As a child, Lucía was just like any other little girl – alert, curious, a tad withdrawn. She lived in a pretty house on the outskirts of town with her parents and her sister. At school, she was good at art and reading, and she paid close attention to her teachers, because that was what she wanted to be when she grew up: a teacher.

As she got older and became more aware, a sadness embedded itself somewhere deep inside her chest. Her parents’ constant fighting, those arguments between the two people she loved the most, echoed ceaselessly in her interior as she crouched in the dark, creating her own imaginary world so as to escape from what awaited her on the other side of the bedroom door.

When she was in the second year of her pre-school teaching course, she met the first boy she had ever felt any real interest in. Like her, he was shy, and he studied piano at the conservatory. She lost her virginity to him one spring night, something she saw as neither good nor bad. Not long after, he told her he had met someone else, so they stopped seeing each other.

She was a good student. She liked the subjects she studied and became increasingly certain that one day, she would be able to help four and five-year-olds learn their letters and numbers, the names of animals and of the planets, dirty their hands with coloured paints and take a quiet nap after lunch as she told them a story with a happy ending.

But there was one thing that troubled her: she had started drinking. She had never liked going out, not even as a teenager. But the loneliness she felt became more and more unbearable, so at the weekend, she would join the group of young people from her university course who went out to the fashionable bars and discotheques. Lucía didn’t dance, and she barely spoke to anyone. She just drank, surrounded by strangers, because when she drank, the pain in her heart became a little less intolerable. More than once she woke up lying in a park, alone, by the sea, sick down the front of her dress, her tights torn. During the week, when her parents were in bed, she would open the cabinet where her father kept a bottle of whisky, and drink. Sometimes she drank and cried at the same time, in silence, sitting on the cold floor of the kitchen in her parent’s home, a place where, under different circumstances, love could have prevailed (and why on earth hadn’t it?), fully aware that part of her life had already eluded her and that the rest of it was about to slip away from her forever.

One of those Saturdays, in the early hours of the morning, sitting on a wooden bench by the port, holding her head in her hands because it ached like crazy after drinking so much, she felt someone sit down next to her. It was a young man who asked her, in a gentle voice, if she was alright and whether he could help her. Lucía couldn’t speak, and when he placed his hand on her back, delicately, she burst into floods of tears and cried as she never had, or could not remember ever having done so, while he held her and she let herself melt into his chest; it was as though finally, one of those imaginary beings from her childhood had come to rescue her from her world of darkness.

That was the last night Lucía would ever drink in her life. And as they walked in silence, leaving the lights of the port behind them, she knew she had found the love of her life.

Lucía and Luis moved in together a few weeks later, into his place. Luis was a journalist, and worked at one of the city’s newspapers. He lived alone in a flat in the old town that his grandparents had left to him.

For Lucía, that was the happiest time of her life. She felt healthy and in love, and as soon as she graduated, she was hired as a pre-school teacher by a small private school.

Meanwhile, her father died. At the funeral, her mother seemed utterly distraught. At this point, Lucía would have liked to ask her some questions, but she didn’t. She said nothing. She hardly saw her mother after that day.

Two and a half years later her first child was born, and this made her understand things that she would never have been able to imagine without him. The strength of a love so powerful, capable of breaking her over and over, one of pure love and life, as she tried to unravel the mystery of that soft, white skin and those eyes that bored through her as though they had a much greater knowledge of her whole existence than she did herself…

They had two more children over the years. And for a while everything was fine. But small signals – barely perceptible at first, but increasingly evident – pointed to a gap that was opening up between Luis and Lucía, until that distance became so large that they were incapable even of holding each other’s hand.

The day they broke up, that night, alone in her bed, Lucía remembered that early morning when Luis sat down beside her on the wooden bench in the port, and how his hand on her back had saved her life. She also thought of her children, still so small, and of her parents, too, vaguely.

The decades flew by, as though a gale were flipping over the pages of a calendar. One afternoon, looking in the mirror, Lucía realised she had grown old, with her long mane of white hair and her serene face furrowed with wrinkles.

Sitting on the armchair beside the balcony, she opened a book, her eyes growing heavy and closing between pages, and she imagined that she was falling asleep forever.

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