"Having your friendship will always be better than having nothing," he had said, with that air of a penniless poet that so many rural teachers have.
Isabel put away the address and began to write. But she was nervous. Pressured by time, angry with her senses that failed her just when she most needed them, she wrote without her usual passion and fine penmanship, her index finger leading the writing across the page as it pushed away the cigarette ash that had fallen onto it. She should have written to Fernando the night before, but she feared her older son's reaction; in certain things he was like his father. She knew that he was not going to understand why she was running away, and fearing that he would try to stop her, she had decided to wait to write to him until there was sufficient distance between them.
Dear son, dear Fernando:
By the time you receive this letter, I will already be far away with your brother. There is no greater sorrow for a mother than leaving behind someone she gave birth to with pain and happiness; you must understand how sad I feel, and that sadness grows when I think of how I am taking Andrés from you when he needs you most. You know, like I do, that he is a special boy who needs our help, and he admires and listens to you. You are the only one able to calm his attacks of rage and force him to take his pills. But I cannot remain in that house, your father's house, after what happened. I have to flee.
I know that you must hate me now. You will hear horrible things about me. They are all true, I can't lie to you. Perhaps you don't understand now why I've done this, perhaps you never will. At least not until the day you fall hopelessly in love and are then betrayed by that love. You'll call me a cynic if I tell you that when I married your father, nineteen years ago, at the age you are now, I loved him as much as I love you and your brother. Yes, Fernando, I loved him with the same intensity with which I later hated him and loved another. That hate blinded me so much that I didn't realize what was going on around me.
I didn't run away for love, my son. That emotion has died forever in my heart. I am only still alive because Andrés needs me. I don't want to justify myself; my stupidity is unforgivable. I've put you all in danger, and many people are going to suffer for my naïveté; that is why I cannot let your father and that bloodhound of his, Publio, catch me. You are already a grown man; you can make your own decisions and follow your own path. You no longer need me. I only hope that someday, when time has passed, you can forgive me and understand that the worst atrocities can also be committed out of love. Someday, if you are strong and determined enough, you will discover the truth.
Your mother, who will always love you, no matter what happens,
Someone was watching her. It wasn't the station chief. She heard footsteps echoing on the floor, drawing closer. Footsteps approaching with a steady rhythm. Heavy footsteps. Isabel lifted her head. A stocky man stopped in front of her, his legs spread wide.
"Hello, Isabel." The voice was discontinuous, a voice that would soon lose its shell and be reborn.
Isabel looked up. With vast sorrow she examined that face she knew so well, those eyes once filled with promises that now scrutinized her, seemingly bottomless and unknowable. Much to her regret, she still felt deep inside her an echo of the shudders she had experienced in his bed. For a fraction of a second she was held hypnotized by those thick, hardworking hands, which had lifted her to the heavens only to let her fall now to hell.
"So you're going to be the one, after all that's happened between us."
Copyright © 2011 by Víctor del Árbol. Translation Copyright © 2012 by Mara Faye Lethem
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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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