All IS FAIR IN LOVE AND PARKING METERS
IDEOLOGY of ART
book one of THE GYPSY MOON TRILOGY
By Kenneth James Wolverton © copyright, January 1, 2003
PROLOGUE -- THE HARLEQUIN MOON
New Mexico, 4th of July 1994
Santiago McBoil smoked an unfiltered camel as he circled the faded yellow 77 Dodge truck around the central plaza of Santa Fe. Affluent tourists crowded the expensive little square. As usual, Rastafarians, rainbow children and few genuine old hippies were passing hand carved stone pipes around at the sandstone phallic monument. He had to stop several times to let camera snapping vacationers pass. He could see the reflection of his beat old truck cast from the picture windows of the high priced tourist traps. It was poverty sliding over wealth and the contrast made him laugh. When he caught a glimpse of his face he suddenly felt betrayed knowing he wanted the beautiful life as much as anybody.
He looked down San Francisco Street to see the setting sun in the purple hazed mountains twenty miles to the west. The nuclear city, Los Alamos, sparkled with tiny points of light. Sky rockets were blossoming like magenta wounds in the dusk. Firecrackers poked sharp holes in the city noise. The wail of police sirens echoed from the barrios.
Santiago wanted to stop at Billy’s Bar near the plaza but a parking space was impossible to find. Just as he turned the corner on Water Street he saw an empty meter. A woman driving a new Lexus had turned into a driveway and then reversed to come back to the vacant space. Santiago saw her and cut a quick u-turn and whipped into the open parking meter. As he got out of his truck the Lexus pulled up next him and stopped. A woman powered down the passenger window and gave Santiago a scalding look.
“Bastard,” she hissed.
“Hey…all is fair in love and…parking meters.” He laughed at the sour look on the woman’s face but as she accelerated away the Lexus ran over his right boot. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he yelled and looked down at his flattened toe knowing he always paid for what he got.
He left the Dodge and limped towards Billy’s Bar where he could think about what he was going to do with the rest the evening and ponder what was left of his numbered days. It had been months since he had the opportunity to bore Billy with his pissed off view of life. The bar was not what it had been when Santiago first arrived in Santa Fe nearly ten years before. The owner said the bar was missing valuable tourist trade. What had been a perfect beer swilling dive changed it into a yuppie palace. In the beginning it was bamboo tables, rattan chairs, phony palm trees, black velvet paintings of hula girls and as dark as doom. Now it was Santa Fe style hacienda furniture, Spanish tiles and big windows that let the whole world gawk in and out. Santiago was resigned that every thing changes, but still it had been the only bar downtown where old drunks and suicidal veterans could hangout unnoticed.
Santiago pushed open the swinging doors and peered through the amber glow of evening light to see if his drinking buddies were sitting at the antiqued ironwood table by the rounded kiva fireplace. Three lesbian looking androids looked back at him then frowned into each other. He glanced to the right of the small stage with the hand painted screen where sometimes his pals would sit. A jet-set couple decked out in a turquoise and silver had that table. At the bar was a collection of yuppies but down at the far end sat an old tunnel rat, Junkie Bob, who had also been in the Mekong Delta in 68. He was the only one Santiago knew who liked to drink beer better than himself, but just now he didn’t feel like hearing Vietnam stories of subterranean murder. He didn’t want to remember. He was tired of assassins who died in sacrifice to bullshit.
Santiago went to the other end of the bar and found an empty stool near the stuffed cowboy dummy that always stood at the bar. He sat there for the next two hours alternately spinning out his bitterness to Billy the bar tending owner and the dummy who was a better listener. Billy was bald headed and looked like Mr. McGoo of Looney Tune fame. He had been a draft dodger who stayed at the University of New Mexico long enough to get a doctorate in nuclear physics. The government hired him to be creative in the Atomic City until he got busted for smoking dope at one of the reactor test sites. Now he ran the bar and talked computer talk to anyone who could go into theoretical math. Billy only stopped at Santiago’s end of the bar to replenish his beer or smoke a cigarette.
Santiago said to Billy, “It’s better to live 20 beautiful days than 20 fucked-up years.”
“Yeah, sure, but remember reality is the best fantasy,” Billy said then served a customer demanding a Heineken.
Santiago was thinking of his shattered marriage and the other woman, Martina. He passed over the thought once again of how ironic it was, that he had lost a wife who still loved him while he still loved a female enigma who could love nobody. He knew Martina was crazy the first time they met in a festival winter of 1982. Probably she was still crazy but he had to see her again. He wondered why in the hell she mailed the unaddressed letter, post marked from Paris, two years before – a letter with only four significant little words. Those four words had sent him on his futile search. He thought of the words again – The Mountain is High. If he was going to find her, he had better do it soon. The circle of his life was closing.
Santiago had stopped in for a quick beer but kept drinking for the next three hours. There was a sign hanging on the wall, “Billy’s Bar has no favorite drunk – We all take turns.” One beer led to eight beers, chased by seven shots of tequila accompanied with stupid laughter. He looked at his face in the beveled mirror behind the bar and saw only the graying beard and the deep creases around his blue eyes. Ugly bastard, he thought. He didn’t know which disgusted him more, his tortured face or the bullshit patriotism of the Fourth of July.
Leila, his ex-wife was having a party at the house Santiago had built when they had arrived in New Mexico in 1986. Their daughter Tara had flown in from Glasgow with old Scottish friends and wanted to see him. Tara asked on the telephone if he would help with the barbeque. She told him to stop being a jerk and come back home. He said yes, and would arrive in the late afternoon. He meant to do that but his thirst for alcohol increased with every mile he came closer to the broken marriage. It was two years since Leila had kicked him out. If he had not stopped at the bar maybe he could have returned to his old family life while he was still sober. He preferred the odor of booze, Mr. Clean and stale ashtrays. He was at home with drunks.
“I looked for truth Billy, but it doesn’t exist,” Santiago slurred.
“Yadda, yadda.” Boredom flattened Billy’s face.
Santiago was drunk. But even with a numb brain it was perfectly clear that running on alcohol did not cure the blues. His life had fallen apart. Ten thousand miles of beer soaked bars trailed the two years behind him. He had rolled along their wooden surfaces like a bowling ball, bouncing into beer mugs and shot glasses until he was into the return gutter and spun back to the beginning of the game -- an alcoholic hole full of pretend cowboys who trailed contemporary pathways from cosmopolitan congestion out to open Indian Country. He was back in the same shit heap, with the same stoned faces, repeating the same beer-barrel-marijuana-mantra.
“The beautiful dream is nothing but a nightmare,” Santiago said.
“Yadda, yadda. “ Billy rolled his eyes to fly speck shapes on the stacked beer mugs lined up along the bottom of the bar mirror.
Santiago’s fiftieth birthday was two months away. Being fifty had become an obsession. The diagnosis from the VA hospital changed everything. Everyday was precious yet wasted and being drunk only concentrated a growing paranoia to the memories of ghosts. Santiago felt he no longer existed. His mind floated up on the ceiling and looked at the body down below. It was someone else who had lived his life long before -- someone else who once had youth, romance and adventure -- someone else who had seen death -- now death was looking for him.
“Life is fucking irony,” Santiago mumbled.
“Yeah sure,” Billy whistled through his teeth while focusing on flies landing on beer mugs.
Double-crossed life and death was the excuse for Santiago to drink, or at least that is the lie he told himself. He was still alive when he should be dead and those who disserved living were rotting secretly in rice paddies on the other side of the world. He settled for surviving and braining himself so he couldn’t remember. That was it, the sum total. In 1974 he ran away from Nixon’s America and the curse that was still going on in Vietnam. He jumped a freight ship to Scotland and met Leila in Glasgow a few months later. The birth of their daughter a year later almost convinced him he could live again until they moved to the island.
He flicked his memory back and thought of the second time he found Martina in 1986 and all of the catastrophes that followed. He could see Martina. He heard her voice – always that teasing voice, testing him. She was a bitch from Hell, yet damn, he would do anything to see her again. His thoughts settled onto her face but it was blurred. He pushed the thought of her image into darkness… maybe she was just a myth. He thought of the island again
“There has to be more to life than this! I got to do something special... Why not? Hell man, half a century,” Santiago said.
“Yadda, yadda.” The flies had become fascinating.
Santiago slapped his beer bottle as though it had insulted him and as it smashed on the floor he screamed, “It’s not here!” The buzzy room went completely silent and all eyes turned to the bar.
“Goodnight Santiago. Go home and sleep it off!” Billy said.
“Come on, jus’ one more.”
Billy pointed at the swinging doors and said in a flat voice, “I’m not telling you again!”
Santiago slid off the barstool and wavered on his feet. “Ah, I didn’t want to be here anyway.” The customers began whistling and clapping as he stumbled out onto the street.
Two years before, he wanted to return to a dream world so he had gone on a long trip that took him around in a lost circle. The dream was not found and guilt was impossible to escape. It was a wild goose chase from America to Europe and back. He was trying to shake the burden he carried since the mud of the Mekong. All he found was the confusion of having separate lives that didn’t fit into one time or even begin to make sense -- the living past and the dead present.
“Fuck!” Santiago said as he got to his old Dodge saw the parking ticket and at the same time remembered the barbeque with Leila and Tara. It was nearly midnight and he had blown it again. There was no use stopping at the house. He managed to drive a drunken wobble all the way to Albuquerque without getting spotted by the cops. He checked into a sleazy motel and collapsed on red and white flowered nylon bedspread in a dingy smoke yellowed room scented with whorehouse deodorant. He lay there for a moment, the ceiling spinning and his head banging, while deep inside he felt completely crazy and alone. He turned his head into the smell of the room and groaned, “Damn, this place stinks…”
He looked at the telephone on the bedside stand, then pulled the bottle of malt whiskey out of his travel bag and took a large swig. Seven hours away in Scotland the sun would be coming up on the only friends who had never denied him, Neil and George. George was dead but Neil was still very much alive – Neil who had saved his life, and had come to know him better than any other man. He was only a telephone call away. Santiago picked up the bottle of whiskey and looked at it for a few seconds and then punched the phone card numbers. The phone rang seven times. Santiago was just about to hang up when a gruff sleepy voice answered.
“Aye…yes, yes.” When Santiago said nothing the voice barked, “For God sake…what?”
Santiago laughed at Neil’s early morning irritation and said, “This is Acme Vacuum Cleaner Company offering the best suck of the century.”
“Ach, I should have known it was you, you bloody old loony,” Neil said.
“Don’t call me an old loony. I’m more youthful by the day,”
“Where are you – are you back in Scotland?”
“Not yet, but I’m heading that way.”
“You’re daft, Santiago. It’s the wee early hours of the morning here.”
“Of course it is but what’s important is that you get up immediately, go find a bottle of whiskey and then tell me about your miserable Scottish weather.”
“Fuck off you American waster! It’s a mere mist and that is what makes it such a bonny land.”
“Bonny my ass! Hey, listen. I’ve got a plan for a little holiday in a place where the sun always shines and the beaches are full of sexy women who roll down their swimming suits like a strip tease show -- slow and tantalizing.”
“What mad idea have you cooked up now? Wait a minute, I’m not paying for it this time you wee chiseler!”
“Neil, I want to go back to Corsica. Meet me there. You had a good time when you met me there the last time didn’t you.”
“Aye, I did, at least what I can remember of it. When was that?”
It was in 85 Neil, when I was rich and famous.”
“Ach aye. Say, what was the name of that girl I wandered off with? Was it Martha?”
“Yes of course, Martina, what lovely lass she was…hold on, didn’t you get in her knickers once?”
Santiago said nothing for a few seconds, being surprised the plan was so transparent. “Uh…yeah, just a little detour from marriage for a while…”
“Santiago, you are not going back because of her?”
“No way, Neil -- it’s my Birthday.”
“My Birthday. I’ll be fifty.”
“No, not already. Christ man, are we that old?”
“What do mean already? Neil, Vietnam was a thousand years ago. As they say, if we’d known we were going to live this long we should’a taken better care of ourselves…”
“Fifty? I must be due for a Pulitzer Prize by now…”
“Yeah, you should have got a one for all your bloody war photos…”
“Aye, bloody is right…”
“Hey, let’s talk about something a little more fun. So, I want to do something special for my fiftieth birthday - that is, if I don’t die first.”
“Don’t be daft, Santiago. If you were meant to be dead it would have been in 68. Anyway laddie, you’re younger than most men who are thirty.”
“Hey, death’s always a possibility -- guy’s fifty are dropping like flies.” Santiago’s memory chip instantly flickered from the helicopter evacuation out of the Mekong Delta in 68 to the VA hospital report in 96. Fucking rectal cancer, the last gift from the Vietnam…one giant pain in the ass…
After an hour of boozy talk Neil agreed to rendezvous with Santiago on the island and they said a sloppy goodbye. Santiago laughed at the whole idea. It was crazy; he had just come back from Europe. He lay back on the pillow and passed out. Late in the afternoon he woke up feeling like his brain was leaking out his eyes. “Ah Jesus,” Santiago moaned as he crawled into the bathroom and spewed yellow vile into the bowl. He lay on the bathroom floor for an hour waiting for the retching to stop. The talk with Neil and the unaddressed letter from Martina kept coming back into his thoughts. What else was there to do but return to the island?
Later in the evening, his head and body calm, he went into the center of town and found a cyber café. Santiago E-mailed Neil. AUBERGE DE LA RESTONICA, SEPT. 20. DON’T FORGET MY BIRTHDAY GIFT -- IF YOU CAN’T FIND 20 YEAR LAGAUVULIN MALT, GLEN FIDDICH WILL DO. YOURS FOREVER, SANTIAGO.
Santiago booked tickets the following morning with the last of his plastic credit lifeline. As he was walking out of the travel agency he glanced up on the wall and saw two large tourist posters that were like tarot cards of his past and future. On one wall was an image of the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. On the opposite wall was a palmed beach scene from the Bay of Ajaccio, viewing up the Gravone Valley into the snow-capped mountains of Corsica. By the time Santiago’s foot stepped on the outside pavement, his soul was in another world.
September 18, 1994
Whiskey fueled Santiago’s flight from Albuquerque to Houston. He retained the alcohol buzz to JFK and then stayed drunk at thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic until he landed at Charles De Gaulle. In Paris, he tried to find Martina through ancient telephone numbers during the three hour layover. He called Axle, an old friend who had been a rock star in Europe during the 70s – Axle who had been the link to Martina – Axle who had given the musician’s maxim “Love the one you’re with,” and Santiago took his woman. He was amazed when Axle suddenly answered.
“My God, I don’t believe I finally got you,” Santiago said. “I’ve called dozens of times in the last two years, and all I ever got was the answering machine…”
“Santy Baby is that you?”
“Hey Superstar, how come you never call me back?”
“How can I call you when you never leave a number, Dude? Where are you man?”
“Paris for the next few hours…”
“Paris? Oh man, I don’t believe it. I just split Paris yesterday. What are you doing there? Hey you gotta come see me. No, wait Dude, I’m splitting for Hong Kong in the morning…”
“Axle, do you ever stay home? No wonder you lose your girl friends…”
“Oh right Dude…I remember -- Hey motherfucker you stole my old Lady – shit I knew I shudda tied her up and put her in a dungeon…”
“Hey Axle, you’re the one who told me to…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Dude, I lose more pussy than you’ll ever lick in a life time. So what the fuck? What you do’n in Frog Town, man. Those French women will suck you blind.”
“Speaking of French women, do you have any idea where Martina is these days? I got a letter she sent from Paris, but there was no return address.”
“Martina? Right, I was think’n it was that other chick you ran off with…what’s her name…Yeah, but is was Martina. First thing Dude is remember Martina’s Corsican. She would slice your throat if she heard you call her French. And second thing is Dude; I don’t give a fuck if I ever see her sweet little pussy again.”
“Axle, are you still mad at me from all those years ago?”
“Fuck no Dude. I could give a rat’s ass less about that old story. You ain’t the first motherfucker that poked one of my old ladies.”
“Look, Axle that was a long time ago and…”
“Santy Baby don’t sweat it. Shit man, you and me got history. Fuck Martina. No Dude, I’m just pissed with her cause she ripped off my Roy Orbison collection. Man, I had those records from when I was a kid. He’s the fucker that inspired me to get into music. Wait a minute, maybe it was Sally that American cunt who took my records…hey, wait, who’d you run off with, Martina, Sally or that Hungarian bitch, what’s her name…Ulna?”
“I didn’t run off with anybody, but it was Martina...”
“Right, Martina, right Dude, she was a wild fucking trip. Hey. You ever hear anything from her?”
“Axle, that’s what I just asked you.”
“Oh, right man, yeah right. Hey, who are we talking about? See all these fucking women are beginning to look the same. Dude, I don’t even know who I last slept with and I think she’s still in my bed.”
Santiago held the phone in his hand for a moment, trying to figure which one of them was drunk. “Look, Axle, do you know where Martina is? I need to find her.”
“Whoa Dude, she steal your collection too?”
“Axle, I’m serious. Where’s Martina!” Anger and desperation was beginning to pile on Santiago’s voice.
“Calm down Dude. Hey man I don’t know where she is. The last time I saw her was two or three years ago. She was in Paris with her weird half brother and he was talking about getting a sex change operation. Dude, her whole fucking family story is where the dis came from in function – you know what I mean?”
“She’s got a half brother?”
“Fuck, that’s what she said, but sex change or not I’ll tell you the kid was a flaming queen – but if Martina is related that’s not too surprising, considering she had more balls than most dicks I know.”
“So you don’t know where she is?”
“Fuck knows Dude. She said something about going back the old man and the mountain, wherever the fuck that is…”
“Yeah, the fucking mountain, Dude…she was probably talking about the mountain of cocaine she could stick up her nose again. Fuck that bitch could snort.”
“Mountain…” Santiago could see the words in the letter.
“Hey Dude, listen…call me back later…this bitch here is taking my donkey out for a walk… and hey, whoa babe, slow down, uh, yeah Dude, call back in an hour or so. Nice talk’n Dude.” The telephone line snapped like a dry twig and then it was dead.
Santiago looked around the airport terminal only slightly aware of the hum of overhead lights and the steady thud and slide of moving feet. He saw her face, her brown eyes, the soft The Silences under the cheek bones and her dark auburn hair falling across her breasts. He could taste her lips. Her eyes looked back at him. He could hear her voice when she teased him as they lay in bed, “…you have an assassin’s face…” She had no idea of the irony of those words nor would she have even cared. She lived in her own world and Santiago knew he was chasing a phantom. The letter from her two years before had only succeeded in bringing the end of his marriage. He should have stayed with her the first time they met during the winter festival…but the love for his daughter brought him back to temporary sanity.
De Gaulle International was full of jet-age travelers but Santiago’s eyes fell on a conspicuous group of American soldiers. Sucking-chest-wounds flashed in his mind and Neil dumping him on the floor of the chopper as it pulled up from the mud. He could see through blood smeared eyes the bodies scattered around the burning village below. The vision vanished and the Class “A” uniforms of the new soldiers solidified within the De Gaulle terminal. They were just kids born after the muddle of Vietnam. Ghost faces drifted silently amidst the army green. Santiago erased the flash vision by searching through the old telephone numbers again. He called another number in Corsica. No answer. The phone rang blue notes in empty space. He went to the bar feeling hollow. He gulped a double scotch then stumbled off looking for the duty free, the phone again, the bar again. It was a three hour parade of loneliness accompanied by the electric hum of an artificial world. Santiago called the number in Corsica once more. Eloise answered in French but her accent immediately betrayed her upper class English history. Eloise and Santiago talked long enough to convey her ignorance of Martina’s where about and for him to say he would be in Ajaccio by lunchtime. He went to the Air France counter and confirmed his flight to Corsica.
September 19, 1994
Santiago arrived on the late morning flight. A taxi took him to the center of Ajaccio and to a reunion with Eloise and other expatriate British friends he had known when he lived on the island. Eloise was an octogenarian and the matriarch of the expatriate clique eager to meet for a wine soaked lunch. They sat out on the patio of a high rise penthouse. It was here in the same apartment ten years before where Martina had appeared like a phantom. Santiago looked over the balcony down the six floors to the harbor and palm tree boulevards. To the north Mount Rotunda floated in the fall haze.
“Santiago, I don’t know how you come up with these incredible tales,” Eloise said. “You get yourself in so much trouble you simply frighten me. When are you going to grow up?”
“At the last possible moment sweetheart.”
“Honestly, you and Oscar are both just overgrown brats. But do remember if you ever need my help again, I shall save you despite my better judgment.” Eloise looked sternly at Santiago. She thought of him as her second son. She looked across the table and regarded her son Oscar who was smiling at Santiago. She knew he loved Santiago as a friend and the brother he never had. Eloise frowned. How could two men in their fifties still be so absolutely hopeless with life?
“Well I think his adventures have been absolutely marvelous,” Vaughn said. “Santiago you really should write these stories down. If you don’t, I bloody will.”
“Darling,” Ronda said. “I think Santiago has got the point.” The wine put Vaughn into a repetitive phase.
“But he has had such absolutely marvelous experiences since he left the island, and anyway I’m amazed he’s still alive after that Piccadilly with...oh my God, I’ve forgotten her name,” Vaughn said. “Tell me Santiago, do you really think she was worth the trouble?”
Oscar laughed. “Santiago if intend to put your head in the lions mouth again, I shall not pull you out this time.”
Eloise looked across at Santiago and saw the look in his eyes. “Have another glass of wine you two louts, but both of you will have to take your foot out of your mouth first.” She remembered sending Oscar to get Santiago out of a situation that was rather difficult.
“Sorry…but what was her name? Was she worth the price old man?” Vaughn said oblivious to delicacy.
“Martina? No, I guess not,” Santiago said. He looked across the bay and tried to squeeze the feeling out that was suddenly rushing in.
“Oh for God sakes Vaughn, you are like a bull in a china shop.” Ronda lit a cigarette and blew smoke out her nose. ”That business was so long ago, I’m sure Santiago would just as soon forget the whole bloody mess. Let’s talk about that marijuana in New Mexico. I can’t believe it looks like broccoli. How do they do that?”
Eloise’s son Oscar, who was a farmer and the same age of Santiago interjected, “I bet that is why Santiago’s life is so extraordinary – he’s been smoking broccoli all this time instead of dreary old pot…” Everyone laughed except Santiago.
“It’s all in the cultivation I guess.” His words were vacant. He was ready for the Restonica Gorge where he had once been with Martina and in a few more hours he would rendezvous with Neil.
The layers of alcohol in the last twenty-four hours began to shape the day into a blurry soap opera. Santiago’s mind was floating. He should have been exhausted but memories sparked him with a curious energy. Too many bottles of Domain Peraldi later he shambled onto the afternoon train for Corte as the English colony waved an over-wined goodbye and begged him to stay in touch. Santiago fell in a seat and passed out.
The conductor had to ask Santiago twice for the tickets. “Eh, oh sorry.” Santiago stammered.
“Oo la la,” the conductor said.
The agony of attempting to speak French came back. “Excusez moi... pardon,” Santiago said meekly.
The conductor sniffed, looked at Santiago sourly then took the tickets and whispered in French, “Touriste, salaud de col.”
Santiago stiffened with the slang obscenity. He felt anger rising as images from the past slipped by the window. He tried to forget.
By rail it is 90 kilometers from Ajaccio to Corte. The diesel powered couches of the Corsican Railway climb slowly over the mountains, through the tunnels and make the journey in two hours. Santiago finally began to relax into a doze when the train arrived seventeen minutes late at the Corte station. Jostled awake, he grabbed his backpack and stepped wearily off the train into the hot afternoon sun. A thread of mountain air wisped over his face as he moved across the platform. He flicked his eyes from side to side half expecting phantoms to be standing under the The Silences of the mottled stone depot. It all looked so familiar. People walked around him greeting friends and family. He searched for Neil but all he saw were Corsicans and other tourists.
Santiago considered the long walk to the hotel, but the decision was made for him as passengers and taxis disappeared leaving dust and silence. Santiago rubbed his face and tried to push some feeling into his brain. His body felt its fifty years. He was aching from plane and train seats embossed into his spine. The prelude to a giant hangover was banging in his head. He reached into his pocket for his ever present aspirin and gulped four. There were still a few hours of light. The walk would do him good. He slung the backpack onto his shoulders, took a slow deep breath then pointed himself towards the Restonica Gorge.
Santiago knew the road leading up the first three kilometers to the Restonica Gorge was gentle and winding, but then changed abruptly at Auberge de la Restonica. The next thirteen kilometers ascended to high alpine country, nearly four thousand meters above the Mediterranean. He had been there with Martina when the top of the gorge lay in ragged white remnants of winter and the foot was baked in the summer sun. The Restonica River was fed by melting snow and glacier fields the year round. The clear water was so icy it felt like fire.
He adapted to Corsican time and stretched the walk to nearly three hours. The sun set early as it always does in the gorge. Twilight held back the night. As he approached the auberge, Santiago laughed. Nothing had changed about the rustic granite stone hotel but the number of dogs. Beastly permutations of mutt-lust yapped and waggled their tails accompanying him to the glowing lights of the entrance lobby.
He hesitated at the heavy wooden double doors and peeked through the engraved glass windows. He thought again of Martina being there with him one late night ten years before, but now he hoped to find Neil, who he loved in another way. Two pink faced Germans stood at the lobby desk while to their left stood a finely dressed woman. She was talking to someone out of sight. Beyond the woman Santiago could see a broad arched doorway. It opened to a small den with a rock-faced fireplace and two reddish cracked leather armchairs. In one he could see the back of a balding head and corduroy knees protruding. To the right of the lobby was another doorway opening to the dining room. It was impossible to see more than the corner of an empty table. Santiago pushed the doors open and bumped his way into the lobby.
The finely dressed woman was rattling out a string of Italian giving swift instructions to a man who appeared to be either an obedient servant or a groveling husband. The woman stopped in mid-sentence as she bounced her eyes off Santiago and then raised one shoulder, as if to fend off a cold wind. Santiago was used to such a chilled reaction, the way a mongrel dog knows what it means when a man stoops for a rock. It must be her husband, he thought.
The two Germans were asking a bent old man at the counter if a room was available. Santiago passed on through to the den to have a closer look at the knees. He saw a protruding belly in a sweater pushing the weave tight. A fleshy face beamed up and coughed, “Bonsoir Monsieur.” He returned the greeting, observing the other armchair contained a small poodle wedged into a cushion. He hunched his shoulder to the side and let the backpack slide off next to the armchair. The poodle gave it a sniff.
“That’s it pal, guard the bag -- you’ll make a great watch-dog.”
The poodle’s eyes fell sleepily. He walked back through the lobby door entering the dining room and saw two couples sitting at separate tables. Santiago looked beyond them, through two large glass doors opening onto a patio. He could see the dim figure of a man turned away looking in the direction of the river. The man stood straight with his arms crooked at the elbows, hands on the hips and Neil’s hallmark, the Scottish kilt. Santiago quickly stepped to the kitchen window that served as a bar. A gray haired lady was placing glasses on a shelf.
“Excusez moi, c’est possible, duex verres de whiskey s’il vous plait, et merci beaucoup.”
The woman smiled, answering in perfect English, “Oh, you must be thirsty. Do you want ice?”
“No, just whiskey, merci. Is it okay to pay later with the meal?”
“But of course, Monsieur.”
Stars were beginning to fill the clear night sky and the mountains around the Auberge were like frozen black waves. He was within three steps of Neil when he said in a John Wayne imitation, “Pardoner, you give up drink’n red-eye?”
Neil whirled, his kilt spinning around his legs. “You wee rascal, you caught me up!” Neil laughed and both men stepped together to embrace. One of the whiskeys tipped and went down his back. “Ah you wee bugger!”
Santiago stood back and held the remaining whiskey between them, “Maybe you ought to try putting some of this in your mouth. I’m told the effects are wondrous.”
Neil and Santiago had no family blood yet many times when they were seen together people would assume they were brothers because of their similar frenetic energy.
Neil was tall and refined and had the face of a blonde Greek God. Like most Scots, Neil’s eyes were blue, but not the washed-out color of the northern skies. They were like the azure seas of the Aegean. His complexion was also a contradiction to his nationality. In the long gray of Scottish winters, his skin would become sallow, looking drained of blood, but three days in the sun would change it to copper. It was the molecules of history moving when a dark wanderer arrived from solar south lands and left his seed in Scotland. Despite the possibility of transient blood being in his veins, Neil was bred a Gentlemen. He was born into money and was trained with all of the fine tunings it could bring in the British class system, yet he was a rebel. Instead of going into the mercantile business as his father and grandfather had done he chose his own destiny and had become photojournalist and then a combat photographer. It was because of that profession he had met Santiago in the killing fields of Vietnam and by fate been his savior.
Santiago was not a Gentleman and no amount of privileged school would have ever made him one. His character was rough-hewn with none of the grace that Neil stepped into automatically. Santiago should have had a “BORN TO LOSE” tattoo on a bicep for if there was a hard road to travel he would find it. Santiago did not give his confidence easily but he trusted Neil who besides owing him his life had seen his ruffian nature too many times. Santiago was not a pretty man. His body seemed to be intended for several men. His head was stuck on without the conveyance of a neck and his face was thin lipped with a crooked nose and mousey colored hair. He had the brown eyes of his Mexican mother but his skin had inherited the pallid complexion of his Irish father that made him pinkly conspicuous on sun tan beaches. Age had solidified the lean wolf look that was like an aged Marine Corps poster face.
Neil coughed, “My God I think that’s a wee bit stronger than it is in Scotland. You sure this is whiskey? It might be petrol. You know the bloody French!”
After several whiskeys, sitting at an outdoor table in the cool evening, they ordered a traditional Corsican meal -- ribs of young goat. Wine fell in cascades. They were like two boys in an amusement park with their pockets full of tickets. Ride after ride they journeyed together, howling when they felt the floors dropping from under them, laughing at mirrors bending images. They told stories like rabbit and duck shoots, chasing their histories from amusement to amusement, unraveling into a review of several journeys they had traveled together. They roared with laughter about the time in Yugoslavia they had been caught by a farmer, nude body surfing on his mountain of grain and later how it surprised the young country girls when they saw the seeds in their pubic hair.
“It’s just as well they couldn’t understand English, because neither of them would have believed the story,” Santiago said.
“Yes, I rather suspect they both thought we were a couple of bloody poofters.
“Yeah, but the look on the ladies faces was priceless, even though I was embarrassed to death.”
The journey of their mutual histories went on for hours but both stayed away from the story they wanted to forget. Finally there came sighs of exhaustion and lusty belches. Their bellies burned bright from flames of Eau de Vie. They were falling from the edge of their travels when dizzy nausea began to rise. The sound of gagging came from the sudden vacuum of the stomach as it wrenched out of the body. Their laughing stopped and at the cost of several hundred French Francs the earth around them looked like splattered minestrone.
The rapids of the river a hundred yards away rolled into the night. Both men who were clearing their drunken heads became thoughtful. Santiago looked at Neil intensely.
“Do you ever think about what happened back there?”
“Everyday and never,” Neil said.
“It was fucked up, wasn’t it?”
Neil coughed, looked towards the river and said, “In a word, Aye. Fucked.”
“They fucked all of us didn’t they?”
“Aye, they fucked us and there is nothing we can do about it now. You saw what came out of My Lai. They burnt Lieutenant Calley and everyone was happy to point a finger at him. Poor Bastard. They were all guilty and we are all guilty.”
“Us grunts were all assassins,” Santiago said.
“No, you were the assassin’s angels. You soldiers did everything Nixon and Ho wanted you to do.”
“Yeah, I guess so...why did you carry on doing war after that shit, Neil?”
“What else can I do? Maybe one day truth will be published on the front page and the whole miserable world will stop believing in lies...”
“Yeah, maybe, fuck knows…”
“What about you Santiago? Are you still doing art?”
Santiago looked at Neil for a long moment. “I did up to two years ago. It kept me busy and I still had the idea that art was worthwhile. Then finally it just seemed stupid painting pictures on walls. When my marriage fell apart, I realized I wanted to do something bigger.”
“Yeah, I want to paint the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Piss off,” Neil laughed. “No, tell me you cunt.”
“I started writing Neil. I started writing the whole fucking story, but I don’t know where it’s going.”
“Yeah, I’ve got 39 rejection slips so far. Every publisher says it’s not their kind of novel.”
“You are writing a novel? What?”
“I guess that’s the problem, I don’t know what it is and neither do the publishers. Maybe I’m only crying in my beer, but so far it has kept me from putting a bullet through my head.”
“Ach man, you’ve survived too much to even suggest such a fucking pathetic idea.” Neil stopped and put his hand on Santiago’s shoulder. “Are you writing about the village?”
“I started to. It seemed like that was the only reason I was still alive, so I could tell the story, but once I got started…I don’t know…my marriage fell apart, my life fell apart and the writing just became something else. I went off in a completely different direction. In the end it seemed that life was more important to write about than death.”
“Aye, I don’t know how many more destroyed worlds I want to photograph…Angola, Rwanda, the Gulf War, Serbia…aye it’s only death.”
Santiago did not want to take that line of thought further and said, “Do you think your ex still loves you?”
Neil frowned. “I don’t know who she loves. She loves her job. She loves her cats. Last year she loved a professor of English. She loves herself.” Neil set silently for a moment, his eyes staring at his feet, and then he said quietly. “What about Leila?”
There was a long pause. “Christ knows. I guess the same kind of stuff. She loves our house - at least what used to be our house. She’s got her studio. She loves the studio. She loves all those real artists she meets in Santa Fe. Maybe she used to love me...maybe she loved something in me that wasn‘t there. Fucking shit knows...I don’t know. I seem to have died years ago and they forgot to bury me…then of course I fucked up everything and went running after an illusion.”
Santiago took a deep breath and pushed back from the table. He arched his neck and crossed his arms over his face as if to fend off an invisible whip. Neil stared at the empty bottle of l’eua d’vi. Together they groaned.
The starry night belled silently into the rushing song of the river. Insects throbbed in cadence. The little Mediterranean owl echoed in the black walls of the valley with its one note call meshed into the concert of darkness. The Restonica River grew loud. Its message laced over the emptiness of the table. Alpine air drifted past the two men. Bands of warm fragrance mixed with the cool invisible fingers that came down from the high mountain glaciers. The scent of pine began to overpower the smell of used alcohol. There was the sound of a small electrical buzz, then a click and suddenly the lights went out. Officially at one o’clock in the morning, the guests should be in bed. The timer was automatically doing its duty. Then slowly like images that gradually manifest on Polaroid photographs, their contoured shapes took form. Santiago could see a light reflection cast on Neil’s shirt and a very faint shine on his forehead. He turned around and saw the light was from a new crescent moon hanging in the ceiling of the night.
Santiago began telling Neil an old folk story he had seen performed by clowns in a circus. “Once upon a time, a hideous frog had fallen hopelessly in love with a beautiful woman who had come to the pond to gaze upon her own perfect reflection. The frog spoke to the woman from under the water. She fell in love with his voice, but he was afraid to raise himself to the surface for fear he would lose the beautiful one because of his ugliness. It was a fucking frustrated love, viewed from above by a silver-sequined harlequin clown who sat in the crescent moon playing a bluesy clarinet.” Santiago stopped the story, was silent for a long moment then said drunkenly, “It’s the Harlequin, Neil. It’s the Harlequin Moon that makes us crazy.” Santiago wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He took one of the paper serviettes from the table and blew his nose. “Ah fuck it. Fuck them all…”
“You feel like a wee walk up the valley?” Neil said.
“You know I was thinking the same thing. It‘s a good night to tell you what happened to my life and how I blew it -- nothing but irony Neil, just irony.”
The two old friends walked off
into the darkness. Santiago was on a pilgrimage to the past and as they walked
between worlds, the Restonica Gorge seemed the perfect place for such a journey.
They walked up and up and into the middle of the night. In late September it is
still hot during the day but the nights begin to grow cool and that makes for
good walking. The 13 kilometers from the Auberge to the end of the road above
timberline can be done in a few hours, but as Santiago opened his heart to his
friend it seemed a lifetime. In the middle of the night Santiago’s words were
laced into the small sounds of creatures that celebrated the music of the river
as it rolled in the rhythm of its endless cycle.
CHAPTER 1 SCOTLAND 1974
Santiago was a 30 year old American, trying to be an artist. He went to Scotland to look up his old friends George and Neil and forgot to go home. He had been there only three weeks when he met Leila who was 22 and who also was attempting to be an artist. Nine months into their romance Leila gave birth to a beautiful blue eyed girl. They named her Tara. At six months of age the baby girl was the center of their life. It was at this point Santiago and Leila decided to marry. They had gone through the worst of the parental nightmare and they were still together.
Santiago was cynical about marriage. He told Leila that it was only a marriage of convenience because the baby needed legal parents. He bought Leila a fifty pence brass ring for the civil ceremony. The ring turned her finger green by the next morning and found its way into the North Sea by the afternoon. Leila was hurt by Santiago's disregard for the ritual of marriage and retaliated by never publicly calling herself his wife. This suited Santiago fine. It gave him the pretence he was still a free man. He had the itch to move on and that would not change.
That itch was in his blood and Santiago was cursed by it. His Scots Irish Grandfather was a moon-shining Irish Ozark hillbilly. The grandfather had run away from his wife and five children after a drunken incident brought about by the sampling of his distilled white-lighting. The old man and his cronies decided to visit a prayer meeting at the local hall, held by a traveling evangelist, circa 1900. They rode horses to the hall and didn't bother stopping at the front door. Women began screaming, and children started crying. It was divine chaos. The preacher ran down the isle calling, “You blasphemous heathens will burn in hell!” That didn't stop the moon-shining grandpa. The preacher’s soft outstretched hands -- one holding the Bible as if to ward off vampires -- didn't stop the horses as they rode over the righteous man, kicking him senseless and breaking several bones. Fortunately one of the women pulled him out of the way before the return trip of the apocalyptic drunkards. The grandpa roped the preaching podium out of the hall and dragged it down the country road before being chased and caught by the Law. He spent five years in the Ozark Penal Colonies breaking rocks on the chain-gang paying for the preacher’s broken bones.
Santiago's father, Daniel McBoil, married Rosa, a Mexican immigrant and their children were considered half-breeds by the local population because of the mixed blood. The mother and father had eleven children and gave them all Spanish names to spite their neighbors. When times got hard they moved from the Ozarks to the west Texas where they nearly starved on a tenant farm during the Dust Bowl Depression. Daniel decided to find a better land. The fetus of Santiago traveled in the womb of his mother. His brothers and sisters plus piles of cherished junk were stacked on a knocking worn-out 1928 Model “T” Ford. The truck took them all towards the mountains of gold. They were thirty miles from those mountains when the truck died an overdue death in Pueblo, Colorado. It was the biggest steel-mill town west of the Mississippi River. It was 1944 and the War made this stinking steel pit an oasis of commerce and industry. The winter snow turned black within a few hours from the heavy coal smoke belched from the Bessemer furnaces burning at maximum production. These were the last good years for the steel town, and it was Santiago's fate to be born there.
Leila was fine boned, with delicate hands and feet. She was pixie-faced and had strands of sandy hair that turned straw blond in the sun. Her softness was denied at times by the relentless determination that made her small chin stick out like a chisel.
She thought Santiago was a handsome man and sometimes he reminded her of an American Movie Star, the way she imagined them being so vain, so American, but that was not her attraction to him. She saw reflections of herself in Santiago. It was the curiosity that draws ones vanity to the mirror. They were of the same metal, but the only common denominator of their personal histories was ironic. She had been born in the ash-black iron furnace town of Motherwell, one of the corroded suburbs sitting like molting vultures on the hills circling Glasgow. It may have been magnetic grime that pulled these steel town children together.
Santiago had found art as a child and he had used it all his life as a gimmick to open doors. After his hitch in Vietnam he began to take his talents more seriously. Art was no longer just a vehicle but a belief. Neil invited him to Scotland. He left the American catastrophe to discover art in Europe.
At sixteen Leila was told that she had talent, and she found her real passion during years of art school. Like Santiago, she was driven by an obsessive self image. She was an artist and her existence was by proving herself through work.
Santiago and Leila both lived by their work – not the kind of work that raises a person up in the morning to the drum of the clock, marching one off to factory floors and the buzz of a neon cube. It was not the work that hesitates for ten minute coffee breaks, thirty for lunch -- not work that punches out time, then a journey to a bar, then home to watch television, check the clock knowing morning comes too early and know it’s just another day.
No. Their work was not that work. Their work was far worse, for at least one can justify slave-work which gives proportionate money for time. It is money that pays the rent, buys the food, covers entertainment -- money pays the price for servitude. It is another day, another dollar and it is justified. It supports the economy. It is the system.
One chooses money or one chooses freedom. It is only the blessed that have both. Leila and Santiago wanted that blessing and be original in a world of clichés. Santiago and Leila had chosen the hard way separately. They both wanted to be artists and to live life as a creative event. They both demanded freedom. When they met each other on the same path, with eyes of youth, they knew they could share the beautiful pain of the journey and it would be something only they would understand.
A time came when the dynamics of their relationship changed. She became stronger. He became weaker. She had found her own work, separate from him. She was making her own money on her own terms. What held her to Santiago was their daughter Tara. He was held by a paralysis of nightmares that amplified the diminishing belief he was still a human worth being an artist. ``
Leila had strayed a time or two from Santiago, nothing serious, only slight diversions from the hard hammer of their life together. It was a kind of relief for just a few short days. When the initial lust passed she found the lovers no better than Santiago, and they were not the father of her beautiful daughter. She always returned to Santiago even though she no longer had passion for him. Leila was Scottish and the morality of Calvinism underlay her beliefs. She could not desert her man. He was once her hero.
Santiago felt the loss of Leila's passion long before it ever became obvious. He responded by becoming careless and unfaithful but these brief forays into infidelity served more to bang-up the vehicle of his ego than to give it a good lubrication. Street walking whores gave him anonymous satisfaction better than the skirmishes of screwing someone he knew, someone he would see again. It was a vicious downward spiral. Santiago slid from one form of creative frenzy to the next. The belief that he was an original artist simply evaporated. His attempts to create paintings and sculpture became self destructive. Halfway through each work, where it is grotesque and yet almost perfect -- at that point he became claustrophobic. He was a man tied in a sack caught by a raging river flowing to the flat edge of the world. The problem was the sack was tied from the inside.
Santiago had come to Europe to meet George and Neil, both he had known in Vietnam. George was a correspondent For the London Times and Neil was a freelance photojournalist. They had been reporting with an infantry company in the Mekong Delta in which Neil had saved Santiago’s life when he carried him to a Med-Evac chopper, but the real story was never printed. Santiago meeting them again was to find resolution but also an opportunity to have a three month painting holiday. Somehow three months had turned into ten years. Some holiday. He had found a wife, a child, a house with a mortgage and wrinkles on his face. He became middle-age but felt as though he had gone to bed one night in the bloom of his youth and woke up in the morning an old man.
A cold panic set in. At first he laughed at the feeling. Then his Scottish friend, George, talked to him about the horrors of becoming forty. George had to see a psychiatrist. He was on sedatives. He could not work. He had no concentration. He felt death was next to him. Santiago laughed with Neil about the condition of their friend, “Poor slob -- it won't happen to me.” But Santiago was lying. He new exactly what George was feeling. Santiago became forty and that thing of fear grew in him. It was cold and seeping like rising damp. Instead of going to a psychiatrist, he went into a bottle, a very deep bottle. He swam to the bottom but he could not drink his way up. Along with the booze came the purple haze of marijuana and psychedelics that let him live in fantasy like he did once he was released from the army in 68. He could forget the phantoms of Vietnam by being a freak in a foolish world. It was okay. Slowly his wife and child were obscured by the smoke of his burning world. He became reckless and destructive. Leila became distant and resigned. The baby girl was the only love between them.
When uncertain of where you are, move to a new space. That phrase should have been Santiago’s family motto. Beginning with the truck ride in the womb of his mother, and throughout his early life, he was moved from house to house, state to state. By the time he was in his early twenties, the family pattern had been successfully transferred to Santiago. He moved his own puzzle pieces from state to state, country to country. He was running but believed he was searching for something. When he met Leila nothing changed. In the seven years of their marriage they had moved eleven times.
At first Leila liked the sense of freedom. But in the seventh year that freedom turned bitter. That freedom meant not having a home to call her own; not having pieces of furniture and precious little things and not having a sense of belonging. Freedom became a jail of being nowhere and having nothing.
Leila wanted to keep things that were important to her -- a fragile teacup, an old battered chair or all her lovely plants. The only thing they had not lost in the transfer of those years was their daughter. Now Leila was beginning to worry about Tara. By the eleventh move she had had enough. Damn the man! Now he was talking about moving to another country where once again they would have nothing and be nobody. She had enough freedom. She wanted to find a place and stay.
Santiago continued to project his vision of a paradise in a better world. “It will be fantastic. We will go where the winters are sunny and wine is cheaper by the gallon. We’ll save money and sell all our things that are too big to move.” He looked at Leila with a dream crossing his face. “We’ll split for a place better than Scotland.”
“When?” Leila gasped.
“Uh, maybe in about a year we'll go,” he said.
Leila laughed. Knowing Santiago, he might as well be talking about the next century. He would change his mind. Another brilliant idea would interrupt the one he was making a mess of now. He would decide to go to London or to America or to Africa. But what did it matter? She didn't know or even care if she would be with him in a year.
CHAPTER 2 ART YOU CAN SIT ON
Santiago began to create three-dimensional objects that he called functional sculpture. He joked to his drinking friends and then laughed, “It's art you can sit on.” The truth was his acquaintances saw the work as odd furniture. Santiago didn’t care what they thought. It was art to him. He worked in a ramshackle barn on a small farm that George owned but was rarely there. Most of the time he was in London. The barn was a dimly lit and had large open doors. The Scottish winter wind howled through the cavernous space most days, but he called it his studio. It was February and perpetual rain. It is Scotland when the sky is gray, cold and bitter. It is a hard time of the year to live and a miserable time to die. There are no flowers, no sun, but only the wind and the briefest of eulogies held in February, truly the dead of the winter.
Santiago was carving a piece of sculpture in the draughty barn. He held onto a high-powered electric disk grinder that was screeching, shrill and penetrating. His ears would ring after he had turned off the machine. Wood dust swirled up from the cutting wheel covering his body and face in a layer of lung clogging cellulose. His eyes were shielded with goggles. His nose and mouth were covered with a rubber face mask. To moderate the noise, he stuffed soft pieces of rags into his ears. The cold air fogged his goggles. After a few minutes of breathing the mask became a wet portable dungeon containing his head. He was defiant to his body twelve hours a day. The vibrating grinder choked him and brought arthritic stiffness to his hands and arms.
He turned off the machine and stared at the wood dust that covered the floor. Santiago thought, this is miserable dying time without being dead, but felt nothing at all. He saw cold dead bodies in the heat of the tropics. He looked at the silent electric monster he held in his hands, and his eyes began to fill with tears. His head was drowning inside the goggles and mask. He began to gag and then he panicked. He pulled the rubber prison off his face. He tried to control the urge to scream. Dead faces came into his mind… the walking wounded…the sucking chest wounds…the women with faces burnt off...children with no legs, no arms... He thought he was going mad. He was slipping. He had to find something real. Leila would save him again.
He went home. He opened the door and stepped into their small apartment. His head was swirling with fear. Leila came out of the kitchen. Concern in her eyes gave a brief flash of hope to his need. He was wrong.
“Love, Neil called today? Do you know?” She said.
“Know? Know what?” Santiago said flat voiced.
“Your friend George is dead.” She said. Her eyes touched his. “He died last night. A heart attack,” she said softly.
Santiago could feel the ground around the cold February grave. He could not believe George who had been in the most dangerous point in his life was now dead. George who knew what he knew about what he had done in Vietnam – not the story that was printed – not the lies the commanding staff had produced. George was there and had seen it all. Now he was gone. Santiago looked at Leila and saw someone he didn’t know. He walked by her without saying a word and went to the closet room he used as a study. He sat down at the desk and looked at scattered sketches and photographs. Then it came. He wept the tears of a small man in a big world, too cold, too dead. Leila came into the room and held Santiago in her arms. Neither said anything. She held him firmly.
“I am sorry,” Leila said.
“George was one of the good people in this world...he tried to do things...” Santiago’s attempt to put words and meanings in some kind of order failed.
Leila put her arms around him and said, “I know he was a special friend.” She rubbed his back.
Santiago wiped the back of his hand under his nose. “Most people are only acquaintances. Few are friends…but yeah, some friends are special…” He remembered George and Neil who had been there on an insane day of death. Neil had photographs of that event until they opened the back of his camera and George tried to write about it but the Brass canned the story and sent them both back to London. Santiago was unconscious until he woke up at the Evacuation hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. It was George who told Santiago a year later how Neil had saved his life. Now George was dead and only Neil and Santiago knew the truth of that terrible day. Neil was alive and photo documenting the Cubans in Angola. Santiago was alive, crying. Crying for George or for himself he just didn't know. George had become a syndicate journalist and traveled most of the time after Vietnam. They had rarely met socially since he had been with Leila. Their only contacts came when George had written a few articles on Santiago’s eccentric career in Scotland. Neither of them wanted to talk about the war and what couldn’t be made right after so many years. George drank as much as Santiago. One time Neil joined them when he was back from a war. The three of them chased women, got saturated with whiskey and did not say Vietnam or dead villagers once.
“I took him for granted, like nothing could ever kill him -- he was a man that had survived -- the fucking fight to stay alive...” Santiago said more to himself than Leila.
There was something more difficult to admit. George was only a couple years older than Santiago. His death hung like a The Silence. Santiago whispered, “A man is standing next to you then he is dead. A bullet explodes in his brain or a sickness pulls him down.” Truth in life had not been real to him for years and now middle-age had Santiago in its grasps. He had to prove he was still alive by the simple act of moving his body. He had to run. He could forget the dead. He pushed Leila away and walked to their bedroom and closed the door.
The next morning Santiago told Leila he needed to be on his own for a while. It was a normal habit of his. Every year they had been together there would come a point when he had to go off for a few days, get drunk, look for his youth and act as if he was free again. After the blowout, with a fine-tuned hangover and dirty laundry, he would return to the safe haven of his loving woman and beautiful child. Leila would be angry but Tara always hugged him and was happy he came home. This time it was different.
Santiago bought a discount ticket on a holiday tour bus to Germany. In February 1982, in the dead of winter, it is festival time in Germany. Leila arranged for a baby-sitter and then she took Santiago to the tour office one late evening. It was an over-night bus to Dover. He would be in Bonn by 11 a.m. the next morning.
“When are you coming back Santiago?” Leila asked.
“Don't ask me. I'll come back!” How could there be questions when he had no answers?
“God damn it! Stop taking my space from me!”
Leila did not understand. She could see the desperation in his face but she did not know how to make it disappear. She knew not to plead. A cold dry kiss, and then she walked away.
Santiago looked for somewhere to buy a bottle. It was a long journey from Edinburgh to Dover made even longer by being miserable with lies and confusion. He sat in the back seat of a bus with his coat up around his mouth where no one saw him pulling at a fifth of whiskey through the black night. Just before Dover, Santiago went to sleep. The bus bumped him awake as it crawled onto the ship’s ramp. The interior of the ocean ferry was stinking from diesel truck fumes and bright with lights. People were slamming car doors and scraping their feet and baggage on the metal decks as they bustled to the upper deck lounge bars. There was already the sound of drunken laughing on a beer drinking holiday. The winter festival had begun; the German version of the Marde Gras.
Santiago found a seat in the bar. His eyes were red. The electric light blurred edges around passing strangers. He went to the toilet to hide his self-pity in a closed metallic stall. He returned to the bar when he heard the anchor chains being raised and knew the bar would now be open. The ferry started to move away from the dock. He topped up his alcohol content with two double shots of straight whiskey. One space faded into the other. He was semi-conscious of the ships bar and then he was in the back seat of the bus as it lurched onto land. His self-pity followed him in the bus on the three hour journey to Bonn.
Santiago went off into the frenzy of the winter festival. He obliterated his mind with schnapps and made a fool of himself trying to persuade a young beautiful lesbian to leave the company of several gay men. He had no success with the girl but one of the effeminate followers thought he was sweet and offered to go in her place.
Santiago laughed. “You're not cute enough yet pal, but who knows after a couple more rounds.”
At four o'clock in the morning he collapsed in the corner of a beer house. Santiago was ignored along with the other crashing drunks. A musician wearing a derby hat and a white striped shirt with red arm bands was playing bawdy German polka tunes on a piano while thumping a base drum with his foot. People kept tripping over Santiago's feet and slopping beer on his clothes
CHAPTER 3 CRIED OUT DRUNK OUT
The next day Santiago was cried-out and drunk-out. He smelled like a bucket of sour cabbage and milk. He began to rise out the heaviness. He had no feelings of being up or down. It was that numbness that came in battle when he no longer cared whether he was alive or dead. A strange liberation came over him. He was a spectator of life that had nothing to do with him. He decided to leave Bonn on the afternoon train and go to Frankfurt where years before he spent his last months of the American Army in a division hospital. He had made friends with a few German hippies during the pot smoking anti-war summer of 1968. Germany was where his life as a killer was buried.
At seven o'clock darkness made the gothic train station look as gloomy as it was. It was the place he had gone through dozens of times while he had been recuperating in the Army hospital. He stood in front of the carved stone building feeling loneliness and desperation. Little had changed. The pavement under his feet was cold as it had felt all those years before. He shivered and went back into the warmer air of the station vestibule to telephone an old number in a little black address book. He wondered if his German friend, Axle, would remember him.
“Oh God, fucking German,” Santiago murmured under his breath as he dialed. The phone rang three times then a woman's voice answered.
“Ja, hello, eh…wer ghet es inen?” Santiago stumbled into words.
“Hello, you speak English?” a female voice said, accented but not German, more French or Italian.
Santiago was relieved from his terror of foreign words and her voice was nice. “Yeah, I'm an old army buddy... uh, is... does Axle still live there?”
“Who are you?” she asked, slightly wary.
“Oh, I'm sorry, this is Santiago... I'm an American, an old army friend, from a long time ago... uh, back in the sixties...“
“Are you Santy, the one in the hospital?” Suddenly the voice was curious, colored with warmth.
“You know me?” Santiago said.
“Where are you?”
“I'm at the train station, in Frankfurt. I'm here for a few days, and I thought it would be good to see Axle...” his voice trailed off not knowing what to say next.
“Have you a place to stay?”
“Oh, uh, no, I hadn't planned anything yet.” Santiago said.
“You must stay here. Axle will be very hurt if you stay anywhere else.”
“Well, okay, I guess that problem is solved,” he laughed.
She laughed too. “No problem at all. You are at the central train station?”
“Yeah, that's right, the big one downtown... I just came in from...”
“Okay, stand in front of the station and I will be there in ten minutes.” Her voice was excited.
“Right, uh right,” Santiago said slightly puzzled.
“Okay, bye.” The click of the closed line followed.
“What the fuck…” Santiago muttered to himself. He picked up his small bag and went back out into the cold night.
CHAPTER 4 MARTINA IN A YELLOW ROOM
Santiago’s friend Axle was on tour. He was a musician and his band had found a gig in Amsterdam. He wouldn't be back for a few days he told Santiago on the telephone.
“Martina will take care of you!” Axle said. “Don't go away, just relax, and let her do what she wants to you.”
“She doesn’t sound German. Is she French?”
Nah, she's a crazy Corsican I met when we were on tour there and followed me home. But hey man, she’s a fantastic cook, among other things...and remember man, love the one you’re with…”
It was like the old saying, while the mice are away…but there was something more. Martina and Axle seemed to have a free-love relationship. Martina shared the philosophy more than Axle knew and played the part well. She was an actress by profession.
Axle’s few days turned into two weeks. Two weeks that would convince Santiago he had met the woman of his life.
Martina was not a classic beauty, but she had a face that Santiago could not stop looking at and her cat shaped eyes, the finely arched dark eyebrows and her full crescent shaped lips began to hypnotize him with their sensuous shape. She was tall, lean as a gazelle, with long beautiful legs and arms and a body perfectly proportioned female carnality. Her skin was smooth and still tanned even in the midst of winter. Her hair was appeared black but when light went through it became dark auburn with shades of old brass. It was her eyes that seemed every color of brown and green and long dark lashes that mesmerized Santiago.
She would not tell Santiago how old she was but she was keenly intelligent and he thought she was 25 at the oldest, even though at moments she seemed much younger. She spoke three languages and had read classical philosophy and most American contemporary literature. She loved Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, but was equally enthralled with Blake, Gibran and Kazantzakis.
In her own way she was beautiful. She was from an island in the Mediterranean, someone worldly, exotic and experienced, and a woman that would become Santiago’s obsession. They slept in the same bed the first night, but did not kiss or make love.
They talked in the chrome yellow bedroom until the dawn sun came through lacy violet curtains of the apartment windows. It was a game they were playing. They held each other close, naked and toyed with the idea of something to arrive, tantalizing and teasing yet not giving access.
The game had high stakes. The first moment he saw her he knew it would be easy to fall in love with her. Santiago was fascinated by Martina's beauty and intelligence, but falling in love was one thing he did not want.
Leila and Tara were only minimally tugging at his guilt. He was not so afraid of the loss of his wife and daughter, as he was terrified of giving something that would not be returned. She would rip his heart to pieces and he knew it then. He continued to hold Martina, naked and warm against his body the next night, but it was more difficult for him. He wanted to stop the stupid game of titillation and make love to her. She turned softly into him as they drifted towards sleep in another long day and night of talking. He listened to her breath.
“Are you awake?” he said.
“Oui…yes, a little bit.”
“I want to listen to some music. Do you mind if I put a cassette on so I can go to sleep?”
“No, that would be nice. Put Keith Jarrett on, the Coln Concert, okay?”
“Sure, anything, just so I can stop thinking.”
But before Santiago moved, Martina sprang up from the bed and almost danced on her tip toes as she went the stereo under the large windows with the lace curtains. Santiago watched in utter amazement, for even though it was the second night they had slept together, it was the first time he had seen the full beauty of Martina’s body. She was only wearing thong panties.
Holy fucking Bejesus flipped across his thoughts and lust tightened his throat. It was easy enough to see Martina had a delightful form even with clothes on, but somehow she had managed to slip in bed both nights without him seeing her take clothes off. He could feel the satin richness of her body in the dark, but this was the first visual display that snapped on him like a better built mouse trap. His mouth went dry. She put the cassette in then tossed her black hair like a wild horse then turned and smiled.
“You’re looking at me. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s property,” She laughed raising her hands to dark nipples as she walked slowly back to the bed, not once taking her eyes off Santiago’s stare.
The room was darkened from the night and the lamps were turned off, yet light came in from the winter overcast sky that glowed orange with the city through the violet lace. The light reflected off the yellow walls and Martina’s body glowed like a golden statue. Her legs were elegant, long and could have made money for any hosiery company. But it had been the view of her sculpted back and perfect pear shaped ass that inflamed Santiago’s desire. Now as she approached he saw that little concave dish of flesh that fell just below beautifully beveled hips and muscle that pulled her stomach taught. She dropped her hands and stood still, letting him soak up every inch of her image. Her breasts were not large, but shined on the top curve with the gold of the light and dropped to a burnt umber soft shadow cup.
“Have you had enough or do you want more,” She said as her legs slowly slid wide apart and she let her right hand drift down, making a quick little gasp of breath as she touched herself.
“Stop it you wicked little devil and come here,” He said, knowing he had given himself away by the raspy break of his voice.
If Santiago had been a younger man, he would have simply plunged into her – a man so hungry he have would not bothered to chew before gulping – but he had learned to pace himself in the course of a hundred different fast fucks and of this one, Santiago desired neither speed or instant gratification. For once he wanted to arrive in paradise as slow as the second coming of Christ.
Martina lay next to him on raised elbows. The soft first notes of Keith Jarrett’s concert piano rang celestial chimes into the smoky amber room and they both stopped what was almost begun and listened. It was as though that composition had been designed for this moment. The singular strings of each note echoed not only in the concert hall of Cologne, but reverberated in the hot sexual neutrons that were bouncing around Santiago and Martina.
As the Jarrett’s musical theme began to build, their faces came together, not kissing, but just breathing in the scent of each other. Santiago let his lips drift slowly up the soft velvet of Martina’s graceful neck and then hovered around the corner of her mouth, then sifted like smoke to the long lashes of her closed eyes. He raised his mouth and let his lips slide across to her brow then they fell ever so slowly down the bridge of her nose. Martina moved into him and slowly danced her hips in time with the deep notes of the piano as it dropped into a bass chord. She let her lips speak the same silent language Santiago had been telling and breezed them like a new testament of religion around the ridge of his lips. Each time the music shifted in tempo or phrasing they both invented another delicacy of touch and explored a field of dreams that blossomed on the small world of two faces.
The music was organic and began to grow out of its quiet spring beginning to throb in pace and beat of summer sun. But still, Santiago danced with his lips like a gypsy in that proud moment of pain and defiance. Martina responded in style and both of them whirled their tongues along the opening folds and then they entered each others mouth, yawning, hungry and sucking as though only the last mortal drop of wet was left. Martina’s hands went around Santiago’s butt and pulled him into her as his cock flew like a guided missile finding the secret door to eternity.
They both shuddered and moaned in perfect pitch to the dense toll of Jarrett’s middle C chord, he had left hanging like the tintinnabulation of heaven. They fucked like this with the pianist, on and off until the second dawn flooded the morning with light. It was then Santiago told Martina he had been waiting for her his whole life, and then they slept.
CHAPTER 5 ASSASSIN'S FACE
He told Martina about his wife and his daughter, but avoided any talk of Vietnam. She told him her stories, about work in the theater and her father who was a mysterious Corsican aristocrat who had worked with the Vichy Government during the war. She talked about her arrangement with Axle, and one of his musician friends who she met occasionally for sexual experimentation.
Santiago and Martina held each other close. The smell of her perfume covered him in a shroud of lust. He would feel his cock begin to rise again and again. He was reborn into her youth. They began to build a rhythm of words and intimate looks, their eyes locked without embarrassment. It was a kind of tide that pulled them together, a therapy they both needed.
They drank bottles of white wine and smoked long joints of hashish. She was crazy and beautiful. He was just crazy. He played a close hand with his secrets and only let them drop one by one. They made trades. He told her about his one and only homosexual night when fucking and death shared the same foxhole in the back country of Vietnam.
She told him about her erotic fantasies. She revealed how a lover she betrayed committed suicide.
He told her about his fear of death, of becoming old.
She would laugh and say, “Don’t get so close to me old man – you have an assassin’s face.”
They went for long walks. Santiago would breathe in her scent. She would become the actress she was in Germany and play out improvised pieces in the middle of a street. She loved to act, to create theater. She laughed and showed her beautiful teeth and sang out, “I'm alone with a mad-man, locked in a yellow room in a blue city!”
Santiago began to want her, really want her. Little by little she was taking him. She wanted him to make the first move. He was only a step away from lust to love. He forgot about the return ticket by bus to Scotland.
One week became two. At the end of the second week, Axle’s musician friend arrived. His name was Wolfgang. He was a fleshy German, but sexy. As the evening slid along on glasses of wine and hashish, Santiago realized there was a new game being played and jealousy began to raise its ugly head. Martina wanted them both. Wolfgang took off his clothes and jumped into her bed, ready for the fun. Santiago was outraged and a wave of sexual confusion swept over him. He moved quickly to the bed room door and snarled, “Two is company, and three is fuck you!”
He went out slamming the door. He walked into the kitchen and heard their hysterical giggles through the walls. Within minutes, sexual moaning sifted out of the yellow bedroom.
He sat down at the kitchen table and scribbled an angry letter, trying to say what he felt. He wrote three pages then stopped knowing he was a fool. Martina was beautiful, but she was driving him crazy.
He did not want to play the game any longer. He glared at the pathetic words then crumpled the pages and threw them into the waste basket. The sounds continued in the bedroom growing into a groaning rhythm. He found his small bag and stuffed his few belongings into it. On another small piece of paper he wrote GOOD LUCK YOU WHORE and laid it on the kitchen table. He opened the front door and went out into the cold winter night air. In thirty minutes he was at the airport booking a flight to Scotland.
The Restonica, September 19, 1994
The water of the Restonica River slid from the top of the mountain down towards the sea. The sound of heavy regular breathing was like a soft drum in the night as they trudged up the Gorge, while Santiago told a story, juggled like balls in the air, sequences out of order, out of place.
“I went back to Leila and she allowed the charade of our marriage to continue. A kind of fucked up confidence came back to me but my heart had turned to stone. I scared Leila, but she wanted my attention despite knowing she should get me out of her life. She swallowed her pride and decided to follow me one more time,” Santiago let the words fall bitterly.
“What a slut Martina was,” Neil said.
“No, Neil. She wasn’t any more of a slut than me. She just didn’t care.”
“Why did you come to Corsica the first time – because of Martina?”
“I'll tell you the truth Neil. Because the women are sweet and the air smells sweeter and the mountains are always high!” He laughed and said in his meager French, “Corse, c’est trés speciale!”
CHAPTER 6 SCOTLAND 1984
Martina was only vaguely in his thoughts but she had started his curiosity of the island. The holiday in Corsica was an attempt by Santiago to rediscover how to be Leila’s lover again, or find a simple happiness, a magical cure, to pull them back together. If nothing else, it would be a small gap in time and space to relax, lie in the sun, eat good food and act like life was not an eternal struggle. Santiago had felt a familiar tingling before their departure to Corsica. It was the right choice to vacation on this island and of course there was the shadow of Martina.
He had gone through the usual British travel brochures, instantly rejecting Blackpool, Benidorm and Bermuda. He hated being around the tourist masses and their obscene manner of invading other cultures, but there was something very special about the picture he saw of a small mountain village as he was thumbing through a booklet of France and its Provinces. He looked for other brochures about Corsica, but found nothing. He looked at the photo again, and the tingling was there. It was the same feeling he had on leaving America in the prime of his youth. Now there were two more people, life was getting scary and he was approaching forty. He saw Martina’s face and heard her voice, you have an assassin’s face…
CHAPTER 7 A CORSICAN HOLIDAY
It was a warm June in France after a depressing Scottish spring. Santiago, Leila and Tara were sitting in their overloaded Morris Traveler feeling the sun through the open windows, waiting for the row of automobiles in front of them to board the ferry to Corsica. The aroma of the Mediterranean and the palm lined shores of the Riviera at Nice filled the air. They were smiling. Leila was reading a novel and Tara was asking Santiago what kind of food people ate in Corsica. Suddenly a tall balding man veered to their open window. He seemed almost to fall, bending to his knees and bounced on his feet as he launched his smiling lips into their space.
“You are English, aren't you?” he asked.
“Scottish!” Leila spit.
The man ignored Leila's rebuttal. He told them he had seen the lady reading an English book and that he was starved for good novels. Friendly small talk followed. He wondered if they might have any other books they would be willing to sell. He carried on, not waiting for a response, launching into the story of his life. He was Australian, his wife was French, and they were divorced. He was taking his two young daughters to a friend's summer house to the north end of the island, the long peninsula called Cap Corse. There was a tiny fishing village called Centuri. They were going to stay there a week. There was plenty of room. At that point it seemed as if they had known each other for years. He invited them to come and stay with him.
“The girls will have a fantastic time,” he said.
Santiago and Leila didn't know what to say. They had met overly friendly people before, and it was always a loaded trap.
At that moment the cars began to roll onto the ferry. The dockworkers abused the foreigners with obscenities as they waved their arms in frantic cowboy car-herding style.
The Australian jumped up and as he ran for his car he screamed over his shoulder, “See you on the boat!”
Santiago laughed, and said, “He was certainly nice.”
“A bit of a nutter if you ask me,” Leila said, “aye, away with the fairies!”
On the ferry to Corsica, they met again. The man's name was Burt. Fifteen years of marriage to a French woman and living in the South of France had rubbed all the hard edges off his Australian accent. He still had the attitude of people who live in vast open spaces, loud and wary but positive and giving without condition. Santiago and Leila warmed to him on the short crossing to Bastia. Tara fell in love with Burt's daughters. They were slightly older than her and already polishing their French chic. Altogether they made agreeable company and by the end of the five hour voyage Santiago and Leila couldn't resist the repeated invitation to come to Centuri.
CHAPTER 8 CENTURI
Centuri is a picturesque Mediterranean fishing village. Brightly painted fishing boats rock in the clear waters of the small port. Only yards from the pier are an erratic line of stone cottages with peeling plaster in the colored layers of calico cats. The village crosses cultures between France and Italy. Perhaps the name Centuri, together with the blue sky, the yellow heat, the khaki ground testified to a warm world where there was time for lazy living. This was an old village, comfortable in its aged decay. The tourists had come. The fishermen and the shop keepers could relax now.
The friend of Burt, who owned the house, lived in Paris. The ensemble had free run. It was an eccentric house. A stone building converted from a 17th century warehouse into something only a Parisian architect could imagine tasteful. The exterior had its original stone face while the inside was partitioned into computer-drawn ramps and boxes. The small rooms were stacked cubicles for crazed monks on holiday. The style eventually became unnoticeable, like an ugly thing the mind chooses not to see. For the small group, it was wonderful; a free holiday camp only thirty feet from the beach and the sun was hot.
They stayed for a week with Burt and his daughters. It was an easy time at first. Burt was charmingly roguish. He acted the part of being a bachelor using his time and energy trying to impress the random pairs of exposed German nipples on the beach.
Tara played endlessly with the two girls. They had games on the beach and high fashion parties in their little box rooms, playing with make-up, ear-rings, and exchanging garments.
Leila was acting like an Olympic Sun-Tan-Champion lying in the phosphorous heat for hours trying to capture Gold-for-Scotland. Fortunately there was enough Viking pigment in her skin to win her a medal of tint. She would be able to prove to her pale friends in Scotland she had been on a wonderful sun drenched holiday -- Scottish status points.
Santiago would occasionally dip in the sun warmed water but his normal routine was to hide in the shade, drink red wine and sketch mural and sculpture ideas.
The week passed peacefully, blissfully, then Santiago made a telephone call that changed everything. Another war began. He had been waiting for the acceptance of a proposed public art project in Germany. He had been told the committee would make their decision by mid-June. He could have waited until they returned to Scotland, where he was sure of a confirming letter, but it was an important commission. It was the artist's dream. Gaining the award meant money and prestige. It would be the magic click that opens the lock of fame and fortune. He decided to telephone Munich.
Leila went with him to a nearby cafe where there was a pay phone. He was nervous. It was a big moment for him. She was indifferent. He closed the door of the glass telephone box. He was an astronaut preparing for blast-off. A few moments later he stepped out of the booth, jubilant. The committee had accepted the whole proposal. It was fantastic! The commission that could finally put him in Glossy Art Magazines had come. At last he was about to make it as an artist.
Leila hunched her shoulders and said, “Oh it will probably be just another waste of time. I hate Germany!” She remembered his earlier escape.
Santiago was crestfallen. Without a word he went into the cafe and asked for two bottles of red wine and a packet of Gauloise. He pronounced the word Gall-loo-sus. Two Corsican men in the bar burst into laughter and shouted at the ignorant foreigner “Ah oui, Gall-loo-sus!” Santiago felt destroyed. He would get drunk again.
Leila had not meant to hurt Santiago. Her negativity came from frustration and to a degree, jealousy. It was a man's world. She was tired of Santiago's constant pursuit of his own success, his own power. She felt it was her contributions that made things happen for him, but the limelight always fell on him, flooding away the foundations of her art. Yes, she was jealous. Bastard luck! No. Not just luck. It was society that couldn't see her as the artist she was. She was the assistant to a MAN. It was society that relegated her to a backseat position! Damn it all! It was too much. It was years of the same movie, over and over.
The telephone incident was not the first time the pot had boiled over. There had been many occasions. Santiago tried to understand the humiliating position she was locked in, but he was a man. He was an artist too. It was a struggle. More than that, it was a battle to be an artist no matter whom or what you were. It always had been and it looked like it always would be. He couldn't understand her jealousy. They should celebrate the victories together. Leila's flash of bitterness made him feel betrayed. She was acting like an enemy. Fear of Eve's ancient role consumed him.
They went back to the beach house, leaving the cafe as though it had never happened. Santiago was silent, morose. Leila was hostile. Burt immediately recognized the dark cloud over them. He once had a wife and knew what they were. He tried to clear the air with light hearted joking but Santiago was trying to disappear into a bottle of red wine. Leila refused to compromise for another man. She would fight the war by herself.
CHAPTER 9 BURT'S IDEA
The day simmered while everyone removed themselves to their own private world. Only the children played on in their uncomplicated way in the shade of the tiny box rooms. Burt was wind-surfing in choppy seas. Leila was baking in the sun reading EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. Santiago was slowly losing all hope of rational thought with the help of red wine. At five o'clock the party grudgingly came together for their evening meal. The previous evenings had been joyful affairs but now the table was sodden and heavy
Burt sensed the need to pull the safety valve. Being married once was more than he could bear and he didn't have to put up with the theatrics of other people's marriages. He had the heart of a bachelor. Santiago needed help. Leila was a bitch! Burt suggested that Santiago join him for a ride to a nearby village. He had some tools he had borrowed and they had to be returned, he and Santiago could stop and have a Pastis.
“The Lady, can stay and watch the children,” Burt said casually.
“Just brilliant!” hissed Leila.
“What a good idea.” said Santiago.
Burt felt relieved.
Suddenly Leila said, “I'm coming too! I want to see the village! Why should I be stuck with the children?” Her chin was pointed like an icebreaker.
Burt swallowed hard and decided to keep his head down. “Marriage,” he muttered to himself.
Santiago was fuming with anger and the red wine. “Look, I just want to be by myself ... just for awhile...we'll be right back…”
“I'm not going to be dumped with children while you two go off and get drunk. God damn you men!” Leila screamed. She was determined to have her way for a change. Men Indeed! She would show the bastards.
Santiago's drunkenness growled like a mad dog, “All right, if you want to be so fucking pushy, but I'm telling you, stay out of my fucking way...you just, never understand...a man’s got to have time to himself...” He reached for his glass of red wine and guzzled it down. He quickly refilled the glass and drained it again.
Soon they were all stacked in Burt's Renault like coals in the furnace. The burn was audible. As they were leaving Centuri, Burt decided to stop for cigarettes. Santiago was sitting in the front seat and he turned to face Leila who was crammed in the back with the children.
The mad dog was still in him as he barked, “All right, God damn it! You so intent going on this trip, I tell you what! You go with Burt and the kids, an' I'll stay at the house!”
Leila snapped back, “Oh Santiago stop acting like such pig!”
Before she could say anything more Santiago jumped out of the tiny car. He was a broken Jack-In-The-Box banging a metal door behind him. He walked off into the dark surrounding the village. The night had come, the sky blue-black, but enough light from the crystal display of stars for Santiago to stumble his way back to their beach house. He retrieved the half bottle of wine still on the table and continued his meandering wobble to the beach where he sat on a large rock.
A few minutes passed and Santiago cursed himself feeling incapable of resolving a conclusion to anything except his manic desire for alcoholic numbness. The gentle splashing of the night tide had lost its natural Mediterranean melody and had been replaced with the slushy friction of one sad world dissolving another. To Santiago, the world was on fire. Then from behind, he heard the small thud of Leila's footsteps.
“Son-of-a- bitch! I knew you'd come! Why can't you leave me fucking alone? Just go back. You wanted to go so fucking bad -- well go!” Flames circled Santiago.
“Stop being this way. Let me talk to you…” Leila pleaded.
“Go fucking away. I wanna be on my own!” he screeched. He started to stand up and run away with his madness.
Leila grabbed him by the arms, her face pointing into his. She began to shake him. “Stop acting like a fool!”
Santiago pushed Leila away. She grabbed at him again. He pushed harder. She pushed back. He responded as he would to another man, hard.
Leila screamed, “You bastard!” and began to attack him with little flying fists with their untrained knuckles and thin fingers.
Santiago was not a large man but he was strong, much stronger than Leila and with one open palm-slap and a hook with his foot, he crashed the petite woman to the stony beach. She fell hard, bumping her head on a rounded stone, stunning her momentarily. Her anger dissolved in tears and pain. She began to sob hysterically.
“You rotten bastard! You've really hurt me this time! You rotten male chauvinist bastard! You hit me! You hit me!”
Santiago furious, reached down and pulled her brutally from the fetus position she had curled into. “Shut up! Shut your God damn mouth! You bitch! Do you think you would still be talking if I had hit you? You wanted a fight and you got one. You're God damn lucky I didn't hit you! Do you think I'd take this kind of shit from another man? So shut your God damn mouth and leave me alone!”
Leila, her emotions out of control, her pride and flesh hurt, turned from his cold hate. With tears in her eyes she blindly ran towards the beach house.
Santiago sat for awhile on the rock, feeling the anger burn red. After a few minutes he could hear the mournful wail of sorrow pulsing from the dark shape of the beach house. Leila's misery was unrestrained. He felt ashamed. He went back to the house and found her in their bed, rolled into a ball of sobbing hurt. He reached to her shoulder and softly touched her. She turned looking up at him with one well devel