Gloria did not write him many letters. In fact, she only wrote him one short, cruel letter; she then moved to Albacete, known for its knives and aged cheese, to start anew. Eventually, the smell of her hair left the pillows, but there were things that would not leave. He had a privileged view of the woods from his home in Granada; through his bedroom window he could see trees with bark like alligator skin, clumps of wildflowers, and the usually quiet deer who roamed about.
Around October, unusually early, the bellows began. Trembling, haunting, blood curling cries of wild deer crashed simultaneously into the warm bodies of the white tailed does, and into the cerebrum of Ramón Camomila. In his bed, he stared into the darkness, thick as black currant jelly, and listened to the deep lust for the thin legged does reverberating from tree to tree, traveling under the spidery branches, causing noses and hindquarters to twitch. It was utterly impossible to sleep.
On the seventh night, Ramón got out of bed. He placed a glass on his olive wood table in the kitchen and poured himself a drink—a strong, honey flavored Orujo. With little in his stomach, he became tipsy fast. He shut his eyes against the hooves drumming against his temples, and thought of Gloria, how she had sighed when he gave her the box. He drank another glass, put on music to drown out the moans, but the louder he made the music, the more he could hear—the moaning, the heavy breathing and the tearing up of wet earth.
Fucking animals, he thought, and put on his coat. One howl and you have a mate; that’s it. Simple. No boxes, no rings. The ring had been beautiful, with a thin band and a small diamond surrounded by intricate lattice work carved in gold, like the petals of a magnolia. She refused to even try it on.
Ramón stepped out into the crisp air; he felt a cold snout on his hand and warm breath on his neck, so he ran toward the blinking lights of the bars and restaurants in the center of the city, ran far enough so that the animals and the noises faded, and crawled back to the forest blindly, where they were swallowed up by the darkness.
By the time he reached “The Upsetter,” he was sweating and halfway sober. At the bar, he ordered three consecutive vodkas, and chased them down with handfuls of sunflower seeds. He ordered two glasses of vino tinto, one for him and one for the ‘lady,’ he told the bartender. He downed the one for the ‘lady’ before descending the stairs to the performance room and sat at a table next to an older man with long grey hair.
“What’s happening tonight?” he asked.
“A show,” the man replied.
“Gypsy music. Great. Duende,” he said, and sipped his wine. “My girlfriend used to hate this music.”
The man nodded. “Where is she?”
“Well, she’s not my girlfriend anymore.” Ramon drank more. “When will it start?”
The man glanced at him, shook his head. “Already started, hombre,” he said.
Surprised, Ramón looked at the stage. A large man was in fact playing a guitar, and a woman with one leg shorter than the other clapped her hands and clucked her tongue in time with the chords. Behind them hung a thick, black curtain of cheap velvet. It quivered, and a small, brown hand appeared, holding a navaja, the blade glinting under the one light in the room. Soon came the crook of an elbow, followed by the slight curve of a bicep, a strong shoulder, and finally, a face framed by a tangled net of copper hair.
“Dios,” Ramón whispered and swallowed his wine.
The dancer pointed the blade at the audience, then placed it between her teeth and walked to the front of the stage, her heels clicking like sharp hooves. She stopped, lifted up her dress with both hands and began a slow and gentle rhythm of heel toe close, heel toe close, heel toe close. The large man began to play faster; the woman with one leg shorter than the other opened her mouth to sing, then yell, and the dancer spun and trembled and flung her hair about. The rhythm mutated, became fast and violent and she let go of the dress and quickened the steps heeltoecloseheeltoecloseheeltoeclose, snapped her claw-like fingers and snarled and drew back her lips. A small white rose escaped from her locks and fell to the stage, and she crushed her heels into the petals, biting down hard on the blade in her mouth, while the blood rose to her chest and cheeks and lips; olé.
The music stopped, and she stood with one hand raised in the air, the other clutching her chest, feet spread apart and knees bent, finished, yet prepared for another brawl. The music lingered like the silence after a kill, but just for a moment. The people around Ramón yelped and whistled; he jangled his pocket change, his eyes locked on the dancer.
She bowed, stepped down off the stage. With the courage of drink, he grabbed her elbow before she could pass him.
“Thank you for the show,” he said.
“Thank you for your money,” she responded.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Loli.” She turned to leave, but he gripped tighter. “I’m Ramón,” he said.
With sweet, large, brown eyes she smiled at him, and he felt something jab into his side. He peered down and saw her holding the navaja, the blade just under his ribs.
“Ok Ramón,” she said. “Let me go, so I can get drunk.” He released her, and she placed her lips to his cheek, then went up the stairs, flanked by three gigantic men.
Ramón also went upstairs; he chose a table across from them. All four had a strange resemblance, but it was hard to tell with the light, and the lingering drink. The men had a greenish tint to their skin, and meanness to their eyes, even when three whores came over and arranged themselves accordingly. Loli headed to the bar, and Ramón met her there.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he said.
“Whiskey,” she said.
He watched her drink, watched her neck, long and brown, and ordered her another.
“Are you Italian?” he asked.
She finished her drink. “No,” she said. She moved closer to him, touched his hand. “You like my hair?”
“I like how you dance,” he said.
“I’m good because I never sleep,” she said. Her eyes were foggy and scratched and red; Ramón had the urge to kiss her brow. He had the urge to carry her to his bed.
“I haven’t slept in two months,” he said.
“I don’t believe you.” She laughed and broke her gaze. “I think you’re lying to me, so that I can feel sorry for you.”
“I want to see you again,” he said.
Loli dipped her fingers into the bowl of sunflower seeds on the bar, and put a few in her mouth, chewing slowly. She spit the shells on the floor, at Ramón’s feet. One of the men yelled something at her, then kissed the whore on his lap.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Loli ordered four whiskeys, then wrote an address on a napkin.
“Come see me on Friday,” she said, and slid the paper under the bowl. “That’s when the hunting starts.”
With two whiskey shots in each hand, Loli returned to the table, and did not meet his stare again for the rest of the evening.