Paul Mirabile weaves a yarn of murder and madness in Madrid of the 1970s
I am jotting this down while it is still fresh in my mind, hoping that the police will not jump to hasty conclusions and accuse me falsely of the killing. The murderess, after relating the incident to me, left that very evening ; that is to say, the evening I found her at home standing over the corpse of my dear friend Oliver. Since her departure, the entire affair has shaken me up, given the terrible fact that I am the only person available, and I shall add, sound of mind, to offer an explanation. Here let me give you an account of what actually took place before anything injudicious happens to me.
She was a religious fanatic, the murderess, that I am certain, and although I had these impressions of her, I could never pin-point the source of material she utilised in her indefatigable tirades apropos the necessity of man to humiliate himself before God, who, as she insisted, created man in order that he may serve Him, and suffer the cross as He did. Apparently she was well read in mediaeval Christian dogma, and especially in the works of Fray Luis de Granada, Saint Thomas of Aquinas and Abelard. She had been a student of theology and philosophy, albeit a poor one, but did have an entertaining command of the subtle teachings and techniques of Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme.
Our conversations were weighty, yet erratic. The evening of the murder, for example, she picked up a book and tossed it out of the window. We had been talking about the physical attributes of the soul, and it seemed I had upset her over something. I asked her why she loved Oliver instead of me, and without a word she promptly threw out three more, one of which one was the Bible ! I heard them sailing through the still, night air and land on the small plaza below with a soft thump. Her eyes wandered off to stare at the empty space just below the low-ceiling of her flat. A crooked smile stretched on her bloodless lips. A fly had sailed in on the waves of the interminable Madrilenian heat from the open window, buzzing annoyingly about the wrought iron chandelier. She seemed to enjoy that buzzing.
When she had snapped out of her mesmerised state, she placed her hands upon my head and drew me towards her. She kissed me full on the lips. It was the first time we had kissed in many months. In the same distracted vein, she whispered that a sickness had befriended her, and a revelation had swollen her eyes with vivid scenes of lurid pleasure. At first she laughed, or rather giggled. A short time later, she said Oliver was coming to kill her, and that we must protect ourselves from him. I sat up staring at her in disbelief. She remained calm, disclosing her love for him, but added, that alas pure love could not be a defence against external, mundane effects. Love, she felt, could be overcome and defeated when the hour arrived for his meditated act. She continued saying that his soul could not forfeit this unleashed wave of energy, for he lacked in guided spiritual strength. I listened to her, not believing that Oliver was what she said he was. She continued to whisper in fey tones, her cold, blanched lips sometimes touching mine, whilst the wretched heat and that irritating buzzing were driving me insane.
The evening passed without any other incident, although her tone and breathing touched strange chords in my heart. She was obviously ill, but I refrained from asking her if she needed anything, or if I could be of any help. No, I take that back, I am lying to you : the thought never occurred to ask her ! Instead, my thoughts reached out in search of Oliver’s face. She made some more tea, we chatted a while then I left without a kiss.
The following morning, the air was less oppressive when I visited her; perhaps I had regrets about leaving so abruptly. She wasn’t in, but on the broken tiles, slipped halfway under the door was a note. It was Oliver’s handwriting, who apparently in great haste, had scrawled something about coming over that evening at around seven. Slipping the note back in its place, I elected that it would be better if I divulged to Oliver the scope of his lover’s uncanny behaviour and affected revelations. Rescinding the idea however, I walked the streets until nightfall.
The torrid dampness of late autumn in Madrid painted a dismal picture at that empty hour. The baroqueness of the city took on a ponderous, eerie, melancholic aura. I felt plunged in some Edgar Poe intrigue, sensed the triviality of my gestures and acts. My nerves were on edge: could hours be so onerous ? I continued my dreary pacing without pangs of hunger or weariness of stride. Suddenly, I found myself at the small plaza just below my sick friend’s flat, and where, from her window, she had a full view of the statue at the centre of the square, a commemorative homage to a fallen hero whose name I no longer recall. He held a huge white cross in his clenched fists, his eyes gaping feverishly ahead of him. Checking my watch, I read two. Looking up at her window, I saw the lights flash. Her head popped out, and I asked myself if she had, for some enigmatic reason, sensed my presence. What an absurd thought! I, nevertheless, slipped behind the statue, and kept perfectly still.
Thank heavens the hour was late and no one was in the street. Otherwise, some sober or insomniac portero would have certainly run to the police. I must have cut a ridiculous figure, skulking behind that wild-eyed, cross-bearing zealot. I chanced another glance at her window. She had vanished. Recalling our conversation last evening, and Oliver’s note in the morning, I debated whether it were wise to go straight up or call the police. I decided to go up. In any case, the police would have thought me drunk, and perhaps would even have thrown me in jail.
I darted across the plaza into the shadows of the adjacent building. I can assure you that I felt like a thief sneaking through those bleak, heated hours of the night. A hussy with brazen bangles clinking in sad obscurity happened to discover me in the shadows of the doorway. Throwing up her arms, she let out a shriek and ran off across the plaza, her high-heels rapping, tapping and clacking a monotonous dirge upon the crooked stones. I speedily entered the building of Oliver’s lover. Happily the portero was either asleep or decidedly drunk. The stairway lay quiet.
My imagination was racing. Would she actually kill him ? How could she have ever conjured up such an extravagant idea ? Was she turning her destructive forces against Oliver because he had so oftentimes agreed to our platonic triad as the very proof of her incapacity to love just one man … or love any man ? Or was it her untamed inner drive set against society’s cruel hypocrisy of condemning a human being’s marginal existence as it played out in the complexity of an ever-shifting triangle ? It is true, however, that within the spheres of every man’s mind, dark moments instigate arrogance and envy to chase out reason and replace it with the urge to turn to crime and passion. I made haste, almost tripping on the last carpeted step.
I was startled to find her door ajar. I hesitated before I entered, apprehending what the consequences could be if my intrusion proved untimely … In one way or another. Oliver mustn’t know I suspected foul play. As for his lover, at this point I could not care a fig. It was merely a friendly visit. At two in the morning?
I strode boldly into the nondescript sitting room, stealing a glance at her. She stood there, gaping at me in bewilderment. Then a silly grin played across those thin, ghastly lips. She pointed to the mahogany table where the bloodstained corpse of Oliver lay, a kitchen knife thrust deep within his breast. I quickly shut the door then raced back to Oliver’s still warm body. She remained standing with that same plastic grin spread over a face of grotesque scorn.
Oliver was stone dead, his heavy body losing blood fast. A huge crimson pool formed under the mahogany table. Not a word passed between us. She scrutinised me, though, with a sort of curious air. Finally I stood, took hold of her shoulders, and signalled with a nod of my head to Oliver’s corpse. She pushed me away roughly, asked me to put aside my air of feigned mystery, then turned to make some coffee. I couldn’t believe the whole scene. Oliver lay murdered in the most despicable fashion and she sails off to the kitchen to make coffee! And that same damned fly kept buzzing about above me, flustering further my already knotted thoughts. I suddenly realised that I had walked into a terrible predicament. For all I knew she could have called the police, pinning the crime on me. Had I touched the knife ? No, thank God …
I glanced down at Oliver, my last thoughts finding their way into his, into our close, confidential past. We had so much in common, so much had been shared, and … and then she entered our manly nobleness, disrupting our toilsomely constructed dialectics. Had we not planned a long voyage to the East to spend a few years studying Eastern philosophy? The murderess returned with the utmost aplomb and placed the silver tray on the mahogany table round which the odour of thick, oozing blood wavered in wisps of despair.
I observed her carefully. She didn’t seem to be waiting for the police. Yet, she held her cup of coffee so delicately, as if that were the very cup with which she would scoop up Oliver’s blood and drink with it! I shuddered at this ridiculous image, again glancing at the Oliver’s frozen-white face. It was a mask of incomprehension … of unabashed innocence ! She asked me to sit, and soon began her morbid tale :
Oliver came as expected, carrying with him his usual pile of books. I interrupted to ask her which ones but she gritted her teeth and told me to keep my mouth shut. She didn’t like his books, they were foul, blasphemous and degrading to a pleading soul. But she loved him dearly, and that was enough for her to disregard these heinous felonies. This was the very reason for his death, she panted, her breath odious, nostrils wide. She loved him so much, but his books were soiling his pure, inborn thoughts. Those books were the external elements hacking away at his candid soul, squeezing him dry of his instinctive, natural energies derived from the inner depths, a gift from the Almighty. His poor, poor soul was incapable of overcoming these assailing evil elements from without. Oliver was a coward ! He dared not face extremities in fear of direct confrontation. She understood his dilemma, pitied him, sought to salvage him. He came to her explicitly for redemption. Oliver’s soul had to be soothed, then redeemed. She read it on his face, not in his vile books. His eyes had gone wild, the world blotting out his innate goodness. Weakening from these destructive powers, she tried to save him with her tenderness and love. This he took as mockery, throwing her savagely to the floor. She fully understood now that he had been ensnared by his own constructed cage of bookish death-traps.
She asked him if he wanted to die. The cage of death imprisoned him. He couldn’t break the iron bars, preferring to grapple with his gnomic books, boding his own plunge into the pits of slime and filth. He went berserk — tearing out her books from their shelves, stamping on them like some lunatic. And while he did so, she went ever so quietly into the kitchen to retrieve the salutary knife. He stopped, and eyed her funnily; what was the need of a knife? In that instant she went up to him, holding the life-saving helve firmly in hand. Oliver put out both hands but the blade was already deep inside his chest. She sighed as his big body slumped peacefully at her feet. He had been finally liberated from ignominy. Nothing again would ever harm him …
I listened in awe, and during those minutes (hours?) of madness a cold sensation slithered up my spine: she could kill me, too! The deadly killer was not strong, but her terrible tale left me hollow, defenceless. Her eyes searched mine, studying me, reading me. Are not the eyes the windows of the soul ? She walked towards the corpse, then burst into peels of harrowing laughter. I jumped up. She wrenched the knife out of Oliver’s chest and brandished it high overhead.
Dashing to the door, I heard footsteps and great gasps of breath right behind me. They resounded eerily as they followed mine down the stairway, my gait diminishing at each footfall downward. Into the street I charged, and hied to the statue. Only once had I gained the statue, I chanced a glance behind me. There was no one …
At home I resolved to run to the police, though, I couldn’t summon the nerve to make the move, much less the strength to descend back into the streets. I was frightened of the ill-lit, lonely lanes of cobblestone. And that insufferable heat and mugginess … Perhaps she was looking for me. She did have my address, I was sure of that. Unable to sleep, I sat at the window, scanning the narrow lanes below. The night was calm, not a soul passed, not a sound to disturb the hollow darkness. A light drizzle began to fall, the tiny drops flickering like silvery tinsel under the sallow, mournful street lamps.
The next morning, after a sleepless night, mooning confusedly in my flat, and before going to the police, I resolved to make a bee-line to her place to see if anything might have happened to her after my flight. With the new day, albeit a sunless one, all my feelings of insecurity had left me, and I felt strong enough to climb those wooden stairs and knock at her door. She didn’t answered … I turned the knob. Her door had been left unlocked.
Stealthily I inched my way into the sitting room, she apparently had gone out. But that infernal fly still hovered round the chandelier as if it had been sent by some Higher Spirit to hound me, to testify and vouch to the gruesome events of the evening before. And the loathing stench of blood ? And Oliver’s corpse ? Then I espied a note on the mahogany table, set beside the silver tray and empty coffee cups. In her customary scribble, the murderess had written that she would take the night train to an unspecified destination.
I looked around in a panic. Where had she hidden the body? I shuddered at the idea that my fingerprints were smudged on almost every item of that flat. She had completely gone mad, and I … yes I … what could I do ? Her friends (for I’m sure she must have had some lady friends) would definitely visit her, and when they found her gone, would believe something was amiss and go to the police station. Mine and Oliver’s names would be noted in all her address and notebooks, and there is no doubt that she had often spoken of us to those lady friends of hers. I could very well be suspected, even accused. Oliver and I were so close, so intimate. One need not be a Sherlock Holmes to put two and two together. And what did I care if she loved Oliver more than me ? Could the police possibly think that I would have murdered him for such a silly motive ? If so, then why hadn’t I murdered her ?
I dragged my feet out of the building and back to my dismal dwellings, where I am presently finishing this deposition for the police. I expect them very shortly now, I think it has been three days since the murder. At the same time, I feel as if I’m writing out a confession, or a death warrant for her, who, perhaps with very good reason, has put much distance between the scene of the crime and myself. As to Oliver, well, his soul now must lie somewhere far beyond the uncertainty of love, hatred and zealous misfortune … Did it not comprehend that our earthly existence was but a fleeting souvenir of timeless Eternity ?
Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.
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