Heart of Gold

Antonia is facing down the street, looking towards the distant mountains and past the Station Hotel. Two men, a bartender and a waiter, are sharing a cigarette they bummed from a passing workmen, and they suck back delicious smoke as a child and his father sit on the other side of the main entrance, talking about buying ice cream. The air is filled with laughter and the sounds of passers by, all heading to the station as the three fifty heads into town. Men and women on days off adorn roadside cafés, sipping on whiskey, white wine or coke, nibbling on warm ciabatta with melted garlic butter.

Another child is being dragged home, tears in his eyes. Antonia catches a glimpse from the boy’s red eyes, and knows immediately that he is going to be beaten. Probably for bad grades or something, but he has that scared look in this eyes. One of inevitable pain and punishment.

She turns to Marco, falling into his arms. At last she is his, and her former life dies behind her. The smell of his cologne intoxicates her. It smells of freedom, of the future. She used to wear perfume similar to this, to avoid implicating her clients, and getting them into trouble with their partners. Marco admires the hotel, his hotel, and his life’s work.

With a crash of glass, a wastepaper bin flies from a third floor window, landing on the brick red of the pavement, flaming bank notes inside, spreading and landing all over the pavement.

“Ay dios mio” someone screams, people rising from their lunches to stand and watch the burning bin, now in full flame, bank notes burning like scattered ashes all in the street. At first, a little smoke comes from the broken window, then more and more until it billows into the sky like a dark stairway.

Marco shouts to the waiter and bartender to get inside and help put out the fire, before turning on his heels. She grabs him, kissing him on the lips, half in terror of something bad happening. He whispers everything is going to be okay, turns and runs away to the fire station. Antonia stretches her arm out as he goes, almost used to his warmth and now it is gone. The fire now has taken over the entire building. The little boy outside dropped his ice cream, and it melts into the gutter, staining the dusty red pavement.

“Todo por mi culpa” she whispers to herself as the train pulls out of town, and the roof of the hotel collapses in on itself.

 

She had a heart of gold, really she did, but what she wanted most was a Midas touch

 

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