It’s the FINAL installment of Free Chapter Friday for my novel, The Things They Didn’t Bury! But remember the story doesn’t end here. Now through this weekend my book is FREE on Amazon so click the link and get yourself a copy!
Inside Diego and Adrian stared at the walls, the ceiling, Liliana’s shadow just outside the door, anything but each other.
“I should go make sure she’s alright,” Diego finally said.
“Maybe she just needs a little time.”
“Why do you think they‘ve been lying to her for so long? It’s been more than a decade,” Diego said.
“To protect her, maybe? I’m not sure. But back then, everyone was keeping secrets.”
“But why would they say it was an accident if it wasn’t. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t know. All I know is what I saw and I saw them take her. But I don’t know why. Everyone was trying to get out of the plaza, at one point it was impossible to move. That’s what I never understood about that day. They could have grabbed anybody. But I watched them fight their way through the crowd just to get to her.”
Diego leaned forward, elbows cutting into his knees as he peered through a small oval gap between the door and the frame, watching the wind toss Liliana’s hair around her face. Her cheeks were flushed raw from tears, from the cold, and he wondered if she was numb enough yet.
“Out of all of those people who disappeared, how many of them ever had their bodies found?” Diego said, breaking the silence.
“Not many. The junta would drop them in the ocean or burn their bodies in mass graves. They left no trace of the people they captured, nothing.”
“But some escaped.”
“Some. Not many.”
“Could Isabella have escaped?” The impossibility clung to the back of Diego’s throat and he tried to gulp it down.
“I don’t know.” Adrian shook his head. “Escaping was next to impossible.”
“But not impossible.”
“No. Not impossible. But if someone did escape, they wouldn’t just have to escape from the prison, but they’d have to find a way to escape the country. Even with a passport, they weren’t letting anyone in or out of Argentina.”
“So how would they get out?”
“I know a lot of people who knew they were on the military’s hit list found a way to travel underground. The Gypsies built tunnels on the outskirts of the city to get people past the check points.”
“Tunnels? What did the Gypsies have to do with any of it?”
“The Gypsies, musicians, artists, they were all targeted by the military too. So they started working together. And when the churches started turning families away, out of fear that if they helped them they would be killed, the families started going to the Gypsies, paying them for their black magic.”
Diego scoffed, “black magic?”
Diego had been raised on Gypsy folklore but he hadn’t seen any modern day Gypsies who could do anything besides drink themselves into the grave.
“You’re not a believer, I guess?”
“Not exactly,” Diego answered. “Were the tunnels the only way out?”
“The cheapest way. If you had enough money, and you were lucky, you could pay off the soldiers at the checkpoints. But you’d probably run out of money before you even made it out of the country. The tunnels weren’t a sure thing either, and the Gypsies charged for them too. But it was safer than taking your chances at the check…”
The brass door handle shuddered as Liliana turned it free—a rush of cold trailing in after her, and Adrian fell silent.
The biting night lingered inside the truck as Diego fiddled with the heater. But it wouldn’t come on. He gave it some gas, tires spitting rocks against the steel floorboard beneath their feet but still nothing. Liliana pulled her knees to her chest, hands tight around her ankles as she tried to stay warm.
“Give me your hands,” Diego said and she held them out to him, eyes still straying from his face.
Diego pressed his palms to his lips, warming them with his breath and then wrapped them around Liliana’s fingers, kneading her soft skin until they were pulsing and pink. He stared at them—at the soft ripples along her knuckles and the pink flush of her nails, tracing the lines along her palms as he worked to warm her.
And he felt her staring too, gaze flitting from their hands to his face as she inched closer to him. Her fingers slipped from his palm and he waited, not wanting to put the truck in drive, not wanting to move. But then her shoulder slipped into the crook of his arm and his hand was slung around her neck. And she leaned into him, closing her eyes as the steady rocking of the truck lulled her to sleep. Diego took the long way back to the vineyard, his foot barely pressing on the gas the entire way.
He didn’t want her to move, he didn’t want them to stop, he didn’t want to let go of her. And as she sunk into him, warm breath trailing into the sleeve of his shirt, he thought about how strange it was that she would turn up this way. He had dated when he was younger, before he learned that it didn’t take much to get a girl in bed with you. But looking back he felt like he had been burned to the quick and for sex with girls he knew he could never love, no matter how hard he tried.
The truth was, despite the way his mother had abandoned them, he believed it was true what his father had said about a Flamenco player and his dancer. The truth was, all his life he had yearned for it, waited for it, waited for the woman that would bleed him dry the way his mother had his father. Liliana wasn’t a Flamenco dancer, she wasn’t even a Gypsy. But none of that seemed to matter.
He felt the soft drumming of her pulse behind her neck—shallow and cadenced as it mingled with his own fierce heartbeat. He inhaled and her scent, spilling from her lips and emanating from her skin, swirled around him until he was drunk with it. He finally pulled into the drive of the vineyard and was glad he could look at her now, instead of the road. She was still sleeping and he wished he could stretch his legs out next to her, the two of them lying against one another, chest to chest.
But as he pulled to a stop the familiar squeal of the brakes gently coaxed her eyes open and she looked up at him. Diego rested his hand against her head and traced across her forehead with his thumb. She exhaled a deep breath.
“I can show you the city if you want,” Diego whispered to her, “something fun. We could see a movie. I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
Liliana smiled, her eyes, red and swollen, and pressed her lips to Diego’s cheek.
Ben has never been a good liar. Every day he tells me that he’s going to be fine, that everything’s going to be fine. But he’s afraid. I can see it even if he can’t. And that makes me afraid. The realization of what could happen to him, of what is happening to other people right this moment, haunts me constantly, making it impossible to sleep and impossible to be awake.
Now that the University has been closed I spend all of my free time with Ben and since he decided that he shouldn’t report to his office anymore, I often find myself taking the train to his apartment on the west side of town. Sometimes when we’re lying in bed together I like to pretend I live there too. Last night I told my father I was staying over at Trini’s and I really went over to Ben’s. He’s very old fashioned and before the war, before people started disappearing, before there was anything to be afraid of, he wouldn’t have agreed to let me stay with him. I just want to know what it feels like to wake up next to you, I told him and he took me in his arms, his eyes moist against my neck.
This morning, waking up next to him, was better and sweeter than I had imagined. When I woke up, skin cold against the sheets, I rolled into him and just stared at his face while he slept. His long lashes fluttered rapidly against his cheeks and his soft lips parted every time he exhaled. When I couldn’t wait any longer I pressed my lips to his until his eyes flickered open. He smiled and I waited for myself to smile back but the contentment I’d felt laying next to him was suddenly replaced by fear. The fear of losing all of this. What’s wrong, he said. I shook my head but I could feel the tears coming. His lips found the arch of my brow. I’m afraid, I finally whispered, I don’t want anything to happen to you or us. Ben pushed my hair back and looked me straight in the eye. I won’t let anything happen to you, he said. But what about you, I asked him. I’ve got collateral, he said, I’ve been sending my articles about the war to news distributors in the United States, I’ve promised them I’d send at least one a week, I also sent them all of my information, so if anything happens to me they’ll know. That may stop you from becoming disappeared completely, I said, but it won’t stop you from being killed. Nothing I could do could stop that from happening, he said. That’s not true, I said, you could stop. He interrupted me. Stop writing, he asked, is that what you want me to do.
The tears started falling then and I buried my face in his chest. I can’t do that Isabella, you know I can’t, he said. You couldn’t for me, I asked him. Ben took my face in his hands and lifted my gaze until it met his. He kissed me long and hard. I would, he said, I will.
Liliana spent the next three days in her mother’s old bedroom, absorbing every nuance of the space—the musky rosewood smell rising from the floorboards, the shallow whirr of the ocean, every sound and smell as if they were as tangible as her mother’s journal—something she had left just for her.
She’d told Ana that she wasn’t feeling well but it was just so she could cling to her self-imposed seclusion, anger twisting in her until she felt raw with it. What would it mean if her mother hadn’t just been murdered but abandoned? She thought about her father, about whether or not he was to blame but it only reignited her rage. She tried to make herself sleep so she wouldn’t have to think, so she wouldn’t have to remember but stifled moments and half-broken memories still flooded her senses, attacking her whether she was conscious or not.
Sometimes she just lay there, limp and defeated, nausea pulling at her until she closed her eyes. And every time she closed her eyes she saw Diego. When she wasn’t thinking about her mother, or the war, she was thinking about him. His warm breath next to her ear. His fingers twisted in hers. Her face pressed to his cheek. And as much as she thought about her lips on his skin, she thought about what it would feel like to have his lips on her skin even more.
She walked to the window, pulling back the blinds so that the moon could filter in uninhibited. The trees growing along the ridge that jutted out over the beach hung over the black waves like cloaked deities, their vine entangled arms shivering, and reaching for the warm belly of the moon. A faint golden light dusted the ground beneath Diego’s window and Liliana followed the streams through the glass to where he sat on the edge of his bed, pulling his feet free from his limp cracking work boots.
She glanced at her bedroom door, at the oval knob and the iron lock beneath it and then she climbed onto the window seat and pressed her hands to the cool glass. She slipped onto the sloping roof, her shoes gripping the wooden shingles as she made her way to the vined trellis scaling the wall next to her bedroom. Wind slipped through her open window in long whistling wisps but she was already fitting her hands and feet in the small square holes and lowering herself down to the ground.
She heard the light buzz of a television as she made her way to Diego’s window, careful not to linger in the light as it cut across her skin. She pressed her back to the house, letting the shadows swallow her for a second as she stopped to consider what she was about to do. The sound of the old iron bed frame and Diego’s boots hitting the far wall rang against the glass. He cleared his throat and Liliana grated her moist palms against her pant legs.
Her eyes flitted back to the trellis but she couldn’t move, though the longer she lingered there the more intrusive she felt. Liliana leaned forward, slowly, silently, peering at Diego as his back was turned. He reached for something in a closet, his face disappearing for a moment as his arms stretched forward, creating deep grooves along his back that flexed and shifted into dark shadows. Liliana’s fingertips clicked against the glass and she stumbled backwards, her body landing against the side of the house with a thud. There was a rusting exhale and then the window was sliding free. Diego’s shoulders slipped through as he wedged himself within the opening.
His breath fell against her left shoulder and she opened her eyes. She could feel the heat rising from her cheeks. What if he realized she had been watching him?
“Sorry. I was just…”
“I…” and then she lowered her voice to a whisper,
suddenly aware that someone might hear her and realize that she wasn’t in bed. “I can’t sleep,” she said, voice quavering under such a child-like revelation, but she was unable to lie.
Diego pulled on his shoes and a jacket and crawled over the windowsill, sliding it closed behind him.
“Are you ok?”
He glanced back at the front door, at the television’s bright blue light sliding beneath the frame and littering the porch steps. Liliana nodded, her gaze hovering just below his chin and then down at her shoes, at her hands twisting the hem of her shirt—everywhere but his eyes. He stood there, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, elbows taught, waiting for her to speak. A cool breeze cut between them, its low howl rising from their feet and Diego took a step towards her.
“Do you want to take a walk?” he said, nodding toward the trees.
“Sure,” she said, turning stiffly to lead them uphill.
But instead of heading toward the tree line and the ridge beyond it, overlooking the beach, Liliana cut toward the road, her steps leading them south toward the city. She didn’t know where they were going, or that they were even going anywhere. She just kept walking, letting the scent of the damp unfurling pastures fill her lungs.
Diego hung there beside her, his body cutting the wind before it could reach her, his hand gently knocking against her hip before he stuffed both fists into the pockets of his jeans again. They walked together like that, passed the vineyard and passed the house where Trini used to live, their shadows bleeding into one another along the narrow chalk stoned ground. Liliana tried to stare straight ahead, but she could feel her legs hanging back and her stride slowing as she let Diego take the lead so that her eyes could flit across the night’s shadows as they swelled across his skin without him seeing. But he stopped, suddenly, no longer feeling her beside him and nodded toward the lights rising up around the city.
“Do you know where we’re going?” he asked. “We’re half way to down town.”
Liliana’s eyes searched the faint red and gold lights trying to imagine which one belonged to La Rosa Negra.
“Are we really that close?”
“On foot? Maybe another half an hour.”
Liliana trudged passed him, her foot almost rolling over a stone and Diego caught her by the arm.
“Whoa,” he said, helping her back onto her feet. “You really want to walk that far?”
“You said we’re almost there. Why not?”
“Won’t someone notice you’re gone?”
“They think I’m sleeping.” Liliana reached for Diego’s arm, pulling him forward. “Come on.”
He smiled and furrowed his brown, confused. “Really,” he said again.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday. You can sleep in.”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“You’re just so…impulsive.”
The word skirted her to a halt. She had never heard anyone describe her as being impulsive. That implied some kind of excitement, a boldness that Liliana knew she had never inherited from her mother. But as she looked toward the faint glow of the city, every light pulsating as if it were lit by her mother’s flame, she realized that over the past few weeks it wasn’t routine that had been guiding her, but desire.
Liliana let her fingers climb down Diego’s arm, each one trembling across his skin before catching on his wrist. Then his fingers curled, the nails gently biting into her palm as he took hold of her. A light buzzing skittered across her skin, seeping into her from the base of Diego’s palm, traveling up her arm, and across her collarbone before settling in a trembling mess deep inside of her stomach. She stared down at their hands, not recognizing her long, pale fingers twisted with his own and she suddenly let them fall limp, afraid. But before they could slip free and regain their familiar position clutching the hem of her shirt, Diego tightened his grip.
“You’re shaking,” he said, tracing his thumb over the faint lines that etched her palm.
She shook her head, another tremor crawling up her arm and twisting in her chest. Diego smiled, bottom lip between his teeth, as he took a step toward Liliana. He lingered there, long moist breaths cascading down her cheekbone, before gently squeezing her hand and leading her toward the lights of the city. Liliana could feel the moisture lining her palm, could feel her fingers slipping, but Diego didn’t let go. After a few awkward steps, hips and knees lightly bumping against one another, they married their stride, Diego being careful to lead their steps away from the loose stones and invisible foot holes that marred the old caliche road.
“I talked to your father the other day,” Liliana said, finally able to speak.
“To my father?” Diego repeated.
There was something grating in his voice, like anger and Liliana fumbled over her words.
“He apologized for not being able to help find Trini,” she said, trying to remember the most neutral parts of their conversation.
“Is that all he said?”
“He said he had seen them, Trini and my mother at some dance club down town.”
“Down town?” He raised an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth beginning to curl. “You mean that down town, the one we’re about to be standing right in the center of?”
“I think so.”
“You think so.” Diego laughed. “It’s almost three, the clubs will be closing soon. What’s it called?”
“La Rosa Negra.”
Diego mulled over the name, his eyes searching the cityscape as it sprung up around them.
“That place has been closed since the war. Are you sure that was it?”
Liliana nodded. “That’s what he said.”
They stepped onto a narrow sidewalk beneath the orange stream of a street light, Diego circling one of the corner signs to read the names.
“I think it’s this way,” he said, pulling her across the road.
There were a few people still lingering in a small parking lot, their headlights washing the street with a faux morning that burned Liliana’s eyes. But they only flashed on her for a second before Diego pulled her into a dark alleyway, his steps wide and swift as he led her through to the other side.
They came upon a tall iron gate, brass vines winding into the rusted buds of steel roses, their sharp petals lining the door like barbed wire. There was a chain fastened around the opening but it burned orange beneath the neon glow of the nearby corner store and Diego snapped the rusting links with one hand, the thin skin settling into ash beside their feet. They traipsed over the cobblestone floor of the courtyard, Liliana wincing as her hip grated against the abandoned rod iron chairs that were strewn across the patio. There were light bulbs, their underside’s burned black, hanging above their heads and she tried to imagine what the space would have looked like beneath the twinkling rose colored lights, what it would have looked like when her mother was there with Trini. The doorframe was bare, the hinges jutting out from the wall like jagged brass teeth.
Diego led Liliana through a shallow pile of leaves, the debris crackling beneath their feet and skittering across the floor. The room was dark, moonlight barely reaching the center of the dance floor and the changing streetlight outside flooding the window with pricks of green, then red. But it was enough light to see the bones of the place, the bare walls and rafters protruding from the darkness, frail like rotting stems.
A twig snapped beneath Liliana’s feet and a soft beating swooped down from the ceiling, the small grey bird dizzying out in a corner as it tried to find a way out. Liliana pressed a palm to the drumming in her chest.
“Well, this is it.”
Diego let go of Liliana’s hand, briefly, as he made his way over to the bar, disappearing into a doorway.
“No lights,” he said when he reemerged, “figures.”
But Liliana didn’t need the light to find what she was looking for. Her eyes leapt from the bar, across the dance floor and to a low brick wall that gave way to a line of tall wooden tables. She stepped out into the darkness, abandoning the milky pool of light at her feet and slid into the small corner booth hidden behind the wall. The plastic seat surprisingly tepid against her legs, as if another body had just been there, sent her senses reeling.
“This is where she used to sit,” Liliana said as Diego slid in next to her.
Diego stared at her, and Liliana could see the uncertainty in his eyes, the confusion at how she could know such a thing. But then he blinked, seeming to abandon rationality for a moment and didn’t say a word.
“Why did they close this place down?”
“They closed a lot of clubs down, a lot of bars, movie theatres, opera houses.”
“They didn’t just get rid of the people who they thought were too subversive, but they also got rid of the places they liked to go. The arts were an easy target. There’s nothing more liberal.”
Liliana stared at him, brow furrowed. “But I don’t…”
“The thing you have to understand is that there were no rules. Their tactics didn’t make sense because no one was regulating them. It was just chaos. Like a storm—you can’t ever predict its trajectory because it doesn’t have one. That’s why when it’s over there are some buildings still standing and some that aren’t.” Then the dryness in his voice, the inflection he used to recall facts as though he were stripping the words from the pages of a newspaper, suddenly evaporated. “I remember when I was almost ten, my mother took me to see this new animated movie from overseas. I was so excited because it was the first weekend that it was showing and I was going to see it before all of my friends did. They hadn’t closed down any of the bars or clubs yet so my parents were still making good money. When we got there, the theatre was packed and the only seats left were down at the very front.
“I remember I was leaning into my mother’s lap and resting my head on her purse, waiting for the lights to go down. But when they did, there was yelling coming from the theatre next to us, people screaming. We could hear it through the walls. And then there were gunshots, the thin wall between the two theatres barely muffling the sound. People started running, thinking the shots were coming from someone just a few rows below them. My mother picked me up by the arm and dragged me through the exit and around the front to the parking lot. Three people were killed. The next day it wasn’t on the news, it wasn’t even in the newspaper.”
Diego rose to his feet, one hand gripping his neck.
“We never knew who was responsible. We suspected the military, since it wasn’t on the news, but really it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter whose side you were on or which side was winning. We were all afraid. Every day we were afraid of dying.”
Diego reached for Liliana’s hand, catching her thumb and gently pulling her to her feet.
“And then they took all of this away from us.”
He nodded toward the building’s empty carcass rising up around them. Then his hand slid onto Liliana’s waist, his palm resting against the arch of her hip, while the other curled into a fist, Liliana’s fingers hidden beneath his own.
“No movies, no art, no music.”
He bent his knees and Liliana leaned into his chest.
“And my mother who was made for Flamenco…she wasn’t even allowed to dance.”
Then his cheek grazed her ear and they began to sway, his fingers moving from her hand to her forearm, sliding across the invisible frets along her skin. Colors unfurled in bold leaps and splashes across the bare walls and light began to swell in the dark rafters overhead as Liliana let herself slip into the fear of that moment, wondering what it would have meant during the war for them to be standing like this, so close, swaying, dancing. What would it have felt like to not be free in your own body?
She felt Diego’s jaw resting against her ear and then he whispered, “I didn’t think I would ever be happy again.”