They got to the Alhambra before the busloads of tourists, just as they had planned to do. They walked up the Cuesta de Gomérez where all the Republican prisoners – including Federico Garcia Lorca – had been taken at dawn after the Franquistas had taken Granada, and where they were staying now in a cool room overlooking a courtyard full of dusty potted plants and almond trees.
The forest on the edge of the Alhambra hill was cool in the morning, the water gurgled down the ditches and the birds sang in the elm trees. They walked slowly and Georgia ran up and down dipping her hand in the water and throwing leaves in and watching them sail down the hill. He was still in that mood of tranquil optimism brought on by the news about the big show in Madrid. It was a good feeling, a feeling that everything was going to be alright. The only other time he’d felt like that was the one time he’d taken really good cocaine. He’d done it. The gamble had paid off. He knew the feeling wouldn’t last, but he was enjoying it while he could.
When finally they arrived outside Charles V’s castle
he said ” I’ll wait in the queue, you wait here with Georgia.” He was first in the line. There was a young Dutch couple behind him, and three American girls with cutoff jeans. While he was waiting the first of the buses pulled up and all these tourists wearing track suits tumbled out shouting.
This was his fourth trip to the Alhambra, one of his favourite places on earth. He’d bought the one before here, and now he was bringing Georgia’s mother, the woman he loved and trusted more than any other. He wanted it
to be perfect and tranquil for her.
They got their tickets and went in. They were first. “Listen” he said when they got to the Hall of the Ambassadors and were standing staring down at the Albaicin through the double arched fluted windows, spread out on the hillside opposite, “listen, let’s run ahead and come back slowly. That way we’ll beat the hordes.”
They walked swiftly past the Patio of the Lions which
was full of cleaners and squealing starlings and then
all the way to the Patio de Daraxa, dragging Georgia along by the hand. They strolled among the orange trees and running fountains for a few precious, solitary minutes. Georgia said “look Mummy, monsters!” The ground was alive with tiny black frogs hopping towards the hedges. Then they went back inside.
They actually had almost an hour of silence in this, the most beautiful of buildings. It always brought him to the edge of tears to stand in the Court of the Myrtles and absorb the mood of this place. He felt the presence of the court of poor Boabdil. He remembered the elegant Afghani in the pink turban choosing apricots in the bazaar in Mazar i Sharif. He heard Manuel de Falla. He felt sorry for the man whose tragedy it had been to leave all this behind. It was the calmest he had ever been in this place. There was always tension with the one before.
When they got to the Patio of the Lions, they walked into a wall of humanity. The cleaners and the starlings had gone. The courtyard was packed shoulder to shoulder with flocks of Japanese carrying videotapes, clumps of Germans with bellowing guides pointing at the roof, chattering Spaniards with Lacoste T shirts chewing pumpkin seeds, and spitting the skins out on the ground. One man sat and read a newspaper. She had to pick Georgia up. Georgia
was bewildered and a little frightened. ” Daddy, all
the peoples! Too many peoples!”
They hurried to the Generalife, and wandered through the gardens. It wasn’t so crowded. Then they went and sat on
a balcony overlooking the Patio de la Acequia, where fountains danced among roses and exotic flowers. Even Georgia was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place. “Would you like to live here?” he asked her. “Yes!”
she said wide-eyed.
Then a curious thing happened. Japanese began queuing in pairs in an orderly fashion at the entrance to the little balcony where they were seated, looking down on the garden. One by one, the Japanese would come in and stand with their backs to the view. The other member of the pair would take their photograph, or video them. Then they would swap. Then they would move on. The entire operation took two minutes. None of them looked at the garden. They were gathering evidence. One of them motioned that she wanted to borrow Georgia as a prop for her picture. Angrily, he shook his head no.
Afterwards they had lunch at the wonderful cool bodega on Elvira. They sat amongst the large wooden barrels and drank chilled fino and ate bocadillos with tuna and alioli, salad and ham and fried pimientos. Every time he ordered something the boy with the long white apron chalked it up on the bar.
“I don’t understand why they come there” she said, ” there’s no point in being there when there are so many of them. The whole point is lost. It makes me angry.”
“It’s the problem of the world. Simple. Too many fucking people. Stop them fucking. No problem.”
“But why don’t they stop them from coming to places like that. They don’t see anything. They don’t care.”
“They should build a fibreglass Alhambra somewhere else. Like they did with Lascaux.”
They went back to their big airy room in the ramshackle hotel with the bakelite switchboard and the mother and three pretty daughters who did all the work and after Georgia went to sleep they lay down for a siesta.
He dozed and dreamed and the white curtains ruffled at the windows and then he felt sleepy no longer. He looked across at her lying there on her side, naked, the swell of her arse and her hair tumbling over her shoulder. He slipped across into her bed and ran his hand along her back and down her thigh. Then he stopped.
“When’s your period due? It’s been a long time coming this one.”
“Two weeks.” She still lay with her back to him.
He couldn’t see her face.
“What does that mean?”
She rolled over and faced him. She looked straight into his eyes with her clear blue ones.
“What do you think it means?”
He looked out the window. The prettiest of the three daughters was watering the plants in the courtyard. Her skirt was skirt tucked into her panties. She had long black hair and she sang softly to herself as she hosed the trees and the pots. She really was very pretty.
“I don’t understand. You knew what was going on.
With your body I mean.”
“But you know I haven’t had been really regular since
we came to live here. I can’t be sure anymore.”
“But you keep records. You know roughly when we shouldn’t. You should have kept that up.”
“You never asked.”
Georgia woke up. “Mummy. Come. Juice.”
They sat in the Plaza Nueva. He had a beer. She had a water. A group of Gypsy children marched smartly into
the square. They were dirty and handsome and fierce.
One little girl began to dance, a primitive dance, wiggling her ten year old arse frantically in a short grimy skirt. The others sat on the ground behind her and sang loudly, one banged the ground with a dented plastic five litre water bottle. Georgia was fascinated with these children. She stared at them solemnly. One little girl with her raven black hair pulled back passed around a dirty tin plate. He gave them a hundred pesetas. Then they moved up to the next cafe. Georgia walked after them. His good mood had gone.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Will you leave it?”
“But I don’t understand. We’ve talked about it.”
“Listen. It’s not a problem. We’ll deal with it.”
“No!” he said quickly, angrily. ” No. We won’t do that.
It’s just that… we went through all the reasons.
The money. We’ve changed our lives. We’re too old.”
“Then why did you turn to me and say ‘can we have one like this?’ when you saw Paquita’s baby?”
“Did I say that?”
He finished his beer. He noticed a handsome Gypsy
boy with long red brown hair making eyes at her. He
was singing gently and clapping his hands, directing
the song at her. She responded with an embarrassed half smile, and stared the boy down. He sat there pretending he hadn’t noticed and finished his beer.
They left the next day for Valencia. They drove through the sunbaked cavelands of Guadix, little windows poked
in all the flat topped mountains that reared straight up from the plain. They drove through mist and rain and past more apricot trees than either of them had ever seen, all hanging with little golden fruit and they spent the night in Jumilla in the world’s worst hotel. It was hot and neon lit and they were so close to the Valencia highway the windows rattled all night as the big semis passed. It was packed with Dutch geologists seriously and endlessly studying maps of mountains. Which is probably why they were given the worst room.
They went for a walk in the dusty park opposite the hotel. Georgia played on the swings and climbed on the swings and bars. There was a statue of a boy riding a snail. Somebody had broken the boy’s head off. All the flowers in the park were dying. Teenagers sat around smoking and looking at each other. Then they had dinner in the dining room. He ate young goat and drank a whole bottle of the strong red Jumilla. Sometime during the course of the meal he told her, that were she not pregnant, they would definitely try when they got back, that he hadn’t known how much she wanted a second child.
When he went to bed and lay in the horrible room with
the neon sign outside, flickering on and off, and the semis roaring past he thought how this was going to ruin their lives now that he’d just begin to get serious and a little successful with his work. Yet he also knew that
he believed both these things, what he said to her and what he was thinking now, and that the struggle was going
to be working out which was the truth. He went to sleep thinking about Georgia and how much he loved her.
He had a dream that night. He caught his mother in bed with a young man. It was the mother he remembered before the long illness that killed her. She was beautiful. The young man was slightly effete. He attacked the young man with a stick and drove him away. He left, laughing holding his arms up against the blows, saying “listen, don’t blame me, she invited me.”