Authors: Gabriel Urza
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #United States, #Hispanic, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Literary Fiction, #Hispanic American, #Teen & Young Adult
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For my family
This book is the product of much hard work by many people. I particularly would like to express my appreciation to the following:
To my agent, Katherine Fausset, as well as Stuart Waterman and the rest of the good folks at Curtis Brown, Ltd. Special thanks also belong to my editor, Sarah Bowlin, whose patience and vision taught me so much about writing and editing, and to the staff at Holt.
Thank you to the friends who saw and read early chapters and drafts, and who I hope will see their contributions in this book. Ben Rogers, Curtis Vickers, Bill Riley, Alex Streiff, Clayton Clark, Daniel Carter, Molly Patterson, Adam Carter, David Torch, Matt Herz, and website designer extraordinaire Ilsa Brink.
This book would not exist if I had never met my friend and mentor Christopher Coake at the University of Nevada, Reno.
This book was born from workshops at the Ohio State University, and I would like to thank the following people for their guidance and friendship: Michelle Herman, Erin McGraw and Andrew Hudgins, Lee K. Abbott, Lee Martin.
Thanks to my sparring partner, Derek Palacio, who always pushed and believed in this book, and regularly hit me upside the head. And, of course, to Claire Vaye Watkins, Nevada royalty.
I hope this book accurately reflects the expertise, wisdom, and patience afforded me by Dr. William Douglass and Asun Garikano, as well as Zoe Bray with the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, who gave vital feedback on later drafts and were especially helpful with the Euskera that appears in this book.
Thanks to Professor Geoffrey Bennett of the University of the Notre Dame London Law Programme and to the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.
To the attorneys and staff of the Washoe County Public Defender’s and Alternate Public Defender’s Offices, in particular Joe Goodnight, Tobin Fuss, and Sean Sullivan, for showing me that a good lawyer is most often a good man.
Thanks to my friends in the Basque Country, especially Katrin Diaz and Ager Insunza, Nerea Sorauren and Gor
, Alain Gonfaus, Dani and Christine Rueda, Pedro Ibarra and Carmen Oriol, Gregorio Monreal, and Bernardo Atxaga.
A special thanks to Raija Bushnell, who not only put up with me through all of this, but did so with kindness, patience, and encouragement.
And finally, to my family, who are in every page: Carmelo Urza, Monique Laxalt, and Alexandra Urza; Kris Laxalt, Don Nomura, Amy Solaro, Kevin Nomura; Bruce Laxalt and Pam Sutton; Henry and Conchita Urza; Kristi Fons and Susan Estes. My grandparents Robert and Joyce Laxalt, Maria Luisa Larrauri Goicoechea, and Anastasio Urzaa Aboitiz.
Gezurra esan nuen etxean; ni baino lehenago kalean.
I told a lie at home and it was in the street before me.
This morning the front page of the
—for once—shares the same headline as the other Spanish newspapers. Sabino Garamendi’s newsstand is wallpapered with photographs of the Atocha train station in Madrid, each cover depicting train carriages that had burst from the inside as if they were overshaken cans of soda, the aluminum paneling peeled back, revealing their contents: strips of dark fabric, handfuls of foam cushioning, bits of bone, women’s shoes, the pages of a child’s notebook. It is the twelfth day of March 2004.
I slide money across the counter to Sabino and fold the
under my arm before crossing the street to the Boli
a. Estefana is just inside the kitchen at the end of the bar, a deep-burgundy skirt beneath her stained white apron, and the briny smell of anchovies cooking in a heavy frying pan fills the room. I knock on the wooden bar; when she looks up I give a small wave to let her know that I have arrived and am ready for coffee, and then I return to the patio outside the bar.
On television last night it was reported by every national news station that although Prime Minister Aznar, as well as the king himself, had refused to directly implicate the group responsible for the attacks, all available evidence pointed to the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the ETA. And though the residents of Muriga collectively denied this suggestion, spat on the sawdust-covered floors of the bars each time a news anchor used the word “separatist,” there was also an underlying air of shared guilt, of collusion in the bombings that had left, as of last night, 191 victims dead. People lingered quietly in the bars, whole families with their children sitting at long, stout oak tables around half-empty bottles of red wine, Coke cans filled with cigarette filters, uneaten plates of potato omelet or grilled prawns. I had lingered a bit.
The Fernandez de Larrea family sent their youngest over to invite me, the old American, to a table crowded with small plates of food, and when the parents of the youngest children began to filter out I joined the old men lined up against the wooden bar. It’s in these moments of acute community that the delusions I live by—that I am a part of this town, that I have earned my way into the life of Muriga and its people—are quickly and easily unraveled.
By eleven last night, early for Muriga, most of the bars in the old part had emptied. Santi Etxeberria refused my offer of a second glass of
, but I agreed when he asked if I’d like to join him on the walk up the Ubera River. The evenings were still cool, and a fine mist began before we had reached the cathedral.
,” Santi said forlornly. It’s a word used to describe a type of rain that they say exists only here in the foothills of the Pyrenees. A rain so fine that an umbrella is useless against it, wisps of water blowing under the umbrella’s cuff to cling to the rough whiskers of your cheeks at the end of the day. It’s a poetic word, one of the first words of Basque I learned, and hearing it never ceases to conjure the image of the woman who explained its meaning my first week in Muriga, more than fifty years ago.
The woman and I had been leaning against the stone wall of San Telmo Cathedral—the same cathedral that Santi and I now passed.
Txi … rri … mi … rri
,” she had said. The knees of my slacks darkened from the rain as she deconstructed the word, laying out its component parts for me to examine. “
Txi … rri … mi … rri.
It had felt small and thin in my clumsy American mouth. I was accustomed to deep, round sounds, not these diminutive
’s against the front teeth. I’d expected her to laugh, but instead she took my hand up in hers. Her fingers were cold and thin and they vibrated lightly around mine.
,” she repeated slowly, holding my palm up to her mouth so that I could feel how little air came out. She leaned off the wall of the cathedral, closer to me so that now our knees were touching, and she said again the word, that wonderful word. “
Tsk … tsk … txirimiri
* * *
POINTS TO ETA
,” the front page now announces as I unfold my paper against a patio table at the Boli
a. It’s still early spring, and it’s unusual to be able to enjoy a morning coffee outside like this. And yet the last two days have brought a warm current up from the Canary Islands that has pushed back against the arctic current. I roll up the sleeves of my sweater, wipe my hands over constellations of sun spots spread across my pale forearms.
I read the first few lines of the cover article, then turn to the sports section on the second-to-last page of the paper before placing it back down on the table. What can such an article convey, really? How many words are needed to announce an inexplicably horrible thing, to tell us that there will be no recovery from this? But Muriga has experience with these acts that erode the soul of a people.
The bombing of Atocha, inevitably, has torn the stitches from a wound nearly six years healed, and this morning’s stillness is evidence of the effort required to convince ourselves that our lives are still intact after the death of Jos
Antonio Torres. I watch Mariana, his widow, crossing Zabaleta holding their daughter, Elena, by the wrist. The girl is now eight years old, nearly nine. She has her mother’s features but the large, startlingly blue eyes of Jos
Antonio. Behind her, Mart
n mops the walk in front of his small grocery at the corner of Atxiaga and Zabaleta, stopping after every few passes to pull from a cigarette pinched between two fingers. A pair of boys I recognize from Colegio San Jorge speed along Calle Zabaleta on their motor scooter, their light-blue oxfords untucked, flicking behind them. They are seventeen or eighteen, the same age Iker was the year that he was arrested for Jos
Antonio’s abduction and murder.
As Mariana approaches, I glance back into the bar to where Estefana shuffles across the worn stone floor, the cup of espresso and milk in her hand resting on a thin brown saucer. She brings me this same cup of coffee nearly every morning, and yet today I am surprised by the sight of her—this sturdy, strong woman. For the first time, I notice the ribbons of white that have wound their way through the thick black brambles of her hair. I hear the scrape of her right shoe, which doesn’t rise quite as high as the left, as it drags across the stone.
She’s become an old woman
, I think, and as if on cue, the dragging right foot catches momentarily on the threshold of the door, and the white cup slides from the saucer with a scraping sound, a sound not unlike the diminutive first syllable of
. There is silence, and then the cup explodes in a crest of ceramic shards and deep-brown coffee.
Estefana curses loudly, waves the back of her hand dismissively at the nearly unbroken sky above her, and turns back to the bar to begin another coffee. Mariana and Elena are just at the end of the block now, and both mother and daughter turn in my direction at the sound of the shattering cup. There is a moment, a fraction of a second, in which recognition outweighs history—when Mariana sees only an old friend, before anger and disgust take over and she pulls the girl in the other direction, back across Zabaleta.
When they’ve turned the corner, out of sight, I watch Estefana moving busily about the coffee machine. I study the splinters of enamel and the spreading puddle of coffee as it grows bigger on the patio’s white tile. My mind drifts to the exploding trains at Atocha, and I begin to imagine time slowing to a pause, the black rush of smoke stopping its ascent from the train platform, then churning slowly backward. I imagine the heat of the explosion, the women’s shoes, the bits of dark fabric, all flying back into the hull of the carriage, the peeled strips of aluminum being folded back around its passengers, ironed smooth again.
I allow time to continue flowing in reverse, the world to continue this process of reconstruction. The morning’s unseasonably warm winds begin to reverse, to flow back toward the Canary Islands; the white streaks in Estefana’s black mane retreat back into her scalp. Elena’s spring jacket becomes unstitched, the small pieces of cloth are mended back into long bolts of fabric. The fabric is reconstituted into a row of cotton plants, and then into a handful of shrinking seeds, until finally the seeds are distilled into only sunlight.