One: Fair Spanish Ladies
Summer in Spain: beach sports, sex and slaughter in the sun.
Well, actually the slaughter was from someone else’s schedule. Some malign god (if gods there be) had scribbled it down on the list with a bloody finger, my punishment for not paying attention.
Me, I was wholly occupied with what came first on that list, and what I’d planned for later. And why not, what else should a young man be doing or planning to do in the heat and freedom of a Spanish summer Sunday?
The sky was clear, the sea was cool and calm, as we were not: a dozen lads laughing, gasping, sweating in the hot light as we chased a plastic ball, tackled and shoulder-charged and tried to foul each other monstrously with bare feet in soft sand.
I was wearing swim-shorts and nothing, my regular outfit these baking, undemanding days. And shorts and skin both might be sticky and crusted now but skin could be showered and soaped clean, shorts could be shed—soon, soon—and meanwhile my blood fizzed and sparkled under the sun’s lash and I could do anything on such a day, no limits.
And this was a grudge match, staff against students, and we were losing by a single much-disputed goal; and the repugnant cheat Luis who’d claimed that score had the ball again and was all too certainly going to pass it to his equally-vile kid brother Ramon to share the honours around the family; and what chance our corpulent, sand-blind and chickenhearted goalkeeper making a heroic dive to snatch the ball from the boy’s disgusting feet…?
Precisely zero chance, I reckoned. Which meant it was up to me, last line of defence and no way, no way were these two monoglot morons going to waltz past me this time in arrogant defiance of the offside law and my infinitely superior status…
I watched Luis’s eyes, made pretence to back off, listened for the thud of feet on sand behind me; and mirabile dictu, it really did work. I saw his intention a moment before he moved to make it so, nor was he selling me a dummy. His eyes flickered to find his brother, his foot slid the ball across the bumping sand—and I was already stretching to intercept, catching it atop the arch of my foot and sending it almost straight up into the air. And taking it on the chest as it came down, and momentum carrying us both forward together, me and the ball, so that it looked for all the world as though I had trapped it neatly and brought it under instant control.
And now I was running, dribbling, dodging tackles with phenomenal skill or laughable ease, depending; and my team-mates’ cries filled the air from left and right of me, screaming for a pass; but this was my moment, I could feel it, and I wasn’t sharing it with anyone. Luis and Ramon had an elder sister, and I hadn’t looked to find her but she should be here by now, she should be watching…
So I skittered and dodged and somehow—for the first, the only time in my life—came through all the traffic with the ball still at my feet, and now it was mano a mano, just me and their goalie and oh God, surely, surely I couldn’t screw this now…?
No more than ours was he a dive-at-their-feet hero; he scuttled forward crouching, spreading arms and legs as wide as possible, hoping mostly that I would miss, I guess. And I grinned and toe-poked a shot straight forward, straight between his legs, sweetly nutmegged him and was already punching the air in triumph as I saw the ball falter in its rolling, as I saw it die a foot short of the excavated goal-line, just not enough power to carry it over this soft, sucking sand.
Only a moment I had, before the twisting, sprawling goalie’s hand would reach it; only a moment to cheat, to break at least the implicit rules of the game, and in doing that also to betray myself and my honour, two years’-worth of oaths sworn and clung to. But, hell, they’d cheated too, their goal had been blatantly offside and they knew it; the rest was my own concern, and what did my honour mean against the crucial matter of Staff vs Students?
Sun on my back, on my shoulders and legs, doing far more to my blood than just warm it: my eyes on the ball, I reached mentally for a long-neglected skill, I gripped the world and nudged it, just a touch… And the ball kicked, a fraction ahead of the goalie’s desperate fingers; it skipped, slowed, trickled to another halt, this time a sweet foot’s length the yonder side of the line.
And I whooped, heedless and happy, and spun on my heel to dance my celebration under the eyes of Marina, beautiful big sister of my two star students. I could hear her voice already, crying applause from the sidelines. I hoped I could hear her thoughts too, I hoped she was thinking siesta as I was, thinking of a wide bed in a shuttered room, a cool bottle of rosado and a long hot afternoon, soft voices and hard breaths…
And my eyes found Marina in her gold-brown skin, and plenty of it; her tumbling hair, plenty of that too and only a couple of shades darker; her shades, her baggy sleeveless T-shirt, her tormenting shorts. And her long arms were waving to salute me, and like a print-boy she had armpits like chalices, if chalices are hairy; and her longer legs were swinging where she sat on the wall above the beach; and right beside her and also slightly, tightly waving was Sallah. So much shorter, so much darker, so very much not supposed to be there…
My feet faltered on the sand, my throat stifled my delight. Forget the siesta, Ben. Forget the bed, the rosado, the slow sex in fugitive bars of sunlight. These girls, I thought, were not here to offer me a threesome.
These girls, I remembered, were not supposed to know each other at all. Certainly not to know about each other and me. Ach, and I’d been looking forward so much to what was left of the summer. I’d even had a line fit for a postcard home, I’m a well-loved man, and I’m carrying the bruises to prove it.
I’d been so keen to use that, good lines come so rarely: more rarely even than my postcards home. Little enough chance of it now, I was afraid. Little chance of its being honest, at least. I might use it regardless. I had more reasons than one for wanting to send that card, and the important ones didn’t require honesty.