Written by Francisca Castillo Martín
Translated from the book La Gabardina y Otros Cuentos Chinos (The Gabardine and Other Chinese Tales)
He had left without turning off the light, sheltered in his scarf, without more penance than just a lukewarm breakfast in his school bag. The room was empty, and you could hear the regular breathing of the sleeping ghosts.
She was waiting for dawn with the restless meekness of somebody who has become accustomed to seeing life go by like in a movie, and now and then she breathed in time with the sleeping ghosts on the rug. She still shuddered when she remembered her son glaring at her with those clear, green (as hers), icy eyes. With smouldering resentment, she got up and went to do the ironing - a pile of ironing which looked the same every day - a coiled, three-coloured snake of school uniforms, boiler suits and socks waiting to be darned; from time to time, some rag of hers that she couldn't be bothered to fold. The basket smelt of conditioner and washing powder, and the whole kitchen had some sort of melancholy atmosphere.
She had started sweeping the floor when the stranger suddenly appeared in the kitchen. It was his day off, and as usual he was on his way to buy the ticket for the second-division game. They didn't even look at each other, as if they were ashamed of playing the same part every day.
The stranger was going bald, his hair falling like the leaves in autumn. The pyjama bottoms revealed a hairy lower back and a puckered scar from an old wound. He opened the fridge and took out a can of beer. He told his wife, while looking at a cockroach on the floor, that he wouldn't be back for dinner.
In the shower, the woman was still brooding over her son's words. Once again, suffering terrible heartbreak, she was taken aback by the teenage beast's vicious eyes glaring at her. A white tear rolled down the woman's face, quickly draining away with the foam from the shower gel.
She could not remember the last time the stranger had made love to her. While drying her flabby legs like mad, she imagined the stranger holding the other woman, whispering to her the same things that he had told her when they still loved each other. She wrapped herself in the towel and ran to the kitchen. She couldn't prevent the milk boiling over, and the smell began to invade the living room where the ghosts were dozing.
She was quietly saying the rosary. She put on her slippers with a ritual gesture and without further ado she went again into the bedroom as she did every morning, every day of her life - at least as far as she could remember. She opened the loft door slowly, very slowly, and went into the dark room pressing the light switch. She sat in the rocking chair waiting for the ghosts to waken.
Loneliness struck her soul for a moment and, as if hurting from a weal, she dwelled on the good old days... her patient admirers singing to her passionate love songs from outside the barred window, asking for her desired hand, worshipping the ground she walked on...
Then, and only then, was the time when she should have taken permanent control of her life. Had the opportunity arisen, she would have left the small town and studied at university, and she would have bought all the dresses in the catalogue, and she would have gone out every Sunday, alone, to see the Cary Grant films... Cary, Cary, her sweet, secret love, her love made of time stopped in sepia photographs, her true love, for whom she would have given anything only to spend one night with him, in his arms...
She paced the kitchen slowly, with the spiral of steam from the coffeemaker filling the room, wrapped up in her life-infusing memories. As a child, she liked to go to school. She remembered the smell of chalk, and the big old blackboard, and the old rotund teacher who taught her the three R's. Once she turned nine, she would go every day, rain or shine, to the immaculate little school with a refectory that the nuns had opened so that poor girls could receive an education. There, she met Sebastiana, and Mariela, her two great childhood friends. Now Mariela was dead, now she lived with the other ghosts under the rug. As for Sebastiana, she knew that she had married a cousin who battered her, and that one day she took her children and left the village for good. That was ages ago.
She would have gone far. She had such curiosity about the world that it amazed her. She used to read the instruction manuals of electrical appliances, prescriptions, newspapers - anything that fell into her hands - with such voracity that she found it disturbing and which left her with a feeling of emptiness in her stomach, a deep clamour which turned that stomach and said to her slowly: "Stupid, look at yourself! What have you done with your life? What have you done with your life? What have you done with your life?"
She leaned out of the window to see if it was raining, and immediately brought the washing in because the first drops were falling. That day she was alone, alone with her ghosts, and she repeated the movements of her arm on the clothes horse mechanically as if transported to the fantasy of another space. Now she could see her grandfather's image in the yard of her old house, always laughing, telling her a thousand stories about men who went to sea looking for adventure, flying on giant birds and finding wonderful desert islands full of treasure... Grandad and she in a lemon grove covered in blossom, eating lemons and oranges, catching frogs in the water tank, howling at the moon like two people possessed, or saying the first thing that crossed their minds. One cried out "bread" and the other replied "cloud". One said "love", and the other responded "death". The game was good fun, and they even played it in the depths of winter. And even more when the poor old man went blind, this time telling with words what his eyes could not see.
The woman had green eyes, the colour of hope. She would often stop in the middle of a daily chore to look at her reflection in the mirror, because she liked to see how her two crystal-like pupils sparkled in the gloomy room.
Having done the housework, she sat down to wait as she did every day. She was holding a book, the same as the day before, the same as usual, because she did not have time to finish it, because it was like her life story, sad and dull. Soon after sitting in the red, imitation leather sofa, her son would come and break the silence of Friday, bawling for his clothes as that day he would go out with his mates until well into the small hours. Her son was like a dagger in her soul. A thousand years would pass and still she wouldn't be able to forget the words he said in the morning. They were so harsh that she was afraid to write them down in her diary, the diary with which she conversed every evening, which had become her only friend, a bosom friend without lips to reply.
Her son's words echoed terribly in her mind while taking, one by one, slowly, all the blue capsules from the iridescent bottle. The room, like a whirlwind, was spinning. She felt afraid, and then the blackness grew dense. She closed her eyes to relieve the pain and the small universe appearing before her, blinding her...
She looked down and she only saw a lifeless shape, bloated and sprawled in front of the bathroom mirror, and felt sick at the mere thought of returning to it. Evanescent, she went up the stairs like a great diva. Far away, in the quiet distance, she could hear the ghosts breathe. The lights of the loft-cum-living room were on, but no one, except him, had pressed the switch. Slowly, she was ascending as if transported by a vivid dream . She closed her eyes, as green as demons, because the soft light was hurting them. In their gloomy bedrooms slept the stranger and the dreadful son. They continued sleeping oblivious, waiting for the new day that the god of the small things gives to the ordinary beings. She, majestic, with a graceful appearance, transformed into a turgid presence, slim as a living, blinding beam of light, entered the loft, floating the way smoke floats in a classic film. On the other side, beyond the solid wall which looked impenetrable to her, was he, waiting for her, with his eyes half-closed, admiringly, looking at her from head to toe. With a seductive gesture, he brought his cigarette to his lips slowly, very slowly. She walked unhurriedly until she came face to face with him, so close that she felt she was melting from the warmth of his body. "I've been waiting for you every night, amor," he said, with a fresh and incredibly beautiful smile, beautifully set on the warm and very fertile, infinitesimal space of the cinema screen.