Scene one. 17th July, 1935, La Cistella apothecary on Calle de la Paz, Valencia.
A young gentleman in a pitch-black bowler hat held up a jar of cream to the light streaming in through the display windows.
“Well, it’s whiter than bird shit.”
“Forty seven céntimos.”
He glanced at the girl behind the counter. Her mouth, set into a firm, stern rosebud, demanded No haggling or No Sale, but her eyes whispered of unrecognised, unwanted Iliads.
“Or Odysseys,” he remarked, her presence tugging at the tethers of his attention.
She folded her arms, her starched white work dress setting off the olive sliver of skin above its stiff collar.
He detected a look of faint panic, the kind he had felt during his first week as an apprentice, when old and loyal customers would enter the shop, and he would be compelled to improvise the repertoire that came so naturally to his employer.
Out of step, out of rhythm, too far from belonging within the world that swept by his naïve youth. Already full of loss yet inexperienced in its open roads and wide alleyways.
“I’ll take it.”
He handed her the money, and walked out of the apothecary into the noisy street without changing his expression or heeding her hesitant call that he had given her too much. The shop sign, black spindly letters swept in large font across the bleached wood, arched knowingly above his calculated exit.
It was a week before that that he had heard of La Cistella’s reopening across from the old cartography shop. It had been three days since he had walked past the pristine new apothecary and caught a glimpse of the girl with her piercing Moorish eyes and felt the emanating waves of murderous steel as she wrapped up customers’ orders and purchases and tidied away unsold goods.
A few yards along the busy street, he paused and took something out of his coat pocket. An unused cartridge, with the tiny initials G.O scratched onto its slim, rusting surface. It was exactly one year before he would attempt to use it.