The evening was hot, encased in a searing heat that nothing could escape. Not hot in the jungle way; not wet or sticky, the air so thick you can barely breathe. This was the heat of the other side of the Cordillera, upland heat, still clawing at the skin and forcing out salty beads of perspiration, but without the wet blanket smothering effect of the tropical lowlands.
A door creaked open and a long shadow leaned outwards, quickly followed by Miguel Temblar as he stepped out of a noisy bar and into a dark alley, faintly lit by a lone street lamp. He grabbed a bandana from his back pocket and wiped the sweat off of his forehead. The night air settling in around him, he flipped a smoke out of his pack and struck a match. The smell of sulphur mixed with the lingering scent of the bougainvillea that blossomed all along the narrow alleyway.
Searching for lucidity in the slight haze of several whiskeys, Miguel pulled slowly on his cigarette and gazed out onto the calm night. A stray dog ambled weakly under a flickering street lamp. The dark figure of an old woman, hunched over and carrying a small load, crossed the alley where it met the main street several blocks away. He took one last drag before flicking his cigarette into the street. A stream of bouncing sparks shot through the air as Miguel turned and walked towards Barrio Santa Lucia.
Warm, moist air would normally blow up from the coast a few hundred miles to the west and mix with the cooler mountain air from the peaks of the Cordillera a little ways to the east of town. But something must have been stalling the cool air, holding it back somewhere up on the forested ridges where it was created because the night, though hot, was not shrouded in the customary fog that formed over the town when the two air masses collided.
Miguel was glad for the clarity. He needed no nebulous barriers in his environment, as his mind was already its usual cluttered and hazy self, struggling fruitlessly to fight off opposing streams of hopes and anxieties, and any detraction from the opaque that he could get from his surroundings was a welcome influence on his disposition.
Barrio Santa Lucia sprawled in a string of lights and shadows across a hillside above the town. A serpentine maze of steep and curving streets wove through a jumble of crudely constructed adobe and brick huts. The barking of dogs echoing across the face of the hill and the occasional purr of a bus engine straining its way up a near vertical street were the only things Miguel heard between the overworked rhythms of his heavy breathing.
He paused at the top of a cement staircase and gazed out over the panoramic view of the town, which was squeezed chaotically into a low basin surrounded on all sides by mountains, and thought about how it had the appearance of a many-tentacled creature oozing its way up the hillsides, trying to escape the round recess it had fallen into. He had lived his entire life in that town, had seen it through times both good and bad, vibrant and desperate, and couldn’t help but admire the tenacity and resolute persistence of such a place. It gripped his heart, as it mirrored his own personal struggle with good and bad times; and was also in it’s own way the source of his problems. But in the end, home was home, and you had a love for it like you could for no other place on this Earth.
He shook these thoughts from his head and continued on his way up the hillside. If night time was good for nothing else, it served perfectly for reflecting back on the day, for filtering a day’s worth of thoughts into one coherent picture, or for analyzing them one at a time, free from distraction and shrouded by darkness and silence.
But tonight was no easier for Miguel than the series of days and nights that had preceded it, for as far back as he could remember. Despite the calm and solace afforded by the night, or the fleeting respite offered by the whiskey he had drank, or the fragrant peacefulness of the trail up the hill, he was feeling no different. Painful burdens are not so easily relieved, memory not so easily erased.
He mounted the last set of stairs, passing a group of young children who were laughing and yelling to each other while excitedly careening down the steps two at a time. He removed his worn out hat and ran his fingers through his sweaty hair. Wiping his forehead again with his crumpled bandana he crossed a small field on a dirt path that led to the main street in Barrio Santa Lucia.
Arriving in that neighborhood always left him with a mix of painfully heavy and hopefully nostalgic feelings. He both hated and found solace in its familiarity. This night in particular he wished he had stayed for one more drink at the bar before setting off up the hill.
Serafina Perdida’s house was a ten minute walk through the twisted streets. Having grown too quickly for any sort of grid or other orderly arrangement to form, the neighborhood was a shifting maze of pothole strewn dirt streets lacing their way between crumbling single story adobe huts. Torn tarps served as semi-permanent roofs; at least until the hopeful day that real ones made of wood could be built. Small children stood in the naked doorways staring, their hands in their mouths and empty gazes in their worn, hungry eyes.
Miguel puffed on another cigarette as his feet followed the path they knew almost instinctively by now. He tipped his hat slightly to the old folks on their chairs, sipping coffee or aguardiente, who knew him as the strange, quiet man who passed by at nearly the same hour every night.
At last, though with his customary heavy heart and slight trepidation, he arrived at Serafina’s door. The house did not stand out from all the others on the block: a weathered, decaying old adobe brick house with two squat windows and a door painted a worn, faded red.
He paused in the shadows for a moment, hopeful of catching a glimpse of Serafina through the window. But this night it seemed quiet and dark inside. With a sigh he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He opened it and read through the lines of the poem he had written earlier that day: one last check for perfection before he passed it on. Satisfied with his verse, he folded it up again and, next to a single violet colored wildflower he had picked in the field on his way up the hill, placed it on Serafina’s door step. Then he turned, and without looking back, set off down the hill, through the impoverished streets, across the field with its symphony of chirping crickets, down the steep sets of staircases, across the center of town, and back to his own neighborhood; an hour and a half walk that had become a deeply ingrained ritual, one that he missed not one day out of the year.
Back home he undressed, took a few sips from a half empty bottle of whiskey, and settled into his bed, hoping in earnest that he would be able to sleep the night through without the clawing agony of nightmares, which more often that not plagued him through the long hours of la madrugada and riddled his sleep with their horrifying intensity. The image of Serafina was plastered inside his eyelids the moment they closed, and would be there still the instant he awoke in the morning.
Sunlight filtered in through the small, cracked window above Miguel’s bed. The loud crooning of a rooster in the yard outside had awoken him to the reality of dawn. As he rubbed his eyes and stretched he realized with pleasant surprise that he had slept soundly the entire night, awoken not once by nightmare or frightening vision. He pushed aside a thin white blanket and swung himself out of bed, his head heavy with sleep and the lingering effects of whiskey.
He walked to the sink and looked at himself in the crooked mirror that hung above it. The vagaries of life had worn his once handsome face well beyond it’s mere twenty five years. His eyes seemed dark and sunken, his skin rough and leathery. A long scar ran from his temple down his cheek nearly to his mouth. His thinning hair, once dark and wavy, now resembled something more like Spanish moss than the silken locks of a well groomed man. He splashed cold water on his face and rubbed the remaining sleep from his eyes.
He lazily threw on a pair of worn blue jeans and a tan colored shirt that was missing all but two buttons. He strapped on the old leather holster that held the pistol that he never left the house without. Unscrewing the cap from the bottle of whiskey on his kitchen table, he took a long pull from it, then placed his dirty sombrero on his head and stepped out into the fresh sunlight and cool early morning air.
The town was just waking up as he walked along the still quiet streets, tracing out his familiar path to the broad lake three miles away, tucked in a valley between two steep peaks, where he worked as a fisherman. Ever since the revolution and the fighting it was the only job he could find, though he just barely scraped by doing it.
After an hour’s walk under the increasingly hot sun he reached the shore of the lake. His small boat was tied up in a shallow cove. Inside was the small, ragged net he fished with, a jug full of fresh water, and a small box which held a crumpled notebook full of blank pages, several pens, and a worn, faded photograph of Serafina.
He pushed off towards deeper water, gently paddling with the instinctive motions that had grown a part of him. There was a finesse to it; a balance was needed that would send him cruising at a fair speed without the over exertion that would spell disaster, in the form of heat stroke, under that fiercely burning orb that had not a cloud to hide behind in the blue morning sky.
It was the wrong type of job for a man with demons to have. Alone all day in the empty silence with only his thoughts running circles inside his head. He would work as hard as he could to keep his mind elsewhere, but it was a mostly futile exercise. The past pushed down on him like an intense pressure from the universe itself.
Miguel Temblar had grown up privileged, the son of a wealthy businessman, in a well connected family with a large house in the part of town occupied by oversized mansions with neatly manicured lawns. The world outside this enclave of fortune was largely foreign to him. He was home schooled, trained by private tutors in business and history and music, and led a very sheltered life all the way up through adolescence and his late teens.
His mother was stubbornly overprotective, and refused to allow him to leave the house. He loved her dearly and so abided by the strict rules. Much of his youth was spent reading and playing chess with the servants in the large garden behind the house.
This solitary life only compounded his already existing problems. He was by nature shy and inward, and any chance to develop social skills was stifled by his overbearing mother and strict, coldly indifferent father. His tendencies towards keeping to himself, towards lone activities, amusing himself in the absence of other human beings, were to mar his life through all his years. He was never able to become the outgoing, charismatic person Serafina, or most other girls, or even friends, were looking and hoping for. He remained the lone, quiet figure in the corner that he was brought up to be.
When he turned eighteen his father arranged for him to take advanced piano lessons in the home of a family friend, another powerful businessman with a large house down the street from their own. Not only did this finally afford him the chance to leave the house, which he was grateful for, albeit with a slight fear that he couldn’t help but feel, but it also set him up for the encounter that would familiarize him with the polarity of life, with the opposing yet intertwined themes of love and despair.
He would spend a few hours of each week there, in the large airy house that smelled of clean linens and citrus. Most of that time he spent fixed on the grand piano that was the centerpiece of an elegant drawing room carpeted with fine rugs and strewn with dark walnut furniture.
It was there, in the pale light of the opulent drawing room, that he first laid eyes on Serafina Perdida. She was the dark eyed, fair skinned beauty who served the drinks and dusted the lamps of the family whose house they both stood in that calm December day when they fell under the spell of each others gaze for the first time.
Its something that in reality very few people in this world ever actually experience: love at first sight. The idea that a simple locking of the eyes, a single shared glance can lead to undying love seems preposterous. After all, love is a thing that grows, that transforms over time, and requires the give and take of ideas and physical embrace to do so. Love at first sight seems an exaggeration, a thing of fiction too good to be true, or rather too easy to be true.
But if not love at first sight, what resulted from the chance encounter that day in the drawing room altered Miguel’s life forever. He knew instantly, as if by instinct, that he must have that girl; with her long dark hair that fell to her shoulders, her small perfect mouth, her even smaller, narrow nose, the tiny birthmark so aptly placed between the two, all of her. He knew he must make her a part of his life. If not love it was some other form of rapture, some other transcendent obsession that left him numb and restless every waking hour since that first connecting of their souls.
News came to him from his one real connection with the outside world, his only friend Raul, a young boy from the neighborhood, one of the few his parents allowed him to see. They were very much alike, both physically and intellectually; tall and thin, dark skinned, with awkward mannerisms (though Raul was the more outgoing one, and the more likely to go out and make ideas happen) and a passionate love for the written word. They would often spend hours together talking, discussing poetry and music and ideas. Raul would sneak him books: Dario, Neruda, Garcia Lorca, Vallejo. They were his lifeline to humanity, which he hid from the watchful eyes of his parents. He would pore over them at night by dim candlelight, soaking up the lines like life-giving nutrients.
Recently they had been having long talks about the ideas of the revolution that was stirring, about liberation and equality and the rich and the poor, about the anarchists in Spain, the Bolsheviks in Russia. They were both inspired by the idea that humans could live free of restraint, could break out of the drudgery and servitude of the life they knew and create something much more livable out of it’s ashes. They felt a real affinity with the poets and authors whom they loved, and who called for the same type of insurrection they were beginning to feel in their hearts was necessary.
Conversation would, before long, inevitably lead to Serafina. Miguel had enlisted Raul to track her down, to find out who she was and where she lived and anything else about her. Raul was also young but had been in love before, and he understood the types of things it did to a man, the kind of torture that unrequited love could be. For that reason he wasn’t at all surprised to see the aura of this girl gradually and completely consume Miguel.
After much nervous fretting and indecision, he sent Raul with a letter that spoke of his passionate love for her, that boldly insisted they meet up and run away together.
When the reply came a few days later Miguel was broken. He read and re-read it’s contents, hoping he missed a word or phrase that changed its meaning. But there was no mistaking what the letter said. In it, Serafina expressed that she was flattered, and had herself taken notice of the handsome young man that came to the house where she worked every Wednesday and Friday to play the piano. She even admitted to secretly listening to him play from the other room. But despite whatever feelings the two might have for each other, she went on, they had to stay grounded in the reality of their situation and realize that circumstances would never allow for them to be together. She was poor and lived in Barrio Santa Lucia, a servant girl, while he was the only son of one of the town’s most powerful men. Such a love affair would risk their lives, and those of everyone involved.
The situation carried on for a few weeks. Miguel’s parents couldn’t understand why he seemed suddenly so upset, why he paced the house at night in fits of insomnia. He got more and more pale, and wasn’t eating much. The only thing he seemed to live for anymore were his piano lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays.
He talked about her incessantly with Raul. He was lucky in at least that much: having a sympathetic and listening ear in a close friend. Love, not poetry or revolution, became his obsession. But despite that, Raul, a staunch anarchist, had him convinced the only way he would ever be with Serafina was if the revolution was successful, if they fought and won and the lines that divided rich and poor were erased forever.
They exchanged several more letters, Raul taking great risk in being the messenger. Her tone always seemed ambiguous to Miguel. On the one hand it seemed she was concerned only with friendship with the young stranger, perhaps intrigued by the risque nature of the affair. But the more he read into the letters, holding them in his trembling, sweating hands, he knew he sensed the stirrings of the heart in her carefully worded sentences. Underneath a facade of indifference lay something more profound; of this he grew more and more certain.
Finally the throbbing pulse of infatuation beating in his chest drove him to action. On a rainy Friday morning he walked to his piano lesson rehearsing the words in his head. He was determined to pull Serafina aside and profess his love for her, to her face: the moment he had dreamed of now for months. If she refused his plan to run away again, he would tell her that he was leaving that night to join the revolution, that he would fight until the very last battle so that they would no longer have to share the forbidden love of a rich man for a poor girl, both born into the circumstance against their will.
He had written a long, flowing poem for her as well, that he planned to slip into her hand during the dramatic confrontation he had played out in his head so many times. He had worked on it for weeks; at first in the solitude of the shaded garden, and then once the deluge of the rainy season came at his desk in front of the small window that looked out over the divided town he felt a growing hatred for.
As soon as he entered the house he immediately went in search of the servant girl, forgetting even to remove his muddy boots, leaving a trail of filth in frantic circles throughout the first floor of the large house.
He found her in the bathroom beside the kitchen, on her hands and knees scrubbing the tile floor. He startled her and she jumped at the sound of his voice.
“I’m in love with you Serafina Perdida, and I know you feel the same about me. If that’s true, as I’m sure that it is, then you know already what we have to do. There are no barriers to true love, least of all anything as shallow as wealth or class. But to make this work we must run away together, and I know just where…”
“But I hardly know you Miguel,” she interrupted, her voice trembling, “we’ve never spoken except in letters. You know I can’t…”
“First off don’t utter those words, I can’t, because of course we can, and we have to, we have to make this work, I’ve never felt so strongly about anything,” his voice trailed off, too caught up in emotion, and with fear creeping in, the fear that Serafina might not agree with his plans the way he was so certain she would.
“Just say the word and I’ll take care of everything. I know a small town in the mountains we can go to. I can steal enough money from my father to get us started. I can write poems and stories for money. We’ll make it work Serafina, I know we will.” With that he took her hand and placed the poem in her palm, wrapping her fingers tightly around it.
Serafina bit her lip and stared at the floor. She held on loosely to the poem. Her expression had grown grim, and Miguel saw a tear form in her eye. She wiped it away and gave a deep sigh.
“I can’t run away with you Miguel. I’m sorry but I just can’t. This is all too crazy. I have a life, I have two sisters and my mother, and they need me, and we’re poor and have to support each other, and I just couldn’t bare to leave them. Especially not for a stranger Miguel.”
The word stranger coming from her lips sent a stabbing sensation to his heart. It made him realize that he had made a mistake in assuming their feelings were mutual, in thinking that this beautiful young girl, younger even than himself, could possibly feel as strongly and passionately as he did. Yet he couldn’t bear the thought of this being merely a one way love affair.
“If you don’t want to run away with me than I will make a promise to you. I will fight, from this day forward, until our wretched little society is changed, until two young people from opposite sides of this town can be in love and follow their hearts without fear, without worrying about what will become of them and their families just because of their insignificant differences. I will leave as quickly as possible and I will fight until the end, and then I will come back for you Serafina. We’ll be together, and in love, and these people will be scrubbing their own damn bathroom.”
He spared himself any further words, and allowed her none either. He turned and left the bathroom, re-tracing his muddy trail to the door, feeling Serafina’s eyes on his back the whole time, hoping desperately that she was crying or feeling regret or sorrow of some kind, any kind, at his leaving. He didn’t stay for the piano lesson, but ran out into the rain and kept on running.
That night he came through on his promise to Serafina. He waited until long after midnight, until the rain had picked up again into a torrent that battered the terra cotta roof of the house, making enough noise to cover the sounds of him unlatching his window and climbing out into the courtyard. He crept across the sodden front lawn, little pools of water building up in the impressions left by his feet. He crossed the street, avoiding the light cast by the street lamps, and turned the corner. Raul was there waiting for him as planned, his hood drawn over his head, dripping with water.
Miguel had managed to steal one of his father’s pistols before leaving, and a handful of bullets. Raul was only able to steal a large knife from his house. But the weapons made them feel powerful, and lent more weight to their sense of purpose and feelings of daring.
Together they crossed the town in the dark and pouring rain, excited but too nervous to talk. They had learned from one of Raul’s friends where the meeting place was for people wanting to join the revolution, and headed in that direction.
When they arrived at the small white house on the hillside there was one lone candle burning in the window to the
left. Raul knocked three times on the door. They heard footsteps, then saw the eye of someone looking through the peephole in the door. The door swung open and a boy who looked scarcely older than fifteen ushered them inside.
In a dark room were huddled a group of men, all with rifles slung over their backs, who were studying a map of the region. They looked up briefly at the newcomers, but said nothing. The young boy offered them coffee, and motioned them to sit down on a bench.
“Are you nervous?” he asked them, passing two small cups of coffee.
“No,” Miguel lied, taking a sip from the cup and trying to hide the trembling of his hand, “we came here to fight and we’re ready.”
Miguel and Raul spent the night meeting their fellow revolutionaries, exchanging stories and passing around a jug of aguardiente. He was afraid to go into detail about his past; especially his real name, Temblar, which was also the name of his father, who happened to be one of the richest men in town and a foremost enemy of the revolution. He and Raul both knew better than to mention these ties.
Training lasted a mere week. Neither Raul nor Miguel had shot a gun before, and both were as innocent as can be when it came to the specifics of war. From strategy and battle procedure to the horror of death all around them; it was all a terrifying yet at the same time exhilarating mystery.
Most importantly, like all the would-be soldiers around them, they believed in the revolution and all that it promised to bring. Aside from Miguel and Raul, the men who joined up to fight were all from the poorest segment of society, from the dirtiest and most hopeless parts of town. They picked up their guns because they knew that the system that kept them there, with no real chance of escape, must be disassembled and rebuilt from scratch at any cost. A man can only watch his children go hungry for so long before that feeling of powerlessness is transformed into rage and an iron determination impossible to vanquish, an unparalleled sort of bravery.
At the end of that first week, by cover of night, a column of several hundred men in soiled clothes carrying mismatched rifles marched off into the mountains outside of town. They walked for hours, all through the darkness of the night, stumbling over the thick underbrush and scared of every stirring or noise coming from out in the jungle, until they finally reached the other side of a narrow pass in the mountains, where they set up camp and waited for news and further orders.
There’s no way to describe war to someone who hasn’t experienced it, the same way that there is no way to truly anticipate what one will encounter when heading into a war. You can have confidence in your own bravery, a firm belief in what you’re fighting for, and the resolve to carry out your mission no matter what may come. But there is still no way to grasp or even imagine what you will be up against until you are there, covered in mud in a trench in the tropical heat, bullets whizzing past your head, your newly made friends dying all around you. There is no future in a war, only the present, which must be just what hell is like.
And that was the nightmare of Miguel’s life for seven long months. He and Raul were separated early on in the war, so he was left by himself to fight on the front lines, to aim between the eyes of those who would keep him from Serafina, would enforce their separation, simply because he had money and she did not.
The fighting was intense at times. The revolutionaries were no more than a barely held together band of peasant recruits, completely naïve to the concept of war. Though they fought with a conviction the soldiers on the other side, fighting for no more than their government paychecks, could scarcely muster, they were sorely outnumbered. Their lack of numbers was compounded by a lack of suitable weapons, not to mention capable generals or leaders of any sort. It was a war launched at the last minute, launched on passions rather than military knowledge or even much planning.
Thousands of men died from diseases like yellow fever and cholera. For a time Miguel worked in a medical camp for wounded soldiers, a small, rudimentary jungle hospital hacked out of the thick forest. That was for him the hardest part of the war, seeing up close all the squalor and death. When bullets were flying at him from all directions some mysterious force, like adrenaline mixed with a spirited, otherworldly element flushed all the fear and hesitation out of him. He felt like he could fight for as long as it took; that was the easy part.
But the death toll was mounting, and morale in the sickly hot jungle was deteriorating. Some of the peasants, who had originally joined the fight with such fervor, began deserting, fleeing back to their farms where their families needed them.
Then one calm, sunny spring day the fighting ended. A cease fire was called; the revolution was over almost as quickly as it had started.
Miguel felt numb when he heard the news. He felt more defeated than ever, more hopeless than all the men around him, most of whom were just grateful to be going home. They had seen enough of their friends die, had seen enough of the true cost of the liberation that the revolution and it’s leaders had promised. Now it was all over.
He sat in a camp in the jungle, turning his father’s pistol over and over in his hands, thinking about what he would have to return to. He no longer had a family, he had no money, and unspeakably worse, he had no chance with Serafina. Everything was turned upside down, back to the hopelessness he had known before the war. He would have to limp back into town a defeated soldier with no shot at love, his heart empty and wide open, ready to soak up all the love in the world. But the world had none to give.
Miguel hauled the net in over the stern, plucking the occasional writhing fish from its mesh, then sat down and lit a smoke. He took out his notebook and lazily scrawled some lines of a poem. Then he took a sip from his flask and leaned back and smoked and stared up at the sky. A flock of birds was flying over the lake, headed for a cool spot somewhere in the shade. The sun reflected off of their flashing green and red wings, and they talked back in forth in short, musical squawks. He guessed it was around two in the afternoon from where the sun sat in the sky, high over the rounded mountains to the south.
This was his life now. His father had severed all contact with him once he had joined the fight that promised to bring justice to the poor. Now he was among them, the poor he had supposedly fought for. Now he was destitute and utterly alone, unsure about every aspect of his future. He knew deep down inside why he had really joined the fighting. Not to end the hardships the poor were facing. That would have been a valiant footnote to his aims. But he had to admit to himself that he had really joined the revolution to bring justice not to the world, but to Serafina Perdida, to give to her the freedom and security he had known all his life, to change her world, a world he so desperately needed to be a part of.
It no longer mattered who he had fought for. His motives were useless now. Serafina had rejected him, found someone else to wrap her silken arms around. And the poor were still being, and likely forever would be, crushed under the boot heel of progress.
Miguel sold his catch at the market and, pocketing the coins, headed for the bar. The night was cool and the streets were quiet. An almost full moon floated just above the horizon, casting bright white light onto the terra cotta roofs of the buildings downtown. He rounded a corner and walked through the small door of the bar, the noise of conversation and clinking glass overwhelming him as he stepped inside.
He saw Raul sitting at the far end of the bar and walked over to him. His friend was struck immediately, though not surprised, by his gloomy mood and demeanor.
“Will you ever cheer up llorón,” asked Raul, smiling, “will I ever see anything but melancholy in your eyes?”
“What else is there, Raul? What is there in this world besides melancholy, the twisted sadness of this strange, disappointing life I’ve led?”
He set his hat down on the bar then turned to the bartender and ordered a double shot of whiskey and a beer.
Raul got into him right away, in the angry, passionate way that he always did. “Disappointing. How can you call it disappointing Miguel? You fought the most important fight our land has ever seen; you fought for love, for the liberation of el pueblo, for the hope of a real future. Most people hardly have the courage to raise their voice, preferring comfort and silence to following their hearts, to risking their necks to help change things. They refuse to weather short term discomfort in exchange for long term betterment, for something meaningful. But not you, Miguel, you stood up for everything you believed in, sacrificed everything in your life to allow love to exist, and you call that disappointing. You’re wrong man. You’re thinking like your father.”
“I’m thinking nothing like my father. How would I even know how he thinks? I barely knew the man. I know now what he stood for, what was important to him in this life and what wasn’t. But I lived with the man for eighteen years and I never really knew him, he was more like a stranger.”
“He put money and power before family and love. He crushed the future for this town. That’s all there is to know about the man.”
“I can’t blame my father for my failure to make Serafina mine. I had my chance. It didn’t work.”
“You can though. You can blame him and people like him, for creating and maintaining a world with it’s priorities all backwards, where a few gain while the rest starve. Whoever chooses money over love is an utter fool,” said Raul, spitting loudly onto the floor.
Miguel paused for a long time. “I’m not in the mood for a political discussion right now,” he said coolly, taking a long sip from his drink.
“This isn’t politics friend, that’s what you don’t understand. You may not think so but we fought that war for the same reason. We fought it for love. We fought it because we live in a society controlled by madmen who don’t give a damn about love, who don’t even begin to understand what it is. I didn’t fight for words, for rhetoric and slogans, to replace one tyranny with another. I fought because it sickens me to see the kind of people that have control over our lives, because they don’t have a clue about life itself or how to live it.”
“I fought for Serafina,” Miguel muttered.
“You fought for what Serafina stands for. Serafina is nothing more than a symbol, a symbol for the struggle of love against all the forces in the world that attempt to destroy it. You fought to see to it that love didn’t die, and so did I.”
Miguel downed the rest of his drink and thought. There was a long silence before he spoke again.
“But we lost Raul, we lost the fight. I fought with my father’s own gun to end his tyranny. I escaped a world I hated and I feel no better for it. Now the only thing I have left in this world is my father’s gun.”
He reached down and unclipped the pistol from it’s holster. The ivory handle was dirty and worn. The barrel was covered in scratches and dents. He threw it down on the bar next to Raul.
“Everything I’ve ever strived for in this world has outwitted me. Revolution, family, poetry, even love. I can hardly bear it. I don’t want anything is this world anymore,” he said, coldly. With that he lifted his hat to his head and nodded a solemn goodbye to Raul, then turned and walked out of the bar.
The trek he had made up the hill the night before was part of a routine that had taken place every day for nearly four years. Perhaps at that point Miguel was only delivering the poems to Serafina out of ritual, as a force of habit. He may have grown so accustomed to the routine that he hardly knew what else to do with his nights. Not that he wasn’t still in love with Serafina; he had made that commitment until death, however hopeless it seemed. He was still in love with her, but how worthwhile his nightly poem deliveries were he was beginning to question, if only subconsciously.
Regardless, he headed up the hill to Barrio Santa Lucia once again that night after leaving the bar. The fog was intensely thick, like the blue smoke from wet wood. It took him much longer to climb the stairs than usual, partly because of the near invisibility, and partly because he took his time, finding himself unable to fully muster the motivation for his ritual.
Once in Barrio Santa Lucia he lit a cigarette and meandered the streets he knew so well, the ones draped in melancholy that he still hoped deep within him led to the promise of love, that all his wishing and hoping would one day have their reward at Serafina’s doorstep. He walked along not streets of mud but rather pathways of plaintive hopefulness, with an optimistic longing so tangible that footsteps could be tread upon it.
He found himself once again standing in front of the squat brick house where Serafina slept every night. He noticed that lights were on in all of the rooms. He stood there staring for a long time, a poem in his hand and his heart beating uncontrollably.
And suddenly, like an apparition floating into the room, Serafina appeared for a brief moment in the window, her hair pulled back in a tight bun, wearing the white nightgown she always slept in. He stood in the shadows, hoping not to be seen, but secretly wanting to be seen at the same time, wanting another locking of the eyes like the one that altered his life so many years ago in that cavernous drawing room.
However brief it was, their eyes did meet; just a momentary glance out the window, her standing in the bright room and he in the black shadows, before she realized who the stranger was who stood out there, and closed the drapes and shut off the light. It sent a trembling shiver down his spine, those few seconds of her dream-like gaze. He shut out from his mind the fact that she quickly retreated as soon as she saw the dark figure in the shadows and recognized who it was. It was better to assume that she felt the same rush of emotions that he did, and had shut the blinds because it was too much to bear. It never even occurred to him that he might be lying to himself.
He shook himself from his trance and left the folded up poem on the doorstep. He backed away and stole one last glance at the dark window behind which the ever-elusive dream of love was lying, his soul uneasy, his heart heavy. The way it made him feel it may as well have been the first time he had delivered a poem to her, and seen her figure through the window, and not one of the hundreds of times he had repeated the act. He collected himself and turned and started back down the hill.
As Miguel crossed the field in the fog he heard quick footsteps behind him. His immediate reaction was that Serafina had left the house and chased after him. His heart fluttered at the thought. Just as he was about to turn around to see, a voice called out.
Suddenly the outlines of four dark figures appeared on all sides of him, advancing through the fog and shadow. He knew now what was happening.
“I’m poor, friends. I have nothing,” he said, his voice cracking slightly.
“Slowly put your hands up, and don’t try anything or we’ll kill you,” said the man to his right. He was still unable to make out his face, though he noticed the hand that held the long knife was missing it’s ring finger.
“I fought for the revolution. I nearly died for it. I’m on your side. My name is…”
“There are no sides. If you want something you take it. That’s how the world works, that’s how we live. Now keep quiet.”
Miguel was annoyed by his assailant’s comments. He had already been in a rough state of mind, and now he felt himself growing angrier. It was bad enough that the footsteps had not belonged to Serafina. But now he found himself with little patience for the bold indifference of these would-be thieves.
Fear had nothing to do with what Miguel was feeling in the face of those men. He had long ago learned to deal with fear, especially when he found himself at the wrong end of a gun. When a man feels he has nothing to lose, than he has nothing to fear either.
Over the course of the war Miguel had grown confident in his abilities with a gun. He considered himself quick on the draw. Now the whiskey in his veins was giving him courage where he might not have had it before.
The night seemed to shrink and close up around him as his adrenaline soared. The drifting fog made everything seem like a dark mirage. As quickly as he could he reached for the pistol in his holster. By the time he realized that he no longer had a pistol, when the image of him leaving it on the bar with Raul flashed in his mind, it was too late.
The dark shadow that stood behind him lunged at Miguel. He let out a painful groan as the knife pierced his back and went straight through his heart.
Perhaps the whiskey had given him courage, but it had also taken away his judgment, his memory as well as his wits. It had betrayed him the same way that life itself had over and over again. Now, as his body fell to the ground with a dull thud, there was nothing more to worry about. There was no rich, no poor, no revolution or poetry, no Serafina. At last he had nothing.
When the body was found the next morning, lying in a pool of coagulated blood, news spread quickly about whom it belonged to. A crowd gathered around to get a better look. No one could believe they were staring at the body of the only son of the great Señor Temblar, a man who had shaped the town, and was thought to have almost single-handedly quashed the rebellion by funding the counter-revolutionary troops. Now his only successor lay dead in a muddy field in Barrio Santa Lucia.
When they searched his body all they found, aside from what little the thieves may have hastily taken, was three pesos, an empty flask of whiskey, a half-finished poem written in blotched ink on a stained piece of paper, and a wilted rose; the one he had forgotten to leave on Serafina’s doorstep the night before, so struck was he by her image in the window, and that now, since fate had written the final line of the final poem, scrawled in blood on a forgotten street, she would never receive.
Mike Schake is a 27 year old writer who currently lives in Montreal