Short Story: The Strike

Author’s Note: On November 14, 2012, Spain experienced the latest in a series of general strikes (huelgas generales). My partner and I went to an XX gig on the night of the 13th. With metros and buses not really running after midnight, we had an interesting time getting home. It was a young crowd at the concert — a lot of expats, especially Americans. This story is inspired by that night.

By the way, I’ve posted only 50% of The Strike; the rest will come next week! I’ve to keep you guessing!

The Strike (Part I)

“One of the worst gigs I’ve ever been to,” she says.

“Wow — one of the worst. How crummy is that?”

“Yeah. The most . . . let downiest. For sure.”

“The biggest let-down, you mean.”

“Thanks, Shakespeare.”

“Thou art more than welcome, milady!”

Two laptops, one in the barrio of Moncloa, Madrid, the other in Cornell, New York State, are joined over the world wide web. A girl in a small, narrow bedroom talks quietly so as not to wake her flatmates, the sound of nocturnal Spanish street life accompanying her whispers. The boy, at a desk in his dorm room on campus, has been granted a half-hour by his room-mate and has locked the door just in case. Each is disappointed with how the other looks; unforgivingly displayed as glowing pixels on each other’s screens. She is dowdy today, he thinks; unsexy in her pyjamas. He doesn’t like the way their baggy flannel conceals her figure. He was secretly hoping she’d appear wearing lingerie (as she had on a couple of occasions) as the connection blinked open. To her eyes, squinting in the dim lamplight, he’s as preppy as always; cream slacks, blue shirt, hair slicked back. Since she moved abroad, he looks more and more to her like one of those smug, genetically-engineered models from a Tommy Hilfiger ad.

“I mean, I’d been looking forward so much to seeing them live. The new album is great. But I couldn’t fucking hear them! Everybody was talking so much. And some of their songs are so, like, sparse. You know, like everyone, c’mon, shut the fuck up!”

“That’s the Spanish for you; yapping all the time. Just like the Puerto Ricans you see on the subway. They just can’t shut up. Or talk at a reasonable volume.”

“Aw, come on, James. You can’t say that.”

“Why not? It’s true. Anyway. D’ya wanna do what we did the other night?”

She shuffled on the bed, where she was sitting Indian-style. “I dunno, James. I felt all icky doing it the last time. It felt like porn. Like you weren’t really with me. Like it wasn’t you. I dunno.”

“Well ― daw. I wasn’t really with you. It’s Skype. You’re in Spain and I’m in the good ol’ US of A.”

“C’mon; Don’t be a jerk, James. I—”

“Great word choice. Ha, ha!”

“―I felt cheap or something. And you never know who’s watching. You know — hackers or whoever. And are you sure you didn’t record it? I’d feel like a whore if that got out.”

“I promise. And anyway, you’ve done worse in my actual presence.”

“Yeah, but doing those things into a webcam is different. I didn’t really enjoy it. Can we give it a skip?”

“Sure, hon.” This didn’t come across as too convincing. He sounded let down “Who were you with today — tonight? I’ll never get the hang of this.”

“Oh, the gang. The guys from the Siglo de Oro module.”

“Guys? Are you going around like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? One woman among many men.”

“Har, har, James. There was a mix. Guys ‘n’ gals. It’s great; they’ve kinda adapted me—”

“Adopted.”

“I beg your pardon?” James tended to correct her grammar quite a lot, which was ironic, because she was the language major. He was studying molecular biology.

“Adopted; you said ‘adapted’. It’s adopted.”

“Did I? Did I really. That’s awesome! D’you know what that means? I’m losing my English! That’s seriously awesome! You know, I’m only speaking Spanish these days. It’s just on Skype that I’m hablando en inglés.”

“Well, when you get back home all the cleaning ladies and janitors around here will be so happy with you. You’ll be able to hablar the ol’ español perfectly with them!”

“Aw, come on, James. Not that old line again. That’s so bigoted and nasty and you know it.”

“Jeez! Sorry for having a sense of humour. Lines like that are low-hanging fruit, hon. I can’t pass up on them!”

“Anyway, it took us forever to get home from the venue, this amazing place near the Puente de Segovia and right across from the royal palace called the Riviera. There’s a general strike today, as of midnight. We got out of the place at eleven fifty and ran to the nearest metro, but got there just after midnight. No trains running, so we walked home. Nearly an hour. But here I am, safe and sound. But tired, ha! All that grooving, and then an hour’s walk.”

“A general strike? Jeeze Louise. What sort of tin-pot country has a general strike? Sounds like something from a documentary on the 1930s or some crappy Latin American socialist workers’ republic.” He made an imaginary bullhorn with his hands. “What do the workers demand? Extra rations! More bullfights! The new iPhone 5! When do we want it? Now!”

“God, James. It’s serious. The crisis. People are really suffering here. Unemployment is crazy high — 25 percent. Those lucky enough to have jobs have had their wages cut. The government has made it super easy to fire people. There’s even talk of introducing a charge for health care.”

“Oh, my goodness. People might actually have to pay for their health care! I love Europe. It’s dying on its knees, but everyone still has free health care. Cradle-to-grave welfare state. No wonder it’s screwed. If people actually got up off their asses and worked . . .”

“Fuck, James, you sound like a real reactionary. What’s wrong with you?”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he huffed. “I just believe in the American way of doing things.”

“Well, think about how much money it’s costing to put your ass through Cornell and then consider that, over here, the fee for university is less than five thousand dollars a year. Whatcha think of that?”

“Crap, Ruthie; that’s what I think of that. Are they turning you into some sort of pinkie over there?”

###

Copyright U. Cronin

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About ucronin

Born in the country town of Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland in 1975, I now live in Madrid with my partner and two young daughters and work in a research institute. While I was always a hungry reader and harboured vague notions of being a writer, as a young man writing was the furthest thing from my mind; after leaving school, I did a B.Sc. in Biotechnology in Galway's NUI, an M.Sc. in Plant Science in University College Cork and a Ph.D. in Microbiology in the University of Limerick, the plan being to dedicate my professional career to scientific research. While having written extensively within my technical scientific field, I had never contemplated becoming a writer of fiction until a road-to-Damascus moment on the N69 between Listowel and Tarbert, Co. Kerry in the summer of 2011. Since then, most of my spare time has been occupied with writing. In whatever other free moments I have, I like to listen to music, play the guitar and garden (which here in Madrid means a lot of watering of plants and spraying for red spider mite). My ambition is to become as good a writer as I possibly can, eventually freeing myself from the cold clutches of science and earning a living through my scribblings. The type of writing that excites me is honest, intelligent, well-constructed and richly descriptive.
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