He wakes one morning and for a moment, can't remember why he slept badly. It has been a restless night, filled with half-sleep and dreams that he couldn't decipher, moments of wakefulness where, afterwards, he couldn't remember if he'd actually been awake at all. At times he'd been about to get up because he felt so alert, only to discover that an hour had passed and the moments he'd been awake were not real at all, merely a disturbance in the flow of his thoughts that haven't quietened whether asleep or not.
He looks to the window and sees that it's a beautiful day and it's then that he remembers why he's been dreading the morning. Perhaps the lack of sleep was an attempt to hold off time, halt its passage so that today would never come. But here it is, sun shining from a warm blue sky on a city just starting to wake, people going to work as though it's a normal day and not one where he is a condemned man.
Today is the day he'll become a husband. Or rather, today is the day he'll look into a girl's eyes and promise to love and honour her, in sickness and in health, forever and ever amen. Only he'll be looking into her eyes and wishing he'd never laid eyes on her, he'll see that smug little smile she's taken to wearing and dream of cutting it off her face.
But he can't do that. And won't. He needs his son. He is the heir apparent but once he becomes king, there has to be someone to take his place. The name must continue; his father and now himself - they're not going to work their whole lives on this business only to have no one to give it to at the end. So what if he can't stand the bitch who'll give him that heir? Is there any woman he can stand to be around for more than a few hours?
He resolutely does not think of exceptional Irish women who don't want anything from him. She's not real. She doesn't exist in Bogotá, 1979, on this world. And if she did? There's no guarantee he'd let himself think of her anyway. Commitment to another person is not something that comes naturally to him, no matter how much fun they promise to be.
So that's it. That's the end of it. He's getting married and he won't be faithful and she'll hate him and he'll avoid going home like the plague. Pretty much a normal marriage anyway, right?
Goddamn he wants to be free again.
She looks good, he'll give her that. The dress hides the tiny swell of her belly that has just recently started to show and she looks pretty, demure, virginal. The veil obscures most of her face but he sees the smile, sees how she laps up the attention of the families on either side; one half of the audience are casual and mostly indifferent, the other half look like they can't believe they're here, surrounded by such people. Only his family have been talking. Hers look like they're too terrified to open their mouths, fearful of saying the wrong thing, causing insult and inviting retribution, seeing threat where perhaps there is none. He can read it in their eyes: how did we get here?
How did he get here?
The frills of his expensive tuxedo shirt have wilted in the stifling heat. Music is playing (here comes the bride...) but he hears it as though from a great distance away, distorted, something ugly. A fly lands on his ear, attracted by the sheen of sweat and he doesn't shake it off. The knot of his bow tie is cutting into his throat and for a moment, he thinks he might stop breathing. He knows his smile is rigid and he can feel that he's pale; he'd wipe his clammy hands on his trousers if he could move his arms. In the end he focuses on the droplet of sweat running down between his shoulderblades, running away and away before being caught by the shirt held tight to his body by a dark red cummerbund, tight as a vice to stop his trousers escaping his hips.
She looks forward as she's handed over into his protection and care. He catches her father's eye as the man turns away. He looks older. Diminished.
Ramon knows how he feels.
This room is small, cramped, filled with old tables and stacked chairs, relics that didn't make the grade for this wedding of royalty.
The bridesmaid is maybe fifteen and crying now, not enjoying herself the way she thought she would. He can see her trying to hide it, gripping the edge of the table with knuckles that are white, desperately forcing herself not to sob out loud.
He smiles, a grin fixed in his face like the red slash of a child's paintbrush across rough paper. You can't ignore the way it looks like blood, no matter how hard you tell yourself it means happiness.
She's been overseeing the packing for the honeymoon. In the space of a few hours, it became a demeaning task below her station, something to be passed off to the staff but too important to let them get on with without supervision. He stands in the kitchen of his wedding present, smoking in the heat, thinking of the knot in his bow tie and how it's still cutting off his air.
He could have taken it off hours ago. He was afraid if he did, he'd have nothing to blame when he couldn't breathe.
She glides towards him and though he doesn't look at her, he can see her noticing the barely-wiped stain on the front of his trousers, the mark on his cummerbund, the spot of blood lost in the frills of his shirt.
Now you see it, now you don't.
He doesn't move as she stands in his space and raises a hand (droplet of sweat on his back has nowhere to run, fabric saturated now and clammy, grating over skin and cloth if he only dared to move), runs it softly down his cheek and jaw, coming to rest and staying there. Husband, she says, and it's a sound she makes full of wonderment as though this weren't a farce. He looks at her face now and sees that the smugness has evaporated and there's nothing there but...happiness. Shyness. Like the play is over and she doesn't know how to start cleaning up and is looking to him for guidance.
How did you get here? he asks her, quiet. She has a family who love her and have cared for her, educated her and taught her, brought her up to be a woman who could live in the world and do whatever she wanted. What are you doing here, in my kitchen. Our kitchen. Carrying my son, bringing a life into a world where nothing but violence awaits.
Why do you want a man that will never love you?
She looks at him and doesn't speak. For a moment, it seems like her eyes might fill but they don't and her face barely changes. Her hand takes another pass down his jaw and he doesn't push her away, just ruminates on how she'll get his sweat on her fingers. When her hand drops, she doesn't wipe it clean. She looks lost, like a child given a toy that she doesn't know how to work.
We're leaving in an hour, she says and turns to go back upstairs to check the packing. He watches her until she's gone and then drops his head back to hang on his neck, cigarette burning the filter between his fingers. The heat lies on him like a thick blanket, it dims the world, makes it disappear beyond the walls around him...but in the distance he hears the low roar of thunder beating over the tops of the mountains and somewhere a dog barks at the wind starting to rise.
It's late March, the end of summer, end of the warm, dry days. Ramon closes his eyes, loosens his tie and prays for rain.