Obviously, the station chief had informed on her. She couldn't blame him for it. In those days of patriotism stoked by fear, everyone competed to appear the most loyal to the new regime.
She noticed the man's faltering movements and his smile. It was the smile of Mephistopheles, the bitter, dark, and nevertheless attractive Prince of Darkness.
"Better me than Publio or one of your husband's other dogs."
Isabel's expression twisted. She was so sad that she could barely hold back her tears.
"And what are you, if not the worst of his dogs? The most treacherous."
"My loyalties are crystal clear, Isabel. They are not to you, not even to your husband. They are to the State."
Isabel's chest tightened. It was terribly painful to hear such things from the man she had been sleeping with every night for almost a year, the man to whom she had given everything, absolutely everything, up to and including her own life, because that was the only way she could understand love. And now here he was, turning her over for a word, for something as useless as it was abstract: the State.
She remembered nights together, when his hands sought her out in the darkness and their mouths found each other like water and thirst. Those nights stolen from sleep, fleeting and laced with the fear of being discovered, had been the most intense, and happiest, of her life. Everything was possible; nothing was off limits in the arms of that man who'd promised her a better world. But she could no longer lament her mistake. Many before her had suffered love's loss, and many others had seen their hopes shattered. What happened to her had happened before and would happen again and again. But the betrayal had been so great, the devastation to her heart so vast, that she had trouble accepting it.
"All this time you were using me to win the others' trust. You had it all planned; you knew that I was the most approachable, and you used me without remorse."
The man examined Isabel coldly.
"It's strange that it is you who talks to me of morality and remorse. You of all people, who has been feeding and protecting those that wanted to murder your husband."
Unexpectedly, Isabel took the man by the arm in a gesture as violent as it was fragile.
"You were the one who suggested the assassination, and the one who made the preparations. You led those poor boys to the slaughter. You set a trap for us."
He shook her off with a brusque motion.
"I only sped the events up. Sooner or later they would have tried something similar, and the best part was that I could control the how and the when in order to minimize possible harm."
Isabel's face was steadily unraveling, like a wax mask left out in the sun. It was all too much for her, the man's coldness, his certainty at not having done wrong.
"And the harm you did to me, how are you going to minimize that?"
The man clenched his teeth. He remembered the same nights that Isabel did, but his feelings were not filled with pleasure, but with regret. Every night, after having made love to her he had felt miserable, just as he had when she looked at him with gratitude and admiration. He had heard from her own lips of the brutal and silent way her husband had taken her, as if she weren't a human being; he had heard from the other conspirators in the group of the atrocities that Publio and his Falangists had committed when they found some red hiding out in the house of a friend or family member. And even though all that had shifted his certainties, even though during the long year he had lived with them he had felt something similar to love and friendship, none of that could be taken into account when what was important was fulfilling the mission entrusted to him: dismantling that group of conspirators backed by Mrs. Mola herself. If it hadn't been him, someone else would have been assigned the task. Isabel was never very discreet, she didn't know how to lie, and obviously she was no revolutionary. She was just a bourgeois woman who hated her husband.
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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