The Last Prayer of Pedro Alva González - by Martijn Knol
The Last Prayer of Pedro Alva González - by Martijn Knol
Translated by Michele Hutchison
This isn’t fucking, it’s copulating. I thrust as though the survival of the species depends on it. The girl lying under me smells of sweat… her breath of onions and booze…my pumping blends the smells. Music blares out from all around us… heavy, rumbling beats… bodybuilders whacking empty oil drums with giant rubber hammers…. We are all rhythm… heartbeat and hip movements… We are dancing. Her long, dark hair billows over the yellow canvas with every thrust. Drops of sweat pour from my brow, down my nose, over my lips. My trousers around my ankles, I’m more animal than human… I lean forwards… if a group of wags caught us here they’d be able to look right up my arse…the fear they’d shove a stone up your arsehole for a joke… I ram hard… thrust, thrust, thrust…. The chick is pure horn… Drops of sweat fall from my forehead, splatter onto her closed eyelids. After each thrust the smell of her cunt wafts upwards… my hands seek support from the canvas next to her body… We accelerate… she groans… I feel the sperm mounting… it’s coming.. I speed up and
What the fuck? … a stab of pain in the soft, defenceless part of my left side… I’ve been stabbed… Right away an even more horrible thrust in my back… a crumbling feeling, as if wood is breaking, stacks of crates moving… The knife has hit my backbone.. I push myself off… get up and as I’m turning, I see the string of sperm, white as a sheet, shooting out of my cock and splattering onto my attacker’s jeans…
He’s facing me, furious. Crooked nose, stubble, necklace with a silver nameplate. He is about to give me a smack in the face… only – we know each other… Every night we play football with about twenty other boys on an abandoned factory site behind the main camping field… I know his name: Hernández. He’s as big a fan of The Crying Sparrows as I am… yesterday or the day before we danced and screamed next to each other at the brilliant show they put on one of the small stages….
‘That’s my girlfriend, you wanker.’ When he says the word ‘girlfriend’, his face changes from devil to little boy. ‘You were fucking my girlfriend!’
‘I didn’t know… I didn’t recognise her… I didn’t even know you were together, man.’
‘We’re having a baby!’
‘She’s pregnant!’ Tears fall from his pale eyes. He’s crying.
‘I’m sorry, mate,’ I say, pulling up my trousers. But he’s not listening.
‘Penélope,’ he roars. The girl is still lying on the pile of folded up party tents. She’s too pissed to recognise his voice. I look at her wet, gaping pussy. She’s lying there waiting for me to carry on…
Hernández bends down over his girlfriend. ‘She was going to give up drinking next week!’ he says over his shoulder. He begins to slap her on the face to bring her back to her senses.
I grope around behind me … I’m looking for the knife…. I’m expecting a dagger with a handle wrapped in a leather band… but I feel a cold, hard surface… Half a beer bottle is sticking out of me… a bottle of Noguera… the only brand with a screw top… I can feel the groves at the tip of the neck… I lean against a eucalyptus tree. A few rubbish containers, some dumped furniture. In the distance are mountains and after that the sea. The nearest First Aid post is in the next field.
I walk calmly around the bowling alley towards the field of tents. I’m wearing red and blue bowling shoes. My boots are still on the shoe rack, inside, behind the counter. It’s been cloudy all afternoon. In the distance I can see the washrooms, behind them a white flag with a red cross fluttering.
I’m leaking… my hand is all slippery… blood pours from my side, down the left leg of my jeans…. I squeeze the wound shut, as though I’m stuffing my face with Raoul and want to show him my fat rolls as a joke… As well as blood, a kind of thick, black stuff is oozing out… it looks like clumps of waste oil… organs have been damaged… or intestines….
In the car park, next to a strip of grass with myrtle bushes, there’s a stall selling snacks. A long queue in front of it. I tap the last one in the queue on the shoulder, two boys turn around at the same time. They are stoned out of their minds.
‘Guys,’ I say. ‘Someone has stuck a bottle in my back. Would one of you pull it out for me?’
I turn around. ‘Can you see it?’
‘I see it,’ one of the boys says.
‘It’s a Noguera,’ his friend says. ‘Pretty insane to look at, man.’
‘He’s stuck it right through the leather,’ the first says.
‘Goatskin,’ I say.
‘OK. Well, here we go.’
When the boy grabs the neck of the bottle, a surge of electricity shoots through my upper body. I swing around, bellowing with pain, and fell both of the boys with a Siamese Punch Monkey. Jaws break under my fists – vinyl snapping when bent too far.
I look around, reeling. In the distance are tents, men with naked chests, women in bikinis. Palm trees. Oleanders. The fluttering flag. Dark clouds move overhead. I look at my left hand, it’s scarlet. This can’t be fixed. I’m going to bloody die. I sober up immediately, I’ve drunk nothing but coffee all my life. Forget that First Aid post… the only thing they do is hold your hand and lie to you that everything will be alright… I’m going to find Miranda…. As I trot off away from the stand, I get my mobile phone out of the breast pocket of my shirt. Under the eucalyptus trees in front of the bowling alley a man is carrying a woman. It’s Hernández and his girlfriend. I select my mother’s landline.
As the phone rings, I picture her… her empty flat, the white garden furniture. We were supposed to go and help her choose furniture. When she picks up, I cry, ‘Mama!’
‘Alva! About time! Or have you been fired and suddenly thought of your mother?’
‘I’m at the festival, Mum. Miranda and I are heading to Malaga, remember?’
‘Oh yes,’ she says flatly.
I don’t dare tell her what’s going on.
‘What time are you coming on Sunday?’
‘I don’t know yet, Mum.’
My back is wet with sweat, rivulets run down my skin… I’ve explained to her so many times that a concert is like a kind of open air church service that she’s really started to believe that we are all sitting here like pious goody two shoes… the bottle in my back makes a dirty liar of me… I hang up without saying anything else and put the phone back in my breast pocket. I’m the man of the family, I should have been more careful….
Skirting guy ropes, beer crates, airbeds, I hurry across the field which has been transformed into a second campsite. Three smiling, teenaged girls come out of a gigantic white tent where you can eat at tables and benches. I grab the middle one firmly by her upper arms. ‘I’m dying!’ I shout louder than she can scream. ‘I’m dying!’ Her friends start pulling on my arms… I let the girl go… the three of them bolt back into the tent…. The middle girl’s sleeves are now covered in blood….
I look around, my left hand in my side. I wipe the sweat from my brow and get out my phone. I scroll down to Miranda’s number… actually I need to tell the garage too… Miranda doesn’t pick up… she can’t hear it ringing, of course ….
The last section of the festival site. Agaves. A t-shirt in a cactus. I begin to run. A cool breeze rises up. The strip leading to the stage entrance is the straight part of a racetrack. I run past busses, stalls and tables with mugs and CDs. T-shirts dangle ominously from awnings. There’s been a weather warning out for the past couple of days… I avoid a beer bottle and still manage to step on it….
God, this isn’t fair… I can almost picture myself picking up my youngest daughter in twenty years time… far from the entrance because she doesn’t want her friends to see…. I will never go fishing again, never change an exhaust.… My Volkswagen… no more driving to the coast with the windows open…. Mama kept her pram for nothing….. Oh, how angry she’ll be when she hears why I got stabbed…. She’s always liked Miranda…. My little, fat, dark-haired Miranda….. Lord, you know that I thought of other women when I made love to her, but you know how much I love her too… before we got together we already liked the same bands…. If there’s a good tune playing on the radio at breakfast time, we run downstairs as fast as we can to listen to the rest of it in the car…. If I roll a cigarette, she cuddles up close to me because she knows that if she breathes in my exhaled smoke, she can be sure we’re breathing the same air. She thinks its sweet that my hands are always dirty…. Oh, when she hears why that fellow stabbed me…. You can’t do this to her, Lord… Who is going to cheer her up when she’s down? And who is going to make sure she gets up in the morning if I’m no longer there?… You can’t just rip me out of her life, Lord… our life together has only just begun… she’s crazy about my brown, puppy dog eyes. Once she’s got over my death, she’ll go to concerts again… two hands holding onto a crush barrier while a guy with a hairy arse rides her, skid-marks in his underpants like a duck sitting on the nest of his dropped trousers. Fuck, if I die, then I’m going to fucking do it in Miranda’s arms.
The sun’s nowhere near setting yet. But it looks like it’s getting dark already… the valley is already a pit filling with motor oil… Soon the tents, vans and speakers will float through the darkness…. My shoes… I need to take these shoes off…. I rip open the flat, white shoelaces, kick off the bowling shoes and run on barefoot…. I look at my phone…. She was going to stay at the main stage all afternoon…. No use sending her a text… knowing her sense of direction she’ll only rush off the wrong way…. It’s beginning to get cold…. I run towards a television truck with a dish on its roof….
If you exist, dear Lord, perform a miracle… heal my wounds…. I ask forgiveness for all my sins, but it’s always been harder for me than the others, not having a dad, you know that…. Merciful Lord, merciful…. I can explain everything… I’m the man of the family… I’m only here for the music… for the people…to have fun… companionship…. Do you really mean for the 24-year-old mechanic Pedro Alva González to die? Are you sure you haven’t made a mistake? If you don’t save me, you’ll have my mother’s death on your conscience before long too… the grief of losing her son will kill her…. You can’t do this, Lord…. You know how things were after my father left? I can explain everything… I’ve hardly slept the past few days, just drank… I went into that bowling alley to get some baccy, that girl had lost her friends… we got talking, decided to hire a lane for a laugh and then went outside together a bit later… How was I supposed to know she had a boyfriend?… and with the skin you’ve given me, I don’t get many chances to cheat on Miranda….
The guards in the caravan at the entrance are just sitting there… last day, seen it all…. I drag aside a barrier and weave my way through the steel construction onto the festival site…. Just to be on the safe side I raise my right arm up so that the two dog-heads can see my wristband… If I fall down dead it will be a nightmare for the festival…
The furthest part of the field is empty… The main stage in the distance… the beat… I begin to sprint over the trampled earth… beer cans, sunglasses, an acoustic guitar… here and there a clump of grass… stones…. A shaft of sunlight breaks across the ground… like a threadbare rug… I reach the back rows… as I wrestle my way through the mass of girls, I’m electrocuted every time anybody touches the bottle in my back… 220 volts… mains voltage…. Smell of sweat… the ground vibrating…. The second one wasn’t a stab but a thrust… as though he wanted to ram the bottle right through me….
I push aside half-naked women, they all have their eyes fixed on the men on the stage, I get out my phone, it slips through my hands, I let it fall and wrestle my way further…. My eye-sight is dimming… I don’t want to die… God, please… let me live… I’ve always been afraid of the dark… I bump into bodies… the man of the family… I must reach the stage… people call out to me, I’m pushed and cursed… The crowd surges – I hear the band’s famous harmonica. Hundreds of voices sing along with the lead singer. I am a ruined house overrun with bougainvilleas of pain… My teeth chatter… It’s dark…. The rising oil level…. The beat mocks hip movements and heartbeats.
‘That guy’s bleeding!’ shouts a grown woman. Cries… girls jumping and recoiling… ‘Sorry, sorry.’ I step on a plastic beaker, it makes more noise than all the stages put together…. I smell sand, beer… and in the distance…. I have to climb up onstage, so that Miranda can see where I am and come to me through the crowds….
Shit… I’ve tripped, pushed… I fall with my hands outstretched onto the hard, sandy earth…. As though God thinks it’s time I learned how to kneel… flat tyre… If I die, it’ll be a nightmare for the festival… I try to slither up again… I don’t want to die… I press hard against my side… I’ll rise, god damn it… jump from the highest diving board and when you’ve got to the bottom of the swimming pool, push off with all your might and break through the surface of the water…. Getting lost in man-sized rows of corn as a child… once got lost in a flock of sheep…. Which side is the stage?… where’s the beat coming from?… Watch it, I’m the man of the family… the man of the family….
Man, I want to spend more time behind Raoul’s caravan discussing our favourite whores… drinking beer, reading comics… Chucking darts at pictures of women way out of our league… My head is a gymnasium full of toppling dominoes… the sound of my cancelled future. All those Sunday mornings Miranda and I won’t push a pram through freshly-watered parks… violets…. I see tangled sheets… the young female bodies I have yet to cheat on Miranda with…. In my empty arms I feel the weight of the sweet parcel of my unborn son…. The smiling faces of my best friends around campfires I will miss being set and put out… all those songs that still have to be written…. Driving home at night with square eyes from all the gaming while fires are lit on all sides…. Roast chicken with rice and sweet corn… the heavy slosh of the waves….
I’m a broken hourglass… my body empties grain by grain. The stabs of pain die down. I’m not even clutching at my side anymore… sweat everywhere… on my back, my forehead… my cock still smarts… Every second a drop of blood less… I go slowly… I go slowly out….
Trying to get closer to the stage on my hands and knees… towards the stage… I grab for the waistband of someone’s trousers… drag me to the stage, please… It is pitch-black now… pitch-black and cold… I don’t want to go… I want to stay with you all….
My lungs burn, my fingers tingle… I have inhaled fire… the man of the family… it tingles…. The threads attaching my soul to my body are pulled loose, one by one… each thread snaps with the pain of an un-anaesthetized root canal… No more singing along in the pouring rain to my favourite
I’m lying flat out on the hard earth… barefoot… dozens of girls are standing in a wide circle around me… blood is still gushing from the neck of the beer bottle in my back, a feeble fountain…. The first drops of rain fall on my hair and onto the back of my hand, but I think I no longer feel….
I pull on the handbrake, get out, leave the car park.
Written in 2012, translated in 2013.
The Dutch version of this story was published, in 2015, in Tirade 457.