Días Contados

(Numbered Days)

Chapters 10, 11, & 12

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 the life in Madrid at the end of "la movida."

Here is the fifth installment of our serialization. --Matthew Cornetta, Translator.

Chapter 10

A large group had massed around the door, trying to get out. "There’s a fight"— somebody shouted. Antonio clutched his bottle of beer and staggered toward the door with the others. La plaza del Dos de Mayo darkly glowed under the pale light of the street lamps. There was a loud commotion of shouts and jeers coming from the crowd which had formed a large ring around the entrance to the bar, El Arco.... Through countless upstairs windows, Pajama clad neighbors peered down at the fight. Antonio checked himself from drawing any nearer. He did not feel up to participating in the confusion and muddle... Somebody suddenly shouted: "Kill him, kill him!" There was a lone, high-pitched scream of a woman.

Antonio saw a young couple coming from the ring of spectators. The boy wore a ponytail with his head shaved close on the sides. His girlfriend was ghost-like in color and large bags hung under her eyes. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen.... "Eh....eh?" Antonio asked—"What’s going on in there? Are they really beating on each other?" The girl nodded, covering her mouth with her hand—as if she were ashamed of being amused by a fight. The boy added: "Abdelkader is giving Loren something real special—some kicks in the head and some more in the chest. I think he might even kill him..." —He looked toward his girlfriend—"Right?"

She nodded again, without letting her hand drop from those grinning lips. Antonio took a swig of his beer which seemed even colder than when it was served. He mused that if he had only brought his camera, the photos would have turned out marvelous.... But Antonio still shivered. He was cold and his head pounded so—that he could not think long on anything beside his own discomfort.

"...Yeah—the past few days, Abdelkader has been talking about smashing Loren’s head—that’s what I’ve heard..." The guy spoke, all the while keeping his head turned toward the commotion. His girlfriend did the same—

"It’s awesome," she yowled. The two of them turned back toward Antonio and stood, monkey-like, staring at him—perhaps mired in their own thoughts. Antonio backed away and spun around, recognizing Rosa at the entrance of her bar. She rubbed her forearms for a brief moment and then disappeared inside.

Sporadic shouts and whistles rose from the great huddle of people around the fight. Although some onlookers had left to pursue more drinking—new arrivals constantly took their places and the crowd even seemed to increase.

Antonio suddenly caught sight of a character whom he thought he recognized. He was a tall, thin, gangly guy and he stood arm in arm with a woman... He looked very much like a renowned photographer with whom he’d had some dealings.... But Antonio wasn’t sure anymore... The gangly guy and his woman stood transfixed as they watched from a distance—staring blankly as if they had forgotten what they were doing there.

* * *
With the bottom of a beer bottle, Ugarte crushed some Aspirins and Nolotils. Antonio fingered the powdered mixture and then raised it to his lips, swallowing it with the help of a beer. Ugarte assured Antonio that, in a short while, he would be feeling a lot better—that this mixture never failed... To Antonio, the powder tasted like an infusion of salt and copper—in both eye sockets he felt a pressure akin to tightening pliers.... Then suddenly—the pain in his head began to gently subside. Ugarte remained somewhat somber and quiet. His eyes scanned the room, looking for Bárbara. But Bárbara wasn’t there. She most likely had gone to another bar... All the people seemed to be evaporating into a moist blue cloud which impregnated the entire room.

....Somebody stumbled, falling to the floor. A nearby girl burst out in an annoying laugh which drowned out the unfamiliar music... ....A long haired guy, or maybe a girl—from the back there was no telling—was saying something about someone to whom something had happened in some other place— ".....You wouldn’t believe how we were goin’—against traffic, at least a hundred an’ eighty—I think.... The trees were passing us like.... What a trip, man! An’ you shoulda seen the monkey faces on the other drivers—mouths like trap doors—beeping at us—jerkin’ their steering wheels....Ha! What a fuckin’ trip!... Fantastic beyond belief, man!! An’ it musta lasted at least a half an hour before there were any cops.... There I was—25,000 ($200.00) right in my pants pocket—man!— You couldn’t hallucinate up something better.... 25,000! That’s what we got from this jerk off—that’s 25,000 for me and 25,000 for Chema.... Yeah, he must have been one a those bastards—one a those bastards with money—ya know?? And he goes.... He says, in the middle of the conversation, that we didn’t have the balls to go down Paseo Castellana against traffic....

UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE MAN!!... And Chema’s sayin’—‘I got bigger balls than a bull, man—but you gotta fork over—c’mon get it out....’ And the guy says: ‘Twenty-five talegos man....?’ And then, this bastard just pulls it right out—‘here it is’—he says.... I mean, I coulda said thirty or fifty—whatever—he still woulda given it to us... This guy... I mean this idiot was fixed with money galore—but you could tell it wasn’t his.... He was hangin’ on to this smokin’ rich chick—you know the type, right?... All she did was giggle the whole fuckin’ time—rich bitch. Anyway, me and Chema hopped in the car and drove the wrong way straight up to Plaza de Castilla—what a motherfuckin’ ride! A trip, man—a trip!!... Then we went on over to Oh Madrid to look for Alvaro—but he was gone...."

"Fuck! I think I lost it!" somebody said. "Real good, real fuckin’ good," replied another.

* * *

Ugarte was saying: "Japanese motorcycles are really good—maybe even the best. But ya still gotta remember they’re really just imitations of the Americans... Italian bikes are pretty good too—yeah they have some sweet models..." He turned his head from side to side, peering toward the corners of the room. He kept scratching the wood on the bar top—"But... the thing I’d like most would be to competition ride 250cc bikes... Did I ever tell you that, Antonio?"

"I think you just might have." The bathroom door swung open and out came two match stick sized girls with painted hair. Antonio felt bloated from all the beer, yet he was genuinely feeling a bit normal again—seeing things clearly and perceiving almost all the sounds and stimuli... He thought that maybe he should buy Ugarte a beer because he hadn’t charged for the pills....

"Did you know we used to have a cow?" "How ‘bout a beer, Ugarte?" Antonio signaled to Rosa by lifting his half-empty bottle in one hand and flashing two fingers with the other. These gymnastics caused him to stumble and he clutched for the bar, catching himself at the last moment.

".....Her name was Blanca. She was a beautiful animal—real beautiful... And I think she grew to like me and then maybe even love me... Every morning, me and my mother would go to milk her and I can still remember so much about it... The barn had a sort of pretty smell—like the smell of a place of peace... My mother would go about with the milking and I would pet Blanca—and she would look at me and I would look back.... I just loved those mornings with my mother—early mornings—when the sun had just risen—I mean it was still almost night...."

Ugarte drew close to Antonio and squeezed his arm. Antonio noted an acid smell on his breath.... "And the roosters were crowing, ya know?.... I can remember so much about those days—that time of my life, when I would go with my mother to milk the cow... Later, when she died, I....."

.....There was a young guy—thin, pallid, greasy haired—looked like a student.... He kept his back to the wall, as if pressed there, and he moved strangely to the music... The two girls with the painted hair—the ones who had just exited the bathroom—danced with the wall guy, gyrating their arms....

Antonio figured that they must have come together—for they were the only ones dancing in the whole place. Each one danced their own dance—self absorbed in the music— aloof, disconnected, distant—perhaps even alien.....

Ugarte continued, all the while scraping the bar with his fingers. He kept shifting his glance on a spot in the way back of the bar. Antonio still hadn’t understood if, in his story, it was the cow or his mother who died. He thought about asking, but then he let it go when Rosa arrived with their beers.

He passed one of the bottles to Ugarte and drank from his own—now without the shivers and the headache... Ugarte paid no attention to the beer and kept on with his story. He could be scarcely understood above the general racket of the bar.

".....That’s when I fell into the well," continued Ugarte. "I must have been about...let me see... four or five—or maybe a little older—maybe six or seven. I don’t remember... The well was..... What I’m trying to say is, it was a deep, dark well and I was always afraid of it. Still, I used to like to stick my head over the edge and shout and make echoes. I used to believe that there were monsters living down at the bottom—kid’s stuff—ya know? I thought that the monsters would only come out at night—and they were gross, slimy monsters like giant snails without shells—wild, huh?? What baby imagination stuff, no? ....Anyway, I’ll never forget the day I fell into that well... I must have gotten dizzy or something and I fell. I can remember all the cold water I swallowed—dark, cold water... I can picture it all now as if it happened only yesterday—and when I think about it, it gives me the shivers like someone throwing a wet blanket over me.... I couldn’t see there in the dark, ya know? Everything was black and I couldn’t tell up from down—I didn’t know if I was dead or alive... I didn’t know anything besides that I was stuck in the well with the monsters who were going to suck me under and eat me... Later, they told me that the well was almost dry—that there was very little water or else I would’ve drowned... I almost drowned though, anyway... But it’s true—there was so little water that I—a little kid—could stand on my feet without being covered. But I didn’t know that at the time... The only thing I could think about were the damn monsters that were going to suck me down and eat me... All I thought about was not drowning—not to drown—not to drown—was all that passed through my head. And... You see, the well didn’t have a hard floor—it was all mud, ya know? And I was slowly sinking, getting colder and colder.... I’ve never been colder than when I fell into that well... ...Anyhow, it all happened in the afternoon and my mother must have been in the kitchen—or somewhere in the house... I just kept screaming—mamá, mamá—and waving my arms, trying to fend off the monsters because I thought I felt them crawling up my body... I saw them, Antonio, I really saw them and felt them... I wasn’t imagining it, I swear... Oh, how I screamed and cried! But nobody came.... My mother was doing her thing and my father was working in the fields.... And there I was, shouting and screaming till my throat went raw... And nobody came... See the great things that happened to me when I was a child?... Antonio, I don’t think anybody has gone through what I have—I mean it’s been ten or twelve years already and I remember like it was yesterday!... I’ll always remember it.... Things like that you never get out of your head... I’m telling you—there I was, shouting and screaming the whole afternoon until—finally my father returned from work, wondering where I was. You see, I usually waited for my father to return from the fields and when he didn’t see me.... They told me that I must have been down there for more than four hours—screaming the whole time.. Well, I didn’t scream the whole time, but I did lose my voice—I was a mute—when I opened my mouth, nothing came out... Still, I thought I was screaming and kicking away the monsters.... Vanesa told me that experiences like these, leave deep scars on people—I don’t know, like on our personalities and stuff.... The whole next week I was bedridden with a horrible fever... Vanesa says that’s why I sleep with my head under the covers—that it’s a reaction to..... What would I know??... I just think that it was amazing what happened to me—movie stuff—and I don’t think anything like this ever happened to anyone else... Vanesa says that she would have turned gray and died if she fell down that well. She says that some people go totally gray after a fright—but that never happened to me—probably because I was such a young kid—don’t you think Antonio?"

Ugarte’s lips were trembling. On the bar top there was virtually a map of innumerable roads which he had scratched out with his fingernails...

Antonio responded: "Are you gonna drink that beer? It’s paid for, you know—I got it in return for the pills you gave me." Ugarte took a long swig from the bottle and then leaned back on the bar. His cheeks glistened with moisture as if he’d been crying... It was too dark for Antonio to know for sure... "...I keep thinking about that cow—about Blanca. If she hadn’t died I would’ve never fallen into that well—ya know?.. I used to spend the whole day with her—petting her, tickling her, talking to her... It’s when she died that I started playing with the well and all the shit happened... As soon as I buy my bike, Antonio—well—as soon as I get all the things I want—everything’s gonna be different." "Uhh.... Have you seen Charo?" asked Antonio, his eyes surveying the entire room... "She’s with Vanesa and Lisardo... They’re in..... I don’t know—I saw ‘em when I went to get the pills. Lisardo got himself a set of wheels and the three of them were inside jerking each other off—I don’t know—somethin’ about they were gonna see somebody who was looking for Lisardo.... Some guy... I think he owns a clothes store near Quevedo.... He’s into a lot of money or somethin’—that’s what Vanesa says anyway.... So, Lisardo started the thing up and off they went—the girls in the back and him up front..."

Antonio now realized that the beads of moisture on Ugarte’s cheeks were tears—he was sure—it couldn’t have been anything else...

Chapter 11

"It used to be—or at least it was in the Sixties—that you could make more money in Germany or in Switzerland—well, in any other place beside Spain... But nowadays.... Nothing doing... Get this. Three of us were having lunch in this shitty restaurant in Hamburg—by the way, there’s no eating in Germany, you’re better off starving... Anyway, Rupert, our liaison over there, goes ahead and asks me how much I make. I tell him 10,000 marks a month clean—or net—whatever... Now, get this... Rupert just sits there and turns to stone... He only makes 7,000!!"

A woman responded: "That’s just what I’m talking about. There’s a big cluster fuck with this whole ‘European Community’ thing. And they’re just as fucked over there as we are here. I’m making about 450,000 ($3,500) a month and my title is chief editor—right? Well.... This woman, Nadine, who happens to be my brother’s girlfriend.... Well, she is the chief editor of L’Express and she makes 18,000 francs—which is about...."

"Somewhere in the neighborhood of 360,000 ($3,000) if you do the exchange rate at twenty"..... Interrupted the first man—"Anyway, it’s pocket change...."

"Well, this Nadine couldn’t believe that I make more than she does. Everybody still thinks that Spain is in the lunch box economy of the Sixties. It’s incredible, you know? No matter what, they can’t let go of the stereotype. I mean these days, a run of the mill journalist—I’m talking bottom rung now—clears at least 200,000 ($1,500) a month—"

"—And don’t forget, that’s on an annual cycle of fifteen monthly payments," added another woman—"other countries don’t have so many..." "Nor so many holidays," declared a third woman, chain smoking petite cigarettes which she drew from a tin case. ".....If you only knew how much Social Security I have to pay for my assistants....." "You’re an entrepreneur, woman—" said the man—"an exploiter of our own country, I expect."

"And you’re talking shit again," the woman in question snapped. "I have three assistants and I have to shell out 80,000 ($650.00) a month for each—not to mention, compensation, insurance and all the other drags.... You tell me—eighty bills just to take care of some clothes??? Still, the truth is, that they are wonderful... They never complain—seriously. ......But me?? An exploiter?? No way... You can ask them yourself—you’ll see what they say... But anyway, back to the point—I agree with you, Luís; in other countries they believe that we still dance around wearing mantillas and sticking carnations in our teeth..."

"And meanwhile, we’re making more than all of them—Christ!" Remarked Luís, and then continued—"And that’s the way it is, so we don’t have to beat this issue any longer... Besides, here they give us vouchers worth 2,000 pesetas ($16.00) for any lunches we eat in neighboring restaurants—something our German clients never heard of... Then, when we travel, they throw us 15,000 ($120.00) per diem for meals!! —and mind you—that doesn’t include what they give us for hotels, special breakfasts, taxis to and from the airport....."

"...Eh! I just have to tell you all the latest gossip," squealed a woman who up to now hadn’t spoken.....

* * *

Charo flashed a sweet smile, as she was genuinely happy to see him. At her side, stood Lisardo and Vanesa, arms wrapped around each other. "...Fifteen, man—fifteen bills—ain’t that marvi?? Ain’t that just too marvi??" chattered Vanesa. Antonio braced himself against the bar, making sure never to let go of his beer... "What music are they playing now," he thought—"The Gypsy Kings?" Vanesa wrinkled her lips and continued... "Hey, photo man! Hey, asshole!" She laughed... "We’re not buying any TV’s with this money...eh! This we save for the coke." "Are you bored, Antonio?" asked Charo... "Is this place giving you a headache?" "No... no way." He responded.... "Everything’s just fine—yes sir—just fine... Do you know that I’m goin’ to make the best book that..... I bet they’ll let me call all the shots and I’ll command a first-rate writer who’ll.... Uh... wait a second..."

"What?" puzzled Charo. "Are you gonna buy me a beer?" "Just a beer?!" Interrupted Vanesa. "What about all those photos he shot of you, Charo?? Make him pay for that, because I think this guy’s screwing us." "Yeah.....beer," slurred Antonio. "I’m buyin’.... Oh... I was telling you that I’ll command—no, better yet—I’ll do the captions for the photos myself. Yeah, myself. You think I don’t know how to write? Well, I’ll do just fine—Text and Photos by Antonio Santos. Or maybe Toni Santos—has a nice ring, don’t ya think? .....Toni Santos: National Medal winner for photography." "Just order the beers, man." Sneered Vanesa. "And don’t get too wrapped up in yourself." She made a calling sign to Rosa, who seemed not to notice.

"Step up and grab yourself one," shouted Lisardo. "I get one too!" he motioned to Antonio—"You also did some portraits of me, right?... Well then, get me a beer too." "......The Leica is the best camera in the world—the most durable—the best technically designed lens.....Mechanical too—none of this ‘automatic’! ....It was the camera of choice for Robert Capa and Man Ray... Get yourself a fifty millimeter lens—and not even a reflex....You gotta go out and get close-up to life—no telephoto—no long distance.... And it’s a smooth, quiet running mechanism too.... Oskar Barnack designed it—he’s German." "Are you gonna have another beer, Antonio?" Charo asked. Vanesa was poking her fingers around Lisardo’s fly, while he talked on and on to a very elegant looking young man. When the man laughed, he would chuckle affectedly and rest his hand on Lisardo’s shoulder... He was telling a story about a dinner he had with some big Television presenter.. .....The Gypsy Kings faded out and were replaced by another record... Vanesa shifted to the bar, shouting to the staff that she wanted a beer... Apparently, Rosa had gone off somewhere... After some effort, Vanesa secured the beers and passed them around. The barman approached Antonio and tapped him on the shoulder—"Eh, you man," he was saying—"that’s 1,200, c’mon."

Antonio passed over the money. "You can’t believe..." Lisardo was saying—"the things been goin’ down around here—I assure you..." Vanesa coiled herself around Lisardo while drinking her beer. "We had him dazed," she crowed. "What a fuckin’ sap—mama mía...." "If you coulda seen my girls, photo man.... The balls man—something even you couldn’t picture... They waltzed right into his office—they wouldn’t let me in to watch though.... But these two... Tell him about the office, girls." "Posh. Super posh." Said Charo—"Some kind a mahogany table, a Persian rug the size of a soccer field... You’d shit your pants if you saw this stuff... And, and....." "And the sofa!" exclaimed Vanesa. "Tell them about the sofa..." "Well, the guy sat down on the sofa and just pulled it out," began Charo. "But right before, we had pricked ourselves with a fix... And what a prick it was—eh, honey?... Anyway, the guy pulls it out, right?... But then he starts getting pushy, no? Wasn’t it that way, Vanesa—aren’t I right?" "Charo pulled up her skirt, and gave him the whole show." Vanesa explained—"And then the jerk off goes and...."

"Pubic hair..." Charo interjected. "I showed him my pubic hair. He’s one of those guys who likes them really hairy... He’s some kind of friend of Lisardo’s family—some rich creep... And all I do is flash some pubic hair and he starts whimpering, getting hotter than a.... Man....! Then this weirdo starts making revving noises like a motorcycle. It was unbelievable! He came twice—and right away..."

Vanesa was choking with laughter. "....Te... tell.... keep telling, honey—I’m gonna piss my pants..." "...Nothing..." Charo leaned against the bar and looked at Antonio. Then she went on—"I moved a little closer to the guy so he could sniff me, right?.... I showed him the front, the back... And then this one"— She pointed to Vanesa—"She starts to suck him off—the first time he didn’t even last a half a minute..." Vanesa began to cough uncontrollably, gripping her crotch with one hand and barely keeping her beer from spilling with the other.

"I’m gonna piss.... I’m gonna piss!!" "This guy’s one for the books!!" howled Lisardo... "He’s a friend of my father—owns a good boutique and he pays in advance....15,000!!($120.00) Well, that and what more he paid me—yeah—he really took us for a ride, eh!" Vanesa gripped her stomach: "This money’s not for spending. No way—I’m keeping it here, tucked away in my panties." "You’re gonna have to up my commission, girls—eh? Cause, I’m your guy—I’m the one who found him for you...." "Cheers," said Antonio, raising his bottle of beer. "I feel close to you guys because you’re real friends and I’m goin’ to make the best photo journal the world has ever seen.... Now all I need is a good title." "We’re not spending any of this money," reiterated Charo—"not one red cent... Ya know what that guy told us? He said he liked us real special and that we should go back to see him. He’s a really important guy and he’s got an incredible boutique... Next time we’re gonna ask him for some clothes—some skirts, some blouses and whatever.... Right, Vanesa?..." But Vanesa wasn’t available for response, as she had her tongue inserted deep in Lisardo’s mouth... Small rivulets of saliva trickled down their cheeks....

"The book’s goin’ to be a masterpiece. By this time next year, I’ll have the National Medal for photography... I’m not gonna have any problems with... with the editing..." He seized Charo by the shoulder and she almost lost her balance. She recovered and swayed into the music.... "Have I ever told you about my brother, Pascual?... He’s my editor..." "A.....a book?" replied Charo quizzically. "You’re gonna write a book?" "Not exactly a book... A portfolio of my photography. Right now, everything’s going good—I’m sure of it... You’ll see—there’s going to be photos of Malasaña, of you guys.... Just a little writing—captions or whatever..." "That’s what you take pictures of my pussy for? Jesus! Why does every guy just wanna see this" —she grabbed her crotch—"You’re all pigs—vulgar pigs..." "Of whatever money I make on this book, I’m going to give you a percentage, Charo, I swear... I just need one more clincher photo—a junky, dead from overdose....but...uh—excuse me—I know you don’t like me talking about that."

"You know what? Alfredo’s been released from prison and sent to a minimum security lock-up with day-release probation. Yeah—a friend told me she saw him on the street just the other day... But still, he hasn’t come to see me. D’ya think he might have stopped by the house when I wasn’t there?? Maybe he couldn’t ‘cause he was being watched... I wrote him a letter—you want me to read it to you?" Charo took out a folded paper and showed it to Antonio... "I wrote it three times so it would be neat and pretty..."

Charo read the letter with great movement of her lips. She struggled over some words as if she were chewing through rubber... Antonio thought he might have heard an, "I adore you" or, "I love you very much" along with other such endearments... But he was thinking about his book and about the string of good luck and opportunity which was bringing it to completion. He thought the book would look best with photos in black and white—yeah! Black and white—coarse grained—with lots of contrast!

.....Suddenly, he began to miss Emma—the sound of her voice—the sound of her footsteps passing through the house. He wanted to tell her to have confidence in him. He wanted to tell her all about the book—that it would be the best collection of photos ever done—that he was going to be rich—very rich and famous... He thought about the critics too—about the interviews on Television—on documentaries—on the promotional trips and the invites to give seminars and conferences... It could have been like that the previous year anyway.... If he had only gotten that shot of the young mother and child who hurled themselves from the viaduct... No, no—this book would be even better, he thought... He already saw the reviews:

"With his latest book, Antonio Santos has shown himself more mature, more poetic and still he has maintained that original, sensitive simplicity which characterized the work of his formative years... Antonio Santos is our premier photographer—only his eyes can capture what others......"

....Behind the bar, Rosa busied herself washing glasses—her sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Antonio attempted to get her attention by tapping her on the arm— "Rosa. Eh, Rosa?.... I gotta use the telephone. I want to call Emma.... I have to see her tomorrow and I want to tell her.... You see, she has this book I need and..... Do you even have a telephone in this place?..." Rosa lifted her tired head, revealing a pallid face which seemed out of joint... Large dark bags had begun to form under her eyes... She responded, matter of factly, without interrupting her labors: "Yeah, we have a phone." Antonio heard a noise from behind—an unexpected movement which he sensed was a scuffle. He turned around and there was Ugarte, gripping Vanesa tightly by her upper arm and attempting to drag her off somewhere. Vanesa struggled fiercely, layering Ugarte with a salvo of kicks and slaps— "Take your hands off me—idiot—shitbrained imbecile!! Let go!!!" She shouted—"Asshole! Let go....! I told you to let fuckin’ go—fuckin’ asshole!!" But Ugarte held her firmly and his eyes only widened into great, white disks. His mouth stretched open, as it was costing him dearly to breathe— "We... we hafta talk... You and me hafta have a talk, Vanesa. C’mon. come with me for a while...." "No! Let go—I’m not goin’ fuckin’ anywhere with you!" "I told you, you’re coming!" Ugarte crossed her face with a powerful slap... Vanesa froze, in a split second of silence, and then reacted—

"Son of a whooore!!" she howled and threw herself against him, peppering his face with her small fists—"You don’t touch me, asshole!..... Son of a whoooore!!" Ugarte didn’t even attempt to defend himself... With his free hand, he slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his knife. In the semi darkness of the bar, the knife appeared as a white tongue. "I’m gonna kill you, bitch!" he gasped. Vanesa timidly retreated, when Ugarte suddenly cut a deep slice in his left wrist. .....Blood dotted the floor.

The whole place hushed and the crowed backed away. Ugarte continued to work the blade into his wrist, without taking his eyes off Vanesa— "Look what I’m doing, Vanesa," he said, showing her the blood running down his arm—"Look." Rosa shoved her way through the crowd and jumped toward him— "Gimme that knife," she demanded—her hand extended—"C’mon, give it to me." Ugarte let it drop to the floor and he groaned in pain. Rosa seized him about the neck and Ugarte could only raise his left arm, revealing the wound. The blood poured as if from a spigot and it spattered everything in proximity. "Look, look at me," howled, Ugarte while Rosa corralled him—"Look at me, Vanesa, look!"

They disappeared behind the bathroom door. A girl crouched down to pick up the knife and somebody shouted: "don’t touch it—he might have AIDS." The girl backed away and vanished into the crowd.


Chapter 12

A darkness hung over the Plaza. It was the metallic, blue-black that always precedes daybreak. The sun was on its course yet shadows still persisted.... The surrounding streets glutted with all the noisy, hell raisers who flowed from the bars—some off to other places, some to their beds... Maravillas and Lady Pepa, both on la calle San Lorenzo, remained open and they would soon be filled with those who feared the ending of the night.. But it was night’s end—that fragile moment when all the world seeks someone to cling to. A bottle was smashed amidst rollicking laughter.....

* * *

"The sight of blood sickens me," revealed Bárbara. "It’s just that I can’t stomach any act of violence..." Antonio searched out her hand and pressed it— "We’re going to your place for a drink, right?" "I guess so... I get good vibes from you... How about you from me?" "Yeah, vibes... whatever.... Besides, you’re pretty hot.... We’re gonna fuck, right?" "Of course... I really want someone inside me and you’re right enough." "You’re not so bad yourself." "...And we still have to talk about the clothes I’ll be wearing for the portfolio—eh? I want everything to come out first class."

"It’ll be first class, you’ll see." "....You know.... From the start, I knew that Ugarte and I didn’t have good vibes. It’s all very simple—just a matter of vibes—ya know?... Either there’s a chemistry or there isn’t... You and me... now we have chemistry." "You’ll do just fine with the pictures, Bárbara, you’re very photogenic." "I’m an actress. I put my body and soul into the role and I become that character... Right now I am studying under, Fue...Fo... Wait—I don’t remember... Well, he’s Italian anyway." "Darío Fo," replied Antonio. "That’s him." She responded "That’s his name."

....In a dark doorway a man was shooting up. He wore his hair in an afro and a gleaming pendant twinkled on his ear. Nearby, another man-—very young, almost boyish—was preparing a shot, heating up a spoon, his bottle of beer resting at his feet. ....A motorcycle clicked and roared into ignition, with the girl on the back, shouting—"Shiiiiit!"

* * *

Bárbara lived on la calle del Tesoro, very close to la Plaza de Marqués de Santa Ana. Her apartment was cramped, but clean—a little mouse trap on the top floor. No sooner was she in the door, than she lit her pachuli burner and put on a Zen meditation tape. She explained that it was the sounds of pastoral winds, riffling through the branches of trees, amidst the trills of birds awaiting daybreak. They sat on the floor, each cupping a glass of sweet wine in both hands. Sweet wine was the only beverage in the house.... One entire wall was covered by a blue tapestry, dotted with flecks of silver foil. Each fleck was carefully and artfully arranged in a pattern which suggested a starry sky. Among the stars, there was also a scattering of cabalistic signs and symbols... In the far corner, a giant photo of a long haired man in full white tunic, presided over some sort of sacred niche.

Bárbara explained that it was a picture of Mhisane Kudú, an Indian saint and true apostle who always brought her good luck. Bárbara blew a kiss in the direction of the picture— "He is a guiding force in my life," she continued. "When he looks at me, he sends me a positive essence." Antonio couldn’t make head or tail of the music on the cassette. It seemed to be a monotonous, intense, murmur—increasing and diminishing and interspersed with sharp, screeches—sort of like the sounds of faraway traffic. They sat listening for a long while. At the end of one enduring segment, Antonio said: "Yesterday afternoon I was in the police station and there was this badly wounded guy—I don’t know—he was crying... He had a hole in his head and a lot of blood was coming out And he had this kid with him—couldn’t have been more than fourteen—probably his son... I think the whole thing was over him getting his wallet stolen or something.... Well, I could see the kid was ashamed to see his father crying... All he did was fidget with his hands and look down at the floor. Then—there was this other convulsive freak going through withdrawals—imagine?? I would love to have gotten some pictures, but it’s prohibited.—sure..... Man! That guy in withdrawal was fluttering like a leaf—drooling all over himself, his eyes pure white, blank... Were they going to give him methodone or what??" "In the ‘gobi’?.... You were in the ‘gobi’?"

"Yeah. They were questioning me about some big drug dealer named Ibraín. They asked if I knew his real name and other shit. Anyway, I don’t have any priors, so they let me go right away. Jesus! I’ve never been in the police station before. Pascual, my brother, sure—lots of times when he was a student... Man....I never saw so many whores and Africans..." Antonio kissed Bárbara on the mouth. She let him but she didn’t kiss back. When they separated, the first streaks of daylight were filtering through the curtains of the solitary window... "Oh," squealed Bárbara, "the magic hour has arrived... Do you want to take your clothes off?" "Yeah, sure.... That’ll be just fine." She sprung to her feet and tore her clothes off. Her body was thin, compact, tight and smooth. But Antonio particularly noticed a rash in the area of her groin. She had shaved her pubic hair down to a narrow, central strip, which resembled the path of a black paint brush.

Bárbara began to dance—she swayed to the murmuring drones, her arms raised above her head and her eyes closed. Antonio fixed on her small breasts. They reminded him of two fried eggs. "...Boo, boo, boo..." she moaned while floating about the room. Antonio felt a sudden chill and he stopped undressing. He pulled his pants back up from the knees and snapped them shut. He went toward Bárbara and hugged her. She grew angry— "Eh, what the hell do you think you’re doing? This is a sacred Hindu dance in honor of the goddess Shiva! Now you’ve ruined it..." "Are we gonna screw or what?... It’s already daylight." She pushed him away— "I’m not ready yet, okay? I still have to awaken my Karma. Shiva will enter me and possess me and then I’ll be ready to make love—but.... not until then, eh! Don’t be in such a hurry, okay?" She resumed her dance while Antonio sat back down on the floor. Again she floated about the room, moaning the repetitive: boo, boo, boo... Antonio resorted to masturbation. After several failed attempts, he grew despondent and pulled up his zipper. When the tape ended, Bárbara put in a new one. "The murmurs of the Ganges—you’ll see, it’s fantastic. It transports you right to India..." "Still... This...Shiva, or whatever her name is, hasn’t entered you??... Is it gonna take much longer?" —He looked at his watch—"What time do you think you’ll be ready to screw?"

"The physical without the spiritual can only come to no good. That is the disease of our society—understand? We do things only with our bodies and not with our souls... That’s why there’s so many ailments and sicknesses... We are cutting off the sacred fluids....." She continued dancing. From the stereo emanated a gentle lapping sound of ripples, gliding into a river bank. At least, that’s what Antonio thought he heard.

Next Month, Chapters: 13,14,15, &16.