You won’t fuck

Illustration © Cinta Fosch

He wasn’t allowed salt, but he gave himself special dispensation when he was with his beloved fancy woman. Well, he did so every day, and Anselm was already long enough in the tooth to act like a loser and put all his eggs in one basket. For him, though, no throttle or speed: since his early retirement a decade ago, he felt that the hours ticked by at a prison-like pace, with about as much oomph as a pudding made of jelly.

It wasn’t that he missed stripping cables in the Telefónica warehouse, bundling reds with reds and greens with greens to the point where he couldn’t tell whether he was at risk of eyestrain or colour blindness, but simply that, at home, he wasn’t allowed to do a thing. Not even smooth out the creases in the tablecloths: just keep still and silent, like he was in one of those military barracks that today call themselves museums of modern art. The unwifey wife had laid down an irrevocable rule: when the wooden wall clock struck half past one, she should find him with his backside glued to the chair at the dining room table. With his head as stiff as plaster and his eyes fixed on the stipple wallpaper. Waiting for the plate of boiled vegetables drizzled with virgin olive oil that only she could serve him, because you can’t mess around with your health, but since you like to do it… For the rest of the day, Anselm became as desperate as an animal caught in a trap: he read the listings, gauged the strength of the pressure applied to the nail clippers and, if the loneliness got too overwhelming, he went downstairs to stretch his legs. But when he took a step, he would ache: during the week, the Barceloneta neighbourhood would turn into a play of light and shadows on terracotta façades; he would cross the paved desert of the square Plaça del Poeta Boscà and he would be engulfed by the sadness of someone not lying in the niche, in the nursing home, whose children take the dogs from you and then run off to live their own lives.

Illustration © Cinta Fosch Illustration © Cinta Fosch 

Unless there was an irrefutable reason such as the arrival of the great flood or a police officer ordering that EVERYBODY OFF THE FLOOR, WE REPEAT, EVERYBODY OFF THE FLOOR PLEASE over the loudspeaker, the meeting would more or less unfold like this: At around ten o’clock, the unwifey wife exited the entrance of number 7 on the street Carrer de la Vila Joiosa and headed for the greengrocer’s Fruits de la Terra, on Carrer d’Andrea Doria, where she bought the bare necessities to mercilessly deal out the sentence of having to eat exactly the same thing for lunch Monday to Friday. Anselm waited the mandatory five minutes before he started to celebrate, and went down the stairs of the apartment block, with the bloodshot eyes of the Christ in the bedroom nailed to the back of his neck and a little too hastily, according to what the doctor on duty had instructed. He walked to number 13 on the street Carrer de Felícia Fuster i Viladecans, and buzzed the 1st floor, 2nd door, where his beloved fancy woman lived in a flat with a fridge full of magnets of built-up seaside resorts and a balcony with a railing covered in pigeon shit and a view of La Fraternitat. And there what had to happen happened. It wasn’t anything sexually scandalous, because his unwifey wife repeated day after day “your heart, Anselm, your heart, I don’t want to be left here all on my tod”. But luckily, when it came to pleasure, his beloved fancy woman was one of those people who knew how to get blood from a stone: a little foot massage, a lick on the earlobe or butterfly kisses, and Anselm would come. Needless to say, unintentionally. He wiped himself clean and, when he had finished, they went down – first one, then the other – to the Pontevendra bar. They avoided the Electricitat, La Cova Fumada and the like: because so many well-groomed people had flocked there, the prices had skyrocketed, and no, the small matter of the rent wasn’t an issue, as everyone knew about the family-inherited premises. They had barely arrived and the waiter already knew it would be a bottle of Vichy [carbonated mineral water], an espresso and a bomba [breaded and fried stuffed mashed potato ball] to share. And it would be his treat. It wasn’t that he wanted to pay for it, but rather that he felt he had to look after her. When they were young, the gang laughed because his mother was a madam on the street Carrer d’en Robadors [famed for its ladies of the night] who ran the show as many would have liked: they would run into her on the Passeig Marítim [seafront promenade] and reprimand her with a “what’s this, out to entice sailors with your fish lips?” But she paid no heed; if she had to accept the person who had given birth to her to be able to wander around, she would do so without the need to hide behind a radical haircut.

It was early July, and Anselm refused to do without his breeches, no matter how uncomfortable his sticky gooch made him. The beloved fancy woman opened the door and they plonked themselves straight down on the sofa. She poured him a glass of water and put the fan next to him. “Better?” Yes, but it didn’t seem like it. She grabbed his arm and ran her fingertips over and back, again and again. They stood there for a while without saying a word, dozing and savouring the little air that reached them until she let out a “Well, shall we go downstairs?” And down they went. When the waiter spotted them under the sign, he pointed to the table in the corner: “you’ll be cooler”. And a bottle of Vichy, an espresso and a bomba to share. That morning, Anselm pinched the batter with his fork, subdued, lacking the strength to let out even a “phew, how unbearably hot”. His beloved fancy woman surveyed him sheepishly: they never talked about what was bothering them for risk of eclipsing that space of feigned naivety, but it made her uneasy that there was a reason other than the change of season. In fact, they were like two teenagers: not because their every pore oozed friskiness, but because of the symbolic significance of the subtlest gestures. The beloved fancy woman thought that maybe the time had come to admit that not only did she liked him, but that she also loved him. Like the teacher loved the girl born with cold turkey from smack exposure, or the magistrate loved the rapist with the clever quips. Anselm noticed this well-meaning surveillance and smiled at her, with a certain tell-tale nervousness: he couldn’t deny it either. Then it suddenly became clear to his beloved fancy woman: a dollop of garlic mayonnaise had got stuck on one side of his moustache. And forgetting where they were, who they were, and what they would never be, she reached over to wipe it off with her thumb. In a slow gesture and knowingly brushing the side of her palm against lips that had been vetoed by the scorching heat in the neighbourhood by the sea.

The beloved fancy woman was submerged in that clammy refuge when she spied Anselm’s wife on the other side of the window: she had woken up with the sudden urge to take the quilt to Safareigs’ dry cleaners. Before she could pull her hand away, the unwifey wife appeared in the doorway with two bags overflowing with carrots, green beans, potatoes, onions and a bunch of fresh parsley; from one of the bags, like a sword ready to be drawn, a baguette was sticking out. The unwifey wife besieged the half-square metre where they sat, frozen like statues on the Rambla, and began to beat her husband’s mistress with a rustic baguette, shouting, “What are you doing here, with this slut, you scoundrel!” The beloved fancy woman covered her head and watched, out of the corner of her eye, as small, floury meteorite rocks fell on the tiles covered in peanut shells while the unwifey wife, on the brink of a heart attack, roared: “From now on, you won’t move an inch from my side, you animal! You player!” Until the final blow: a sharp blow to the crown of the head with really well dyed roots, Anselm tap dancing away, perhaps forever, the muffled sound in the wake of the atomic bomb. Moments later and unexpectedly, which is how things usually happen, the beloved fancy woman was presented with the ironic reminder of the whole situation: a crouton beside the edge of her sandal. She picked it up, blew on it while counting to three – because who knows who might have stepped on it –, and dipped it in the sauce left on the plate. And before eating it without a second thought, she looked at it and saw herself, triumphant: you may not be the wife, but she, at least, will not get to enjoy this last morsel.

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