Bucks County Writers Workshop
23F (February 23, 1981) by Carmen Ferreiro
Españolito que vienes al mundo te guarde Dios.
Una de las dos Españas va a partirte el corazón.
God bless you little Spaniard newly-born.
One of the two Spains will break your heart.
Just as Orfeo was entering the Underworld in search of his dead love, I hear my name called repeatedly from the back of the room. I turn towards the voice, the familiar voice of my boyfriend, now tense and raw with the urgency of fear, and, angry at him for interrupting the movie, I leave my seat and walk to him.
"Antonio. What are you doing here?"
Antonio grabs my arm and push me out into the school hall. "We have to go."
"I can't go now, my English class stars at eight."
"Forget your class. The Guardia Civil has entered the Chamber of Deputies and taken every one there hostageš"
"šNo one knows what is going on. They say the army has occupied the radio and TV stations and that the king is under house arrest. Come on. We must leave Madrid before they close the roads."
"Leave Madrid? But I can't. I started an experiment today. I can'tš"
"You don't get it, Marta. This is serious. We may be already at war. And if there is a war, Madrid is not the place to be."
He is right. War and Madrid are not a good match. I know. I have heard that all too often in my mother's stories. The stories of her growing up in a city under siege, of her mother screaming for days, mad with pain for the loss of her husband under the rambles of what had been their house. Stories of hunger-of the black bread and potato peels that were a special treat one Christmas Eve. Stories of fear. Fear of the bombs, and of the shooting, and of the knock at the door in the dark of night and the ride to the fields from where there was no return.
"Come on, Antonio. You are overreacting. This is not 1936. We are not going to start killing each other. We are civilized now."
"Sure, we are. Why don't you just follow me now, Marta. We'll discuss it in the car."
We head North through the familiar streets, almost empty now, and the unusual silence screams in my ears with the certainty of death.
"So this is it, you think? Are we going back to the way it was before, before 'he' died?"
I don't mention his name. There is no need. He, the Caudillo, the Chieftain, the High General of all the armies, the President of the Government, elected by God to lead his people on the Holy Crusade against the godless Reds, the patriarch who ruled us for over thirty five years, deciding what was good for us like an omnipresent father, like god itself.
Antonio turns on the radio. Classical music pours through the speakers, as it did then-was it only six years ago?-on the last days of his illness. I remember. I remember the interminable medical reports from which we learned more we ever wanted to know of how a human body disintegrates at the end of life. The medical reports read by the speaker with the same monotonous intonation he could have used to describe the weight of Franco's latest catch on the river, or the name of the dam he had opened that day.
I remember the waiting, and the fear, because as much as we hoped for his death, we were also afraid, afraid of the unknown that was coming, afraid of another war, afraid that some one will take over after him and enslave us once more.
He died at last, at the end of November. On the very same day Jose Antonio, the leader of the Spanish Fascist party, had died on the infamous year of 1936, shot by republicans who were holding him prisoner when the revolt started. Shot by his enemies, the same way Garcia Lorca was shot, in his home town of Granada, by his, the fascists, who hated him because he was a liberal, an intellectual and hopelessly gay.
Federico GarcŐa Lorca, who in his youth had written dark poems about the Guardia Civil, the right-wing militia that rule the Spanish countryside. The same militia that now has taken the deputies hostages.
Close to the Barrio de Salamanca, the silence is broken, as youngsters drunk in euphoria or wine blast their horns and swerve between the empty lanes of La Castellana.
I think of the day a group of these or similar fachas dressed up as always in fancy slacks and fashionable shirts took from us the blue and white pins, that represents the flag of our homeland. The flag that had been forbidden under Franco's regime, as our language had and our culture. And the shame of having to endure their bullying and their laughing returns. We had been in their neighborhood then, where they felt entitled to play by their rules. Now they will start doing it everywhere as once more the whole country will be their playground, and their firing squads will rule again as they did for years after the end of the war.
A car pulls on our right. Half their bodies hanging out of the windows they wave Spanish flags, red for blood, yellow for gold. The gold we took from America, the blood we shed with the swords we bought with it.
"Arriba Espa“a. Arriba," they scream raising their arms in the fascist salute.
Their hate is contagious. I feel it boiling on me and the wish for a gun to shoot their pretty faces hurt in my throat. I can see on the corner of my eye, a vein throbbing on Antonio's neck, his hands tight on the wheel had turned white.
"Arriba Espa“a. Arriba," they say once more. Then the light turns green and, in a screeching of tires and blasting of horns, they drive ahead.
Antonio speaks without turning, his voice a whisper of wrath. "Bloody fachas. They will never leave the rest of us in peace. They have no place in a democracy, that is why they are trying to take charge the only way they can, by force. They make me sick."
When we reach my apartment the phone is ringing.
"Hija." The shrill voice of my mother's comes from the handset. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, Mom. I just came to pick up some things. Antonio is here. We are going to drive to Lugo."
"Drive? But you cannot leave Madrid now. It can be dangerous to be on the road." Her voice breaks. I know she is crying.
I feel a knot of anger in my stomach. Jeez. Is she never going to grow up? "Don't worry, Mother. It will be okay." I say the words I don't believe, taking upon me the role of mother.
I know why she doesn't want me to go. I know she is thinking of herself, driving North at the end of the war. Thinking of the signs by the road that said 'We/They' to mark the previous position of the two armies. Two armies of brothers embraced in a fight to death.
My grandfather had been in Madrid when the army started its failed coup against the Republica. His brother in Lugo. In Lugo the rebels took command of the city; in Madrid, where the elected government was, they didn't. Three years later, when the war exhausted itself, and Franco took command of all Spain, my grandfather's brother came to Madrid and took my mother and my grandmother back North with him.
"Let's go, Marta," Antonio says as soon as I hang up the phone.
I think of Mother crying, and I shake my head. "I'm not going."
I don't want to go back to the world of my parents, the world of fear I also remember from Mother's stories. A world that called her "red" even though she was only six when the war started, and red for her was just a color. A world that told her her father had burned churches and killed priest because he was a red, and that is what reds do. I don't want to go back to the country I knew, a country with an only party line, culturally made barren by a crippling censorship, a country ruled by the church, where sex was the ultimate sin, and naked bodies and kissing scenes were cut from the movies so we would not get the sinful idea that sex was something more than a way to make children as the Church told us every Sunday at Mass. A country as gray and dead as Orfeo's Underworld.
We are still arguing when on the TV screen comes the face of the king. Leaning forward, I stare at him, as he reads his speech with his dragging monotonous voice. Soon it is over. But even after his image is gone and the still picture of the Spanish flag reappears on the screen, we said nothing. Then slowly, as water melts from a glacier, relief pours over me, and I start crying.
The king has spoken condemning the rebellion. There will be no war. Through my tears I see Antonio moving closer. I feel his arms around my shoulders, and, as I turn towards him, our faces touch. His mouth pressing mine push away my fears, to the warmth of his body, life responds on mine. From the Underworld, Orfeo has returned.