A Sunset in Southern Spain (A Short Story)
Earlier this month, Dani started sharing about her recent career transition and how she is now working as a full-time writer. Although her fictional writing will not always be related to topics of Spain, her most recent submission to the Reedsy Prompts weekly writing contest was. For this reason and because we were already talking about the experience of living in Spain under lockdown this week, we thought you might like to read an example of the sort of short stories Dani’s been writing. Enjoy!
A sunset in southern Spain
The air was crisp, but the sun was still warm as Laura exited the unassuming building where she worked. It was half past six in the evening—or the afternoon, depending on how you looked at it. Growing up in England, Laura had always regarded this hour as the evening. Back home, it was a time to have supper and settle down for the night, but not in Spain. Particularly in the south of Spain, where she had resided for the past eight years, half past six was the time for an “afternoon coffee,” or a cafecito as the locals referred to it. Half past six was still three hours before the evening meal and so it felt early, as if the day were still full of possibility.
Deciding that she didn’t have anything urgent to get home to, she texted her husband Antonio to let him know she was “out for a wander,” selected a true crime podcast on her phone, popped in her headphones, and headed out with intention, but no direction, into her beautiful city. She loved where she lived and she lived for these moments of connection with the city, while simultaneously disconnecting with the world around her.
Laura had her doubts about whether or not this was ‘healthy’ or ‘helpful’ for her. She would soon be coming up on a decade of living in Andalusia. Her Spanish and her friendships with Spaniards were strong but she also recognized that her British tendencies ran deep. She enjoyed this opportunity to get lost in the ease of listening to a story in English and drown out all the Spanish around her. She enjoyed moving briskly through the crowds of locals on the main business street and up into the winding roads of the white village where mainly tourists went. She enjoyed that each group likely viewed her as ‘other’—to the locals, she was clearly foreign, but to the travelers she had an air of local to her. She enjoyed living in the in-between and getting lost in her own world.
With gruesome details of a cold case whispering in her ear, she traveled up an unknown inclining road and stopped short when she reached the top, taking in a brand new view. Surely, it was one that the locals would pass by without noticing and also one the tourists knew nothing about. It was her new favorite view and, she didn’t know it at that moment, but she would return to that spot on numerous occasions in the coming years to take in its beauty again and again. There was something so awe-inspiring about the sun setting in a pool of purples, oranges, and yellows behind the twinkling lights of dozens of square, white homes lining the hillside. It was quintessential Andalusia, presented to her in a way no postcard or tourism website had ever done so. It was the perfect representation of her adopted home because it was exactly what she would expect, but from a standpoint she’d never experienced before.
Overcome with admiration, she stood and watched as the sun playfully crept behind the peak in the slowest but steadiest fashion. After a few more moments, it was gone and the entire scene changed in an instant. Suddenly, the once-dim twinkling lights of the houses were the main source of light and so her focal point shifted. The lights began to appear deep yellow and the background shades of gray. What was once a panorama of pastels was now a monochromatic landscape. She contemplated pulling out her phone to snap a few photos but reminded herself that they never seemed to capture the true feeling of it all. She resolved to take a mental image instead.
Laura glanced at her watch as she turned to carry on walking, almost exactly 7pm. The waning sunlight had implied the day was coming to a close and that she ought to head home. In reality, her walk was just getting started. She didn’t have a plan—she rarely did—so she couldn’t be sure where this trek would take her, nor for how long. What she did know, though, was that she intended to be out wandering for a while. Despite the absence of the sun, the weather was still unseasonably warm for late February and she felt particularly energized. She turned down the next street in the opposite direction of her home and carried on with her little adventure.
Walks such as those had been a staple of Laura’s life before the pandemic hit. As with most precious things in life, she hadn’t fully appreciated the walks while she had them consistently available to her. In fact, she hadn’t gone for a long, lost-in-the-moment sort of wander at all in the last two weeks before the lockdown was put into place. She had been out walking, sure, but only to and from work or to other intentional destinations. Now, with everyone confined to their homes by the threat of Coronavirus, Laura found herself yearning for the chance to get out into the lesser known corners of her city.
Of course, she had no excuse for doing so. She cursed herself for having settled on getting a cat rather than a dog. During the quarantine, dog-owners were able to go out for walks as often as necessary to relieve their pets. She had always wanted a dog, but a cat seemed like a fair enough consolation a few years ago when she had discussed it with Antonio. Now, she blamed herself for not pushing harder. A few weeks later, when new concessions were made for kids to go outside to play, Laura even began to regret not having children younger, like most of her friends back home. She was thirty now, a ripe age to bear children—her mother always reminded her. But in Spain, things were different.
Her husband, Antonio, was six years older than her and most of his friends were still just starting to have kids. In the realm she currently lived, it wasn’t unusual for couples to wait until their mid- to late-thirties to start their families. Laura had originally taken comfort in this. She wanted kids—someday—but was still happy to live the carefree, mobile life the she was leading. Once she and Antonio decided to have children, she knew everything would change. They wouldn’t be able to travel on a whim, as they so often did, scooping up discount weekend flights to one European city or another on a Thursday night.
Now, stuck working from home in their two bedroom flat with no opportunities to travel abroad or even to drive down to the coast for a Sunday outing, she questioned each and every one of these decisions. They could have had a dog! They no longer needed to worry about having someone to look after him at a moment’s notice; they weren’t going anywhere. They could have had some babies! They certainly had time to stay home with them and figure out parenting now; they weren’t going anywhere.
Perhaps the hardest part of all was that they couldn’t even take comfort in seeing their families. Laura had accepted years ago that there would be ups and downs to living abroad. She knew that it wouldn’t always be easy to make it on her own in a country and culture that was different to hers. Still, she knew that whenever she needed a reset, she could purchase a pretty cheap plane ticket and be back with her parents for a few days. That simple consolation was instantly ripped away from her as the panic and trauma of Coronavirus caused borders to close and flights to be cancelled.
They hadn’t intended to visit her family until the summer, but knowing that she couldn’t get to them if she wanted to made her heart ache to go home. Antonio felt it, too. Although his family lived just a forty-minute car ride away in a neighboring village, that pueblo was outside of the radius they could travel to. The two of them—and their moody cat, Loco—felt utterly and completely trapped in their once-coveted, beloved flat.
Uncertain. Difficult. Unprecedented. Trying. “These times” were labels in so many ways, but they all meant the same thing—scary. Laura and Antonio got irritable. They got stressed, lonely, stir-crazy, and obsessive. They went through all the mood swings imaginable and, what’s worse, they certainly didn’t feel the same emotions at the same time. On days when Antonio got so tired and down, Laura was short-tempered. On days Laura was feeling stressed and overwhelmed, Antonio was optimistically enthralled in an online course or new hobby. It became difficult for them to connect.
They had always had a language barrier to get around—and that was hard enough, as they didn’t always choose the most sensitive words when using the other’s language. However, each was aware of this and was happy to let it go, knowing negative connotations and double meanings were not intentional. With the stress of these unprecedented circumstances, though, each became more sensitive and it became more difficult to handle. At a certain point, they just stopped trying to talk about it. Attempting to tiptoe around the other’s uneasiness and pettiness was too much for either to handle. They numbed their feelings with endless episodes of Friends and La Que Se Avecina—one classic sitcom from each of their cultures—and it seemed to help.
After two months of near-isolation, Laura found herself simply drifting through the motions. Her days felt meaningless, her life felt empty. She shared these feelings with Antonio one day after a surprisingly emotional episode of Friends and it led to the first time in a long time that they truly connected over their feeling of being lost within their own lives. They vowed to try harder to check in with each other. They didn’t want to lose connection at a time that connection felt so essential. Both noticed a weight had been lifted from their chests, they were able to breathe just a little bit lighter, knowing the other would be there to breathe along with them.
Finally, the day came for some slight de-escalation. It didn’t feel like much—in fact, Laura ended up whining about it more than celebrating. During Phase Zero, they were granted permission to go outdoors for exercise between the hours of 7 and 10am and 8 and 11pm. With so little else going on in their lives, it had become commonplace to nitpick every such decisions and so the allowed times falling outside of Laura’s ‘regular’ walking hours annoyed her. Still, Antonio did his best to encourage her to take advantage and they did go out for their first walk in two months, hand in hand.
The air was crisp as they turned the corner and walked up one of Laura’s favorite promenades. The trees that lined either side of the walkway were bright green and full of life—much changed from the last time she had seen them. She marveled at how much difference two months could make. The nature around her felt alive in a full way she had never before noticed. The tree, bushes, and flowers appeared to be flourishing, standing tall and proud. The people, on the other hand, walked about with less certainty.
In the past, she would see the outdoor terrazas of restaurants and bars full of patrons, groups of young children running and shouting, and adults, young and older, congregating close together and using their entire bodies to tell a story. Spaniards always leaned in when they conversed with each other; they were always touching as they spoke and profusely hugging and kissing each other both hello and goodbye—even if those salutations came only two minutes apart. That day, on their first walk after an incredibly strict lockdown, she saw none of this.
There were plenty of people out, sure. Everyone was taking advantaged of their newfound, though very regulated, freedom. However, precautions were being taken as well. Like them, many of the walkers they came across were donning protective masks. A few were wearing rubber gloves as well. Some people seemed to stop and chat with acquaintances, but they stood unusually far away as they did so. Laura mused to herself that they were now standing at a distance from each other that would practically be normal for Brits, but it looked uncomfortably distant for the locals she observed. Each and every business they passed, aside from supermarkets and chemists, was shut. There was not a single table out on the terrazas.
As Laura and Antonio circled around the fountain that was the namesake of their city, she realized they were already heading back home. They’d been out only half an hour, but they’d nearly finished the one-kilometer-radius circle around their building. She knew they could continue on, giving the route a second go or cutting across the invisible circle every which way, before turning back home. She didn’t feel moved to mention it, though. They had been out on their first walk and it felt ceremonious and strange enough for one day. There would be many more opportunities in the coming weeks of continued vigilance and strict timetables to explore alternative courses.
As they stood at the zebra crossing awaiting their signal to go, Laura stared off dreamily in the opposite direction. Two months earlier, she had returned from that lost-in-her-own-world walk with the beautiful new view down that same street. She had almost forgotten about it—a coping mechanism, she now imagined—but it pulled at her heartstrings now that she could envision it again. They still had about a half hour until the sun set and she instinctively began calculating the distance and estimated they could make it to that very spot to take in her new favorite sunset if they hustled off in that direction immediately. The idea made her smile, then instantly frown.
Of course, going there wasn’t an option. It was well outside of their allowed radius and it wasn’t in a commercial area, where they could pretend they were headed to a chemist, if questioned. No, her secret viewpoint was perfectly hidden away from main streets and essential stores—that’s what she had loved about it when she discovered it two months ago. Now, it felt that that was its curse. When would she ever be able to see it again? When would she ever feel free to enjoy her city like that? Here she was, a thousand miles from home, only to be confined to her flat—and a one-kilometer-radius during the brief stints she was allowed out.
Laura felt herself beginning to choke up at the cruel irony of it all. She had fought with herself years ago over moving to Spain. Was it selfish? Was it unfair to her family? The reality of it, as she had determined eight years ago, was that perhaps the answer to both of those questions was yes. However, her reasons for going were personal and she owed it to herself to follow her heart. She secretly vowed to take every opportunity afforded to her and to live every moment to the fullest to ensure the hardships she was inflicting upon her family were not in vain. Yet Coronavirus had completed upended that vow.
She reminded herself that her protective mask would not serve its purpose if it got wet and so she pushed back her tears. It was ridiculous to cry over a missed sunset anyway; she had missed every one of them for the past sixty days. It was also petty and self-centered to feel so constrained by the current regulations when there were people who were really suffering. There were people isolated in hospitals; there were people dying; there were people caring for them—exposing themselves to the deadly virus on a daily basis; there were other essential workers continuing on with their jobs and putting their lives in danger as well.
All the same, she did feel sad, overwhelmed, and frustrated. She couldn’t help it. She longed for that sunset more than anything and cursed the current circumstances for keep it from her. But she knew better than to express her feelings; she knew how that would make her sound. Even with her loving husband, she didn’t want to seem that selfish and so she tucked her feelings deep away and said nothing about the sunset.
She promised herself that as soon as the rules allowed, she would wander out to that viewpoint as often as possible. Despite the presence of the sun, the weather was still unseasonably cool for May and she felt particularly drained. They turned down the next street in the direction of their home and carried on with their life in confinement.
Let us know if you enjoyed the addition of some fictional stories on the blog!
WOW, an amazing analogy!!! I think, no matter where you live you can certainly relate to this story. We all feel the same in our own situation!! I felt every step of your walk!!! LOVED IT❤️
I understand how Laura felt herself, this crazy time can drive anyone crazy and thank God, everything ended well. But if I could give some advices to Laura, first, I wouldn’t give up a dog, cats are boring and unreliable (don’t blame me, blame cats) and second, maybe a bettles song coudn’t fit better to the sunset.
Love the feedback, Felipe! To be honest with you, I agree about the cat! (haha)
And yes, a Beatles song would probably be a lot more fitting but I figured Laura’s full of contradictions (like how she wants to be a local, but also not) so why not add one more? 😛
Thanks for reading and sharing!