Verónica

Verónica
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matador

Translation by Frank Perry

She put her hands around Mickey Mouse’s head and pressed it to her breasts. She looked up at me and smiled, and I thought about the gap between her front teeth and that I could get the tip of my tongue between it when I kissed her. One of Retiro’s chestnut trees rose behind her, and the sunlight was filtering through the foliage.

It was a lovely afternoon.
Mickey Mouse reached out a hand to her and said something in a strong Peruvian accent.

“Come on,” I said.
“Can Mickey Mouse come too?”
“No.”
I gave him a coin and told him that was it. He ought to look for some children instead. That was why he was here after all.

We went to the Peruvian restaurant on Ventura de la Vega. She said there was just something about the Peruvian accent: it had a quality we lacked in Spain. Especially those of us from Madrid.
“It’s so lumbering the way you talk,” she said. “Like a big bull slowly turning round. That’s what you’re like. Lumbering, slow and you lisp as well. And you’re touchy. Jealous of Mickey Mouse – haha.”

“What are you really trying to say? You’d like Peru-Mickey for dessert?”
The waiter turned up and we ordered.

After the food she forgot about Mickey and started talking about her sister and Juanito.

“It’s weird,” she said, “how everything comes down to chance. I bet if Juanito had popped the question to my sister after something fun had happened or something cheerful in any case, she’d have said yes.”

I remembered Juanito. He used wet look gel on his hair and wore a linen suit in the summer. Not that I’m gay or anything but I thought he looked pretty okay. The linen shirt was high-necked, the way Mafiosos wear them and that guy who writes the songs for Elton John.

“That’s right,” she said. “Juanito should have proposed on a day my sister was in a good mood. Instead he did it after work, when she came home and was tired and grumpy and had a headache. And it wasn’t like he’d fixed her something nice. Lit candles, or even done the dishes. No, he was just standing there in all the mess with a smile on his lips. Holding out that little square box, convinced she’d say yes.”

We laughed. I was imagining Juanito getting the brush-off in that high-necked linen shirt with the box held out towards her sister.

“Only it wasn’t really chance that made her say no?” I said. “It was more to do with the bad timing.”
“You could put it that way, I suppose. Juanito’s awkwardness.”

We ordered more wine. It was hot outside and people were walking back and forth. There were a lot of tourists on the go. You could hear snatches of different languages. Some people were just sitting there staring. A moped drove past. I was thinking about when I would pop the question to her.

“How would you like to be proposed to?” I asked.
“Me?” She smiled. “No idea. Only it would have to be something fun. Something exciting that got my blood pumping.”
“Your blood pumping?”
“That’s right. I’m not getting married unless my blood is pumping.”
“You are so intense,” I said.
“That is what they say,” she said and looked happy.

She went to the loo and I was thinking now might be the moment to propose, since she’d brought up the business with Juanito and you could feel how upbeat the mood was. Maybe I should ask her if her blood was pumping. And if she said yes, that could be interpreted indirectly as another yes. I kept on going over it in my mind. I didn’t have any rings. It wouldn’t be a real proposal.

Then she came back and said she had her period. She had to go home because she hadn’t brought anything with her.
I paid and decided that any question of the right moment had been resolved.

I kept thinking about it that night and the whole of the next day. Did she say what she did about Juanito because she thought it was time for me to propose?

“She obviously said it because she wants you to,” Pedro said. “Just pop the question for Christ’s sake. Get your finger out.”
“What about the pumping? Her blood has to be pumping, she said. I don’t know how to get her blood pumping.”
“You don’t know how to get your own girlfriend’s blood pumping?”
“Huh. Of course I do. It’s just… Anyway you get it.”
“Try it out at a bullfight. Then you can pop the question right when the matador kills the bull.”
I had a think for a bit.
“You’re right. That’ll make it unforgettable.”
“Won’t it just.”
“A bit symbolic as well. It’d be like saying: Take this ring and tell your life goodbye.”

Pedro laughed at my analysis.

“You’re being too deep,” he said then. “I can’t keep up.”

A bull dying. A little box being offered. It didn’t feel quite right somehow. On the other hand it was true what Pedro said that I was always overanalysing things. Pedro didn’t analyse things. She didn’t either. I’d never actually heard her analyse anything. Then again that was one of the things I liked about her.

I booked the tickets for San Isidro. On the fifteenth of April, at Ventas.

She was as happy as a child. She was wearing the same red blouse with white spots on she had on the day Mickey Mouse came over in the park. We bought some candyfloss and she ate it and got all sticky round her mouth. Almodóvar was supposed to be coming too, someone said in the queue. A white limousine was parked at the crossroads on Goya. Maybe that was his.

“That’s Almodóvar’s limousine over there,” I said.
“He doesn’t use limousines,’ she said. “He goes by taxi like everyone else. Check it out, there’s the Mickey-guys again!”
Three of them were standing in a row by one of the entrances.

I pulled her towards one of the other entrances, and then we were inside. We walked through the aisles. People were flooding in and there was a sense of heightened expectation about them, like before someone dying or an orgasm. The sand in the arena was perfectly even. The sound was lowered and raised and scents rose from the crowd. Sweat, tobacco, expectation. The sun had passed its zenith. Someone was drinking red wine from a leather flask. I was thinking: I wonder how many of them have got a hard-on? I whispered to her:
“Wonder how many have got a hard-on right now?”
We sat in the second row. She bumped into me with the candy floss and I got some sticky stuff on my shoulder. I think she bumped into some other people as well, because the people around us were staring and looking annoyed. I felt around the box in my pocket. The ready rolled joints were in the other one. I didn’t know whether we should smoke before, after or the whole time. There was a risk she’d feel sick. She’d never been to a bullfight and we were sitting pretty close to the front. I decided to save them. Then we could smoke them in Retiro Park after she said yes.

The first bull entered the ring. He was big and sturdy and black; he weighed 480 kilos and came from Valladolid. She said he must have been fed on acorns and grass all his life and was bound to have impregnated an endless series of cows. He was a happy bull in other words.

The audience applauded the first verónica. The horns had come that close. Voices were whispering around us – this was going to be something special, this was, with a bullfighter who was that brave and then there was the bull, that bull. At the next verónica she whispered that this time the horn had actually grazed his waistcoat. She was all wide-eyed and I asked myself if her blood was pumping now. The box was in my pocket. I had round corners on my one since Juanito had had pointed ones on his.
She kept her hand on mine. I wasn’t feeling elated, and I didn’t think she looked elated any more either. Had the moment slipped through my fingers? She sat there, pouting childishly, her lips sticky with candyfloss.

The joints, I thought. I lit one and we smoked it in turns. It settled gently around my head. And the matador took up position in the centre. His waistcoat was dark green with gold embroidery. I could see the cloth rising and falling as he breathed, and that’s how I planned on staying, let me go on breathing inside a shell of cotton wool and her hand on top of mine.

Silence once again. The black body, the steps and the sand that was thrown up and the sword being raised. Raised, lowered and pulled out.

It was then I should have proposed, but the moment slipped by and was gone just like that. The buzz around us got louder. My mind wandered, drifting round my brain. I looked up at the audience and couldn’t help wondering where Almodóvar was sitting. The horses dragged the body away and the sweepers entered. Bull number two was on the way in.

“I’m going to be sick,” she said then.
“You’ve probably eaten too much candyfloss,” I said.
“I have to get out.”

We walked back out through the aisles. I was having a go at myself for having bungled it. Candyfloss, marijuana, sun and blood. Perfect for a proposal, or for spewing up.

“We’ll go to the park”, she said. “At least there’ll be some shade there.”

We lay under a tree in Retiro. It was a chestnut, and when I screwed up my eyes I could see the leaves moving against the light. It was lovely seen against the light. Everything was lovely seen against the light. The world should be seen against the light. A little way off some boys were kicking a football. It wasn’t too hot in the shade. It was just right. I fingered the box in my pocket.

Then there he was all of a sudden. That large soft body and the clown trousers with dots on. The mask was made of cheap plastic and the black nose wasn’t round at all but pointed, as if it had been home made.

“Mickey Mouse,” she yelled. “Mickey Mouse. You’ll never guess what I’ve been up to.”
He sat next to us on the grass and she told him about the bullfight.
“The Spanish are cruel, it’s true,” Mickey said.
“And Peruvians are economically backward,” I said. “They have to come here to get jobs as Mickey Mouse.”
She glared at me. She stroked Mickey.
“He’s just a bit jealous,” she said. “Don’t worry about. In any case I like both Mickey Mouse and Peruvians.”
“Where are you from?” Mickey asked.
“Catalonia.”
“Isn’t that Spain?”
“No. I didn’t learn Spanish until I was fifteen. At home we were only supposed to speak Catalan.”
“That’s fucked up,” Mickey said.
“Yes, it is” she said.
“So what’s it like in Peru?” she asked.

I knew what he was going to say in reply. That it was beautiful and fun but impossible to live there. That’s what they say. And that was exactly what he did say. She listened wide-eyed, as if she’s never heard the full litany of South American clichés before. Mickey kept on talking. How long could it take to say that little?

I lit a new joint, lay back down again and looked up into the top of the tree.

Why do I love her so? I wondered. There were other girls who would have been better and more appropriate. Who carried wet wipes in their handbags and didn’t go round with sticky mouths and light up with excitement when they saw Mickey in the park. For example. There was bound to be a whole host of women out there who were better than her. Ones you could have conversations with. Who didn’t just slip off into their own world all of a sudden, their eyes going vacant and not hearing what you said. And from a practical point of view there must have been an endless number of women who wanted kids and had a job. A proper job, with a salary and routines. She worked at her Dad’s bar instead. Washing up coffee cups. It was what she wanted to do, she said if you asked her. It was a good job. Socially stimulating, as many cups of coffee as you liked and really good tips if you let men pat your arse. That alone. I could have had a girlfriend who didn’t say things like that for all the world to hear. I could have had a girlfriend who didn’t neck with a Peruvian Disney character lying in the park.

But it was what it was, like it’s always been. The first time I saw her at the bar: that laugh that could be heard over and over again through the clashing of coffee cups. Her Andalusian dress and that lumpy Catalan accent. She had sat down in front of me with a cup of coffee and said I shouldn’t sit there all on my own. Then we had slept in the room she rented above the bar and it was hot and our bodies stuck together. I think that was where we got stuck together for real, she and me.
In a tiny room in the gay neighbourhood of Chueca, on a hot night in June while the cockroaches scuttled along the skirting boards.

“Mickey Mouse, what do you think you’re doing?”
Mickey’s hand was on her breast. I thought: I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill that pathetic fucking Peruvian.
“Okay,” he said and the plastic head was turned towards me. “So that was dumb. Only she took my hand. I didn’t do anything.”
She shook her head. Then she laughed. That gap again, between her teeth.
“I think that’s enough of Mickey now,” I said.
“Just a bit more,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? We don’t have to be that boring, do we? That stuffy? It’s so lovely here in the park. I feel so happy. Elated. It’s like my blood is pumping.”
“I’m going to buy the paper,” I said.
I went to the newspaper shop on Independencia. I had a browse through Quo and Semana. I took a look through the branches every now and then. I was thinking what the fuck am I doing? Leaving her with the Peruvian. Only what are you supposed to do? Nothing normal has ever worked with her. Everything was an experiment. It was just like she used to say:
“Everything is an experiment. You always have to be a new-born.”
After a while I went back. She was sitting alone under the chestnut tree. Mickey had gone.
“What about Mickey Mouse?” I asked. “Left so soon?”
“I didn’t like him when he took off the mask. He shouldn’t have taken off the mask. That wasn’t clever of him.”
“And what about your blood? Is it still pumping?”
“Maybe. A bit anyway.”
I kissed her. I let the tip of my tongue wriggle into the gap between her front teeth.
I thought it might be the right moment to bring out the little box.

Lina Wolff

About Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff has lived and worked in Italy and Spain. During her years in Valencia and Madrid, she began to write her short story collection Många människor dör som du(‘Many People Die Like You’; Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2009). Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, her first novel, was awarded the prestigious Vi Magazine Literature Prize and shortlisted for the 2013 Swedish Radio Award for Best Novel of the Year. She now lives in southern Sweden. Her second novel, De polyglotta älskarna (‘The Polyglot Lovers’), is forthcoming from Albert Bonniers Förlag in 2016.

Lina Wolff has lived and worked in Italy and Spain. During her years in Valencia and Madrid, she began to write her short story collection Många människor dör som du(‘Many People Die Like You’; Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2009). Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, her first novel, was awarded the prestigious Vi Magazine Literature Prize and shortlisted for the 2013 Swedish Radio Award for Best Novel of the Year. She now lives in southern Sweden. Her second novel, De polyglotta älskarna (‘The Polyglot Lovers’), is forthcoming from Albert Bonniers Förlag in 2016.

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