It’s ten minutes to 7 and mordant sunlight is leaking through the gaps in the broken curtains. I can feel the gold light on my face and understand the meaning of the term ‘sun-drenched.’ I keep my eyes closed, letting my eyelids burn under the weight of the fulgent flood. I don’t want to be alive just yet, not here, not in London. I am somewhere else. I am back in Spain, at the villa, with you. The sun woke us up every day, mid-morning, dancing through the gauzy curtains, creeping up from the bottom of the bed in which we lay tangled and naked under white sheets, dozing. The need for nicotine the only thing that dragged me out of bed. I’d pull on one of your t-shirts, discarded carelessly the night before, and go out onto the balcony: stretching like a cat, inhaling, exhaling, watching the tapped-ash of my cigarette float slowly over the ledge to the barren valley below, spotting lizards, gauging the temperature (30? 32?), watching unfamiliar birds fly east towards the Med.
Then I’d sneak indoors, leaving you to sleep, and start on breakfast. A bowl of cereal and milk, and a cooked full-English for you, plus a mug of builder’s tea and fresh juice. Black coffee for me. Perhaps I’d pinch one of your slices of toast. We’d take breakfast outside on the veranda by the pool. I don’t know if it was apparent then that I had bigger dreams than you, but it was clear that you were hungrier.
I had exams waiting for me back home, so I attempted to revise. I read Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and The Italian while you watched ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and European football. In the evenings we’d wander the sleepy streets until we reached the ocean-front bars and restaurants. We ate fresh swordfish and the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen. We shared our first bubble bath. We’d only been together for 8 months and I’d been away at university for 7 of them, so this holiday cemented a lot of things for us: you and I, proving everybody wrong. The Dream Team. Us against the world. You probably don’t even remember it now.
We drove for miles along the coast, following the contours of Spain’s face, and everything around us was unbelievably perfect; the tiny white chapels shining like holy beacons against the rough orange cliffs, the deep aquamarine skipping alongside us. Windows down, music up, we wore smiles and suntan lotion and were so happy our faces ached.
We stopped in Benidorm, a place that is essentially a grotesque caricature of Brits abroad, all sunburn and northern accents and Tom Jones tribute acts and “ham, egg and chips por favor”, but as we walked barefoot in the surf I was thrilled at the prospect of walking the same beach and seeing the same stretch of horizon that Sylvia did so many years ago. I told you that Plath and Hughes honeymooned in Benidorm. You didn’t know who they were. These things were warning signs at the time (for when things seem too good to be true they usually are) but I was blind to omens and had vetoed rational thought; I was young and in love and blinkered, and all I could see was you, our perfect surroundings, our perfect love.
Before we left Spain I bought 200 Benson silvers as they were a quarter of the price that they were in the UK. The sign on all the packets said ‘Fumar mata.’ Smoking kills. But so does love. Love kills. God knows you almost killed me. And sadness kills, too, perhaps more often than smoking, more often than love. Falling in love should come with a government health warning. There are no billboards or pamphlets to warn us of the impending pain, the inevitable tears. Instead of printing photos of rotting lungs they should print a graphic image of a broken heart. Love kills. You always hated me smoking. You’ll kill me long before the cigarettes do, of that I am sure.
When I open my eyes, I am not in Spain, at the villa, with you. I am sad, scared and alone. I hear sirens, a passing train, the builders working downstairs. Somewhere a door slams and a car horn blares. I am not in Spain. I look at the calendar and realise that we were there exactly 4 years ago to the day. I bet you don’t remember our perfect trip anymore. You have new important dates to carve on the walls of your skull now anyway.
But how lucky I was to be loved by you. I don’t know if the sun smothered me this morning in an attempt to mock me or save me but, wherever you are, at least we are both slaves to the same golden star. Fumar mata. Smoking kills. El amor mata. Love kills. And how lucky I was to have loved and been loved in return, to have been loved by you. How lucky.
HLR (she/her) is a prize-winning poet, working-class writer, and professional editor from north London. Her work has been widely published since 2012, most recently by Hobart. HLR is the author of History of Present Complaint (Close to the Bone) and Portrait of the Poet as a Hot Mess (Ghost City Press). Twitter: @HLRwriter