An excerpt from

3600 Seconds

L J Hart

Valves hissed, drips beeped, an unseen face wailed with the anguish of a trapped animal. The usual quiet of the building was disturbed by two things – a tannoy summoning medical assistance and the shouts, splashes, laughter and music from the poolside of the adjacent hotel.

Room 406 was a white box with a singular barred window opposite the only door which led out onto the balconied corridor running the length of the building. It had been the home to Juan Merillas Ruiz and Joan Fuster Gaya for almost four years. The men had known and shared hatred for over fifty years, but now they lay opposite each other, repeating the same nine minute conversation interspersed with a three minute blast of rage which happened around once a day.

At first the nurses ran to assist the apoplectic men, calling for sedatives to be administered and imploring the chief doctor to split them up, but now they paid them no more attention than they did to the local church bells chiming the hour and half hour.

It was 9.28am. The heat of the island summer was already pulling the walls in.

“I know you. I know you! Juan Cabrón Merillas you fucking cunt! You denounced my grandparents to the Guardia you turd. Nurse! NURSE! Bring me my fucking gun!” The old man flailed for the call button and repeatedly pressed it, harder each time. The buzz sounded somewhere far off in the building.

“Fuster Gaya? Me, a cunt? Look at you there with your piss bag and bald head. Ha! The Generalissimo spits on your grave as I do too!” Sputum oozed from the edge of the old man’s lips as he tried in vain to pull himself upright.

A scuttling of hygienic clogs echoed down the corridor to the room, which now sat in confused silence. The men, noticing the nurse, turned their heads and smiled.

“Nurse, hello! Could you introduce me to my friend here? It seems we are to be room-mates.” The nurse’s lip twitched beneath her briefly flaring nostrils. She took the call button from the old man’s hand, who looked at it as it moved past his face with the recognition of a baby seeing a cot mobile. She clipped the button to the back of the bed, far enough away not to be called again today. The next shift could move it back, if they wished.

“Señor Fuster, this is Señor Merillas. Señor Merillas, meet Señor Fuster. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me?” They nodded and smiled as the woman turned. They watched her rapidly retreating rear end with undisguised enjoyment.

“Nice arse, eh?”

“Not as nice as the one I grabbed when I was young!” The old men fell back into silence and within seconds they snored.

A sparrow dropped onto the bars of the window and watched the old men.

Juan Merillas Ruiz was, in his youth, one of the Generalissimos finest. He had begun his apprenticeship within the Guard at the age of only fifteen. It was usual for a boy of that age to choose a side but so few of those born Mallorquines chose the side that refused to recognise their regional identity. Juan (who was christened with the Mallorquin equivalent Joan but had discarded it as soon as was practicable) had a fearsome competitive streak. In school he fought to be the top of his class, literally taking those with higher marks around the back of the building to warn them with fists how the hierarchy of the classroom should be.

In sport he was brutal, kicking away the legs of those who would stand in between him and a goal. He was not well liked. He dismissed all of those around him with a word he had found in a history book, ‘untermenschen’, a German word he enjoyed the feel of on his tongue. He had chosen his path.

His plan of domination began with a visit to the local Guardia, to denounce his school for their surreptitious teaching of the local forbidden language, detailing the times of day when this happened, the names of the teachers involved and the hiding place (underneath the loose floorboard, below the map of España) of the unconfiscated Catalan textbooks. The school was raided, the teachers beaten in front of the class, the books burned in the school yard as the pupils were instructed to sing the National Anthem, and Juan was patted and congratulated, his hair tousled by many of the police. The children cried through the words and screamed in terror as a gun was waved at them with the barked instruction ‘Louder!’

He was honoured in the local Government approved paper. His parents were ever after served first in every shop in town, but his father never again drank a beer in a bar without spit in it.

On his first week after he had completed the mandatory two years of national service he accompanied a raid of a local Cafe, where ‘Anti-Spanish’ behaviour had been reported. They raided the place, four armed uniforms, and found only a very old man, a flea ridden cat and a seventeen year old girl.

“I recognise you, Joan Merillas. Why are you here?” The girl came around from behind the bar, hands on hips but lip quivering. She jutted out her chin in defiance, a move most recognisable in flamenco. Two of the uniforms moved towards the old man and poked at him with the end of their guns. The man, seventy at least, legs and arms thin with age, back bent, looked up at them with rheumy eyes whitened with rings around the pupils.

“Hey, old bastard, what do you think of the price of eggs, eh?” The man looked uncomprehending and glanced over at the girl.

“He’s deaf.” She almost shouted.

“Deaf or fucking stupid? Do you even speak the language of this country, or just that cock mouthed jabbering?”

The man pressed his hands to the table and lifted himself slowly to his feet. He looked at each in the eye, these cocky little boys still pissing their pants when Franco spoke. He knew their kind, he had fought and killed their kind on the first wave from the mainland down on the beach of Porto Cristo. The island would rise again one day and would be free. He knew that he would not live long enough to see it but he had seen enough.

He began to sing. The words of La Balanguera fell from his lips in reedy tones, barely managing to pass as sound at first, but rising in volume. The girl’s mouth opened in a large ‘o’ as she heard the man sign his own death warrant. She moved to stand in front of him, but was grabbed from behind by Juan and the other uniform as the two at the side of the old man started, slowly at first, thrusting the butt of the rifles they held into his diaphragm. He was winded, but tried to force more words from his mouth, strangled sounds but recognisably Mallorquin. They swung and connected from both sides and he fell to the ground, hitting the table with his shoulder on the way, scattering his cup and the sugar bowl as he went. They bent and dragged him towards the door. Times had changed some since the start of Franco’s rule. They no longer beat old men to death in the front of the whole village. They took him out back.

“Hey, Merillas, take the girl! Consider it your gift from Franco for a job well done.” Said one, as they dragged the old man out. The girl ran behind the bar and grabbed a lemon knife, still dripping in the acid juices. Juan looked at his counterpart, who was watching the still new recruit to see how far he would go for ‘La Patria’. Seventeen was a young age to marry and in a country as catholic as Spain, that was the only way (other than the cathouses) of getting sex. Juan had only seen two dimensional naked women in the forbidden postcards that circulated in his barracks for the general release of tension. The postcards were old and worn in places and Juan had released his seed whilst trying not to think how old these women now were, or how many hands had touched the print.

“Her skin was soft.” The old man muttered in his sleep, unheard amongst the beeps and hisses of the building.