Días Contados

(Numbered Days)

Chapters 13, 14, 15, & 16

Translated by Matthew Cornetta

Días Contados is a modern Spanish novel set in Madrid. I read it for the first time in 1992, while 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 have taken place since "la movida" in the late Seventies up through the mid Eighties. Días Contados is particularly graphic in capturing a glimpse of life in Madrid at the end of "la movida."

Here is our sixth installment.

—Matthew Cornetta, Translator.

Chapter 13

He couldn’t sleep... It was coming to the point that he could barely close his eyes... It was well into the morning and Antonio still laid in his bed, fully dressed under a double blanket and in the throes of insomnia. He experienced total fatigue along each centimeter of his body and his mind bubbled with strange fantasies. He thought and thought—thinking images and circumstances without being able to control them— as if his brain had its own life outside of his body.... ....His eyelids held open as by the tense spring of a steel trap... ....Rockets exploding in his head—flashes, noise...
He thought about Charo and Vanesa... Charo moving herself about the owner of that boutique—her mini-skirt pulled up and no panties... And Vanesa—on her knees and sucking him off. He could actually hear the guy, moaning in pleasure—the sounds of sexual desire—the movement of hands over skin and Vanesa purring in raunchy delight...

...From a low angle, perhaps from the floor, it would have made a great photo... A simple job of framing: the boutique owner’s trousers, rolled to the ankles—Vanesa, down on her knees, leaning in and pressing between his thighs... Charo would’ve had to be a secondary subject—diffused into the background and passing her hand suggestively over her hairy sex...

It could have made a pretty photo—you better believe it—a great photo.... Photos.... He would make an unparalleled album of photos, documenting the images of Malasaña. It would be an instant "best seller"....Everything black and white and he would write the captions... None of this splitting the proceeds with some prima-donna writer shit... He would do all the text...Ah!... It would be a huge smash—a thunderclap on the Arts’ scene... People always seem ashamed to admit they seek success—What idiots!...

....The triumph of this book would far surpass the one he could have done the year before; it would sell steadily and well; it would be translated and distributed abroad, and he would be called on everywhere and commissioned to shoot photos throughout the whole municipality of Madrid...City Hall...The Cultural Services Administration...banks...financial institutions.... And in the provinces too...

He would hold seminars—sure!... 250,000 pesetas ($2,000) an hour for speaking...and courses too—very expensive photography courses..... And all the magazines would compete for his services...and there were so many magazines.... Then, he would certainly do interviews abroad—high paying interviews—and exhibits—surely there would be all the exhibits throughout Spain which still didn’t rule out other countries... Yes... all the publishers would pamper him and there would be one book contract after another, all with huge advances...naturally— He would have to get an agent.

Ah! Interviews on television! His name in the papers any time the subject of photography were even mentioned! He would begin to visit the most chic restaurants and the waiters would know him. There would be whisperings of admiration among the other patrons—"Look!... You know who that is?... It’s Antonio Santos." He would have to work harder still and finish up the photos. He would get it all on film first and then make his selections. He was sure that he already had several photos which would be classed as exceptional. He knew, because he had the nose for such things. Still, he had to get more—there would be no free rides on the road to success....

Antonio began to laugh as he stared wide-eyed at the ceiling... "You’re hot, Charo," he said in a loud voice, before breaking into another fit of laughter... "So fuckin’ hot and you don’t even know it..."

He imagined himself with Charo—stepping from the limousine and making a grand entrance at his opening....camera flashes illuminating their faces... "Who’s that on his arm?" murmuring through the crowd... And Charo’d be dressed to the nines, fixed like a star... She’d be the newest sensation....no doubt about it... ....He thought on her body—her naked body—just as he had seen it so many times... A body which breathed sensuality—firm, well formed...perfect tits and a savage little cunt... ...Then his thoughts shifted to the woman on the viaduct...Oh, how he just wanted to close his eyes and not think anymore...sleep... But he couldn’t. "I gotta sleep!" he shrieked—"I gotta sleep!" He kicked off the covers and jumped out of bed. The room began to spin....Dizzy again—shudders of chills shivering throughout his body...

Hunched over himself, he shuffled over to his dark room and pushed open the door. ...There he saw the rat, gnawing away at a greasy hamburger wrapper. He let out a scream and the rat suddenly stopped eating, rose to its hind legs and observed him, steely eyed, no signs of fear. "Go away," shouted Antonio... "Go away from here!" The rat made an abrupt sidewise movement and disappeared. Still... Antonio did not venture to step into the room. Instead he bent and stretched at his waist, reaching far across the floor and opening a drawer of his file cabinet.

There he found the little bottle of Valium.

* * ...There was a knocking and when he opened the door he saw Charo standing there. "Vanesa went off with Lisardo. I don’t know....I think I’m sick or something... Can you let me take a bath?" Outside, on the Plaza, the sun was already high, its rays bathing the streets in comforting warmth—at least more warmth than they’d seen in the past few days.. But, perhaps not, as this was merely how it all appeared through Antonio’s small, windowed skylight on the world. Antonio backed further into his room, pulling the door fully open— "A bath?... Sure. I guess so. Come in....uh.... If you want..." He wandered back to his bed, still shivering. He wrapped himself warmly—the blankets reaching his chin.. Charo slipped into the bathroom and soon Antonio could hear the muffled sounds of running water. It reminded him of the rapid beat of faraway drums... A few moments later, she stuck her head out— "Antonio? Take some pictures if you like—c’mon...uh... where do you keep the bath gel?" "It’s in that green, plastic bottle—still should be plenty left." "Hey! Don’t you wanna take any pictures?" "I’m all outta film—can’t take anything ‘til get some more." "Yoo hooo! Look! Is this alright?" She had stripped off her miniskirt and blouse and she bounced her breasts while reaching her arms above her head. Her large brown nipples shimmied—left, right—left, right... And the hair under her arms protruded in graphic relief, looking like the nesting places for a family of birds...

"I’m all out of film," he reiterated... Then he figured she couldn’t hear him over the running water. After her bath, Charo climbed into the bed and snuggled close to him, resting her head on his shoulder. Antonio sensed her smell—the sweet soap from the bath fused into the more funky odors of her body and clothes. "Cover me... I’m cold." She told him. He adjusted the blankets.

"I feel so happy with you, Antonio." She rubbed her face into his shirt as if she had an itch—"But I can’t stop thinking about Ugarte... Poor thing... Did you notice how much he was bleeding?" "He must have gone crazy or had some kind of breakdown—something like that." "That’s the worst—ya know?... when one person is in love with another, and the other... Well, the other doesn’t love you back. That could make anybody crazy... I think that’s what’s going on with Ugarte... Then again, I guess I’ll go crazy too..... you know... Alfredo doesn’t love me." She waited for Antonio’s reaction but he just laid there, shivering from the cold that gripped his bones. She went on... "I’m the jealous type, you know. When I fall in love it’s for keeps and... Anyway, I’m in for a lot of suffering—Antonio?..." She suddenly caught his attention. "Have you been with Bárbara?... She’s very pretty, don’t you think?... And also, she’s an actress." "I spent a little time with her." "Did you have sex?" "No."

Charo sat up in the bed and looked at him deeply. Antonio extended his hand and caressed her breasts. With his fingers, he probed around her nipples, which stood out under the thinning fabric of her worn tee-shirt... "You know, I’ve had just about all I can take, Charo... You’re nothing but a cock-tease." Charo pressed herself even closer to Antonio and began to cry. "Antonio... Oh, Antonio.." She sobbed—"Don’t say that. Just wait a little, please, just a little longer. I still haven’t lost my love for Alfredo—but sooner or later it’s going to pass... Sooner, I think. And then I’m going to fall in love with you—you’ll see—I’m going to love you, Antonio." Antonio couldn’t form any verbal response. Instead, he embraced her tightly and under the sheets, their legs intertwined. She began to moan—

"Promise me that you won’t love anybody else—please—tell me, tell me that you’ll never leave...go on, say it..." "Charo," he whispered, "you are beautiful and I’ve wanted you ever since I first saw you curled up in my doorway... Yes, since then I’ve wanted you... Charo, I want you to take your clothes off—understand?" She rubbed his face with her hand. It was as if a gesture of admission. One by one, he kissed her fingers. "You’ll wait a little longer, Antonio?" He silently nodded as he raised her miniskirt, folding and pressing it over her stomach Charo moaned and cooed as he removed her panties...

Chapter 14

Belén Zárraga had the whole room covered in white upholstery. She sat across from Emma and maintained her head slightly turned toward the left. This gave her the effect of talking in three-quarter profile. "In reality, I don’t live here, Emma. This is my sort of ‘bachelor pad’... But seriously, I like to come here every so often just to get the kinks of married life out of my system... No....I don’t think I could ever part with this little apartment of memories..."

"It’s very pretty," Emma interjected. "Really, it’s positively charming." "Ahh... It’s a mess. I’ve had the same good for nothing, cleaning lady for years. She’s a Colombian drug trafficker, you know?... Doesn’t even know what a mop looks like. I think she only stops by here when she’s pulling one of her deals... Anyway, I’m a scatterbrain—that’s how I am, so what can you do?? I’m no good at giving orders—Whenever I tell her to get on with something she just laughs in my face, you know?..." "Do you still have the gallery, Belén?"

"Of course! What do you think?? I’m sure as hell no housewife! Besides, Gonzalo loves the whole idea of the thing.... And me, sit in a house all day with my arms folded...? I pass. But, what am I saying?? You understand about all that." Emma passed her eyes over the room. It was absolutely divine—decorated for total comfort. Perhaps there were a few too many paintings, which some might have seen as an overload—yet nothing was tacky. Belén decorated in fine taste and Emma figured she must have poured a small fortune into this place. ...When she had phoned earlier to tell Emma that her "ex" wanted to do an interview, Emma expressed that it would be a pleasure to see her again after being out of touch for so long... It would be a great opportunity for them to chat while they waited for Antonio—did Belén remember him?... The photographer...?

"Where have you been going out lately, Belén? Nobody sees you anymore." "I don’t go out much. The truth is the whole scene disgusts me—all you ever see are these tacky wannabes from Móstoles and Fuenlabrada. I prefer to entertain at home—Gonzalo prefers it too...Oh!... Can I offer you something to drink?" She looked at Emma with raised eyebrows, awaiting a reponse—"I myself don’t drink, but if you’d like, I could get you some kind of juice...still, I have to warn you, I’m all thumbs around the house. But really, if you want, feel free to fix yourself a whiskey." Emma chuckled—

"Thank you, no. I haven’t been drinking either—I’m taking this acting class right now and drinking is strictly forbidden." "Oh well... Anyway, like I was saying, sweetheart, I never go out—never, never. The whole scene is a mess, full of fakers—pseudo chic—a big mess everywhere. Gonzalo and I stay home and only get together with our closest friends. And that’s that. Oh, I have a drink every now and again, but every day I’m in the health club"—she carefully re-touched her hair—"Now, this request of your ex’s—about doing a report on la movida in Madrid—is a little strange, don’t you think?" Like....sort of out of place... I don’t know, but I...." "Well," Emma interrupted, "the whole thing is really a project of my brother in law’s, Pascual. He’s doing a whole series of ‘Guides to Madrid’ for 1992 when we serve as the ‘Capital of European Culture’. ‘La Movida’ is just one of the many guides. Sure, it’s a little tacky, but what can I say?... My poor Antonio is out of work and a little down on his luck... Besides you already know, full well, how the publishing business is... Anyway"—she sighed—"I’m of the opinion that la movida already ended a long time ago. I’m with you, Belén. Spain is in a big mess."

"Precisely! The ‘authentic’ movida only lasted for a few years... You could say that it began around February of ’81— right after Tejeros’ coup—and ended sometime in ’82 or ’83.... Or maybe a year longer, but that’s it.... Ah....what a scene was Madrid!.... Filled with art galleries—and openings every month—the vanguard magazines like, La Luna de Madrid and Madrid me Mata... It was also the hey day for: photographers, ‘cultural directors’ and.... oh!.... remember?... all those disc jockeys too... The PSOE" —(Spanish Socialist Labor Party)— "swept the elections of ’82 and plucked all the best jobs. But money was good..... They were the great party for endowments—everything was subsidized to the hilt... Anybody with an idea, needed only to walk down to City Hall, talk to a Socialist, and the coffers were opened—the funding seemed bottomless!..... But in reality, the roots of the whole thing went back to the death of Franco... Oh!..... But those years... ’82, ’83... What can I say, darling?? Spain was ‘in’ all over the world... Even more so, Madrid, was ‘in’. I myself was interviewed in: Germany, France Italy, New York—everywhere but the moon, darling... By the way, we practically used to ‘commute’ to New York every week, buying clothes, records—seeing new openings, concerts... We just about flipped for American culture—but now.... Ah.... now it’s all turned to shit—everybody’s going to New York to ‘shop’ the so-called sales... Baah!.... Barajas airport is constantly jammed with this gaudy horde of posers, talking about hitting all the ‘sales’ in New York..."

"Remember the party they threw at the Palace Hotel for the magazine, La Luna?... Remember, Belén? For me, that was the climax of it all." Belén was overcome by a fit of laughter which shuddered through her slight frame. She shook as if convulsing and then suddenly—as quickly as it came—it went... "Don’t remind me, please..." "Remember how the women were using the men’s room? ...I think it was the general rule of the evening... You can’t imagine how the guys flipped out—everybody was snorting coke and we were pissing in the urinals just to tick them off.... It was... It was too much, really..."

"And just think how much worse it could have been," recalled Belén—"I remember that the directors of the hotel wanted to bring formal charges against the entire staff of, La Luna—you see—they were in a panic about all the damages... But.....when they saw that the gala had been written up favorably in all the newspapers—some foreign papers too—they kept quiet. What amazing publicity for The Palace, all for the low price of a few repairs!" "In those days we used to top off the nights with breakfast in the Palace, or the Ritz—do you remember, Belén?" "That was the tradition... The truth is, you only live once and I don’t regret my past—the hell I would regret my past and the lunatic stunts I’ve pulled..." "La movida was at its best in the Summers, especially out in the patio clubs on Paseo Castellana. Don’t you agree, Belén?"

"....We had this group—I mean it was always the same ones—and we were never apart. There was...let me see... Alaska, Almodóvar, Sepúlveda...oh....who else?... Miguelito Bosé, that television presenter—and with him— came a handful of the ‘in’ disc jockeys with their small entourage of ‘the beautiful people’. ‘Beautiful people’ were always coming by to sit with us... Yes, and like you said, Paseo Castellana was the place. Back then we used to go.....sometimes just to see all the characters that were swarming about... I remember we came up with this name...wait a second, it’s coming to me... But anyway, it’s important to realize that it was our group who brought back the popularity of Spanish song—the roots, the folk—the same stuff that’s become top forty ‘folkapop’ today..."

"Now what was that word you came up with for the people around there, Belén? I can’t remember it either..." "The word?... Ah yes... It was ‘gualdrapa.’" Belén broke into a sing-song laugh, tilting her head back and then flourishing her hand in a veiled attempt to fix her face... "‘Gualdrapa’!... Which was to say: tacky, gaudy, or tasteless—‘That one’s a gualdrapa,’ we’d say or: ‘she’s so gualdrapa, it’s scary!’ Oh...how we used to gossip!.... Those were some marvelous years..."

"That’s it! That’s it!! ‘Gualdrapa’...!" "....La movida is when real freedom began in this country—freedom in all aspects of life: sexual freedom, individuality, and most of all—freedom to revel in life itself..." Belén peeked down at her gold Jacques Petrie— "Now child, where is your ex? I’m a businesswoman, eh! He’s already a half an hour late and I have places to be..." "It must be the traffic, Belén, but don’t worry. He’ll be here, I assure you..." "That’s all well and good, but I’m sorry—I have to go. Tell him to call me another day. Or why don’t you call me?" "Won’t you stay a little longer?" "Impossible." "Well....fine... And I wanted to see him myself—okay...." Emma sighed—"It’ll have to be another day." "Exactly... Another day." "Okay, then—we’ll see each other soon, Belén—I’ll call you." "Right, and next time you’ll give me the lowdown on the men in your life." "Oh.... It’s low and it’s down all right—they’re all either married or gay." "I hear you. Well then, we’ll just leave a note at the door and that’s that—oh, can I give you a lift anywhere?"

"Thanks, but I brought my car. I have to go to the Centro Piamonte in Cardenal Cisneros—that’s where my acting classes are held." "Okay, let’s go already. My husband’s going to think I’m getting laid."

Chapter 15

Antonio awoke suddenly and looked at the clock. He had slept until five. He pounded on his bedroom wall and shouted for Charo, but nobody responded from next door. Once he was up and fully awake, he noticed a small paper lying on the other pillow. On it there was a drawing of a heart, and inside the heart, was his name next to Charo’s. He acutely noticed how crude and juvenile the writing was. Then he slumped back into bed and closed his eyes....

In the transient half-sleep which soon overtook him, he believed he heard somebody calling him from the street—there was a calling... Was he dreaming?... He was dreaming—it was a rainy afternoon, the streets damp, slick—an unfamiliar woman, scratching and clutching for handfuls of falling air—there was the great Coplans, ready to make the photo....He, Antonio, would be the new Coplans...

But someone was calling him from the street. Still, he hadn’t awakened totally. He felt as in a perpetual half-sleep... Dragging himself slowly, he moved toward the window. The latch stuck. He applied more effort and it gradually creaked open. He pushed the shutter out and gazed over the Plaza. The sun had already retreated beyond the horizon, but it was not yet dark.

He leaned his body out over the sill and saw Charo down on the sidewalk—it was Charo all along... He pedaled down the stairs with quick enthusiasm. Charo met him in the doorway, hugging him tightly and kissing his face with open lips—kissing fiercely as if she wanted to swallow him. She presented him with a cone of greasy paper, filled with a heap of golden fried calamares. "Look what I brought for you—it’s Lisardo’s treat. They’re delicious!" Antonio accompanied her out to the Plaza where he ate the calamares ravenously.

He tossed the greasy paper on the ground and began licking his fingers. Charo clutched his arm, drawing close and kissing him. Then she suddenly pulled away, saying: "We’re going to visit Ugarte in the hospital. We’re bringing him some comic books too.... Well??... How were they?.. Did you like the calamares?" "They were awesome... Imagine that—I haven’t eaten since yesterday... You’re gorgeous—you know that?" "You’re the sexy one....I like that when you haven’t shaved." He lowered his voice— "Are you wearing panties?" She shook her head—"Just the way you like it, eh!"

Vanesa and Lisardo had been seated on the terrace in front of Paco’s kiosk. They got up when they saw Charo with Antonio. "Eh, lovebirds!" Vanesa cackled—"enough slap and tickle already—it’s time to go, okay?" "Eh, photo boy! Did she tell you about the score I made...? Did you tell him, Charo?... I hit it big for a repeat!" "He’s treated us the whole nine yards—this guy," returned Charo, in admiration for Lisardo. Vanesa gave Lisardo a tight squeeze in the crotch, cooing: "Ooooh, what brass balls—my balls—where oh where are my big brass balls...?" "Yeah....Balls all right," Charo interjected—" Eh, Antonio—this crazy bastard just up and mugged a woman in the market. It’s a lock that she’s made a full report and the cops are already looking for him...." Vanesa was trying to pinch Lisardo’s testicles... He playfully warded her off with both hands... "Eh, how come you can’t make as much money as me with your fuckin’ pictures, photo boy?!" Sneered Lisardo as he made quick sidesteps, trying to dodge Vanesa... "Eh! Chill out, bitch!" "Brassy balls! Where are my little brassy balls?" She continued. "They’ll catch up to you sooner or later," muttered Antonio.

Having had enough, Lisardo quit dodging and laid a solid kick into Vanesa’s thigh. She collapsed to her knees, wailing in pain. Lisardo adjusted his jeans with an air of affected authority and added:

"I told you to fuckin’ chill out already—bitch." Charo helped Vanesa to her feet, commenting: "Sometimes you’re a real asshole, Lisardo... Maaan!" As Vanesa whimpered and attempted to hobble away, she suddenly turned on Lisardo, shouting— "Don’t you even speak to me again, you fuckin’ faggot!... Look what you did! What a bruise I’m gonna have!" "C’mon... Let’s get the hell out of here already..." Returned Lisardo, as he tried to caress Vanesa, who by this time had found a haven in Charo’s embrace... "C’mon, Vanesa. I’ll buy you all the drugs you could ever want—c’mon, woman..." "Vanesa turned to him, responding: "Buy me some stockings...no...some black panty hose...no, better... buy me some garters for the party on Saturday"—she showed her thigh—"okay?" "Whatever you want, baby... Now, for Christ’s sake, let’s get goin’. I’ll go with you up to the hospital entrance, okay?"

Lisardo blatantly fired up a joint on the subway. The four of them passed it around. Lisardo then began to get rowdy—he shoved people from his proximity and pulled himself up on the ceiling bars, dangling, kicking and shouting: "Look at me... Look at me—I’m Tarzan!"

Antonio felt suddenly happy as if he were expecting a great gift which was going to change his life for the better... The smoke from the joint—lightly acrid, salty even—diffused the entire interior of their car. Charo took the last hit, balancing a tiny ember between the tips of her fingers, and when the train suddenly entered a dark stretch, small golden disks flickered in her eyes, reflecting the glowing point of burning hashish.... "Shameless hooligans!" Shouted a woman, seated at the opposite end of the car. There was a tense silence and then she buried her nose back into her gossip magazine... The jolts of the train shoved Charo and Antonio together against the doors. He could feel her breasts and he drank in the scent of her new-washed hair. She pressed closer to him, saying: "Eh....eh, it’s so good that you’re coming with us to the hospital. I like being with you, Antonio." He pulled her closer still, opening his legs to accommodate her figure... Lisardo relentlessly pounded on another door, sounding out the jerky rhythm of some song... As usual, Vanesa laughed incessantly...

Antonio liked Charo’s little hard body and how it so well fit on his. He passed his hand back and forth, slowly caressing her back... Charo lifted her head, smiling... Staring at him, she pulled tighter, stronger—kissing him on the neck while resting her cheek on his shoulder... Antonio continued caressing her back, only harder, more intimately—

"When are you going to have sex with me?" "Don’t start that again... What’s the matter? Don’t you like to look at me?..." "Yeah! Sure I like all that, but I like fucking too... Umm... I’m hungry. I feel like having a Calamare hero on fresh baked bread." "I love bread... When I was little we used to bake our own bread at home. My mother said it was cheaper that way. Every Saturday, me and my sister, Encarnita, would make the dough and it was like a celebration because we almost always ended up saving a little to make a special sweet cake... All during the week we could only think about Saturdays and Sundays—when we’d have cake and fresh bread."

"On Sundays, I always liked to get into bed with my parents, but they never wanted me there," recounted Antonio. "When you’re a kid, the littlest things make you happy—don’t you think, Antonio?... My mother would say that when Encarnita and me got married we would have to make the bread for our husbands and children... Then Encarnita and me would imagine what our husbands were going to be like and where we’d live and our friends—all that stuff—ya know?... You should have heard Encarnita. She was so young and she’d be talking about how her husband and mine would have cars... All I thought about was that my husband would have to be different than my father... Imagine? This little girl like me, thinking about marriage and how my husband would never be like my father... No—he would have to be tender and loving and not violent—not constantly hitting me like my father hit my mother... You wanna know the truth about my father, Antonio...? Well... I never heard him utter one word of kindness to my mama... No, it was just the opposite; he treated her like a dog... And when he got drunk, he’d beat her—oh, he beat her hard too... in the face—all over her body—Ugggh—whenever he came home after drinking with his buddies, he came home with a heavy hand..." "You have a lively imagination, Charo."

"I always had. When I was just a kid, I could never keep my mind on one thing at a time... Just as I am now—what—we started talking about bread and suddenly we’re on my father and then my little sister... Now that’s imagination!... Don’t you think, Antonio?... I think I used to be more imaginative though—that I used to think about more things... But, now that I’m older, well, I’m thinking less—no—but sometimes... Sometimes I get to thinking and then I’m thinking and thinking, and suddenly, hours have gone by. I used to spend entire nights obsessing on Alfredo and me... I would imagine we’d have a nice house with a garden and Alfredo worked in an office or a factory... We’d have two kids—a boy and a girl. I imagined Alfredo coming home from work...Me making supper... He’d kiss me, asking how I was and so on and later he’d help me put the kids to bed... Then we’d have a quiet supper and conversation—maybe we’d watch some television too." "When I was little, I always wanted to be grown up," added Antonio. "All I ever thought about was being grown up."

Charo resumed: "See how much I’ve thought about this little life of mine?... I figured everything so good—down to every detail: my house, my family...Sometimes it seems that it’s all really there. I could tell you the color of the walls, what the furniture is like, how big the kids’ rooms are... Well, at least that’s how I see it in my head... Isn’t this all so weird, Antonio?"

Antonio wanted to respond, but at that precise moment, Lisardo smacked his head into the door of the subway car, distracting everybody. He cocked his head again and smacked the plexi-glass even harder... It seemed he was determined to break the window with his head. "He’s gonna kill himself," commented Antonio. "It’s withdrawal," Charo explained—"He needs to shoot up and he can’t wait any longer... You know?... Vanesa thinks Lisardo’s cute—she really, really likes him...well... Vanesa thinks lots of guys are cute..." "And what about you?" "Me?.... I was always in love with my husband...and now... If you’re asking if I like lots of guys?... Well...no.... I like you and nobody else. I’m yours, Antonio." Charo pressed closer, hugging him— "And if I fall in love with you...eh?" —she sighed... "Hey... I’m getting a little itch in my pussy," she purred, "I guess I played with myself a little too much yesterday...." Antonio lowered his hand over her back and began massaging her firm buttocks. He pressed his fingers under her tight miniskirt, groping from here to there, back and forth and under... "Everything seems in its proper place." "Silly boy..." Charo lowered her voice and stuck her lips into his ear: "Tell me I’m your girl. C’mon, tell me I’m yours..." She turned her head so that he could whisper into her ear. But instead, he pushed his tongue in... Charo shrugged happily as he moaned— "You’re my girl." "Say it again." "You’re my girl—the only one I like." "Ay... I’m getting hot, Antonio."

"That’s enough..." Interrupted the woman on the other end of the car. Then she turned to the man next to her and said: "Vulgar!...Dirty filthy boy—look where he’s putting his hand!" The other passenger hunched in his seat and looked down at his shoes... No comment... "He’s a little old to be doing that!... That’s what....That’s what I say...!" She continued in almost affected disgust—"Tut, tut—a lady can’t even ride the subway anymore...!"

She gradually lowered her tone and pursued the subject, speaking to herself. And she intermittently glanced, left and right, as if looking for nods of agreement from the rest of the passengers... But everybody kept to themselves, pretending to see nothing. Those passengers without seats, had by this time, assembled themselves in a makeshift circle—putting their backs to all the ‘obscenity’ and acting as if all were going as usual...

...And Vanesa joined Lisardo in pounding on the door. The two of them laughed uncontrollably... "I wish we were already in Morocco," sighed Charo—"Is there a subway in Morocco? You know... I mean like the one we have here in Spain—I mean—Madrid.." Antonio had settled into a pensive silence. He followed the actions of the woman who continued grumbling. He especially noticed how upset and angry she was, and this ire, particularly revealed itself in the bitterly contemptuous looks she projected, upon hearing the ‘concert’ of Vanesa and Lisardo. "...I don’t remember," he mumbled...."In Rabat there’s no subway, obviously. But in Casablanca... I don’t know, but it seems there isn’t one there either."

"Well, after this party, we’re gonna have a bag of money," she continued, pressing herself closer to Antonio— "Lots of money.... I’m so happy with you...Ya know?... Like I’ve known you all my life." She paused nervously, ready to take the big step— "Will you come to Morocco with us?" Antonio nodded— "I’ll be the guide. Just leave it to me and I’ll show you a good time... I was in Casablanca on a shoot some years ago...Let me see... Almost ten years I’d say. Anyway, in 1980 or ’81 it was... The whole thing was set up by the Moroccan Embassy. They invited a bunch of journalists and photographers—I don’t recall what it was for—a congress or something like that." As the train pulled into a station with a screeching clamor, Antonio imagined he heard some faraway jingling... "Let’s see if you can shut it up now, you shameless vandals!" Shouted the woman, again shifting her head in search of an accomplice for her crusade—"You’re nothing but riff-raff—you bastards— you’re lower than trash!" Lisardo moved quickly and suddenly he was right in front of the woman. "I’m not over there insulting you...you foul mouthed bitch!" The woman lifted her head, her eyes aflame... She was brimming with self righteousness and was about to respond when Lisardo spewed forth a huge yellow gob of mucus— ....It dribbled down her nose. The woman began to scream in terror... The subway doors opened and everybody swept outward as if in flight... ....Vanesa was hopelessly caught in a fit of laughter.

Chapter 16

....There was an obese woman hooked up to some sort of plastic box on wheels. She shuffled slowly by, panting and snorting. Antonio noticed the sweat running down her head and dividing into rivulets along the wrinkles of her neck. She kept moving and gradually she disappeared behind a bend in the silent passageway. An old man, seated next to Antonio, reached a cigarette from his jacket pocket. "I bet there’s no smoking here, right?" he mused while staring at the unlit cigarette. "No... no smoking," Antonio replied. "You know how old I am?" "No.... What?... Seventy?"

"Eighty-three," he proclaimed with gleaming eyes. "And I’ve been smoking since I was twelve... Back then we used to call them ‘quarters’... They came in quarter ounce packages and that’s why we called them quarters—he, he, he... There were two types of tobacco: fine or strand... My favorite was always the strand. Boy... a lot a water’s gone under the bridge since then—eh?" They were sitting on a wooden bench, pushed up against a wall of the passageway. Across from them, on another bench, sat a frozen stared, old woman next to a punkie girl dressed in black. The girl gnawed at her fingernails while staring sideways into nowhere. The old timer kept up the conversation:

"That’s why I say these doctors are a bunch a jackasses. What harm is a little smoking going to do me?... Eh! Tell me—what harm? These friggin’ doctors are telling me I should stop smoking... And here I am, Eighty-three.. Only a real asshole would try to prevent an eighty-three year old from smoking—and still a bigger asshole is my ding-bat son, who throws my cigarettes away... It’s like I been saying: what’s the problem if I want to have a cigarette now and then?—I’ve been smoking since I was twelve..."

The old timer crossed glances with the woman sitting opposite. She was moving her lips, apparently talking to herself— "Doctors....Doctors..." She murmured. The punkie girl suddenly broke into a coughing fit, violently hacking for half a minute. When it ended, she resumed her silent nail biting "Believe it or not," continued the old timer, "I started working when I was twelve, hauling sacks of flour around a bakery. It was called, ‘Capellanes Bakery’ not too far from here in la plaza de Ópera... And that’s just what I’m saying... If I can work like a man when I’m twelve, well then, I can smoke like a man. Smoke...and... other things..." He gave Antonio a wink and laughed, deep and throaty... ....He went on: "Nobody raised a stink over a twelve year old boy doing the work of a grown man—and now they come, telling me that I shouldn’t have smoked. Emphysema... What a friggin’ joke... Then why did they let me work like a dog when I was a kid?... eh?... Anyway, at my age, a cigarette more or less won’t make any difference..." The woman who had been mumbling to herself, stood up and began to stomp her feet and contort her hands. Suddenly, a nurse appeared in the hallway. She moved quickly and effectively like a machine part. Seizing the woman’s arm, she demanded in a heightened voice: "Miss... Miss... Please!... Please, miss, we still don’t know anything—He’s still in the operating room—so stop asking me every five minutes..." The woman’s movements abruptly halted.... Standing still, statue like even, she now only moved her eyes in order to follow the hip swinging exit of the nurse. When the nurse reached the door, she turned her head one last time, warning: "Now you just sit still and wait." The woman flopped down heavily on the bench and squeezed her eyelids shut. "My child...my child..." she moaned—"My little baby..." "What?" asked the old timer, addressing the woman. "...What’s the matter, madam..?" "They...they’re operating on my little boy—right now..." She looked toward the doors where the nurse had departed—"My little baby boy..." "He’ll be all right," the old timer re-assured, "you’ll see... In the old days it was different but they’ve made lots of advances in medicine... I myself have come near dying three times—gave me last rights and all—and...well...here I am."

"....He was... He was on the handlebars of a bicycle—you know?" Antonio thought he saw the woman about to cry but then she held herself, biting her lips. "....The car ran right over the back of him and the handlebar stabbed my baby in the chest....in...his chest..." "Mamá!" The girl in black assumed a look of reprove, and her mother calmed a bit, again biting her lip in silence.... "Mamá everything’ll be okay." "Are you saying that your son...?" The old timer inched forward to the edge of the bench, underscoring each word by making little jabs at the air with his cigarette—"They ran your son over...?" "Yes... He was run down by a car," replied the girl. "And the car left—hit and run... They say it was a Mercedes... The whole thing happened in front of his school." "My little boy....my baby.... We got him the bicycle for his birthday, you know... A blue bicycle. All he wanted to do was take it to school and show his friends..." "Mamá!... mamá!... mamá!..." shouted the girl as she pounded her knee with an open hand.... "...And his father doesn’t even know.... The car passed right over him..." The woman swallowed hard as if something stuck in her throat. Her face darkened and she fell into a silence, staring fixedly at a couple of outdated union posters announcing a general strike.

Vanesa and Charo appeared suddenly and from out of nowhere. They were walking very quickly, arm in arm. Antonio hopped to his feet in order to greet them. "What’s the story," he asked. "Did you get it?" "Yeah." Charo confirmed, while still walking—"One of the security guards had some—he sold us a needle too..." "Big deal, yeah..." sneered Vanesa under her breath. "He let us have it at double price—bastard."

Ugarte’s face was pallid and clammy. Puffy blue ridges surrounded his eyes. Throughout his body there was an undercurrent of shivers which surfaced in the occasional chattering of his teeth... A thick bandage covered his left wrist. Seeing them, he sat up— "Did you get?... Did you get?" "Jesus.....Balls!...keep quiet!" blustered Vanesa, skewering him with each word—"Why don’t you just let everybody know....?"

There were three other beds in the room... Next to Ugarte, lay the wrinkled old remnant of a man, staring at the ceiling, mouth agape. He had long, unkempt and sparse white hair, mostly tangled in a knobby mess of snarls. At first glance he appeared to be a woman... The next bed was, for the moment, unoccupied. But, under the window at the back of the room, in the furthest bed, an obese man sat upright, observing the whole scene with a snooty frown.

Charo drew close to Ugarte, unfurling the already prepared syringe. She turned her head, and motioning to Antonio, said: "Get by the door and keep a lookout for the nurse—go on, hurry..." Vanesa pressed hard on the articulation of his right arm, as Charo introduced the needle. Ugarte relaxed, closing his eyes and gently flexing his hand. "Eh! What are you up to over there?" Squealed the fat man—"That’s prohibited!" "Shut up, man!" returned Vanesa—"don’t you dare fuck this up...!" "Easy....easy..." whispered Charo, paying no attention to the shouting... "It won’t be long now—there, there it is..." "I don’t see anybody right now, but hurry—get on with it... I got a funny feeling somebody’s coming.." Antonio warned from the doorway. Charo pulled the needle out and wrapped it in a Kleenex. The blood quickly seeped through the fibers, reddening the entire tissue. Ugarte remained still, his head resting deeply in the pillow. His face revealed an almost beatific expression of total peace. Tears trickled from the corners of his eyes—but he wasn’t crying... Charo told him:

"We got you lots of comic books: Captain Thunder, Space Heroes, Batman...." Ugarte suddenly reached out for Charo’s and Vanesa’s hands. He clasped them tightly, seemingly overcome by emotion— "I thought that..." He shook his head—"I honestly thought you weren’t gonna come...And...here you are. I love you all very much..." He looked to Vanesa—"And I love you, Vanesa... With all my heart I do... Will you forgive me, Vanesa...?" "Listen, they’re gonna catch on to us." She said, looking toward the door—"I tell you, tonight, they’re gonna put us away for good—you’ll see..." "Tell me that you forgive me, Vanesa." "Yeah, yeah, yeah....I forgive you......Jesus balls!!" "And you too, Antonio... I love you too—I really do... Thanks for being here... I thought nobody would come—I was about to give up ‘cause I thought I was all alone..." Antonio neared the bed, resting his hand on Ugarte’s shoulder. "You’re already all better, Ugarte. Tomorrow you’ll be walking the streets." "Ya know...? I would like to learn photography from you. I’m thinking that when we go to Sevilla, I could do a portrait of Vanesa, me and the motorcycle... Yeah—I’ll do the picture.... Whaddya think?" "I promise... I promise to teach you, Ugarte... You’ll see how easy it is." "Antonio’s doing an interview with Sepúlveda," interrupted Charo.... "Sepúlveda?? Fuck! You landed the kingfish, man! God...I wish I could go with you!..." "This one’s pretty much low key. But, I promise you—I’ll get another opportunity and then you can meet him..." "Awesome! And then you can teach me all about photography and I can be your....sort of.... assistant..." "I promise..." "We gotta go," huffed Vanesa... "It’s late. We really have to go." "Read the comic books," Charo reminded him as she held them up—"They’ll keep your mind off things, eh!.... Bed....Comics.... You got a life of Riley goin’ on here!..."

"Vanesa?... Would you call Jaime at the messenger service and tell him I’m sick... There’s a phone here but....there’s always a long line and I haven’t been able to get through... Will you call, Vanesa?" "Yeah, yeah....don’t sweat it. I’ll call. C’mon Charo, we gotta get going..." Vanesa was trying to wriggle out of Ugarte’s grip. "They’re talking about putting me on the books—you know?... So I have to follow through with Jaime—no slip-ups. Please...you have to call, Vanesa... They told me that this month I’ll be on the books, so"— "Okay...yeah....on the books.... I’m up to my tits hearing about you going on the books! We know all about it already." "Listen... It’s important, Vanesa. Once I’m on the payroll I can get a couple of references and then they’ll give me the loan I need for the bike..." He let go of Charo and in turn, clutched Antonio’s arm—"You’ll give me a reference, won’t you, Antonio?" "Sure....Of course....I’ll recommend you to anyone." "I can’t stop thinking about that bike," continued Ugarte. He again turned to Vanesa—"I’m gonna take you everywhere, Vanesa... You have forgiven me—right?" He smiled eagerly and added: "I’ve been bad, but I’m never gonna do that again. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I poked myself."

"Fine....Okay already," replied Vanesa. She turned to the others—"Can we beat it now??" "Eh, Ugarte," said Antonio, "I’m gonna take some awesome photos of you and your motorcycle—you’ll see... I swear, your mother’ll be stunned." "Jesus...You’re all making me..." "Oh, don’t start crying," protested Vanesa and she stomped her foot on the floor—"We gotta scram." "Oh yeah?... Well I’m going to notify the police!" The fat guy suddenly shouted as he inched to the edge of his bed. He placed his feet on the floor, demonstrating an intention to leave. Vanesa marched across the room and planted herself in front of him— "If you don’t chill out, I swear on my fuckin’ mother I’m gonna slice your balls off! You wanna see me do it?!!" The fat guy meekly returned to his covers. But Vanesa grew more excited—she truly appeared bloodthirsty— "I swear, I’ll do it man—I mean it this time.... I’ll cut ‘em right off!..." Antonio moved quickly toward the bed. Seizing Vanesa, he pulled her out of the way in order that he could address the fat man—

"Shush!...If you know what’s good for you. Undertsand...?" He raised and lowered his head in slow, silent assent. Then he covered his face with the blankets. Antonio led Vanesa to the door as Charo gave Ugarte a kiss good bye— "Get well, Ugarte." "...Good stuff it put me just right—that was awesome caballo..." Vanesa already had her head out the door. She cautiously scanned the hall—she heard the wheeling of a cart and a muffled conversation between two women. "Eh, Vanesa," called, Ugarte—"Don’t forget about calling Jaime...I really can’t get to the phone around here... Tell him I’m sick and can’t come in..." "Okay...okay....quit bein’ a pain in the ass..."

Next Month, Chapters: 17, 18, 19& 20