Friday, February 22, 2008

My Father's Sword (again)

I've been working on thing for more than a week, and now I've got block I know what's got to happen, I just can't write it out yet. So here's the latest, reworked edition. I've got a new set of lyrics for a song brewing upstairs too. It's called Waiting to broken. But at the moment I don't know if I'll ever get that out either. I still need more feedback on what I have so far. Thanks!

My Father’s Sword

Those hooves, those ruthless, hammering hooves pounding down, down, down. I cursed the dust clogging the air, hiding everything but those hooves and the occasional flash of color from a glimpse of my father’s costume. A pulsing heat was invading the left side of my face, casting a blurred shine to everything I saw. I was running, calls of warning missing my ears completely. I was wrapped in a silence punctured only by the frenzied tattoo of my own heartbeat. I reached my father just as the handlers got the bull penned. His body was surprisingly straight, lying still on the ground. His cape was lying twenty feet away in a crumpled heap. I knelt and gripped his hand, staring, my eyes desperately trying to suck a sign of movement from his chest. His mouth twitched, and a whisper pierced the deafening drumbeat flooding my head.
“Manny.” My name, gurgled past his lips. I leaned in closer. “I love you.”
“Papa, don’t go! Please-” Another thundering whisper cut me off.
“Please, son. Just listen. Take care of your mother. Treat her like the goddess she is.” A rivulet of blood crawled out of the corner of his mouth. “Remember to live with passion, as I taught you. We are Spain.” He coughed, sending another crimson snake slithering out of the other side of his mouth. “I will always be with you.” The medics were there, trying to take my father from me, trying to pull his hand from mine. I couldn’t let go. It took three men to pull me away from my father. I didn’t scream. Not with my mouth. I just stood there, listening to the agonized, tortured symphony pouring from my heart, the blood of my shattered soul leaking from the corners of my eyes. The hilt of my father’s sword was burning in my other hand, welding itself to my fist.
That was when I woke up. I didn’t wake up suddenly, or all at once. Tears were still slipping down my face as I crawled out of slumber. Every night I had gone back. Every night, I was back to that moment. Stuck, reliving those infinitely long seconds when my father had been ripped from my life. The scar on my face was burning as though it had reopened, and I brushed it with my fingertips, a raised pink line sitting on my cheekbone. I didn’t need to look at the clock. I knew I had awakened at the same time as every night before, and that there were still a good 4 hours before daylight would even consider oozing over the horizon. I turned over in my bed, not wanting to let sleep steal me back. I started school tomorrow, and I knew that I needed rest. But I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t close my eyes. I sat up and turned on my lamp. Reaching into the gap between my bed and the wall, I pulled it out. It had become part of me in those moments when I watched the EMT’s covering my father on the stretcher and hoisting him into the ambulance, the white and red hearse that drove my father away. I pulled it out of the scabbard, staring at the light that danced along its edge. I pulled off my covers, and got up. An idea had struck me, and I started rummaging through one of the many unpacked boxes sitting of the floor of my room. I found what I was looking for, and sat on the edge of my bed.
As I opened the cleaning kit, I thought back to when Papa and I used to clean his sword, both before and after his fights. We talked about everything, school, sports, especially bullfighting, and simply about life in general. It was a time when just the two of us were together, and we weren’t just father and son. During those times, we were friends and equals. I would tell him about girls at school, or things that bothered me, and he would tell me about work, stories about when he was my age, and about things he and Mom did when they were younger. I started running the oiled cloth over the blade, and a few leftover tears began to leak out again. One landed on the handle, but I ignored it.
“You know, saltwater isn’t good for the blade.” I looked up, startled. “Over here, son.” I looked at the end of my bed, and saw my father, sitting there in his matador costume, clean and whole, but still surrounded by that shiny blur he had had when I held him in the ring.
“Papa?” I decided that I was in a new dream, and hoped that this one wouldn’t turn into another nightmare. “You’re gone Papa. What are you doing here?”
“Obviously you need me more now than heaven does.” His reply was soft and warm, but tinged slightly with a wistfulness that I understood more deeply than anything I had before.
“You’re not real, are you?” It wasn’t completely a question, but not a statement either.
“It doesn’t matter whether I am or not. You need me, and I told you I’d always be with you.” He came over closer to me. “I’m not a ghost, or an angel really. Now what’s going on?”
“I can’t sleep, Dad.” I kept cleaning the sword as I spoke, and it was just like it used to be. “I keep seeing you die, over and over. I miss you.” The tears threatened to return, but I kept them dammed.
“Did I ever tell you about the day my father died?” He hadn’t, and I realized then that he had only been a few years older than I was now when Grandfather and been gored to death. “I wasn’t there, because I was resting from a fight I had just finished. I rushed out, and rode with the ambulance that took him to the hospital. I kept wondering, asking myself, why couldn’t I have stopped it.”
“Dad, you weren’t even near him or the bull. There was nothing you could have done.” And it was my fault in the first place that you fell. If I hadn’t gotten hit by that rock…
“Manny, I know that. But grief does things. For weeks, I blamed myself, dumb though it was. I kept seeing him under the bull, or gored by the bull, or lying broken on the field. I told myself, if only I’d been there, if I’d been one of his lancers. It was his only match that I’d missed, and all because I was too damn tired to go watch it.”
“Dad? Do you still think it was your fault?” Because it wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t been there. He hadn’t gotten hurt and made his father turn away from the bull, hadn’t made him trip and get trampled and trampled, and trampled…I had finished cleaning the sword, and was sliding it back into its sheath as sobs vibrated my body. I couldn’t look at my father. Suddenly I felt his hand on my head.
“Manny, you have school tomorrow. You need to sleep.” I felt him gently pull back my covers, and I laid down. The blankets slid over me, and I heard his voice, softly singing an old Spanish lullaby that he had sung me to sleep with until I was seven years old. The last thing I felt before I dozed off was his kiss on my head. I wasn’t crying anymore.

I pulled my sandwich out of the vinyl bag that had housed my lunch for the past week. As I was about to take a bite, a girl came and sat next to me.
“Hey, you’re Manny, right?” I had seen her in a couple of my classes. Her name was Jenny, and she was very outgoing. “Aren’t you in my American Government class?”
“And your biology class.” I hadn’t really gone out of my way to make friends yet. Though I hadn’t worked very hard to establish myself as the creepy loner kid either. I wasn’t about to blow any people who actually wanted to get to know me. “You’re Jenny, right?”
“In the flesh. Do you mind if we eat with you today? All the other tables are full.” I looked around, seeing several empty tables, but decided not to mention it. Shy as I was, I needed any boost that came my way socially.
“Sorry, but you said ‘we?’” As if on cue, 2 other people dropped their trays across from us and sat down.
“Manny, this is Fern, and Ben.” Fern was in a few more of my classes. She was very pretty, and flashed a brilliant smile. She was pretty quiet in class. I wondered how she was with her friends. Ben wasn’t in any of my classes, and I was pretty sure he was a grade below us. He stuck out his hand.
“Nice to meet you. Aren’t you that new guy who moved here from Spain?” I shook his hand, slightly surprised that anything about me had gotten around the school this quickly. I hadn’t exactly been verbose about where I came from. But it seemed to be a pretty significant point of interest to everyone.
“Yes. It’s nice to meet you.” He smiled, and started tearing into his food. I glanced quickly at Fern, and took a bite of my sandwich.
“So tell us about Spain.” Jenny seemed determined to make me talk about myself. I quickly swallowed my bite of food.
“There’s not a lot to talk about. It’s a beautiful place, especially in Toledo, where I lived. There’s a lot less rain than there is here.” I took another bite. Fern finally spoke up.
“I hear there’s a lot of bullfighting around Toledo.” A sudden terror started building in my chest. PLEASE don’t go there. Fern must have seen something in my eyes, because she looked away, and fell silent. Too bad Ben wasn’t as observant.
“Sweet! Bullfighting!” He looked pretty excited. “Did you ever see any toreadors get gored or trampled?” He went there. Why does humanity hold such a sick passion for violence? I tried to think of something to say that might turn the conversation around. Before I could pull anything out, I felt that shameful seizing up in the back of my throat, and a burning started to crawl up my sinuses to the corners of my eyes. I got up suddenly, grabbing my lunch sack and book bag.
“Sorry!” That was all I managed to squeeze from my mouth before I was gone. I went to the nurse, still battling myself, refusing to let the tears come. I must have looked pretty bad, because she gave me a pass to sign out and go home. As soon as I had slumped behind the wheel of the Honda Civic my grandparents let me drive, all the thoughts and emotions that had begun welling up in the cafeteria escaped. Sobs silently wheezed from my lungs, and tears coldly trickled down my face. I managed to regain some control, and drove home. I stumbled to my room, ignoring my grandmother’s surprised hello, and collapsed on my bed. Surprisingly, now that I was alone, I didn’t cry. A deep, throbbing ache had settled like pneumonia into my lower chest. I felt bad for a moment, leaving Jenny and Ben, and Fern so suddenly. A powerful wave of homesickness pounded into me. More than home, more than the sun of Toledo, the clear skies and my old friends, I wanted Papa. I had completely forgotten about the visit of my father nearly a week before. I stood, and noticed the cleaning kit I had been too lazy to pick up since that night. I picked it up, and pulled my father’s sword out from under the bed where I had hidden it, afraid my grandmother might come in to clean and take it away. Gingerly, I pulled off the scabbard. I began to clean it, and as the biting tang of metal polish filled my nostrils, the memory of that night flooded back to my mind.
“You aren’t going to make any friends if you keep running like that.” Almost as if the memory had brought him, my father was sitting by my side, nonchalantly watching the cloth in my hand slide up the blade.
“Papa?” I briefly wondered if I was going crazy, and then decided not to care. He was here with me, and it didn’t matter to me if schizophrenia was what had brought him. The ache in my chest was suddenly gone. “I wasn’t about to cry at school, in front of people who I barely know.”
“You can’t blame a boy for being curious. He was just trying to have a conversation.” He hand gripped my shoulder softly. “You are Spanish, Manny. You cannot hide that, and the world knows what Spain is. They can see who you are.”
“Maybe I need that part of me to go away for a while. Bullfighting stole you from me.” The ache started to settle back in.
“Manny.” I heard the love in his voice. His hand found mine. “I will always be with you. But you need more than me. You need your mother. You need your grandparents. And you desperately need friends. Let them help you.” His hand let go of mine, and he pulled me into an embrace. I closed my eyes, trying to freeze time, trying to lose myself in his embrace. When I opened them again, I was the only person in the room. But I knew I wasn’t alone.
“You two can leave early today.” Our boss at the library smiled at Fern and I. “We’re pretty much done for the day. I can handle locking up.” Marge was one of the coolest people I knew. She was a lit major at the university, and mildly crazy. She was about five feet tall, and made up for every inch she lacked with an exuberance and passion for life. She had helped Fern and I get our jobs at the library, and we often spent the long, generally empty hours discussing her favorite books with her. Fern and I were currently in AP Lit, and her deep grasp of many of the books we had to read had saved our grades more than once.
“Thanks Marge!” I grabbed our coats, and handed Fern hers. “Are you sure you don’t want us to stick around? You could get attacked or something all alone here.” I was only half joking.
“Because I’ve got so much to get attacked for.” Marge’s sarcasm was unmistakable. “You crazy Spaniards and your misguided attempts at chauvalry.” Marge was big into women’s liberation, despite my constant reminding her that it was pretty much over. She constantly teased me about my “gentleman’s attitude” toward women, saying that chivalry and chauvinism were only different by a few degrees, hence her term chauvalry. Not wanting to lose an opportunity to get home early, Fern decided to chime in.
“We’ll see you tomorrow, Marge!” She turned to me. “Manny, do you think you could give me a ride home?” As if I could tell her no.
“Of course!” I pulled her hood over her eyes, and ran off. “Race you to the car!” I beat her by a good four seconds.
“You cheated!” Fern caught up, playfully hit my arm, and got in the passenger seat. We talked casually as I drove to her house. In the year since my move here, Ben, Jenny and Fern had become my best friends. After that fateful first lunch, I told them about my father, and Ben had been completely mortified. It took him another couple of weeks to quit apologizing. As the year progressed, we grew closer and closer. Fern and I had gotten our jobs at the library together, with the help of Marge, who we had taken to the moment she interviewed us. After I dropped Fern off, I headed home, thinking how well my life was going, and how lucky I was to have the friends I did.

1 comment:

lilitron said...

okay. haha. now that I've actually read what you've been telling me about, I get it!! Crazy how that works... I like it a lot!! I'll email you in depth. I love you!