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All This I Will Give to You
Author:Dolores Redondo

All This I Will Give to You

Dolores Redondo



A LIFE PRESERVER


The knock at the door was loud and peremptory. Eight decisive blows, one after another, warning that someone expected to be admitted immediately. The sort of insistence you’d never hear from an invited guest, a worker, or a delivery driver. He would remember it later with the bleak reflection, typical behavior of police demanding to be let in.

He stared for a couple of seconds at the cursor blinking at the end of the last sentence. This had been a good morning for work, the best of the last three weeks. Though he hated to admit it to himself, he especially enjoyed writing when he was alone at home with nothing else to do, free of the usual interruptions, so he could go with the flow. That’s what happened when he got to this point in a novel. He was expecting to finish The Sun of Tebas in a couple of weeks. Maybe earlier if all went well. And until then the story would take over and obsess him every minute of the day. He’d have no time for anything else. Each of his novels had brought him to this intense pitch and this sensation, at once intimate and destructive. He loved it and feared it. He knew it made him hard to live with.

He glanced toward the hall that led to the apartment’s front door. The blinking cursor seemed about to burst with the pressure of all the words still behind it. In the moment of deceptive stillness he began to hope the untimely visitor had given up. But no; he sensed the silent presence out there of the intruder’s demanding energy. Determined to finish one more sentence, he put his fingers to the keyboard. The insistent pounding resumed and echoed in the narrow hallway. He tried to ignore it but had to give up.

Irritated less by the interruption than by the arrogant insistence, he got up and muttered a curse at the guard at the front gate. He’d told the man more than once to make sure he wasn’t interrupted at work. He angrily yanked the door open.

A man and a woman in police uniforms took a step back when he glared out at them.

“Good morning,” the male officer said, glancing at a little card barely visible in his big hand. “Is this the residence of álvaro Mu?iz de Dávila?”

“It is,” answered Manuel, surprise overcoming his exasperation.

“Are you a family member?”

“I’m his husband.”

The policeman glanced at his companion. Manuel saw his expression, but by this point his natural paranoia had already kicked in. He didn’t care whether they were surprised.

“Has something happened?”

“I’m Corporal Castro, and this is Sergeant Acosta. May we come in? It would be better if we spoke inside.”

This was a scenario familiar to any writer: Two uniformed police officers wanted to come inside for a private talk. They must have bad news.

Manuel stepped aside. In the cramped hallway the two troopers looked immense in their green uniforms and military boots. Their soles squeaked against the varnish of the dark parquet floor like those of drunken sailors balancing on the deck of a tiny boat. He led them to the living room where he’d been working. He started to escort them to the sitting area but stopped so suddenly they almost bumped into him. He stubbornly repeated himself. “Has something happened?”

It was no longer a question. Between the front door and the living room the inquiry had vanished and now it was almost a prayer, an echo of the voice in his mind pleading, Please, no; please, no; please, no. He prayed, even though he knew all pleading was useless. Prayer hadn’t stopped cancer from devouring his sister in nine short months. Feverish and exhausted, she’d still been determined to buck him up, console him, and take care of him; she’d joked even as death became visible in her face as she lay back against a pillow, as if already in her coffin. “Looks like I’ll take just about as long to leave the world as I did to get here.” In the humiliation of his weakness he kept praying to some inept superior power as he trudged like a humble servant to the doctor’s cramped, overheated office to be informed his sister wouldn’t survive the night.

He’d known prayer was useless, but he’d made one last desperate attempt. He’d folded his hands in mute supplication even as he heard those words, that sentence, the final judgment from which there would be no last-minute reprieve.

The corporal stood surveying the magnificent collection of books filling shelves that completely occupied two walls. He took a look at the desk and then his eyes turned to Manuel again. He gestured toward the sofa. “Maybe you should sit down.”

“I don’t want to sit. Go ahead and tell me.” He realized he sounded curt, so to take the edge off his comment he added, “Please.”

The policeman hesitated, clearly ill at ease. He looked off somewhere beyond Manuel’s shoulder and bit his upper lip. “It’s about . . . your . . .”

“It’s about your husband,” the woman intervened, taking charge. She didn’t look at her colleague but couldn’t have missed his ill-concealed relief. “Unfortunately we have bad news. We’re sorry to have to inform you that se?or álvaro Mu?iz de Dávila was in a serious traffic accident this morning. He was already deceased by the time the ambulance got there. I’m very sorry, se?or.”

The sergeant’s face was a perfect oval. She’d combed her hair to frame that shape and had gathered it into a bun at her neck. A few wisps had begun to work free. He’d heard her perfectly clearly: álvaro was dead. But for a few moments he was surprised to find himself intrigued by the serene beauty of this woman. The impression was so strong that he almost mentioned it. She was extremely beautiful but apparently not conscious of that fact. Her sympathetic attitude and the astonishing symmetry of her features made her even more gorgeous. Later he would recall that impression and marvel at the trick his brain had played in an effort to preserve his sanity. He would remember time stopping as he took refuge in the exquisite lines of that feminine face, a drowning man flailing after a life preserver, even though he didn’t know it then. That eternity lasted only one precious instant and didn’t block the avalanche of questions already surging into his mind. But he said only one word. “álvaro?”

The sergeant took him by the arm—later it would occur to him that she must have used the same practiced maneuver to detain suspects—and escorted him unresisting to the sofa. She gave him a gentle push on the shoulder, and when he was seated she settled beside him.

“The accident happened in the early morning. The car ran off the highway, it appears, along a stretch of straight road with good visibility. There doesn’t seem to have been another vehicle involved. According to our Monforte colleagues, he may have fallen asleep at the wheel.”

He listened with careful attention, trying to grasp and retain the details, trying to ignore the chorus shouting louder and louder in his mind: álvaro is dead, álvaro is dead, álvaro is dead!

The woman’s beautiful face no longer overrode the catastrophe. From the corner of his eye he saw the corporal absorbed in examining the various objects on his desk. A glass with coffee dregs still holding the little spoon, the invitation to a prestigious literary award ceremony he’d used as a coaster, the cell phone he’d used to talk to álvaro just hours before, and that blinking cursor awaiting the completion of the last line of prose he’d written as he, poor idiot, had told himself things were going so well. But that was no longer important. Nothing mattered if álvaro was dead. It had to be true because that sergeant had told him so, and the Greek chorus in his head kept chanting it in deafening crescendo. That’s when he grasped the sergeant as if grabbing a life preserver.

“Did you say Monforte? But he’s in—”

“Monforte, in Lugo province. They called us from there, although in fact the accident occurred in a small town in the Chantada area.”