Authors: Nuria Solano
When they left, walking quietly along the sidewalk, they hardly spoke. There was a sunny and spring morning, and the world seemed to be the same again, but only from the outside. Antonia, walking very slowly, saw it differently.
Only a year before he met Patti, Alan was a winding and attractive guy from the University District of Seattle, who fully enjoyed his success with women. He worked as assistant director at the University of Washington, and among female students, opportunities appeared with obscene ease. His early thirties, his kindness, and his scruffy look, combined perfectly with his blue eyes, his black tousled hair and his goatee. The students in her twenties saw on him the personification of alternative atmosphere that reigned in the district, the perfect male specimen to feel protected and initiated, and perhaps a bit neglected by their immaturity. An explosive mixture that was accentuated by Alan's apparent disinterest to flirt. His attitude was not part of any tactic, rather the opposite. Alan was meeting many more women than he wanted, so he'd rarely pay attention to a girl until she'd show an obvious interest. So when a candidate for a good time of sex would show up, he just wouldn't reject her.
His reputation spoke for itself, and only the most attractive girls dared to get in his way. The ones he had ignored bear badly that contempt, and it was worst if it had somehow been public or had spread through some evil tongue.
It was the year 1995, the most successful for Alan. Although, in the same way that "grunge" showed obvious signs of decay, there was very little left for Alan to start his own fall as a heartbreaker.
Once summer break came, Alan thought he'd have a little break, but he didn't. Summer classes for foreigners and remedial courses followed encouraging sex in abundance, and in the alternative bars where he used to hang out, there was always more some flirtatious looks to pay attention to. That's how he met Patti. But that was several months later. Meanwhile, Alan continued with easy sex, and a collection of faces, bodies and names that no longer bothered to remember.
Like every year, winter rain became a fellow who seemed to rinse citizens delusions, washed under the gentle trickle of short and dark days. It was when Alan, under the effect of that discouragement winter considered seriously changing his lifestyle. He had seen too humiliating attitudes in many of the girls I had been with. It was depressing to thing that, even when he didn't want that to happen, it was because of him that they'd run in a frantic and degrading race to get him.
He had discussed this with his best friends, Mike, the owner of "Perfect Stranger", one of the most popular bars in the district (which part of its success was certainly due to the usual presence of Alan), and Catherine, a lipstick lesbian who had just opened a sex shop in Capitol Hill, Seattle's gay district. Both agreed that some promiscuity always comes in handy, but when it becomes a habit, it can end up turning nasty. Mike joked from across the bar while serving drinks, saying that he would like to reach the point to disgust sex, while Catherine, adjusting the piercing of the nose, reproached him with her eyes and said she had already been there, and now tried not to have easy sex. When she wanted to have some non strings fun, she'd draw upon the assorted devices offered in her store. Catherine spoke to Alan about psychology and philosophy, and he got some new age and self-help books, but didn't really pay much attention to them. However, so many recipes for a healthy mental life eventually helped him to find an answer. It had been a few weeks that he had slowed down considerably his pace of conquests, but that was a preventive measure until finding the real solution. Undoubtedly influenced by Catherine, he decided to achieve that no woman would humbled herself because of him. That would be his goal. Thus, he ended only having sex with girls from outside the district who didn't know who he was, and didn't considered him a trophy, a fact that had become the cause of so many humiliations.
One March afternoon he met Patti at the "Perfect Stranger". It was a very fortuitous encounter that none of them wanted, but ended up with both sitting at a table to share a beer and some nachos with guacamole. Patti didn't know who Alan was, and when he realized it, he understood this was a good opportunity to have sex without humiliation. That night ended in Alan's bed. They exchanged phones numbers, although no one called the other, but a few days later they met by chance in a second hand bookshop on 52nd Street. They chatted carefree and eventually they shared a sandwich. Confident and cheerful, Alan told Patti that he worked as the principal's assistant. Patti didn't work at the university, but at an university transact office, where also Alan's reputation had reached. She was surprised and said that she had never imagined him so approachable. The image that many girls would represent of him, was the one of an unbearable overweening. Very attractive, yes. They laughed together about it and that was all. Back home, Patti suddenly thought that she was starting to like Alan a lot. Moreover, being who he was, suddenly gave a new dimension. She was very nervous and tampered the paper where Alan's phone number was until it was worn and unreadable, but she didn't care because she had memorized it.
Alan thought about Patti and realized that something about her seemed different from the other girls. Even after knowing who he was, the two had laughed openly about his reputation as a flirt. So he was glad when she called him three days later. They decided to go to the movies. They went to the "Broadway Market" to watch a Turkish subtitled movie which impressed them terribly. They recovered from the drama they had seen in a brewery which produced their own varieties. A rock band played in a resounding live, versions of classic American with distorted guitars. Three beers later both roared with laughter at every abominable version. They glanced each other briefly and ended their kisses at Patti's place. But Alan didn't stay over. He had noticed something different about her, but still didn't know what it was. Patti didn't take amiss that Alan left, but surprisingly, she wept bitterly that night when she realized she had fallen.
Four days later Patti phoned again. Alan was glad, but when Patti invited him to see a newly opened exhibition of the Leonardo Da Vinci works that Bill Gates had just acquired, he felt obliged to accept. There was nothing to prevent him from saying no, but he sensed that the evening would not be as funny as the previous ones, and he was right.
The impressive display was not enough to ease the mood. Patti was constantly tugging at a lock of hair, and talked incessantly in a voice that came out too sharp. Alan was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the same first symptoms he had seen too many times in other girls. They walked through the city center to reach "Belltown", a next by neighborhood winning prestige as an artistic and cultural focus. They had a couple of cocktails watching the sunset over the Puget Sound, and just when Patti thought that things were eased up, Alan argued an excuse and left.
Six days later she Patti called. Alan saw who she was on the caller ID and didn't answer. Patti did not leave a message that time, but did so three days later when Alan didn't answer the phone either. A pathetic message in form and substance. Listening to it, Alan felt sick again. He had promised himself that would not happen again, but had not been able to avoid it. Or maybe he had? He thought that if he had been the one calling Patti, maybe she wouldn't had feel so overwhelmed and ready to humiliation. He spent a couple of days thinking about how to achieve that Patti would be the one getting tired of him, and he thought he had the solution. Basically he wasn't such an interesting or appealing guy, if he'd let Patti know him better, she would surely the one ending the relationship. Alan decided to call her and lied saying he had spent several days in Ohio visiting his family, and next he asked her for a date. They went to "Soundgarden", taking advance of an unusual sunny Sunday. He spoke to make her a proposal. He said he wanted they both would get know each other much better before having sex again. This was a somewhat unusual deal, but certainly attractive to Patti expectations, because it meant that he liked her, at least in the medium term. Thus, a series of meetings began in which they were increasingly being intimate. The limit was always sex. But other than that, they'd go out to exhibitions, lectures, movies, performances and even a baseball or a football game. They'd also spent a lot of time over Alan's or Patti's place smoking pot, listening to music, watching TV, or chatting on the couch. Alan was satisfied with the progress, because little by little Patti was gradually gaining confidence and seemed less submissive and less aware of him. After a few weeks, Alan felt close enough to victory and told his friends about his experiment. Both Mike and Catherine were somewhat skeptical. "Why do you bother to do all that if you don't like her?", Mike said. "That doesn't mean he wants to hurt her!", Catherine hastened to answer before Alan could speak. But she also had doubts, trying to manipulate feelings is like playing with fire. But Alan was convinced, and the following days confirmed his certainty. Especially when he called and Patti declined his invitation to meet the next day. She said some friends organized some kind of girls party and she couldn't meet him. Alan was so proud of his idea that he could hardly believe it. Not only would prevent that Patti would abase herself and had a bad time, but probably he'd also end up having a good friend. During the following month, appointments were spread enough for Alan to see victory very close. In every date, and thanks to the trust they already had, Alan talked about his weaknesses, his foolish acts, his vices, and anything that could help Patti loose interest about him.
It had been already two months since Alan initiated his falling out of love sessions with Patti. One day they're walking by the "Queen Anne" district after having lunch at a Thai restaurant, when they bumped into a Patti's acquaintance who proved to be an indiscreet gossip, and when Patti introduced Alan, she didn't hesitate to ask openly if they were together. Patti laughed carefree and said no, they were just friends. She said it with a sincerity that left no room for doubt, and Alan got drunk with pleasure at his success.
Relieved of the pressure, Alan continued to meet Patti now and then. He amused himself openly without any fear that she wanted something more, and found that never had had a better time with a girl out of bed.
One day, a very excited Patti phoned him and said that the previous night she had met a guy she really liked. To the point that they spent the night together. "I wanted you to be the first to know. His name is Kurt. I'm so happy!", said Patti with a contagious joy that didn't seem to have any effect on Alan's bitter face. "I know you and I did the same the first night, but it's not normal", she joked. "You and I in bed. How weird it feels now!", Patti said with some astonishment about that memory. Alan congratulated her and excused himself to avoid meeting her when she asked for it to tell him all the details. They didn't meet until a week later, but to the Alan's surprise, Kurt wasn't a one night stand guy. Patti told Alan how well they got along and how much they seemed to like each other. She said she was so excited about Kurt, that Alan must forgive her if they couldn't see each other as often as they used to. Alan said he was fine about it. Patti suggested a meeting with the three of them soon, so that Alan and Kurt could meet. With the best face he could show, Alan said he would be thrilled, and left back home to mourn bitterly. Five days later, Patti called to tell him how happy she was, because she had realized that she was in love with Kurt. Patti's falling out of love had been a success.
In the corner of the living room there was vomited half-digested food. Mari and Pilar were sitting on the couch, watching television, where the "Ana Rosa" show threshed gossip. The guests talked and gesticulated, but barely could be heard. The roar of the works in the building lot next door had been going on for the last six months.
The two sisters were alone for a long time. Pilar, thin faced and elegant, never married, had always lived on the fourth floor of the old building without elevator, in the flat she inherited from her parents. Mari was a plump widow. Her husband, a construsction worker, had died in an accident at the building site many years ago. They had a son, Gerardo, who never showed interest in marrying, and who accompanied her when she was widowed. In the year 93 he died of lymphatic cancer and left her alone. At the funeral were many friends of her son, who cried with her. For a while, some of them called and even came to visit. But that lasted only a few months. When Pilar asked Mari to come back home and live together, she didn't hesitate.
Since the construction of the new town auditorium building started, Mari hardly had looked out the window. When she saw the workers hanging from scaffoldings or under the masses carryed by the cranes, an old bitterness returned.
Princess lived with them. She was a cat that appeared on her balcony without further ado. She looked so small and skinny, that they couln't refuse to take her in. But Princess had already become old with them, and dragged her ailments with long, piercing meows.
Torcuato lived in the mansard, one floor up. He knew the sisters since they were little and played in the postwar unpaved streets, sometimes barefoot, sometimes hungry. Since Torcuato was alone, the sisters had decided to lend a hand. His gout was raging, and Torcuato could not leave the house. When he complained too much, Pilar called the social services.
The stretcher-bearers were struggling to transport him down the stairs, since the last flight had narrow and steep steps. When Pilar felt down that flight of steps, she thought her life had just foolishly ended. It seemed like a slow motion moment, when she lost her balance and tried futilely to grasp the railing. It was so lengthly, that even in the hospital she thought it was happening. Then, the hits rolling down the stairs, and the impact on the landing was hardly anything. But waiting was ever worst. Her sister had gone grocery shopping, and Torcuato had not heard her with his deafness and the roar of the construction works next door. But someone had called emergency because when Mari arrived to the front door carrying the shopping bags, she found a stretcher, this time not with Torcuato, but with her sister on it. Groceries were droped on the sidewalk.