A Short Story in Two Parts


Gene McCoy


Look to this day. For it is life. The very life of life. In its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence. The bliss of growth. The splendor of action, the glory of power. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision. But to day well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look`well, therefore to this day.

Sanskrit Proverb

Madrid, Spain - June,1962

It was Saturday morning, and Pete was sitting on his terrace overlooking the Paseo de la Castellna in the morning sun. He had just concluded his first important diplomatic assignment, the renewal of the Spanish Base agreements. His part had been small, but he had gained some recognition from Ambassador Thornton, the lead negotiator, and he would soon join Thornton in Libya to do the same thing. Pete was pleased with himself. From inside the apartment he heard the phone ring. Merche, his maid, answered it."Señor," she called. "Telefono, la Señorita Loften."

"Gracias", Pete called out, and walked inside to the phone. It was Birgitta.

"So you're a Señorita now," he said. "How did you get a divorce in Spain?" he teased her.

"I don't want your maid to think that you run around with married women," she said and laughed.

"I only run around with married women when their husbands are a long way away," he said.

"I know what you mean," she said. "I'm the same way with married men."

"How are you?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she said. "I just came from the airport to see my sister and children off to Stockholm."

"So you're footloose and fancy free?" he asked.

"Yes," she inhaled with her little orgasmic gasp.

"So when can you come to Madrid?" he asked.

"Have you talked to Marge lately?" she asked.

"Yes, just a little while ago," he replied. "She invited me to her house for drinks tonight."

"That's all?" she asked

"Yes," he said. "Marge said she had a surprise for me. What the hell's going on?"

"I should let Marge tell you but I'm not going to wait."

"What are you two cooking up?" he asked and laughed.

"Marge and Ralph are going to San Sebastian for the summer, and Marge called me to ask if I would house sit for them."

"That's fantastic," he said. "But you could have stayed here with me."

"I know, but it's better if I stay at Marge's place. I can see you every day and you can stay over there."

"Why is it better if you stay at Marge's?" he asked.

"You won't get mad if I tell you?" she asked.

"No, I won't get mad. What's going on?"

"Pete, I know how it feels to have another woman move in with my husband, and I wouldn't do that to anyone, even someone I don't know, like your wife."

"That's kind of a left handed nobility," he said and laughed.

"I know," she said. "It's silly, and maybe it's just an attempt to do the right thing, but I want to come and see you."

"I thought your husband moved in with another woman?" he asked.

"He did, but I just heard from my sister that the two of them have moved into our flat in Stockholm," she said.

"Now I understand," he said. "So when are you coming to Madrid?"

"Next Saturday morning, a week from today. I'm on Iberia flight 069. It gets to Madrid at eleven o'clock in the morning."

"That's a decent hour and an appropriate flight number. I'll meet you," he said.

"Good," she said. "I can hardly wait. I'm so excited."

"Me, too." he said. "I love you, Birgitta."

"Oh, I love you, too. Goodbye."

"Goodbye," he said and hung up.

Pete was standing on the tarmac the next Saturday morning when Birgitta's flight taxied to a stop in front of the Barajas Airport. He walked to the ramp to meet her as she came down the steps.

Dressed in her "Donated by the People of the United States of America" dress Birgitta was suntanned and radiant. She carried her tennis racket under her arm.

"Hi," she said and inhaled the same way as when she said yes. She had a wide merry smile, and her teeth seemed more white than he remembered them.

"Hi," he inhaled and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"How did you get out here on the tarmac to meet me?" she asked as they walked toward the entrance to the airport.

"Diplomatic privileges," he said and smiled at her.

"It's just like a spy movie," she said and linked her arm in his. "I'm excited and impressed."

They collected her suitcases, and walked to the car.

"You must have come to stay a while," he said. She had two large cases and they just barely fit behind the seat of the MG, an old big wheel, right drive MG-TC.

"I had to give up my place in Torremolinos. If I go back, I'll find another," she said.

Pete opened the left hand door for her and she slipped in the car.

"So this is the MG. It's cute. I love it," she said and patted the dash board. "We have right hand drive cars in Sweden, too."

"I know," he said and slipped in the right seat.

"Do you have the keys to Marge's place?" she asked.

"I sure do," he said and handed the keys to her. "Marge and Ralph left for San Sebastian this morning, so you've got a beautiful apartment all to yourself."

"I hope it's not all to myself," she said and poked him in the ribs.

"It won't be," he said, and leaned over to kiss her.

That was the beginning of what they hoped would be a delightful vacation, but neither of them had any idea how it would play out as they drove across Madrid, top down under a crystaline, iberrian peninsular sky. They had no plans or expectations, but if anyone had asked either of them how the time together would end, neither could have dreamed up the scenario that unfolded.

Once they had Birgitta settled in Marge's apartment, they showered together. Pete lowered the persiana shutters to close out the bright afternoon sun, and the bedroom was dark and cool. They made love on a big kingsized bed, and as they lay together in the soft light filtering into the bedroom, he kissed her suntanned shoulders.

"I have lots of things to tell you," he said.

"What do you have to tell me?" she asked.

"The first thing is that I'm sure glad you're here," he said.

"Me too," she said. "I'm glad to be here with you. What's the second thing?"

"The second thing is that I'm going to Libya in the middle of July," he said.

She pulled the sheet up to her chin, then rolled over and looked into his eyes.

"How exciting," she said. "Are you going down there to do some spying?" She smiled.

"You and your spy fantasy," he said and brushed her lips with his fingers. "I told you, I'm not a spy. I'm a low grade number cruncher."

"I don't believe you, but go ahead," she said and laughed.

"Before I go to Libya, though, my friends Henri and Barbara, you'll meet them later, are going up to Pamplona, for the feria de San Fermin. They want us to go with them," he said.

"You mean the feria where they run the bulls through the streets?" she asked.

"Yes, that's the one" he said.

"Oh, how exciting," she squealed. "I can't believe this is happening to me. Go on."

"That's all," he said. "Siete de julio, San Fermin, middle of July, Tripoli, Libya. Now, what are your plans?"

"I don't have any plans," she said. "Marge said I can stay here until the end of summer, so let's just take it one day at a time, and see what happens."

"That sounds perfectly perfect," he said and drew her close to him. He kissed her, they made love again, then took a long siesta.

That night they went tasca hopping, a Spanish version of pub crawling, on the Calle Echegaray in the old part of Madrid, to eat tid-bits of shrimp, lobster, roast lamb, and squid. All of which they washed down with little glasses, chatos, of red wine.

The next morning they ate a leisurely breakfast then went to the Rastro, a Sunday morning flea market of antique junk. From the Rastro they went to Retiro Park and strolled through the zoo, then had lunch in the open air, Florida Restaurant in the park. After lunch they walked through the Prado Museum.

Over the next three weeks they drove in the MG to Toledo to visit the house of El Greco; one day they packed a picnic lunch and stopped in Aranjuez to eat fresh trawberries for desert. On another trip they drove out to the village of Chinchon where during their feria the villagers close off the main plaza to make a bull ring. Rather than the fancy suit of lights worn in regular bullfights, the bullfighters dress in traje corto with leather chaps, much the way bullfighting was done centuries ago.

Most nights they ate out; cordero asado and cochinillo at the Botin, huevos Navarro at Jose Luis, and baked chuletas at Argentina restaurant, but they always stopped in the Cafe Gijon to visit with Henri. He was swamped with work on the magazine he was editing and worried about whether it would be finished in time for the Pamplona trip. His girlfriend Barbara, a stringer for the Economist, had gone to London, but she was coming back for the Sanfermines. Henri loved Birgitta.

Several nights Pete invited Birgitta to his place for dinner, and Merche cooked special dishes, Cocido Madrileño, Pisto Manchego, and Paella. A couple of times Pete included the Balzacs, an expat couple of artists and Henri Fultan. Birgitta showed that she knew how to cook, and they ate at her place several nights. On a Friday night, in the last week of June, Birgitta and Pete had been to dinner at Botin's, and they stopped by the Gijon for coffee. Barbara had returned from London and she was with Henri at his regular table. They were bent over a copy of Henri's magazine. It was finished, and they were giving it a final proof read.

"Hola," Pete said.

They looked up from the magazine. "Hola, Pedro, Birgitta, sit down please," Henri said. "Birgitta, this is Barbara. You know Barbara, Pedro."

"Yes, I know Barbara," Pete said. "She's always trying to get me to tell her some of the secrets from the American Embassy."

Birgitta laughed."Hi," Birgitta inhaled. "Do you think he's a spy, Barbara?"

"No," Barbara said. "Pete's too nice to be a spy."

"Let me see the magazine," Pete said.

Henri handed the magazine to Pete.

"How do you like the cover?" he asked.

The cover was a print of a painting of an abstract montage of different European license plates. Done in bold impressionist brush strokes and bright colors it was a fine piece of art

"I like it," Pete said. "Who painted it?"

"I did," Henri said.

"It's very good," Birgitta said.

"Look for yourself in there, Pedro," he said.

"Myself?" Pete asked.

"Yes, look for the Spanish CD plate."

Pete looked closely at the painting; one of the license plates was a red Spanish Cuerpo Diplomatico plate with CD-478, his number. I'm famous," he said, and opened the magazine to look inside.

"Who wrote the letters to the editor?" Pete asked.

"I did," Henri said.

Pete turned the page."Who wrote the Publisher's letter?"

"I did," he said.

Pete thumbed through the rest of the pages. "Who wrote the articles?"

"Barbara and I did," he said.

"Henri, you're a true renaissance man," Pete said.

"I love a challenge," he said.

"What's the drill for the trip up to Pamplona?" Pete asked.

"I'm going to rent a car, and Henri and I are going to drive up on the morning of the sixth of July. The fair starts the seventh," Barbara said. "If you and Birgitta want to come with us you can."

"What day is the sixth?" Pete asked.

"Friday," Barbara said.

"I can take leave and go that day," Pete said. "What do you want to do, Birgitta? Go with them or take the MG?"

"I love riding in the MG with the top down," she said.

"We'll take my car and drive together," Pete said.

"Just as well," Barbara said. "A Seat 600 is too small for four people anyway."

"Now that we have that settled, we have to plan our strategy for selling this magazine," Henri said.

"Yes," Pete said. "It's time that we thought about the economics of this operation. Economics, the dismal science, my science. What is your plan?"

"Here's the way I see it," Barbara said. "We pile all the magazines in my car, and once we're up there we each take a stack and walk through the cafes around the town and sell them."

Birgitta had a contribution to make. "Where can I get a sewing machine?" she asked.

"I can get you one," Henri said. "Why do you want it?"

"I can make some tote bags to carry over our shoulders," she said. "We can put the magazines in them." "Marvelous idea, Birgitta," Barbara said. "What kind of cloth will you use?"

"Can you get some old 'Donated by the People' flour sacks? Like my dress?" Birgitta asked. She was wearing the dress that Father Anselmo had given her the day she and Pete took the trip to Ronda.

Henri looked at the dress."Outstanding idea," he said.

"I can get some bags," Pete said. "I'll go to the Caridad warehouse first thing tomorrow morning. When Pete was not negotiating Base Agreements, he was in charge of the American food aid to Spain program.

Over the rest of the weekend they all worked on making the shoulder bags in which they would carry the magazines. They turned out to be very attractive. Pete eventually showed one to his counterpart in Catholic Charity Services, Carmen Mac Gregor, so that in addition to dresses and shirts the village women could make "Donated by the People of the United States of America" tote bags

On Sunday morning they were all drinking sangrias, while cutting and sewing tote bags. Pete was wearing his "Donated by the People" shirt that Father Gino had give nhim.

"Where can I get a shirt like that, Pedro?" Henri asked.

"I don't know," Pete said. "Tarifa or Torremolinos. Why?"

"I think it would be neat if we all wore 'Donated by the People' outfits," he said.

"That is a neat idea," Pete said, "But we would need a dress for Barbara, too."

"I'll make you both a shirt and a dress," Birgitta said. "I've been teaching the village women in Torremolinos to make them, so I can do it easily. Not to worry."

On the Wednesday morning before they planned to leave for Pamplona, Pete received a cable from Washington instructing him to meet Ambassador Thornton in Tripoli on the morning of July 11. That meant that he would have to leave Madrid on the morning of the 9th, fly to Rome, change planes, and go on to Tripoli. The first day of the Sanfermines is July 7. Pete thought he would have to cancel the trip to Pamplona. He called Henri. Henri and Barbara went to Marge's apartment, and Pete left the embassy to join them. They mixed a pitcher of sangrias, caucused and debated.

"Why do these real world things keep interfering with our never-never land plans?" Henri asked.

"Which is the real world, making shirts, dresses and tote bags, and selling magazines? Or negotiating base rights to train killers?" Pete asked.

Henri sipped his sangrias "You will never have such a clear choice between peace and war, Pedro," he said. "Which is it going to be?"

They were all waiting for Pete's answer. He looked at Birgitta. She was thrilled with the prospect of making the trip, and Pete didn't want to disappoint her. I'm thinking out loud," Pete said. "We could drive up Friday, and sell magazines on Saturday, the first day of the feria. You and Barbara stay on in Pamplona, and Birgitta and I could return to Madrid on Sunday. I leave for Rome on Monday, and I'll be in Tripoli Monday night to meet Ambassador Thornton Tuesday morning. Or Birgitta can stay and come back with you guys. Or I don't go to Pamplona at all and Birgitta goes with you." He took a long swallow of sangrias.

"My mind is boggled," Birgitta said. "Pamplona, Rome, Tripoli, meeting ambassadors, spying."

"I'm not a spy," Pete said. "I'm a number cruncher."

"Okay, meeting ambassadors, crunching numbers," she said. "If we go to Pamplona, I'll come back to Madrid with you. If you don't go, I won't go."

They all looked at Pete. "Let's strike a blow for liberty," he said. "A Pamplona hemos de ir."

© Copyright Gene McCoy

July 1998


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