When I turned sixteen, my father arrived home with abottle of French champagne. He was a little bit drunk as he hadn’t even closed the door yet when he started shouting like a madman.
“It’s a wonderful day, Julia, best wishes to everyone!”
He raised the bottle as if it was a trophy he had just won in a competition. My mother shuffled quickly to close the door, in that cautious way as she was creeping around the house never lifting her slippers from the floor, while she whispered,
“Julio, you’re crazy! For God’s sake close the door, the neighbours will hear you.”
“So, what? Do we not have a good reason to celebrate?”
“Today is a brilliant day!” – Yelled my father in the hallway.
My grandfather came out of his bedroom, where he had spent the last few days inside only leaving his room for food or to go to the bathroom.
He looked at my father from the living room door witha rage that I have never seen in him before. He was a depressive man, normally more bitter than angry. From the back of his throat came four harsh words.
“You should die of shame.”
“Did anyone see you buy it?” asked my mother, grabbing the bottle from my father’s hand like someone taking a noisy toy off a child. She took the bottle into the kitchen, I never found out if whether she put it in the fridge or if she hid it.
My father did not respond. He came towards me, I had been watching the whole scene standing next to the dining table. He hugged me and lifted me a few centimetres off the ground and gave me a kiss on the lips thatwas too affectionate. His breath smelled of alcohol, but I didn’t care, I was going through my adolescence with a hunger and anger difficult for anyone elseto understand or for anyone who has not lived through those years of Franco. My father was a unique person in my family, because he was also the only one who seemed the same as me, waiting for a change, waiting for a great event that would allow us to shake off the past as in the same way a dog would shake off water.
My mother is like my grandfather always has one foot in the grave.
My father put me back on the floor, as he leaned his forehead against mine and began to tug my earlobes gently:
“Do you know what day it is today, Juls?” he looked at me with a drunk and loving look
My father nodded and smiled waiting for me to finish my answer.
“Of course, dad.”
“Today is the day that Franco died?”
“And also”, he added with a raised voice.
“The birthday of my daughter. Shouldn’t we be celebrating?”
He turned to the kitchen door where my mother had disappeared.
“Hey,where did you put the champagne? Grandfather come and have a glass of champagne with us.”
My grandfather clenched his jaws, and snorted his nose and whispered,
“It’s not even cold yet.” My father and I laughed because it was not clear if he was referring to the champagne or to the body of the dictator.
Now I am not sixteen. Three weeks ago, on the 20th of November 1980, I turned twenty-one. Since last year, I live in an apartment in the Latina area of Madrid. It is a dump and has a bad smell of damp. I have to share a toilet with my neighbours on the same floor and from my bed I can hear the rats scratching in the yard. But, it’s my house. When I announced that I was going to move out and live by myself, my father nodded.
“I would like to do the same. The day that divorce is allowed in this country, I’ll be the first in line.”
He did not have to wait long, a few months ago my mother asked for an annulment and, while processing, she went to live in an apartment with two friends. Now my father goes scratching on her door like a dog they have forgotten in the street.
This year my father did not come to tug me by the ears, nor to bring me a bottle of French champagne which he had been bringing to my house since my sixtieth birthday like it was a shared secret between us.The one thing I took from home the twentieth of November was the wink we shared between us, and perhaps to annoy my mother a little, how she would always grimiest her mouth when she saw the bottle and said,
“Don’t be so childish Julia.”
No, it was impossible, he told me, because he had a very important interview with a minister who had been one end of the Francoregime.
“Father please, I told him on the phone, you’re going to shake hands with the man who signed the agreement of death sentences?”
It took him awhile to find an answer, but he did.
“It’s not easy, Julia, don’t think that I like it. But the country must move forward, and we need their help or at least for them not to get in the way. I’ll wash my hands after the interview is over.”
My mother did not come to celebrate with me either, with making the excuse that she had arranged to go play bingo. But the real reason why is that since my grandfather died, we hardly speak to each other. My grandfather died of the shock of seeing the dictator in his coffin. Ok, I exaggerated a little, but it is true that when he arrived next to the coffin, after doing god knows how many hours of queuing, a sickness entered him that he could not or did not want to recover. Two weeks later he was taken to the ICU and two days later he was dead. I refused to go to the funeral at which the coffin was covered with the flag of Spain and that of the Falange.
“Julia, he’s my father, and your grandfather,” she looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“Mom, he was a fascist. Let his own kind bury him.”
Since the funeral, my mother and I stop hiding the fact, that we no longer really spoke to each other.
So, the only ear tug I received that day was from Pablo. He lived in an apartment in the street of Lavapiés, one even smaller than mine, in his only room had a pull-out bed, a stove, a sink, a staircase that led to the roof, a low Indian table that was bought at the Rastro flee market, two cushions and shelves on which there was no more than fifteen or twenty books. Pablo kept his collection of records precisely arranged alphabetically, from A like Aerosmith to Z like Zappa.
Through the open door I could smell coffee, marijuana and a stuffy, smelly bedroom. Pablo was only wearing jeans. He looked sleepy and had messy hair, even though it was six in the evening. But he smiled at me and reached out to grab me in and closed the door with his foot. He slowly tugged my ears and slightly nibbled them, put his hand on my thighs and pushed me towards the pull-out bed until I lost my balance. He sat next to me, and from under the couch he took out two presents and he revealed them to me like a magician taking a rabbit out of a hat and gave them to me with such excitement.
“I have three birthday presents.” He announced. I opened the first present, rectangular, wrapped in newspaper and, underneath it was tinfoil.
“What cheek you’ve got” I told him while looking at the present, but I kissed him anyway and thanked him.
“Come on Juls why the cheeky face?”
“Because you’re going to smoke the three quarters, if not more.”
“Wtf, if I smoke a little with you, don’t be mean.”
By the weight and shape of the second present, I thought I had guessed it, one of those aromatic candles shaped in the form of a cube. It was a cube, but there was no wax, but plastic instead, with six faces divided into rows of coloured squares.
“You’re going to flip out, Juls” said Pablo, but I, had no idea what to do with it. He took it from my hands, he quickly turned the rows of small squares in various directions and handed back to me again.
“What is it for?”
“For nothing, crap, it doesn’t have a use it’s a game.” He picked it up again and started turning the squares.
“You have to make each face of the cube the same colour. It’s amazing.”
As he seemed engrossed with that children’s game, I pinched him. He was startled but did not raise his head.
“Wait, Juls, I almost did it.”
“What about the third one?”
“Eh?” He looked at us oddly the cube and I, as if he thought I was giving him a clue to solve the puzzle.
“You said three presents, we’re missing one.”
Pablo threw the cube into a corner as if he had never been interested in it. He jumped up and started unbuttoning his pants.
“The third gift with be the best sex of your life.”
It was not the best, but it wasn’t bad either but could have been one of the best. Although I had just turned twenty-one, I had already slept with so many guys that I’ve probably forgot some of them. Starting with almost everyone from the Communist Party. However, until I left home and as most of my friends still lived with their parents – no matter how much freedom they’re given, the sexual freedom was not yet on their agenda – we used to go out to the remote parts of Retiro park, despite the warnings from the posters, and we did it standing against a tree or we masturbated each other on a bench. If they had a car, we would go to Casa de Campo park which was in the west of Madrid. We got in through whatever path we could find and locked the doors and clumsily did whatever we could do withthe small space we had.
It’s not that I was in love, nor that I was always looking for sex.
It was a conscious decision.
Every time a boy’s hand was between my legs it felt to me like I was clipping thesleeves of one of the nuns in my school, who use to stitch to do in every Home Economics class in school. It felt like I was cleaning the filth of all the years of national school.
Pablo put on his underpants, as he always did, before getting out of bed. He crouched in front of the shelves.
“I’m going to put on ‘The Clash’ for you. You will see how amazing they are.”
He inspected the surface of the records after removing it from the sleeve and takes it by the edges and he blew away most of the dust just to show his affection for the record and put it carefully on the record turntable.
“What do you think if we extend your gift and we have a little fun while listening to the record in bed? You up for it?”
“I can’t, it is the 20th of November.”
“So what Juls, it is your birthday. We’re fine here at home. We have money and music and a bottle of wine.”
“Today the facades manifest in the area of Salamanca. I’m meeting with the party to go stop them. You’re coming?”
“Listen, Juls. London calling. Do not tell me it’s not the best.”