Días Contados

(Numbered Days)

Chapters 7,8, & 9

Translated by Matthew Cornetta

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 fourth installment of our serialization.
--Matthew Cornetta, Translator.

Chapter 7

Ibraín smiled, but it wasn’t a kind smile; it was a twist of his lips that left his face looking deformed. "You want five grams, huh? That’s fine, but five grams’ll cost you sixty talegos ($450.00). Now, where’s the money?" Vanesa spoke from the bed, with the covers pulled up to her chin: "wait a minute man, eh! When have we ever pulled something on you...? C’mon, speak up! Ahh..... So then, don’t start barking at us with this shit..."

Charo moved up close to the Iranian and tugging his arm, she said: "we’ve always been up front with you, Ibraín, so why are you suddenly being an asshole?" "Things have changed... It’s not so easy anymore— there’s a crisis and nobody’s up front— get it?" Charo rummaged through a pile of clothes on a chair and queried, "where’s the money, Vanesa? It was here... Where did you put it?" "Don’t look at me," Vanesa bitterly replied, "just leave me out of it this time—for once, can you give me some peace...? ...Can’t you see that I don’t feel good?" Charo began to shout: "There were two 5,000 peseta bills left and they were right here!" "Fuck off! How the hell am I supposed to know where they are!" "There was.... There was 10,000 pesetas here—I swear," motioned Charo to Ibraín, "but I...." Ibraín remained impassive....Distant... "10,000 pesetas?.....No..... 10,000 is not near enough. 20, 25,000 is another thing—then yes—I could help you... You see... I need a real down payment." Vanesa buried her head in the covers and screamed: "I gotta get some sleep—tell him to shut the door on his way out!! Go on, go on, get lost!...." ....Then suddenly, she popped her head out and rifled: "We’ll find another dealer—we’ll pass on you—so get the fuck out!" "Fine. That’s all right by me," Ibraín smoothly replied— "whatever makes you happy..." He spun around and moved toward the door, but Charo quickly seized him— "Wait... Wait a minute, Ibraín... Just wait... We’ll come up with the money. That’s the truth—you know how we are... Let’s see.... We can have the cash by tomorrow night—okay, Ibraín? We’re going to need five grams—uh—of the good stuff, eh! Okay, so it’s tomorrow night—because we can’t make any down payments right at this moment." "That makes sixty talegos—you have that much?" "Tomorrow, or... maybe the next day—then we’ll be able to advance you some cash—lots of cash, Ibraín... And then after the party on Saturday we’ll give you the balance—okay man...? What’s the matter, don’t you trust us?"

"With 30,000 in my pocket, I’ll trust you—then I’ll give you the five grams—agreed?" "Right there, Ibraín! Agreed then.... But.... everything straight like we just said, eh!..." The Iranian assented by slowly lowering his head.... "Good," he added, "very good." "I just wannnnaa sleeeep!" howled Vanesa, as she kicked and tossed under the covers—"get the hell out—both of you—I need to fuckin’ sleeeeep!!" "Ibraín? Tell me the truth," continued Charo. "Has Alfredo really been bumped up to a grade three?... Vanesa told me that you said—" The Iranian spread his arms and shrugged, "I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it." "But you said yourself.... I jus—I just can’t figure why Alfredo hasn’t come to see me yet... Ibraín, do you know where he is?" He turned his head slowly from side to side.

* * * Vanesa went on shivering. Her feet were freezing and she felt a general chill throughout her body. The last shot had relaxed her a bit, but it was not enough to carry away her deep depression. When she was depressed, Vanesa would cry for hours upon hours. Sometimes she could spend entire days in a sort of prolonged, unceasing sob... Charo hugged her, caressing her arms and back— "We’re going to take a trip to Morocco, Vanesa.... You’ll see—once we get all that money from the party, we’re gonna get outta here—just the two of us... You’ll see, you’ll see..." "No we’re not. We’re never going anywhere." She hiccupped and continued sobbing, her cheeks moist with tears—"Besides, Alfredo would never let you go—as if you didn’t know that already..." "Don’t be silly, Vanesa, and stop crying... We’re gonna get a lot of money at that party on Saturday—and on Sunday or Monday we’re blowing town—just you and me... We’ll go straight to Algeciras and from there we’ll cruise into Morocco..." Charo continued to caress her, but Vanesa only shook her head and continued crying. She curled up tighter in the arms of her girlfriend... "Do... do you promise, Charo?... Are we really going to escape to Morocco?" "I promise. We’re going to, just you and me." "No matter what Alfredo might say?" Charo nodded and Vanesa pressed herself still closer. "But how are we gonna get the money for the coke?" "This is what we’ll do... We’ll fix ourselves up pretty and then we’ll go down to the taxi stand together... And.. that’s that. See how easy it is?" "You wanna go together? Really??" "Yeah!... With the two of us it’ll be a lot easier—well—we’re still gonna have to do about ten guys or so..." Vanesa stopped crying and sat up in bed— "That’s a lotta guys... It’d be better to look for less guys—but ones that’ll pay more... Four or five yuppies—that’d be ideal!" "Also, we could do a threesome—ya know?—Those married businessmen love to do it with two girls at once." "That’d be good too...but... Where are we goin’ to find guys with lots of cash.....these... businessmen.... eh? It’s easy to talk about it, but..." Charo stared off pensively and whispered, "give me a minute to think."

"You know? If Ibraín wants, I can suck him off... I mean it—Ibraín turns me on anyway." "No way—that’ll never happen. Ibraín passes on women." "He’s not a fag! I know he’s not." "No, but he just passes on sex. He’s very cold—we gotta think of something else." "What if we hit the nice clubs and try to pick up some fat-cat?" "You gotta remember, Vanesa, we don’t have enough time for a big set-up." "Well, I guess that’s that—we’ll go to the taxi stand then." Vanesa flopped back down into bed. Her pupils were super-dilated from the pills, the alcohol, and the fix she had just given herself. Charo snuggled close to her and stared at the ceiling in thought. "I’m so tired but I can’t fall asleep," Vanesa moaned—"do we have any more valium?..... Ahhh—and all that beer and moscatel we had with dinner isn’t going to help—just the opposite—it’s going to make us horny.... God! We really need to take a long nap—you think if we shoot up one more time...." "It’s only been a little while since we last shot up, you know"—murmured Charo, while continuing to stare at the ceiling.

"What are you thinking about, Charo?" "I’m remembering how my mother used to be when there was no money in the house. A lot of times my father would come back from the sea without his wages... He would spend it here and there, out partying with his buddies... And my mother would start bawling and shouting—she used to ask him how were we supposed to eat.... And what clothes his girls were going to wear... And how were we going to pay the debt at the market.... My sister and I would hide in the kitchen and listen to their fights.... My father used to hit my mother a lot—and then she started saying that if he wasn’t going to bring money, she was going to get it by whoring in the street... For that, my father beat her even more..."

"We’re not whores.... I’m not a whore..." responded Vanesa. Charo mulled over what Vanesa had just said... After a few moments, she shrugged her shoulders and replied: "But maybe we are." "No, no... Don’t ever say that. We are not whores." Vanesa rested her head in Charo’s lap and passed her hand caressingly over her legs. "I remember one day," recounted Charo, "when my sister, Encarnita, asked my mother if she was a whore and my mother slapped her face and began to cry... She gave Encarnita a big hug in the end though..." "So, was your mother a whore or not?" "No. I’m totally sure about that. And she could’ve been one... When she used to take us into La Coruña, all the men would whistle and catcall at her....." "Fuckin’ guys are all repulsive—stinking pigs—all of ‘em... I mean it—I am disgusted by a man’s touch—I’m never getting married—Never!..... I think I might have been married in one of my past lives—ya know? Each day I am more convinced that I was....." "You are so pretty, Vanesa. I think that you must have been a princess in your other lives."

"Really? Because yesterday I had another dream that I was a princess—hilarious isn’t it? Yeah, I was a sad princess because they had destroyed my castle and killed my father and all my brothers... Didn’t I ever tell you that dream?... It’s a lot like a story I used to listen to on the radio—I think it was called, Bluebeard, but I don’t know... I’m telling you, our dreams must really be memories of our past lives—like—they are flashes of recall—don’t you think?.... I’m positive that I was a princess in some past life. And when I die, who knows?... Maybe I’ll turn into a dog or a cat, or a Japanese soldier.... Still, I would like to have another go-around as a princess—or maybe a woman doctor or architect. ...The thing is, though, you can’t choose what you’re gonna be in reincarnation.

The only thing you have is the memories of your past lives—that’s what dreams are for.."

"Since I was little, I never really wanted to be anything... I mean, I liked to draw, yes, and I liked to try my mother’s clothes on in front of the mirror—but I never thought about growing up and wanting to be something... I thought that all there was, was to get married to a kind and good-looking man—but, that’s the typical thing that all little girls seem to dream about." "Like I said—I’m never getting married." Charo bit her lower lip and grimaced... "You’re not gonna cry," prodded Vanesa—"please tell me you’re not gonna cry." "Why hasn’t Alfredo come, eh? Why hasn’t he been to see me??" "C’mon, honey... Don’t cry." "It’s that..." "C’mon, sweetheart, you’ll see how Alfredo’s gonna come." "Alfredo.... Alfredo.... Come, please come...." "Don’t start in with that, Charo. Go on—tell me another one of your stories."

"I don’t feel like it, Vanesa. I’ve spe... I’ve spent an entire year, thinking about him—I haven’t had sex with anybody—I couldn’t ‘cause I could only think on how much I love him—and now... Look! It’s just... I can’t go through this any longer... I can’t..."

"Tell the story where me and you are the queens of the planet Osiris—go on..." "Which?... Did you say two queens?" "Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the one... You know, it starts out with the captain of the Sacred Guard who has to go to the planet of Birdmen to look for the old man who is the only one that can save the two queens from the evil spell.... Go on—tell it...."

Chapter 8

Despite the suffocating heat in the humid pit of their apartment, Vanesa and Charo laid in bed with their clothes on. The room was gloomy, in an almost semi-darkness, and only a faint white clarity entered through the skylight, revealing streaks of sweat on the sheets.

Antonio grabbed a comic book from one of the chairs and began fanning himself... "Quit fucking around and tell me where my television set is! I want my television set, Charo." "What the fuck are you doing here?!" screeched Vanesa, covering her head with the blanket—"she was just coming to the best part of the story..."

Charo lowered her voice and continued—"it’s just like in the films of Sepúlveda... I love his films! I just saw that one—what’s it called—The girls from...."

"Girls From Here And Girls From There ...I like his films too—well, I like some of them—they’re crisp, quick, and they relate to urban life.... Charo?... What happened to my television set??" "Antonio, why don’t you take me along to see Sepúlveda? His films help me to keep my hopes up and I’d really like to meet him."

"You don’t know..... Sepúlveda is a strange bird... Getting an interview with him is a real chore—I was lucky enough to have a friend who works in motion pictures and she finagled this one for me... I don’t think Sepúlveda would appreciate it if I brought someone else along..."

There were piles of dirty clothes scattered about the room. The bottle of whiskey and the box of cookies which Antonio had contributed to the party, were buried in with the clothes. All over the room, also mixed in with the clothes and strewn on the floor, were empty mineral water bottles. The portable television set was nowhere in sight.

".... I really would have liked to meet Sepúlveda—but that’s okay..." Charo stretched out her arms and showed them to Antonio... "How do they look? Do you think my skin has improved?... It looks like it has to me—it’s softer, smoother... I don’t know—and you? What do you think?" "I think my television set is history—and what the hell’s the matter with Vanesa! she doesn’t feel like talking anymore?"

"She’s sleeping. Don’t wake her up." "The two of you are going to score big on Saturday, Charo.... You guys are real pros." "The one who scores big is Vanesa. She’s got that personality that guys go for... Men seem to love party girls—you know—ones that always keep them smiling."

"And what about you? Aren’t you good for any laughs at these parties?" "Not if there’s cocaine. For me, cocaine doesn’t do anything except keep me from sleeping. What gets me in spirit is a nice joint—you know? Pot really relaxes me and opens me up—then I start laughing.... Just last Summer we went to a fabulous party—really marvi—and the place was a friggin’ mansion in La Moraleja. They paid Vanesa and me 25,000 apiece and all we had to do was swim naked in the big pool. We waited until the host gave us the sign and then we just stripped off our clothes and dove in... And before you knew it, everybody started pulling off their clothes and joining us in the pool—it was a real blast, you know?... ...They had everything: canapés, fancy drinks, lobster, pastries— Well, anyway, I think that was the best party we ever worked... still, almost all the parties are in swank houses...." "So that’s the way it always is? I mean, do you have to get naked and stuff like that?" Charo fixed a glare right on Antonio—

"Antonio, sometimes you really come off as an idiot. What the hell would they give us all that money for, eh?? Fine, maybe they don’t tell us straight out that we have to take our clothes off—but it’s.... understood. One time we were hired to serve drinks at a card game—and when we got there, we realized that they expected us to do it in the raw."

"Okay, I understand... So do you and Vanesa do these parties often?" "Well.... we’ve done five or six—or perhaps seven." "And who finds them for you—that jerk off, Lisardo?"

"Nooo... It’s not like that. It’s all word of mouth, get it? Lisardo maybe got us one or two—but always with his father’s business friends.... Eh, Antonio! You’re jealous, aren’t you?" She chuckled—"I can see you are." "Jealous? You must be fuckin’ kiddin’! Why the hell would I be jealous?" "Don’t worry... I don’t fuck anybody, Antonio. I never let any of them even touch me. All I do is take my clothes off—that’s all. The guys like to look at my body—and so do you, right?" "It’s that... you’re really hot, Charo."

"I know you like me, Antonio... I’m not stupid.... And I like you too—I feel warm all over when I’m with you. But I’m in love with my husband—with my Alfredo... I swore on my soul to him that I would never fuck around while he was in prison."

Somebody pounded on the door. Each blow was clear and dry and resounded through the room, muffling out the conversation of Antonio and Charo. Vanesa sprung up suddenly, as if she were catapulted from a slingshot. "What was that?" She asked. "What’s going on?"

...The pounding resumed... Vanesa rose from the bed and opened the door. Three policemen entered the apartment. Two were uniformed while the other wore jeans and a sports jacket. One of the uniformed cops looked like a teenager—the other, much older. The young one folded his arms and casually leaned against the doorframe.

Vanesa retreated, step by step, toward the bed—she was only wearing some torn panties and a flimsy tee-shirt. "Aren’t you girls going to say, ‘hello’?" sneered the cop, who was dressed as a civilian—"Vanesa, cover yourself already—you’re half naked."

"The older uniform took off his cap and began fanning himself... Vanesa squirmed back into bed with Charo and buried her head under the covers... Nobody had bothered to close the door. "Whaaat a stinkin’ pigsty!" declared the older uniform. Antonio remained quiet and still in his chair.

"Whatta you girls got going here?.... A little party at this hour? Ehhh! Your new house is gorgeous—what, only the two of you live here??" Nobody replied. "I’m talking to you, Charito. Where do you got Ibraín?—hiding under the bed?" "No, no, Mister Rafa.... I swear..." Rafa motioned his head toward the one fanning himself—who in turn—put his cap back on and went to search the bathroom and the kitchenette. He quickly returned, wincing and wrinkling his nose— "Nobody... There’s nobody here—Shit! This stench could derail a train! How the fuck can someone live like this?? ...Jesus!!" "Listen," chirped Charo, "what do you officers want with us?" "Who are you?" asked Rafa, motioning to Antonio. "Do you live here?" "I’m a neighbor." "He must be their boyfriend," joked the older cop and then he repeated: "but, whaaat a stench here—mama mía—I can’t take it anymore!" "So.... just a neighbor, eh?" It wasn’t meant as a question, but Antonio responded anyway. "Yeah, a neighbor.... Aren’t we entitled to know what this is all about?" "Nothing, nothing at all.... We just wanted to stop in and have a chat with your girlfriends." "Well you can go now," peeped Charo. "Please... Ibraín isn’t here." "Listen, sweetheart, we’re all going to behave ourselves here... You know who I am, don’t you? I know all about your little dealings with Ibraín—you’re getting some of his merchandise, aren’t you?? Exactly five grams of perico.... Ahhh... I know everything that goes on in this neighborhood.... But I don’t have anything against you girls—eh! I want Ibraín. I want him so bad that you and I are going to have to join forces... So, you’ll just tell me some little details that I need to know about Ibraín and then I won’t have to take you down to the station. Okay, sweethearts?" "Do you have a warrant?" asked Antonio. "You must be the brains of this outfit, huh?" replied the older cop.... ....The young one continued leaning on the door frame without saying a thing, but paying close attention to all the proceedings... "... So?... Are you a lawyer or something?... Because that’s just what we need to round out this pigsty."

...The three cops pretended not to notice the lemon wedges, the crooked, burnt-black spoon, and the recently used syringes—all of which were scattered about the table... "Besides.... Vanesa let us in," added Rafa. Vanesa popped her head out— "I didn’t let anybody fuckin’ in!" she shouted and then covered her head, concluding: "so get the hell out, for the last time!" "Eh, listen bitch! You keep quiet, okay? Can you fuckin’ understand that??..... If I were you, Vanesa, I wouldn’t let my head spin too much—‘cause we know all about you—all about you—and let me tell you, you’re in no fucking position to be hassling us."

Rafa walked over to the skylight and gazed through the dirty panes at the sky— "But there’s no need for any hostility—we’re all among friends, right? I think I’ve shown you that in the past—I’ve cut you both a lot of slack." "Please... We respectfully request that you vacate these premises because you are here without the consent of the tenants." Rafa abruptly shifted his gaze from the skylight to Antonio, who suddenly discovered the latent tension which had dammed up in this cop... He could see a rigidity in Rafa’s muscles, which suggested a readiness to pounce.... Antonio mentally crumpled in his chair...

"I don’t think I know you—are you new in this neighborhood?" "I have a studio next door—here—right in this building." "Good... good... Let me see some identification—c’mon, snap to it." "There.... are no grounds for me to give you my identification and you know it." "Jesus!.... Jeeezus!!... When I first saw you I thought you were one of those dimwits that roots out girls like these for a little free slap and tickle.... But now it looks like I was mistaken... You are a full fledged imbecile.... Ahhh... But maybe you’re a little slow and you just don’t get it. So let’s go over it one more time—Give—me—your—fucking—identification." The older cop whipped out his billy club and advanced toward Antonio, interjecting— "You don’t want to fuck with me, do you?" Antonio shrunk further into his chair. Rafa grabbed his colleagues arm and stopped him: "Easy, easy, Matías."

"Yeah....‘easy’— the drug addicts and punks have all the rights in the world—and us?.... None. You have the right to flip us the fuckin’ bird—right?" He looked at Antonio with a fury in his eyes—"You better hope I don’t see you on the street you worthless, fuckin’ shit-heel." "He’s trying to act like a tough guy in front of the bitches, Matías... Let it go." "I’m not the one insulting here," spoke Antonio. "You sirs, are the ones insulting. I was just sitting here calmly and minding my own business." The young officer cleared his throat and said, "He’s not worth it, Matías." Rafa finally shoved Matías, who relented and retreated a few paces. Then Rafa turned on Charo, who looked back at him with wide flinching eyes. "If I had a daughter like you, I would kill her—I swear on my mother I would—you filthy, junk shooting, sewer of a whore!" "Hey!... Don’t talk to me like that!" She protested. "You have entered this house without permission and all you have done is insult us," interrupted Antonio.

"You’re just making things hard on yourselves... What happens if we find drugs here?" "What are you talking about?... You have raided this house without a warrant and.......There it is! In the name of the tenants, we request that you leave!" "Yes, yes, go..." added Charo. "I’m sure there are enough drugs here to choke a horse... What the hell do you live on anyway? Don’t you have some sort of work?" "He’s a photographer and a journalist," interrupted Charo, pointing at Antonio "He works for a big publishing house." "That’s right. I’m a photographer for the press. So, if you don’t leave this very moment, I’m going to lodge formal charges in the police court." Antonio now stood up. He still felt the powerful gaze of Rafa, but this time it was curiously different—as if Rafa were seriously evaluating what he had just heard. Rafa placed his hand on Antonio’s shoulder— "Fine, let’s go down together then and lodge those charges in the police court." "I know my rights." "And I know mine—c’mon, let’s go." Rafa led the way to the door.... Charo sprung from the bed, shouting: "Antonio! Where are you going??" "Don’t worry," he replied, "I’ll be right back."

They exited the attic apartment, except for the young officer who remained in the door and could only shake his head in disapproval— "Don’t you have a family?... No father? No mother?... Look at how you live—worse than animals. Can’t you understand?... We don’t have anything against you...but... So why then are you like this??.... "Would you like me to suck you off?" Vanesa asked him—"For you, gratis... How ‘bout it?" Charo chuckled. "All I wanted to say," continued the young officer, "is that we can talk, but don’t say those filthy things." Vanesa sat up and responded: "You wouldn’t be the first cop I’ve sucked off... They all like it a lot." "Please, we have to get up now," said Charo. "Could you leave?" "She’s not wearing any panties," chimed Vanesa. "She never wears them—do you want to see her pussy, big guy?" Vanesa tried to uncover Charo but she resisted and the two of them struggled... Vanesa revealed her tiny panties, made of cheap cotton, but she wasn’t able to part Charo from the sheet. The young officer again began to shake his head in disapproval. "All you’ll ever understand is the stick," he said. Then he turned and left.

Chapter 9

Charo stood waiting for Antonio by the entrance to the police station. When he came out, she took his arm and the two of them walked up la calle Luna toward San Roque. From there, they headed in the direction of la plaza del Dos de Mayo.

"Lisardo took the television set. He wanted to sell it. I had nothing to do with it, I swear." "Fuck! You mean you just let him take it?" "Don’t worry. Lisardo found us a little get-together for tonight... We’ll make some good coin there and then I’ll give you what you paid for it—really..." "Charo, it was a very old television set."

It was almost dark. Charo had opted not to wear a bra and Antonio could feel the touch of her breasts on his arm. They walked for a good while without speaking a word. Every few blocks or so, Charo would look into Antonio’s face and then press herself closer to him... They stopped to have a beer at Paco’s kiosk on the Plaza. Paco’s was overflowing with a good mixture of people: entire families, making their typical racket, old regulars, sitting quietly and taking their medicine—and there was an anti-social group of teenagers, decked in black leather jackets and military boots.... The good weather days were winding down now and everybody was getting in their last licks. Soon, the Autumn rains would begin to fall and the plaza life would close down until the Spring...

Charo told him: "You were wonderful in there, Antonio. Vanesa couldn’t believe it. You didn’t crack once with those fuckin’ cops..." "Listen Charo. That Rafa knows everything. He knows that Ibraín was in your house and worse—he knows all about the five grams you’re going to buy from him. Don’t you think it a little strange?" "You don’t understand. They keep Ibraín on a pretty short leash and Rafa, who is an inspector or something, is behind the whole thing. I don’t know—Rafa has a thing with Ibraín because, some time ago, Ibraín gave him a good beating... The whole neighborhood knows about it."

"But the really weird thing is that he knew about the five grams. I mean, that’s almost unbelievable... Rafa must have an informer—someone very close to Ibraín— someone who gives him every detail..." "A narc?... A cop?... Who could it be?..." "I don’t know... But obviously, the police are being informed about everything... Be very careful, Charo."

Charo nodded pensively between small sips of beer. Paco, one of the owners of the kiosk, approached Antonio’s table. "Have you read the paper?... The city councilor has stated that he’s going to shut down almost half the bars in this neighborhood on suspicion of drug trafficking... This is fucked up.... What would we have to do with drugs??"

"Calm yourself, Paco. They’ll never close this kiosk." Luís, Paco’s brother, interrupted— "When we see someone selling or taking drugs, we throw them out. That’s the only thing we can do"—He trained his eyes on Charo—"right, Charito?" "I don’t make any trouble." Replied Charo. "So much the better," added Paco.

* * * Rosa’s bar was in high gear. Antonio pushed and jostled and in the midst of the crowd crammed into the place, he lost sight of Charo. He got to the bar and ordered a beer... He drank it in one gulp and the cold carbonation inflated his stomach, causing a tickling sensation in his eyes. He didn’t know a soul in the place, although there were some faces that looked vaguely familiar.... He ordered more beers and he forced himself to drink them quickly. He still couldn’t see Charo, or any of the others—he figured they were in the bathroom snorting coke.

In a swirl of activity—people came and went— started conversations with no point and no end—or simply drifted from one side of the bar to the other...

....Vanesa and Lisardo emerged from the bathroom and remained, leaning against the door and grinding their teeth. On the wall to their right was an old poster advertising a Sandanista party.... Lisardo kept his hand under Vanesa’s miniskirt and caressed her ass.... When others would exit the bathroom, the door would push hard against them—but they didn’t seem to mind...."

....Charo had climbed up on a stool at the extreme end of the bar. She swayed and moved her feet to the rhythm of the music. There was a noticeable encrusting of filth on her ankles—as if she had been walking all day without shoes....

....Antonio made his way toward her, a bottle of Mahou in his hand. The music resounded through the place and he felt as if it were coming from his heart—and pounding through his insides... It was reggae or something like that—in any case it was some sort of disco beat.....

"I gotta get a picture of somebody dead from an overdose"—Antonio’s eyes instantly flashed— "It would be stupendous! A junkie, dead in a filthy toilet stall—the needle still stuck in his vein—or in the street, under the glow of a lamppost... I saw a guy going through withdrawal in the police station—it was so terrifying that it was thrilling!" "Don’t say those things," returned Charo. "It’s bad luck.... Whatta you want? You want me to die? Or Vanesa, eh?"

"No, no... I didn’t say that, woman. I don’t want either of you to die. I was just fucking around—kind of my own inside joke—don’t pay any attention to me.... It’s just that... I saw this guy in the police station, sprawled out on the floor and convulsing his way through a mean withdrawal..."

"...I think this beer is making me sick," declared Ugarte, who had suddenly appeared.... He swallowed some pills and burped... "I think I’m going to be really sick—where’s Vanesa?" "Eh!" Charo shouted through the deafening music and bar chatter—"What did you say about beer, Ugarte?" Ugarte pressed a hand on his stomach and shook his head slowly... Antonio suddenly spoke— "Eh, I like it—I like it guys.... I like this song they’re playing now.... I like it a lot..."

* * *

A compact woman with an oozing scab on her cheek and a cut on her nose was saying— "Three Moroccans took me down to Vicálvaro and raped me"—she lightly fingered the wound on her cheek—"they did this number on me with a lighter... I’m not gonna say anything to Gerardo, you know?... I’ll just tell him I fell down..." "There are good Moroccans and there are bad ones," replied another girl with a sharp cut chin. "If you look, you can find good people anywhere."

From the entrance could be heard a sudden bumping and jostling. Antonio saw that Rosa was arguing with two characters who wanted to come in. She seemed to be telling them that it was late and the bar was closed... One of the guys had his head shaved and he wore a black goatee. The other one argued frenetically, flailing his hands about and getting in Rosa’s face. Rosa stood up to both of them and rudely pushed them out of the bar. She locked the door behind them and returned to her place behind the counter.

"The one with the goatee is Dimas—he speaks Chinese," commented the woman with the brand on her cheek. He went to China in ’76 on a scholarship.... They told me he go fed up pretty quick with Maoism, but that he stayed over there anyway and wandered around for a few years. "Dimas?" Queried a fat guy, wearing a threadbare ruddy coat. "Dimas sounds familiar—I think I might know him." "He wrote a book once," added the woman with the burnt cheek.

* * *

Charo had disappeared. So had Vanesa and Lisardo. The only one Antonio saw was Ugarte, who waved to him. He felt a bit sick, weak, and dislocated. Somebody brushed by his side, bumping him and causing part of his beer to spill over himself. His head rang hollow with the bar music resounding inside—and all over his skin he felt the sensation of his hair standing on end...

Rosa emerged from behind the bar with a tray full of beers. She aggressively shoved her way through the crowd, opening a path like a zipper. "Could you bring me another bottle?" Antonio asked her. "Grab one," she replied, offering him the tray. Antonio left his empty bottle on the tray and grabbed a fresh beer. He took a long first swig. The cold carbonated liquid seemed to scrape its way down his throat.

Those two pills that the Dominican looking girl had sold him, were producing noticeable effects. From the feel of them, they worked far and away better than the Parkinson’s medication which Vanesa and Charo were in the habit of buying... They even seemed to work better than Valium—which only worked if you drank a shitload of beer... Antonio was determined to remember the face of the Dominican, so he could buy these pills again—they were top quality.

* * *

A slim young woman—dressed in black, eyes closed—was dancing barefoot. Someone had changed the reggae tape and put on Los Chunguitos.

The woman in black began to sway her hips artfully, while the crowd around her clapped their hands and cheered her on.... She was petite—without breasts—and she seemed to only move by way of sway...and slither... As soon as Los Chunquitos ended she made a final serpentine bend and then sat down by Ugarte’s side. Ugarte responded by gripping her narrow waist and pulling her tightly close.

"Eh, Antonio, look man!" shouted Ugarte—"Have you seen how she can dance—she’s a ballerina!" "Antonio showed his teeth and she returned the smile. But he was still in the effects of those pills—he was bombarded by a salvo of cold shivers which penetrated his torso and arms such that he didn’t note the movement of his hands.

"Yoo hoo! Yoo hoo!!" Howled Ugarte—"Eh, Antonio—hey man—how’s it goin’!! Look at me, man! This is the shit!.... The real shit!..."

Ugarted tried to kiss the girl on the lips, but at that precise moment, she pulled away and turned, allowing his lips only to reach the back of her neck... Ugarte groped his hands around and pressed and fondled and then he pulled up her tee-shirt, revealing her tiny white breasts with their diminutive pink nipples. He hugged her more and tighter, sticking to her like adhesive.

"Eh, Antonio, Macho!!" He shouted again—"Get a picture of me now, man! Look at what a beautiful thing..."

Antonio shook his head slowly. He felt like he would fall down right there... He clenched his teeth tightly and regained some balance, saying— "I didn’t bring my Leica." Ugarte squinted up his face, asking— "What? What did you say?" Antonio walked over to him. He made sure to bring along his half empty bottle of Mahou. "I don’t have my camera," he repeated. "Eh, listen up Antonio... This is Bárbara—she’s a ballerina." She pulled down her tee-shirt and offered her hand— "Actress... I’m an actress." "Pleased to meet you," responded Antonio. "He works in the press," continued Ugarte. "He’s a photographer. I’ve already told you all about him—right, Bárbara? ....He’s a famous guy and a close friend of mine." "I’m making a portfolio that I can show to people in Television... I’d like to be an announcer or maybe a game show hostess... Whatever." "This one is a genius at photography, eh Antonio!" Ugarte slapped him on the shoulder— "Isn’t that right, man?... I told Bárbara all about it... He’s the balls when it comes to making pictures." "Do you know somebody in Television?... Like...uh...." She bit her lip—"Uhhh, I think his name is Gonzalo and he produces the show, Un, dos, tres... Do you know him?" "Yeah, well... Anyway, I know plenty of other people in Television." Antonio turned to Ugarte—"You have any Nolotil? I got a mean headache." "No, but sit tight and don’t worry—I’ll find you some..." He gave Bárbara a little pinch on the shoulder and then turned to Antonio, adding—"Careful—eh man! Don’t start trying to hook up with her!" After Ugarte left, Bárbara resumed her chatter—

"How many photos do you think a portfolio should have?... A girlfriend of mine told me there should be ten and they should be very big and backed in cardboard....oh!.... and in frames..." "Hmmm, well yeah... Ten is fine for a portfolio... So tell me—you’re really an actress? I mean, have you done any acting and all that?" "Oh sure—lots. Lots and lots—uh—well, I’m not going to count High School... But still, I’ve done quite a few things. Are you familiar with the Escorpión Ensemble?.... Well, we were going to do productions of, La casa de Bernarda Alba and Bodas de Sangre." "Escorpión? I don’t think so... Who are they?" "It’s an independent play company that usually puts on two productions a year... Last year we prepared, La casa se Bernarda Alba and Bodas de Sangre. But since this reactionary government wouldn’t grant us a subsidy.... Well, we couldn’t put on anything... Besides, I have a job now—you know?... I work at a sauna in la plaza de las Comendadoras... Still, I rehearse every day—in my house—although I’d really like to get into Film or Television... If I could get into Television as an announcer or hostess.... Well, that would be something—wouldn’t it? So... little by little..."

"Yeah, it takes a lot of time and a lot of work." "You know..... Could you do the photos for me? I would like that very much. I don’t care what kind of work I get, so long as it’s in Television—you know?... I could be a hostess, an announcer, a presenter, or a model... Whatever.... If I put heels on I can be much taller—and if I fix myself up with the right make-up, I can look a lot older.... Do you have a studio? If you want, I could come to your studio and we’ll do a photo shoot. My apartment is no good—it’s too small... Well... there’s no way—not in my apartment." "Yeah, you could come to my studio. It’s close by on la calle Velarde, right on the corner of the Plaza. One of these days we’ll make an appointment and you’ll come." Bárbara’s eyes lit up— "Reeeally?? And how much will you charge me." "No charge." Bárbara clapped her hands in delight— "Okay then, what should I wear?... You... What do you suggest?" "We’ll decide about that later." Antonio thought he heard the voice of a woman asking him—"Are you holding?" It was a hoarse voice that betrayed a tinge of anxiety. He closed his eyes, attempting to cope with the shivers and the headache....

...He saw red bodies, silhouetted in blue.....White sparkles exploded in his head... Bárbara’s mouth open and closed like the shutter of a slow camera—and no sound seemed to emerge from her.... There were other voices and shouts and laughter, all blending with an immense general murmur—devoid of form and content....

He closed his eyes again...

Next month, chapters: 10, 11 & 12