The girl wore the right black dress of the villages, and had long Spanish-Indian eyes. She pushed the old man up the stairs and told him to go to bed. Doug, Ulli and Danny followed behind him, singing brokenly and urging him on.
A winter sunset glow shone through a high grille in the wall, and I was aware, behind the sharp smell of coqac, of something softer and muskier. The young girl, crouching low in the shadows, had loosened her dress and was pouring brandy over her bare bruised shoulder.
She rubbed the liquor into her flesh with long brown fingers and watched me warily as she did so. Her eyes were like slivers of painted glass, glinting in the setting sun. I heard the boys upstairs stamping and singing to the breathy music of an old accordion. But I couldn't join them. I was trapped down here, in this place, this cellar, to the smell of coqac and this sleek animal girl.
She was stroking, almost licking, her upper arms, like a cat, her neck arched, her dark head bowed. She raised her eyes again, and we just stared at each other before I sat down beside her. Without a word, she handed me the flask of coqac, turned her bare shoulder towards me, and waited. Her skin was mottled by small purple bruises that ran backwards under her dress. I poured some drops of coqac into the palm of my hand and began to rub it awkwardly over her damp hot flesh. The girl sighed and stiffened, then swayed against me, leading me into a rhythm of her own.
The frayed black dress was now loose at the edges and gave way jerkily to my clumsy fingers. The girl's eyes were fixed on mine with a kind of rapt impatience. With a slight swerve of her shoulders she offered more flesh for healing. I rubbed more coqac into the palms of my hands. Slowly, as my touch followed her, she lay back on the sacking. The boys upstairs were singing "Home on the Range."
Apart from the quick stopping and starting of her breath, the girl was silent. The red blanket of sunset moved over her. Her thin dancer's body was now almost bare to the waist and revealed all the wispy fineness of a Persian print. It seemed that in some perverse way she wished to show both her beauty and its blemishes. Or perhaps she didn't care. She held my hands still for a moment.
"Frenchman," she said thickly.
"English," I said woodenly.
She shrugged, and whispered a light bubbling profanity -- not Catalan but pure Andaluz. Her finger and thumb closed on my wrist like a manacle. Her body met mine with the quick twist of a snake.
When the square of sunset had at last moved away and died, we lay panting gently, and desert dry. I took a swig from the goatskin and offered it to her. She shook her head, but lay close as though to keep me warm. A short while ago she had been a thing of panicky gasps and whimpers. Now she looked into my eyes like a mother.
"My little blond man," she said tenderly. "Young, so young."
"How old are you, then?" I asked.
"Fifteen ... sixteen -- who knows?" She sat up suddenly, still only half-dressed, her delicate bruised shoulders arched proudly.
"I kill him."
"The old one. The grandfather. He maltreats ... Thank God for the
The chicken, huddled fluffily against the wall in the corner, seemed now to be asleep. The girl turned and tidied me briskly, then tidied herself, settling her clothes around her sweet small limbs. Then she lifted her long loose hair and fastened it into a shining bun. The stamping and singing upstairs had stopped.
I was astonished that this hour had been so simple yet secret, the opening and closing of velvet doors. Eulalia was not the sort of Spanish girl I'd known in the past -- the noisy steel-edged virgins flirting from the safety of upstairs windows, or loud arm-in-arm with other girls in the paseo, sensual, cheeky, confident of their powers, but scared to be alone with a man.
Eulalia, with her beautiful neck and shoulders, also had a quiet dignity and grace. A wantonness, too, so sudden and unexpected, I felt it was a wantonness given against her will. Or at least, if not given willingly, it was now part of her nature, the result of imposed habit and tutoring.
As she pulled on her tattered slippers, she told me she would not stay long in Figueras. She'd come from the south, she said -- she didn't know where -- and had been working here as a house-drudge since she was ten. Once she would have stayed on till body and mind were used up; the sexually abused slattern of some aged employer, sleeping under the stairs between calls to his room. Not any more, she was now free to do as she wished. Spain had changed, and the new country had braver uses for girls such as she. She need stay no longer with this brutal pig of an innkeeper. She would go to Madrid and be a soldier.
It had grown dark and cold in the cellar. Suddenly she turned and embraced me, wrapping me urgently in her hot thin arms.
"Frenchman!" she whispered. "At last I have found my brother."
"Englishman," I said, as she slipped away.