The thing about Corazon was that he was beautiful; he became physically almost irresistable to me, as tasty and inevitable as a cigarette to a smoker. Wiry, put together without an extra inch of fat on him anywhere, the exact combination of smooth and hairy to make him a man without being a caveman. He had a small, sensual mouth with which he could flatter or kiss you into submission. His eyes were almond-shaped and uptilted, so pretty they were almost feminine, with bovine lashes and a gaze that could be gentle, penetrating and at times verging on sly. Yes, he had short bandy legs, but who’s perfect? He had capable, precise hands that calmed me when he placed them on my skin. He was warm and tactile, affectionate in the way a European man no longer is these days (unless he is hopelessly in love with you) for fear you might ‘read something into it’ or ‘get the wrong idea’. There was something in him that was sleek, agile and slippery as an otter. I loved his body, from his toes up to the bald spot on the top of his head. When he was with me, he was really with me, in public but especially at night, and when we slept he held onto me so tightly I could barely breathe. I lay awake and half-stifled sometimes listening to him snore and feeling protected from the dark for a few hours.
There was something a little mad about him that attracted me to him. Not as mad as the Pirate or as mad as Gali who was intense, brooding and troubled. Corazon was the quieter, shy one by nature, but inside and struggling to get out there was something dark and rebellious that occasionally gave him moments of brilliance, as though he had swallowed a rock star. He made me laugh: anyone who can perform a naked dance around my bedroom that comes across as half Sheherazade and half Monty Python and leaves me helpless with the giggles gets my vote.
I was renting a box room from a moody Cuban ex ballet-dancer and long term Madrid resident who had jumped ship while touring Europe with the Cuban National Ballet years ago. He was a difficult landlord. I had known him for a few years, the ex boyfriend of a friend. Some of the time he was upbeat and fun, gregarious and grinning whitely from ear to ear though you always got the impression it was one of his stage smiles, the same one he would plaster across his features backstage, lighting up like a lightbulb a second before leaping out toward the footlights. On other days the mask would slip and there would be dark moods, his eyes glittering cold and hard, doors closed a little too firmly behind him, inexplicable silences and the refusal to make eye contact.
The flat itself was modern and clean though there was a maddening collection of clutter. Most of it was Santeria paraphenalia: strange pots and urns littering the tops of bookshelves and blocking access to windows, their lids sealed down with masking tape to contain the spirits within. The only other resident was a terrapin- also there as part of his Santeria beliefs. Terrapins are kept in the house as protectors, snapping up evil spirits and bad energy as they cross the threshold. There used to be two of them, as there should be, guard talismans like this should come in pairs, but one of them had died, which didn’t bode well for the levels of negative energy in the household.
I grew quite fond of that terrapin during my stay. She was a strange alien little creature who lived in a murky fish tank in the bathroom, which if it wasn’t emptied regularly enough would start to smell green and darkly fishy. There was no natural light in the bathroom so when you came home and swtiched on a light she would appear out of the murk, her back legs spread comically as her feet propelled her up and down the tank, her front paws scrabbling desperately against the glass. I felt sorry for her stuck in there all day, so when I was in I usually lifted her out of the tank and let her prowl around the flat. I couldn’t stand the sight of those fleshy reptilian paws pressed up against the glass like little hands, the beady, myopic eyes blinking and the straining pitiful neck as she struggled to be let out. When you liberated her she patrolled the periphery of the flat with the attention to detail of a jobs-worth security-guard. She loved to crawl behind things, under things, down the sides of things and sometimes could be found round the back of the telly performing a dry front crawl, all four paws paddling frantically as she tried to free herself from the tangle of cables. Occasionally, she struck out and marched determinedly across the parquet from one side of the room to the other. The sound she made was distinctive, and had you not known it was her, would have been distinctly sinister. It was a kind of heavy, limping, clump-footed shuffle, a crippled zombie in hob-nailed boots, something dragging a heavily-shod, steel-pinned leg behind it.
She could hardly be called a pet, but I did become fond of her. It’s hard to form a bond with something that is by nature shy and suspicious and could easily have the end of your finger off with one snap of its bony jaws. And you can’t exactly stroke or cuddle something that can make its own head and limbs disappear in a flash and become little more than a rock hard chip-shop pastie. But there was something vulnerable in the fleshy pads of her paws and in the little curl of a tail peeping out of her shell. The Cuban was cruel to her. Sometimes he would pick her up, turn her over so she was balancing on the curved centre of her shell, and spin her round on the parquet floor very fast. Then he would flip her back over and laugh at her as her head and limbs emerged shakily and she lurched around trying to regain her balance. It spoke volumes to me about his level of empathy, or lack of it. I asked him not to do it but he laughed and said she didn’t mind, she was just break-dancing.
Corazon used to stay at mine every so often. The first time they met I could see Corazon was a little intimidated by the big, black, gay musculature. The sort of body you only get with a mixture of genetics, half a lifetime spent in a sweaty gymn pumping iron, and/or steroid use. After that Corazon nick-named him The Tortoise after our unusual pet. There was something tortoise-like about the cuban if you thought about it- the smooth, cue-balI head and the long sinewy neck. I could see The Tortoise weighing up Corazon in turn and I knew that he found him attractive. Unfortunately our bedrooms were separated by a thin wall and my landlord probably heard a lot more than he cared to of our sex life. I know I invited Corazon back a little too often for his liking, although he could hardly complain as I was paying full rent and was present in the flat for barely ten days out of every month. I know we made a noise and I know we came back drunk and I too would have found that annoying. But there was also that squeamishness that some gay men feel when faced with the fact that there are handsome, virile and well-hung men who would rather spend time in bed with a woman than with them, and the final insult is to have to listen to it as well. Ah, the sound of a man and a woman pleasuring each other- how disgusting! Yet the same men have no problem slurping around in sweaty, verucca-infested saunas ripe with all imaginable bodily fluids, engaging in totally anonymous and hardcore sex. But a heterosexual couple enjoying each other- euwww!!…..
The nights I was with Corazon I slept deeply, safe and snug as a baby, with his sinewy limbs coiled round me like a snake and his head burried in the hollow of my neck. I don’t know why he held onto me so tightly, after all it was me who was drowning not waving. However badly he behaved in the end, however selfish his motives, I still can’t be angry with Corazon because he gave me a warm body to hold and the feeling of hot breath in my ear as I awoke. He gave me life rather than death- insistent, persistent Death who stalked me everywhere. Always there to remind me, two steps behind, demanding my attention like a hungry dog, attempting to blacken every precious waking moment. When I was with Corazon I forgot about my morbid stalker briefly. He gave me Life with a capital ‘L’ and he gave generously.
Sure, he lied to me as well, but he was Argentinian of Italian descent. You can’t have everything. I wasn’t his ‘girlfriend’ exactly and I knew there were other women. At the beginning he told me once,
‘I don’t know why, but I think about you when you’re away on your trips. I’m supposed to be a mujeriego (womanizer) but look at me, here I am again with you. I keep coming back to you, it’s like I can’t get you out of my head. I don’t know why that is.’ I had a couple of theories but I wasn’t going to share those with him. Especially after he had shown me some more old photos from the precious stash in the shoe box under his bed.
‘That’s my Mum and my ex girlfriend,’ he had said neutrally. I glanced at him then back at the photo, deciding not to mention it. The ex girlfriend looked like his mother and I looked like both of them. Well-rounded, bosomy blonds with blue eyes and pale skin. Who cares exactly why someone is attracted to you- even if it’s because subcosciously you remind him of his ex or of his mother. The important thing is he’s attracted to you. After a while he stopped mentioning other women though I knew they were still there filling his time while I was away. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to see other people, and I am basically monogamous by nature, at least until the novelty wears off. Like Janis Joplin I believe ‘Just one good man, it ‘aint much but it’s everything.’ So I allowed Corazon to flatter his way in like a skilled gatcrasher charming his way into a party.
One evening in a crowded bar, his arm round my waist, on one of the few occasions the Pirate wasn’t there he said, with what I took to be the insecurity of a younger man,
`You’ve done everything with men already, haven’t you?’
I laughed and kissed him.
‘I wouldn’t say that. I’ve got a few years’ headstart on you I suppose.’ He raised those luxurious eyelashes and stared at me for a minute.
‘Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you’d like to try?’
I took a sip of wine and felt myself blushing. I lent over and whispered in his ear,
‘Well,… er…. I wouldn’t mind trying….’
He listened intently and then grinned and nodded to himself as though he had won a point in a chess game due to a very clever move. Then he told me slowly and deliberately,
‘Well, I’m going to do something to you that no other man’s ever done. Just you wait and see.’ He seemed very confident he was about to dazzle and delight me. I was intrigued, I must admit. What stategic sexual assault could Napoelon possibly have up his sleeve for me?
‘Really? What’s that then?’
Corazon arranged his handsome features into a seductive smile and his eyes took on that sly sheen as he gazed into mine, took my hand and told me,
‘Yo te voy a querer y todo.’ (I’m going to love you and everything.) A clever trick- he had outmaneouvred me emotionally and verbally. I felt foolish and was thrown off balance. Here I was with the quickfire response of a puta de alma (natural born whore) and he had presented me with a romantic promise. I have a suspicion that Italian and Argentinian boys, on reaching puberty, are given a handbook containing romantic and flowery chat-up lines, just as French girls are given a handbook teaching them all 47 ways to tie a neckscarf. So I knew Corazon’s romantic drivel was nothing more than that, but it was touching to hear the words. Words like that are so scarcely heard, they feel like the offer of cool water in the desert. I allowed myself to savour them along with the kisses that came after them. What a shame it wasn’t true! Within a couple of months he had dumped me, and not in the kindest of ways.
I’d had my suspicions, an instinctual acknowledgement of the slightest waning in the regularity of his texts and a longer delay in his response time to my messages and calls. A woman can sense these things, whether she wants to believe them or not. I’d been away. I was back for a while and didn’t hear from him for a few days, longer than usual after returning to Madrid. Then we arranged to meet one evening. I spent the afternoon preparing for my date- depilating, styling my hair, painting my nails, I even bought a suspender belt and new stockings at Corte Ingles and was wearing them to meet him. I saw him picking his way through the crowd on Gran Via but the smile was soon fading from my face when I kissed him and asked him how he was and grinning, he declared,
‘I’m fine! Yeah, really great actually. Especially as I just got back with my ex this week. You know, Cati? Well, we’re back together and I’m moving in with her.’
The nonchalant cruelty struck me like a stone in the midst of the hustling crowds and the bright neon lights.
‘Come on,’ he said, taking my hand, ‘let’s go for a drink.’
He took me for a last drink in a bar we used to frequent which was above a cramped carpark. We liked the bar because it was so weird. There was a bay window in the overhang above the car park entrance which was swathed with brown curtains and stuffed with chintzy chairs and a low coffee table. There was a gentle sleaziness about the place and the constant rumble of cars in and out of the garage that reminded you of the lobby of a two star motel. Faded sofas and wilting pot plants, shabby wallpaper and old photos on the wall. Strangely soothing naff seventies music. The sparse clientelle were somehow furtive as if to match the surroundings. It was the perfect place to get dumped. For an hour he grinned and grinned.
‘I was always in love with that woman.’ he said and I nodded mutely. ‘I can’t believe it, we’re back together!’
‘And she’s going to set me up with a job as well, she knows someone who can get me into an estate agent’s and it’s a really good job. (It was a good job back then, on the tail end of the housing boom. I imagine he hasn’t had such a lucrative couple of years recently.)
‘The old enchufe’, eh? (Old Boy Network)’ he continued,
‘I’ve been really lucky. And she has a really nice house, a big one. On the outskirts, you know, not here in Madrid. It gets a bit much dossing in the centre in these rented flats.’
That at least I could understand. Surely he had made the decision partly out of economic necessity, which was at least comprehensible for someone in his situation. Yes, it was a cold-hearted, business-like, self-interested decision, not one based on love and passion. That somehow made it better for me to stomach.
‘And how about you? he asked. ‘Still going to carry on travelling and living it up at the weekends? You know, at some point in your life, you have to settle down and get things sorted out properly. You can’t drift for ever. Not at your age.’
‘You patronising little fuckweed’ was my thought at that precise moment but he misread my expression of contempt for one of yet more sorrow.
‘Hey, come on, cheer up. At least I had the decency to meet up with you to tell you to your face! I could have just ignored you. I could have just never answered your calls again. I haven’t even told some girls, I’m just ignoring them, but I’ve met you to let you know…. Huh? I’m here, aren’t I? And I’ll still be here for you. Remember, you’re not alone in Madrid.’
‘Oh, you have no idea how alone I am.’ I thought. ‘Whereas you will never be alone for another night of your life.’
At that moment I hated him. I hated him so much that I had to excuse myself, choking as I threaded my way through the armchairs to the toilets, where I locked myself in a cubicle and cried fiercely with my head against the wall until I felt vaguely sick and had the hiccups. It was such a vile combination of disappointment, anger and humiliation. And yet somehow I let him carry on and on, when I should have thrown a drink over him and walked out. I just didn’t have any fight left in me. It was yet another painful dose of loss, and loss was the one thing I couldn’t bear right now. I re-did my eye make-up and made my way back, a little unsteadily, to the lounge.
‘All right now?’ he said, patting my knee and beginning to look uncomfortable.
‘Er, listen, another thing,’ he went on. ‘Just because, you know, I won’t be seeing you any more doesn’t mean you can’t see the Pirate. I think you two should stay in touch. You can still be mates. He’s ever so fond of you.’
‘And I am of him. He’s a great guy.’
I looked at Corazon, his handsome, smug face with its almond eyes and its sensual, lying mouth. I wanted to say to him- yes, the Pirate is a great guy and I ended up with the wrong one. He’s so much better than you. And here you are passing me on to your friend as a guilt offering.
‘Well, there you go, then! You see, every cloud has a silver lining. Give him a call. Er, listen, why not give him a call now?’ He glanced at his watch. Cati was obviously waiting.
‘He’s out working tonight. He might be expecting you to call and have a drink. I er… I’ve got to go now.’
Corazon left and I stood under the flashing neon sign with cars crawling past me and into the carpark. I called the Pirate and asked in a little voice if he wanted to meet for a drink.
‘Ah.’ was all he said. ‘He’s told you. I’m on the corner of Calle Huertas. Come and get me.’
He had folded up his stall and it was propped against the wall by the time I got there.
‘Not working?’ I asked him. He pulled me toward him and gave me an almighty hug.
‘Nah, not any more. Let’s have a drink, eh?’ He always knew exactly when and how to behave like a big brother.
I looked up at the Pirate and the amused glint was no longer there in his eyes. They were wide and staring, the irises too small as always. With the sparkle gone out of them like this he looked scary, disturbed, like someone who’s forgotten to take his medication.
‘What a bastard.’ he said. ‘He’s shafted us both and he doesn’t give a shit. And for that old slapper. I hate her!’
I had to agree. How could he have left us both? I was glad I had overcome my slight initial resistance and.had called the Pirate. I’d thought it might feel strange with just the two of us, and it did a little, but not for long. At least we had each other now.