Hijacking in Perpignan
Spain was finally awakening from forty years of dark dictatorship.
That tyranny, and the devastating civil war that gave rise to it, had stamped out the freedom of an entire generation.
But what the fascists never could guess was that the thirst for freedom and justice would rise again, stronger than ever, in the hearts of their own children.
Saturday, January 10, 1976
Cecilia looked out of the bus window at the winter landscape of southern France. A strong wind bent the grass in waves, swayed the trees, and shook the bus perilously.
From the front of the bus came the sound of laughter and hooting. The trip leader, Carlos, a tall guy with a beard, stood between the front seats, hands raised to demand silence.
“Listen to me, everybody! We will make a stop in Perpignan. We are considering spending the night there, as some of you have requested.”
“What is he saying? Why are we stopping?” she asked Julio.
“I don’t know… They were talking about hijacking the bus.”
“What? They can’t hijack the bus!”
“They’re kidding, of course. They want to stop in Perpignan to watch porn movies. It looks like they have talked Carlos into it.”
“That’s nonsense! I have no interest in watching porn! My parents expect me back home tonight.”
“There’s nothing to do, Cecilia. Everybody agrees.”
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. We were held up in Grenoble and, if we continue to Madrid, we won’t arrive until dawn. We’ll have to sleep on the bus, and it could be dangerous to travel with a tired driver. It would be much better to stop for the night .”
“That’s bullshit! What you really want is to watch porn movies.”
“Well, yeah, I would like to watch them. We can’t watch them in Spain, so we’d better grab this opportunity.”
“Well, you’ll soon have the chance. Now that Franco is dead, you’ll be able to watch all the pornography that you want.”
“I’m not so sure about that. For the time being, nothing has changed. Arias Navarro is still at the wheel. I think that this situation is going to last for a while. They will put up a simulacrum of democracy, but nothing will really change. And I can’t imagine the king and Arias Navarro watching porn in Madrid.”
“Don’t be silly! Of course not! Come on, let me out… I want to talk to Carlos.”
“Hey, listen, don’t make any trouble. You’ll just get everybody mad.”
“I don’t care. Let them be as mad as they want!”
“Be careful with what you say.” But he stood up to let her out.
Cecilia walked to the front of the bus, tripping on bags and ski boots. She felt a few suspicious looks, but nobody tried to stop her. She stopped in front of Carlos, defiantly.
“Hey, Carlos, what is this business about stopping in Perpignan?”
“It’s gotten late. I think we should stop there to spend the night.”
“Oh, yeah? And who will pay for the hotel?”
“Well, everyone will have to pay for his room. This wasn’t included in the price.”
“Great! In that case, why don’t we continue to Madrid? They expect me at home tonight.”
“Look, Cecilia, I talked it over with everybody and they all agree to stop in Perpignan.”
“I heard that they want to watch pornographic movies. Is that true?”
“There are people who want to go to the bookstores and movie theaters in Perpignan. You can find lots of things there that are forbidden in Spain, and they’re curious about it. It’s natural.”
“Well, I for one am not interested in watching filthy movies!”
“You don’t have to watch them. Stay on the bus and read. But you can’t go against the will of the majority.”
“Oh, yeah! Just like in college! The majority votes for a strike, the majority votes for a vacation… The majority will always vote for less work and more fun… And to watch porn movies, of course! And the rest of us be damned!”
“The rest of you, who? You’re the only one opposed. Come on, don’t make a fuss!”
“Of course I will make a fuss! I signed up for this trip because my brother told me that the AUE was a decent organization, that there was going to be no partying and no fooling around. But it wasn’t true. In my apartment there wasn’t a minute of peace. One night I found a drunk guy sleeping on my bed. I had to kick him out of my room. And now we are going to stop to watch porn movies! Enough, already!”
“You have to understand that people are young and want to have fun.”
“Yes, but healthy fun, not this! I have fun doing sports, not giving in to debauchery.”
“Well, don’t give in to debauchery! Nobody is forcing you to watch any movies.”
“Sure, but I’ll get home a day late and I’ll have to pay for an extra hotel night. If you go ahead with this, I will have to explain to my father what happened, and I won’t hold back. He works in the Ministerio de Información y Turismo, so don’t be surprised if they investigate you guys in the AUE to find out what you’re really about.”
Carlos frowned. That seemed to impress him. AUE was the Asociación Universitaria de Estudiantes (University Student Association), a conservative group that tried to turn students away from the leftist political activism that reigned in the Spanish universities. They could not afford to have any problems with the government.
“How can you be such a bitch! Do you really want me to do this? Everybody is going to be pissed at you!”
“I don’t care! After we arrive in Madrid, I won’t have to see anybody again.”
Carlos stood up again between the front seats, holding her in front of him.
“Listen, everybody! Since there have been some complaints, we are canceling the stop in Perpignan. We will proceed directly to the border.”
“Are you happy now?” Carlos slipped back into his seat.
Cecilia didn’t reply. She returned to her seat, chased by hostile looks.
“Fascist!” somebody call her. She didn’t turn.
Somebody shoved her butt. She turned to see who it was. Andrés, a guy with a thin blonde mustache, was looking at her with a defiant expression. She confronted him.
“What’s the matter? Didn’t your mother teach you to treat women with respect?”
“Why should I, when you don’t respect anybody? What you need is not respect but to get laid! Maybe that will clarify your ideas.”
“Go to hell, Andrés!”
* * *
Julio got up to let Cecilia pass, frowning. He had seen her being stubborn before, but it had always been about something minor. This was different.
“So you got what you wanted, right? You must be happy!”
“Yes, I got what I wanted. It wasn’t hard.”
“Of course not! Scaring people is always easy,” he gave her a sad look, shaking his head. “What a shame, Cecilia! I never thought you’d be like that.”
“Don’t insult me, Julio! You’ve always respected my ideas.”
“I respect your ideas, but not your actions, and what you just did was despicable. You can’t go around imposing your will on a whole busload of people! That’s the way of petty dictators. I thought you were different, Cecilia! I thought you were a smart girl with a minimum of integrity, but I was wrong. You are just a prude that doesn’t understand a thing.”
Cecilia glared at him. She opened her mouth like she was going to say something, but no words came out. She turned to look out of the window. She picked up her book and started to read.
So this is how this whole affair is going to end? he thought sadly. I should have seen it coming. This girl is too immature, too prudish. We can’t be friends.
But he liked her. And every time he looked at her, he liked her a little more. Because Cecilia was one of those women with a discreet beauty that only reveals itself under close inspection. She was petite. Her face was triangular, with high cheekbones, a thin nose and a sharp chin. She had expressive lips and big brown eyes shaded by long eyelashes that gave her a thoughtful look. Her hair was gorgeous: a sea of unruly curls messed up by her habit of combing them back with her fingers. But what drove him crazy with lust was her bottom: two insolent globes that tempted him to caress them or, even better, to give them a good swat.
Maybe it was foolish to judge a woman by her looks. Well, then, Cecilia was a girl of exceptional intelligence, who chased her goals with a stubbornness bordering on obsession. She had read a lot about science, although in matters of philosophy and politics tell the censorship that her parents had imposed on her became obvious. Still, she had an agile mind, great intuition, natural curiosity and intellectual integrity, which made talking with her as pleasing as skiing with her. Cecilia was a great skier, able to handle steep slopes that made him take pause. On the easier runs she went full speed, exuding joy. It really was a pity that she was so prudish because that muscular little body had to be marvelous in bed. Yes, that was the problem: her churchiness and her conservativism… And that nasty stubbornness that seized her sometimes, like now.
Well, eventually they had to break up, so why not now? Clearly, once they were back in Madrid, she would never want to see him again.
Every time he thought about that, it broke his heart.
* * *
Cecilia tried to concentrate on her reading, but she couldn’t stop thinking about her fight with Julio. Once more, she glanced at Integral Humanism by Maritain. In a fit of self-discipline, she had decided that this would be the only book that she would leave out of her suitcase to read on the bus. Without such extreme measures, she would never finish it. She had borrowed it from don Victor, her spiritual director from Opus Dei. It was supposed to solve her latest crisis of faith. But Maritain attacked science, trying to convince her that metaphysics had priority over the scientific method, and that annoyed her. For her, science was first and foremost, the source of all knowledge. How could that stupid philosopher be so arrogant?
Well, perhaps she was the arrogant one. She needed to be more humble. Don Victor had told her a thousand times.
She took out of her pocket a small hardwood crucifix, with Jesus in gray metal. She tried hard to find the devotion that she used to feel when she looked at it, but somehow the feeling eluded her. It wasn’t surprising. Her behavior at the ski resort had taken her away from God. As soon as she arrived in Madrid she must confess, receive the Grace of God, and everything would be fine. She murmured a brief prayer:
“Lord, please strengthen my faith.”
She put the crucifix back in her pocket. She glanced at Julio. He was looking at her, but he didn’t smile when their eyes met. He was still mad at her.
She wasn’t mad at him anymore, despite the horrible things he had said. Her anger had turned into deep sorrow.
Who cares? I won’t see him again. What does it matter what he thinks of me?
A teardrop rolled down her cheek. She dried it with the back of her hand with a violent motion. Of course it mattered: a friendship like the one she had with Julio was too wonderful to end this way. And, truth be told, what she had done left a bitter taste in her mouth. She had never thought that she was going to be able to persuade Carlos. She just wanted to throw a tantrum. Julio was right, even though it made her mad to admit it.
“Let me out,” she told Julio.
“You’re crying,” he said dryly.
“I know.” She furiously dried her tears again.
“What the hell are you going to do now?”
Julio got up to let her pass and followed her to the front of the bus. Nobody called her names this time.
“Listen, I… I changed my mind,” she told Carlos. “I want to stop in Perpignan.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure… Don’t worry, I won’t say a word to my father.”
“Okay, folks! We are stopping in Perpignan, after all!” Carlos announced.
“And what do you want?” Carlos asked Julio.
“Nothing important… Could you please play this tape on stereo? Maybe that will calm things down.”
“What is it?”
“Awesome, man! I’ll put it on.”
She followed Julio to their seats. When they sat down, she stared at him defiantly, like he had done before. Julio had a handsome face and penetrating eyes.
Outside, the wind kept on blowing, making a whistling sound… But no, the sound wasn’t from outside, it came from the speakers. The sound of the wind became tangled with the rhythmic pulsing of synthesizers, highlighted by melodious chords of an electric organ. It was One of These Days, the first song of Pink Floyd’s album Meddle. Their song.
A distorted electric guitar gave way to an electronic vibration, like a machine. Growing dissonances and drum-beats foretold the threatening growl that was the only lyrics of the song.
“One of these days I’m going to break you into little pieces!” growled Julio in Spanish, accompanying Pink Floyd’s phrase in English.
“Cut,” she corrected him. “The song says ‘cut’, not ‘break’. Don’t you know any English?”
“I know, but I like ‘break’ better. ‘Cut’ sounds thuggish.”
“You’re right,” she smiled. “I don’t like the image of a guy holding a switchblade and saying that.”
“That’s what I am talking about.”
“Are you still mad at me?”
“It will pass.”
“Well, I fixed it… and I did it for you. I want us to be friends again.”
“It would have been better if you didn’t do it for me, but because you realized that it’s wrong to go against the will of the majority.”
“I did it because of that, too. I saw that you were right… Come on, Julio! What else do you want? That I get down on my knees and ask you to forgive me?”
Julio looked at her with a half-smile.
“You’re able to admit it when you’re wrong. That’s a quality I really value.”
“Yes, I recognize that I am stubborn. I always want to have things my way. But when I realize that I’m wrong, I try to be humble and recognize my faults. It’s a Christian virtue.”
Julio’s eyes shone with mischief.
“That’s right. That’s what the Catechism said… how did it go? Examination of conscience, attrition for your sins, tell your sins to the confessor and do penance. You have followed every step, except the last one.”
“Don’t be silly! This is not a confession.”
“Sure, but it would help me stop being mad if you did a little penance.”
“Come watch a movie with me.”
“That doesn’t make sense. How am I going to do penance by sinning?”
“Watching a movie is a sin?”
“Depends on what movie.”
“But also on your intention. If it’s just being with a good friend, it shouldn’t be a sin. Aren’t you curious about what is in those movies? Maybe it’s not what you think.”
“A bunch of naked women, I suppose. Something that you guys would like, but not me.”
“Then, if it doesn’t turn you on, there should be no harm in watching it.”
“I don’t know, Julio, is not as simple as that. Look, I’ll walk with you to the movie theater, but I won’t come in. How about that?”
“That’s okay. I was just kidding. Do you think that I was going to blackmail you to get you to watch the movie? Don’t worry, I’m not angry anymore. Friends?”
“Friends!” she smiled.
* * *
The town was full of birds. All the same: small and dark gray. They filled the tree branches, the streetlights, the balconies, any place where they could rest. The wind whistled between the buildings like in that Pink Floyd song, gusts pulling on her clothes. But the birds didn’t care. They reminded her of the killer birds in that Hitchcock movie. Were they a portent that something bad was about to happen? Maybe the devil had taken possession of that city, that made so much money selling porn to wayward Spaniards. Or maybe God was trying to warn her of the danger she was in.
Nonsense! There has to be a perfectly natural explanation for this phenomenon. I think that I read something somewhere about this particular kind of bird.
“You seem lost in thought,” said Julio.
“I was wondering why there are so many birds.”
“I think they are starlings. But I don’t know why there are so many of them.”
Maribel, who walked in the group in front, turned towards them.
“So, Cecilia, did you change your mind?”
“I didn’t. I’m just going to get some coffee.”
“Watch out! Those birds are going to eat you, coffee, pastries and all.”
There was a movie theater with two shows: Emmanuelle and Story of O.
“Which one are you going to watch?” she asked Julio.
“Story of O. I’ve read the novel and I’ve wanted to see the movie ever since.”
“What is it about?”
“Sadomasochism. The protagonist, O, is a woman who likes to be whipped.”
She tried to hide her fascination.
“Good Lord! That sounds quite extreme, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, mixing sex and violence is a bit over the top, but I find it quite interesting.”
She did, too. She had inklings of why a woman might like to be whipped, but those were things that she’d never dared admitting to herself. Dreams that disturbed her at night. Fantasies that distracted her in class.
The movie tempted her. She knew it would be wrong to watch it, but she tried to find an excuse to do it. Maybe it would help her understand those mysterious fantasies.
The movie didn’t start for an hour. Somebody suggested a visit to a bookstore nearby that sold books that were forbidden in Spain.
Julio got lost in the books as soon as they entered. Most were about politics, printed by Ruedo Ibérico, a publisher that Cecilia didn’t know. Politics was a subject that had never interested her. It reminded her of those badly printed flyers that they hand you on the stairways to the metro. The graffiti on the walls. The angry cries in the endless assemblies in college.
She was glancing over the books that covered the table, not expecting to find anything particularly interesting, when a title caught her attention: Todos los hombres de Franco (All of Franco’s Men). She was about to move on when she had a sudden hunch. Opening the book at the Index, she went down the list of last names starting with M until she found her own: Madrigal. There it was! Francisco Madrigal López. Born in Salamanca in 1920. Studied philosophy at the University of Salamanca. Worked in the EFE news agency until he became sub-director in 1957. Appointed Subdirector General of Press and Propaganda of the Ministry of Information and Tourism in 1968. Demoted in 1974, after the assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco. Then there were two paragraphs of harsh criticism of his work as a censor of the press, cinema, radio and television.
Julio came to see what had caught her attention.
“What are you reading?”
“Look what I found! They list my father as one of Franco’s men.”
“Let me see.”
Julio took the book from her and read the bio with interest. He browsed through the pages, read the book’s title and back cover.
“It’s from Ruedo Ibérico, a publishing house set up by Spanish exiles to fight Franco’s regime. They sell a lot of their books here. They’re banned in Spain. This one is about people that have been in important positions in Franco’s governments, particularly those that were in charge of repression.”
“My father is not in charge of repression!”
“According to this book, he is. It says that your father is in charge of censoring the media to make sure that they don’t promote ideas against the regime… and that they agree with Catholic morals. You didn’t know?”
“I know that he works in the Ministry of Information and Tourism, but I never heard him mentioning censorship. He had an important position until they killed Carrero: Subdirector General.”
“I see… After Carrero’s death, many politicians connected with Opus Dei lost power. Your father must have been one of them. So, are you proud of what he does?”
“Well, yes, a little… If he came to have such an important position, it must be because he is smart and hard-working, right?”
Julio slowly shook his head.
“You are so naïve, Cecilia!”
“What’s the matter? Just because he has a government position, he has to be one of the bad guys?”
“Censorship is not okay, Cecilia! It’s a critical part of the repression machinery. When people are not allowed to know what’s going on in their country, it’s difficult to have a democracy. An uninformed populace can’t participate in political decisions.”
“Bah! People don’t care about politics, all they care about is having fun. Just look at what happened on the bus. Do you really believe that they would have bothered to stop in Perpignan just to come to this bookstore? They were interested in watching porn, not in informing themselves!”
“Well, who knows? Maybe we would have stopped just to look at books… Besides, sexual freedom is also a basic freedom. If you want to live as a repressed woman, that’s up to you, but nobody has the right to tell us what to do with our bodies. If we can’t decide what we do with our own bodies, when to make love, when to have children… then how can we be free?”
Julio was frowning at her. She was reminded of how terrible she’d felt when he had been mad at her on the bus.
“We better stop. You’re going to end up calling me a fascist again.”
“You’re right, I get quite passionate when I talk politics. And no, I won’t call you a fascist again. If that offends you, that means that you are not one.”
“I’m not a fascist, Julio! I’m apolitical. However, as you know, I am a devout Catholic and an Opus Dei sympathizer. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is that I won’t allow anybody to make me feel ashamed of my father. He was always a good father to me. Yes, sometimes he’s strict, but that’s because I can be stubborn and I need a firm hand. And, look at me, I didn’t turn out so bad after all. That must be thanks to him, right?”
“Well, I guess that means you’re not buying that book.”
“Don’t be silly! If my father caught me with that book, he’d kill me! And my brother Luis… he’s even worse. That one is a true fascist!”
* * *
Finally, Cecilia decided to watch the movie with Julio. Curiosity overcame her, although the feeling that she was doing something wrong weighed heavily on her heart. It would have been depressing to be left alone in the street.
Julio seemed excited, like somebody who is about to live a grand adventure. She wanted to share it with him. However, Julio warned her.
“Cecilia, this movie is too hardcore for you. When I told you to come watch a movie with me, I didn’t realize that they were going to show this one. It would be better if you watch Emmanuelle. You’ll like it much better.”
“Then why don’t we watch Emmanuelle together?”
“I’m sorry, but I need to see Story of O. It’s an opportunity that I don’t want to miss. That novel has become a true obsession for me. I want to see how it’s portrayed in the movie.”
“Well, if it’s that important, I wouldn’t want to miss it, either.”
“It’s important for me because… Well, it’s just the way I am. But you are not going to understand it. It’s not just sex… It’s too perverse… Too much violence.”
That intrigued her even more. She decided that she wouldn’t miss that movie, no matter what.
“I want to watch it with you. What am I going to do? Stay out here with the stupid birds?”
“You will do no matter what, just to contradict me! Just a moment ago, you fought a busload of people because you didn’t want to watch porn movies. But now you just have to see this one… Which really isn’t for you, I assure you!”
“I just want to see what it’s about… Wasn’t that what you were saying before, that one has to be informed to be free? Well, I want to know what censorship doesn’t allow us to watch in Spain. I want to find out if we are missing something important. Besides, if you can watch it, so can I! I’m an adult, just like you!”
“Okay, then! Let’s watch it.”
Julio took her by the hand. She, who has never allowed him such familiarities before, followed him into the dark hall like a little lamb.
It was like a dream. The music, mysterious and melodic, seduced her from the start. The first scene captivated her. O traveled in a car with her lover, who made her take off her garter belt and panties. After that, he cut her bra strap with a knife and tore it off her, all under the attentive look of the driver in the rearview mirror.
O’s docility filled Cecilia with a strange, bittersweet feeling. Next, O entered the mansion of Roissy alone. Two attractive women finished undressing her, washed her, and applied makeup on her face, lips and nipples.
The brutality of the next scenes caught Cecilia completely unaware. O was chained to a statue and whipped. Then a group of men who took turns having sex with her. And so started O’s period of slavery, which included seclusion in an underground dungeon for many days. The fantastic ambiance of the castle of Roissy, together with the haunting music, gave everything an air of sweet melancholy. Scenes of great violence were presented in pastel colors that emphasized the softness of the abused skin.
When she was taken out of Roissy by her lover, Rene, O changed from sex slave to talented photographer. But soon enough Rene gave O away to Sir Stephen, who would subject her to his extravagant wishes. O’s submission to him was completely deliberate. And she wasn’t alone; other women followed the same process. There was a certain infantile innocence in the jealousy, temper tantrums, and stubbornness of those women who could withstand abuse that would be tantamount to torture for anyone else.
Despite its strange, anticlimactic ending, the movie left Cecilia immersed in a sort of trance, a state of bewilderment more profound than anything she had ever felt before.
When the lights finally came on in the small theater, she stood up like a zombie, letting Julio take her hand again without realizing it. She followed him silently to the street, like a sleepwalker. She was caught in the throes of a powerful longing that she could not define, a melancholy, a sadness, a desire for something ineffable.
* * *
Julio wondered how long was Cecilia going to let him hold her hand. She had always rejected physical contact before. Her hand was small and warm, fingernails carefully trimmed, skin soft as velvet. He had never felt so close to her. He had never regretted so intensely the prospect of their imminent separation.
They went out into the street. It was already dark. The birds that had so fascinated Cecilia were now silent, except for an occasional whisper of feathers up on the tree branches. Cecilia stared forward thoughtfully, her brow slightly furrowed. He was dying of curiosity to know how the film had made her feel, but feared that anything he could say would break the spell. Cecilia would let go of his hand and become distant again.
The film had fascinated him. The pastel tones of the images and the sweetness of the music contrasted with the sexual rawness of the scenes, which created a magic even more intoxicating than the novel. The result went further than mere excitement. It was a mystical experience in which his lower passions were sublimated to find the ephemeral beauty of pain combined with pleasure, of rapture combined with surrender.
But the silence was becoming too prolonged. He needed Cecilia to tell him what she had felt while that impression was still fresh. He had to make sure that the connection he felt with her was real and not a figment of his imagination. He searched for something to say, anything, however trivial.
“What a trip! Don’t you think?”
He immediately realized how foolish that sounded.
Cecilia looked at him. The night lent an unusual paleness to her face, set off by the blackness of her curls, brows and eyelashes. There was something about the intensity her gaze eyes that let him know that the movie had affected her as much as him.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I loved it! I knew what it was about, but I didn’t expect that it would treat the subject with such beauty: the photography, the scenery, the music… everything was perfect, everything was done with such care! It touched me deep inside, honestly… And it seems that it touched you, too, judging by how lost in thought you are… Am I right?”
Cecilia looked away and squeezed his hand slightly.
“Well, yes, I enjoyed it,” she said after a moment. “It’s what you said: very well made.”
She looked at him again. Doubt danced in her eyes, like she was pondering what she could tell him.
“It was like a dream, Julio! I was expecting a movie full of lust… and it had some of that, for sure. But it also brought out a bunch of emotions.”
“What sort of emotions?”
“I don’t know… It’s hard to explain. How about you? Why did it impress you so much?”
“Well, as you said: it was exciting… But the story goes beyond sex. It’s about feelings that may be irrational, but are still quite real. The desire to surrender completely to somebody. The ability to find pleasure in pain.”
Cecilia looked away, frowning.
“That’s impossible,” she replied. “Pain and pleasure are mutually exclusive.”
She was putting up her defenses again. The magic of the moment was fading away.
“Not necessarily! I think that they are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes pain can be transformed into pleasure. That’s the message of the movie, that there are people like O and Sir Stephen who like that kind of experiences.”
Had he gone too far? If she found out that he was one of those people, she surely wouldn’t want to see him again. But, on the other hand, he longed to share with her that part of himself.
“That doesn’t make any sense! How can one be happy feeling pain humiliation? That would be self-destructive. You have to be crazy to want something like that.”
Julio felt a tightness in his chest. Of course, his perverse fantasies were sheer madness. Cecilia would never accept them. And yet… there was something in Cecilia’s voice that told him she was not being entirely honest.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes desires are irrational. We don’t know where they come from and can’t explain them. Still, they are there.”
“Do you have that kind of desires?”
He didn’t expect such a direct question. He should have seen it coming, though. Cecilia had an insatiable curiosity, and he had given her plenty of clues. What was he going to answer now? The last thing he wanted to do was to lie to her.
He took a chance. It didn’t matter. He was going to lose her, anyway.
“Yes… I often have that kind of fantasies,” he confessed. “That’s why I wanted to watch that movie, to see if it could explain them, somehow. If they make movies about this kind of thing, that means that I’m not alone… How about you? Have you ever had fantasies like that?”
Having asked him a direct question, Cecilia had given him permission to do the same. But by the way she lowered her head and frowned, he realized that she was not going to answer him… Which was already an answer.
“I don’t know, Julio… That kind of things are too intimate to discuss. I’d rather not talk about it, okay?”
“Okay, I understand. The subject makes me uncomfortable too.”
* * *
Cecilia walked in silence with Julio, full of doubts. On the one hand, that conversation made her uncomfortable. But, on the other hand, she regretted having missed the opportunity to talk about the issue that had been intriguing her all her life. She was dying of curiosity to know exactly what were his violent fantasies.
They joined the rest of the group by the bus. Carlos had been making inquiries in several hotels, and none had enough rooms for all of them. However, they told him that by the shore there were hotels with plenty of vacancies.
The bus got on its way again. Julio gave her questioning looks that she evaded, looking out of the window at the vanishing lights of the city. She felt the need to explore what she felt. She didn’t expect that the movie would make such an impression on her. She had expected to feel some sexual excitement, but this was something completely different, more subtle and profound. Sometimes, after a long period of silence and prayer in one of the Opus Dei retreats, she had felt overcome by a mystical emotion in which she could see God as a warm golden light, like a sweetness that permeated everything. The feeling that the movie had left her had that same sweet quality. That an erotic movie could awake in her those mystical feelings puzzled her.
And then there was Julio. Until then she had considered him just a friend, somebody with whom it was fun to ski. However, the events of the last hours had changed that. She couldn’t stand the thought that the next day she was going to say goodbye to him and never see him again.
Ah, Cecilia! Who are you kidding? You are falling in love with that boy. But isn’t it just natural that I would fall in love with a guy? I am a woman, after all. I have to accept it: chastity is not for me, I like men too much. It would be better that I don’t become a member of Opus Dei. I’ll have to resort to what they call ‘the remedy of concupiscence’: marriage. But I can’t marry Julio. He is an atheist, so he would be a constant danger to my faith. No, I must find a husband who is a good Christian, with the same values that I have. Somebody that knows how to guide me with a firm hand, because I am rebellious and stubborn, and I need to be made to toe the line.
She pictured herself a few years down the road, living with her husband. She would kiss him at the door when he came home from work. Like he did every day, he would take her by the hand while he inspected the house. He’ll probably find a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. ‘I will start washing them right away’, she would tell him. ‘Of course’, he would reply, ‘but first came to the bedroom with me’. He would take her by the hand, like a child. Once in the bedroom, he would bring out the wooden ruler that he kept in the drawer. ‘I love you, Cecilia, but I will not allow you to be lazy with household chores. I would have to give you a corrective. So pull up your skirt, honey.’
“What are you thinking?” asked Julio.
“Uh… nothing,” she replied, embarrassed.
How on earth had she allowed herself to be carried away by that fantasy? The worse thing was that her imagined future husband had the features and the voice of Julio.
“You are still thinking about the movie, right?”
“Yes, it must be that.”
“Me too. Some scenes keep coming back to my imagination, over and over again. The music also haunts me, although every time I start to play it in my head it sort of goes away.”
“It goes like this…”
She hummed it for him.
“Yes, like that! It’s so beautiful! It has a mixture of sweetness and mystery.”
“Yes, it haunts me, too.”
They exchanged a look of complicity that finally convinced Cecilia that it was true: she had fallen in love with him. That movie had completed something that had been growing inside her, without her realizing it, all those days that they had skied together.
But that love was a dead-end street; it had no future. If she didn’t curtail it, it would destroy the most important things in her life. She’d just have to forget him.
* * *
Julio was starting to feel frustrated. The precious few minutes that he had left with Cecilia were hopelessly ticking away, and instead of using them to chat with him, she had locked herself in one of her taciturn moods. It was a shame, but he knew that trying to force the conversation would only make her more sullen. Cecilia protected her privacy fiercely.
The second hotel they tried had just enough rooms for everybody. They would also serve them dinner, so they wouldn’t have to get back on the bus to find a restaurant.
The skiers created a big turmoil in the dining room. The last guests were just leaving, so somebody decided to join all the tables so they could all dine together. Cecilia didn’t seem to like the idea. Neither did he, he had hoped to share a table with her. But neither of them dared to object. They ended up sitting together at the end of the table.
Maribel sat in front of him. She was petite, like Cecilia, with wavy hair, big breasts and dangerous curves. He knew she liked him. Maribel had asked him to ski together several times, but she didn’t ski well enough to keep up with him.
“So, how was the coffee?” Maribel asked Cecilia. “Or did you end up watching a movie?
“She finally came in with me,” he said. “What movie did you see?”
“Emmanuelle,” Maribel replied with a provocative smile. “It was very erotic. The scene I liked best was the Thai boxing. At the end of the combat, the old man who accompanied Emmanuelle offers her to the winner as the prize. The boxer fucks her right there, in front of everybody. Isn’t that hardcore?”
Cecilia made a gesture of disgust.
“What movie did you guys see?”
“Story of O,” said Cecilia, defiantly.
“Oh! And how was it?
“Well, not as hardcore as Emmanuelle,” he said. “But it had some good scenes. For example, at the beginning of the movie, they tie O to a statue and whip her. Then she gets fucked by several guys.”
“No way!” said Maribel. “And that’s not hardcore?
“My favorite scene was when they brand O with a red iron,” Cecilia said, picking up his game.
“Well, that’s the one thing that I can’t understand,” said Maribel. “I’m okay with the sexual stuff… But that business of whipping and branding just makes me sick to my stomach.”
* * *
Carlos appeared with a bunch of keys, each with a black plastic label with the room number.
“Hey, listen! I got the hotel to make us a special group price. It’s two hundred francs per room. But there are not a lot of rooms, so we’ll have to share. So, please, choose a roommate. When you are set, bring me the dough and I’ll give you a key.”
Julio didn’t dare to look at Cecilia. Was there any chance that she would share a room with him? No, Cecilia would never agree to that.
Indeed, she asked Maribel:
“We’ll share a room, right?”
“I’m sorry, but I have other plans. Ask Susana.”
“Okay… I’ll be right back.”
Cecilia looked worried. She went looking for Susana.
Maribel looked at him brazenly.
“So Julio, should you share a room with me?”
“Didn’t you just tell Cecilia that you have other plans?”
“Precisely. My plans are to sleep with you. Let me be clear, Julio, there isn’t any time for niceties. I know you have a crush on Cecilia, but she’s never going to sleep with you. She’s a prude… but you know that already. Me, on the other hand… Well, I’ve just bought a box of condoms in a sex-shop and I’d like to see how many we’re able to use tonight. We could have lots of fun… After all, tomorrow we’ll have all day to sleep on the bus. What do you say?”
Julio looked at her, filled with doubt. Maribel had been coming on to him, but never so blatantly. What to do? He didn’t like Maribel as much as he liked Cecilia, but she was sexy, anyway. What she was offering him was far more than he could ever expect from Cecilia. And yet, accepting felt like betraying Cecilia. Why? After all, they were not dating.
“Open your eyes, Julio!” Maribel insisted. “As soon as we get to Madrid, that girl is going to go back home with her fascist parents, and you won’t see her again… On the other hand, you and I can start something great in just a few minutes. And if you like it, and I’m sure you will, we can date when we are back in Madrid. Come on, there’s nothing to think about!”
He was not so sure. What if Cecilia was forced to share a room with another guy?
He got up from his chair and went looking for Cecilia. At last, he saw her in the line that had formed in front of Carlos to pay for the rooms and get the keys. He stood by her.
“Let me guess…. Susana doesn’t want to share a room with you, either.”
“No,” Cecilia said laconically, without looking at him.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“Get a room by myself… What else can I do?”
“Share a room with me.”
“Are you out of your mind? You know perfectly well that I would never agree to that!”
Maybe Maribel’s offer is still standing, he thought.
* * *
Cecilia watched Julio walk away with alarm. She felt the urge to run after him but, at that precise moment, the couple in front of her got their key from Carlos. It was her turn.
“Give me a key, please,” she told him, handing him two bills of a hundred francs.
“Who is your roommate?”
“No roommate… It’s just for me.”
“That won’t do… We don’t have enough rooms. You’ll have to wait to share the room with whoever is left.”
“No way! I’m not waiting anymore after having stood in line… What does it matter to you? I’m paying for the room.”
Carlos looked at her, annoyed.
“Don’t you understand? I can’t leave people out in the street to give you an individual room! Don’t waste my time, things are difficult enough as they are! Go away and don’t come back until you find a roommate.”
People behind her heard what he said and pushed her aside, impatiently. Anguished, she turned to look for Julio. He was at the end of the table, talking to Maribel.
How could I be so stupid!
She sauntered to his side and grabbed him by the arm.
“Julio, please forgive me,” she muttered, not knowing what to say.
Maribel gave her a piercing look.
“Don’t interrupt, Cecilia!”
But Julio was already putting his arm around her shoulder, smiling at her tenderly.
“Shall we get back in line?”
It was like taking a breath of fresh air after spending way too much time at the bottom of the swimming pool. Without realizing it, she let her head fall on Julio’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Maribel,” said Julio.
“Sure… You’re a true gentleman, Julio. Keep it up and you’ll never get laid.”
“Thank you, Julio,” Cecilia said to him when they were back in line. “But Maribel is right. I’m a prude, so please don’t try anything, okay?”
“Cecilia, I know the deal.”