He watched the couples, observed them closely as if he were
recording his own heartbeat, his rate of respiration. Gentlemen in suits and
gentlemen with canes seemed right, just as women dressed in tasseled shawls did.
The evening was growing cool. But he saw more jeans and khaki and even exercise
suits than he did elegant attire, and more running shoes and cheap versions of
Birkenstock sandals than polished leather. But regardless of how they were
dressed and out of what period of Spains history they seemed to emerge, as they
paced by him it was as if he were being introduced to an elemental rhythm that
was the social equivalent of his heartbeat, his breath-taking. People paired off
and lasted the years so that they could come here in their middle age and round
out the course of their lives. If he wanted to think of it that way.
He drew a breath, and, arms linked, one couple replaced another.
His heart beat, and to the music of that drum, the feet paced by. The water
spilled back onto itself and rose again. The smells were the prickly unsweetened
smells of an orderly procreation.
If he wanted to think of it that way.
Or he could think of it as lockstep. The pacing as penitential.
The procreation a mockery. The fruits of their labor were up on that
thoroughfare living by their wits.
Until a bomb went off.
Here in the Park of the Buen Retiro.
What Madeline Pratt didnt know was that Ben Williamson had
spent days reading about ETA. Days hed gone to visit his daughter Annie in
college, hed slipped into the library, found a carrel and pulled books down off
the stacks. ETAEuzkadi Ta AskatasunaBasque Fatherland and Liberty. The only
insurgency that Francisco Franco hadnt been able to wipe out. Insurgency was in
the Basque blood. One summer, in an effort to disrupt Spains tourist trade, ETA
had planted bombs at random in favorite beaches on Spains costa azul and
costa del sol. Theyd buried the bombs in the sand. A German had had the
bad luck to spread his towel over one.
Why not here? Blow a hole in Spains generational chain. Here,
this potbellied paterfamilias and his hobbled wife whose ankles turned in
Or this next couple, younger, much more attractive, she tall,
blond, still with a coltish lift to her knees, and he sporting a jaunty
handlebar moustache. Both stylishly dressed.
One couple interchangeable with the next? He remembered what
Madeline Pratt had said about "disarticulating comandos." The futility of
putting a face on what was essentially faceless. His daughter had had blue eyes,
the blue of a mountain lakehe had seen the very lake in Wyomings Grand Teton
National Parkbut with a subtly tightened, puzzled look about them, as if at any
moment that blue water were about to freeze. A mouth that was pensively pressed
shut; a pert point to her chin. Across her temple there was a blue vein that
gave her away, pulsing when she was otherwise composed. An eyelid also sometimes
twitched. He too had had a twitching eyelid, but the time hed called her
attention to it had led to a rebuff. A twitching eyelid meant nothing. They had
taken her away from him before hed been able to find something that did mean
something. He could see her now, far more clearly than when she had been alive,
but she, of course, was her own shield. Shed died on her shield.
Sitting there, witness to a procession he was ineligible to
join, but, nonethelessas his heart beat and his lungs filledin a processional
state of mind, all he could tell himself was that he d need a faceone of
theirs. Hed need a face to make a fair exchange.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...