Make love, not war (part 2)

And so Corazon became my sweetheart at least for a few months. There were some extras thrown in for good measure- he came as a box set of young men: for the price of Corazon you also got the Huertas Pirate and an occasional drinking buddy of theirs- Gali, a Lost Boy bizarrely named after Galileo Galilei. I say bizarrely because he couldn’t have been any less of a thinker and philosopher than his namesake. Gali had more frat boy good looks than brains, and was the original angry young man. He was a dispossessed middle-class Madrileño, soft-faced and hard-hearted. The vulnerable and confused casualty of a divorce and a society undergoing great changes, he alternated between moments of unbearable sweetness and flashes of casual racism, which I wasn’t to find out until later.

At the time I was still travelling for a living so on the sporadic weeks and weekends I was back in Madrid I spent most of my social time with these three, ‘perreando por las calles de Madrid’ (hanging around like stray dogs on the streets of Madrid. ‘Perreando’ literally translates as ‘dogging’ but trust me, it doesn’t mean that.) Thus began a process which I was unaware of until recently when the observation dropped, unexpected from my mouth during a conversation with la Contessa. I lost my brother, aged 29, and ever since then have been surrounding myself with surrogate little brothers: a process that has continued until today, six years later, when one of my closest friends, the Ponce, has just turned 29 himself. The Huertas Pirate loves to pull me up on this, observing ironically ‘You keep getting older and they just stay the same age, huh? What are you, some kind of vampire? Is that why you look younger- do you bathe in their blood or something?’ But the trend began with him, Corazon and Gali, a trend which, back then at 35 would have labelled me a ‘puma’, and these days a ‘cougar.’ They became my tribe, my substitute kid brothers, my protectors, my flatterers and in one case (for the time being) my seducer.

I can only imagine that to them I was a trophy blond, and that they were as happy having me along as I was happy to be asked along. Back then I dressed more provocatively- plenty of cleavage, always in heels, short skirts and full make up, so from three penniless late-twenty-somethings more accustomed to the brush-off from women there were certainly no complaints. There was a frisson of attraction running four ways as ingrained as the lettering in a stick of rock, which sometimes blurred with alcohol and dope.

The Pirate approved of my liaison with Corazon and told me his previous girlfriend, Cati, was a controlling bitch and hated her lover’s best friend. Corazon was never allowed out of her sight and his every move was monitored. I could see how your typical Spanish girlfriend would take exception to Corazon’s best mate- childhood buddy come all the way from Argentina with him, the person who made him laugh the most, who took him out for wild nights on the town, the person who dragged him out of his shell, who knew all his secrets. To a jealous Spanish woman used to treating her man like a naughty schoolboy, permitting this and denying him that, his best friend would have set off alarm bells.

There were heart-breakingly sweet photos of them back in Mar de Plata as young boys playing football together, smudgy seventies Polaroids where they grinned into the camera with front teeth missing, raffish hair, scrawny sparrow legs with scuffed knees sticking out of their shorts. I adored the Pirate and had no intention of separating him from his best friend. I couldn’t imagine one of them without the other. It seemed that my affection was returned. The Pirate was the smiling priest at the altar of our affair, blessing us and witnessing our union. I remember once near the beginning in a dark club the three of us were laughing and hugging and the Pirate urged us to kiss each other as, according to him it was ‘lovely’ and ‘beautiful’. He slung his arm around our shoulders and pulled us together until our faces were touching, then disengaged as we obeyed and kissed each other passionately in front of him. When I pulled away finally all I could see were those round owlish eyes watching intently, his head cocked on one side and a sentimental smile playing across his lips. Later, in the advanced stages of drunkenness he cornered me outside the club toilets and gave me that same look, while helplessly shrugging and mouthing words that never came out of his mouth, like a fish trying to tell me something from behind the thick glass of its aquarium. The Pirate and I had more moments like this over the next couple of years and those words were never clearly expressed, only hopelessly mouthed, a twitching of the facial muscles, but no sound, beneath those sardonic bulging eyes with pinprick pupils.

There were few occasions when I was actually alone with Corazon, except for in bed, and even then we were not always entirely alone. The boys moved to another shared room, this time an even more bizarre set-up. Whereas before they had rented a ‘room’ which was 2 single beds side by side in a converted living room which was cordoned off from the dining table area by the presence of a solid, bulky wardrobe as incongruous as a bouncer at a children’s tea party, the next flat was en even more weird example of unregulated immigrant rental hell.

It was an attic flat that had been split into a warren of clumsy lodgings. Off the main stairwell and passageway you stepped straight into the kitchen. To get to the boys’ room you had to climb a treacherous wooden staircase to a mezzanine over the kitchen. The space under the stairs was cordoned off by a curtain, blocking from view a camp bed on which you could normally find a curled-up South American exhausted from shift work, beer on his breath, snoring loudly. The boys’ room was in the slanted rafters and had two single beds side by side on the only available floor space. The only section of the room high enough for you to be able to stand fully erect was in the centre directly underneath the skylight. Then the room sloped smaller and smaller to the far walls. This meant you had to move around the room like a constipated ape. Many times I cracked my head on that sloped roof and saw stars. There was one Saturday evening, I seem to remember it was Corazon’s birthday and the Pirate had given him a bottle of Fernet Branca, which they had the disgusting habit of drinking with Coca Cola: I don’t advise it. It becomes a kind of evil witches’ brew with pale green scum floating on the top and gives you the kind of hangover that makes you wish you had a brain tumour instead. Halfway through the bottle the Pirate gave us a moving demonstration of the Disintegration of Man as a species, aping the drawing following the stages of man in reverse, from fully erect Homo Sapiens to knuckles trailing on the ground. There was no privacy in the flat at all, what with Snorer under the stairs, then the Peruvian couple who cooked endless fritanga (fried shit) in the kitchen below, impregnating the room with the smell of cooking fat. So it was little further imposition to sleep sometimes curled up with Corazon while the Huertas Pirate lay a foot or so away from us in his own narrow bunk. He always promised to roll over discreetly and face the wall, and was normally so drunk he passed out almost immediately.

The Italian pretence had been dropped by the second date, and there was a certain pleasure in being seduced by an Argentinian. It’s always satisfying to deal with an expert, whether it’s a plumber, electrician or chef. He called me late one night, the same night I had returned from a long haul trip. I hummed and ‘ha’-ed and said I was tired and jet-lagged.

‘But you have to see me tonight.’ he cajoled. ‘It has to be tonight.’

‘Why?’ I smiled into the phone.

‘Don’t you know what day it is?’

‘Er…. Thursday? Not sure.’

‘No, no the date, what date is it today?’

‘The 25th of April.’

‘Exactly! So you have to see me tonight, you see, it really has to be tonight.’

I still didn’t get it, so he explained it to me slowly and carefully.

‘It’s the 25th of April, the day the British invaded las Malvinas. So today especially, in memory of all the people who died on both sides of that conflict, you and I have to meet in order to make love, not war. It’s your political duty, you have to come out with me. You have to do it for international relations, this isn’t just about you and me any more. It’s bigger than that, it’s important. And I missed you, I can’t wait until tomorrow…’

How can one argue with that? I certainly didn’t.

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