Lessons about good and bad are muddled by politics and need.

Luis was born the year the Guerra Civil ended.

He had no memories of his own about life leading up to the three-year war, no personal experiences that would paint a clear line between the good and the bad sides.

The resistance he felt was born of whispered conversations between his parents and their friends, sometimes in the language they were forbidden to speak.

His loyalty was born of lessons in a tidy classroom, where discipline, order, and clear rules of good versus bad gave Luis comfort in an otherwise chaotic world, where the aftertaste of war and fear lingered bitter on the collective tongue.

His parents died young. Cigarettes? Diet? Lack of protein because they couldn’t afford meat most weeks?

Luis suspected the hearts, broken by the heaviness of the rules that followed the war, broken before he was born.

Alone, Luis yearned for the orderly feeling of his childhood classroom and also for the warmth of heated conversations over modest dishes of rice, garbanzos, and charred onions.

Luis had trouble scraping together enough centavos for the most modest dishes. Work was elusive. He still had the family piso but spent most of each day outside, away from the walls where the forbidden language still echoed his parents’ regrets and sadness, where memories formed black mold in dark corners.

“The tourists are back.” Paco’s explanation was superfluous. Anyone with eyes could spot the tourists in the plaza, especially the women in bright colors and uncovered heads. “They carry lots of pesetas in those bags.”

How did Paco know this?

“Andrés showed me. He snatched one last week. ¡Mil pesetas!”

Everyone swooned.

“And no one gets hurt. They don’t need the money. They have many more pesetas.”

Living Between Good and Bad

Luis struggled to pull the act on the good side of the divide, away from bad, crimes of war, brothers dead in battle, fear…

Work didn’t come for months. Luis depended on dinners from friends. When they stopped inviting him, he spent hours in the plaza, hoping for an apple, a neglected bag of roasted chestnuts.

Curfews lifted and tourists mingled with citizens under the street lights at night. Luis studied their movements, the bags on their shoulders.

“Just this once.” Luis rubbed his sinking abdomen. He hadn’t eaten in two days. “Una vez, no más.”

Without prelude, Luis leapt from his bench. The bag slid easily from her shoulder—”Perdóneme”—and he scurried to the dark edges of the plaza.

It happened so fast it’s impossible to draw the line between good and bad. He never noticed the guardia civil in the shadows, didn’t hear the gunshot, had no time to feel it pierce his spine and lance the southern tip of his heart.

El honor es mi divisa.

The line between good and bad? The guardia stood between Luis’s body and the owner of the 100 pesetas tucked in the leather bag.

“Señora, su bolso,” the guard, his tricornio balanced on his head, dipped slightly as he held the bag dutifully toward the tourist. He shifted each time she tried to peer around his uniform, guarding the elusive line that divided good and bad with an air of duty.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.