Encantada by Helen Dring won the Fresher Writing Prize for the First 500 Words of a Novel 2016. Helen’s story, along with all of the other shortlisted entries, can be found in the Fresher Writing 2016 anthology which can be purchased via our Books page.
By the time I was sixteen I had stopped believing in fairy tales. Madrid was a busy and clamouring place to grow up. There were too many broken hearts, too little food or warmth to heal them.
General Franco had ruled Spain for over thirty years. He was the driving force behind Spain, and what I knew about him amounted to four things.
- He was short.
- He was bald.
- He had ruined Spain beyond all recognition.
- My grandmother was in love with him.
Anything else, I wasn’t interested in knowing. There was no point understanding something I couldn’t change. Franco was the way things were. He was why my father slaved at a printer’s until he died, and why I was probably stuck in the café I worked in until I did. He was why there was no hope left, and no reason to believe in happy endings.
Then Franco died. It was November 20, 1975. It was cold and rainy, grey for three weeks running. Until the light punched through.
It could have been how the world ended. The cold was perfect, chill and deep across the bareness of my arms. My toes made a squelching sound against the wet concrete of the balcony. I leaned forward, my hands gripping the metal rail as I leaned over the street. My hair swung in front of me, a muddy rust dripping with raindrops. The road below looked empty, eerie. Wrong. Below me, a sleepy grey light snaked through the buildings and lost itself in the rain. I was counting the rainbows.
These are the last seconds I remember before everything changed.
Our TV set went silent. From the balcony, all I heard was a muffled male voice. Then crying. I turned my head as my grandmother sank in to the sofa, a mess of tears and shrieks. Mama was holding her, abuela’s head pressed close to her chest.
The silence cut in to the air. I realised how cold it was outside, but I didn’t want to go in to the sobs of my grandmother. The world looked grey: darker than a moment ago. Even now, when people ask me what I remember about that morning, I say the greyness, and the silence.
And then the screaming. From the doors beneath me, the apartment block emptied. People ran in to the street shouting, cheering. I laughed as one man threw off his coat and swung it around his head, like a boy winning at football. He looked up at me and smiled, a gap-toothed smile that spread his happiness out in to the street.
“What happened?” I shouted down.
I took one look back at my family, destroyed, then surveyed the joy beneath me.
“He’s dead.” The man shouted. “Franco’s dead.”