For All Nails #224: Houseguests
by Johnny Pez
Although she felt as big as a house, Sophia knew in an abstract sort of way that she wasn't. After all, she was in a house, and not a terribly large one, so it stood to reason that she could not, herself, be as big as a house.
But it certainly felt that way.
The house that she was not as big as belonged to Jorge and Lena Gutierrez, a pair of middle-aged, middle-class royalist New Granadans. After the start of the air war with the Bornholm nations, it had been decided to evacuate the Royal Palace, for fear that the military forces attacking New Granada might make it a target. Sophia would have sworn by all that was fabulous that the British would never make the mistake of deliberately trying to destroy the Royal Palace -- not after what had happened to Buckingham Palace during the Global War. FN1
Within two weeks of the commencement of hostilities, though, the Royal Palace had been bombed into rubble, and Sophia was reconfirmed in her belief that Sir Geoffrey Gold was the greatest fool in the British Isles. Since then, she and her husband had been constantly on the move, staying in hotels, office buildings, and even, as now, in private homes. Sophia felt uncomfortable imposing on the Gutierrezes, and the fact that they seemed genuinely honoured to have her there only made it worse.
Señor Gutierrez was away at work; he was a salesman for a company in Bogotá that manufactured plumbing supplies. Señora Gutierrez kept house; even from the seclusion of her guest room, Sophia could hear her cleaning the parlour. She had been rather surprised to learn that Señora Gutierrez did her own housecleaning. A woman of her social class back in Great Britain would have hired a maid to do the housework.
Adding to Sophia's discomfort was the knowledge that she herself had a servant to wait on her while Señora Gutierrez was kept busy looking after her guests as well as her house. Daisy had offered to help her, but Señora Gutierrez insisted firmly that Daisy's job was caring for Sophia and the kingdom's unborn heir-to-be.
A British air raid had knocked out the water in this part of Bogotá two days before, and the municipal repair crews hadn't yet restored it. Like her neighbours, Señora Gutierrez relied upon the daily appearance of a FANG tank lorry for her water. Sophia wondered whether all the affected neighbourhoods in Bogotá were visited by the tank lorries, or whether her own presence on Calle Santa Clara ensured the street's regular water supply. If so, then it was just possible that her being here was actually proving beneficial to the Gutierrezes. It was little enough of a return for their hospitality.
Sophia's morose thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Daisy Fuentes, bearing a plate of montagus. "Here you are, Your Highness," she said in cheerful Spanish as she set the plate on the desk before Sophia, then added in English, "Dig in."
"I'm only eating for two, you know, not twenty," said Sophia. As always when she was feeling depressed, she spoke English.
"We've got to keep your strength up, Highness," Daisy replied, impervious as usual to the Queen's moods. "The people aren't going to want to see a skinny baby, they're going to want a nice big fat healthy heir."
"I can't imagine why they should care one way or the other," Sophia insisted. "When they've got bombs falling on them, what does it matter what shape Elbittar's do-it-yourself Royal Family is in? If I were them, I wouldn't give a toss what happens to us."
"That's where you're wrong, Your Highness," Daisy said seriously. "They do care about you, because they know you care about them. They know about the King's good works, and they know about your visits to hospital to comfort the sick and injured. Above all, they know how you've moderated the Prime Minister's harsh rule."
Sophia didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her hospital visits always left her feeling sick and helpless, hovering over people with terrible injuries while she mouthed meaningless reassurances. And as for the Prime Minister, he did whatever he pleased; he could order every soul in Bogotá put to death, and there wasn't a thing she or Fernando could do to stop him.
Before she could say anything, though, Lupe jumped up onto the desk and began stalking the montagus.
"There, you see?" said Daisy. "Lupe knows a good thing when she sees it." Before she could pounce on the montagus, though, Daisy picked up the cat and set her back down on the floor. Waving an admonishing finger at Lupe, Daisy said, "No no no, those are for the Queen. She's expecting, and you're not." Lupe responded with a disappointed meow.
Just then, there was a knock at the door to her room. "Come in," Sophia called.
Señora Gutierrez entered with a wide smile upon her face. "Your Highness, the King is here!"
Just like that, Sophia's depression vanished. She stood up from the desk and automatically checked herself in the room's mirror. "Oh, Daisy, I look a fright!" she exclaimed in English.
"You're in the middle of a war zone," Daisy scolded her. "You're allowed to look a little mussed." She pushed Sophia out of the room, and then there wasn't time to worry about how she looked, because Fernando was there.
He hesitated a moment before taking her in his arms, because, being a man, he assumed that being pregnant made her as fragile as spun glass. She pulled him into a tight embrace and kissed him for what seemed like forever. When their lips finally parted both of them said, "I missed you," he in English and she in Spanish.
"You look beautiful," he murmured.
"Liar. I look like death warmed over. The water's been out for two days."
"You're beautiful nevertheless. You'd look beautiful in a burlap sack," he insisted. It was a load of old rubbish, of course, but undeniably sweet.
"If I get any bigger," she replied sardonically, "we might well have to put it to the test."
"You are the queen of my heart," he responded. Utter nonsense, and totally irrelevant, but she had to give him points for trying.
An air raid siren began whining in the distance, and was quickly joined by a multitude of others. "Oh, blast," she muttered in English.
"Quite possibly," he said in the same language. "I'm afraid we'd better carry on the reunion in the basement."
With a sigh she allowed him to guide her to the basement door. She picked up an electric torch from a windowsill, as the power was currently out as well. Switching it on, she lit their way as Fernando guided her down the stairs. Señora Gutierrez and Daisy followed, the former carrying a lighted candle, the latter carrying Lupe.
There was an old sofa and several chairs grouped around an oil burner. Señora Gutierrez placed her candle atop the burner, then joined Daisy in insisting that Sophia and Fernando have the sofa. The royal pair gave in and seated themselves, while the others took two of the chairs. Lupe began investigating the remains of a bicycle leaning against the far wall.
"So what's been happening in the wide world outside?" Sophia asked her husband. "The power only goes on a few hours a day, so I miss seeing the news on the vita."
"It's just as well," he said. "The news just gets worse and worse. The Australians and Taiwanese have repulsed our efforts to retake Guayaquil, the British keep building up their forces in the Caribbean, and there are bombing raids everywhere."
Sophia felt a shudder go through the room. She knew from experience that it was the impact of a bomb that had fallen less than a quarter mile away. It was followed almost immediately by a more forceful shudder, then by a sudden convulsive shock, and the loudest sound she had ever heard.
Sophia was puzzled to find herself lying on the concrete floor next to the oil burner. The torch had fallen from her hands and was rolling across the floor, while the candle had gone out. She felt a hand on hers, and turned to see Fernando on all fours next to her, apparently unhurt. She saw his lips move but couldn't hear anything. The air was full of swirling dust, and beyond the beam of the torch she could dimly see wooden timbers raining silently down from the ceiling.
A glance to her left showed her Señora Gutierrez curled up in a ball with her eyes clenched tightly shut. Beyond her, pinned beneath the splintered end of a heavy wooden beam, was the mangled body of Daisy Fuentes.
Forward to FAN #225: The Puppet Masters.
Forward to 28 July 1975 (New Granada/American War): A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Montagu.
Return to For All Nails.