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PART OF THE In the Summertime ISSUE

‘The pain immediately absorbs all my strength and I’m unable to endure it. It’s about to annihilate me when something surges from within my own mind and sucks me into its tiniest corner. A dark, quiet box where time stands still.’

The Forgery pays homage to greats like Juan Rulfo and Luis Barragán, traversing late 20th-century Guadalajara with the exuberance and eccentricity of an 18th-century picaresque. You can read an exclusive introduction to the first chapter below.

 

The Forgery
By Jennifer Croft
Published by Charco Press

 

My name is José Federico Burgos. I’m a painter. I make copies of Renaissance paintings and the occasional forgery. I’m sitting on the edge of the highest wall on the property. I’m going to jump. I’m going to do it any second now. The dawn cold numbs my legs as they dangle over the abyss. The streetlamps are starting to turn off as the sunlight peeps over my shoulder. Sunbeams cut through the haze lying over the hamlet. I hear a cockerel’s cry, but it must be miles away. This yellow morning light might be the last thing I see.

Now that it’s getting brighter, I look down and try to calculate, again, the consequences of my fall: the wall is about six metres high, but then there’s another fifteen- or twenty-metre slope of scrub and stone. The branches should help break the fall, but there’s always a chance I’ll crack my head open on a rock and be left paralysed. Not that I have any alternative. Going back to that house would be worse than plunging to my death.

I shift my weight over the edge and my buttocks begin to slip. No going back now – I’d have to hang on with both hands and one of them is already broken, cradled against my heart, smashed to pieces. I jump, pushing hard away from the wall, and scream in mid-air. It’s a short, dry scream, and it reaches me as if someone else had screamed it. My nerves stand like barbs, registering the details of each millionth of a second. I can’t feel the wind, just a force sucking at me like a dark mouth; the gap between my body falling and what it falls away from, along with my stomach. Like when you go over a dip in the road at full speed. Then my feet hit the ground and my whole weight comes smashing down. I may not weigh much, but six metres are six metres, and gravity does its work. My legs spasm and an electric shock runs up my torso to my arms. My head snaps back, although not too hard. Then immediately, movement. I’m dragged down through the stones and branches, skidding head- long between hard clods and rocks. I can’t keep track of the scrapes and blows and grazes. In the cloud of dust I’m raising, the distance feels much further than I’d calculated. An eternal expanse in which everything crunches and cracks and rolls and rips, but I can’t be sure whether what’s crunching and cracking are branches or my own bones and flesh. I feel a stab in my side, a twinge that could just as well have been a thorn or something piercing deep into an organ – who can say, the pain is the same. Flesh or bone? is the only thing I can think. Flesh or bone.

Finally, I come to a halt. My blood beats in my temples, in my hands. I’m conscious. Stunned, but conscious. My hand! I think with a start, as though anticipating a pain that then instantly erupts, my right arm twisted to one side like a piece of spaghetti. My whole body is spaghetti-soft.

I open my eyes, or it feels like I open my eyes, into the gradually dispersing cloud of dust. I’m very close to the edge of the road – surely someone will see me, someone who’ll pick me up and take me to hospital, or call an ambulance. It’s just a question of waiting. Waiting and managing the pain. Staying very still so the pain doesn’t take over my thoughts. Then I really would be lost. It’s odd, the pain isn’t localised in my broken arm any more, nor in my scrapes; it’s a dull throbbing that envelops me entirely. Like a speaker muffled by a cushion.

I hear the drag of footsteps along the ground, to one side of my head. I can’t turn to look. A force like a hand is stopping me. From the footsteps, I deduce that there are two people,

but all I manage to see is the toe of a shoe. It’s a leather shoe, a very fine one, perfectly clean, not a single blade of grass clinging to it.

‘You won’t be able to play with those clubs here. You need a five-wood titanium head, so you can lift it with those flimsy little biceps of yours,’ I hear the closer voice saying.

‘I’ve ordered some Dunlops, but they haven’t arrived yet. Once they get here I’ll give you a run for your money, you’ll see. It won’t do you any good trying to measure the course with your architect’s eye,’ the other replies, with the harsh accent of an old-time rancher.

The man in the clean shoes crouches down beside me. ‘Let’s go. Leave him, he’s alive,’ says the man further off. ‘Did you see him jump? I think he’s one of ours.’ ‘What else is he gonna be, man. Come on, take your shot and have done with it.’ I hear the click of a lighter, then smell tobacco.

‘Hey, kid… Kid, can you hear me?’ the man by my side insists. I catch a momentary glimpse of his face: his wide bald head, his curly eyebrows and impish eyes.

‘Hang on in there, they’re on their way. We can talk when you get back,’ I hear him say. He gets up and walks off.

‘Yeah, get some rest in the cemetery!’ his companion says, and they both laugh heartily.

‘Bet you anything I’ll make the next hole in three, tops.’

‘You serious? With your arthritis? I’d bet on Miracle that you can’t.’

‘That horse is past his prime. And you’d gone grey before he was even born…’

I hear the clean sound of a ball being putted. The voices grow distant. I struggle to turn over but can’t manage it. What they’re saying makes no sense, there’s no golf club here or anything like it, it’s a patch of wasteland by the side of the road and I’m in urgent need of some- one’s help, someone who can call an ambulance.

My head finally frees itself of the weight that had kept it from moving, but there’s nobody there. I’m surrounded by spiny shrubs, dry earth. Below me, a few metres away, I can just about see the black strip of asphalt and the gutter alongside it. I hear the roar of a large engine. The pain stirs. It’s a shot that shatters every nerve, a lightning bolt into an old tree. It doesn’t even leave me time to scream. The pain immediately absorbs all my strength and I’m unable to endure it. It’s about to annihilate me when something surges from within my own mind and sucks me into its tiniest corner. A dark, quiet box where time stands still.

 

The Forgery by Jennifer Croft is published by Charco Press, priced £9.99.

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