Malaga, June 21, 1990
The marine bows with stiff formality and releases his armful of red carnations onto the cafe’s stainless steel table. They blanket it, cascading over onto the pavement beneath.
“Flores bonitas para una mujer bonita,” he says in broken Spanish.
“It’s okay, I speak English.”
“Pretty flowers for a pretty girl.” He’s young and his smile is bright white and uncertain.
Malaga, June 21, 1937
Tethered to each other by a single rope, the blindfolded prisoners are pulled through the empty streets, in the dappled light of dawn. For the most part, the denizens of this terrorized, war-torn city are still in their beds, sweating through sheets of nervous dreams.
On his very first shore leave off the USS ‘Theodore Roosevelt’, he has wandered up from the port, through the flower market. This is the advice he’s been given by his fellow marines, veterans of the Med Cruise. ‘Wanna get laid? Buy a shitload of flowers at the market, bro. Then dump them at the feet of the first chick you meet,’ they’ve told him. I know he hasn’t bought the flowers for me.
Either I’m the first attractive one he’s stumbled upon, or he’s a good judge of women and decided I’m the most receptive. In either case, he’s perfect for my purposes. And, although he doesn’t know it, I’ve been expecting him. Still, I keep him waiting a while without a response; it’s just too tempting to watch him squirm. Besides, it’s what he expects.
I remind myself this isn’t a game. He’s exactly what I need: a soldier. Young but with no blood on his hands yet. I give the chair opposite a nudge with my foot. “Would you like to sit down?”
There are few witnesses to the blind chain’s passing. And fewer still who allow themselves to be seen to witness it. But there is at least one who lives to tell what happened. The captain who leads them has fortified himself with a little agua ardiente. The burning cigarette clamped between his lips bounces with his steps.
Until he stops, pulls it from his fleshy mouth, and kills it on the cobblestones. “This will do,” he says to the three soldiers with rifles bringing up the rear. “Line them up.”
We sit and talk at the cafe. Jim the marine drinks beer to shore up his courage and I drink coke, silently reviewing the details of my plan. As the afternoon wears on, he invites me to a movie. They’re showing a rerun of ‘Apocalypse Now’ with subtitles at the Cine Victoria. Above the sound of explosions and the snaps of people cracking sunflower seeds with their front teeth, he stokes my bare thigh and offers me a running commentary on the authenticity of the armaments featured in the film.
When he gets up the nerve to kiss me, I let him. He tastes of hops and violets. With courtly persistence, callused fingers thread between the buttons of my blouse. Fingertips slip into the cup of my bra and coax a nipple that needs no coaxing.
I want him. His youth and his strength, his freshly forged adult body, his optimism and his desire, raw as any open wound.
Aren’t they all young and raw? I look up at the screen and remember all the history I’ve ever read, ever heard from people old enough to remember. My father said if you read too much history, you can get caught there, in the past. I know he’s wrong. We’re all caught in history. We keep doing the same awful things, over and over again. But I can stop it. I’ve been working it all out and I know, if I do everything just right, I can make the murderous wheel of our own blind hatefulness grind to a halt.
We leave the cinema blush-cheeked and breathless. But the sun has not yet set. I need darkness for the magic I plan to perform, and so I take him to a quaint little bodega on a side street off Calle Larios. I feed him fresh sardines in brine and roasted red peppers. Filling his glass with rough red Rioja until his laugh has lost its jagged edge and his smile gentles.
He’s a sweet boy, caught up in a terrible machine. For him, history was just something he had to endure in high school. He doesn’t know he’s trapped in amber, just like the rest of us.
In this quiet little alley, no one speaks, although Arturo, the youngest of the prisoners, is weeping softly. But no one begs for mercy they know they will not get. No one collapses, or pleads, or tries to break away. Ramon, Carlos, the two Juans – elder and the younger, Antonio and Paco all knew this would be their end the moment they were captured. This is how it always ends for the losers. Up against the wall of a slumbering house in some unfamiliar barrio.
Mellow-eyed, he turns somber. “You sure are beautiful.” He traces his thumb over my cheek. “I guess you’re not the kind of girl who gives it up on a first date.”
Truly, I hadn’t expected chivalry. This is awkward. I smile at him and arch an eyebrow. “You don’t know me very well.”
“I know, I know,” he says, leaning back in his chair, looking wistful and heartbreakingly sincere. “And I’m sorry for thinking you were.”
God damn his decency, I think. It’s going to fuck up everything. This requires a change in game strategy. “That’s not what I meant at all. I’m exactly *that* sort of girl. Have some more wine.”
By the time we leave the bodega, it’s dark. Above the rooftops, the cathedral’s tower hovers, luminous and ancient. The orange trees weep sweet scent into the thick heat of the evening. In front of an old stone bench, I make him kiss me, raking my fingers through the bristle of his crew cut, pressing my body against him, crushing my hips to his.
He is hard. The insistence of his erection tents his jeans. “Oh, my lord,” he says, his southern drawl is languid. “You *are* that kind of girl.”
To the left of the line of blind men, a window box full of scarlet geraniums lift their hydra-like heads towards the sun, which has only now crested the tile roof of the house opposite and begun its inexorable descent to the cobbles. Two streets away, the seagulls at the port tear into the azure sky with their jagged cries.
“Of course I am. Come on.”
And, clutching his hand, I’m off, hurrying through the winding and dusty streets, headed for the site of the ritual. My sacrificial altar. The place I will perform my small moment of magic.
The alley is still cobbled and still blind. This is the place. I read it in three different accounts of the execution. The space remembers, the stones remember. If now the window is shuttered against the dark, that doesn’t mean it has forgotten. Tonight there is no sun to ride the wall down to the stones, but there are still crimson geraniums in the window box beside the old pockmarked bricks. They may have changed the street name, but that couldn’t wipe away the cruelty. Only I can do that. Only I and this soldier.
“Here,” I whisper, pressing my back into the wall of memory.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Right here.”
Closer, the finality of bullets sliding home into their firing chambers calls the prisoners’ minds home and back into their bodies. Although the Captain will use his service pistol to make the job go faster, there are not enough soldiers to shoot all the prisoners at once.
It’s not my words that convince him to overcome his caution; it’s my hands, deftly popping the first button on his jeans. Then the second and the third, as he kisses me again. My hair catches on the wounded stone.
His hands are up and under my skirt, cupping my mound and, feeling their dampness, he tugs at my panties until the thick of my thighs no longer holds them up and they drop to a puddle at my feet.
The four who die first are the lucky ones. Unfortunately, young Arturo is not among them. Now he begins to scream.
With that first sweet finger that splits my swollen cunt and teases my opening, I know the incantation begins. Not with my words, but with my body. No longer just a sequence of events, I am caught in the roll of the spell. Lust tapers my waist and leaves me panting. My hips are shameless, and so are my hands. They push his jeans and boxers down his hips. His freed cock dances, twitching and pulsing, into the curl of my fingers. I must have it inside me.
For a moment, I wonder how I’m going to engineer the rest of this because, although I’ve thought this through in my mind many, many times, I haven’t actually done it before. I’m a complete neophyte.
Jim, it seems, has done this before. He guides my arms up to his shoulders, takes a firm grip on my ass cheeks and hoists me up and onto his cock in one surprisingly graceful move. It isn’t until he encounters the resistance of my hymen, that he hesitates.
“Good… good god,” he stutters. “You’re a…”
“Just push a little harder.” I can hear my own throat, squeezed tight with the sharpness of the pain. He can’t stop now. He just can’t.
Because I have saved myself for this moment. I’ve read the histories. I’ve wept over the stupid, hateful cruelty. I’ve devised this incantation all on my own to ensure that it never happens again. Not here. Not anywhere. It’s the smallest of sacrifices, but I’m convinced it will work.
“You can’t stop now! Please. You’ll ruin everything if you stop now.”
Tender as the tenderest lover anyone could hope for, he presses his forehead against the old wall and whispers in my ear, “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” grunts the Captain, waiting for the soldiers to shoot their bolts and rack a second bullet into the chambers of their ancient rifles. “How many times do I have to tell you? Always shoot the noisy ones first.”
I don’t answer him. With one almighty tug, I pull myself up by my arms and let myself drop, forcing him past the barrier of my innocence. The back of my blouse rips against the wall.
There’s no more pain after that, and no more hesitation on his part either. The world dissolves into muscle and sinew and the blind path that leads to those few glorious moments when everything is right with the world.
I’m filled with his cock and his sweetness of purpose. His urgent, earnest breath against my cheek, so full of life and wanting to be alive. Holding him tight, tucking my face into the crook of his neck, I can feel his pulse, vital in his veins, feeding each fluid thrust. And each thrust pushes away the awfulness of the place, erodes it to dust. Until he bruises my bones with his body and spills all his hope into me.
When he’s finished, he lowers me onto my feet and pulls my bunched up skirt down over my hips. But I’m not finished yet. There’s one last thing I have to do to make the spell complete.
I reach between my legs and slide my fingers through the soup of spent pleasure and blood. Turning, I smear it over the wall and whisper my secret incantation.
The second volley does the job. There are seven fresh splashes of crimson against the ancient wall. Silence returns to the alley only temporarily, before the ‘Velasco’ and the ‘Alboran Sea’ begin their bombardment of the city from the port.
The marine tilts his head. His face is all new, smooth planes in the slanting lamplight.
“What the hell are you doing, babe?”
“I’m fixing things.”