I keep an old cigar box at the center of my altar. It depicts an image of Romeo and Juliet, painted in pastel. Their arms reach for each other sweetly, like honeysuckle vines growing towards the sun. A label, slit carefully at the seams, wraps across the box’s wooden bottom. Metallic gold lettering adorning the top reads: 25 cigarrillos, exportación República Dominicana, 1968, hecho a mano.
I found it empty, the cigars long since smoked. I imagine that they were savored by men who, like my Spanish grandfather, worked long hours in sugarcane fields and went home at dusk to wet their lips with caipirinhas and kisses, long tobacco drags. Or that they were lit by someone’s abuelita, sneaking puffs on a cold city fire escape decades ago and far from here. But the box is now brimming with the leftover souvenirs of an old love, four years ago and in another country:
His name and number in curved blue ink on a slip of crumpled paper.
A receipt from the bar in A Coruña—tucked, like red velvet hair behind an ear, in an alley: 12 glasses of sangria, an emerald satin dress against a cracked brown leather stool, a standup bass, a trumpet, a drum. There, his whisper in my ear was an E flat minor, his right hand always on my left thigh. His eyes were steady and brown, his skin electric.
Six purple bus tickets to and from Santiago de Compostela—always laughing, eating calamares and kalamatas, drinking albariño wine at the café across from the cathedral.
The partner to a silver earring I lost in his bed and never found.
A single quadrant of a photobooth photo: two smiles showing teeth.
A coaster from the club on the beach where he yelled because someone else touched my hip.
A roundtrip train ticket to Salamanca booked after a fight I can no longer remember the details of. A sore throat, pain from collarbone to belly, bruised arms, tears on sandy cobblestone streets.
One apology letter written in Spanish and partially ripped.
A one way plane ticket back home to California.
The box is broken; layers of paper fold up at the edges like the pages of a faded, annotated book. Its background, originally white like fresh, raw milk, is now stained: years of hands, of nicotine smoke, of moving boxes, of too much red wine. It smells of must and cinnamon and vanilla perfume. It is impossible to close the lid completely. It hangs on, petal thin, like an outstretched hand grasping at the last touches of a lover’s skin.