The Red Butterfly, Part Twenty One – The Gray Gelding
My head hurt, my back hurt, my vision clouded by a thousand flashing lights like a constellation invading in broad daylight. I slumped to the ground and sat there among the dirt and the dust and the refuse. I looked up at Candela, but it was gone. In its place a plain brick building of recent make with a small door covered in graffiti. I felt for the gash on my back and came away with blood on my fingers. I wiped my fingers on my jacket then ran my hand through my filthy hair until I reached the bump in the back of my head, the knockout blow.
I drew my self up and suffered another flash of pain, which shot from the back of my skull and down my spine and across the knife wound in my back. My vision blurred and my stomach heaved and I fought the urge to vomit. Then I vomited. There was nothing left but green bile and an emptiness. My stomach drew itself into me like a fist.
I stood still and waited for my stomach to settle and my vision to clear. I felt my jacket for my cigarettes. They were gone. I reached into my back pocket for my wallet but that too was missing. “Damn,” I said to the shadows and the ghosts and the wind, as there was not a living soul to hear my curse or offer me solace. Nothing to do then, I decided to walk.
I walked along Calle de Cabeza. Calle de Cabeza turned into Calle de Soler Y Gonzáles. Calle de Soler Y Gonzáles turned into Calle de Juanelo and there I came upon a pure gray Carthusian gelding wearing a bridle and a royal saddle. The horse stood facing me and I approached him, spoke to him in a whisper. His ears twitched and he reared his massive head and clomped big white teeth and his eyes were wild and spinning and sclera. I could hear the pulmonary heaving deep within its corpus. The animal’s spindly legs and muscular flanks were bloody from where the wild dogs had probably nipped at it. He shuddered as I placed my hand gently on his muzzle and I rubbed along the long ski slope of the face but he did not move. “Good boy,” I said, as if I were speaking to a dog, “good boy.”
I brought my hand up to the crest and the horse lowered his great head and pushed gently against my chest. I ran my hand along his neck and shoulder and moved next to the barrel of his body while holding the reins. The horse was big, huge, the withers above my head. He swung his head to look back at me as if to say “what now?” Then looked forward and moved into me. I reached my hand up to the swell and stepped my foot into the stirrup and swung my right leg over and sat up on the saddle and held the reins with both hands. Instantly the horse began to move. I had not adjusted the height of the stirrups but they were of adequate length and I felt steady on my seat.
I let the horse lead us and we crossed Plaza de Cascorro and emerged onto the crowded Calle de Toledo. People, hordes of them, young men and women marched along the streets carrying red and yellow banners, Spanish flags and large white signs bearing words such as “Muerte al Fascismo!” and “Viva la Libertad!” and “Viva la democracia!”
“What is happening?” I asked a young bearded man carrying a large sign with a photograph of Che Guevara over his head.
“Franco murio! Franco esta muerto!” He said as he looked up at me on my saddle, not bothered by the sight of an American sitting astride a colossal horse in the middle of Madrid.
We joined the throng going north. I turned on the saddle and glanced south and saw that men had scaled Puerta de Toledo and were waving red flares and Spanish flags. More and more people flooded in from side streets. We were like a massive rushing river picking up power as we moved along. There were other young men on royal horses and they waved at me and I waved back and felt like an urban cowboy joined in the collective herding of a great wave of humanity towards the grand corral that was Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor; a giant bonfire in the center, sight of bullfights and public executions and wet cobblestones and this great heaving multitude. There was a melee as civil guards streamed into the plaza like a foul vapor. Gunshots rang out and my horse reared and whinnied and I held on like a rodeo rider but not for long. I lost my grip and flipped backwards over the cantle and bounced off the horse’s rump and fell hard to the ground. The wind was kicked out of me and I was at the bottom of the maelstrom being trampled alive. I’m going to die here, I thought. Then I was seized by the arms and hauled up to my feet again. I felt a wetness over my left eye and reached up to my forehead and came away with blood. I was bleeding for this country.
“Hijo de putas! La Guardia Civil.” The crown yelled, “Mátalos! Kill them!” Men were fighting with the civil guards. There were more gunshots and a woman screamed and then the civil guards were overpowered. Their uniforms were ripped off their bodies and they were beaten and left lying on the ground, pale in their undergarments and their blood like some sort of sullied rank meat left to rot in a slaughterhouse. Men climbed up the statue of Phillip III in the center of the square. They shot with old revolvers into the early morning sky. Some had ancient muskets of the type I’ve seen only in old comics with the bore opening into a wide funnel. People yelled, “La Guardia Civil is staging a coup, La Guardia Civil is staging a coup!” “Guerra Civil! There will be a civil war!” “Death to Franco! Franco is dead!” The square filled with crazy eyed men. I saw the horse and I worked my way to the edge where it stood calmly under the arches watching the proceedings like some great equine judge. I took the reins and stroked his muzzle and the gelding snorted and nudged my chest. An anciana, her face lined with deep grooves, stood next to us.
“What is going to happen to us now?” she said.
Around the plaza, the massed crowed heaved and undulated like a great ocean and I thought, one could drown there. “Suárez para presidente!” they chanted in unison. I felt like a figure bearing witness to an unknown chaos like the Picasso painting of the silent naked boy leading a horse and I thought, I am just a tourist here.