[Línea De Fuego – roughly, “Front Line” – is set during the last major battle of the Spanish Civil War, told through characters from both sides. The battle, which lasted from July to November, 1938 along the Ebro River, was real. But the characters are invented, as is the precise site where they are fighting].
Unauthorized Translation by Peter Katel
“So was this a defeat, or what?,” asks one of the men who had spoken before.
Gambo smiles, though this isn’t a time for smiling. A sidelong look and a resigned grimace. The soldier, covered with dried mud, is an Ostrovski Battalion veteran whom the major knows well: Cipriano Jalón. The guy is small and weathered; before the war, a gardener for the privileged folk. He’s been alongside him since the Fifth Regiment was formed, bearing up without complaining, no matter what, from Madrid to here. Someone who doesn’t need comforting.
“We’re in a tactical withdrawal, Jalón.”
Rasping laughter from him.
“Don’t bullshit me, comrade major. That’s what we call it now?”
“We’ve always called it that.”
The other furrows his brow, drying the muddy sweat on his face.
“Listen, comrade major.”
“Why hasn’t comrade Stalin sent us what he promised?”
“And what’s that?”
“Well, I don’t know. Tanks, planes, lots of stuff.”
“He promised it to you personally?”
“La Pasionaria* said it in that speech to us in Teruel, don’t you remember? For Stalin, the war in Spain is very cheap, compared with what’s at stake globally. That’s what she said. And that’s why we Spaniards won’t lack for anything. She said that too, right? Did she say that or didn’t she?”
“Yeah, man. She said it.”
“And then, the nerve of her, she went up to one of the wounded men who had come from the front and made like she was holding him up, so that they’d take the photo that came out in Mundo Obrero*
The stalks crunch under Gambo’s feet. He takes another look at the opposite bank, which starts to descend into a stream bed, and thinks he recognizes the place. They’re close to the pontoon bridge and there is no sound of aircraft. Maybe they’ve gotten lucky.
“Everyone fights in his own way,’” he remarks.
Jalón growls, unconvinced.
“Well, we could trade ways, don’t you think? We could have photos taken, like her, and she could be under fire, like us. She, Negrín*, or even comrade Stalin.”
“Before, the front was everywhere, isn’t that right? Or that’s what they told us. Now we’ve got a front and a rear, but in the front, it’s always the same ones.”
“All right, drop it.”
“Come on, comrade major.” Jalón shifts his rifle to his other shoulder. “Tell me now about how it’s better to be in error with the Party than to be right against the Party.”
“I told you to drop it. If he heard you, our political commissar would be getting all ready for you.”
“Hard for him to hear me, don’t you think? They got him last night.”
“Oh, yes…That’s the custom.”
“Knocking him off?”
“Naming him: Ramiro. Don’t be an animal, man.”
“Well the fascists have fucked up our custom.”
True, Gambo thinks bitterly. [Ramiro] García and a lot of others. And he doesn’t know anything about Lieutenant Ortuño either. And he asks himself how many got across the fascist lines. How many of the battalion’s survivors would have reached the flour mill and how many were scattered and alone like them, looking for a way to get to the pontoon bridge.
After a few steps he turns to contemplate the soldier’s hard, dirty face.
“You’re a Communist, goddamn it.”
The other agrees, and slaps his rifle, the only clean and shiny thing he’s carrying.
“Don’t fucking kid yourself. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
*Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, leading Spanish Communist, famed as orator. Famous for declaring, “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees,” but fled Spain for Moscow shortly before the final fascist victory. Returned in 1977.
*Worker’s World. Communist Party newspaper, founded 1931.
*Juan Negrín, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), last premier of the Spanish Republic. Close to the Soviet Communists.