Días Contados

(Numbered Days)

Chapters 5 & 6

Translated by Matthew Cornetta

Installment # 3
Días Contados is a modern Spanish novel set in Madrid. I read this novel for the first time in 1992, when I was traveling in Spain. Its author, Juan Madrid, is famous, throughout Spain, for his incisive and sensitive journalism which has captured the spirit of change in his country since the death of Franco. Indeed, Spain is a country of great change, especially in the changes that took place during "la movida" in the late Seventies up through the mid Eighties. Días Contados is particularly graphic in capturing life in Madrid at the end of "la movida." Here is the third installment of our serialization. -Matthew Cornetta, Translator.

Chapter 5

A solitary light bulb hung from the ceiling, casting a pale glow. Antonio reclined on the floor, smoking hash from his pipe and carefully observing as Charo removed her miniskirt and tank-top. Vanesa and Lisardo chomped on cookies and concentrated on the small television set which Antonio had brought over. Ugarte flipped through a wrinkled old copy of "Motor 16." "Eh!" exclaimed Charo, "I’m going to be naked for a while, so I don’t want you guys to get excited or anything.... Okay?" Antonio motioned his hand in a gesture that seemed to say, "yeah whatever..." and Charo finished pulling off her miniskirt and proceeded to apply lotion along her thighs, up to her stomach and then back around to her buttocks. In her pubic hair, she wiped the excess lotion from her fingers.

Days before, Antonio had seen a black rat, sticking its head through the door of his darkroom... He remembered how he transfixed himself on the rat as it crossed the room and disappeared behind his developing tray. It was a hairy rat too and the hair was moist and shiny as if this rat had gotten into some water—which led him to think that there might have been a hidden, direct passage from the sewers into his building. Charo’s sex reminded him of that black rat.

Charo carefully sat in a chair, making sure that her body would soak up all the lotion... "Let me finish what I was telling you..... One day, Alfredo asked me to marry him—this was a long time ago—Are you guys listening??" The rest of them continued on, in their own little worlds, except for Antonio, who told her that he was listening... So she went on: "But I told him that we were minors and couldn’t get married. Still, I was very much in love with him, you know? I loved him so, so much that I told him: ‘okay, let’s get married—that’s if you really want to.’ Well, soon enough, Vanesa was organizing the wedding—Vanesa loves that kind of stuff... She planned a huge party and invited a load of friends. Then she came with me to help me buy the right clothes—I bought a long pink dress—It was precious! I told Alfredo that I wanted to have kids—at least one or two—and that we would have to get off drugs because if we didn’t then the kids would be born all fucked up with The Aids......Or something like that.... Anyway, we sweated through six or seven days without shooting up—and we went through a living fucking hell!.. Alfredo couldn’t take it anymore and he started shooting up. I lasted only three or four more days...."

As Charo spoke, sounds from the plaza entered through the skylight. Murmuring voices could be heard, as well as the high pitched roar of passing cars. Occasionally, the name of someone being called could be clearly made out... Charo inspected the lotion that still glossed her body. She figured that it would be some time before all of it were completely absorbed. She continued: "When Alfredo comes, I’m going to tell him that I still want to have a baby—a tiny little girl with blond hair—if that’s possible. I’m going to name her Ágata; but Vanesa thinks that Jénifer would be better—Right Vanesa?.... I think I’ve heard that name somewhere before. I also like Carolina or Emilia... And if it’s a boy we’ll name him Alfredo.... Uh.. Do you guys want me to talk about something else?" "Talk about anything you want," purred Antonio, "You know, you look really good with that lotion on your body. You look like a Swiss roll or a croissant." "What do you want me to talk about then?" "Whatever you like." Charo stared at the needle marks up and down her arms and on the backs of her hands—then she began again: "Ah yes! When I was only a little schoolgirl, I had a special drawing book—A book that I wouldn’t let anybody else see. It was my secret book. I liked drawing a lot—and the teacher used to always tell me to keep drawing because I was so good at it. I used to draw lots of things, but mostly, I liked to make boats. I made lots of boats—big ones—with my father in them. I liked that because it made me think of him while I was drawing... I would imagine him, coming into port with loads of presents. I always thought that this was how our father would come home—bringing lots of presents for the family. But he never brought us anything."

Antonio sat up and grabbed his Leica—clic, clic, clic—it went, as he photographed Charo. "Hey! Again with the pictures? You already got me in the bathtub, no? Right now I’m not fixed up for a photo shoot.... Well...." —she shrugged— "go ahead if you want.... I remember that my mother always told us to fix ourselves up pretty, because papa was going to come... And then we would get all happy and we’d wash our faces all special—and we’d comb ourselves and put on our best shoes. We’d wait for him by the front door and mama would tell us not to pester him when he arrived— that he would probably be exhausted with all the labors of fishing—because work on the sea is very hard.... Eh, Antonio, I really look like hell; I’m no good for pictures right now"—With her hand, she smoothed down her hair—"Don’t take pictures of me, looking like this."

"Stop worrying and keep talking—you look gorgeous from where I’m sitting." "All this guy does is shoot naked pictures," growled Vanesa to Lisardo while she gnawed at a cookie. "Yeah, he’s a peeper," replied Lisardo....

"Well, where was I? ....Oh... When my father would finally arrive, he would come in the house, throw down his duffel bag, mumble a couple of things and then go to bed. Soon enough we’d hear snoring coming from his bedroom. Then mama would open his bag and spill out all the dirty laundry until she found his money and his knife—it was some kind of switchblade and it was pretty big. And my little sister, Encarnita, would always say: ‘he didn’t bring us anything.’ But mama would answer: ‘Quiet, child... Look, we have the money—at least he brought the money...’ Then mama would go into the kitchen and cry..."

Antonio knelt in order to capture her cream gleaming body from a low angle... Charo continued speaking—her head slightly bowed and her wistful eyes staring far into past dreams—"No, he never brought us anything"—suddenly she paused in deep thought as the clic clic of Antonio’s Leica tapped out time—"But I always waited, full of hopes... I would have been happy with any old thing—a little present maybe—I don’t know....a little gesture, at least... I think it made him angry to have had only daughters... When I look back, I think he would’ve really liked a son—I don’t know—To have only daughters must be a bad thing...." She lowered her voice to the point where Antonio could barely hear her..... "It’s all the same to me if I didn’t have any sons—I’d prefer a daughter.... Hey, Antonio! You’ll like Alfredo—he’s a good man, you’ll see, ‘cause he’ll be coming by one of these days..."

"Sure, I’ll like him—listen, turn your head just a touch—yeah, like that— good, Charo." Vanesa picked herself up off the bed and inspected the jar of lotion which Charo had purchased— "Collagen.... What’s that?" Charo read the leaflet and answered: "It’s a substance that you put on your skin and it leaves you all chic and ritzy... And right here it says that this is the cream of the stars—Caroline of Monaco even uses it."

"Well, this collagen, or whatever the hell it is, hasn’t erased the pimples on my back... You think that from now until Saturday it’ll have enough time to make my skin chic and ritzy," asked Vanesa, sarcastically..... Then she suddenly covered her face with her hands and growled—"Eh! Listen man! No pictures of me, understand!" She peeped through her fingers and kicked the floor, adding—"I’m not your girl, got it! I already told you—if you want me on film you gotta give me the TV." Antonio put the camera down and he made a peace sign, saying—"Fine, no pictures." "I mean if you want to photograph me you’re gonna have to fork over a little... This stuff’s worth money, you know? And don’t give me that ‘it’s for art’ crap"—Vanesa then motioned to Charo, asking—"So, do you think three days of this cream will do the trick?" "I guess. That’s what they told me in the pharmacy."

Somewhat satisfied, Vanesa resumed her position on the bed and continued eating cookies.....

.....Charo put her clothes on....

......Antonio concentrated on a far-off noise. It seemed like an airplane but it wasn’t. It was the buzzing of an insect, perhaps a bee or a wasp, coming from some place in the room... Something suddenly fluttered past his eyes and disappeared......

* * * The solitary bulb hanging from the ceiling reflected a dim light on the surface of the table. On the table there was a glass ashtray, overflowing with small sheets of tin foil. Off to the side, lay two used syringes, speckled with blood. There was a bottle of mineral water too, along with the half empty package of cookies. On the little package there was a picture of a rosy cheeked boy, skipping through the woods and playing with a swell of large, multi-colored butterflies.

Ugarte finally put down his copy of "Motor 16", saying—"You know, Ibraín really scares me. They say that he was an instruction sergeant in the Iranian Army—a sort of Rambo—you know? It’s like his hands and feet are deadly weapons... Have you ever seen him with a knife? He switches it from hand to hand at the speed of light! There’s nobody compares with him... And just when you least expect it, he sticks you..."

"Listen," scowled Lisardo, "the best thing is a nice pistol—that way there’s no need to fuck around with all the circus tricks... Against a gun, knives and karate don’t add up to shit." Lisardo pulled the short barreled revolver out of his jacket and began waving it around... "You see, dumb-ass?? With this, there’s no Ibraín and no fuss, no muss—two shots and move on—With this you’re never wrong and when you’re never wrong, life is pretty easy."

"Okay already," groaned Ugarte, "you’ve impressed us enough with the gun tricks, macho. Now put it away—playtime is over." Lisardo twirled the gun around on his index finger like a Hollywood cowboy and then returned it to his jacket—

"Hey! The other day I held up a taxi with a comb—I swear! God, you’d have shit if you saw it. I gave this character the comb, right to the neck and I said: ‘C’mon you sonofabitch, give me everything you got or I’m gonna open you up’.... The asshole was so scared, he almost kicked it, right there. He gave me about eight bills and when I left him he was a fuckin’ mess, panting like he was smothering—what a sack a shit... But I had my piece in my pocket the whole time, It was smooth, eh, real smooth..."

....On the bed, amidst a scattering of cookie crumbs, Vanesa painted her toe nails with purple enamel—"You guys remember when Ibraín beat the hell out of that cop? .....That was too much—well, I didn’t actually see it—but I was told about it. He almost finished him too...." Vanesa shook the small bottle of enamel and applied the last of it to her toe nails... "Yeah," chimed Ugarte, "First he gave him a good eye rake and then he moved right into the kicks and karate chops, like this"—Ugarte chopped his hands through the air in an exaggerated way. "Alfredo saw the whole thing," interrupted Charo, "He was with Ibraín when the cop walked in—I think he was undercover. And before he could blink, Ibraín left him half dead. But then he took his badge and his gun and handed them into the city court—that’s what saved him— ‘cause if he took them to the police station they would’ve clubbed him to death... He told the court that he had no idea the guy was a cop... Anyway, he ended up spending a few days in lock-up... But they did interrogate him and all those boobs could do was start a file on him." "He played it real smart," added Vanesa. "Eh!! My turn came up once in ‘The Gobi,’" laughed Lisardo—"and they treated me like a king—three meals a day and all... But I liked to throw the food at the wall.." "Don’t even start," sneered Ugarte, "they never arrest you because of your daaaddy." "What?? It’s just the opposite... Just to spite my father, they like to put the bite on me... I told them that I didn’t want to make a plea in court, that the three grams of smack they caught me with were for my own use—you know—like I was a reeeal junky and not a pusher.... And they believed me.. They even asked me about Ibraín—if I knew him or anything—and I told them that I’d heard he was in the can..." "Personally, Ibraín really pisses me off," sighed Vanesa. "He scares me," replied Charo—"He gives you that hypnotizing look and then he hardly speaks. All he does is say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and shit like that..... Alfredo says that it’s best not to be an enemy of Ibraín... And it looks to me like it’s true what they say about him being a sergeant instructor back in his old country..." "I’m a good friend of Ibraín," chirped Ugarte, "I already asked him to show me the tricks of knife handling and karate and he told me that he would!" Vanesa closed up the little enamel jar and wiggled her toes, trying to decide if she liked the effect—"You know what they all call you, Ugarte?..... Ibraín’s little puppy—when he throws you a bone you trot behind him, wagging your tail."

"Me, a dog?" replied Ugarte as he moved toward Vanesa, "For that I’m goin’ to belt you one"—he raised his hand threateningly—"A fuckin’ dog, you said? Yeah, for that I’m really really goin’ to belt you one!" Vanesa simply twisted her mouth into a contemptuous smirk and looked toward the other side of the room—"What a bore!! What a bore!!" she shouted.

.....Lisardo pulled out his penis—it was long and flaccid and almost black. He shook it around, shouting—"C’mon boys! Let’s see who’s got the biggest one—we’ll have a contest!" ....Meanwhile, Ugarte was showing Antonio his dirty, worn out copy of "Motor 16". On the cover was a Yamaha 6000, all shine and chrome... "Look, Antonio, it can go 210 kilometers per hour and it has a double carburetor and double fuel injection... It’s the best of the Japanese line—the most powerful motorcycle in the world... It costs 1,500,000 pesetas* (*$12,000) but you can buy it on financing if you can show that your getting a steady salary—And I’m going to have that any day now, because two months ago they told me in the messenger service where I work, that they are going to take me on as a permanent employee... I’m in the top five fastest for making deliveries and that’s pretty good, considering that I ride a shitty Guzzi Hispania from the Seventies.... You like motorcycles, Antonio?" "My brother used to be into all that. I remember when my father bought him a Harley Davidson. It was a big bike, I mean, enormous!.... He never would let me even get on the thing... Well, I was pretty small at the time—but still, I would have liked to take that bike for a spin." "The Harley is a good machine, yes sir, it is."

".....Eh, Antonio!" shouted Vanesa, "What’s yours like? Is it bigger than Lisardo’s? C’mon, show us man!" "It’s standard, average width and length," replied Antonio. Ugarte, now lit up with rage, shouted—"Why don’t you shut your fuckin’ mouth for once in your life—Can’t you see, I’m talking over here?" "There’s no need to show yours," snapped Vanesa, "We already know that it’s like an acorn—Ha! ha! ha!..." ....Lisardo began jumping and his penis bounced up and down... "Alfredo’s is huge," laughed Charo, "at first it hurt me a lot." Vanesa’s eyes were tearing and red, as she was laughing so much at what she was about to say—"I like fat dicks, because they fit snugly in my mouth... C’mon Antonio, make your debut, show us your hooter—we want to play doctor..." Antonio attempted a smile— but the hash he was smoking had caused him to lose some control over the muscles in his face..... "I already told you, it’s normal size." Vanesa drew near to him and tried to unzip his pants— "Eh! Leave me alone, girl! Let go!" he protested while squirming backward. "Let’s see...." giggled Vanesa, in her contagious laugh, "Let’s see your hooter!" Suddenly, Ugarte shoved her hard from behind, screaming—"Don’t make a filthly whore of yourself!" "You hurt me you fuckin’ faggot!" she replied as she stole off and embraced Lisardo. "Eh!! What did you call me?" demanded Ugarte, pulling out his switchblade. Vanesa coldly ignored him as she shook Lisardo’s penis up and down, singing—"ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling..." "One day, I’m gonna kill the both of you—I swear on my holy mother, I’m gonna cut you up—You don’t call me a faggot." "You’d trip over yourself trying to kill a cat!" sneered Lisardo—"Eh! Ugarte, you aren’t a faggot—you’re worse—you’re a fat faggot!" "Don’t insult, ‘cause you don’t know me, okay! Don’t get me started..." "C’mon guys," intervened Charo, "don’t be assholes." "No, don’t you get me started," said Lisardo to Ugarte, "because I’ll send you a death wish and then laugh about it, shithead." "Why don’t we shoot up, eh? proposed Vanesa, "because this is getting boooring."

* * * "When I get my bike I’m going to take it on the road down to Sevilla. On the freeway you can make it in under six hours. I’m gonna have to get a special leather suit and a Spring Pilot helmet... Spring Pilots are the best because they’re anatomically designed for competition—I’ll buy Vanesa one too." "My father bought my brother a bike for his nineteenth birthday—well for that and for the fact that he passed Economics. It was an American police motorcycle... I think he got it in Torrejón... My brother and his friends went to try it out on la Cuesta de las Perdices. Back then, everybody had a bike and that’s why I think my father bought one for my brother... And he said that he would buy me one too—when I was old enough....." Antonio remained pensive as he began to refill the pipe with a mixture of pot and blond tobacco. Ugarte stared at him soberly, thinking about what to say.... Antonio took a long hit.

"And did he buy you one?" Ugarte finally asked. "No," responded Antonio, shaking his head slowly, "he didn’t buy me one... I finished my college prep program in the same year that Franco died and the whole country was in a shambles... But we lived high in those years—la movida—well you already know about all that.... Suddenly, I didn’t want to study anymore—I did take a course in photography because it was ‘in’ and it got you noticed.... But I never slept—every time I turned around I was fucking somebody else—it was a blast— I did meet some important people though—García Alix, Ouka Lele, Sepúlveda.... Borja Cassani... Ahh... I wasted a lot of years—in the end all I really did was get high all the time... Yeah, I wasted my time, but there were others who took advantage of the new freedom and they made out all right. Today they’re in high places, you know what I mean?..... They’re rich or famous and they live like fuckin’ kings... And me? Well, just look at me... Jesus, even my brother got his share of the pie—my brother, the same guy who was an anti-Franco communist—the same guy who spent countless nights in jail.. He’s ten years older than me and he’s tall and good looking—you know the type—real blond.... I can’t even say how many lookers he went out with.. He’s a charmer, a real charmer—a ladykiller. We get along well enough—you know he was the Director General of Spanish Television during the first years of the Democracy.....?" "You mean you’ve never had a motorcycle?" "Naaa, but I didn’t pass any of my classes in the university either.. I dropped out of college in the first year—or better...... I should say, I dropped out of two colleges in the first year. That’s when I took the photography course." "I would’ve liked to study... Hey, that photo stuff, is there any money in it? I mean—can you at least get by?" "It pays, yeah... I get by, but it was much better just a few years ago. Right now, the journalism industry is in a crisis—everything’s fucked up."

"Listen, when I get my bike, can you take a picture of me with it?.... I want to send it to my mother. I’d love for her to see me with that bike.... I’m telling you, once I get that bike, Vanesa’s going to straighten out—I know deep down she really loves me." "Don’t you worry, I’ll take all the pictures that you could possibly want." "You know?.... I like talking to you because you’re into a good thing... You’re a good man, Antonio, you really got it together." "Ahh.. I’m a piece a shit. I’ve never done a goddamned thing. Well, once I was on the verge of getting a really great photo—a photo that would make any photographer famous—the photo that would have opened the doors for me in all the big magazines...." "If it weren’t for my brother, I don’t know where I’d be..... Ahhh.. but don’t pay any attention to me, when I don’t know what I’m saying, I start spilling my guts." "No, no—don’t say that—I like to talk to you— you’ve got it together, really." "The industry’s in a crisis—used to be that a free lance photographer would be up to his teeth in work—no more... There’s a shit-load of photographers out there and scandalous pictures are all they want—excuse me, I’m a little wasted right now... The coke, the pot, and now these pills...."—he grabbed the bottle of whiskey—"And this stuff, I’m drinking all by myself—because nobody around here seems to drink." "Chill out man—there’s no problem..." "You’re a good kid, Ugarte—I just want you to let me say that... You’re a good guy, yes sir... I like talking with you—anyway, I don’t know—I usually don’t talk much with people—you know?... People don’t really talk to each other anymore—that’s what’s fucked up... Man, I never had a friendly conversation with my brother, isn’t that weird? Well, that’s the way it is... And forget about it, never with my father, no way—and let’s not even talk about my mother..." Antonio lowered his voice and chugged some whiskey directly out of the bottle... "My mother always pushed me to become a diplomat. A diplomat!! ......Well, tough shit, mom." "I always wanted to race 250cc motorcycles—what a kicker it’d be don’t you think? They’re small bikes but they got a lot of balls.... Yeah that would’ve been beautiful, yes sir, if only...... If I could have been a professional rider, Vanesa would respect me more...." "You know what I always wanted to do?" Antonio replied as he stretched and draped his arms over his shoulders... "No, what?...." "Hey! hey, you guys!" howled Lisardo, "I’m a junky—a reeeal junky!" He had the needle stuck in his jugular vein and he danced, turning and turning about the room—then suddenly he pushed the juice in....

* * * .....Lisardo sat up in the bed— "Let’s see if you guys can explain this dream I once had when I was sleeping on a street downtown—Yeah, I was sleeping—I mean, in the dream I was sleeping too... I was at home in bed and my father just sat there staring at me... He wasn’t saying anything—just staring... I could see my father, and I wanted to say something to him but I couldn’t. I tried to speak and.... Nothing came out... Then my father opened his shirt and showed me that he had breasts—ha, ha, ha....real tits like a woman—with big nipples and all... Pretty weird eh?" Nobody in the room responded and Lisardo continued: "I really wasn’t sleeping. No, I was dead—dead in a pine box with tons of flowers...." The silence in the room only thickened... Nobody seemed to have anything to say.. Antonio nipped some more at his bottle of whiskey and Ugarte finished off the last of the cookies... After a few moments, Ugarte spoke up: "I’m going to make you one of my shots, Antonio, because you still haven’t turned on." "Listen to him," sneered Lisardo, "one of myyy shots... You’re such a faggot, Ugarte." "Just keep it up man—keep it up... Don’t deny yourself a little fun—but remember, he who laughs last, laughs loudest," replied Ugarte, and then, turning to Antonio he continued—"You’ll see, it’s going to be very special..."

Ugarte opened a tiny envelope and poured the powder into the curved spoon they had all been sharing. Then he added a few drops of water and applied the lighter... "What a waste," commented Lisardo, "This jerk off doesn’t shoot up... Why are you such a pussy, Ugarte—I mean, to waste caballo like this...." "You, shut your mouth." "Eh, just a minute," interrupted Antonio—"I don’t go for needles... When I was little, I hated when they had to give me shots... I used to hide under the examining table whenever the nurse was coming..." "You don’t have any balls," chimed Vanesa, "You go through life peeping and squeaking, just like I thought..." "Don’t worry, Antonio," said Charo, "It’s not going to hurt—there’s no pain at all—and anyway, Ugarte shoots really good." "That’s right, I used to have to give injections to my mother," added Ugarte. "We can smoke it too, right?" quivered Antonio, while biting his lip—"It’s just that I don’t feel like.... Fuck! I’ve had a lot to drink—and I’m fucked up.... Besides, the one time I did shoot up, I didn’t like it for nothing—everything was just spinning around.... It was... I swear, you guys—I did it in some party this rock group was having....." "Sure, sure... Can the stories, photographer—with me you don’t pull a Charles Boyer—you’ve never even seen caballo!" The heroin and water began to boil in the spoon. Ugarte showed Antonio an aseptic plastic bag with a syringe inside... "Look Antonio, it’s never been used before.... A brand new needle, just for you." Using only one hand, Ugarte drew the heroin into the piston of the syringe, while Lisardo rolled up the left hand sleeve of Antonio’s shirt. Ugarte then looked for a good vein and, finding one, he suddenly pushed the needle in hard with both hands. "It’s goes better when it’s a little hot," explained Ugarte, "But you have to be careful not to make it too hot, because then it can tear open a vein." "The closer to the heart, the better," added Charo. "You don’t have a single mark," sneered Lisardo, "Just like I thought, you’ve never shot up." Ugarte rubbed Antonio’s forearm and Lisardo pressed even harder where the vein bent through the articulation of his elbow... Antonio opened and closed his fist like he had seen the others do. He had barely felt the shot.... He closed his eyes and listened to Ugarte... "Now it’s going in, slowly, slowly, very slowly it’s running inside of you." "Wait’ll you see how marvi!!" squealed Charo.

At first he felt heat—an intense heat from his arm to his chest... He could still recall Lisardo’s voice telling Ugarte to stick it in faster... Soon the heat passed into his head—behind his eyes and into his mouth... Later it extended to his stomach and down through his belly and into his penis... Then his legs began to twitch and tickle.

When Ugarte finally removed the needle, it felt as if a window had been opened in his body, allowing a cold wind to snake through his veins. Eventually, the sensation of heat was entirely replaced by one of cold—a cold which ran from his chest up to the top of his skull, just as the heat had done before... He felt blank explosions in his brain like flashes of white light... His heart rate diminished. Antonio tried to breathe but he couldn’t.... He desperately wanted to get on his feet so that some air could enter his lungs. Only to open his mouth and breathe....

Amidst all the sparking lights in his head he heard some murmurings of Charo— ".... Asshole! You gave him too much and it wasn’t cut enough... He’s not used to it... He looks like he’s gonna buy it—he’s all white!" Somebody else said: "...He’s got no pulse—he’s not breathing..."

* * * ...Antonio opened his eyes, not knowing how much time had passed. He could make out some shadows in the room—shadows wrapped in a reddish cloud and broken up by white lights. The muffled drone of voices entered his ears, gradually growing louder and mixing and confusing with the voices he heard in his own head. He felt a horrible, stabbing pain in the center of his chest..... And the voices in his head continued—

"I am falling through an endless abyss.. I’m slipping all the way to the bottom... Lights are exploding as I pass... I hear the shouting of a multitude—who are they??...." "I only fall and fall...." "I can see my mother and my brother Pascual—my wife, Emma, that French teacher... There’s my father, smiling—oh! The pain in my chest is horrible..... Somebody is hitting me—poom, poom, poom......" "I’m falling and I can’t stop... But I must stop because I don’t want to spin around anymore..... A powerful flash is tearing open my head....."

"Take this," said Ugarte, offering a glass of water, "What a trip, eh, man! It looks like that caballo was way too pure for you... You just about saw death, man.... Oh, the others went to get some beers at Paco’s kiosk." Antonio’s mouth was dry—dry like it were filled with dirt. His heart still felt like it was going to explode right there in his chest.... He was in an empty room, flooded with light and the lines where the ceiling met the walls were no longer perpendicular... He was suddenly taken by an overwhelming sense of peace—"so this is it," he thought... The water went down as if his body were transparent "A cigarette," he beckoned, in a hoarse, scratchy voice—"please, let me have a cigarette....." Again, he was under the viaduct.... the woman was embracing her baby and falling and falling—her bare legs kicking in the air—her hands frozen in a dying clutch—the rictus of death in her mouth—then—the remains of the child strewn about—the shrill screams of the bystanders... The greatest opportunity of his life...

Ugarte, passed him a lit cigarette, saying—"with half a million ($4,000) down payment they’ll give me the bike. But then I’ll have to pay fifty thousand ($400) every month... Anyway, the only thing you have to do, Antonio, is be my financial sponsor... And I’ll let you ride it whenever you want—Oh! And you have to take some pictures for my mother—okay?"

Chapter 6

...Somewhere a telephone was ringing... Antonio was living with Charo in a nice house with a big garden and a pool... He was reclined on a chaise lounge while she climbed up the diving ladder, a child in her arm. The telephone continued ringing, as Charo jumped into the sapphire blue pool water.. For some undiscovered reason, Antonio suffered an oppression in his chest—an anguish, impossible to translate into words...

...The pool was not deep and Charo simply crashed into the emptiness... Antonio sat up in the lounge chair and called to her... She was nowhere to be found... The anguish in his chest grew heavier... ...Suddenly, he saw Charo on the diving board again.. The smile on her face resembled a black abyss... She said something to him but it was completely unintelligible...

He woke up, drenched in sweat... The alarm on the night table was buzzing interminably... He pushed the snooze bar and silenced it. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and a dull light from outside filtered through the closed skylight... He could still hear some noises from the Plaza: the dishes being shuffled around in the scrub sink of Paco’s kiosk, the playful music of the little slot machine, the motorcycles and cars, and the voices of people.... The shot from the night before still pained him. He noticed a swelling on the vein in his forearm, right where the needle had entered... He took a quick rinse, dressed and grabbed his Leica and the tape recorder... He had his coffee down in Paco’s kiosk. Out on the Plaza he bought two pills from a mulatto girl who was maybe Dominican. The girl couldn’t tell him the name of the pills nor did she know what was in them—But she promised him that they were good ones from America... They were blue capsules and Antonio swallowed them without water. They cost him 500 pesetas, ($4) which was more expensive than usual. "Don’t worry man," the girl assured, "These little numbers are fantastic—they’ll make you really talk! I never trick anybody, eh! I’m always here on the Plaza..."

* * *
"La Luna" was situated on la calle Jardines, a street that fed into la calle Montera.

When Antonio arrived he saw a young, heavyset man, arranging chairs and cleaning ashtrays. Antonio noticed that he wore an earring. Behind the counter, there was another man washing glasses—he was older, perhaps middle-aged and he wore a thick mustache.

The owner of the place looked Antonio up and down with small blue eyes that seemed to move like steel, ball bearings... He was partially bald and he wore a suit by Adolfo Domínguez— "You must be Pascual’s brother, the photographer." "That’s right. Don’t you remember me?" "Well, anyway... You do look a lot like your brother... But, I don’t recall—you say we have met before??" "Yeah, yeah... Well, it’s been a while—but I used to come here all the time—back in the Eighties. I hung out with Belén Zárraga and Emma. Emma is my wife, well, she was my wife." "Oh, yeah... Yeah, yeah, yeah.... Emma, Belén... Didn’t you also used to hang with that kid—Tena—the one on the radio, and with the writer, Carmiña Martín Gaite.... But that was a long time ago already, no?" "Ten years, more or less." "I understand that Belén married one of the Huetes, right?" "That’s right. They married and now they don’t go out anymore." "Ahh... Nobody goes out anymore, not even your brother.... Jesus, how we used to revel.... Did you know that your brother and I were in the Party together? Has he ever told you?" "Yeah, he told me about how you two were good friends and all that.." "This place still fills up sometimes—mostly on Friday nights. And once in a while we close at eight in the morning—with regulars, of course.... Isn’t that right, Vicente?" The waiter who was washing glasses, nodded his head in silence. The owner continued— "Although..... Everything has died down. It’s not like it used to be... On Fridays we started putting in live music—Spanish songs... Spanish is getting big again—At least it is with the popular folk stuff that everyone listens to on the radio.." "That music is cool," responded Antonio. "Well it’s the stuff that’s in—folk-a-pop," said the middle aged waiter, "like in the style of Concha Piquer..." Nobody listened to what he said....

"How long is this interview going to last? Because I have an appointment at six o’clock." Antonio opened his Leica and inserted a roll of film— "It won’t take long at all—you’re a lawyer, right?" "I was a lawyer, a labor lawyer; but nowadays I concentrate on business ventures.. I have this place which I use as a spot for friends, and I got a few other things going...." "The Villa Restaurant is one, right?" "Yes... I’m a partner over there, but I have other things besides that... We old school, labor lawyers are pretty shrewd when it comes to business... Anyway, it’s a shame that you didn’t come down here on a Friday—then you’d see how full this place gets..." "....It used to be full every day of the week," interjected the waiter behind the counter, "In the Eighties and even before that.... Back then, you couldn’t move in this place... We had three good barmen working and we still couldn’t keep up—Those were some days... Yes they were...." "I remember," replied Antonio, and then he asked—"When did this place open anyway?" "Let’s see... You have to remember that this place was one of the most important during la movida... In the beginning there was only my place together with a handful of spots in Malasaña—or Maravillas... The Barrio of Maravillas is its real name, not Malasaña.... Up there were places like La Manuela, el Café Ruiz, Vía Lactea, Pentagrama, and..... Elígeme—which came a little later... We were the ones who started it all. I opened this place in the summer of ’75—right before Franco died."

".....You couldn’t move in this place...." sighed the waiter behind the counter.

"Anyway, if you could even say that there was a Movida in Madrid, then it would have to have been in those days... That’s when everybody—I mean everybody—was out on the streets, partying until sunrise... We spent our money on cocktails... But now...." "—Wait a minute... Then what’s going on in Madrid now?? Don’t tell me that you’re going to complicate this book we’re doing... Because if you’re saying that there’s no longer any movida, then what am I doing here?" The owner of the bar let loose with a series of rapid chuckles. His mouth remained almost closed, producing a sound akin to a clucking hen. He threw his cigarette on the floor, crushing it under his shoe— "My dear boy, it’s been sixteen years since the death of Franco... Back then we were all thirty something... We had lived a common past in that we all had struggled against the reign of a dictator—we were young and ambitious.... Once you reach forty-five, everything changes.. Now you are preoccupied with making money—moreover, you have to take care of your health: go to the gym, drink fruit juice, and sleep at night... The healthy body thing is in vogue nowadays." "Long nights are few and far between," interrupted the waiter, "I myself, have gone more than a month without going out... Of course, we can’t keep up like we used to; we’re older." "I agree," replied Antonio, "It used to be that the days and the nights just blended into each other..." "Also, there are a lot more places to go," interjected the waiter with the earring. At the same time he stared at the cigarette which his boss had crushed into the floor—but he didn’t attempt to pick it up...... "Before, there weren’t so many places to get drinks.. I was only ten when Franco kicked the bucket and by thirteen, I was going out on the town.. I mean, every month a new place was opening—it was rad, man, like a kind of poetry.." "It was a giant explosion—everything became playtime." Explained the owner. "The whole left in this country decided that it was about time to have some fun—and fuck, was it ever fun! .....It was the days of corduroy and bell-bottoms and capes... Every student had a poster of Ché Guevara and it was cool to be a fag.." The boss lit another cigarette and took a deep drag—"While you guys—the younger ones I mean—were sneaking out the windows of your houses, my generation was celebrating the era of divorces and separations; everybody was trading partners..."

"I got separated in ’78," nodded the older waiter. "And me, last year," added Antonio. "You see? And I did it in ’76. Almost everybody was doing it. You younger ones can’t even imagine what the end of that dictatorship signified for us. And even more so, for those of us who had a history of political dissidence." "I had no part in all of that; I admit it.. Politics was my brother’s thing... The only thing that affected me was the partying and the fun, without all the struggle for rights... I’m from a generation that hasn’t had to fight for anything.." "By the way, does Pascual own that publishing company?" "Yeah, he and a few partners." "You can’t even begin to know what your brother and I have gone through—All the pamphlets we distributed, the long, tedious meetings, the demonstrations and protests.... We honestly thought that we were going to end the dictatorship and change the world..." He drew out a long sigh— "In the end we didn’t even change ourselves..." "It seems to me that la movida, or whatever it can be called, influenced the people of my generation and maybe people a little older. But people of your age, it passed right by." "We only participated in la movida; it wasn’t ours, however. We had already been formed and molded. We took advantage of it. Those of us who had fought against Franco, celebrated at first, but now we’re making big money"—the boss took a light drag on the cigarette and let the smoke slip out of his mouth without inhaling—"Nowadays it’s la movida of cash.. La movida-movida lasted from the death of Franco till about 1984." "And drugs? Is it true that mine was the first generation of widespread drug users...? You know, joints, cocaine, pills.... My brother told me that during his college days, almost nobody smoked or snorted—and let’s not even consider caballo... You were all a bunch of moralists.."

"Listen. Pay close attention to what I have to say... During the Eighties, society in general, became very permissive with respect to drug use. And Spain was the European country at the top of the permissive list. Now, in the Nineties, all that has changed. If they catch you smoking a joint on the street they can arrest you—and if the police or that fascist Councilor, Madrazo, even suspect that they are smoking hash in my place, or any other place, then they can close us down and that’s that... The whole drug thing is a big fuckin’ headache. They exaggerate the problem... A joint here and there and some lines of cocaine won’t hurt anybody... You take a sauna afterwards and you’re good as new... By the way, with coke you’ll fuck like you’ve never fucked before—ever tried it??" They all laughed. "That’s the whole point of coke, right?" replied Antonio..... "Seriously now, don’t you think that this whole drug scene has endangered the neighborhood?" "Man oh man, of course I do. How could I deny it? The police are down here every day and, well, it’s a fuckin’ hassle... And then, there’s this new campaign that Councilor Madrazo is running with the Association of Residents—oh— and there’s the Corcuera law which is another pain in my ass..... You can bet that this drug thing is only going to haunt us in the end... What with the conservatives winning all those seats at City Hall—just this year alone they have been down here four times... They like to fuck me up—whether it’s the fire exit or a rumor that somebody was smoking a joint, or noise level, or the hour of close—it doesn’t matter.... They got my number and they’re giving it to me good—isn’t that so?" The boss looked to the older waiter who nodded in agreement and added that it was true—that the police and the city officials were making life very difficult—and that the entire neighborhood was filled with Moroccan drug dealers and junkies who made it almost impossible to run a business smoothly....

The boss fixed his eyes on the cigarette between his fingers... He seemed to be contemplating the manner in which it was burning down— "These elements—the walking dead don’t buy anything except drugs... There’s got to be a way to sweep them the fuck out of this neighborhood so that the normal people—and I mean normal will start coming back here.... Although, that whole Madrazo thing about unsafe streets and public danger, is pretty much a myth... I’ve been here fifteen years and, as you can see, nothing has happened to me...."

Antonio looked at his watch—he was edgy and wanted to see Charo. He picked up the Leica and zoomed in for a close-up. The owner, threw away his cigarette and tidied up the little hair he had left. Then he straightened his handmade, Buitrón tie, lit up a fresh cigarette, and arranged it carefully between his fingers. Antonio worked the camera—clic, clic, clic... The two waiters were careful not to make any noise. From outside, could be heard the shrill voices of two girls who strutted along the sidewalk... A car passed, playing its horn in such a way that it seemed to be giving a signal....

Next month, chapters: 7, 8 & 9