PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
The shout cut through the crowd. It was icy cold and an ill-tempered wind was buffeting the people outside the Sepu department store, knocking them into each other in a tangle of inside-out umbrellas and flapping raincoats. Some, hesitating by the entrance, in the of warm air from the ventilating system, couldn't bring themselves to step out and face the rigours of the wintry street, while others, with feet like blocks of ice and clothes dripping, were vainly trying to push their way in.
Jostled from all sides, she tried to see where the shout had come from, to see if it was indeed directed at her. It was that particular hour of the day when the light is hazy and, despite the neon advertisements and the headlamps of the cars constantly sweeping past, the osmosis between departing day and falling night makes visibility poor, if not impossible, for the short-sighted. Carmen was short-sighted.
Her glasses were steamed up. Clumsily she wiped them. She felt slightly constricted in her tight coat and the detachable fur collar was irritating her. Making an ungainly movement, she dropped the parcel she was carrying. She scanned the noisy, heaving, sodden mass of people milling round her anxiously, but could not see anyone.
Ponderously, she bent down to pick up her parcel.
That was the moment when Dorita lost sight of her. With determined use of her elbows, she managed to force her way through the protesting crowd. She gave a little wave to show where she was. The glittering chink of her gold bracelets above the heads of the throng fascinated her, she never tired of it, but a stronger gust of wind almost blew off her headscarf.
That's the thousand pesetas for my shampoo and set down the drain, she thought.
Finally she saw her, crouching down, in a coat of indeterminate colour.
'Carmen! Chica!' Dorita cried, plunging through the crowd towards her.
She gave her arm an encouraging, familiar squeeze, forcing Carmen to stand up and making her drop her parcel again.
Her glasses were misted over with the rain, the same rain that emphasised the shadow of the moustache she had recently shaved. She heard the voice again, a slightly cracked voice, wavering between high and low, accompanied by a pain shooting up her arm, rousing long-buried memories.
'It’s me, Dorita. Don't you remember me? Of course, it's been so long . . . People change, don’t they?'
'Dorita . . . Good Lord, I didn't recognise you.'
Swiftly Dorita stooped down and picked up the parcel. Carmen lifted up her round face, its coarse complexion covered in a fine layer of sweat, and smiled gratefully.
'How on earth did you recognise me? What a memory, Dorita, what a memory, after all these years . . .'
The poor girl's even uglier than she was at school, Dorita thought to herself. Out loud she said, 'But darling, you've hardly changed. The moment I saw you I said to myself, that's my old friend Carmen, Carmen Gonzalo y Gonzalo.' She pursed her thin lips, with their overgenerous coating of Revlon lipstick, in the semblance of a smile.
'This isn't the market square, you know,' a man barked, pushing them unceremoniously aside.
'What a boor! Come on, Carmen, let's go and find somewhere nice and quiet for a chat. I presume you've nothing special on and, really, the man's right, this isn't the place to talk, what with the wind gusting like this. But still, what an ill-mannered . . .'
'Paloma's expecting me, the children . . .'
'The children? Paloma has children? She finally got married? It can't be true! Paloma married! I can hardly believe it!'
'Yes, she's married.'
'To that boy, what was he called now? You know, tall, strong - looked a bit like Rock Hudson?'
'No! Not like Rock Hudson!' Carmen exclaimed, suddenly firm. Then, unveiling the perfectly white and very extensive set of teeth that served as a smile, she added that he was a lot less good-looking and was called Paco, Paco Ramos.
'Oh yes. Funny, isn't it?' Dorita murmured, her tone suddenly a little distant.
'I can see you better now. Let me give you a kiss, Dorita.'
She rode the sticky impact without batting an eyelid. 'How about going to the Galerias for a little something?' she suggested, curious to know how Paloma, almost as ugly as her sister and lumbered with a silly mother, had managed to get married. It was a miracle, no more and no less.
'Great idea. After all, it's only a quarter to six and if I'm not there for the eight o'clock mass, Henriqueta can take the children with her. It's not often I go out, just this once won't do any harm.'
Dorita tottered along on her high heels, her stockings slipping down in damp wrinkles over her ankles. A fawn mink coat emphasised the plump curve of her buttocks, making her look even shorter than she was.
With her feet firmly ensconced in masculine lace-up shoes under transparent plastic overshoes, Carmen had a strangely slow, lumbering gait.
Dorita kept blinking. She was very short-sighted too, but vanity dictated that she never wore her glasses in public, only using them in the darkness of a cinema or for some particularly choice intellectual moment: glasses left on a book such as The History of Philosophy in the Middle Ages when visitors were expected, for example. More prosaically, though, they slipped off her short, flat nose each evening as she fell asleep reading an Agatha Christie while she waited for her husband. Carmen, of course, had no idea of that and, filled with wonder, clumsily stroked her friend’s sodden mink as they walked along.
Straightening up, lifting her sagging bosom, Dorita asked, with a condescending smile, 'Beautiful, isn't it?'
'Oh yes. It must have cost a fortune.'
'It was for our twentieth wedding anniversary. That was five years ago -' She bit her tongue and quickly went on, 'This year I got a solitaire. Look.'
She struggled with her satin glove, finally managing to pull out a plump, slightly flabby hand on which liver spots were starting to appear. It flaunted a huge diamond.
'Look,' she repeated with a triumphant air. 'He asked me, ''What do you want?'' and I said, ''It doesn’t matter, as long as it's the biggest there is, at least the size of a chick pea.'''
'Oh . . . so you got married to Polyto?'