On the last full day of our honeymoon in Zagreb, Marcelo and I boarded a public bus to a casino located inside a mall. We’d been fighting so it hadn’t occurred to us how vacant a casino would be at three in the afternoon. The sight of only a few truant teenagers loitering in front of the complex sobered us and confirmed our knack for bad decisions.
We had never been to Vegas, yet it was obvious this was a poor excuse for a casino. Aside from aisles of shiny red and gold slot machines, the interior was reminiscent of a pizza parlor arcade. Under a canopy of blinking lights waxen-looking staff stood dressed in pressed white-collared shirts and black slacks. Marcelo and I avoided each other’s eyes while feeding the noisy machines. The number of awful or disappointing experiences we’d encountered on our honeymoon was approaching a fucking hundred.
After losing the equivalent of fifteen American dollars straightaway, we decided to comb the rest of the mall for cultural oddities. Since learning the modern day tie originated in Croatia, we’d half-heartedly decided to find two or three stylish ones for Marcelo. The thing was Marcelo was indifferent to ties, so we idled about hoping to stumble upon specialty candies or newfangled household gadgets.
After strolling past a budget beauty shop and an artificial flower boutique we entered a battery repair shop with two display cases of silver jewelry. Marcelo and I both knew this mall, bleak and ill conceived, was a living portrait of us.
With a spark of optimism, he said, "I'll buy you anything you want here."
My watch still ticked, but I sensed he was trying, so I stifled a snort. This was possibly the first time either one of us had attempted tenderness in five days.
Standing in front of a revolving stand I inspected heart-shaped sterling silver charms and zigzag pins that had been popular in the United States circa 1987. Bad jewelry, I realized, is universal. Nothing remotely appealed to me.
The owner of the shop detected my apathy. He curled his finger for me to approach then retrieved a velvet-lined tray from under the register.
Rows of crude and chintzy earrings lined the tray like elongated fish. In the center was a pair of what appeared to be silver coins roped onto silver hooks. Kenzo, a brand I only recognized as a perfume manufacturer, was stamped on the back of each silver disc.
"Do you want them?" Marcelo asked. "Can she try them on?” he asked the owner.
The elderly man nodded with closed eyelids as if to indicate this was all scripted.
I tucked my hair behind my earlobes and slid the earrings in. The roped coins grazed my jawline and refracted in the mirror.
Marcelo appeared over my shoulder, the curve of his smile nearly lost in his overgrown beard. The thought "I hope we never divorce," formed like a fence in my mind, and although everything about the mall, Croatia and us felt doomed, I truthfully confessed, “I love them.”
Under ordinary circumstances this might have marked a peace. But the next day, we squabbled on the flight out of Zagreb and barked sarcasms at each other while racing to catch our connection in Dublin. We left barbs and blame in every country, on half-eaten meals, balled up inside receipts, our graffiti on everything.
About the Author: Ursula Villarreal-Moura's writing has appeared in Nashville Review, Wigleaf, Washington Square, and Bennington Review, among others. Find her on Twitter at @Ursulaofthebook.
Story Song: "Yo No" by Ely Guerra