Prose » Cully Perlman »


They were New Yorkers in Spain, the children. Twin bags dropped on a doorstep in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to be sent for. They were put on a plane, identification necklaces around their necks, faces shiny behind dark blue Pan Am ID slips. Blond, the two. In Brooklyn, in the barrio of Herrera Oria outside Madrid, they stood out. They spoke little Spanish, horribly; they came home with raspberried elbows; children dragged them along the dirt fields where they played fútbol. I hate this place, the younger said. The older agreed. It was 1980.

Their mother taught English to children of privilege. She went to medical school at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She was Puerto Rican. She’d met their father on a heroin-junkie street in Alphabet City, on the Lower East Side. They were young. He was tough. She was smart. They moved to Florida, had the boys, separated. Maybe it was the decade (the 70’s). Maybe it was the green carpet, the Cubans, two blond kids, wide-eyed, slumped on milk crates. Medical school sounded good.

Soon the boys were eating palmeras, visiting churrerias. The boys picked up the distinción. They had girlfriends; Conchita, Almudena, Flor. The older kissed with tongues Paloma, whose brother, Manolo, was a tormentor. The boy remembers thinking in Spanish they were never going home. Paloma, he knew, meant dove.

1981. A rebel army commandeered the radio, the TV. Lieutenant Colonel Tejero Molina waved
his pistol; Spain, in chaos.

They lowered the shutters, sat by candlelight. The older boy said nothing of the men who bumped him that day. He remembered their black, tired eyes. Always, he would.

They collected silk worms. The older boy ran his fingers over the worms until they became cocoons. Sirens sounded.

Their first afternoon in Madrid, they slept. It snowed. The roommates watched skiers zigzag poles. The boys woke, ate baguettes.

“Your mother loves you,” the Chinese roommate said.

“Yes,” the Spanish one said.

The older boy smiled; the younger stared.

Their mother’s friends brought items from America. They made pancakes. They invited Lorenzo and Alex, neighbors. They ate these “tortas” that were like crepes but better, with sweet syrup, butter. The boys no longer tormented.

The older played goalie. He bought gloves with Pesetas his mother gave for helping. He swept, folded laundry. Once he had the gloves he protested chores.

One day the younger remembered a friend. No name, but the house he described was the one they fled in Florida. Their mother smiled. “One more year,” she said. The older boy did not believe her. The older boy was home. He thought in Spanish. He walked the stalls in the market. Rabbits and pheasant hung from metal hooks. It was 1982. Spain hosted the FIFA World Cup. Italy won. Someone lost.

They packed. They wrapped statues of Don Quixote in paper. The boys, their mother, held Iberia tickets, rode the metro. They sat on a bench, opened the silk worm shoeboxes. And the moths, they flew away.