I spent my last night in Torremolinos at a bar called Tina’s. I got there around eight, early by Spanish standards. Sitting alone at the bar, I took a long pull from a bottle of San Miguel. Shortly afterward, I watched in the mirror’s reflection as an old man slapped his wife in the face.Music — Stereophonics, I think — blasted through the speakers, so loud that if not for seeing the slap I’d have never known it happened. The old woman fell to the side, grabbed her cheek, and came up yelling. I didn’t hear what she had to say and wouldn’t have been able to understand her even if I had. Her husband took a sip of beer and stared straight ahead through watery, bloodshot eyes. It was like watching a Scorsese film — slow violence drowned out by a heavy soundtrack.
Planning to give the old man a piece of my mind and maybe more, I stood up. A soft hand on my forearm stopped me.
“Where are you going?” asked Penelope.
“I’m going to straighten out that old guy.”
“Don’t be stupid. Drink your beer. The next one is on me,” she said.
“That would never happen in America,” I said, sitting back down. “That guy would be thrown out of the bar and probably arrested.”
“Well, that’s because Americans are fools, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t argue with that. Still, I tried. “So you think it’s okay for a man to hit a woman? Is that how it’s done in Spain?”
Smiling, Penelope said, “I’ve worked in this pub for years. That old couple comes here almost every day. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they fight. But they are always together. Some couples fight just so they can make up.”
She nodded to the corner. I looked over. The old man had his arm around his wife. She smiled, and they shared a quick, wrinkled-lipped kiss. I shook my head and turned back to Penelope. She nodded knowingly.
The next morning, I flew back to the States. I dropped my suitcase off at my apartment and drove to my parents’ house, where my mother was expecting me. We sat around the kitchen table while I showed her pictures from my trip. I told her about the elderly couple in the pub.
“Do you ever wish you’d just let Dad get away with hitting you? Instead of… well, you know.” I glanced out the kitchen window, to the shed in the backyard.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” She pulled a casserole from the oven. “Are you staying for dinner?”
I shook my head no. I didn’t have much of an appetite.
Gary Sprague lives in Maine with is wife and two sons. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in over a dozen publications.