A BAD HEMINGWAY STORY
Although the bulls have long cleared the streets, the young men were still sweating and leaping for the amusement of the beautiful spanish women. He walked among them lamenting his own lost youth. The evening quickly fell into clear night and all around the sounds of intoxicated voices wove around him like a school of minnows caught in a strong undertow. He pushed open the door to the closest watering hole and stood at the door for a moment before going in.
His name was Fred.
It was a dark cantina. The cantina was dark like the night that falls swiftly during wartime in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Fred had not thought about the Sangre de Cristo in many years. Maria had been there. Maria and many, many bottles of the sharp, crisp Catenza that the Mexican elders drink in the hot noonday sun.
Why, thought Fred, were so many of them named Maria?
Even some of the men were named Maria. And as bitter, worn men with a woman's name they did what they must. They fought with those that would taunt them.
For that is what men named Maria must do.
Maria Ibiza was one such man--a short, grizzly-faced man, front teeth permanently stained with the tar from years of smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. One afternoon he creaked open the door of his favorite cantina, The Tapista. His eyes soon adjusted to the darkness--the only light filtering through slats in half-rotten shutters. His heart began to pound...Enrique!
Enrique. The dark Enrique. Enrique had been drinking with Fred since the morning, and she clung to him like a drunk woman with a hair lip. For that is what she was.
Maria and Fred had fought over her when they were young men. Not to win her, for she had a hair lip, but rather to fight each other for the sake of the fighting and the winning. For in those days they were filled with the foolishness that clings to boys like sweat on a humid day.
In the end, Maria had won her, for Fred had often gotten their names confused, and a hot blooded woman like Enrique would not stand for it, hair lip or no.
They sat at the bar and motioned the barkeep to pour each a double and settled into their evening drinking poses, their ragged clothing touching. Fred showed them his knife which was 10cm long and shaped like the crescent moon they once shared over Turkey.
"I've news, Maria", he began.
"Fred," Maria mumbled, in a tone that echoed exhaustion, but with a hint of etiquette, "I know what your gonna say, and I don't think I can do it."
"Woah, not so fast... things have changed!" Fred insisted firmly. "And they're gonna keep on changin'"
Maria rolled his eyes, and pushed his hat towards the back of his head as beads of perspiration trickled down to the end of his nose.
"We've been through this before. Nothing changes, remember. Even you said that."
Fred stared into the bottom of the glass of whiskey and watched the last drops disappear as he tilted it back. Somewhere, he knew Maria was right, but like a stubborn old dog, he was not ready to accept this
The defeat that rolls in your brain like bad whisky was not evident in his eyes. Fred smiled a somewhat wicked grin and said , "I say a lot of things. It's good to know you listen on occasion. One day you might actually learn something."
Maria was thinking. He looked up suddenly at Fred, a gleam of suspicion passing through his eye like the flame that lingers on the end of a cigarette lit by the Mexican elders who drink the sharp, clear Cartenza in the hot noonday sun.
"What? What means this, this "Woah"? Who is "Woah"?
"It is nothing. It is a word spoken by my people on the sands of California."
Maria had heard Fred talk before of California, of the men who stood upon the long wooden boards and rode the fierce, resisting sea, of the men who smoked the strange weed that makes them weak and langorous and filled with hungers, and their women with the strange breasts that were always firm, who came from this land.
"This is how things have changed. The train now leaves at Midnight. The Inglese will be here to take us to the mountain, where we have hidden the machina."
"Do you have bullets for the machina?"
"We have many bullets. They are good bullets, and we can kill many fascists."
"What will the train carry?"
"The train carries the bulls, the bulls that run. We must get those bulls from the fascists."
Bulls, thought Maria. All my life I have wished to have the bulls that run. If my name was not Maria, I would have been a great fighter of bulls in the arenas of Pampalona. Then I could have gone to California.
I could have seen the women with the strange breasts.
I could have bedded the one called The Madonna. Although, from what Maria had heard about the strange woman who sang, his name would not have mattered.
The weight of his years and all his regrets hung on him like the belts of the bullets hung from the backs of the young boys as they carted them up the hill.
The moonlight glistend off the brass of the young men's earings and Maria thought back to his days as a boy in the fishing village. His father had held him down while the village elders had pierced his ear.
"Take your earing like a man!" his father had bellowed.
It was in those days that Maria met the old man of the beach. Hairless from the sun, and wrinkled like a prune, he always eyed the young boys in the ceaseless surf but he never touched. Once he tried but he was beaten severely by the women of the village.
Maria and his boyhood friend, Esmerelda (also a young boy at the time) would ride the surf in canoes made by the Mexicans who lived in the nearby village and whos elders drink the sharp, clear Cartenza in the hot noonday sun. Those were the days before the war took away Esmerelda on an unknown battlefield in France. In those later days Maria would sometimes weep for his lost friend. But men don't cry, they drink their sorrows down with whisky and a grim frown and so that's what Maria did now.
"It's almost midnight Fred"
"Let us be off, Farewell Enrique" replied Fred. Enrique hugged Maria briefly and the two men gathered their ragged packs and left.
Enrique stood at the door look at the disappear into the night before going back in. Joquin was there with another bottle of whisky. Enrique sighed as she sat on the stool next to him. For that is what women who only crave constant intoxication must do.
Joaquin turned around and poured more whiskey for Enrique. The clinking ice cubes, portentious of the long night ahead.
"What is it, Enrique?"
She reached over and contemplated the glass. Then she looked up at him and batted an eyelash, for she had no answers, only a strong desire for intoxication.
Joaquin understood. Women were curious creatures... especially women named Enrique. Boredom hovered over them like flies in a smoky mountain. Especially these times, when war loomed and all the men left.
The ones who remained? Mataderos. Mataderos in glistening tights and funny hats. Mataderos who preferred spending time with bulls.
And through the smoke and the alcohol, Joaquin could see the warmth and filth of the bullfights in Pamplona. The magnificent glistening tights, how they led the eyes from the dusty arena floor to material of greater worth.
For it is the center of the matador that matters most. The center, about which the lithest and most agile of the fighters could pivot, directing calculated thrusts into the undefended spinal cord of a weakening bull.
Joaquin prefererred alertness in his matadors. So many were lazy, almost nonchalant about the slaying of the mighty adversary. And this inevitably led to downfall. Those of this type were sure to last no longer than two years, maybe three.
It was endurance that Joaquin valued most. The ability to maintain one's resolve throughout a lifetime, unflagging.
Enrique seemed of this type. Strong. Abit stubborn. And so he tilted the bottle once more toward her glass.
It is what she wants, he thought.
While they settled back into their liquor Maria and Fred made their way through the dark streets toward the meeting place, a hidden cellar beneath the old general store.
They were silent as they walked. Fred was smoking his pipe, Maria was playing with his lucky rabbit's foot. They did not talk, for that is what men who have nothing to say to each other don't do.
Once at the door, Fred gave the secret knock using his pipe. Some ashes and chunks of glowing tobacco fell onto the ground and a fire almost started but Fred was able to put it out with his leather boot. Maria looked away to spare Fred the embarassment that men should not feel.
After a moment, the door creaked open and they entered. The Inglese was there. As were the mules. The Inglese was drinking a mojito and smoking a cigarette mounted in a long cigarette holder.
"All is ready, Fred", said the Inglese. His name was Derrick, but noone ever called him that. They called him John because no one knew his name was Derrick. Or they called him simply the Inglese for that is what he was.
"Then let us be off" said Fred with the haste of his soul.
Maria checked the bags on the mules. Iron rations, a deck of cards, some prophylactics, bullets for the machina, and several books in the language of the Inglese.
"How long will we be walking, John". There was no answer.
"Oh, sorry. Yes we will be walking for a few days. We can ride the mules for a few hours at a time, but that is all".
"Real men don't use prophylactics, John".
There was no answer.
Noticing a squeamish awkardness to the recently formed triumvarate, Fred clenched his fists and his jaw in unison, pulled the dingy leather sack from off his shoulder and sat it down on the cobblestone curb. The Inglese was stablizing the packs on the mules, with the precision of true drunkard. Fred seized the opportunity for a short rest, and fanned himself with his wide-brimmed hat in the hotter-than-usual evening humidity.
Maria could tell that this was going to be a long couple of days. But such apprehension paled in comparison to Fred's.
Fred was sloppily unscrewing the cap of a bottle of Chilean Pisco--and Maria recognized this situation. He's seen too many men stare down the barrel of a bottle of Pisco, often never looking up again. Fred pulled off the bottle, bringing him back to his younger days working on the Gran Santiago Railroad. He smiled invisibly, because his content was directly related to his discomfort with Maria.
But for Maria, Santiago was long ago, and nostalgia never did any good. The sight of Pisco brought him a little too close to the Southern Hemisphere, and far too close to period in his life that had been very intentionally eclipsed.
Despite a sampling of the Pisco, the men moved on.
In two days, they had reached the mountain the Inglese spoke of. Hidden among the brush, they found the machina, and three boxes of ammunition.
"You know what to do, Fred, Maria, I wish you luck" the Inglese offered his hand for the shaking, dropped the packs off the mules and disappeared into the hazy morning like a dark skinned prostitute disappearing into the smoky streets of Madrid in the summer evening.
Soon, the bulls that run will be ours, through Maria. He was not apprehensive, for few men are, yet he did feel the tension that winds through muscles of the back...
They could see the railroad tracks down below as the shadows shortened and the morning turned into afternoon. Fred was quiet looking about.
"Where do we place the machina"
"Just outside the entrance of the tunnel, Maria"
"How will we move it that far?"
"The Patriatos will be here to help us in the evening. They will bring wheel barrows for the machina and the bullets."
The Patriatos, thought Maria. So this is bigger than I originally thought. He took out a cigarette and lit it with a quick flick of the Zippo that was given to him by a girl from Amerika he once made love with on an unnamed beach of Portugal. As always he held the Zippo in his hand remembering for a moment before placing it back in his pocket.
She was not the most beautiful woman he had, but she was very alive and it was the first time in his life that he let a woman, especially a woman from Amerika, take control. Her name was Victoria and she was from a place called Georgia where tropical fruits and cotton were once carried on the backs of slaves. She promised to take him there more than once, but he knew that it was idle thinking. A peasant spaniard like Maria did not belong on a plantation in the new world, except maybe as one of the slaves.
"I would appreciate it if you kept your thoughts to yourself, Maria" interrupted Fred for Maria had been speaking out loud.
"Sorry Fred" replied Maria and sat down to enjoy the cigarette.
The evening came and so did the Patriatos. Three of them dressed in large hats and bullets.
"Have you brought the wheelbarrows?" asked Fred.
"We have brought the wheelbarrows" answered one of the Patriatos, the leader, a man named Fellini who was said to have killed many men with his bare hands.
"They are good wheelbarrows and will carry the machina so we can kill the fascists" added another, Grigosh, who once killed a man with a guitar string.
"And capture the bulls that run" added the third, Dobbs, who never killed anyone but dreamed about it often.
For many hours they worked placing the boxes of ammunition and parts of the machina in the wheelbarrows and when they were done they rested and drank the drink called tequilla that the Patriatos brought with them and the Patriatos sang songs of patriotism in a language that Fred and Maria were not familiar with.
"The midnight train is just 3 hours away" reminded Maria for it was 3 hours from midnight and Maria, although a common peasant spaniard, knew a little about the study that is called math.
The 5 men took their burden down the mountain toward the tunnel entrance. An hour before the train which carries the bulls that run was to arrive, all was ready and Fred lit his pipe again.
"And now we wait" said Fred for that is what they had to do.
The game of waiting is one which never came easily to Fred. As a boy in the outskirts of the great city he would accompany his father to stockpens where they kept the best bulls for breeding with the cows which were considered the strongest for childbirth.
For hours Fred would wait outside. Sometimes his father would not return for hours. And always when he did, the hair of his father would be rough, as if if he had been wrestling with some sort of animal. Fred remembered how his right hand would tremble with impatience. The hand on his right arm was always his enemy, giving away his anxiety when he should be calm.
It was so now.
"Fred, you are spilling the tequilla."
"No, you must be mistaken!"
The patriotos with their large hats and bullets looked at him strangely. For it was clear to all that the right hand of Fred, the hand that hung at the end of his right arm, was trembling in the cool Spanish night.
And with each shake of his disobedient hand, another drop of tequilla would spill to the forest floor.
"It is of no importance, we have the wheelbarrows. And the train of the bulls will be here shortly," grunted Fellini. What sort of men are these, Fellini wondered to himself. Perhaps we should not be here.
It was then that the wind shifted, and the sound of the swaying of the fresh mountain pines was joined by a deeper mechanical thunder.
The train of the bulls had arrived. Within minutes it would be upon the men with the wheelbarrows. And the maquina. And the tequilla.
Dobbs, who was a dwarf, screamed and pointed "The train, the train". And so it was the train. The men were ready.
The train rolled out of the tunnel and Fellini went onto the tracks, waving his huge hat. The engineer saw him and threw the switch and the train began to brake and the bulls within the cars it drew screamed as they were slammed into the walls.
The men riding one of the flat cars saw the machina and the others and begun shouting to their captain, a man name Falwell, "Falwell to arms!! To arms!!! It's a raid!".
They were fascists and as such deserved to die. Maria and Fred worked the machina and killed many of them while the train continued braking finally stopping just beyond the point where Fellini lay crushed. For the train slammed into him and Fellini being a true Patriato never moved.
"Give us the bulls" shouted Fred to the engineer. The engineer lifted his arms and came off the engine, slowly, for the look in Fred's eye was that of a drunken madman.
A few of the fascists were still alive and they were kneeling with arms in the air and begging for mercy. Maria licked his lips and feeding the machina again mowed the rest of them down. Maria had been fighting the fascists since he was a boy living at the sea side village and he hated them greatly. The old man of the beach was said to have been a fascist and Esmerelda fell victim to fascists during the Great War.
Fred tied the engineer's arms behind his back and kicked him onto the ground for good measure. Dobbs and Grigosh began walking along the cars which held the bulls. It was success and so it was to be toasted. So that is what they did drinking the strange tequilla they had brought and shooting their pistolas into the air.
It was then that Maria realized they had won. Fred was looking at him and finally said:
"So Maria, now you have fought the fascists, and have freed the bulls that run, and now you feel you are victorious, but this is just one small battle and there will be many more and many others will die"
"I am ready Fred" and they joined Patriatos and freed the bulls that run.
END OF CHAPTER ONE
©1999-2000 by J.Cisek and these folks