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Thursday, November 19, 2009

August in Madrid

He pressed the white porcelain to his lips, rolling the side of the cup across them with a slow flick of his wrist. The pungent odour of coffee wafted from the rim to his nostrils as they flared, breathing in with a stutter. Sickness knotted up in his stomach as he closed his eyes tightly, willing the brightness to relent. Looking up as the tepid liquid slid toward his stomach, he noticed the cafe was quite crowded. Couples laughing, talking, bickering, old men sitting alone with newspapers, women with books, steam rising from tea cups and kettles. He regarded the people in the street as they bustled by, unaware, his reflection coming to his attention in the distorted mirror of the windowpane. His jaw protruded beneath his hollow cheeks, as did his cheekbones below his darkly circled eyes. His eyes lingered momentarily unbelieving, then moved to the glassy black surface of his coffee, meeting his circular reflection in the darkness. Steam chilled his skin.
Wincing, he collected himself and, pushing the simple wooden chair back under the lip of the table as he glanced once more into the dark depths of his cup, placed a 5 centimo piece on the table. Izquierda, derecha, left, right, left, he strode out into the hot chaos of the street. The sun was heavy on his gaunt frame, exacerbating the weight of the fabric draped over his shoulders. Madrid possessed a particularly stifling heat this year, a heat which seemed to sear the life out of the city. The crowded side street made him feel impossibly small, its brick and mortar walls pasted with billboards and faded adverts-- Conciertos and Corridas long since past. The clacking of heels on the uneven cobbled street assailed his eardrums, reminders of his hollow loneliness, his eyes perpetually fixed on the ground just ahead of his feet. He was invisible, alien on these streets he had walked for so many years.
A trumpet pierced the August air from a balcony overhead, sputtering a disjointed Pasodoble. The golden tenor of the trumpet sounded empty as it echoed alone in the street, bouncing off of laundry lines and into open windows. The cracked heat of the street beneath his feet gave way to warm packed earth.
"Presente el matadore, Leone Vazquez!"
The Pasodoble thundered as he strode across the arena, posture perfect, shrouded in embroidered gold. He observed the crowd as they cheered, arms waving. He reached the center of the ring, his cuadrilla in formation around him. The ground shook, suddenly becoming scalding hot and hard as steel, the cheers of the crowd became a dull roar. His hands moved instinctively to his ears, his fingers meeting the matted grease of unwashed hair. The street re-formed around him, the ground becoming harsh under his feet once again. Gasping in a vain effort to regain his breathe, he stumbled forward. A passerby addressed him with a shocked expression, Leone slammed sidelong into a nearby wall, careening toward the ground, back arched.
The gritty stones of the street met his sallow skin without mercy, small stones lodging themselves in his palms and between his knuckles. He felt a hot flurry of blood rise to his face, streaming toward his chin from his throbbing temple, momentarily catching on the scruff of his unshaven face. A crowd gathered above him, blocking out the sun. He rolled over, startled, a sea of eyes, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes, filled with concern and shock, hovered over him. He clamoured to his feet-- blood running down his forearm, staining his cotton shirt-- and pushed through the sea of eyes into a deserted alley. He broke headlong into a run, his lungs straining, the heat of the sun pounding on his back. He jostled into an alley crowded by line after line of drying bed sheets, the wind throwing them about like capotes. He ran through them, becoming entangled in their crisp dampness, breaking through the alley into the street. En, fuera, en, fuera, in, out. He focused on his breathing as he struggled to keep moving, the city around him faded to black.
Upon coming to cognition he found himself next to the mailbox, breathing slowed to normal, possessing no memory of how he had arrived there. The blood on his arms had dried to a tacky burgundy, forming cracks as he moved his arm eye level to inspect its tattered state. He touched his temple lightly, feeling the blackened bruise throbbing beneath dried blood. He opened the mailbox, reaching inside hesitantly. His hands clutched instinctively at the time yellowed envelope as his fingers recognised the texture. From an old friend. Leone tore at the seam of the envelope, the brittle paper ripped easily. A death, a funeral. The blood rushed to his head, the pressure in his temple built, the blood pounding hotly, his face becoming ghostly pale. His legs felt weak.
Limply marching up the stairs, the slanted walls spinning, he fumbled in his pocket for the apartment key. The lock gave, the door stammered open, a rush of musty air escaped past him down the stairwell. Inside he discovered a fine layer of dust had overtaken every surface, the stagnant air felt hot. Two opened letters lay on the small dusty dining table, he stepped heavily across the tile, his sore feet embracing the rug as he made his way over. Two push pins lodged themselves in the sole of his left shoe, piercing through it to collide with the tender arch of his foot. His expression clouded, tears streaming unintentionally to the floor as he bent and pulled off his shoes along with the offending push pins.
Abandoning the letters, he moved across the room. The wash room floor felt refreshingly cold on his battered bare feet. The sickeningly metallic odour of sweat and dried blood filled the small room as he stopped the drain. The cast iron tub stood silently as an inundation of water shot from the faucet. He stripped away his blood soiled clothing, stepping into the tub, sinking slowly into the warm water. Steam filled the room as he submerged himself fully, the water cleansing his damaged flesh. He closed his eyes, the tension drained from his muscles, his mind quieted.

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