Radiator Song II

by Philip Seddon © 2003

The couple rested their temples together, gazing ahead into the impenetrable infinity of the crackling fireplace. Marcos' army pants and rolled shirtsleeves were bathed in incandescent orange. His beret sat nonchalantly on a nearby school, and by the door stood his decrepit carbine rifle, at the very least thirty years old. Maria loved Marcos for sure, loved him so much she hated him. Why must men endanger themselves, and by extension everything else - their universe together - with perverse interests in politics and war? Maria never told Marcos this, but secretly she wished they had fled a year ago, while they still had time, and taken their little Valeria with them. Marcos would tell her that this war was for all of them, for Maria to be freed from chattel patriarchy and for Valeria to never have to go into the street, dirty and hungry. Those tired slogans…how dare he pretend that those abstractions pertained to their family! Not now that the worst misfortune imaginable was on the horizon. For it was the last night Maria and Marcos would spend together, before he left to join his militia unit, and then on to the front.

Maria knew that Marcos had a strange inclination of his fate. A settled life, the three of them together, was not good enough for him. He knew that death was coming, desired it even, and wished to be sanctified, made perfect, by a fascist bullet. Hateful man! Inhuman monster! How she loved him. And Valeria too. Poor little Valeria - barely four years old, Marcos could not content himself with simply being her papa. He wanted to be legendary, the saintly papa who made everything alright, not just for his own lifetime but for all eternity. Marcos the ten foot tall giant papa who kissed little Valeria one day and told him in his booming voice that he loved her, then disappeared, never to return. Their heads still touched, as they gazed silently into the twisting and dancing embers of the fire. Time, the great dictator. Time was surely a harsher master than Franco, than that ridiculous oaf Mussolini. Sure, it even exceeded that shrieking little Corporal in Berlin in its casual and monotonous cruelty. The night would deepen, then soften. The greys, oranges and purples of the dawn would cough smugly and announce their rightful intrusion on the bliss of their last embrace.

Time. Terrible, terrible time. She held him. Held him almost by the arms of his shirt, as if she was preparing herself to shake him out of his thick-headed political self-righteousness. He was her world. What difference would it make if the other world went fascist? Let them carry on - with their uniforms and salutes - and leave Maria, Marcos and Valeria to their own devices. As the dawn spread over the countryside like a monstrous red bacillus, the distant sounds of engines could be heard, and of tyres bumping over stones. They rose together and embraced. He kissed her full on the mouth - he had visited the still slumbering Valeria a while ago, in preparation for his departure. The tears of the disappearing Saint had dried and Marcos had regained his usual philosophical composure. Maria sensed her final chance - don't go - I'll die if you go - don't leave me. But Marcos was at the door, and she had missed it almost as soon as it had come. He reached the gate and gave a clenched fist salute to his comrades. Then turning, he continued with the same salute to Maria. Tears escaping down her cheeks, Maria replied by blowing him a kiss. She turned away into the house, took his picture from the mantelpiece and held it to her bosom. Then she fixed the picture of Marcos, the fine, idealistic Saint, but also a man - her husband - in her mind's eye. Maria gazed tearfully into the fire, which gave off the dim red light of a thousand dying cinders. "Stay with me now" she whispered to herself.

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