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This is a story I wrote many years ago while living in Spain. It was published by the New Orleans Review in the Spring 1986 issue.

Will Kirkland


Funeral bells do not ring like those the toll the hours.

    Her face was blue, her ears deep purple, her lips a line of purpled pink that ran again to blue, her eyes rolled back, her eyelids quartered down and locked against three quartered irises. Her pupils in the bright sun were staring uselessly, grown as large as fingernails.

I do not know this woman

    as heavy as stone, as heavy as though every pore were filled with water. The black of her still glistening swimming suit, her thin pale skin, the fat of her thighs, her pubic hairs, black against dead white flesh, weighed against my taking her.

    my mouth to her mouth, my fingers gripping her nose, my lips against hers, breathing her, forcing the lift of her lungs, lifting my lips and watching for life, returning to feel for her breath with my skin
    Her mouth is running yellow foam; her nose is running blood, thin and pink with water. I bend to her mouth.
     The sun is on my spine. The pool is surface and sunlight; it glitters indifferently. I fix the seal of our lips as animals want to, bending toward water, trembling, after a long thirst. A dark and unfamiliar face approaches them, fear leaps in them, but they know no other thing to do and drive their lips down to drink. Impossible lips, cold and slick. Bellowing into her lungs, against her death. Her lungs are inflating, then dying away in thin yellow spume. The food of the day is carried away across her white, drained face, her purple lips, my lips to her lips.
    There on the stone below me, a floating impossible weight. I do not know her: her womanless name.
     My lips to her lips, the stream of dead water, of food and saliva. Her blue tongue, her lips, her chin and her cheek; we are slick with it.

    Someone drowned in the pool. My God! Who was it? They didn’t know her name. A woman. No! She is

     all over my mouth. The death not swallowed is in her hair, is matted in pieces of food, of fear. Her brother is there on his knees. He takes her face for a moment and returns her to me; he has no ideas. He can see too. I bend again. He is saying,
    “Que no! Que no! Que no! I was eating with her just an hour ago.”

    My lips to her lips. She yields. She is not twenty one. She burbles with thin pink foam.

    “Her pulse! Does she have a pulse?”
    They uselessly finger her wrist. An ear drops down to her chest.
    “A mirror!”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Did any one call the doctor!”
    “Get the doctor someone!”
    “Run, chico, run for the doctor!”

     Children are standing three feet away, in the center of the line of onlookers: they are leaning in to look, as if across a barrier of miracles: Caution! Working Death. They want to see. Their mothers’ faces are high above them, drifting away in the heat of the stones and the sun. Older boys stand over the body, and me. They were guarding the pool. They were joking. They were tuning the radio. They were busy with girls. One of them, pawing through cast-off clothes for the change box, had sold me a ticket twenty minutes before, my first day here, number one hundred and one. They are standing around like swallows struck dumb by sand. They do not know what to do. I lift my back again. I raise my chin, and try to wipe my lips. I wonder if God. I fill my lungs, and dip.
     The women half wet, half dry, are ringed above the children, arms floating, frozen, with bottles of lotion, sunglasses, towels, a pair of rubber water wings, hands without their wedding rings. They are curious still, slightly anxious: will it end well? not horrified: what’s going on? is she breathing? Death is not new, only how it happens. The children lift their hands backwards groping for unseen presence–they can not decide. One turns to find a leg he knows, and grips it, and turns again to see. Noises of others lift up from the pool, from the water, so cool it reminds them of spring.
    “There is someone in the pool!” A woman was standing at the edge of the water, pointing.
     Of course there was; nobody listened; it is a pool. I pulled the towel tight around my back and thought of shopping: cheese and fruit. Butter, tomatoes. Don’t forget the coffee this time. Friends might come this afternoon. Tonight is the night of San Cristobal. Those who have moved to the cities always come back for this week; a hell of a drunk! the boys had predicted for weeks … beginning at midnight, up at the hermita, with ponche, and sardines done over glowing coals, and olives and new bread, and dancing till 4 am, right up there. They point. At the hermita high on the hill

    overlooking the pool.

    Maria Dolores.

     She couldn’t have been in the water more than three minutes. Walking out of the women’s dressing room in a black, one-piece bathing suit; she might have bought it twenty years ago. She might have been middle aged. Her hips were wide, her legs were white, she didn’t walk to work, or stoop while working, as though still young, as though unmarried, unconnected yet to women’s lives. She stood at the step between the dressing room and the terraza of the pool, as if measuring the chill by the shrilling of the children, as if working against her fear of heights, or the blueness of the water.
     It was four o’clock in the afternoon, the siesta two thirds gone. She was pale, her face to the still fierce sun. My feet lifted me and slid through the pool. The water was cool. I ignored it, letting out long measured breaths, stroking, restroking, my chest tensing and hurting me, hard as a bow. The water moved over my arms, and over my ribs, like a friendly caress, greeting me after a long trip from home. At the other end a teenage girl, wearing a light cotton two-piece swimming suit, screamed as her boyfriend pushed her in. The dark cleavage of her bottom shone through the shinning white wet cloth, tight and happy around her hips as she climbed out. J touched and turned, flipped and kicked. Caressing; the water a sweet summer kiss.

     It was a good pool, eight years old, the pride of the town, sixteen hundred souls on the Catalan-Aragon border. “We speak a chapureado.” Grandchildren come, taller each summer. It began last week: the bicycles appearing, and the soccer balls, and the twice a day river of legs running from the town to the pool. Every year, two days before summer begins, there is no water to water the flowers; it is filling the pool.

    “Do they like coming to a little town like this?”
    “Of course, of course. Most of all to the pool.”

    It was painted blue. The water sang and sparkled in the sun. It waited for children. It loved young swimmers.
     Touch and turn, the water as cool as wine from the cellar at noon, hidden by foot thick stone away from the sun; as light as good dreams. Four laps up and down: butterfly, back, breast, crawl. Maria Dolores, those who named her could never have known, dying below me. Butterfly, back, breast, crawl.

     I got out of the water, lifting and lunging, feeling a summer youth twenty years gone, feeling the sun and the breeze cooling the droplets clinging to me; the heat of the sun, the warm pebbled concrete under my feet. First, an espresso and then to the shopping. Friday again. Friends might be coming; tomatoes; you owe the neighbor two.
     A woman is pointing: “Someone is in there.” We pay no attention. She shrugs, turns to a friend, and points again. Children are running. The sun is high. At 4 o’clock it reminds us of noon. The wind from the shadowed streets across the hill is cool; coming up from the fields it is hot and dry. The water is almost gone from my skin, the chill of my body beginning to warm.
    “Someone is in there!”
     The water is blue. Two children are clinging to the edge at the far end telling a secret again. The dying ripples of my swim are lapping faintly at their hands. No one else is swimming. And someone is in there, deep in the blue. She is not holding her breath. She is not playing a game. She is not swimming. The boy across the way is staring down, slender and beautiful, anxious for girls; he is terrified. He looks wildly to his right: is no one else coming? He begins to take off a shoe. He does not want to. She waits for him. He does not want to.

     But I do. The water is holding me back. It wants her too. I curse; it accepts my breath. I reach for her. The water resists me, heavier now, thicker, like jelly wrapped around her as I near. She is floating, inches off the bottom, as if abed, as if an angel, ghastly blue. She is floating, as her hair is floating, languid, spreading. Her skin is blue, her bathing suit black-green. I move again, as if only by inches, held back by the blanket of blue, drawn up past her chin to protect her, keeping her safe, from me, from the world she is leaving behind. I try to break through but am lifted beyond her. It won’t let me through, it presses me upwards, pressing her down, beating its weight at my lungs, entering and leaving from hers as gently as the breathing of a lover. I desperately reach: I want you too! Repelled, she rolls beyond reach; she has submitted, wived to the water
    at last. She is here! My fingers have grazed by an arm, it is floating there near her, on the bottom, vegetation, seaweed. I seize it and pull. Making no effort to resist me, it comes, and brings her body to me. I take her in my arms, I hold her, kneeling as at prayer, on the bottom, four meters under. Burning darkness leaps behind my eyes, my chest a fire, my loins and legs unconscious of their being. I want you, come with me.

    I do not know this woman.

     I beg her with my body. Come away from him! I hold her at the waist as if to take her, as if to sweep her into dance. She refuses. She bows heavily; thank you, no. As if to slide head first away, her legs and her feet are lifting from my grip.
     I am driving through the water, it pushes down on me. I am pulling up against it, tearing at it, pushing tattered remnants from our way. She refuses still, she will not come: her decision made. I trust delirium and keep her.
     There is air! I have found it. Her face is floating, lips on the water, uneasily brushing against the air. Restlessly she turns her face down, as if for one last kiss. I drag her, ruthlessly, away. There are others out across the water, as if waiting to see. Her body is sliding, slyly, away. I can not hold her. I do not know her. I hold her desperately, as if in terror crying, love … touch love to me! They are waiting. They are standing, watching, framed by blue of pool and sky. They do not move; they do not want to intervene in such a private act. I call them: “Help me!” They are broken from their freeze. They reach. They pull her. She goes out to them, but not like fish, with liveliness of tissue, with density of purpose, taut and firm with flesh. She goes as plastic sacks stretched to bursting, sloshing sodden bread and death. I am by her side. I can not breathe.

     The sun is hot. The stone is dull and painful, pressed against my knees. She is under me, her lips are blue. I press them in to mine, my fingers at her nose. Take this and drink of my air; I drink of your death. This air. Let me be the best man for a better groom, the Air. She has declared. Yellow foam pours out her mouth, her nostrils dripping foam.

    Poor girl. She was such a beautiful thing. Her marriage only a month away. Poor girl, nineteen last spring. She knew she shouldn’t swim. They told her you know. And the fiesta tonight? Her brother

     My finger is down in her mouth, dragging it clean. Hard and digging in her mouth, like a living animal, forcing down the walls of her gums, sliding in over her tongue, to the back of her throat. I do not know this woman. Her body turns restlessly beneath me, as if somehow, under ether, she remembers modesty. Is there nothing, some little piece of food, a finger’s breadth of vomit leaking up and blocking breath, that I can pull to give breath back to her? Is there something, anything at all, to answer? There is nothing.
    I press my lips to hers. They are blue. Her eyes are rolled and frozen. They are blue. Entirely eaten by pupils. No fire responds to my kisses. She will not even look at me, she is staring at the sun. Opened wide. Her bridegroom of air has escaped her, of water soon entered. I drag her into me. I taste of her. She tastes of him. He tastes of me, and wants to enter. Life is trembling in me.
    My mouth refuses him. It wants to keep its breath for me. I in turn refuse and drive it down to her, press myself against her; muscles of lips working on hers to bring her a kiss, sealing her lips, as if saying: Don’t say no to me!, or, yes, to him. Don’t say a word! Denial of me would not change you; know you love me! Her lips tighten back and over her teeth. I grip her jaw and force it open. Come back to me! I want you. I want your mouth. I want your life in me! With a sigh her teeth are open, her lips are carried back with them. Her teeth are blue, too, running pink with blood, their divisions etched in pink blood. A nostril is dripping pink blood; bits of food ride in the stream like relies washed up by bad rivers. A sliver of tomato catches the edge of a nostril, as a branch at the mouth of a cave.
     I grip her nostrils again, my lips are twitching, slick with saliva, trembling with knowledge; my mouth is pressed to her mouth. Breathing through her, I feel him in her exhalation. It is filled with foam, from a darkened river. I flatten out my good red lungs, my runner’s lungs, filled with warm good air, heated through me by the sun. Her chest heaves up for me, I am winning!, then burbles like a plugged up drain finally going, falling. Her eyes are black holes, in thin circles of blue, in the white eyes of death. Fink foam and old food. I put my mouth to her mouth. I put my hand on her heart. I hit her. I hit her. I empty my lungs into her. Is the doctor here? Is there a doctor? The circle of children is watching. The ladies are standing unaware; they see us, but they do not see, millimeters from me, or feel the tongue that pushes towards me when I burrow quickly into her, then leap back in fear. Weariness is stealing over me.

     Poor girl. She was such a pretty girl. Her mother died last year; so young. They hauled her brother out last summer from the pool, just in time. They have epilepsy. They both knew. They shouldn’t go into that pool. But she’s a grownup now. You can’t tell her what to do. She went in too soon after eating. It almost happened to my sister too. She must have been under for an hour or more. But she knew. What about the festival tonight? They already bought three hundred pounds of sardines. No! Two hundred fifty! The doctor told her don’t go in the water. Yes, a pound of bacon. And two of the sausage there. No, that other, that isn’t what my husband likes. She was so pretty. What can you do? See you tonight?

     I hit her. I hit her. I hit her. I kissed her. I blew my life into her; I only knew one life and tried to give it to her. She refused it. Pink foam ran from her mouth. Turning her head from side to side in absolute indifference. I pulled it back to me. I pinched her nose, and lowered my head to hers. Her brother moved.
    “Maria Dolores! Maria Dolores! Maria Dolores!”
    “Her pulse! Does she have a pulse?”
    “It can not be.”

    She has no pulse. For us.

     A young man in a white shirt, with shoes on, is pushing on her chest. Pushing, he pushes fiercely, water is trickling out her mouth, blood is coming from her nose. He takes a stethoscope. It glitters in the sun. Her heart does not move it.
    “That’s all,” he says.
     “Maria Dolores! It can not be!” Her brother drops, puts his head down to her chest. “It’s beating! It’s still beating!” He pushes her chest. He pushes. The young man with shoes on says,
”    Take her to the car. There’s nothing to be done.”

     She is not willing. We lift her. Her brother wants to carry her alone, like a bride across the door step. He cannot. She turns like jellied whitefish from his grasp. We move to help him. Helplessly. We try to clean her face with towel and a bottle of coke. There is blood and vomit on my face; it is drying in the sun. We try to lift her. Give me your arms, I tell him, reaching under her. Another grabs her legs as he learned on wheelbarrows. She turns, heavy and thick in the hips. Her head is falling beyond our arms. She will not close her eyes. At last she is looking at me. She gives me no sign of recognition. She never loved me. I lift my eyes and shut them; hold them tight against him. He has recognized me.

     “The ways of the Lord, Our Father, are unknowable. He has called our daughter and sister, Maria Dolores, to the other world. We cannot explain it, but so too will He call us. As it is written in St. Paul’s letters to the Romans

    The doctor is walking across the parking lot. The sun is still high.

    With all those people in the pool, no one saw her? But she never should have gone. Her poor father

     He is old, he is small, he is lined with dirt. He had not gone to sleep after his meal but had sat in his house, the television on, sitting upright in the chair. It was almost the hour to go back to the field. Tonight, after washing his hands, he was to go to the sardines and ponche of San Cristobal, tomorrow a holiday. But they came and got him. He sees her, lying on the floor, waiting for decisions. He grabs his head and hoarsely, lowly shouts,
    “It cannot be!
    It cannot be!    Maria Dolores!”
    He throws himself over her body.
    “Talk to me! Talk to me! Talk to your father! Talk to your father! Talk

     Maria Dolores is lighter now, laid as a sleeper on a thin boned poolside lounger, carried by the boys who guarded her, laid over by a towel.
     “Not that one!” her father cried. “A bigger one!” A bigger and more decent one is handed over the crowd and laid on her. Not long enough still, her face is uncovered, watched anxiously for any sign of its mistake it lolls uselessly from side to side as they walk her up the river of legs to home. Like a sleeper. One arm refuses to stay on the cot, slipping and dangling off. The boy beside it picks it up, embarrassed, puts it back, sees it slide again. Finally he holds it, holding her hand beneath the towel, as if comforting a comrade stricken with nausea, or a friend on a ski slope carried off with a broken leg.

    The loud speaker system is on. The announcer scratches the face of the microphone to test it, she blows into it. We hear the speakers high in the bell tower sounding the hem. She speaks like a robot, always.
    “All citizens are warned that this afternoon a posse of armed men will be hunting stray dogs. Please lock up your own animals so they will not be killed … in horror.”
    The horn sounds again. She repeats the announcement. She repeats her mistake. The horn sounds again. An electrical click of closure takes her away, off the air.
    She was floating there like an odd piece of seaweed, somehow finding its way through secret ways of water to that utterly blue pool. Belly down, pleased to be so close to the bottom, so joined to the water, entering and leaving her lungs, entering her belly, entering her organs, washing them clean. She didn’t resist me; it was only the water.

    Maria Dolores!
    I do not know her.
    Maria Dolores. I love you. I bring you to air, to those who love you, too. I bring you to warm concrete and pink faces. Her face is so blue. She has left me. He is undecided, exploring at his leisure: gray probe of fingertips; red wet walls of lungs.

    Every hour is marked by tolling bells.
    The bells of Death do not sound the same.
    The bells of hours are single-toned; funeral bells are doubled, they rise and fall, like breath;whose passing they mark.

     Those cherries you had yesterday were excellent, but excellent! Are there any more? No, a woman died. But today I’d like to see a melon. Are there any ripe ones? No! Pick me out a good one. Where? In the pool. Where? In the pool. The pool! Oh my God! And there was an accident over near Madrid, a bus hit a truck, ten soldiers died. And Pace? Does he know? I saw him going down the street. Two kilos of potatoes and that will be all. Thank you. It was meant to be. She went in too soon after eating. What can you do? Adios. Adios. Goodbye.

     The loudspeaker larynx is open. She blows into the microphone. She sounds the trumpet. The town is already informed. She is the late confirmation; the stamp of benediction.
     “Those pertaining to the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus respectfully call all parishioners tomorrow, at four in the afternoon, to the burial of Maria Dolores Erija Garcia who has passed from this shore to the other, to say an Ave Maria and an Our Father that she be carried safely to his breast.” She sounds the trumpet again. She repeats the message. She snaps her electrical period.

    Funeral bells do not ring like those that toll the hours.

    The priest has not looked up from reading his homily.
     “And so you young people especially must take this tragic episode as a reminder that we never know the hour of our passing. You must look to your lives and mark them well. We do not see enough of you here at the Mass of our Lord. He will remember these things. The

     altar boys carrying the cross are smirking and sweating in long white woolen gowns. The men walk slowly behind them carrying dripping tapers, as long as canes from the river bottom, bending in the sun, each with three wicks, thick and burning black beneath their canopies of pale gold flame; the wax is dripping in the afternoon sun, fierce and white, down the tapers, over their hands, to the street, like water and blood, it ran from her nostrils, from her mouth and her eyes. Behind them the priest in white satin, behind him

    Maria Dolores.

    Can it be she was so tiny? Can she, whom we could not hold, I almost lost her, rest so lightly in there? Behind her
the girls in their light summer dresses, arms ladened with flowers, their eyes red, like strange owls emerging at midday, circles of red, lips not contained.
     4 pm. The hour of her death. In the water. The hour of her walk in the sun. It no longer dries her. Her father is weeping. He follows her coffin, he is held up by another. They walk uncertainly: destination certain, uncertain why they go, who this is they carry, she was so young, it cannot be … Her prometido carries the coffin at the head on the right, her brother on the left. They pass between the rows of houses, stone and doubling the dry shuffle of soles, facing them the people, lining the street, and joining behind after the young women with flowers pass by.

    Funeral bells do not ring like those that toll the hours. They rise and fall, like breath. Gone.

     The water of the pool was blue. Was light. It suspended swimmers, churning down their way, lighter than their mid-day dinners, lighter than their childhood, lighter than imagination. To feed the pool the town gives up its water pressure. There is grass beside the children’s pool, and trees, a racket court behind a thick, head-high hedge where no one plays, where youngsters go to know each other privately. The monument to San Cristobal overlooks the pool from its little mountain. Young men are gathering firewood for the sardineta. Her face was blue, the lobes of her ears, her lips. Blue. Crimson foam.

     What a thing. She should have known. There are no women in that family now. Will that be all? Yes. No, a little bit of parsley please. See you later. Adios. Adios. Goodbye.

     The flowers on her coffin are piled high, like breath, blocked. Congealed, like sugar pastries choking upwards from her lips. Her lips were blue, dripping crimson foam. Her eyes were locked and useless. She would not look at me. Her brother and her prometido are sitting in the front row, sobbing. Her father

     “And so we must be prepared, each and every one of us. For we too will one day be called and we too will have to go as Maria Dolores, our sister and daughter, has gone. I talked to her myself last year, at the time of her confirmation. And like all young girls she was filled with dreams about her future. She was a good girl despite, like so many today, having her doubts about the love of our Lord and Father

     The plaster saints look just the same. The seats. Good Christ, I didn’t buy the bread! And tomorrow is Sunday, nothing is open. The church was cool when we entered. The street was hot. Now it is filled, with bodies and heat. These shoes hurt, I have to remember.

     I watched her coffin, dark and glistening wood. They took her past me, standing, my back against the heat of others. The bearers do not know me; I knew her last, most intimately. They do not look to see me. Their lifted fingers grip the polished runner resting heavily on the sloping muscles, neck to shoulders, glad to be bearing its weight, physical proof of their grief. Nor do the girls who bear her flowers know me; they are glad to have the heady incense of their flowers to cry to; I have nothing. She is lying in the satin lining of the coffin. Where was such a fine one found so suddenly?

     A long black stain is dripping down the upper wall, it began with winter rains, someone ought to fix it. If they get here from Teruel while we’re in church will they
    Did she see me in her fading moments? Did she see me coming to her, dark and ominous, an arrow of death, a jellyfish shark in her ocean of fear; was I, for her, her darkness of death as her arms and legs lolled, useless as angels attached to her side, her brain draining down to her last convulsion, her soul slipping away to her god?
    The coffin goes by, a dark rosewood kite trailing its tail of

     flowerly death in the sad Spanish wind, of white shirts, pressed dresses, and shaved chins. She was nothing to me. Never, before that brief moment on the steps, had I seen her. My reason speaks clearly to me; my chest breaks, my cheeks twitch uncontrollably, as the fat muscles of a frog’s legs do, wired to a switch and a battery. A timer ticks its dry ticks in my brain: ten seconds, twenty, one. How many pulsebeats away; how many pulsebeats of loss? Her sweet, dead face stares into mine, without accusation. She is in that box with silver knobs; I hold her face as no one else did, ever. I pressed my body into hers as no one else would ever do: my life for hers
    yes, rocking slowly, above the dark abyss that every loving makes us ready for
    you, Maria Dolores, I, as if stunned, as if drugged into unknowing, as if crazed against the instinct of the saving self. somehow, as if drawn, in the trembling ecstasy, with you, hovering over you, mouth to my mouth, hand to your breast, pushing, releasing, trying to find in the sunsplendid day the heart-hammered rhythms the moon gave to you, to find and repeat them, suddenly, I was you; we existed, slide in side, in the endless plane where life and death, where god and nogod are forever chained, are one. I knew the secret center of the universe. Yes. I knew, with you, for just one micromillisecond. We heard it only as the shadow of an echo but we knew beyond our doubled doubt; we were dancing in that chain, our mouths were one, unbreaking rhythm; I knew you, saturated in you, as me, as you would be, as you–could you be you again; I loved you.
    It seemed that you would waken beneath my dumb caress to the blue Spanish sky, you would open your eyes, your brother would be there, you would laugh at him uselessly beating his fist on the ground–doesn’t that hurt? you would say,-and the children would stop craning their necks and go back to play, and the women would grin and laugh nervously, “Que susto! Que milagro!” and you would thank me and get to your feet unsteadily. Your neighbor, a fine looking pharmacist who had her eye on me, would admonish you never to forget your medicine again: you can’t fool around with epilepsy! and others, too, to mind you never went in again so soon after eating. All that
    Yes, even if it meant changing with you, there in that millisecond, when our lives stood still, were joined–and one of us certain to go, with him, the other to stay, if the breath had been passed, to you, to me

    and the intimate desperate embrace and the water I inhaled streams down my summer tanned cheeks. He who seized me, too, recedes, the song, the dance. Another man’s hand, warm and broken on hoes, takes my arm, another’s crosses my back. Maria Dolores. We stumble out of the shadow of the houses and into the sun, smells of breathing flesh are surging up and taking you away

     and although we cannot understand why He has called her to Him, in His munificence, we can take this time to prepare ourselves for that hour that will surely take us all”

     The flowers are piled high on her coffin, like breath. They are lifting, they are floating, gardenias, and roses and most of all chrysanthemums, carnations. They float like a cloud of sweet breathing, and I too, my lungs, my lips are too

    The hearse is waiting.
    It’s so surprising not to see him. Of course he hates this priest, but
    The brother and the prometido spurn it. They would carry her completely.
    he knows her father very well, they play dominoes on Sundays.
    The father is moved forward by their fierceness. The girls pick up their bouquets and wreaths and follow behind. The road is hot and dirty.
    A fan would be a very good thing to have right now. Maria Jesus: Be still!

     People drift towards home. People follow. The last walls of the town fall away. The stone streets change to asphalt highway, there is no shadow on the highway, the asphalt hot and soft. It yields to the imprint of heels and stones carried along in their soles. Five hundred people. Thickets of dusty blackberries not yet in season line the road, the litter of plastic and paper is caught in their thorns. The men at the gasoline station stop, loosen their fingers on the nozzles. The coffin moves by. The man in the car looks up from his map, and quickly looks down. His wife crosses herself and continues to stare.

     That fishing trip we took last spring was great, que no? They never should have let her go alone. But she was grown up, you couldn’t tell her. Why did she have to go? I, won’t feel much like going to the San Cristobaltonight. But everyone is here from Barcelona, my whole family, and my husband’s. You should see the food they brought! There’s a Gypsy Arm at least a half a meter long, and filled with custard. No! That’s the kind I like the best, those of almond paste aren’t half as good. Will Jordi be all right walking in the sun? We’re over half way there.

     The boys beneath the coffin wonder uneasily if they should lower it to carry by its handles. One moves in, insists he wants his turn. The prometido gives way. The brother fiercely resists. He should have seen.

    Sweat, and flies. I want a drink. No beer, today, ice tea.

     That’s right, the Americans have a missile now that can hit a fly on the side of a ship from two miles away. How is Spain going to compete with that unless we join NATO? How? But does it do it by heat or by television? What do I know? But it hits it. Well the priest said at six o’clock we could go ahead with the fiesta. If he said it then everyone will go. Who cares what he says? And with all that ponche made! Look, look behind you, there are cars going up the hill already. I hope they don’t get all the best places.

     Young cypress trees mark the new cemetery; across the road, dusty brambles, the automobile graveyard. The cemetery is surrounded by a stone wall, the gate is narrow. The coffin is the first through. Behind it people press forward. She is number 116. Wood scrapes on concrete, ringing out hollowly, sliding in slowly, filling the vault, as water rings higher when filling a bottle. The brick mason is ready, mortar on a brick: snicker snack. The loud hollow sound of bone beating on wood,
    “Maria Dolores!
    Maria Dolores!”
    A man takes the father away. The son is holding his head,
    “Me cage en la puta! Me cage en la puta!”
     The mason is frosting the second brick: snicker snak. Gray mortar on light pink brick. The girls walk forward uneasily, not knowing what to do, following the bravest, laying their wreaths on the ground beneath her vault, three vaults high, they are laying them around the mason’s feet. He tries to avoid them. He dips his trowel to the mortar, lifts the brick, faces his work: snicker snak. The edge of the coffin gleams dully in the vault, behind the new brick. One brick more: Snicker snak.

    Maria Dolores.