Daniel S. Fletcher
thumbnail illustration by Rene Castro
Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde was the landowner’s son, but this restless, wild-eyed ruffian was an acorn that fell far from its tree. Aged sixteen, he was incurably rebellious, though entirely unable to explain why. Antonio’s energies burned insatiably as he roamed through the hot, fragrant summer nights. Rejecting the imperious distance of his family’s aloof existence from the rest of the world, safe in the voluptuous surroundings of their palatial estate, or latifundio, the young Antonio made his home amongst the deciduous olive groves and golden countryside, running amok through the fields with two stout, loyal peasant boys named Fernando and Gregorio. His own passions flowing fiercely, in great tempestuous currents he could neither control nor comprehend, Antonio’s heart burst with love for these brothers, whom he considered brethren, as though spawned from the same blood and womb. No matter how hard his father beat him, nor how tearful the remonstrations of his mother to adhere to social order, young Antonio steadfastly refused to pay heed to his family. After a while, his scandalous absence from social gatherings was blamed on a series of mythical illnesses, as the wayward youth traversed the surrounding countryside with his friends; muddying the fine cloth of his clothes, which became ragged and frayed as he shared the same earthy, dirty-kneed decrepitude of the brothers. For one whole summer, the gallivanting trio traipsed together through the nearby town and countryside; a near-ceaseless revelry, life lived in the moment. It was a glorious time to be alive, and they basked in the endless promise and limitless possibilities of existence.
The glowing golden sun set over them each evening, as they sat in their favourite grove, underneath a colossal Spanish oak tree, gnarled and ancient, with thickly-lobed leaves of a pinkish-green. On one particular evening, sweltering under the heat of a summer sun, Antonio burned with restless energy, driven by some indefinable force that craved action – whether creation or destruction, he knew not. Smoking high quality tobacco pilfered from his father’s personal stores on the latifundio, Antonio expertly rolled cigarettes whilst Fernando watched, marvelling at the craft. No riches of the latifundista would ever compare in this peasant’s eyes to the consummate skill the man’s son boasted in rolling perfect cigarettes, indistinguishable from machine-made brands.
“Where will we be, five years from now?” Gregorio asked, misty-eyed.
The others groaned. Fernando rolled over onto one grass-stained elbow, squinting mockingly at his brother.
“You don’t ponder the future enough. Go on, ask again later.”
Gregorio spat in response. Antonio smirked, billowing great clouds of richly-tasting smoke into the air:
“Organising anarchist riots in Catalonia. What else?”
“Armed resistance in Morocco.”
“Orange-sellers in Seville. Feed the poor; the floor will rise!”
“Actually, I’ll be in the Cortes,” Antonio added. “You’ll be in prison.”
“Not in this life, mariquita…” Gregorio retorted. He looked away, casting a lingering gaze across the familiar golden field.
“Pass me the wine.”
Antonio handed him the vino tinto, and Gregorio took a huge slug from the jug. Belching richly, he settled back into quiet contentment. Fernando begged for some wine too, and grinning to each other, they let the younger boy drink his fill.
“So,” Antonio boomed, “I got some nice reactions at the last little family soiree I went to. Smug aristocrats; puffed-up peacocks sharing scandalous gossip, to whom I announced that ‘small minds speak of people, whereas great minds discuss ideas. Great changes are imminent in this comfortable world of ours’… I tell you – more discomfort, you can’t imagine!”
Gregorio grinned, a great big beaming smile full of teeth and humour. “Somehow if the King comes back, I don’t think you’re welcome at the coronation.”
“A shame. So many militarists to vex.”
“In five years you’ll be one of them.”
“Not in this life.”
“A wise man changes his mind, a fool, never,” he quoted. “The rich are rich and the poor are poor, brother.”
“And the grass is green, and Gregorio’s deaf. Aristocrats make me sick. But the generals… the generals might just be worse. Proud old bastards with puffed out chests, medals for massacring tribesmen…” Antonio spat, with feeling.
“The company you keep, Toni.”
He smiled at that. Fernando persisted in Catalanising his name. There were few things his family class hated more than what they called ‘separatist scum’. It was a near-racial hatred – crushing the labourers who worked for Señor Bahamonde would be one thing, but if they rode on Barcelona, the talk would be of Spain’s victory over Catalonia.
“Sí, the company I keep.”
“They must love you. I bet if a leper stood on one side of the room and you on the other, they’d go and talk to the leper.”
“I think given the choice, I’d take the leprosy over the uniform of a coronel. All nostalgic for Cuba and the Philippines, bemoaning Latin American independence and literally praying for war. Honestly…” Antonio snorted, shaking his handsome head in disbelief. “Tell a major or colonel that you sympathise with the Riffian tribesmen… or agree with taxing the church!”
“Leave the church alone. God needs money!” Gregorio chortled.
Antonio grinned. “They think the human race begins with the lieutenant. Priests and fascists are honourary majors, at least!”
“What about landowners?”
The latifundista laughed along with them. “My father’s a general. All the rich ones are. Genuflect at the right altar, say the right prayers and Spain is theirs.”
The brothers nodded, smoking in silence. It has a day of stifling arid heat. Antonio rolled another cigarette and lit it, eyes filmed with thought. He chuckled, suddenly animated:
“Some general called Mola used to be Director of Security in the old regime, before the Republic. You know, persecuting commies, crushing strikes… I saw him skulking near the back of the room. He’s written these pamphlets that made him a hero of the gentry and general staff. I knew he’d be swamped with admirers after a while, but I got there first.”
“How lucky for General Mola,” said Gregorio.
“I told him I love the land reforms, and the empowerment of women. He choked. Then I told him I was a socialist – thought his eyes would explode! Almost popped out of his head, the bastard!”
“What did he say?”
“That Spain is for Spaniards, not communists or freemasons…” Antonio chuckled again, incredulous. “Like they’re identical monsters. He said ‘España para Españolas.’ Thinks the Republic is a Jewish Soviet puppet, run from Moscow by Stalin, the masons and the Elders of Zion. Then he stared into my eyes, and said: ‘You’re either with us, or against us.’”
They let the gravitas of the threat sink in. Fernando whistled.
Gregorio snorted, filling his lungs to explode derisively, and his brother quickly urged the conversation along:
“I told him to count on my support… for Spanish socialism – ¡Viva España! You’ve never heard silence like it…”
“What did Mola do?”
“He left! His face turned blue!”
“You have that effect…”
“I raised the clenched fist and he stormed off, cursing me. I think he’s lonely…”
“You’re a strange señorito, Antonio.”
“Just wait until I meet the Pope…”
The brothers heartily guffawed, rolling around the deciduous heath. Antonio’s memory of mortified Mola brought tears of merriment trickling, and the laughter intensified.
The boys sat in companionable silence for some time. Still wet with mirth, Antonio’s brown Latin eyes were lit by the twinkle of rebellion; he burned with some nameless impulse. Clearing his throat purposefully, the latifundista heir announced:
“Let’s cause some mischief.”
Fernando and Gregorio, fourteen and sixteen – handsomely sun-kissed, doe-eyed, with great curls of thick brown hair cascading down their boyish faces – shared a glance, nodding approvingly.
“What do you have in mind, cabrón?” Gregorio asked, accepting a cigarette.
The plan, such as it was, involved the freeing of horses from his father’s estate. Perched in the treetops, the boys shook with great convulsions of laughter as the stable-hands raced to-and-fro across the fields, frantic to reclaim their master’s equestrian property. Yelling hysterically, their bellowing screams met the whinnying bray of the horses, creating a colossal cacophony that resounded for miles. Feverish with the heady taste of liberation, the horses bolted across the fields, greatly enjoying their flirtation with freedom. Watching them, the boys were ecstatic; joyous to see these magnificent beasts run free.
“If they only knew their strength,” Antonio commented, sadly.
“Sí. We’d never tame them.”
“Human arrogance,” replied a sober Fernando.
A terrific beating lay in store for all of them – the brothers’ father Juan worked for the Bahamonde estate, after all – but, beaten black-and-blue, battered and bruised, the hardy boys met the next day as usual, proudly unrepentent. Displaying their wounds brazenly, they accepting the muttered reproaches and scowls of their village neighbours and the disapproving townsfolk, many of whom laboured on the enormous estate of Señor Marquéz Bahamonde.
That long, glorious summer rolled endlessly onward – the brothers avoiding work due to the pilfered fortunes of their rich, wayward friend. Their father Juan, pleased with the trickle of pesos they gave him was, in any event, deeply grateful that his sons were spared backbreaking work in the fields. They took full advantage of the glorious Castilian summer, each day passing dreamlike, flushed with the confidence of youth. Sometimes they went down to the town, to visit anarcho-syndicalist meetings and hear the debates – cautious workers placating would-be revolutionaries. Mostly, they stayed in the country, drunk on wine and revelling in the latifundista’s seemingly endless supply of good tobacco. They boxed, and wrestled, gaining strength on their adolescent frames, sweating under the summer sun amidst the golden flora of the fields.
One evening, bored and restless, Antonio brought Isabella Doña Mariquita to their clearing amidst the redwood trees, on the edge of an olive grove, glowing golden in the dying twilight of the day. She was a local whore – a more striking woman the brothers’ had never seen. High-cheekboned, fair-haired and full-lipped, Isabella Doña was classically beautiful, though ageing gracelessly. The beguiling curvature of her voluptuous frame was beginning to sag, and a tiredness shone from the coquettish mask of her face.
The brothers were stunned into silence. Proud and confident, the boys were virginal; frozen in the prostitute’s presence, lost in their imaginings of the contours of her flesh, her welcoming orifi and the gasping spasms of her experienced feminine lust. They longed to possess her, to penetrate her and feel her flesh spasming and throbbing beneath them, pulsing with blood and desire. But, though wildly imaginative, physically implementing this atavistic urge was beyond them. Sexuality clung to her like a cloud swirling overhead, overawing them in their innocent, hopeless inadequacy.
Isabella Doña looked at each in turn, pursing her lips, her delicate hands placed jauntily on those thrilling hips.
“What a nice day,” she finally remarked, mouth curling in amusement.
Roaring with laughter, Antonio broke the spell that had descended with this woman’s strangely intimidating presence, and he roughly tore off her undergarments; maniacally amorous, manic with lust. Laughingly, she assented, expecting full compensation for whatever the boys chose to do to her clothes and, for that matter, her person.
Writhing and twisting, as he throbbed with ardour, Antonio stopped himself with some difficulty. This rendezvous had been arranged for his friends’ benefit, after all. Red-faced, he turned to them:
“Nice night for a walk. Enjoy, hermanos…”
Framed by the sunset, Antonio set off across the field, onwards to the golden horizon. Sharing a hesitant glance, Fernando and Gregorio looked from the departing back of their friend to the prostrate prostitute laid enticingly at their feet, her legs invitingly open. As her thighs yawned wide, the brothers shuddered with pleasure, and Gregorio gratefully sank into her silken clasp.
The most beautiful girl in the town was a tall and slender young woman named María; a feisty, fiery creature of passionate impulse. Though every tenet of his upbringing dictated he should view this arrogant shrew, this godless apostate wench as a witch and a heathen, Antonio was utterly infatuated by the peasant girl. Every elegant motion, every casual swing and sway of her body as she strolled down the street; all of it served to fuel his rampant fantasies, this new, powerful emblem of the New Spain. To this rich heir al latifundio, María’s monstrous confidence was a wonderful, confusing and yes, sexually potent symbol of change. The pair exchanged pleasantries in their chance meetings; though cordial, María’s tone was gently mocking, and the heir’s jokes were met coolly. María’s volatile temperament, plus the prejudice of the peasantry made her distrust this strange young latifundista, cavorting with the two wayward brothers from the village. In town, all three were the subject of much speculation. Dimly aware that Antonio, and probably all three of those ruffians had sought the services of Isabella Doña Mariquita, María found him disquieting. Though she was unaware of his intentions, Antonio dearly wished to be seen as a good man in her eyes. Despite the ceaseless torment it brought him, his obsession grew. Infatuation overwhelmed the heir. Her smouldering eyes ignited the flames of his passion, though whether in love, lust or limerance, he couldn’t discern.
One sweltering day, Antonio exited the bakery in the town square and found her – strange sight! – perched on the ledge of the water fountain, reading a well-leafed book. Absent-mindedly, she tossed bread fragments to the massing birds that tottered around her on unsteady clawed feet. Approaching her with caution, Antonio noted with amazement the book was Don Quixote de la Mancha, which deepened his powerful lust. She, however, did not deign to acknowledge his presence, and he fought hard to retain self-control. Poise was power. Disconcerted, Antonio swelled up, affecting supreme self-assurance:
“Buenos dias, señorita.”
“What, are you looking for a mistress?” she asked flatly, finally raising her fire-flashing eyes to meet the wayward latifundista’s in an unequal contest.
“I, well… what?”
“I’m not interested. Venga, rico chico…”
And with a contemptuous flick of the wrist, she dismissed him.
Shocked, the chastened Antonio turned on his heel and fled. She alone, this humble, literate peasant, viewing him through the fire-flecked forests of her fiery brown eyes, knew how to humble his pride, silencing the ascerbic tongue.
Hurt and fuming, Antonio mused with bitter nostalgia for the gender oppression of a monarchist Spain he’d only known as a child. Oh, Brave New World… surprised at himself, Antonio suppressed his sudden bout of misogyny. Bitterness is defeat. Release class prejudice. Make a difference. Be the change you want to see. Transcend…
In his mind, he began to create a modern day Don Quixote de la Mancha as an attack on his social class, casting himself into the role of chivalrous knight, social reformer, a rich man transcendent; Trojan Horse of the latifundistas. To rectify is the way of the wise. He ruminated, morale soaring, swelling with confidence. Ideas spurred his mind, fed his imagination, even briefly quelled the unquenchable restlessness… he eagerly anticipated sharing his new idea with the brothers, illiterate swine that they were. They had ideas and imagination – that, to Antonio, was more than enough.
Juan, father to Fernando and Gregorio, was a kind-hearted labourer, though he looked far older than his years. Weather-beaten at forty, he’d toiled on the Bahamonde estate for years, quietly accepting the landowner’s lessened payouts and longer hours as Old Spain fought to preserve itself in the face of reform; these dangerous, newfangled notions of workers’ equality. Right to the last gasps of the monarchy, Juan managed to avoid the malignant attention of La Guardia Civil and the mercenary militias hired by landowners to crush peasant dissidence, by refusing to participate in protests. He was happy to work, providing for his sons and mother, María Lopéz Jimenéz. This wrinkled, fierce little woman hobbled with a hunchback; bright black eyes shining stern and severe. The old crow, as the boys fondly called her, truly loved her errant grandchildren and spared them her trademark torrents of vitriol. Even Antonio grudgingly conceded the old girl had her charm, after overcoming her virulent hatred of the social class to which he belonged..
One day, three winters after the boys’ summer-long shenanigans, during an oddly bleak, gloomy afternoon windswept by violent gusts from the Sierras, the boys brought Antonio home to find their grandmother brooding morosely in the dark.
“Hello, you old crow,” Antonio began warmly.
Casting a withering glare at the heir, María Lopéz rose and departed, cursing heartily as she shuffled away malevolently. Antonio chortled, used to the volatile moods of both Marías in his life, but the brothers shared an uneasy glance, which he noticed.
“There’s been a lot of talk recently–
“Yeah, and… what?” Antonio demanded. Though they still attended the anarchist meetings, the latifundista had grown leery of empty promise. The far-flung talk of St Petersburg ’17 and the workers’ state paradise, armed insurrection… it was all empty sabre-rattling. Caballero’s socialists had spewed years of revolutionary gibberish, yet for all the drum-beating and flag waving, the sole result had been intensified police brutality and violent right-wing reprisals for left-wing reforms against all enemies of traditional Spain.
Antonio bluntly pointed this out. “If you want revolution, sorry to say it but it’s coming from the right. The fascists, Catholics, monarchists and the rich – unlike the left, they’re all genuinely itching for a fight. But,” he added drily, anxious to not be interrupted, “… not yet. Not yet.”
“Tensions are rising, Toni. There’s talk of another Sanjurjada.”
This attempted right-wing military uprising in ‘32, led by General Sanjurjo, had been easily thwarted. Typically, though, the Republic hadn’t shot him, and the rebel general remained at large, still nursing his murderous grudge against international socialism and the entire Spanish peasantry.
“Nonsense. There’s been talk for four years–
“The workers are primed; fascist agents causing mayhem; priests calling for a second Reconquista from the pulpit; Bishops making fascist salutes; notable socialists assassinated; anarchists seizing gun depots; communist round-up squads; police raids; anarchist stockpiles; Mussolini and Hitler waiting… there’s even talk some landowners are shooting their labourers and ruining crops rather than–
“Nonsense!” Antonio snapped, suddenly livid. “I would have heard something!”
“Stop pretending,” Gregorio thundered. It was as though a great dam had been lifted; repressed tensions and fears now flowed. “This has been coming for years! The time has come for the idea to realise itself. It’s time for change!”
“Yet no talk of latifundios being stormed in Catalonia, and if the Catalans haven’t revolted the revolution’s a myth!”
“The army is mobilised!”
“The generals are bored; the old swine need more fights in the Rif.”
“Castilians, Catalans, Basques – people are rising! Police have been seizing workers’ arms! And–
Not bothering to hear Fernando’s full remonstration, Antonio bade a hasty exit, barely pausing to greet dear old Juan as they passed on the threshold.
“Hey, que pasa?”
Antonio checked himself, and turned back to embrace the swarthy older man.
“¿Que pasa? Got to go, papí – I’ll see you soon!”
Time imposes savage limitations, but on the inexorable progress along its philosophically unfathomable arrow, a veritable cosmic speck of dust or infinitesimal atomic microdot within a particle is enough to alter the incalculably microscopic human sphere, here in its tiny suburban district of a perpetual expanse of energy. The energy flowed along its strange and unalterable course, and the mammalian creatures comprised of it on this earth, in this microcosm of cosmic existence, sentient and self-aware, were powerless to avoid its magnificent and endless destruction. The next time Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde the surrogate son saw Juan and the old crow, it would be in vastly different circumstances; their tranquil parochial lives indelibly altered by the savage vicissitudes of fate, in man’s endless malice to man.
Another hot, aimless morning, with electricity crackling in the atmosphere. The country was on a knife-edge, everyone knew. Tensions were rising in the heat of summer. The young latifundista was strolling through the town, rather enjoying the distrustful stares and surreptitious glances that he attracted. Once again, he came upon María and her fire-flecked eyes. The girl he’d seen dance, her snake hips writhing as though they had a life of their own. What a girl. She fired his blood.
Boldly, he sat down with her on the edge of the water fountain. It must have been years now since he last saw her there. Now, as then, she was reading.
“Buenos dias, señorita.”
She glanced up, amused. “Hello, Antonio.”
“What are you reading?
Sighing, the girl looked up again. This time he was not cowed by her challenging gaze.
“Words. They tell stories.”
“Would you like me to tell you a story?”
“An old knight riding around on his trusty steed, rescuing poor helpless damsels along the way? Or a brave soldier spreading the good word of the Lord amongst savage natives?”
“Neither. I know one about a boy who falls in love with the most remarkable girl he’s ever met.”
“Oh?” Her eyebrows arched. “Remarkable, is she?”
“Cynical, too. Despite what they tell her, she believes only the worst of this boy.”
“And what would this boy believe is his best?”
He gestured at the book with a smirk. “Perhaps he’ll be a Cervantes someday. Or a Bakunin.”
“Never mind,” he said quickly. “Perhaps I’ll tell you another time. You like stories, after all.”
“Who says I’ll like your stories, Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde?”
He rose to his feet, took her hand and kissed it. “Stories give you hope. Hope for the best, and it may come to you, María.”
The landowner’s son strolled away, with casual grace, on foot like a common man. His eyes roved, daydreaming, and plotting his next story or escapade. María’s eyes followed him until he disappeared from sight.
Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde never realised his youthful ambition to write a modern Don Quixote de la Mancha, but the young man lived an interesting life. He was blessed, and cursed, with living in interesting times.
The next morning – that black day of the uprising, indelibly etched in the annals of time – Antonio was blissfully unaware of the coming storm. The impending maelstrom of blood failed to disturb his restful slumber. Dozing peacefully, he dreamed comforting dreams of a happy and joyous life, when his door burst open. He abruptly awoke to his father rambling, electrified by rage and bloodlust:
“These swine!” he yelled, as Antonio fought the mists in his mind and was snapped into reality. “The time has come, boy!”
“What time, father?”
A churlish grin; vicious pleasure, which he’d never seen on his father’s face. It was an ugly, maniacal glint, which Antonio didn’t like. It made him think of an unspeakable word, which he could never think of his father.
“Time for you to show your own people what you’re made of. Spain is being liberated, boy! The revolution has begun! ¡Vamos!”
Seizing his son by the armpits, he dragged Antonio out of bed, forcibly dressing him before they stomped out of the house, down the neatly-cut grassway and onwards, away to the fields.
This main lawn had a surreal nature, in Antonio’s eyes; a full mile of impossibly neat grass maintained by underpaid peasants who slaved away to ensure each blade of grass was aligned to the latifundista’s liking. So much wasted effort, so much wasted life, he mused, as the soft carpeted grass crunched gently underfoot, creaking like old leather. Eventually, they reached the first of the crop fields, its southern edge ringed by redwood trees, demarcating the next grove. Before this cluster of trees was a hastily dug trench, being tended to by a group of sullen workers watched by a detachment of the local Guardia Civil. Antonio’s flesh crawled at the sight. It was sinister. There were ten workers in the trench, and perhaps another thirty or so scattered around the field, silently surveying this strange scene in the fresh light of sunrise. All the civil guard were armed, wielding rifles, with pistols slung high in their holsters. Though the police bowed obsequiously to Señor Marquéz Bahamonde, they regarded his son strangely, a calculating glint in their eyes. He was known to all; they’d been compelled to overlook his mischief for years, due to his father being the region’s most powerful latifundista.
Antonio finally noticed, amidst the noise of shovels and grunting, the presence of two army officers. Both watched him closely. One, he recalled, was Capítan Díaz Castillo from Navarre.
“What is this?”
“Line them up!” his father barked; a stentorian voice, accustomed to power.
Señor Marquéz Bahamonde proceeded to explain to the assembled that eight labourers had been condemned to death.
“Today is a glorious day; a new chapter in the textbook of history. Today, we wash away the crimes of the Republic and its foreign invasion, the degradation of our country and empire! Today, the patriotic forces of the Nacionales embark on their great revolutionary crusade; the second Reconquista, its destruction of communism and the casting of this vile Jewish contagion – as one of their own once proclaimed – into the dustbin of history…”
Hearty applause rang out amongst the policemen, and the two officers nodded approvingly. Unlike the average Spanish soldier, these men were impeccably neat, haughty and stiff; their movements strained, as though trembling from some scarcely-suppressed violent urge.
“Here, here,” one officer, the captain called.
Señor Marquéz Bahamonde grinned; a savage, predatory snarl that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Indeed. It is time the natural order was restored between noble Spaniards and our upstart underclass. Here is the first major act of this province, in accordance with Nacionales policy; sweeping unwanted detritus into history’s dustbin–
“Why?!” Antonio broke in. All eyes of the police were fixed firmly on him, now. His father sighed tolerantly, as though excusing a childish whim.
“Because, son, the reconquest of Spain has begun! This is war! We must send a message to these men of the fields whom it is that wields power on this sacred soil… power is everything – a concept you, too, must understand.”
Heavy gusts of wind whipped ferociously through the field; the biting breeze visibly shaking the stunned men in the trench. Fear had seized them; in its awful caprice it robbed them of the power to resist. They were shocked, frozen, practically dead. All that remained was for fate to take its course; Antonio its chosen agent, and Death, that neutral fanatic, to gorge and feast on their flesh.
The captain stepped forward with animal swagger, placing a pistol into Antonio’s hand. The metal felt cold in his palm. He involuntarily squeezed, willing life into his bloodless body, even as the terrible officer smiled; an ice-cold grimace, flint and stone:
“As per El Director; ‘you’re either with us, or against us’.”
“Show us where your loyalties lie…” his father intoned gravely.
Antonio looked down, his bronzed Latin face white as he gazed into the eyes of familiar men. These were men whom he knew. Some he’d laughed with, shared jokes with, inquired about their children, wives, parents, loved ones. Men with families. Spaniards. Fathers, brothers, sons. Human beings.
He gazed into the fearful brown eyes of Juan, and revulsion raised the mallets of his hammering heart.
“No! Father no! Why him?”
His father laughed. “That man hasn’t engaged in a single act of defiance. Not one protest or strike, in years. He was my first choice. Think of the effect killing him will have on the rest…”
Antonio noted the cold, pitiless logic of his father, and as laughter rumbled from the ranks of the civil guard, hatred rankled. It was despicable logic; he despised him for it. Never had his own kin seemed so hateful, so evil as now, in this moment. Antonio stood rooted to the spot, clenched in combat with himself. Every instinct in his being rebelled against this appalling situation, from which there seemed no escape for neither the victims nor their intended killer.
“You chose him because–
“They are against us,” Captain Castillo intoned.
“He’s father to –
“I am your father!” thundered Bahamonde.
“Do it!” he hissed, an ugly flush blotching his clean-shaven, boyish face.
Tearing his eyes from Juan’s, Antonio fought for self-mastery. Nerves electrified, mind racing desperately: he’s old, if not him then me, I can fight them from inside, destroy from within, to rectify is the way of the wise, if I don’t do it I’m finished, Juan dies so others will live I’ve no choice there’s no other way…
Every fibre of his being on fire, Antonio raised the gun and fired two bullets into the chest of his surrogate father. Death came instantly, that vigilant, neutral fanatic, to feast on the fleshy vassal in which Juan’s soul existed mere moments before. Birds nestled in the redwood trees were sent panicked, screaming into the skies. Beats of silence, and then noise, horrible noise. Amid the terrible reverberation of triumphant laughter, Antonio’s irresistible pistol thundered seven times more, as three joyous tyrants felt the sadistic apotheosis of their existence.
It was at this moment that Antonio realised the power of laughter, that uniquely human noise. Humour and wit are the gift of slaves, just as life is a joke in poor taste. But laughter can be cruel. It is the most sinister sound in this pitiless world.
Exultant, Marquéz Bahamonde gazed proudly upon his son, whom he had never much loved until this moment of transcendental beauty and power. Captain Castillo watched through razored eyes, searching for weakness in the rich young traitor, but to the boy’s credit he held his nerve in this first formative moment of Becoming.
The sharp crack of pistol shots rang through the fresh morning air; its victims left dead in the trench. Howling derisively, victor’s contempt gushed from the soldiers in a steady stream of scorn; hooting and jeering at the workers and proclaiming Antonio to be a Real Man. He was a patriot, and a defender of his class and the social institutions they’d sworn to uphold. A true Spaniard. The little tyke was one of them, after all.
Spared further action, Antonio made in haste for the town. The leathery old baker was gone; whether fled or dead, the heir knew not. But the murderously effective response of regional pro-Nacionales militias was apparent; remaining workers were thrown out into the street, their heads forcibly shaven and beaten without mercy or pity. In this carnival atmosphere of Bacchian lust, prominent leftists were publicly thrashed; arbitrary murders left defiled corpses on the pavement. Violated women wandered the streets dazed; some were seized and thrown into the back of military vehicles. Antonio saw a hapless friend of Juan forced to drink castor oil by a gang of laughing Carlists. Blue-shirted fascists of the Falange cruised here and there, occasionally joining in the orgy with hideous zeal. None were from the town; sauntering victors, delighting in violent dominion.
Fernando had gone. Fleeing, flying, volar a Cataluña, north-eastwards through Aragon. Antonio imagined the excitement of his young friend, en route to Barcelona and the anarchist rising. Go well, brother, he thought. Fight, and survive this evil chaos. Everywhere, the music of death played long and loud, its piercing vibration reverberating through the very stone slabs of the town, bloodshed indelibly spilt on historical cobblestones, forever tarnished by the malignancy of hatred and malice – everywhere, the hideous apparatus of eager, all-conquering Death.
Information gleaned from Antonio’s most diplomatic and unmolested source, it seemed as though the revolution was now, at last, in process, countering the well-orchestrated military coup which was universally supported by the rich, the religious and the fascist-leaning sections of Spain. He remembered Mola’s cold-eyed warning; if you’re not with us, you’re against us. How many more of the men he’d teased so mercilessly with his subversive views had taken part? How many of these proud, twisted generals who had been brutalised by the blood of the Rif? Sanjurjo, Goded, Franco, Cabanellas? Friends of his family were in command – equally shocking, international support was expected from the Duce and Führer. Ragtag mobs of anarchists stormed factories; Barcelona, the Catalan capital had been secured by the workers, who immediately outlawed class distinction and blared revolutionary songs into the night – Oh, Brave New World, that has such people in it!
Unified in the face of a truly ferocious foe, the socialists, communists and anarchists had hastily arranged militias and marched out of the cities, determined to meet the Nacionales divisions head on. Spain was in civil war.
Antonio’s head spun to contemplate the state of his beloved patría. So much drama and tragedy, love and loss, tribulations, tyranny, terror. So much human story, in the endless procession of creation and destruction, manifested in this evil, heady atmosphere of annihilation.
Gregorio was missing, likely arrested and jailed – flung into a cell like a neglected animal, a piece of meat, waiting for death. Antonio tottered on, his heart breaking at the sight of each assault, every casual injustice, every bloodstain and body; the bowed heads, the wretched despair, the schadenfreude of victorious warfare and the juxtaposed misery of abject defeat. It was the sick realisation of total, absolute power.
Wandering, lost, strangely spared – Antonio saw her, trailing listlessly through the town clad in ragged clothes that were torn and bloodied.
He raced to her, and then recoiled. The light of her eyes was extinguished; she peered through him, in sightless fugüe. Barely cognisant, María stared blankly, oblivious to Antonio’s concern. This beautiful, literate girl; the slender and talented dancer with poetic ambitions, dreaming of life beyond her parochial town; destroyed, depleted and discarded like so much leftover carrion. Roadkill, mere flesh – hooded, traumatised eyes, glazed and inhuman, scarred by the man’s malevolence.
She pushed past Antonio’s outstretched hand, muttered sightlessly to the latifundista as she stumbled away. Watching, Antonio finally registered the blood-flow that caked her bare legs, and in the sick triumphant laughter of his people, he understood with choking horror the true nature of war.
Isabella Doña Mariquita became a rallying point of supplication. She’d quickly become the lover of Captain Castillo, the military commander, and flaunted her status with equal haste. So, it was to her that Antonio went to secure his friends’ release, inside the dark interior of the tapas bar in the main square, which the Falange had commandeered.
The stifling, stinking heat pricked his skin as he pushed and squeezed through the dingy stone-floored room. Antonio threaded through to her, rudely shoving past the fascist señoritos to reach her table. She smoked coquettishly, but wearing a sneer; her old, flirtatious smirk abandoned. The whore oozed pride; Antonio scowled to see her.
“Gregorio”, he said, by way of greeting.
“I cannot help you, Antonio.”
She’d always addressed him ‘Señor Bahamonde’, but the social order had drastically changed in the course of a week. Even though he belonged to the social class whose side, as it were, controlled this region in the war, he was tainted by known Republican sentiment. He glowered.
“‘Cannot?’ Or will not? Talk to me, woman. Gregorio – is he in the townhouse?”
“I don’t know,” she replied carelessly.
“Is he in the damn townhouse or not?!”
By now, the row was attracting suspicious glances. The nearest falangistas, Spanish fascists, shrank away as though avoiding the bacillus of contamination. Antonio repeated himself, loudly. The ayuntamiento, or town hall, had been turned into a makeshift prison that effectively served as death row for notable Republicans. Everyone from trade unionists to orators, activists, even sympathetic lawyers had been rounded up and imprisoned. Some were shot outright; countless old scores settled. The prevailing joke amongst the civil guard and Falangist auxiliaries was that the ayunamiento was a balloon that swelled-up every day, was deflated by shootings, and refilled by fresh batches of the damned.
“I don’t know,” hissed the whore. She glanced around nervously, but the hostility of the muttering men was aimed at Antonio. Her confidence bolstered by the sight, Isabella chuckled. “Get lost!”
“Emilio, his cousin. You know Emilio, the slow one. Big soft lad. Harmless. I’ll buy his freedom. He doesn’t know what ‘communist’ means, I’ll vouch for–
But the prostitute shook her head, with barely suppressed glee. “No! Captain’s decree –his orders come from Director Mola.”
Mola… good grief.
Abandoning his pride, Antonio visibly wilted, and lowered himself to beg the common whore:
“Isabella. Please. Help me. I have wealth and influence. Much more than your precious lover.”
She heard the undisguised distaste in his voice, and bristled.
“Listen, big shot. You’re lucky to get away with your own shit. Be thankful. Thank your father, and try to live up to him…”
Finally recognising the corrupting, crowing triumph of these newly-emerged bearers of authority – even one as fragile as Isabella’s – Antonio realised clemency was a hopeless appeal. He leaned in, snarling:
“Remember your place, whore. I know the commanders; national, not poxy regional captains. And rest assured, I remember my friends and my enemies…”
Apoplectic, he spat on the floor, departing from the crepuscular fascist haunt which disgorged him back into sunshine, taunts at his back as he stepped out to the blood-spattered streets.
Gregorio was indeed in captivity. Antonio visited, approaching the old ruined castle cautiously. As it was, some of the lesser falangista volunteers were responsible for guarding the perimeter, and the fine cloth of his clothing was enough to convince them of his solidarity.
“Viva España!” They called, saluting him. He forced a smile.
Never had the words of a patriotic slogan tasted so bitter in his mouth.
Antonio was allowed entry, bribing the Falangist guards with his expensive cigarettes and a handful of ration coupons. He was led through a warren of stone channels to the steps, and up the curving, crenelled tower. Fascist blue shirts saluted him as he went. Reaching the top, he was aware of a deathly silence that descended on the grim-faced, haggard men held captive. The Republican prisoners were crammed onto the battlements of the old castle roof; most were fated for death. It was a terrible sight.
“Over there, sir,” his guard pointed.
Antonio saw Gregorio, sat on the edge of the battlement wall. Hostile men stepped aside as he passed, as though the young latifundista had leprosy or the bacillus of some evil contagion.
The response was cold-eyed. “Hello, Antonio. ¿Que pasa?”
Ill at ease, Antonio sat down on the battlement wall. They both stared out over the distance, unable to look at each other. He’d brought Gregorio food, and put the wrapped contained on the wall, instantly regretting the gesture as resentful eyes roved over the boy he’d called brother.
“Thanks,” his friend said flatly. He’d noticed the reaction too.
Humorously stoic, Gregorio pocketed the proffered cigarettes, then carelessly threw the food high overhead. Famished prisoners swarmed around the thick, soft bread, patatas bravas and richly-flavoured meat like ravenous hyenas tearing at the flesh of prey.
“I heard you commanded the firing squad,” he said flatly.
“No. They made me, at gunpoint. They would have killed me. Captain Castíllo had carte blanche from my father to shoot me down.”
“So a test of loyalty?”
“In their depraved minds, per–
“And you passed.”
“It is not like that,” he pleaded.
Gregorio’s mouth opened, and closed. Leaning, one foot on the battlement, he welled up with tears, his face disfigured by grief. Grimacing, he forced a chuckle:
“Fernando escaped… Viva la Republica Catalá, at least…”
“Yeah,” Antonio agreed, after checking that the nearest guard was out of earshot. Gregorio noticed, and stared hard at his friend, with a ferocious intensity he’d never shown.
“If you’ve an ounce of decency left… protect my family. Those still alive…”
As the great wind whistled up the cold stone ramparts, the compañeros shared a final embrace. Tearful, Gregorio wriggled free, and released a prodigious gobbet of phlegm into the face of his friend. There was nothing left to say; Antonio left quietly, shamed, and despairing of the machinations of humankind, dancing violently on their strings across this stage set under the endless tapestry of unwatching stars.
Three years later, the triumphant Nacionales conquered Spain. Mola didn’t live to see it, nor did Sanjurjo – crashed aeroplanes spelled the end of both men; their implacable hatreds’ perishing in flame. Generalísimo Franco survived them as Caudillo, leader of a fascist, traditionalist, Catholic España. The New Spain was the Old Spain – its foreign contagion annihilated, the old forces in power, mocking egalitarian dreams.
Fernando was captured near home at the war’s end. Before his execution, Major Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde stood on the same ramparts where he’d once tried in vain to console Gregorio. Guards held the ragged prisoners back whilst the tired, doomed militiaman talked contemplatively with his old compañero.
“Life was a bizarre ride, was it not brother?”
Antonio winced at that. “It still is. Embrace all of it. Every second.”
“There is not much to embrace, comandante.”
Major Bahamonde had no response. They smoked his cigarettes in contemplative silence, before Fernando sneered bitterly:
“Victory must be sweet.”
“Defending justice is sweeter.”
“Empty words, comandante…” sneered the peasant.
Antonio’s laugh echoed eerily over the windswept battlements. “‘Who are you going to complain to when the soldiers rape your mother?’ That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. Even though my family are safe… most are not.”
“That’s your problem. We…” Fernando gestured to the haggard prisoners, silently watching, “… Bore the tragedy. We can die proud.”
“You want to hear about Red massacres?” the major snapped.
“Yeah… churches burned. Unarmed priests shot. Foetuses slain; children raped, women beheaded by foreign invaders – your children’s history books. Spare me, marichulo. Workers, Spaniards fought for liberty; bombed by the Nazis and slaughtered by Moroccan murderers led by Spanish fascists, Catholics and generals…”
“Blood was spilled on both sides, brother.”
“Blood was spilled systematically by yours, major.”
“If you like,” he shrugged, but a cold, creeping sensation filled his guts as he said it. He’d seen enough victorious fascist militiamen tormenting peasant girls, flogging and force-feeding castor oil to them and their families to know the ugly nature of war, and the pornography of power.
“How did my father die?” Fernando asked flatly.
“Did you shoot him?”
“Good. I hope you remember it in your dreams until the day death comes calling for you.”
“I am sure I will, brother.”
At that, Fernando seemed more at peace, and some of the hatred died. They talked of happier times until the dying twilight of day, when a golden shining sun gently set on them. A cold breeze blew down from the sierras through the windswept, chilly night. At sunrise, Fernando’s defiant platoon were lined up in the square.
The roar of monstrous guns; doomed revolutionaries violently exited a world that rejected their naïve belief in human solidarity, condemned by their cruellest of fellow mammals.
All around, the evil atmosphere of war lingered, hanging heavily in the hot, fragrant air, the awful apparatus of eager, all-conquering Death.
Sickened by the sight of a peasant girl being forcibly shaven by crowing blue shirts, Antonio marched on. A woman sat on the cracked pavement, crying helplessly. She had soiled herself, no doubt due to being forced to drink castor oil. Where was the dignity… for all Mussolini’s talk of war revealing man’s nobility, where was the grace? Where was the mercy? Antonio felt worse when a small squadron of Italian legionarios saluted him as he passed.
On the outskirts of town, en route back to his estate, the returning major discovered the first of the campos de concentracíon. Several had been constructed nearby. That explains the Italians, he thought. Assigned to the regional army, they were obviously stationed to maintain some semblance of discipline, alongside the more fanatical falangista volunteers. The camp was dreadful. Townsfolk avoided the area around it, as though the bacillus of social contamination were airborne, emanating from the depleted bodies of captured Republicans. Despite the harshness of his wartime experience, Antonio shivered to see it. The campo de concentración was an ugly testament to naked power; vicious wire enclosed around palpably vanquished, broken captives, stewing pitiably in a pit of their own filth.
As he watched, a little boy crept up to one of the legionaries’ poorly-guarded trucks, grabbed several containers from the supplies, and slipped unimpeded through the wire to feed the ragged prisoners. The Italians watched with indifference. Antonio began to suspect Italy’s fascists pitied the wretched Republicans; a compassion that seemed entirely absent among the Falange. He shivered again, as a desperate embrace between what looked like father and son, befouled by mud and sewage, brought tears to the eyes of those men herded into the quagmire and left to rot like cruelly neglected animals.
On some nameless impulse, Major Antonio Marquéz Bahamonde sought María Lopéz, the widowed crow who’d witnessed sons and grandsons fall. As he traversed the outskirts of town, en route to the village, he felt slow-creeping panic rising up his spine, dazedly shuffling through the celebratory atmosphere in a surreal nightmare of enforced jollity amidst the chaos and carnage of suffering.
Tentatively, he entered the open door of her ransacked village home. Antonio crept through the room to face her; a living testament to his guilt. Statuesque, she barely registered his wide-eyed presence. The Nacionales major fell to his knees, beseeching her, haunted, bereft of the fire that flickered inside, in those days before grim war came to claim the young.
Fierce eyes fixed on his.
Burning, insatiable hatred emanated like searing heat.
“Do you know what happened to that girl you liked, boy? María, Pepito’s daughter?”
He nodded dumbly. A single tear rolled down his cheek. Clad in his uniform and the crimes that came with it, the major began babbling with long-suppresed hysteria:
“When the police rape women and slaughter the menfolk, to whom do you report a crime? When lunatics run the asylum, where do you find sanity? And if this was God’s divine crusade… what kind of God did we create?”
Thus, Antonio unburdened his heavy conscience to María Lopéz Jimenez. The old crow merely glared at him beadily through eyes that still registered carnage, in burning, unslakeable wrath. She spat in the shadow he cast, spat with vicious contempt and malice unquenchable, before arthritically shuffling away, her fierce, haunted eyes glinting with malevolence.
|Daniel S. Fletcher is a 27yr old Bali-based British writer; author of Jackboot Britain and The Acid Diary.|
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March 21, 2017
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February 05, 2017
I really enjoyed this story. It made me think about my own predisposit
Thank you, Scott.
I have been living in Santiago for about one year and I can confirm th
This was an enjoyable read. I could easily picture the venue and und
Thank you so much, Melanie. I appreciate your kind words about my stor