What the fuck am I doing here
with my wrists and ankles tied to this bed? I don’t remember much, and it’s no
use struggling because it chafes like hell. But I sense the location even
before opening my eyes. The usual street noises are filtering in from outside
and although the shutters are closed, I can tell that it’s morning.
say there’s no such thing as an unlucky person and that people make their own
loneliness, but I never believed it. In my experience it seemed that there were
certain individuals who were just born under a bad star, so to speak, and I
considered myself to be one of them. I was most definitely not a loner by
choice; on the contrary, I spent all my time going to bars and clubs in an
effort to meet people, but obscurity and isolation seemed to follow me around
like hyenas. What was it about Reptile Steve then that made him so attractive?
He was the kind of guy who could pop out for a carton of milk and come back
with a guest for breakfast, but I just didn’t have charisma like that.
an ugly bastard as well, which made it even more infuriating. Cold, scheming
snake-eyes and a wrinkled neck of scaly skin that, instead of going brown, had
turned rust-red in the Barcelona sun. He didn’t give a damn about the Catalans
or their culture, either. For him it was merely a place to suck in as much
money as possible before moving off to some third world country where he
planned to set up a business which would run on cheap local labour. In the
meantime, he had only three
interests: sex, weapons and home-improvements;
and as if intent to prove the innate superiority of the American Way, he had to
have the most sumptuous apartment in the barrio. He’d knocked down most of the
interior walls in order to create an impression of space and installed high
quality marble units. The remaining walls were decorated with a selection of
swords and replica pistols. A small room next to the kitchen was crammed with
paint tins, brushes, ladders and a huge number of tools, including a
hand-operated stone wheel for sharpening blades that he’d found in a flea market.
liked to go round there when he threw his predictably sophisticated parties,
though. They’d gorge themselves on a fine array of finger food and drink the
vodka and cava on offer, but behind his back the ones who knew him better would
make snide comments about his mercenary past.
suppose it’s a bit hypocritical of me to infer that he was sex-mad as in my own
quiet way I was just as bad, but because I never pulled any girls I didn’t make
a big thing of it. I had low self-esteem and kept my mouth shut on the subject
whereas he would adopt a bragging bravado and talk about nothing else. This
irritated me and I don’t know why I put up with it – why I simply didn’t stop
hanging round with him – especially as it was so easy to discern the sly intelligence
at work just under the surface. Miranda must have been crazy to let him pick
her up; crazy to get involved with either of us, but she was young and fresh
out of England and she wanted to have fun and experience everything.
first time I set eyes on her she was with a dippy Californian girl from
Huntingdon Beach, LA. They were both working as au pairs uptown and had come
down to the barrio to make a day of it. She had dark hair, a wanton,
mischievous look, and fabulously long brown legs which seemed to gleam in the
June sunlight. They walked into our local and somehow I ended up buying her a
drink; she was very easy-going and obviously out for a good time but Steve came
and joined us and in less than ten minutes he’d spirited her away.
then, Steve was seeing a Polish girl, which was a bit like shooting fish in a
barrel. She wanted to stay in the West and he was providing her with money to
sort out a visa extension but she happened to be away in Madrid for a while, on
an intensive course for learning Spanish, which had given him a perfect
opportunity to go on the prowl again. I wondered briefly what he would do when
she came back if this incident turned out to be more than just a one-night
The next time I saw Miranda
it was completely by chance. One morning as I was standing on my balcony, I
caught sight of her coming out of Steve’s building through the glass door at
the end of our street. There goes that gorgeous girl again, I thought. I wonder
how those two are progressing. What does she see in him? Then I went inside to
couple of nights later I was sitting outside a bar in the Placa Reial with
Lucas, an Andalucian friend who lived on a poor estate on the outskirts but was
always in good spirits and usually had hashish. We’d got stoned in a flamenco
club and were now drinking iced gin and tonic in a state of mild euphoria when
Miranda spotted us and came over.
took me to a boring party at the American Institute, full of fucking
pretentious idiots,” she said, sitting down. “And then, to make things worse,
his girlfriend turned up and started screaming at me, so I left ... the slimy
“Que dice?” said Lucas. He gave a crafty
wink and claimed he was going for the last metro. As he got up, he slipped me
enough hash for one more joint before walking away through the arches. I was
left alone with Miranda, but I didn’t feel nervous or uncomfortable like I
might have done in a similar situation if sober. In fact, for once I felt in a
you have a good time with Reptile Steve?” I said.
that what you call him?” she laughed.
When I woke up the next
morning, I was amazed to discover Miranda in my bed, and not only that but
naked as well, at least from the waist up. She was still asleep, and her
breasts rose slightly as she breathed. Not being able to remember the last part
of the night at all, I just stared at her, amazed, and thought: we must have
had a great time but in a second she’ll wake up, look around in horror, grab
her clothes and get out as quick as possible.
that’s not what happened. When she eventually woke up, we went down to a café
for breakfast and then we bought a couple of beers and returned to my flat to
relax. After that we started seeing each other on a regular basis. By
coincidence, it turned out that the people she worked for lived in the next
street to a pharmaceutical company where I gave English lessons twice a week.
I’d go round to see her on the nights when she had to baby-sit and once the kids
were in bed we’d have sex on the sofa in front of their new flat-screen TV.
those few short weeks I began to think that maybe I wasn’t a born loser after
all. She didn’t speak any Spanish and knew nothing about the place. I took her
all over the city and showed her things. We climbed the Sagrada Familia and walked
in the cactus gardens of Monjuic. She came from a small town just outside
Bristol and had an appealing West Country accent. Her host family were friendly
to me and sometimes we’d sit in the bedroom and laugh about Steve, who’d
started to send strange, emotional messages on cassette, asking her to come
back. On one of them he concluded, in his mid-west drawl: “The fact of having
two beautiful young women innerested in me was more than my ego could take and I
became a jerk ...” We had a good snigger about that.
I began to perceive a completely different side to Steve: a maudlin,
self-pitying aspect of his character which I’d never suspected. Considering his
general attitude to women, it surprised me that he was allowing himself to go
to pieces like this. On the next taped message, he offered to take her to the
Liceu Opera House to see Domingo and to buy her an evening gown if she’d forget
that scene at the party and give him another chance. He was out of luck – she
preferred to go with me to the KGB club to see Primal Scream.
I was walking on air and any
vague interest that I’d previously been able to muster concerning the teaching
of English to the Catalan bourgeoisie went through the window. I’d emerge from
some private class and go straight into a bar to spend the money, then later I
would meet up with Miranda and we’d paint the town. Of course, we ran into
Steve from time to time and in public he was very contained about the whole thing.
I suppose as a certain kind of American abroad, he had standards of decorum to
maintain, but if I hadn’t been so happy, I might have had the sense to realise
that he wasn’t going to let me off as easily as that.
So lying here a prisoner tied
to the bed, I try to reconstruct the events of the previous night. Miranda had
gone to visit her sister, who is on a package deal somewhere along the coast.
In the evening I bumped into Steve in our local and he was okay towards me. I
imagined that he’d pulled himself together and decided not to hold a grudge. I
even felt a bit sorry for him when he told me that the Polish girl had thrown
him over as well and I was impressed at his being so philosophical about it.
more broads in this city,” he said, with a shrug. “Let’s do a few bars, then
take in a movie.”
had to laugh at his 40s lingo ... not such a bad sort really, the old reptile.
Perhaps I’d misjudged him. After that, things get hazy. I have vague memories
of my legs going weak, some time and many beers later, as we left a bar and
Steve holding me up by the armpits. I don’t remember anything about coming back
here but I know the room because I slept in it once.
I can hear footsteps on the other side of the door, then it opens and Steve enters,
pushing the whetstone along on a drinks trolley which also supports a selection
Christ’s sake Steve,” I blubber in panic. “What the hell d’you think you’re
doing? Stop being stupid ...”
up Brian. No need for any whining ... I’m not going to kill you. Just teach you
a lesson you won’t forget.”
picks out a blade and begins turning the wheel.
start to howl but he cuts a piece of masking tape and silences me.
a character defect, I guess, but I’m a very bad loser,” he says, in a distant
monotone, “one hell of a bad loser, in fact, you thieving asshole. Realised I
had a talent for this kind of thing a few years back in Nicaragua, though. They
used to call me the information man coz I was good at extracting it ... and the
more ya do something the better ya get, eh? Got hold of some inneresting
sleeping potions out there as well.”
Finally, in the middle of this
I see that I was right all along: there are
some people who are fated to get nothing for free. Others may sail through life
but we come to learn that there’s a price for every fragment of luck. A natural
impulse now would be to beg uncontrollably for mercy but of course it’s not
physically possible and the realisation hits me that this is my time to pay.
John Short spent a long
time in southern Europe doing a variety of jobs and now lives and writes in
Liverpool. His poems and stories have appeared in many magazines in Spain,
France, the UK, Ireland and the USA, such as Barcelona Ink, The French
Literary Review, Prole, The Blue Nib
and Rats Ass Review. When not writing he enjoys
cycling, real ale and Greek music.
well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen
mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve,
not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available
at Amazon.com. He's done art for several magazines, newspapers,
websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly
drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal
rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne
Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and
Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery:
www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry
with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.