BLACKBURN BOOKS FICTION
*

The Castilian Suite
Ambition and love in eight movements
by Graham Blackburn

 

CHAPTER ONE

A Train Ride to Madrid

HE WAS IN LOVE.With Sarah, with life, and with himself. Or at least the idea of himself. Himself coolly rushing south in the quiet train that smelled so exotic, so different, so French. And he was in it. He was on a French train, with Sarah, going to Spain. Oh, it was scarcely to be believed. What would they say if they could see him now? Suave old Coulter, fancy that, off to Spain with a beauty!
And beauty she was, all long legs and long blond hair. The classic type. Just dripping elegance, without any artifice of painted face or fancy hairdo. A natural beauty. It was impossible to imagine her sitting awkwardly, looking ugly, doing anything gross. God, what a beauty! And she matched the train so well. Unlike the chugging, stuffy English train they had taken from London to the Channel ferry, the French train was modern, silent, and discreet. And now that it was getting dark it was even more discreet, and he felt the elegant romance of the scene intensify. It was like being high. Like being just a little bit drunk on very expensive brandy. Like having crashed an extremely fancy party and knowing that there is no need for anxiety. No one suspects anything. No one is laughing at the presumption. It’s a trick — but it’s working.
The one small light that had come on automatically in the corner of the compartment lit her face like a small spotlight, while everything else disappeared into the shadows as the evening turned to black night. Every once in a while the train whooshed through a small town, a bright station, past lights that suddenly lit up the rest of the compartment. And then on into the blackness again, leaving Sarah’s softly illumined face reflected in the window. She gazed out into the darkness, apparently lost in thought, and Roger gazed at her, amazed at how wonderful life was, and how easy it all seemed. All he had needed to do was to explain, to ask, to buy the tickets, and here they were.
In fact, it had not been all that easy, but then Roger Coulter had been spoiled most of his life and took more for granted than he deserved. To start with he was smart — gifted even, his parents and teachers had said — although apart from his much declared interest in music the giftedness had yet to make itself apparent in any particular direction. It was true he could play several instruments passably well — but only passably — and he had written several competent — but merely competent — pieces. This much hardly counted as gifted, and yet the impression he gave was of great promise. But then it was also true he was personable; pleasantly assured and disarmingly good-looking, in fact. This no doubt played a large part in confirming the promise, the reputed talent, the giftedness. As a result he assumed more than he ought to have, and expected more than he deserved, and his assumptions and his expectations were usually gratified.
So it had been with Sarah. He had been immediately bowled over by her, and had had no doubt that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen — the ultimate goddess on earth — but, far from having been humbled and rendered dumb in the face of such perfection, he had at once assumed she was made for him — and for him alone. That Sarah herself did not at once recognize this inalienable truth he put down to a charming reticence, a sort of noblesse-oblige modesty. He was not in the least embarrassed or deterred by her initial refusals, and did not realize how narrowly he had missed turning her completely off at the beginning. And it was not merely his insensitive — if charming — insistence that won her over in the end, either. But won her over he had, and though he was inordinately pleased with himself believed it was no less than he deserved.
They had met at a party that Robbins and Camp had thrown to celebrate their having moved into a new flat in Vauxhall Bridge Road, not far from Victoria Station. Having both read economics at Oxford, Charlie Robbins and Derek Camp had now entered the civil service, and in their own inimical economic way had decided to share digs, at least for a year. They felt this lent them a little more status than living in separate bed-sitters in some less central area of London — as did Roger. Roger, of course, was loudly dismissive of their need to appear respectable, but beneath his artistic bravado was secretly jealous. He had explained his position to the beautiful Sarah by stressing his need to work in less bourgeois surroundings than the City of Westminster.
“Hampstead is so much more inspirational; the Heath, Keats’s house, the Vale of Health, and all that.”
Sarah had agreed — or at least the inexpensive champagne Roger had been plying her with had agreed — and they sat at the top of the staircase feeling pleasantly superior to the noisy crowd of recent graduates below. At a certain point he had taken a chance and kissed her. To his surprise he had not been immediately repulsed, but instead had thrilled to discover a tentative tongue exploring the inside of his lower lip. A half glass of tepid champagne later found them on a pile of coats in one of the small upstairs’ bedrooms, clumsily attempting to grope each other. He was not absolutely certain that the mission had been successfully accomplished according to what he knew of standard practice, but when she gave a little cry and closed her eyes he rolled off her feeling considerably chuffed and sufficiently emboldened to suggest the Spanish trip. And now, barely two months later, here they were, together, on their way to Spain.
Let’s see Robbins or Camp, or even debonair Russell organize something like this! he thought. No, this was a trip that only Roger Coulter could have pulled off. Life was indeed wonderful. It was worth it after all. It was proof that he had what it took, that he was going to be a great musician, a great composer. And when the recognition came, as it surely must, Sarah would be there with him, graciously putting everyone at ease.
He closed his eyes and saw himself at the Royal Albert Hall, after the premier performance of his Castilian Suite, amid cheers, bravos, a welter of bouquets, and the adoring attention of an amazed public. He saw the critics from the Guardian, the Times, and the Telegraph fighting to get his attention, tugging at his sleeve like adoring fans wanting autographs, their dignity forgotten in their enthusiasm, pulling, asking, insisting…
*
It was the French conductor saying something about passports. In 1961 there were as yet no through trains from Paris to Madrid. Adjustable bogies were still a thing of the future, and French trains were unable to run on the wider Spanish tracks. At Hendaye, on the Spanish border, passengers got out and walked down the platform and boarded the Spanish train. The Spanish part of the station was known officially as Irun, although the little town of that name was a few kilometres farther on.
They got out onto the long French platform, stumbling with their suitcases, Sarah barely awake, and tried to figure out which way to go. Guards were shouting to one another, relaying instructions from one end of the train to the other, porters were noisily plying for hire, and a completely incomprehensible announcement was echoing out of the station’s public address system. People emptied out of the train and stood around in confused groups, unsure what to do next. Doors slammed, conductors perched on the steps at the ends of the carriages and looked authoritative, but there was no clear indication where anyone was expected to go.
A knot of people was beginning to form towards one end of the platform under a sign which read ‘Douane’. Noticing several businessmen making towards it with purposeful confidence, Roger grabbed Sarah by the hand.
“Come on. That’s got to be the way. If we can beat the crowd we’ll stand a better chance of getting a seat in the Spanish train.”
She removed her hand quietly but firmly from his and looked around with just the slightest air of irritated disdain. “We need a porter before we start beating anybody. Look, there’s one, call him over.”
Roger was about to argue, feeling that they would lose valuable time messing about with a porter instead of making directly for the customs hall, but was constrained by the greater need to appear gallant and amenable. He had promised Sarah that the whole adventure would be a piece of cake, and he did not want to risk putting her out of sorts in the middle of the night when he was none too sure what the rest of the journey was going to be like. He waved to the porter and pointed to their bags. Nodding affirmatively when the porter shouted: “Espagne?”, he quickly found himself and Sarah being led right past the gathering crowd, through another door, and into a large hall where a small group of businessmen and a well-to-do family were being processed through Customs and Passport Control. They were processed themselves in a moment, and to Roger’s pleased surprise were soon following the porter again. The growing crowd outside the first door was still milling about, presumably being required to give preference to passengers with porters. He might have known: if you had money things were invariably easier.
They left the customs hall through the far door and came out onto a long uncovered platform, more poorly lit than before. The porter led them away from the main station buildings towards what had to be the Spanish train, almost lost in the distance under billows of freakishly illuminated steam.
He caught sight of a couple of Guardia Civiles with their strange patent-leather hats, the brims so oddly turned up at the back, and then had to look again to make sure he had really seen the guns slung over their backs.
“My God, did you see that? They were carrying guns!”
Sarah smiled at him coolly with one eyebrow raised. “Yes. We’re in Spain now. Generalíssimo Franco’s Spain. Guns are quite common in dictatorships, I believe.”
He winced inwardly. He was supposed to be the experienced traveller, not Sarah. That was twice she had made him seem foolish.
The porter stopped in front of the first carriage they came to, and Roger gave him a few francs. Sarah watched while he decided where they should sit, and then helped as he struggled to get the luggage stowed on the nets above the straight-backed wooden seats. They had been among the first to board, and as a result now sat there for almost an hour while the train slowly filled up.
Sarah said nothing, apparently too tired or too disgusted with the accommodations. Roger stole an occasional glance at her, but eventually her eyes closed and she seemed to have fallen asleep. No doubt she would perk up when they reached Madrid. In the meantime he was tired as well, and the euphoria that had enveloped him in the French train was a thing of the past. This was the unromantic, nitty-gritty part of travelling. Sitting in an uncomfortable and rather dirty train sometime after midnight. Not even moving, just standing in a siding while an intermittent procession of equally tired and irritable passengers boarded in the gloom. He realized the waiting was part of the schedule, built into the timetable, but it was hard to endure.
At long last the train shunted down the track a little, into Irun Station proper, and the local Spanish passengers got on. They left Irun with a great blowing of whistles and much shouting and slamming of doors, but despite this auspicious beginning the train never seemed to gather much speed. For the next couple of hours it did little more than chug slowly along, making frequent stops. Sarah was now soundly asleep, propped up in the corner opposite Roger, but Roger dozed only lightly, frequently being jolted awake only to be slowly lulled back into semi-consciousness a few minutes later.
After a while the sky began to lighten and the reason for their painfully slow progress became obvious. This was not the flat country they had been travelling through in France. Rather, the way through Vascongadas, the Basque country, was hilly and tortuous. Causing further delays, new passengers got on everywhere, even when the train stopped merely for work crews repairing cuts and fills far from any station. Actual stations were frequently little more than a single low building, consisting of a combined ticket office and cantina, but surprisingly bustling and full of life although apparently situated with little regard for the nearness of any observable settlement. The entire train became ever more crowded with noisy, beret-wearing Basques, old women, children, chickens, and a collection of luggage remarkable for the amount of string with which each piece was held together.
Eventually the compartment became so noisy that Sarah awoke, a little puffy-eyed and still silent, but ready with a smile for Roger when their eyes met. He felt he ought to do something to let her know everything was under control, and so decided to try to find out where they would stop next and if there might be a chance of any breakfast.
His first attempt to use the little Spanish he had managed to learn during the previous weeks had the effect of making them the instant centre of attention. It was clear to everyone that the nice young man and his pretty companion knew very little Spanish, and almost everyone in the compartment proceeded to try their hand at making them understand. But try as they would, for the longest time the only thing that either Roger or Sarah did understand was the unending supply of wine pressed on them from long-necked green bottles, kidney-shaped leather botas, and cups that were replenished in every cantina the train stopped at. By the time the sun was properly up, any anxiety about their immediate future in Spain that Roger might have felt, had become pleasantly diffused in a warm, wine-and-olive-induced fog.
Somehow, between all the stringed luggage and sweaty children, and aided greatly by the abundant refreshment and the length of time they had been travelling, they fell asleep again on the hard wooden seats. Leaving the Basque country behind, the train jolted noisily on through Castilla La Vieja. They awoke briefly at Valladodid — where a lot of people got out and a seemingly identical crowd got on — but otherwise they saw little of the Castilian landscape until they awoke again in the bright mid-morning sunshine.
Roger was the first to stir, aware of the discomfort without knowing its cause. The oddly irregular jolting, the stiffness in all his limbs, and the heat, all impressed themselves on his consciousness before he actually opened his eyes. It was the unusual aroma of a distinctly foreign cuisine that actually brought him to his senses as he realized with a rush of excitement exactly where he was. He unslumped himself and sat up. Sarah was still asleep, her eyes closed, a coat draped over her body. Sitting next to her was a small, dumpy woman dressed entirely in black, complete with a black scarf on her head, busily cutting slices from a long, wrinkled sausage and passing them to two young children who were sitting — or rather, jumping up and down — next to Roger. Noticing Roger sit up, she smiled timidly at him and shushed at her children who continued clamouring for the sausage. He smiled back wanly and looked past the children to see who else was in the compartment. A man in his late twenties or early thirties, dressed in a suit of conservative but cheap and distinctively Spanish cut, sat smoking a pungent cigarette, gazing complacently at the children. Next to him, a soldier was stretched out occupying the rest of the seat, fast asleep and snoring vigorously.
Despite his earlier failure, Roger tried out some more Spanish: “Bueno mañana!”
The small mother looked up and smiled again, even more nervously than before. The soldier continued sleeping, oblivious to this ingenious conversational gambit. But the man with the pungent cigarette turned with sudden animation, and replied with great gusto: “Buenos días, buenos d-í-a-s!”
The emphasis with which this was said, and the smile that accompanied it, made it clear to Roger that he was being corrected as well as replied to with friendliness. The two or three sentences that followed conveyed far less, and he groped around among the half dozen or so words that constituted his entire Spanish vocabulary in an attempt to communicate to this smoker of pungent cigarettes his unfortunate deficiency. At last the smoker realized he was making no sense to Roger and stopped, raised his eyes and his hands in mock despair, and then repeated his last words more slowly, looking at Roger with encouragement as if he were trying to prompt an answer.
With no idea of what was expected of him, but eager to show his appreciation for the response he had engendered, Roger decided to take a new tack.
“Roger Coulter,” he said, pointing at himself and then holding out his hand.
Comprehension was immediate, and the smoker put out his pungent cigarette with great deliberation, sat up straight, proffered his own hand, and announced with almost theatrical gravity: “Ignacio Toredo de Mijares y Bustamente, a su servicio.” But breaking into a smile and pointing at himself as Roger had done, made Roger understand that he was to be addressed simply as ‘Ignacio’.
“Right then — Ignacio! Nice to meet you. Call me Roger, okay? And this is Sarah — who seems to be still asleep.”
Ignacio looked over at Sarah, and repeated her name slowly and loudly several times, obviously committing it to memory rather than addressing her. Having, however, already been half roused out of her sleep by the children’s noisy importuning and Roger’s conversation, the sound of her name now completed the process, and Sarah opened her eyes and lifted her head, the coat falling to the floor. She gazed vacantly at Ignacio for a moment, and then sat up with a start, a flicker of confused anxiety crossing her face until she caught sight of Roger. He smiled at her reassuringly, leant across and took her hand.
“Hello there! Welcome to Spain. Say hello to Ignacio.”
She managed a polite: “Mmm,” and Roger said: “How are you feeling?”
She looked as if she was feeling none too well, but before she could offer another ‘mmm’, Ignacio, with a further burst of unintelligible volubility, thrust his bota at her, obviously suggesting a morning libation. She grimaced and waved it away. Ignacio burst into laughter, raising his eyebrows as if to imply that her refusal was only to be expected, and offered the wine to Roger. It seemed only polite that one of them at least should accept this gesture of friendship, so Roger smiled again and took a drink.
Earlier, the abundant wine had tasted good — sweet and robust — but now it hit his mouth coldly and acidly. His distaste was noticed at once by the small mother who, smacking the little boy’s hand in the act of reaching for more of the sausage she had been slicing, solicitously held out a slice for Roger. He accepted it and gave a piece to Sarah, who now sat up and straightened herself out. More sausage and bread appeared, more wine was offered and refused — and then accepted — and before long Roger and Sarah were reabsorbed into the small but convivial world of the increasingly warm compartment.
The little girl, despite her mother’s protestations, edged ever closer to Sarah until she ended up sitting on her lap. A game developed whereby they pointed things out to each other and tried to make each other understand what they were pointing to. But it soon became apparent that the little girl thought everything was called ‘cow’, while Sarah remained unsure whether ‘arból’ meant ‘field’, ‘wall’, ‘wheat’, ‘track’, or anything else that was pointed to.
The train stopped at yet another small station, and a crowd of farmers and country people dressed in their travelling best, together with more of the ubiquitous soldiery, climbed onto the train with still more boxes and luggage secured with the universal hairy string. The sleeping soldier was forced to awake and sit up in order to make room for the extra passengers. The compartment became even hotter. Sarah began to wonder how much it would cost to transfer to first class, but she said nothing; this was the Great Adventure, after all. The train rattled on, making similar stops throughout the morning, at several of which Roger and Ignacio took the opportunity of getting out to replenish the wine supply and bring back rolls and cheese and olives for general consumption.
By the time lunchtime rolled around, Roger was having a great time. He and Ignacio had been talking nonstop, and although the conversation had seemed at first mutually incomprehensible, somehow — he was not quite sure how — he had learned that Ignacio worked for a firm of wine merchants, and was on his way back to Madrid from Bilbao, where he had been visiting his brother, who was stationed there in the army. Furthermore, Ignacio seemed to be promising him a guided tour to the Spanish capital, together with unlimited hospitality in his home where he lived with two younger brothers and his widowed mother. As this information sank in, bit by bit, Roger attempted to explain to Sarah their good fortune, waxing enthusiastically about Iberian amicability and how easy it was to fall on one’s feet when travelling, provided one relaxed and made an effort to be friendly with the locals.
Sarah smiled thinly back at him, unimpressed. The small mother and her two children had left the train several stations back to be replaced by a priest in a grubby cassock who, possessed of a certain amount of halting English, had been pressing his garlic-fumed attentions on Sarah, causing her ever greater embarrassment as she attempted to explain that she was not Mrs Coulter but she was indeed travelling with Mr Coulter. Since she had not been drinking the wine, and since the little girl had dropped her greasy sausage into Sarah’s lap several times before she left, she viewed the uncomfortable wooden seats, the smoky and claustrophobic atmosphere of the carriage, the noise, the malodorous priest — indeed, the whole situation — with considerably less enthusiasm than did Roger.
Roger, however, was oblivious to her discontent and increasing irritability, noticing only her reluctance to join in the bonhomie, and made several remarks to Ignacio concerning man’s natural predisposition towards good fellowship in marked comparison to woman’s greater hesitancy and reserve, born, no doubt, of her inherent situation as the weaker partner in the adventurous and sometimes risky journey that constituted life. Whether Ignacio fully understood or not, he cast condescending glances in Sarah’s direction and clapped Roger on the back in a vigorous display of male amity as they toasted each other and their new found friendship yet again.

*

The afternoon wore slowly on as the train worked its way across the wide, sun-baked Castilian plain. Small villages appeared from time to time, huddled on low eminences islanded amidst a sea of irregular fields awash with uneven lines of yellowing grain. There were no hedges and no walls; the fields began and ended wherever the ground was flat enough. Where it was not, coarse grass clung to the dry slopes, and sudden arroyos scarred the landscape.
Sarah had not spoken for hours, and was sunk into an unhappy reverie. She regarded Roger’s self-satisfied inebriation with a sad dismay of which he was completely unaware. Pushing her blond hair out of her eyes she turned to look out the window, trying to see beyond the horizon to the unknown city and whatever it was that might await them once they arrived.
She tried to remember why she had agreed to come along in the first place. Lord knows there had been enough reasons not to. But in the end none of them had seemed as relevant as just getting up and doing it. As far as practicalities went she had to admit Roger had not made much sense, but he was usually fun to be with — when he wasn’t silly with too much wine — and she thought she could probably bring sufficient sanity to bear on things so they wouldn’t get into too much trouble. And yet here he was, already out of control, and they really had no idea what they were going to do when they arrived in Madrid. In fact, they had no plans at all beyond a vague and romantic idea of living in some sunny room while he wrote music.
Having become enraptured by the thought of the sun, the Fiesta Brava, the Moorish past, and imagined groups of ‘original’ gypsies, he had carried on endlessly about the need to remove himself from England’s stultifying environment so that he might write something without the ‘banalities of normalcy’ peering over his shoulder. He had become convinced that his projected Castilian Suite for String Orchestra would immediately guarantee him if not success then at least sufficient recognition to enable them to get married and set up home not too far from London, modestly perhaps at first, but ultimately in grand manorial style. Although the ‘sunny room’ was envisioned as being somewhere on the coast of Andalusia, Madrid had been chosen as their initial destination since he had felt it would prove an easier place to establish themselves. It was, after all, the capital, and he felt surer of making the necessary contacts in a sophisticated metropolitan centre than in some less accessible, if more idyllic, seaside town. The ‘necessary contacts’ were hoped-for sources for Sarah’s intended journalistic output — which was to support them while the magnum opus was being composed.
With this in mind they had managed, with the help of various friends and acquaintances, to compile a list of half a dozen or so names and addresses of people in Madrid who might provide them with leads for stories and articles that could be sold to various English publications. Sarah had worked on the university newspaper during her last year at school, and more impressively had written a regular film review column for one of the more obscure London trade papers: the Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette. It was doubtful if any licensed victuallers had ever paid much attention to the film reviews — the exigencies of British licensing hours precluding normal cinema attendance — but the column had provided her with a small stipend and, more importantly, a press card identifying her as a bona fide member of the journalistic community. They were counting on this to be their passport to the newsworthy goings on in one of Europe’s more exotic capitals.
She did not doubt her writing ability, nor her ability to see beyond the commonplace and identify the curious, the fascinating, and the unique aspects of life that would make for interesting reading. But she was less certain of her ability to push herself into strange situations and convince people to confide in her. She was, in truth, a self-contained and rather reticent personality, a fact obscured by her assured bearing and striking good looks. People automatically assumed that she knew what she was up to, and accorded her the deference generally reserved for those in authority. The combination of her own reserve and other people’s deference made spontaneous openness unlikely — hardly the most felicitous state of affairs for a would-be journalist or gossip columnist.
Roger and Ignacio had now started to sing, and some of the soldiers were clapping. He caught her eye, and broke off for a second.
“Come on, Sarah, you know this one, join in!”
She gave him a tight little smile but shook her head and turned to look out the window again. The disordered, almost desperately struggling fields stretched off as far as the eye could see with no friendly farmhouses to claim them. This was certainly not England with its manicured farmlands; it was not even France. It gave the appearance of an unowned land. She sighed and thought about writing again.
There was another problem: she had serious doubts about the legitimacy of attempting to sell stories and newsworthy items simply for the sake of making a living. Writing was for her something personal: a means of examining the meaning of life, and of celebrating its wonders and joys. Pandering to the salacious pleasures of the semi-literate masses that consumed the cheap weeklies and shiny monthlies ran counter to her idea of artistic integrity. Roger had tried to convince her that as the means to his achieving musical recognition it was more than justified, especially since such recognition would also enable her to pursue her own literary bent without compromise. She remained uneasy on this score, however, and suspected that her decision to go along with his Grand Plan had more selfish and less altruistic reasons than the nurturing of a great musical career — or a great literary career either, come to that. She was too uncomfortably aware of the fact that escape from her father’s domination had played the main part in helping make up her mind. She loved her father and she knew he loved her, but since her mother’s death, some eighteen months earlier, she had felt obliged to try and fill her mother’s place as much as possible. She was an only child, but far from having been spoiled — as the common perception of only children would have it — she had been burdened with an excessive sense of responsibility towards her parents.
She waved aside the bottle of wine Ignacio suddenly thrust before her — “No thank you. I never drink from a bottle” — and thought again about what she owed her parents.
They had, after all, made great sacrifices to ensure that she would receive a better start in life than she might otherwise have expected, and had done this moreover during a time of great national and personal difficulty. At first there had been the war, which had meant deprivation for everybody, especially those remnants of the middle class reduced by the great pre-war depression and now totally shorn of all the amenities of gentility, and then there had been the almost equally bleak post-war years. Her grandfather, Norman Walsingham senior, had been able, in the period between the wars, to maintain the appearances, and to a limited extent the appurtenances, of the privileged middle class as a result of his eminence as King’s Counsel, but on his death, and the subsequent decline of the old firm, there had been nothing left for Norman Walsingham junior — Sarah’s father — to inherit other than the conviction that his rightful place in society had been unfairly denied him by the thoroughly lamentable decline of standards on all fronts: social, economic, and political. Having no property and only the now fading fame of his father to aid him, Norman Walsingham junior had begun his family career in circumstances that would have altogether crushed a less determined member of his class. The effort to survive in a manner he felt not only deserving of but also obligated to was made no easier by his determination to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the proletariat.
That he had in large measure succeeded, only to suffer the loss of his wife just as he was regaining his place in society, increased Sarah’s feeling of indebtedness and responsibility. But as her university career neared its end — a career purposely undertaken in London so she might live at home — she began increasingly to think of getting away. At the same time, she felt that to abandon her father now, after all that had been done for her, simply to pursue her own life, constituted signal ingratitude; a feeling made the more difficult to bear since despite her love for her father she found him demanding and hard to live with.
Then along came Roger, not long after her mother’s death. She was feeling lonely and vulnerable, sorry for herself and guilty about her desire to leave home and her father. Roger seemed to put everything into a different perspective. She resisted him at first, but he had not taken her refusals seriously. His was a totally egocentric view of life, in its way as forceful as her father’s. It was almost with relief that she had finally let herself be swept up by him and his unabashed, enthusiastic involvement with what he felt was important to himself. His freedom from any trace of guilt or social responsibility filled her with almost revolutionary exhilaration. She succumbed to his own headstrong rush for self-fulfillment, and felt relieved of any restricting obligation to her father. The truth was that she had merely transferred her fealty from her father to Roger, and had achieved no real freedom at all for herself. But this was totally hidden from her as a result of being in love for the first time in her life.
For his part, Roger — whose parents had all but disowned him when he had chosen music rather than follow his father into the family business — had absorbed her into his own ambition with little thought for whatever responsibilities she might have for her father, insisting that she had a right to self-determination, conveniently ignoring the demands he himself was placing upon her. Her need to be free and her love for Roger obscured her accurate perception of this, and she told herself that she owed it to her father to become successful as a writer and thereby justify all his sacrifices on her behalf, and that she owed it to Roger, who had given her such love and the ability to feel justified in wanting things for herself, to help sustain and support him in the Great Escape and the creation of the Castilian Suite.
Nevertheless, the thought of her father’s certain dismay and bitter disappointment when he would read the letter she had left for him the day before — having being unable to tell him face-to-face — now made her feel ashamed and selfish. Watching Roger become increasingly drunk, she felt more and more isolated and confused. Perhaps this wasn’t the way to assert herself after all. Perhaps this whole trip was wrong. She could lead an independent life without necessarily totally abandoning her father, or Roger, couldn’t she? She looked over at Roger, but Roger seemed to have forgotten her for the moment.

*


The train had been travelling ever more slowly for the last half hour, and she was suddenly surprised to notice that the wide rolling landscape of hand-ploughed fields and scattered villages had given way to steep wooded ravines split with sudden vistas of broad valleys amid the high slopes of the Sierra de Guaderrama. The train puffed and chuffed its laborious way through an endless succession of tunnels until finally a different noise and rhythm from the engine indicated that they had begun the descent onto the hot plain below — still a thousand feet above sea level — in the dusty, shimmering centre of which stood — or rather lay like a sleeping dog, as someone whose name she had forgotten had once written — the Spanish capital. As the countryside gave way to habitation, and the outer neighbourhoods of Madrid began to fill the previously empty landscape, Roger and Ignacio continued entertaining the entire carriage with simultaneous renditions of Spanish and English popular songs, to their own immense mutual satisfaction. But Sarah, in her separate sobriety — tired, uncomfortable, and increasingly guilt-ridden — was unmoved by the jollity, and was becoming surer by the minute that the Great Escape had been a Great Mistake.

* * *

to read more chapters click HERE

back to FICTION