Author: Paul House
Pages: 320

A Liitle Folding of the Hands to Sleep (1980): 1

1

 

 

            Angel Ibarra was born in 1946, in Logroño in the north of Spain. The Spanish Civil War had finished, but the country had not yet managed to shake off its consequences. He was born into a depression, into a police state and a world of suspicion and resentment. Angel's birth came soon after the end of the other war in Europe, but whereas that war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and some arbitrary readjustments of lines upon maps, Angel would carry his war with him for many years to come, nurturing it, refusing to let it die, whilst understanding very little about it other than that which had been instilled by memory, regret and his mother. For various reasons, some historical and some actual, and despite the insistence of his teachers, Angel could never quite equate the love he felt for his mother with his love of Spain.

 

            ‑ Spain is almost entirely surrounded by water. It is bordered by three seas and two countries. Six large rivers and many smaller ones cross the country and end their life in either the Mediterranean, the Cantabrian Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. Spain produces all kinds of goods, from wheat to vegetables, from meat to wool. Its fruits are the best in the world.

 

            Each Spaniard is duty bound to help make Spain the foremost of all nations, giving their life for Her should it be necessary. We must love Spain in the same way as we love our mothers.

     ‑ School Textbook, 1940.

 

            It was after the "Crusade" of the war that Angel was treated to the "Glorious National Movement." On the walls at school, a crucifix and a portrait of Franco. Religious education and patriotism, inexorably mixed together. The history of Spain the second religion of its people. Both corrupt. The neighbours could eat meat on Fridays because they had a Papal bull ‑ paid for it, rather. Filing in to school to sing "Cara al Sol" and salute the flag, to learn that Spain was the most beautiful country in the world because it had been picked out by the Virgin Mary. She had chosen the Spaniards as her favourite among children, and she gave them the bluest skies and the most beautiful villages in the world. And the children grew up beautiful and happy, until, one day, a seven‑headed dragon began to sow the seeds of evil in this beautiful country, and the children were frightened and could no longer pray nor laugh. The country was bathed in blood and tears, and lived in the shadow of the seven‑headed dragon. And the dragon was called "Communism." But because the Virgin Mary had specially chosen this country, there emerged from the masses a hero who, through great personal sacrifice and strength, fought the dragon until it lay dead. The children could once again sing and laugh. There was no need to be afraid. They were happy again. And the hero's name was:

 

Francisco Franco

Caudillo, by the Grace of God!

 

            And doubtless upon the advice and with the aid of the Virgin Mary, all those teachers who, in some way, disagreed with the new system, were dismissed or even sentenced to death. By the age of six, Angel was convinced that he was bound for hell and eternal suffering, because he had been stupid enough to sing a song his mother had taught him ‑ Eusko gudariak gera ‑ and, therefore, he was no longer either Spanish or a Christian.

 

 

LA ALDEA

September 1948

On 14th April, 1945, whilst the Director of Carabanchel Prison was away, a prisoner, Manuel Recaséns, refused to kneel during mass, stating that he was not a Catholic. At dawn, on 24th of the same month, he was shot in one of the prison patios in the presence of an audience forcibly made up of one representative from each one of the cells. Alejandro González, alias 'El Sardinero', the Deputy Director of the prison, assumed command,  and upon informing the prison authorities of the event , tried to justify his actions by claiming that a rebellion existed in the prison. At dawn, on 25th, twenty‑four hours after the first execution, the following prisoners were shot in the same prison patio:

 

Pascual Luis Gómez, José Diego Torres, Julio Nevot Villar, Agustín Ventura Ballester, José Arnau Piñol, Ismael Cervera Torres, Bautista Broch Blasco, José Murguí Ferrando, Rafael Gómez Illán, Pascual Cubedo Peris, Juan Rabasa Gimbau, Miguel Termos Asuara, Bautista Peris Muñoz, Cristóbal Gómez Rubio, José Brocho Paré, Vicente José Mólez, Bautista Lloréns Usó, Calixto Tormos Martínez, José Paus Manrique, José Máiquez Gómez, José Bernat Llop, Bautista Darás Fuster, Vicente Navarro Bernat, Francisco Gil Muñoz, Francisco Borja Rosell, Miguel Nevot Guinot, Antonio Candomir Piñero, and Bautista Ballester Martí.

           

            In Logroño, cars were few and far between, and the ones there were had little trailers of gas because there was no petrol. This didn't prevent Angel from being knocked down, and it was whilst he was being rushed to hospital that he had his first reminder that the war had not finished in 1939. He had been bundled into the car that had run him over and, bouncing around in the uncomfortable back seat of the car, he had seen, painted on the wall of the Post Office:

 

                      Seguimos existiendo

            And all through convalescence it was all he could think about. It was better even than comics. People, rebels, maybe whole families, hiding out in the hills, sneaking down into the towns at night to steal food and paint their simple reminder:

 

                        We still exist

            He knew better than to talk about it because you never know who would be listening, because they could hear you everywhere. So you kept your mouth shut tight. And your nose too in the cellar where Grandma made fat bars of soap the colour of piss, the smell pungent and prickling. In the cold nights in the hospital he would mould wonderful fantasies and adventures of the day that he would bravely go forth to join these fighters for freedom. He would keep his eyes peeled for a sign of them, in the mornings when he had to keep his mother's place in the queue for food because she always had somewhere else to go. When she came back, his dreams of heroism would have been frozen out of him, his mind and his feet numb, and she would say, "This food isn't even fit for pigs!"

 

               The day will come when Spain will have 40 million inhabitants, all of whom will be able to live wholly dignified lives, thanks to our great natural resources.

             

              A child's health is based on sufficient quantities of wholesome food. One should always be on one's guard against products which are inadequate for a growing organism.

 

              On target for the 40,000,000 Spaniards who will love and respect the Caudillo!

                                                                       ‑ Propaganda, 1940.

 

            Domecq Brandy: Father's feeding bottle.

                                                                      ‑ Advertisement, in reference to "our great natural resources", 1940.

           

            You were sitting in the alcove at the back of the house. The sun was going down and the rays were long, slanting and filled with dust motes looking from the murky light of the alcove. You could see into the square which was still bathed in light and distanced by the gloom inside the house. It seemed to belong to a different world, a different time. The house was warm and cosy with the smell of cooking drifting in from the kitchen. Mother was sitting by the window, knitting and talking in a low voice. They had taught you a song earlier, and the words were strange. There was something magical about them as you tried to sing to yourself, to remember: Irrintzi bat entzun'da, mendi tontorrean goazen gudari danok ikurriñan atzean. And then there were the stories, about how you were different, pure, and, unlike the Spanish, not sullied by celtic and moorish blood, about how there were no swearwords. You looked at your mother's face framed in the long windows which gave onto the small balcony overlooking the square. Around the crown of her head, where her hair had fallen loose, there was a sheen of light. She stretched out her hand to touch your head, but suddenly stopped talking, withdrew her hand and sat back stiffly, smoothing the palms of her hand over her skirt and grabbing at the loose strands of hair. There had been a noise at the downstairs door. You listened as heavy footsteps clumped up the stairs. Still a flight below you, they shuffled and stopped, and you heard Father's voice saying: "Damned light switch! Why can't it stay on till I get to the door?" And the harsh clack of the light being turned on again, the footsteps stumping up towards you. With a crash he burst into the room, dragging the rest of the world in with him, the noises from the street, a car choking into life, the newspaper.

 

 

LA ALDEA

 

February 1950

 

 

FUNERAL OF THE TWO MEMBERS OF THE FALANGE

ASSASSINATED BY COMMUNISTS

---------------------------------------

 

At half past nine last Sunday evening, two members of the falange were assassinated in cold blood whilst they were on duty at the falange offices in Cuatro Caminos. A group of Communists armed with pistols broke into the building and shot their victims in the back of the head. The funeral procession will leave from the Provincial Headquarters of the Movement at five o'clock this evening.

 

 

SENTENCE CARRIED OUT

---------------------------

 

At dawn this morning, 16 Communist terrorists were executed by a firing squad following the sentence of the Military Tribunal. They had been tried for various crimes and acts of terrorism.

 

BY ORDER OF THE PROVINCIAL H.Q.

OF THE MOVEMENT

------------------------------

 

All the members of the Falange, Sección Femenina, Frente de Juventudes and S.E.U. are hereby ordered to attend the funeral of our two assassinated comrades. The funeral will take place this evening at five o'clock.

 

 

            He threw the newspaper towards your mother and said: "It just goes on. More lives thrown away! And what for? Where does it get us? You kill two of them and they kill sixteen in return. They are all as bad as each other, anyway. Fascists, Communists ‑terrorists the lot of them, one way or another. You can't defend killing, no matter who is doing it ‑ not even to him!"

            Pointing at you.

 

            Your mother said nothing. She picked the newspaper from the table and shook it open. "Come here," she said.

            You got up and walked reluctantly round to the table where she was sitting.

            "It's pathetic," said your Father, "16‑2, as though it were a game!"

            Your mother threw the paper onto the table and stood up.

            "One side is supposed to be the law, to be justice, the government! They are not supposed to be terrorists as well!"

            "I think I'll get a drink," said your father.

 

            And the next day it was the same. The newspaper, and the sun drifting languidly into the room, picking out a column of dust from the window to the chair in the corner.

            "Look at this, Angel."

            On tiptoe, straining to see the paper. But there was nothing special. Just a photograph of a procession. A crowd of people were standing on either side of the street behind dark‑skinned men with feathery hats. The Moorish Guard. A smaller crowd of people walked down the middle of the street with the man my mother called 'cabrón'. Beside him was another man in uniform, laughing, his head thrown slightly back. In front of them was what looked like a blurred and bright pile of washing.

            "Do you know what that is, Angel?" your mother asked, smiling slightly.

            You shook your head and looked at your father. He was looking into the street and frowning.

            "Some people," said your mother slowly, "are prepared to do anything. To escape from repression they are willing to sacrifice everything, their friends, their family or themselves."

            Your father coughed.

            "It's suicide, that's all," he said, and coughed again.

            "It's not suicide," said your mother, raising her voice, looking towards you but not looking at you. "It's a conscious acceptance that an ideal can mean more even than a single human life."

            Your father said, "Nothing is worth more than human life. And there can never be any justification for taking life. Never."

            Your mother spoke then to you, ignoring him.

            "Some people are willing to give their lives ‑ for you and me."

            You couldn't feel grateful. It seemed a quite awful thing to do. She pointed at the newspaper, at the photograph and the bundle of clothes.

            "This blurry light bit is the flames," she said, "and this line here, if you look closely, you will see is a man. He has set fire to himself and thrown himself in front of the procession. As a protest. Against repression."

            She looked away from the photograph to the window and you looked back to the newspaper. You couldn't find any words. The man lying in the street, a glove of flame peeling the skin from the bone like a ripe fruit, the body cooking to charred mass of nothing left, the smell of burning skin, the women screaming, the faint crackle of burning material, for you. A protest for you. Only it still looked like a pile of washing.

            "It's just a waste," said Father. "What good is setting fire to yourself going to do? They'd be more than happy if we all did it. Get us all out of their hair."

            Mother didn't bother to answer. She was looking through the window.

            And father said, "It's not even brave. It's too stupid to be brave. And what good can it do? All it's done is hurt some more people, people who might have been alright before."

            And mother said, "Alright! How can you say it's alright when I have to hide away like a criminal just to teach my own son a handful of words of his own language! How can you say it's alright when we don't even know what's really going on out there," and she flung a hand towards the window, "when all we know is what they choose to tell us. Alright when you don't even feel safe in your own house, when you're always waiting, listening for steps, knowing it may be your turn next. When your spirit to go on fighting is sapped more and more every day. And this," hitting the newspaper, "is just to show that they will never be able to do that, at least."

            Father sat down. "Díme, Señor," he said quietly, "Dios mío! Nos hundes en la sombra del abísmo? Somos pájaros ciegos sin nidos?"

            He reached across the table for a drink. The bottle of 'pacharán' was half full and he poured a large measure of the bright, red liquid into a glass. "Pájaros ciegos," he said, walking out to the kitchen to fetch a jug of milk. He poured the milk steadily into the glass, and the bright, red liquid clouded and turned pink. He dropped two ice cubes into the glass and sat down, his back to you, facing out over the square. Dear God, are you sinking us in the darkness of the abyss? And now they both looked down into the street, father seated at the table with his drink, and mother with one foot on the balcony and the other in the room.

 

            How many times had they stood like that? Each one walled off from the other by their own inability to say: Now that has been said, let us talk about us, for we are separate from all that exists out there. We can do nothing to change that. But in here, at home, it is our life, the life we are trying to make together. And father thinking: How much there is to learn about each other, to give each other! So much seems solid for so long and it crumbles, seems forgetting but is waiting. And so, with many deaths, like the building of a cathedral, it all accumulates and then disperses, leaving time, like a stork nesting.

            And mother: How can I forget what little effort you make to understand, when you sit there like that with that stubborn drink. And if you don't understand, then how can I help to fill whatever lack it is you feel?

 

       And you would escape, to sink into the darkness of the alcove and listen to the silence increasing with each minute, until it would all be ruptured by a crash of bells from the cathedral, when mother would sigh and move back out to the kitchen, and father would look at his drink and say nothing.

 

       And it was on nights like this that you would be put to bed early, and you would lie awake trying to separate the noises of the street from the soft murmurs of parents talking. And somewhere between sleeping and waking, it would all merge together and become one sound, and then silence. But you didn't sleep, but just lay in the cold bed hearing only the regular, dull clang of the bells marking out the hours across the town like cocks calling out to each other at dawn. When the bells chimed, they went "Guk!" Father said that this was because they were cracked, and so, all through the nights when you couldn't sleep you would listen hard, hoping the crack might get bigger, and waiting for one of the bells to break. Then, sometimes, when it was very dark, you would hear a sound from the next room, and mother said it was love you were hearing. But on nights like this there was no love. And it seemed that no one could find the words.

 

       Once, they took you to see the Generalisimo. It was a cacophony of bells and noise, the smell of horses, people cheering in the cordoned off street, and the black streaky flash of a car passing. The horses clomped on the cobbles and left round steaming balls of shit with bits of straw in it. When you went home you had to go past the mad woman's house. They said she was a whore, a bad woman. At night, the door was always open and there was always loud music and lights on in her house. 

 

-                     LOGROÑO: Frankly deficient in morals. The majority of the inhabitants live what can only be called a frivolous and outrageously immoral life. Things do not appear to be getting any better. This state of affairs was already in evidence during the war when life became easy due to the abundance of money and the certainty of victory. Even then, the enthusiasm for religion was sadly lacking. The church bells were drowned out by the sound of music coming from the bars, theatres and dance‑halls. The cancerous desire to make money at any cost led to a number of entrepreneurs setting up halls for entertainment and vice which openly advertised their sensual content. Perhaps the worst aspect of the problem is that, after the war and the demobilisation of the army, a great number of our valiant and Christian boys became easily accustomed to immoral living by being in such close contact with fellow soldiers who followed what we can only define as an irreligious and immoral way of life. They stopped going to church in favour of the dance‑halls, bars and cafes. After the war, the scarcity of articles necessary for day‑to‑day living, and the resulting black market businesses, led to the society's being divided into two groups. One living in misery, the other wallowing in wealth, riches and excess of all kinds. This latter group indulge in a life‑style that has become increasingly immoral. The former, already addicted to the poisonous honey of vice, will go to any lengths in order to continue their debauchery. The atmosphere in the dance‑halls can only be qualified as most immoral. The cinema is equally outrageous: cinemas exist which are reserved only for couples; the scandalous behaviour resulting from this means that normal, honest, Christian members of the public find that they cannot go. There are no "Salas de Fiesta" in Logroño, but there is a club called the "Círculo Logroñés" which holds dances and gambling nights. These have been known to cause the bankruptcy of several families. Activities such as those stated above must be prohibited.

 

‑ Official Report on Morality in the Provinces.

                                                                                   Early 1940's.

 

-                     Logroño......7 brothels.......60 prostitutes.

‑ El Patronato de Protección de la Mujer, 1944.

 

              Your grandmother was always tired when she met you from school, and she said, "What did you learn today?", and you said, "I learnt French, I'll show you. Say 'Qu'est‑ce que c'est?'" And she said, "Say what?" "Say 'Qu'est‑ce que c'est?'" And she said, "Keska say?" her hand on the table,and you said, "C'est un chien." Grandfather, on the balcony in a hard chair sleeping off a stomachful of wine, wasn't interested in French, nor impressed by your prowess. He said they were all homosexuals in France, or artists. He said that if he ever went to France he'd make damned sure he didn't bend over. But at school you bent over when they beat you. To obey is to avoid mistakes, they said.

 

              Sometimes, Grandfather would take you to the Cafe Moderno. You would watch him playing cards on the cool, white, marble tables. He moaned on in his cracked, rough voice.

            "They want to make bread from fish scales now. Have you seen that? And then there's this other nonsense. Save the pips from grapes. We are, apparently, spitting twenty million kilograms of oil on the floor every year. Jesus Christ! This coffee tastes as though it's been made from ground up sticks!"

            Moaning on through the afternoon, whilst you sat quietly beneath the hat‑stand and the long mirror, and the waiters drifted in their white jackets to the tables with silver trays of coffee, the air powdery with dust. 

 

              And Mother said: 'Cabrón' is too good a word for the likes of him.

            And Father said: No. It cannot all shrink back to a single point. The guilt does not lie with only one person. It is the same with the reaction against the injustice. It is not the responsibility of one person, it is a collective responsibility, or else it is nothing.

            And Mother said: I would like to kill the bastard!

            And Father said: No. It cannot all shrink back to a single point.

            The National Anthem crackling into the dim room at Christmas, and we all had to be quiet to listen to the speech:

 

-                 Españoles, we must make an effort to fight to get rid of the unpleasant, nasty taste left in our mouths by the Marxist era that was so inefficient that it paralysed jobs of work and ruined the working classes. We can no longer live with the Marxist fear ......

 

until mother clicked the radio into silence, and we didn't open our presents until later. Father walked sadly across to the balcony doors and looked into the square, tapping with his knuckles on the window.

 

‑ The wireless is a source of culture in the home. Make sure you are not without!

‑ Advertisement, 1950.

 

            And when 'Manolete' was killed in Linares, you still had your parents. Nobody could believe it had happened. It was like killing God, or Franco himself. It was a day of national mourning, the end of an era. When the news crackled through on the radio that he had been gored, it seemed as though everybody had to share the guilt, as though we all formed part of the bull that had killed him. Especially the Communists. And your father's breath sweet with the smell of 'Pacharán' when he kissed you goodnight. You liked to watch him roll his cigarettes, carefully pouring the powdery tobacco into the palm of his hand and rolling it beneath his thumb. The paper, stuck to his bottom lip, moved up and down when he talked. Then he would roll a cigarette that was as thin and as straight as a matchstick. On Sundays he smoked a foul‑smelling cigar and would read a thin book of poems which mother said were just words anyway. You sat in the alcove behind the round table which had a heater underneath it, and a long, mauve tablecloth like curtains around the sides. In the winter, the tiled floors were cold and you would lift up the mauve tablecloth and crouch by the heater, sitting on the wooden part of the frame, the tablecloth about your shoulders like a cape. 

 

 

LA ALDEA

                                                                                July, 1951

 

TWO MEN ARE MAKING GOLD

IN EL ESCORIAL

------------------------------

 

Mysterious visits to an old forge

and to unknown valleys

-----------------------

 

The dream of gold has captured the imagination of the villagers of El Escorial. If things carry on like this, the summer visitors to this lovely village would do well to first buy themselves a cowboy suit! So far, the number of tourists is low for this time of year, but rumours of the gold factory and the inevitable excitement will doubtless see these numbers increase before too long.

 

          Sometimes, at weekends, you went out into the fields to help Grandfather, when it was hot and the earth was the colour of rusty metal. He let you sit on the mule which was piled up with dry grass, and you could smell the mule and the grass together. It was a stuffy, musty smell of dirt and poverty. You would sit and look off at the slate‑grey mountain that looked like a lion sleeping. Grandmother had packed bread and cheese for lunch and you watched Grandfather carefully cutting thin strips of cheese away from the rind with his sharp pocket‑knife. He would give you a bunch of grapes and laughing say, "Save the pips, boy, we'll make oil out of them. Imbeciles!" And so you held the pips tightly in your hand all the way home while he grumbled on beside you saying, "They think now that they can make an engine work on water! Water, for Christ's Sake!" 

            The vines were turning golden in the October sun that slanted across the valley from the mountains, the olives were silver green, lining the road all the way back to the city and the Cafe Moderno again, where he would sit and read the newspaper, his mouth chewing over the words, a complaint always caught at the back of his throat, awaiting an excuse to bubble up and swear. Bending the paper, then, in folds, running his grimy thumb down the line of the fold and placing the paper in his back pocket. The Cafe Moderno, where he ordered one black coffee and a glass of brandy to last him two hours, the tables with their worn, green, felt mats and the bright colours of the cards. 

 

            ‑ The Spanish State is, today, fundamentally a social state. Every Spaniard may exercise his right to work, and ensure both his own and his family's wellbeing. The benefits which society has bestowed upon the labourer make him feel in reciprocal debt.

 

              ‑ Propaganda, 1950's.

 

            In the Cafe Moderno, Grandfather, sucking on a chewed and flattened toothpick, sucked his lips and said, "It's the boy's birthday tomorrow. Poor blighter!"

            And Don José said, "You do your best, Celestino, but I suppose it's not the same."

            And they shook their heads at the injustice of it. So, for your tenth birthday they gave you a comic and a pair of shoes, and a letter came from Paris with a strange stamp on the envelope. Don José sent you a peseta, and you hid it under a lose tile in the bathroom with the stamp from the letter. 

 

            When you asked why your parents were reds, your grandmother said they were Republicans, which was not the same thing. Your grandfather said they were fools.

            But you heard about people hiding out in disused cellars and abandoned villages for years and years, and so it was easy to lie in bed and bring them back to life, imagine yourself, one day, being the one to find them. But they were dead. There was no one to find. The only thing you could do was jealously hoard all the scraps of memory and information, so that they wouldn't disappear completely.

 

            "Your father was a poor, helpless fool," said grandmother.

 

                                                                          

LA ALDEA

February, 1956

 

IT HAS BEEN PROVED THAT VARIOUS OF THE PEOPLE ARRESTED FOLLOWING THE                RECENT DISTURBANCES IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MADRID

ARE AFFILIATED TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

 

Franco’s special Guard had to be called in to control a meeting in the Faculty of Law at the University of Madrid. This led to open confrontations between students and the forces of law and order. On 9th of this month, during a student demonstration, Miguel Alvarez, a member of the Falange, was killed by a pistol shot. When the blood of a comrade is spilled when he is doing no more than fulfill his duty, when he offers his life in the face of these petty Communists and sophist of freedom, special steps must be taken.

 

- If Miguel Alvarez dies, the Falange will avenge his death with that of 100 enemies.

‑ Falange Statement, February, 1956.

 

            When you began to go out with Rosa, you didn't know she belonged to the 'Sección Feminina' until she disappeared for a week‑end. She told you, when she came back, that she had been to a castle near Tordesillas on a cookery course. She wanted you to go with her on an "If‑Miguel‑Alvarez‑Dies" demonstration. It was the only way to get her to go with you to the cinema, so you went. All of them in neat blue uniforms with red berets, marching and shouting. Yokes and Arrows emblazoned on their chests. But in the cinema, you could kiss, so it was almost worthwhile. You pushed yourself up against her in the dark, but she wouldn't let you do anything else. And what good was a kiss on the cheek, when your mind was filled with ballooning breasts.

 

‑ Mis manos en tu cintura.

              ‑ Popular Song, Adamo, 1966.

 

              Paloma liked dancing and, whereas before you had hated it, but had acquiesced for the sake of the general proximity of a female body, she actually made you dance, albeit clumsily and without rhythm. With Paloma, rather than sex, you wanted to talk. So, sometimes, you managed to escape with her, cycling out into the country, down to the old Roman bridge, in ruins like stepping stones across the river, to swim. With the radio on, listening to music from England and America. Until you got a job as a clerk in a wine company, stopped dancing and started trying to be responsible. The work was tedious, and it was only when they sent you out that you enjoyed it. On one of your visits you met Paco and he asked you back to his house to play the guitar. So you met his wife Luisa. They seemed to be everything you yourself were striving after. A happy couple with two children, comfortably off, and with no cares to tangle the days into long nights of argument. Until one day, Paco took you out onto the balcony. You watched the rain falling heavily onto the roofs of the city. Although it was March, it had been months since there had been any rain. They said on the radio that even if it rained for weeks the reservoirs would still be half empty. The rain splashed onto the glass roof of a garage below you with a dull, drumming sound. Occasionally a crash of thunder rolled out along the dark, narrow streets of the city and away towards the mountains. Behind you the light filtered through the half‑open blind covering the door onto the balcony. Paloma and Luisa were sitting inside talking. You could see their faces with the light on them. Paco, beside you on the balcony, turned suddenly and said, "I've told her."

            You were silent, staring into the rain.

            "I've told her," he said again.

            You looked towards him and saw that he, too, was staring into the darkness over the roofs. It was as though he were not talking to you at all, but to some shape hanging between the night and the rain.

            "I still can't believe it. Of all the stupid, idiotic things to do! You just can't do that and get away with it."

            "What've you told her?" you asked.

            "That I loved someone else."

            "That's pretty smart."

            "I don't know what came over me."

            He was looking into the rain and his face was oddly illuminated by a flash of lightening. The rain fell heavily and you thought that it was a good thing for the farmers, only up in the mountains you knew it would be snowing.

            "I don't understand why I did it. I suppose that when you live with someone for so long you begin to believe you can say anything to each other."

              You felt awkward. You didn't know how to respond. He went on quietly, picking at a piece of dry skin by his finger nail.             "You can be with someone too long, that's the trouble. You get tired. You shouldn't have to stay with one person too long."

              You looked back into the room. Luisa caught your eye and smiled. You looked down, embarrassed to know secrets about her.

              "I thought she'd understand. Christ! She went berserk!"

              He banged his fist on the railing of the balcony to emphasise.

              "What did she say?" you asked.

              "That if I loved someone else, it was because she didn't satisfy me."

              He thought for a moment, then added, "And she started crying."

              "What did you expect her to do."

              "I don't know, hit me, perhaps. I don't know. I don't know why I told her."

              "Maybe it's the truth."

              "Oh, it's the truth alright."

              You moved quietly into the warmth of the other room and walked to the table. There was a squat, brown bottle of whisky and an ice‑bucket there. You poured out two large measures of whisky, put ice in one and water in the other. You could hear the women talking. They had not looked up to acknowledge your coming into the room. You looked back through the window to the balcony. Paco was standing there, dark against the rain. You'd never seen anyone look so helpless before. Just by looking at his back, you could tell he was utterly alone and helpless.

              "I don't know what's the matter with me. I still love Luisa. I just don't seem to be able to think about her like that, that's all."

              You put the glasses down on a wicker table. The ice clinked coldly against the side of your glass.

              "I just feel so tired, that's all. I wanted something to liven me up."

              He turned towards you, and even in the half‑dark, you could see that he was thinking that you couldn't possibly understand. You looked back over the city and imagined the mountains and the snow.

              "Things go stale. If you do something for too long, it just goes stale. It's nobody's fault. That's just how it is."

              "If you let it," you said.

              You looked at his face again in the dark and saw that he thought you couldn't understand.

              “No,” he said, "You have no say in the matter."

              He looked over his shoulder towards the room. It was empty. "This girl, Mónica, she gives me something else. She's young, she finds me exciting, she wants to see me, is even pleased. Do you know what it is to come home and to be moaned at, to find a wall put up before everything you want to do, to go to bed and be greeted by a cold back, and when you try to get things back together get greeted by indifference. She has no right to be upset, not treating me like that. Small wonder you find someone else."

              And you realised, suddenly, that he wasn't asking for advice. He was talking out to whatever it was he could see between the night and the rain.

              "Do you have to substitute one thing for another?" you asked, not thinking but, for friendship's sake, having to say something. "No," he said, "You can't repeat moments, you can only imitate them."

            "Is that enough?"

            "It's all there is."

            He looked down at a puddle and then back into the room.             "I'm just so tired of it all," he said.

            You were good at solving other people's problems, and oblivious to all those you were creating for yourself.

 

 

LA ALDEA

                                                                                                                          

November, 1975

 

FRANCO: ALL WE CAN DO NOW

IS PRAY FOR HIM

‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

 

Last night, on leaving the "Ciudad Sanitaria de la Paz", Lieutenant General Iniesta Cano told reporters: "Franco is very ill. All we can do now is pray for him." Later the Caudillo's wife, in the company of their daughter, left the hospital profoundly disturbed by the gravity of the situation.

 

 

            He took so many months to die that you began to think that it would never happen. You repeated to Paloma the joke they'd told you at work:

            "There's been a miracle!"

            "What? He's not recovered again!"

            "No! They took him to Lourdes, threw him in, and the old bastard sunk like a stone and drowned!"

            "Ha ha ha."

            But she didn't laugh. 

 

            And when it finally did happen, you couldn't believe it, the front page of the newspaper bordered respectfully in black:

           

Murió Franco. Adiós España.

 

‑ I pardon, from the bottom of my heart, all those who declared themselves my enemies, even though I never considered them as such, and I ask them to pardon me. In these my last moments of life, I should like to unite the names of God and Spain, and to embrace you all so that we may cry out together, for the last time, now, on the eve of my death:

           

Arriba España! Viva España!

 

‑ Franco's last message, November, 1975.

 

            And Paloma had stood in the doorway as you prepared to go and said, "It's ridiculous. You've never even met him. What right does one measly birthday card give him?"

            And you said, "He is my uncle, and I promised."

            And she said, "Please, don't go, not now."

            And you said, "Paloma, let's try to be reasonable about this."

            And she said, "If it were only this!" And she heaved the heavy oak door shut and you could hear her steps clacking away down the hall into the house, and you looked back ten times before you got to the end of the street.

 

 

Plaza de los Héroes del Alcázar de Toledo, 6,

                                                                                                                                        Logroño.

July 12th, 1977

 

Dear Angel,

 

            For the first time in as many years as I can remember I feel almost perfectly at peace with myself. Perhaps that is because for one of the few times in my life I have made a decision, and whether it be the right one or a mistake is not, at the moment, important. Just by taking this decision I have found the sort of peace I had innocently expected from you. I hold it tightly to me, not wanting it to squirm from my hands as have so many things in the past ‑ you included, although incredibly you don't seem to realise it! And so I sit here in our poky little kitchen where, during the winter nights, you tried to teach me chess, getting angry at my mistakes, as you will probably be angry now with this letter.

            It's just that I can't find another alternative. I am tired of fighting it all the time, and fighting the fact that you can't even see that there is anything wrong. All I want to do now is to leave behind me this mess, this excuse for a life together that we have managed to drag up from somewhere. I don't blame you. In some ways, I am jealous of your selfish isolation, your ability to see only what you want to see. Perhaps, when we finally decipher the faces we think we already know, we find they contain an unrelated history.

            And all of the leavings become so hard. Just to sit together with nothing. Two people, alone, with a fat lump of years and loving to drag away, to preserve somewhere. And later, when the pain has gone, to bother with elaborate theories on happiness. I shall never be able to understand why you had to make this pathetic gesture, this journey .... of what? Of reconciliation? Of duty? I don't know, and I don't suppose it matters. Perhaps it would have been no good anyway, even had you stayed. But you didn't stay. I sat with you in the kitchen, waiting, no longer knowing how to breach that silence that once was easy with a kiss. And all you could say, standing there with that silly wine sack, was: But, Paloma, I promised. And I thought then, it has all become too much trouble, it is all too serious, there is no sign of laughter anymore. No calling out. Just to bite the lip and force a smile which says, I can't, and then to look out sadly into the dark where you will always be walking back towards me, but never calling out the words I need to hear. And finally, it will end, will finally fade into the muddle of swollen years which drop past without a sound. I know how impossible grow such things as love, and how a wooden cross will crumble on the cemetery wall. I have seen both.

            This week, since you've been gone, in the little square in front of the cathedral, there is an Anthology of the 'Zarzuela', the voices of the women singing carry right into the house. It keeps me awake, but it gives me an excuse. I have done a lot of thinking. My life with you, or rather, our future together, was like a shabby figure bundled away somewhere in a room, looking out at us between the cracks of shuttered windows. And all the time, we've been walking the irregular streets, between nondescript and impersonal buildings, searching the gutters for a brilliant coin. You see, I have had the good fortune to look up and I have seen, behind the half drawn blind, an ugly, hideous face staring back at me, clutching a tangled map.

            These last few days have passed so slowly that it has given me time to try to find some reason for not leaving. But how many times can you strain towards a forgetting and shove your hurt away into some corner. Most of the time it is possible for us to cast off the unimaginable and sad, but the definition of our boundaries is conditioned by our acceptance of the truth. Even when the truth is something that we don't want to accept, there comes a time when it is impossible to ignore it any longer, when it is impossible to keep deceiving yourself. You have to let it in. You have to stop fabricating the shape you want to see. Look at your mother. What you haven't placed around her! And I wonder what it is you see when you look at me. A wife, perhaps.

            It is already dark now, and I have drawn the blinds to stop the flies getting in. I can hear the improbable music and singing of the 'Zarzuela'. It seems much nearer than it really is tonight, magnified out of all proportion. There is a lovely full moon, low and heavy, behind the towers of the cathedral. I shall miss living here. 

            But I know now it would be impossible. When I look back on our life together, it is all dimmed into insignificance by two monstrous figures from Goya, your parents, who cast long, elongated shadows over all the sunshine I try to put back there. Still, we both know only too well that memory is distorted by the present, by the remembering. It is so difficult to forget what people are and to think of them as they were. That is why I find it so difficult to put it all into words. It is not just this business of amnesty, of your uncle returning from Paris. It's not that exactly. It's more the fact that it came as a judgement on us. You had, for once in your life, the chance to actually turn your back on the past. But I have to accept that you have this tremendous need to cling to the sleeve of the past as though, without it, you might be swept off into anonymity.I have searched in vain for the point when, for the first time, on hearing you moan to yourself in sleep, instead of thinking I would take you away from whatever it was that was disturbing you, I realised that it was something I would never know, that I could never do anything about. Because you won't allow me to, because you don't want to lose it. I can accept that, but you can't expect me to have to live with it too.

            So, where do you go to and not be afraid, when suddenly you wake into your life and find everything has run sadly away? Earlier this evening, half way through this letter, I went out for a walk. I looked down at my feet, and they seemed to be striding along with a purpose and a direction alien to the rest of me. My heart beat slowly and clutched at something all of those months away. A last piece of love. Some tiny regret. I don't know. I try to forget the things that bring me sadness now, because they only seem to make me invent reasons for being together still, when I know, only too well, that my hopes lie shipwrecked and dashed against your ability to be separate and isolated from me and all the things I need. But it's strange, isn't it? All the time I was out I was looking for some small voice, glad to see me, calling, "Please, don't go!" Yet I know we are not alone or unique. Somewhere, all the puzzled lovers of the town lie awake and tremble, reaching far across the night and touching imaginary hearts that settle into some place of improbable brightness, where they can try to find an excuse for touching, for breathing together, where they look for that abstract perfection, some reassurance that love survives, if it exists at all.

 

Take care of yourself,

 

Paloma.

  

 

            On the tower of a church, beneath the warm sun, with red dust crusting on the tiles, a huge stork lumbered into flight, and with an ungainly sweep of its wings, tucking its thin legs beneath the fan of its tail, it sailed slowly out across the city.





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