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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part I. North West

El Grove

Steve Porter
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I had been sober for a year and a half when I went out to Vigo. I had got used to my weekends in Edinburgh, where I met others who no longer drank. On a Friday evening, I might buy a Chinese carry out and spend the night at the fireside, reading or watching TV with Mary. I continued to go to football on a Saturday but not to the pub afterwards. Slowly, I began to look forward to these routines without wishing to get drunk. Now my circle of friends was new and expanding, and inevitably there were invitations to social events.

Hamish and Clare had just moved into a flat in El Grove on the other side of the city. Lisa and I arrived to find the new residents in high spirits. Hamish was playing the host, doing the splits, a performance that had helped him earn second place in the recent Mr. Perthshire competition. Moran, the director of studies, sipped from a large tumbler of whisky.

“Come on, Moran. You’ll manage another wee drop of uisge beatha, won’t you?” said Hamish, while giving him a top up anyway.

“Woah, that’s enough, Hamish boy.” Moran moved his glass away before it overflowed.

“What about you, Michel. Keep your man company, won’t you?”

“No thank you. I haven’t got the same tolerance level as you Celts. We’ll have to be going soon in fact, we’ve got some business to take care of, haven’t we Moran?”

I found Clare in the kitchen, cooking chicken.

“So, how’s the job going?” I asked.

“Well it’s alright. Apart from a couple of five year olds who like to bang their heads off the wall during lessons.”

“And Vigo? How does it compare with Greece?”

“More rain, less sunshine. I needed a change anyway, the Greek magic had worn off. Greek men turned out to be a big disappointment.”

“Is that so?”

“I went there soon after watching Shirley Valentine.”

She uncorked a bottle of wine and offered me a glass.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Oh. Why not?”

“You could say I’ve already had more than my fair share.”

“Really? Mind if I have some?”

“Not at all. Go ahead.”

She drew the wine between her lips and swallowed.

“Are you enjoying work?”

“I wouldn’t go that far. Can’t you see my hair is turning grey? The other day I got the run around from Iván and José Carlos. Six years old and they scare me. I took a blindfold into class and got the kids to guess objects. They suggested I go first. Fair enough, I thought, can’t do any harm to give them a demonstration. I put the blindfold on. ‘What’s this?’ asked José Carlos. I had to kneel down at his desk to guess. The next thing they are all around me, jumping on my back and yelling a Spanish giddy up.”

Lisa came into the kitchen and opened another bottle of cava. The cork hit the roof and cheap champagne flowed down the bottle onto the tiled floor.

Hamish appeared after making sure Moran wouldn’t run out of whisky.

“Let’s see you do the splits again, Hamish,” said Clare.

“I think I’ve done enough of that for one night. The old knees are beginning to creak.”

“Show us your sporran then.”

He pushed her playfully. Clare slipped on the spilt champagne and fell against a glass door. The glass exploded sending fragments everywhere. Blood flowed from Clare’s wrist. Lisa, who had worked as a nurse, wrapped a towel tightly round the wound. Hamish went to look for a first aid box. Being quite squeamish, I returned to the front room and sat down.

“Moran won’t wake up.” Michel was saying. “Look at him. He came to Spain to get away from the drinking culture. Will you help me get him out of here?”

“I’ll go and get a sponge and some water, see if that does any good.”

In the kitchen, Hamish was checking out Clare’s bandage.

“I think it’s stopped bleeding,” she said.

“Don’t touch it,” Lisa warned. “Keep away from it Hamish. I think you’ve caused enough trouble already.”

Hamish looked at Lisa, with her short skirt, ankle boots and crane-fly legs.

“Who do you think you are, Puss in Boots?”

Amid the shouting that followed, the rest of the pane of glass crashed onto the floor. Soon the buzzer went.

“Shit who’s that?”

It seemed only right that I answer it as I hadn’t taken part in the cooking or the first aid. The neighbour asked in not very polite Spanish what the noise was all about.

“You had better be fucking quiet or I call the police, you understand?”

Michel carried his patient out onto the landing. Moran was singing about the glory of Ireland as if auditioning for a role in Angela’s Ashes.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationFebruary 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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