The blood came later, but first it was this strange burst of air that caught me off guard. I removed the letter opener and stabbed him again. The next thing I knew, he was conscious, staring at me, his face twisted in the most outrageous expression I’d ever seen. Not angry, mind you, perhaps a trifle surprised but breaking into a smile, not of concealed pain or feigned bravery but of freedom. A smile that seemed to say, ‘Thank you.’

“‘What are you doing, my little one?’ he managed, making no effort to remove the letter opener from his side. ‘You do know your wife is Hungarian,’ I finally said, ‘do you not?’ He smiled. ‘What difference does that make? Nationality plays no part in one’s greed. You have killed me for my money and will pay for it longer than you can imagine.’ I shrieked, ‘Money? I don’t know what money you speak of. It was my father you killed in that duel.’ I thought this would stun him, but it didn’t even coax a reaction. Who knows? Maybe the cognac together with the stabs from the letter opener had removed any inclination for alarm. I can’t say. I only know that he replied with extraordinary calm: ‘Your father, you say? That’s rich. That makes all of this even better, for your father was a man with cruel aim.’

“My hands were covered with his blood — ice-cold blood, incidentally, not like the blood that leaves a living animal or even an animal on the verge of expiring. And then he quite simply died. The smile never left his lips. The money he spoke of was in his trunk, hidden in a box beneath some woolen trousers: bundles of rolled bills from Germany, Russia, Bulgaria. Dmitry was obviously shipping more than he let on. Only later did his other words sink in: I will pay for it longer than I can imagine.

“Beneath the money I found his identification papers. They were in Russian; I couldn’t read them, of course, but the dates were obvious. Dmitry was born in 1802, making my dead husband 138 years old. I suddenly understood the false teeth, the blue-green veins I’d forced myself to ignore, the undeniable scent that fluttered around him, which I recognized finally as death. Dmitry was born a serf, a lost soul, as it were. When the tsars were destroyed, Dmitry was already a century old. He had finally been granted death, a death he’d been trying at for years, the duel with my father being only one act in an endless list of attempted self-assassinations. Even the wars he fought weren’t for politics or country; no, they were attempts at dying.”

Annuska shook her head. “There are no words to this curse. No directions. Everything is vague, and one learns its laws only through experience. The first time you try and commit suicide and wake up to hear the gods laughing. Or each time you beg a stranger in a cantina to shoot you and they refuse. Yes, getting killed is more difficult than you can imagine. As the decades passed, I joined the half-world of ghosts, condemned to this flat.”

The air inside had cooled; outside the sounds of citizens returning from different locations penetrated the night. “And his body?” Juan pursued. “What did you do with Dmitry’s body?”

Annuska’s hands were trembling. Juan couldn’t tell if it was nerves or old age. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Black Sea,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen photographs of it, but that’s beside the point. Every place has its own character based on how the person sees it. A city may offer all the history or culture in the world, but if your heart is broken or your stomach aches, that place is tinged by the color of your own discomfort. Isn’t a beautiful canal nothing more than a strip of rancid water if viewed by a soul reeling with grief? So I can’t be objective about the Black Sea. I can only tell you that I found it the darkest, most desolate spot on earth. I heard a thousand ghosts moaning from its depths. And the water — inky, choppy, utterly unwelcoming — was beckoning for the corpse. It was easier than I expected. Dmitry weighed no more than the suit of clothes I dressed him in when I tossed him overboard. He was enveloped by a swell of eager waves.

“I can’t say what Dmitry’s family thought when he didn’t appear at the port in Novorossiysk. Immediately after departing The Vigilance, I avoided the eyes of everyone on shore and took a train to Sevastopol. From Sevastopol, I boarded another ship going east. Thus began decades of aimless travel. I boarded trains. Crossed borders. The sort of exploits that would be impossible today because of the world’s bureaucratic machinery. I spent six months in Sofia, five in Lisbon. Two years in Glasgow. I was a specter, isolated and adrift.”

“And Spain?” Juan asked.

“No reason. Spain was the place where I finally grew tired of my travels.”

Juan regarded the espresso cup as if he’d never seen it before. He set it on the table. “I am older than time,” she lamented, looking past her feet toward the window and beyond to the darkened streets of Leganés. He wasn’t certain she could perceive details, since both her eyes had become clouded by cataracts as her story progressed. Juan noticed the pallor of her face becoming more translucent, like the parchment of some ancient diary.

“You see, Juan? The curse, which would’ve been my father’s had he won the duel, became mine. I will stay alive indefinitely, unless I am murdered.” This prompted Juan to shift in his seat. “Don’t worry,” Annuska said, “I wouldn’t ask that of you. I recognize a killer when I see one. I knew you couldn’t kill me the moment you walked in. As soon as we finished dinner, I returned the revolver to its drawer.”

Juan hesitated. “How old are you, then?”

She smiled. “That’s a silly question.”

Muffled voices erupted down the hall. Someone shouted something on the street. Annuska — cloudy-eyed, distracted — had fallen into a reverie, and not wanting to interfere, Juan stood quietly and let himself out. He didn’t see her again.

* * *

Several months later Juan accepted a transfer to Barcelona and soon thereafter married a young woman named Ángela. He often thought of Annuska with a tinge of dread. In his sixty-sixth year, he found himself in Madrid for the first time in decades. He was attending a conference for work but during a free afternoon decided to visit his old neighborhood. The building in which he’d resided still stood, largely unchanged. He remembered the floor he had lived on and in spite of his better rationale found himself climbing the stairs toward the eighth floor. Annuska’s flat was easy to spot; the gothic knocker still projected itself with garish endurance. He stood before the door and considered knocking. He hadn’t made a decision when the acrid scent of espresso slipped beneath the door. Juan recoiled, for he knew she was there, shuffling across the tomb of her apartment, drinking ever-increasing amounts of espresso of ever-increasing strength, setting her false teeth inside a glass each night while the earth revolved in perpetual sabbath. Juan retreated, overcome by the desperate urge to forget the conference altogether and leave Madrid. Didn’t he have a wife waiting for him at home and a daughter attending college in the fall? Didn’t he have a life? He called a taxi from the hotel after collecting his things. Though surprised at Juan’s request, the driver agreed, after some negotiation, to drive all the way to Barcelona. From the back of the taxi, as Madrid vanished like some illusion, Juan called the airline in hopes of getting a credit for the return flight, which, in spite of his best arguments, they politely refused.

Mark Haber

Mark Haber is the author of the 2008 story collection Deathbed Conversions and the novels Reinhardt’s Garden, longlisted for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award, and Saint Sebastian’s Abyss. He is the operations manager at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas. His nonfiction has appeared in The Rumpus and Music & Literature and on Lit Hub. His fiction has appeared in Southwest Review and Air/Light.