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 her shoes.
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.
From House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin, the complete text of chapter 1, pages 1-15. Copyright 2005 Lamar Herrin. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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