It's been a long time since I thought of Iris or the summer she died. I suppose I tried to forget it all, in the same way I overcame nightmares and childhood fears. And now, when I want to remember her, all that comes to mind is the last day, as if these images have erased all the previous ones. I close my eyes and bring myself to that big old house, this dormitory of deserted beds awaiting the arrival of the next group of children. I'm six years old, I'm at camp and I can't sleep because I'm scared. No, I lie. That very early morning I behaved like a brave boy: I disobeyed my uncle's rules and faced the darkness just to see Iris. But I found her drowned, floating in the pool, surrounded by a cortège of dead dolls.
He turned off the alarm clock at the first buzz. Eight a.m. Although he'd been awake for hours a sudden heaviness overcame his limbs and he had to force himself to get out of bed and go to the shower. The stream of water cleared his sluggishness and along with it some of the effects of jet lag. He had arrived only hours before, after an interminable Buenos AiresBarcelona flight which was prolonged further in the Lost Luggage office at the airport. The assistant, who had definitely been one of those sadistic British schoolmistresses in a previous life, consumed his last shred of patience, looking at him as if the suitcase were a being with free will and had opted to trade in this owner for one less moody-looking.
He dried himself vigorously and noticed with annoyance that sweat was already appearing on his brow: that was summer in Barcelona. Humid and sticky as a melted ice-cream. With the towel wrapped round his waist he looked at himself in the mirror. He should shave. Fuck it. He went back to the bedroom and rummaged in the half-empty wardrobe for some underwear. Luckily the clothes in the lost suitcase were winter ones, so he had no problems finding a short-sleeved shirt and trousers. Barefoot, he sat on the bed. He took a deep breath. The long journey was taking its toll and he was tempted to lie back down, close his eyes and forget about the meeting he had at ten o'clock sharp, although deep down he knew he was incapable of doing so. Héctor Salgado never missed a meeting. Even if it might be with his executioner, he said to himself and smiled ironically.
His right hand searched for his mobile phone on the nightstand. Very little battery life remained and he remembered that the charger was in the damn suitcase. The day before he'd felt too wrecked to speak to anyone. He looked up Ruth's number in the phonebook and stayed looking at the screen for a few seconds before pressing the green button. He always called her on her mobile, surely in an attempt to ignore the fact that she had another landline. Another house. Another partner. Her voice, somewhat hoarse, just awake, whispered in his ear:
"Héctor . . ."
"Did I wake you?"
"No . . . Well, a bit." He heard a stifled laugh in the background.
"But I had to get up anyway. When did you get back?"
"Sorry. I arrived yesterday morning, but those idiots lost my bag and I was in the airport for half the day. My mobile is about to run out of battery. I just wanted you to know that I'd arrived safely."
Suddenly he felt stupid. Like a child talking too much. "How was the flight?"
"Calm," he lied. "Listen, is Guillermo asleep?"
"Your accent always changes when you come back from Buenos Aires. Guillermo's not here, didn't I tell you? He's spending a few days at the beach, at a friend's house. But I'm sure he'll be sleeping at this time," she added immediately.
"Yeah." A pause; lately their conversations stalled continually.
Excerpted from The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill. Copyright © 2013 by Antonio Hill. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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