Authors: Nuria Solano
A broken leg and two ribs cracked was not a bad outcome, Mari thought. After losing her husband and her son, she couldn't stand the idea that Pilar died before her. She told that, in tears and snots, to her sister, clutching her hand while she was recovering at the hospital.
Torcuato blamed himself for the accident. He cried heartbroken when Mari left him with all he needed to spend two days alone.
“Don't get upset Torcuato, cause Pilar is fine”, Mari said a bit annoyed. “But I just have to be with her. I don't want to leave her alone. You understand that, right?
“I killed her and no one wants to tell me”, said a delirious Torcuato trembling on the bed. “I'm an old man who is worthless, and above that causes only mishaps”.
Mari tucked him and gave him a sleeping pill. Basically she believed Torcuato was a nuisance, and could not help thinking of going up and down that stretch so dangerous, it was normal that Pilar had fallen. It also could have happened to her.
“I think it was the weird guy from the third floor”, Pilar said to her sister in her second day at the hospital”. The one that never leaves his flat, but it seems that he knows everything. Surely he called the ambulance”.
“At least, only for that, it's good that he's always at home”, Mari said apprehensively. “It gives me the creeps every time I cross by his front door. It seems that he's always peering through the peephole”.
Torcuato didn't answer the doorbell the next day. Mari was worried.
“Surely the stretcher-bearers have taken him again”,said Pilar when Mari told her about it back in the hospital. “He knows how to call, and if he was feeling bad and we were not there, he couldn't do otherwise”.
The two sisters remained an instant looking to each other.
“Well, what's important now is that you get better”, said Mari pretending to fix the bed.
That night, when Mari returned home, Torcuato still did not answered. Mari went down the flight of stairs to the fourth floor carefully. She changed the water and fed Princess, and went to bed but stayed awake until late.
The next morning she arranged the house, cleaned up and changed clothes, and went back to the hospital. She was very uneasy, and going through the landing of the third floor, she could almost hear the breathing of the neighbor on the other side of the door.
“I swear I it doesn't seem like our house anymore. Torcuato doesn't answer, you are here, and the neighbor from the third fllor that makes me the creeps”, Mari said to her sister, who had not slept well either. She would have liked more sedatives for the pain, but then she would feel too dizzy.
“If tonight he still doesn't answer, get the key and check his flat. Is for situations like this that he gave us a copy of the key”, said Pilar with her severe older sister grimace. Mari started shaking.
“If Gerardo had married and had had children, this would not happen! We would have someone to look after us. To do these things”.
“Stop whining and leave the dead in peace. Your son would never had married. Don't be silly now. Tonight, if Torcuato doesn't answer, use the key to get in”.
The stretcher-bearers had a hard time again bringing Torcuato down the stairs. Although that would be the last time.
The funeral was very sad. Mari was alone. Although, there was a huge chaplet with an anonymous submission saying "your memories are with me."
“It was from the third floor guy”, said Pilar convinced. “He doesn't leave home, but he does as much as he can. I think he used to talk a lot with Torcuato”.
Pilar had retorned home, but she could not move from bed. Mari seemed happy to be so busy. She wouldn't stop. The three girls that moved into Torcuato's mansard didn't even say “hi” when Mari met then going up or down the stairs. Some weekends they had parties and played loud music till late. Mari and Pilar, without saying anything to each other, and pretending to sleep, would listening to those laughts, those dances, those gasps on the noisy bed, that spoke of a different and distant life.
“There's nothing left for us”, said Pilar to her sister after the doctor had reported that she couldn't go down the stairs. To go out they needed to call an ambulance and had the stretcher-bearers bring her down. “Fear only exist at that long moment when you see that you fall, but then it's nothing”, continued Pilar, while Mari looked at her terrified, but nodding
Princess sniffed the vomit in the corner, and although it was hers, she winced and approached the sofa. She began to purr next Mari, then licked her calf, and finally took a nibble in the same place she had torn some flesh on previous days. But it was rotten and she vomited again in another corner.
Late that night, television continued its non sense tattle. An late night filler show announced large economic benefits.
“You can get all this without leaving home”, said the TV host to the two sisters, both still on the sofa and holding hands.
Next morning, when the stretcher-bearers went through the landing of the third floor, there was someone who had already been waiting a while to see them from the other side of the peephole.
They pound the door of the fourth floor several times.
“How did they find out?”, asked an stretcher-bearer to the judge while they waited the established time.
“It was an anonymous call but, by this strong smell, I'd say it was a neighbor. Sometimes they do so to avoid having to declare”, said the judge as he wrote down the date and time of the search warrant. “Proceed to open”, said now to the locksmith who had accompanied them.
Princess rubbed against the door, purring, and when it opened, she darted downstairs. At the third floor there was a door ajar, and she did not hesitate to enter.
"No more nonsense." Ana thought as she left the clinic. "This has been a shock and a warning. No cyst, or lump, or clot. The discomfort was nothing. The gynecologist said that I have nothing. So, from now on I have to think about taking care of myself, be happy and truly live." While those words were not even convincing in her head, Ana forced herself to believe them. Being 28 years old, she was starting to see herself like a spinster. A feeling hard to ignore.
When she arrived at the office a little later, she told her companions that everything had been a shock, and she was amazed at the reaction of enormous relief they showed. Suddenly he saw herself from the view of the other, as a guinea pig that had passed a test by which almost all eventually will pass. Maria Luisa, an unmarried woman who had had her thirty-ninth birthday for six consecutive years, wailed with some distaste: "guys have no fucking idea about what all women have to go through." Upon that, Rocío, about the same age, married, with children and a little plump, opened her mouth to answer, but then she thought of it better and kept working. Being from the group of mothers she was supposed to talk about children, not men, although it was somehow the same.
Ana began her work with the characteristic efficiency of them all, which always astonished the office heads when they'd see them writing reports and simultaneosuly making jokes about the tabloid's gossips, or accounting while swaping recipes. They loved to put the office heads in a bad mood, because men couldn't stand that kind of behavior, but they dared not say anything, because they actually never stopped working, and were more efficient than most of the men who had occupied those same positions.
She had nothing. She was healthy. Ana had to be grateful to life and face it from that moment on. Be open to everything new, the future. She even let herself analyze the reason for her bachelorhood, her failure with men, but then she amended herself. "I haven't failed with men." She thought with some effort. "I simply haven't found someone I like enough. I'm still not Maria Luisa. I will marry before reaching her age." She said with some relief and a slight chill at her neck. It was then whe she remembered last Saturday afternoon when, almost by accident, as she was channel surfing with boredom, stared at a pythoness in a local TV station. The woman red the tarot cards, threw stones, bones, or smoked a cigar, yes, a cigar. She had the cheek to read in the ashes what would happen to the consultant in the following months. At first, it was the cigar what made Ana keep in that channel, but soon she was attracted by the wonderful power of this woman, who managed to save yourself from the anxiety of waiting, who confirmed you what you already suspected, who called you sweetheart and was your friend. Suddenly, she though about calling. Suddenly, Ana wanted the cigar. "Yes, I want her to read the cigar ashes for me." She said still wearin her pajamas, lying on the couch. And when she was picking up the phone, it happened. She heard Maria Luisa's voice on TV, saying her name was Olga and she was 32, but it was her, asking about love. Ana realized then, that most of the calls were from women between twenty and fifty-something, all asking about love. As if suddenly an evil spell had been broken, she dropped the phone with a spasm and was about to shriek. "I'm not like that." She said to herself, as she listened to an anxious Maria Luisa, asking more and more questions at the pythoness incompetence, who seemed unable to nail down a man and a date for her wedding. Maria Luisa, who liked to dance salsa every Saturday night, and took Italian lessons because it's "the language of loooove", who had left her parents' house only one year ago, because he had bought a "maiden" flat and was unbearable ever since to be next to her.
Ana tought about her last relationship. Three years ago! Well, yes, but it had been a serious relationship. After that she had several romantic forays, although almost always with stupid brats who didn't take her seiously, and then, of course, were the guys who seemed to be better, and ended up confessing they were married. "That depresses anyone" she thought, feeling though it sounded as an excuse.
Next day, while her co workers talked and talked, she was forced to think again about her situation, and how to face the future. "The truth is that now I don't know if it's good to start a fling with a guy," she reflected. "The gynecologist told me to keep a couple of months without taking the pill, just in case. But the, whenever I get in trouble, the guy never wants to use a condom. They say "I'm clean, I swear," and of course, I keep my stupid discreet smile while I think "clean about what, you moron!", and at the end, either way, everytime it ends with a condom and bad sex, or no sex, or taking the risk and having sex without a condom. No, if I meet someone I can't be dragging my feet for two months, so I better wait." " Is something wrong honey?", interrupted Maria Luisa's voice. "You're very quiet today. If you need anything, let me know." She offered caring. Ana smiled upon standing up, after collecting some bills that she just printed out. She shook her head and shrugged slightly, as if to imply that she was distracted by her thoughts, and went back into her cubicle. She continued to build mentally, short-term plans. "What I can do now, is get on a diet," she thought. " I can't even look at myself in the mirror. I'm so stupid, on top of the stress I've had these weeks, I foolishly decided to quit smoking, and of course I have been eating like a pig. I don't even want to get on the scale! I could join a gym, it's also a good place to meet people. But now there is so much work, and I leave the office so late, that arrive home exhausted! Also, since I have Clooney, I have to go straight home to walk him. So I'll start the diet. María Luisa told me about a zucchini diet. She says that one day at the grocery store she saw such a very good looking zucchini that she filled her fridge with kilos and kilos ... "
The following day Ana got to work happy, the predictable events of the day made her feel safe. María Luisa had photocopied the zucchini diet for her, and the topic of the day among her co workers seemed to be: the biological clock. Among comments, Maria Luisa returned to release her quote "men don't have a clue about the things we have to go through!". This time Ana supported her, remembering the pill and the condoms. Some women talked about having children without marrying, Ana could not even imagine in that situation, and remembered that ordeal when she had to go to the abortion clinic herself. It was something she had never told and never will tell to anyone. What she wanted was to get married, and if children would come later, would be a different matter. She let herself go into the flow of her co workers comments, which were like a moving tide that floated through the hours, the days, the weeks... Actually, it had been already four months since she got the good news from the doctor, but Ana hadn't found time yet to do anything. Her decisions runned out of steam. She even was smoking again. She thought her situation wasn't that bad. She was still marriageable, and she only got a little bothered the day they organized the bachelorette party for a friend, who was about her age.
Ana looked at the cubicles where they work. It formed a grid that reminded her of a game board. "drafts" she thought. She could even see the chips. Singles were black, and married white, of course. "Another chip for the married ones!" She said. She counted the chips; there were more black than white ones, not many, but enough to made her feel calmer. "Black always win because half of the white ones stop working as soon as they have their first child, and they're always replaced by black ones" she analyzed. There were also the separated and divorcedones, they were increasing. She imagined them as gray chips "those, neither fish nor fowl" she said.
The bachelorette party was silly and fun, as always. They made T-shirts with a photo of the bride and the title of a play that they found funny: "I'm not happy, but at least I have a husband", and went for dinner to an erotic restaurant. Also, drunk as always, Maria Luisa said weeping that she'd never find a husband, and her heavy makeup mask got spoiled. All the girls supported and comforted and hugged her and kissed her, and then they laughed again and went salsa dancing until dawn. But during the next days, while all were pretending they had forgotten the incident, Ana looked at María Luisa askance, and thought, as she had a long puff at her cigarette, "I'm not like Maria Luisa. I'm not married but still I'm not like her. Not yet. "