Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 10 • Summer 2004 • Fiction


Royston Tester

Enoch realized he was two people: bruises attesting to the one. But after a New Year celebration in Cadaqués, north of the city, he turned his back on gay, on shadows that lurked within, pursuing on the streets and into people's houses.

Five days a week, he worked diligently in Bar Andaluz off the Ramblas in the Gothic quarter. A wavering -- but convincing enough -- passion rose in him for Mireia whom he had met in Plaza Real nearby, shortly after arriving in Barcelona. The couple recognized their feelings as love. Gay was not his baby. In Mireia's eyes there had never been any doubt, as Enoch grew closer to the Gritte-d'Souza family, surrogate uncle to Mireia's younger brother and sister. Twins.


Normally, he would have spotted the item in Vanguardia or heard about it at Mireia's family home on Calle Balsareny or while serving tables. And forgotten the matter. You had to. More injustice, notched up to dictator Franco's ailing regime -- and to the General's deteriorating health. El Caudillo's dying acts more desperate by the month. On Saturday, September 27, 1975 -- the paper reported -- a few miles from Barcelona in Cerdanyola, a firing squad had marched into line and aimed its sights. Five men collapsed like rubble. Suspected terrorists found guilty after a series of implausible -- some were saying audacious -- military trials.

There should have been no connection, but late in the afternoon on the following Monday, no longer able to bear the sexual yearning, Enoch crossed the Ramblas to its seedier side: Calle Mina and the wrath, absolution of the Claustro Club -- where all his denying found its home in pain.

In a rundown building -- former Barrio Chino warehouse -- was a men's hammam. On the dimly lit upper floors, however, were tiled, high ceiling storage areas that the management termed Safe Houses. Enoch walked past the first, past the open door-bolts and three men beyond -- one naked lying in a leather hammock with latticework that allowed his ass to hang free; the other two in immaculate army uniforms standing beside a tub in the centre of the room.

When his courage was enough -- standing naked save for his pitiful towel -- he sauntered back and entered. The men roused themselves as though a team-mate had at last arrived. A painted skylight cast an eerie spic-and-span sheen over the middle of this space, made the enamel bathtub itself seem about to perform on an illuminated stage.

One of the men came up behind Enoch, kissed his mouth and forced him to his knees, back to the door. Enoch opened his mouth in readiness. But the man moved aside -- removing the teenager's towel as he did so -- tying a cord around Enoch's wrists. A military figure stepped up in front of him, lowered a studded dog-collar over Enoch's head. He secured it with the solemnity of a priest. The three men stood and considered their boy, his lowered eyes. Enoch's cock stiffening uncontrollably.

In a secret, hidden-away bathhouse, why did Enoch always think of Tintin? The sexless comic figure who never undressed. Every second ridding the world of villainy. Tintin the ingénue, determined, with Captain Haddock and dog Snowy at his beck and call. Tintin, journalist-detective, always at odds -- in action, watchful -- until the end of the story, mystery solved.

Pain is cautious too. Hunts. Observes. Creeps stealthily like a snake. Or a detective. Criminal. Until everything but the pain is absurd and irrelevant. Tintin pain. Enoch, like Franco, greeting torment. Was compassion in all this? Gentleness? Snowy's part of the game? Wherever it was, in reaching these Safe House men, Enoch felt Tintin and Franco within his flesh -- writhing. Like camouflage. Amidst bodies taut and rank with violation. And desire.

Followed by his two pals, the army man walked out of the room and bolted the door shut. Enoch remained on his knees repeating the mantra: breathe; boy, breathe.... Several minutes later, the bolts flew open and in rushed three men, two naked, one in green military garb. Bolts slammed shut.

No one spoke. Suddenly someone pulled a hood over Enoch's head, covering his eyes, face and neck in leather, laced tightly at the back; holes for the nostrils, zipper at the mouth.

Water runs into the bath....


Later that evening -- in declining euphoria -- Enoch walked past the Liceo opera house, Boquería market. He became aware that the crowds on Rambla Estudios were looking over their shoulders to Plaza Cataluña, threshold of the Ramblas. Something was wrong.

The news kiosks shut down too early. Everything locked and shuttered, but in haste, it seemed: several awnings open, protecting nothing. No buskers, pavement artists, or fortune tellers. On a Monday evening?

Besides, the people were not strolling. You didn't stroll like this.

It was the Sant Miquel festival. Enoch knew that. But down in Barceloneta around the fish restaurants and port, in remembrance of Napoleon's occupation of Spain. A character called Bum Bum marched through the working-class neighborhood to the sound of gunshot.

But on the Ramblas, traffic had drawn to a standstill. Motorists honked.

September was rife with annual Ramblas parades, many in defiance of El Caudillo's edicts. The indigenous language was banned. Nevertheless, on the eleventh was Diada, the Catalan National Day; on the twenty-fourth, a week-long La Mercè with its carrefoc procession of fire-spouting dragons, giant effigies and serpents, celebrating Our Lady of Mercy. A month of processions. Last of the dictator's tyranny over Spain, many hoped, but the previous year everyone had said the same: Franco's eulogy.

Behind Enoch, someone said, "Oh, travestís."

In the distance, a group of thirty or so transvestites emerged, swishing down the central promenade. One of the more unofficial parades normally confined to lower Rambla Santa Monica and the disreputable streets around Claustro Club, sailors' brothels, the Muscatel and caçalla bars.

"Faggots!" a kid shouted, climbing a lamppost to see better.

Enoch's heart raced. He should be in that forefront.

Ramblas spectators moved aside. Wolf whistles. Some applauding. A blown kiss. But the majority stared. Respectfully? Surely not. Surprise? Not a word on their lips. Maybe good-humoured contempt. Most men knew that boy-ass was safer and tighter -- better still if it wore garters and silk panties. Spanish men weren't fussy. "Siesta is siesta behind closed doors," his friend Biagio liked to say of the Ramblas sex trade. "There's a reason for afternoon traffic on Rambla Santa Monica."

You react outside, in the public eye, thought Enoch. Doors flung open. "Travestís are Spain's advance party," Mireia once explained. "Everyone sees what happens to them first. Like rats in a lab."

But just a minute. There were students too. Following. Those travestís were quite literally taking the lead. No scouting party at all.

It was the Cerdanyola executions. A protest. Enoch felt his stomach churn.

Following on the ladies' stiletto heels was a phalanx of demonstrators as far as the eye could see, choking the entrance to Rambla Canaletes like the colossal dragons and effigies of the recent Mercè.

Thousands had taken to the streets.

Salvador Dalí -- host of that New Year party in Cadaqués -- had sent a telegram congratulating Franco for his decisiveness, Enoch recalled. He began hurrying toward the next side street. In the distance, placards jabbed at the trees, Catalan flags and trades union banners hung in the stifling air. Singing, chanting. Drums. As the cacophony rose, so people leaned from balconies. Transvestite rights were the least of it.

Whether anyone liked it or not, the travestís were in front of massive popular revulsion at Franco's killings.

The smile fell smartly from Enoch's face.

"Hostia," he cursed.

This was no marching, these demonstrators were now running. The Ramblas's head a swollen creek of people near sprinting. Frightened. Stumbling over tables and chairs. Spilling into narrow side streets. Vehicles abandoned on the pavement. Cars, buses, struggling to u-turn.

Gunshots crackled in the air, echoing against wall and window. Protesters ducked and scattered like dust on water. Balconies cleared. Shutters thundered down. Catalan flags were tossed in the road, prison-bar posters of Franco. Party political pamphlets denouncing the recent executions. Screaming. Voices yelling directions. Bedlam.

A canister rolled against the side of a bookstall. Someone kicked it into a drain.

Run, Enoch! Cover you eyes.

More shots slicing the air. Sharp twang above his head. Another and another. Ahead, a café's grille caved like tissue paper.

Out of breath, a woman in neckerchief and beret leaned against one of the many plane trees, reaching for the small of her back. Friends tugged at her arm. She took three steps and fell on her face, blood seeping through her T-shirt. Enoch ran into the road.

An elderly man lay stone dead, clutching his neck.

No one stopped for anyone. Yet.

Up there, Enoch! He ran for Calle Pintor Fortuny and an escape route to the Ronda, a main road. Twang. Shouting, more screams. Another bullet.

Military helmets, shields, and machine guns swarmed past the Plaza Cataluñya subway entrances.

As the tear gas cleared, you made out riot police with batons, six in the middle of the square pounding a bald-headed man curled on the ground like a fiddlehead.

Water-cannon speeding into view from Calle Pelayo, firing at the huddled marchers until they slammed into litterbins and bushes like tumbleweed.

Officers rounded-up leaders and bystanders alike, throwing them into unmarked vans.

Water rained like tickertape. Incongruous as travestí lamé.

Minutes later -- ten, fifteen -- Enoch, sodden, had run through the Barrio Chino red-light district to that Ronda, out to Gran Via; and from there into the fashionable shopping vicinity of Paseo de Gracia, safely into the principal Avenida Diagonal that diced the city in two.

Monday evening here, like any other. Restaurants serving dinner, solitary newspaper-readers, boulevardiers, women and men ambling, office workers still enjoying their night. Could you believe it? An elderly gentleman, not unlike the one lying dead on the Ramblas, feeding pigeons in a square. Bars open, cafés. Yellow and black taxis cruising for fares. Hadn't anyone heard the clamour?

Enoch felt deep shame. The travestís marching for their country. Not just Catalonia. Leading a parade. Warriors. While he played hard-on in a bathtub. Deceiving Mireia and her family. And himself.

The Claustro wasn't home.

It was guilt -- not trust -- with its pecker at someone's whip. The twinkle in a torturer's eye is not love. All he wants is to hurt, humiliate. You know that; but you don't feel it. You pretend he loves you.

Enoch's fear had reached back, far beyond the night of meeting Mireia in Plaza Real. It was Guy Fawkes 1971 that Enoch pictured: his Longbridge home in Birmingham, England; neighbours Nelly and Ted Barton with Austin worker friends in a party mood, flopping their wrists at him. Sixteen-year-old nancy-boy.

In his life he had turned away to an oasis as misleading at this Diagonal normality and calm, to a Claustro Club. His adoptive mother Vera had always lived in the war of her family. Spaniards had their Civil War. Enoch was beginning to see why. Terror walked inside us.

As Mireia's father had once explained, Barcelona was at least three cities piled up like layers of lasagna. Tonight was supper toppled to its side, each stripe a country to itself. That's how it felt to Enoch: bands of pasta and hairstuck tomato. Awaiting a fork to join them up. Mouths open or closed. No matter.

But Mireia was correct at that New Year's party in the eccentric painter's Cadaqués home: you engage with darkness. Fistfuck and wrestle it down, if not away.

Enoch had avowed it earlier in his upbringing, but had ducked the struggle: he needed to love a man. March proudly -- in heels, if need be. Lead. Engage with what so terrified him.

He didn't need the Claustro anymore.

Enoch needed to show his face.

British-born Royston Tester lives in Toronto. His short fiction has appeared in a good number of journals and anthologies in Canada and the United States. A first collection of linked stories, Summat Else, is expected to be published in 2005. In 2004, his works were nominated for the National Magazine Award and the Journey Prize Anthology. He is currently working on a novel, For The English To See, that has taken him to the Brazilian Amazon; Hawthornden Castle, Scotland; and the Valparaiso Foundation, Spain. He can be reached at roystontester@rogers.com.

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