We walked up to the entrance and figured we could go in without knocking and avoid waking anyone up. This was no easy task considering the front door we had to engage. It was one of those big-ass, heavy, dark wooden, medieval portals you might need a battering ram to break through under more hostile conditions. It was so big, in fact, that you actually entered through one of those smaller openings within the larger one, which now that we are there, happens to be called a wicket gate. Then a notion came to me, for some inane reason.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we opened the whole thing up and pulled the car in? I mean, isn’t that what it was originally for?”
“For parking a Toyota Auris?” said Laura. “I don’t think so. Do you want to wake up the whole household and fill up the place with carbon monoxide?”
I shook my head. “Well I didn’t have that in mind, but I see your point.” Poisoning a family to death with toxic fumes doesn’t send a good message to my closest friendship circles. And it certainly would have drastically reduced our chances of getting invited back.
“But it would make for an interesting story.”
“Timeless,” agreed Laura to humor me.
I turned the enormous iron key which served as both an excellent device for releasing large locks as well as an effective hammer. I did it as silently as I could but the problem with Spanish country homes is that they are hopelessly devoid of any material fluffy enough to absorb sound. In fact, they tend to encourage noise to reverberate and intensify. The unlatching echoed down the hall like a gong.
“Joder.” I winced. I might as well have done my best rendition of an angry rooster. “Maybe they didn’t hear me,” I said in a whisper.
We crept in and quietly set our things down on the bench along the wall. It was dark inside, the way the Spanish like it. Sealed off shutters in the windows, closed doors to the adjoining rooms, thick walls, all the elements you need to keep meat from spoiling. The Spanish have been using this system for centuries to keep the heat out and it has been achieved with unparalleled success.
“Mission complete. I think it worked,” I whispered again.
“Richard! Laura! Why are you trying to be so quiet?” Victoria appeared, her eyes aglow, her smile as bright as ever, both alit in the darkness. She gave us each two kisses.
We told her.
“Don’t you worry about that! I was wide awake. I heard you coming a mile away.” It was entirely conceivable. Spanish mothers have a keener sense of hearing than a dog. I’m sure she had detected the terrestrial vibrations of our vehicle before we had even pulled off the highway.
As we spoke, I took a look around the front hall and admired every nook and cranny of it. As an American, you can’t really ever get tired of being awed when you enter a house like this. Everything about the entrance, and the house for the matter, exudes museum perfect. The smooth stones on the floor aligned to form geometric shapes; the large mirror with the wooden frame; the beams overhead, the low door frames. I cursed to myself with extreme jealousy. “The place is looking awesome as usual, Victoria. Don’t know how you do it.”
“Oh, you always same the same thing,” she said as she slapped me lightly. “There’s nothing to it. It’s called a maid service. Ever heard of it?”
“He hasn’t,” revealed Laura. “He says he was so privileged as a child that he refuses to hire someone to clean the house. He calls it being humble. I call it being cheap.”
“And I can guess who does all the cleaning in the end,” laughed Victoria as she poked Laura in the rib.
I was just about to object to the insinuation, although it was probably true, when we heard the heavy steps of someone descending the steps and not fully conscious in their pursuit. Only one person I knew could come downstairs like Boris Karloff. Victoria might have been awake, but Fernando had definitely been snoozing away. He walked down slowly and clumsily, and then sloppily stopped at the last step. His eyes were heavy. They usually were. He bobbed his head from side to side. His hoary beard reached his stomach. “Buenas.”
“Damn, Fer! You look like Rip Van Fuckin’ Winkle.” It had been a while since I last saw him.
“The guy who left his wife, got drunk, passed out in the mountains and didn’t come back for twenty years.”
He scratched his head as he processed my words. “That definitely sounds like me.”
“Oh, come on. Washington Irving?”
He clearly had no idea. Hudson River Dutch folklore wasn’t his thing. I figured they might have picked up on the allusion to the writer, as he had penned Tales of the Alhambra and was a former Minister to Spain, but nothing.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”
Fernando was an artist. I mean a real artist. The kind who never took their success, when it came, too seriously. He had taken up photography when he was a kid, perfected it at the School of Fine Arts in Madrid, and spent several decades alternating stints in Madrid, Berlin, Naples, Oaxaca, and London, mixing graphic reports, magazine covers and personal work. Whichever came first and got him enough cash to get by. Once he traveled around the west of the United States in search of Ansel Adam’s America, which I think inspired his donning beard and flannel shirts, and returned a changed man. “That’s one fuckin’ insane country,” he summed up. And that’s all he ever said. He never told me more. I do not have the balls ask.
Now he had put down his zoom lenses and folded his tripods and was focusing on an entirely different profession: gardening.